Neanderthal vs Cro-Magnon II

antrho-haters vs learnersThe image symbolizes something deeper than you can imagine. Anthropology shows a key turning point in the evolution of humankind occurred around 50,000 years ago. The entrenched, violent-minded Neanderthal was overcome by the more nomadic, adaptive Cro-Magnon. They both made tools, but Cro-Magnon embraced cave-painting, dance, and storytelling. This survival strategy devastated the Neanderthals, and gave us the capacity of extra-genetic intelligence, though it seems the transition in the evolution of humanity is not entirely resolved.

I often think about this in my Carl Sagan moments. Ayn Rand in her early career wrote in “For the New Intellectual” a thesis about the eternal battle between the man with the club, the witch doctor, and the maker – a class of Jungian human archetypes that makes a dramatic story.

Entropy and the Laws of Thermodynamics, sadly, have the advantage. It is far easier to steal than to make. Far easier to lie then recall truth. Far easier to murder than create life.  Far easier to follow than to question authority. Far easier to shout than to have a rational dialogue.


Apple takes us to Kindergarten

Screen Shot 2013-10-25 at 8.23.50 AM
The Devolution of Pages.

Upgraded to Mavericks – on the whole, better than Lion.

HOWEVER – The free upgrade to Pages is a disaster for me. Sensing a disturbance in the force of Apple’s new candy-colored mind after uploading iPhone iOS, I wisely made a backup of my first book document to try on their new SW. When I opened the 400 page book in the new Pages – it completely reformatted it, laid  pictures out differently, overlaid text on text. Adding greater misery, when the new Pages loads your book – it immediately rewrites the file and old Pages cannot read the new.  All of my ebooks can no longer be worked on.

In Apple’s new zeal to attract kindergartners they dumbed down the feature set of Pages. They killed right and left facing pages (separate inner and outer margins) and  two page views. Gone, simply gone. Any author working with CreateSpace or another modern publisher absolutely needs page layout for composing real print books.  The author use case was never checked.

Also missing are comments that used to be seen all at once. Now they have to be clicked on one at a time. I have 2,000 per book. Even worse  if you write comments that relate to one another. What could be scanned by the eye, must be rememeberd.

Fortunately there is an open choice to use old Pages 4.3 that lives in the iWorks folder. Just don’t double click on a favorite doc or it will be rethreaded by Jack-in-the-box.

I am angry about it all and have written four letters to Apple, hoping they will at least put back facing pages.

The Latest Bond Epic Ever!

After seeing the movie that went nowhere, my wife  bent her finger making a little worm. “eht,” her way of mimicking the limp and shriveled things of the world.

Skyfall, the latest Bond epic directed by Sam Mendes, fell short in so many ways. What is a Bond film? The Evil, The Exotic Location, The Women, or in this case, A Plot and A Script. Poor desiccated Daniel Craig (who must have a strong stomach for Broccoli), and poorer Ian Fleming. Had Sam simply consulted the mentor of them all – Sidney Reilly – the spy who started all the evil, well, that might be a search for origins. (Sam Neil did that assignment superbly.)

Where was the satanic villain threat that terrifies the audience into hoping James will kung fu, shoot, and seduce his way into saving the free world? This Bond film struggles with cat and mouse chases after assorted assassins and a goofy supposedly bad guy. Javier Bardem, the alleged evilman who terrified in “No Country for Old Men,” is allowed to be creepy, but he is no world threat. What has given Javier his diabolical skills (and what are they)? Get this. A very hands-on former field agent is let go by the service. Somehow the unemployment victim develops the computer skills of Bill Gates and amasses a football field-sized server farm and can personally out-hack anyone on the planet. Do we see him use this skill for a last minute “James-Save-Us-From-This-Unfathamobly-EVIL MAN that will kill us all?”, you know that master stroke some demented writer has schemed for a truly horrible EVIL ACT? No way, Jose. I’m scratching my head. The only bad thing we see Bardem do is shoot a really inept employee. That it’s a she is almost pointless.

Remember the vacation you spent in the Bahamas with Bond in Thunderball? Well, you whisk through Istanbul for ten minutes, get stuck in Shanghai high rises for fifteen, a hotel in Macao for five, London for half the film, Scotland for the rest, but you never sample the definitive exotic local cuisine, and sink your teeth in the location, or the siren-like women who inhabit the place, like biting into Ursula Andrew’s foot to spit out the poisonous urchin spines in the Jamaica Keys in Dr. No. And please, are we too PC to have a Pussy Galore in 2012, when we have Pussy Riot?

Where went the seducing spy and those women who get a bit under his skin? Bond, James Bond in a swanky Macao hotel room shirt off, lets his cohort female shave his neck with a straight razor. He peels off the first button of her blouse, but they have the chemistry of Barbosol and after some hapless dialog she leaves. “eht.” Could it be James can’t get it up anymore? A shower scene, where James slips in as creepily as Javier Bardem and gives our female bather a lip lock with enough suction to lift the silver-birch paint of an Aston-Martin.”eht.”  Assumably James and the washing woman had their clothes off, but Mendes wants it clean. Apparently no females in profile, (no tities for kiddies or suggestions thereof), is the new standard, as this unsexual production proudly proclaims, “50 Years of Bond.”  The hottest scene was when Bardem touches Bond’s leg, clothes on of course.

And what was that big bad explosion of Bardem’s underground tube train that crashes over our aging hero? (No passengers on board of course – kind of a ‘clean evil’ Bond experience that San Mendes has been told to direct). Back to the exploding tube train problem. After an exceedingly improbably long, down the rabbit-hole chase of Bond after Bardem, and while England’s Prime Minister (who looks and sounds like a housewife soccer mom), the deed happens. So we think the evil plot being executed – as the train careens and undermines the place where the PM is berating Judi Dench for her bad acting – is Javier’s nefarious scheme to take out the PM and everyone with her. But that scene goes nowhere. On to the next chase and worry. What to do with a plot in search of evil?

As the film shutters down, why would Sam Mendes have James and Judi ride off in a resurrected Aston-Martin without even a good chase, only to arrive at a bucolic estate in the middle of nowhere. (“She sure runs great doesn’t she M, notice the original foot high airhood cowling, not the streamlined silver model that did the damage. The screenwriters didn’t give me any gadgets but a gun and a tracker, but I kept this old baby in the U-Store for 50 years, how old did you say you were, and  how do you like the smell of my Old Spice?”) And why, knowing  their purpose to wait for perhaps 100 bad guys to come kill them, would Ms. M the head of field operations of the British Secret Service not even call for a security detail? And why does not Bond insist on it to protect her? Think about it. Of course the two have the aide of the hobo-looking Albert Finney, Kincaide the groundskeeper. Then over the hill they come in two waves and a chopper, apocalypse now style. The defenders. A hobo with a shotgun, and James with a shotgun, and Judi making nail light bulbs. A lot of loud things happen until the movie ends with the most inexplicable causes that a stately forty room two story stone mansion has to explode itself, entirely, and all at once. Sam Peckinpah did more with a couple fending off a handful in Straw Dogs.

In the denouement closure with the villain, (it could not be called a climax), what does our sterling 007 do to finish his nemesis off? A knife in the back! Come on – where is the mano a mano, clever whip-sockey, haiku of death, I’m looking you in the eye until you die catharsis?  A knife in the back? That’s pretty low down, pardoner Sam. Not even a bon-mot, ‘I beg your pardon, but there’s a knife in your back.’ And then we in the audience wondering how James can be so consoling, when in fact the continuity assistant left a couple of wild machine-gun wielding thugs just outside the door. Like much of the movie, your imagination must finish James Bond’s job. He’ll deal with it somehow. But we are on to the next scene. Now, does the new ‘M’ fire James for the cowardly stab in the back, the inability to foil the tube plot, the failure to intercept the heist of the secret drive, his ass-fool silliness of setting up an indefensible situation so that the former M, Dame Judi dies? Sadly, more script about aging, getting old, and I am not ready to die. “eht”

One thing, definitely right, Thomas Newman’s sound score makes you believe you are seeing a classic Bond film. It may be the best Bond soundscore, ever.

Promotesaurus Rex – Ridley Scott’s Prometheus

Warning: Explosive Bolts. If you hate spoilers, do not read this review. Just see the movie Prometheus.

Love cars, hate salesmen. A critic said Ridley Scott’s new movie ‘Prometheus’ created a mix between Bladerunner and Aliens. Being devoted to all things Ridley Scott, and having a day job, I was in the 10:30pm theater line. And all by my lonesome, as my wife knew something I didn’t. She hates salesmen worse than I, but I’m primitively attracted to shiny things.

Pre-reviewers painted a picture of discovering a lost civilizations in space, beings connected to us.  The first five minutes of the film suggest as much, so my imagination began taking the trip.That’s because after working on the latest NASA Hubble Space telescope images and making fine art prints of the grandeur of the Carina Nebulae, I was ready for a vision!

The thing about car wrecks is mostly they don’t have to happen. Sadly, even an expert driver, having ridden the long highway too many times, the roadsides all decked with franchises and blinking lights, a man can find himself dozing off.

The greatest thing to say about Prometheus is what it might have been. The awareness of planetary civilizations. (Civilization, in case you don’t know, is that thing  going out of control for much of human-kind). Imagine, some other world of minds is out there existing. We are not praying to the aliens, but  trying to understand and possibly love them like Starman or 2001 – the stuff many felt in 1966 when Star Trek was about to pilot and we were about to land on the moon. It is what archaeologists on site and historians feel when they realize there was something greater than we now – something came before, when humans had another magnificence. The discovering of civilizations brought hope.

My mornings in Escondido begin at my doormat. Ferrel cats nicely lay out  half- chewed gopher kidneys and tails – an honorable instinct learned in Egyptian times.

And so what hope does Ridley Scott lay at my feet? Kidneys and tails. Kind of like Prometheus, the clay god punished for stealing fire. Each day an eagle sent to feed on his liver, only to have it grow back to be eaten again. Like an Escondido morning, Promethean gutlore. In my Cineplex bay, really, must advanced civilizations desire to rip the heads off every living thing and scare the bejeebers out of the audience with every move they make? Where’s the wonder? There is more head ripping, tail swallowing than when Joe Bob Briggs ended every drive-in review with the body count and number of bouncing breasts.

This mashup of Aliens belies the little and lazy imagination. Space is the place! But, to not be transported? To be flushed and brought down again? I’m already living in that civilization.

Driving the highway. Nothing like a wreck. I’ve seen cars on fire, vehicles crumpled on the highway. Not like  John Chamberlain’s, the Pop artist who made an art from compressing automobiles. (Just passed in December 2011). All those Promethian wrecks. Were they good wrecks? Who’s to say? Take this movie.

Prometheus did not even fly the myth. I am certain, kindergarteners imagine better screenplays. Actors were stellar mostly; but the stars did not shine. The always watchable Sean Harris (the mangy assassin in HBOS’s The Borges), and the sensitively courteous android ‘David’ played by Michael Fassbender made the theater seat worth bearing. David was the only civil creature of the civilizations. How much I wanted the original ‘girl with the dragon tattoo’s’ to take the camera (Noomi Rapace), but damn, the dame comes off like your mom. She made the theater floor worth watching. And Charlize Theron, perhaps the most capable dimensional actress of our times does nothing but stand up straight. WHO WAS DIRECTING?

So for another creature-is-com’nta-gitchya movie, as Joe Bob says “Everything’s in this one. It’s a no-holds-bared but tasteful drive-in flick, an oldie but not necessarily a goodie. We’re talking plus-nine dead bodies, creature-fu, helmet-fu, alien aardvarking, but we got a problem: zero breasts. The T& A team sucks. There’s a drive-in Academy Award waiting for someone.”

Come and See

Drive-ins. Today Google’s opening page honors Drive-in’s 79th anniversary with a bubble-gum pink ‘Admit One’ ticket see-sawing in front of a sign that reads oogle. Last night by coincidence, I saw one of the most unforgettable films of my viewing life.

The power of film! I am still reeling from an unconventional movie made in 1985 called “Come and See.” Not since my younger brother and teenage me saw Jaws at a Galveston drive-in (double-billed with Capone) and next day had to build courage to step into the Gulf, has a film disturbed me so.

I gave the film a chance because 1) It was on the AFI top 250 list and I never heard of it, 2) The filmmaker tells the story of a young boy. Ever since Mark Twain and Harper Lee, I’m a fan of stories told from a child’s point of view about adult experiences. Come and See is a startling tell.


After a vile runt of a boy shouts invectives to his tall likable friend, the camera rolls with two excited Russian boys as they search for a forgotten  battlefield. They pull up war gear and rifles deep from the sands of an overrun Russian position of the unstoppable German invasion of 1941. The runt dons found Nazi battle gear, imitating a meanness that he believes will suit the German occupiers he later meets. The eldest boy carries home a Russian rifle to  join the Partisans. He charms away his little twin sisters and anxious mother to run off a meet them. The Partisans reject the hopeful lad along with their favorite pretty girl mascot. Sending the innocents home from their forest camp, the Partisans head for the front. The boy and girl share disappointment of their rejection. The next day, left alone, they enjoy an idyllic time until the look to the sky. Strange parachutes open, the SS descend, and the boy and girl face their helpless fate together.

At first it is uncomfortable to see actors and actresses emote deadpan, full frame, directly into the lens. But the director  does not want you to be comfortable with the subject – and focuses us on this – one extermination of over six hundred villages in Belorussia. The focal length is short, making the actress cross-eyed, adding a sense of idiocy to her naivety of the world.

You can forgive the film for some too-long takes because the pacing sets you up for a final thirty minute run which is perhaps the most breathtaking, non-stop war scene ever filmed.  The uniforms and obscure gear are entirely authentic of 1943. Some of the scenes are genius – a flash that we see with the girl that would mean everything to the boy as they are fleeing. After some courage, she utters the image in short words. The rolling camera has more juice than the napalm & helicopter Ride-of-the-Valkyries vertical assault in Apocalypse Now!, or the terror of the Omaha Beach landing in Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers.  The camera rolls and floats with the endless victory of cruelty, shear madness, and horror that a few actors actually experienced in the invasion of their homeland in World War Two.

There are few predictable moments. Sometimes you get stuck in a scene with a Quentin Tarantino cruelty we must endure.  At other moments there is a Fellini-esque vitality of raw moments that I have never seen in a Hollywood depiction of war. There is no stand-out villain Nazi like Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds, the entire mixed-German platoon wheels an invisible zeal of distinct beer house characters – except they are dead sober, being at war for years. The film is a marvelous intertwining of direction (Elem Klimov), writing (Ales Adamovich), and cinematography (Alexei Rodionov). The actors may have been over their heads, for how can a boy credibly act, react, and emote such witness. The unsettling soundtrack and original music complete the film’s psychological pacing. I admire a film shown from a young boy’s point of view that avoids the easy way out of first person narrative overdubs. Raw images, raw acting all the way. This is a cinema experience no US teenager will ever experience from a car seat. And that is unfortunate, not because this is one of the early heroic uses of a steadicam when they weighed 100 pounds, but because you walk away feeling in your gut the horror of something that really happened to us, the human race.

Freedom to Hear Richard Dawkins

Going to a public event where people on the sidelines shout into megaphones and flash signs to .. do what? In fact, the protest is almost the point – to not hear a speech by Richard Dawkins.  About 5,000 people have come to downtown San Diego’s Golden Hall, middle agers and up with a surprising number of twenty-somethings. Groups inside represent atheists, freethinkers, conscience causes, and the Atheist Party in this election year. On screen PowerPoint bon mots roll by, put up by the show organizers “Don’t pray in my school, and I won’t think in your church,” “God? lol” stuff like that. Over the excellent PA comes “Imagine” – part of, I guess – the white man’s atheist playlist. Definitely missing “It Ain’t Necessarily So.”

Crowd at Golden Hall listening to Richard Dawkins

Alternative thinkers 2012-Apr-6-San-Diego

After learned speakers talk about the devolution of American values caused by religion (one of Edward Gibbon’s main conclusions in the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire pub. 1776), I hold my wife’s hand because this is a rare event. On stage is Sean Faircloth, a politician. Refreshing words, but heavy-handed enough for an impatient older man to shout some long message, the gist of which is “I came to hear Richard Dawkins speak.” The crowd does not like their freedom to hear abridged by the protestor. Sean gives polite thanks for coming tonight. After ten political points he hands off to RD.

Richard starts in his firm British voice with some joke about pro-life Republican believers. Life begins at conception, but sadly for them, ends at birth. The speech is mainly about the intelligence behind intelligent design by comparing natural with rational selection. He is chock-full of ideas, illustrated in PowerPoint. Among the many: intelligent design by adaptive selection appears to be the only mechanism in the universe we know nature uses so far; rational selection is easier. Then a deep analysis of the scope of religious evolution – the oddness of commandments, Saint Paul’s redemption of sins policy, Abraham’s immorality to slay his son (Is it moral to listen unquestioning to anyone? Is it moral to kill on command? Is it moral to kill one’s own son? ) Lots of moral morsels. Then about forty minutes into it, after his moral imperative: mind your own business, he dives into why religion appears to be popular – a counter-poll shows people mask their fears of appearing unpopular when asked if they are Christian, the want to believe in supernatural things having a therapeutic effect on people with psychosomatic problems. “I have been talking long enough.” The slide show ends without any finish or closing remark.

QA is very interesting, points out my wife at dinner over my commemorative entree. The first questioner starts out softly and then rolls into a protest, a guy testifies about Jesus’s love for Richard Dawkins, and does he oppose his lamb who died for him. Oh God. A few good replies come to mind. Oh, you Mormons are all alike. Ah, Love? But Dawkins is polite saying he has already answered and disengages after a few shakes of his proverbial foot. Must be why I ordered grilled lamb for dinner tonight. Now that’s a lamb to love.

Question two is also from a theist with other ancient axes to grind. Then a guy who won’t quit, invites him to be on his radio show. Dawkins masterfully answers saying he refuses to debate issues that simply do not need debating (creationism). Then a your-books-changed-my-life fan quests: “To arrive at your profound views, did you take hallucinogens?” Answer: “Sadly I did not.” A book signing on stage shows he is perspiring and worn. He cannot see the 500 people lined up. All his books are sold out.

Does the Freedom of Speech necessarily imply the Freedom to Hear?

Led Beatles Mashup

To listen to it, click here.   When I heard the Soundhog mashup in the car on the I-15 off XM satellite on the Breakfast with the Beatles show on April 1.  Amazing work as is. Needs a “radio cut” that is tighter in the middle and not so many ends. 4 minutes. Click on the pic to see Yoko Ono, then download the throbbing mp3 to hear the singing megagods rethrashed.