Monday, February 21, 2005

Literary devices

Now (broadening the category a bit): For action, we have "24." For drama, we have "Lost." For economy of expression, we have Hemingway. For literary effulgence, we have so many amateurs that I can't recall them all. The thing is, drama and action are both prerequisites for writing fiction. Because of that, puerile ideas like "Does one write about oneself?" are actually funny. One must write about oneself in the sense that the writer is the source of knowledge that the sunrise comes in a certain way (I'm embarrassed to say how) and that a first love (we each get one!) causes certain reactions. But if your life was filled with enough action and drama to make me want to keep reading, you must be a superhero.

Saturday, February 19, 2005


I've got the signatures of fifty men here who are royally pissed off because they can't get a letter to the editor published complaining about the reverse discrimination rampant -- rampant! -- in our society. In fact, I'm going to go out and get SIXTY signatures! And I'm going to tell all these guys to use ALL THREE of their names! That'll show 'em!

Me wants some a' dat, too!

The scene: A devastated community in a midwestern state.

The action: A tsunami-like phenomenon has savaged the town, focusing its entire malevolence on the children.

Solution: Compassion. From friends, neighbors and, most importantly, taxpayers.


"In the aftermath of the tsunami disaster, I am proud to say that compassion and generosity is the core of the people of this great nation. As a collective, we have raised enough resources to rebuild that devastating destruction three times over.

"But residents, we have an impending collapse of our own, right here in Leslie. We need to address it with as much generosity as we did for the victims of Dec. 26, 2004.

"Our victims are our children. With the education cuts looming on our district's horizon, our children's education could lack the fundamentals to produce future leaders."

There are so many morally repulsive things distilled into these three paragraphs that the mind is almost unable to absorb it at one sitting. For example, does anybody in Leslie notice that the tsunami all the way around the world actually snuffed out the lives of almost two hundred thousand people? Including school-aged children? Or is the modern American civil posture -- begging money from taxpayers -- sufficient rejoinder to any criticism on moral grounds? Perhaps the most shocking thing about this mini-editorial from a reader is the casual dismissal of the natural disaster as merely a lead-in to the self-satisfied tone of the request. It is possible that the unthinking might use the tsunami as merely a distant, unusual natural occurrence -- after all, we don't really know very many people who were affected. But, to employ this disaster as a lead-in to a demand for money is revolting. Note the use of the word "collective." What possible intellectual freight is this word intended to carry? "As a collective, we"? Who's a collective? The U.S. taxpayers whose contributions were not asked for? Okay. U.S. taxpayers made a contribution. But what of private contributors? "Private tsunami relief donations have topped $400 million, compared to the U.S. government's $350 million in financial aid."

So, the "collective" was outshone by private contributors. I suppose our editorialist understands, however, that she is unlikely to receive much from private donors to save her children. Hence, presumably, the need to create a metaphorical relationship between the Leslie schools and the "collective." You would think that describing the United States, however glancingly, in a manner reminiscent of the Soviet Union might not be the best way to warm up to one's readers.

Our writer has studied the NEA playbook well. The purpose of education, you see, is not to educate children, not to imbue them with knowledge from the past. No. education is a much more scientific enterprise than that. Education is all about "produc[ing] future leaders." What, one inquires, is the relationship between those educated and our "future leaders"? Do all the educated become leaders? Do leaders become leaders whether they were required to use No. 2 pencils in art rather than high-quality HB quality pencils? Can leadership be taught at all? I can recall kids from my grammar school who were lackluster students, noncontributing in sports, extra-curricular activities and generally nondescript who grew up to be community leaders. How did that happen? Further, these kids (and I) were in classes of 50 (in one case 55) students. How did it transpire that classrooms that large produced anything other than criminals and hacks?

This putative rationale for secondary education and the massive, tsunami-relief-like cash that our writer requests must be provided: "Cutting or reducing remedial academic programs such as Reading Recovery is an obvious injustice that takes from students the basic skill of reading. How far and how frustrated and behind is that child going to feel as he/she progresses through the grades? Better yet, if he/she progresses? "The same can be said for the advanced placement classes at the high school. These minds need to be stimulated, or the alternative is boredom. And there lies a whole new set of problems, which can only serve to threaten a student's progression toward college." That just about covers the educational rainbow: smart kids need money and not-so-smart kids need money. Of course, the kids don't get any of this money. They get to "feel" that they are progressing and "stimulated." While our writer doesn't say, I'm certain that her tsunami-like request for cash will not line the pockets of the students. Rather, I'm quite sure that the money will go to salaries for teachers. It's pathetic in a way. The educational establishment will scruple at nothing, not even human tragedy, to push their demand for more money.

And of course, we can be sure that the "professionals" in teaching will see that the money is well-spent.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Man on Fire - Denzel "John W Creasy" Washington

Though not a movie critic, and certainly not a timely movie watcher, I was struck by this movie in an unusual way. First, some background. The girls (wife and daughter) out for the night visiting a Clay Aiken gala in a different city. I'm alone to do what men do when they are alone. For me, it's woodworking, surfing the net, and watching "man" movies. The guy at the video store recommended this movie: "lot's of action and car chases," he said. "You'll like it." Well, I liked it. And not for the car chases. Wash. plays a former bad guy, who probably worked for the govt as a "black ops" thingie. He's a drunk, unable to love. He takes a set up job (set up by his friend, C. Walken) as a body guard for a kid in Mex. City. Her mom is American, so she's blonde. And cute. And eleven. He falls for her, satisfying the viewer. She's kidnapped and, apparently, killed. He, with his black ops skills, goes on a revenge rampage. Also very satisfying. She's returned to her mother, satisfying. Only one thing to criticize. When he's on his way to killing all the bad guys, I wish he'd become, how shall I say it? Dispensable. In other words, this character, if he had nothing to lose, literally, for the (male) viewer, would be perfect. Usually there's some sort of risk, the girlfriend is in danger, the good guys are going to get it (Magnificent 7). When DW starts to kill, and he starts to succeed, the tension builds that the cops will get him. We definitely don't want that. And so, the filmmaker would have done us a favor if DW was absolutely "cost-free" as a revenge-machine. I pondered whether what I was really asking for was cost-free wrongdoing. And I don't think so; the movie is quite emotional because he's a mess and this little girl is the one who somehow finds the key to unlock his miserable life. But, when she's (apparently) gone, no matter how complicated the plot to kidnap her, nor how corrupt the Mex. police, we are uncomfortable when he's about his bad work because (a) he's taking the law into his own hands (something frowned upon these days) and (b) he may get caught. If we don't care emotionally about him -- no "hostages to fate" -- then we can sit back and take the risks he takes and suffer the consequences. At the end, he is not rescued by the bumbling Mex police who were mere minutes away. And he should have been. But that's a secondary point. If John W. Creasy (DW's character) had disabused us of any emotional connection whatsoever, but only during the revenge part of the movie, I, for one, think it would have been a better movie. Sincerely, Movie Central Mr. Commissar, CEO