Saturday, March 12, 2005

Democratic Hysteria

That Pesky Fly Guy has a post about something that happened at a downtown coffeehouse Thursday. Read his post for Fly's description.

One anonymous call equals "fascism." By his third paragraph, he's already talking "Rethug," "Mussolini." Then, in the update, it's become "Brownshirts" and "Nazis." And why exactly are we supposed to take things like this seriously? Because it's the slippery slope. Like this kind of thing hasn't happened before, many times under different administrations.

Then read the comments for the hilarious reaction. Almost immediately it's "furhrer" and "jackboots." Watching the knee-jerk spasms of mindless reactionaries would be funny if it weren't so pathetic and chilling. The mob has its torches and are on their way to the castle! The historical ignorance on display is troubling, as much of it seems to be willful blindness for partisan advantage. If so, its the most despicable kind.

It takes a while, but some sense is restored in the comments by sober-minded people who point out some basic facts that can be investigated, and some courses of action that will result in clear answers pointing to the next level of action, if called for. It's an admirable effort to restore some sense of proportion and thought. But the largest number of commenters just want to screech and rattle their cages like upset chimps.

I pointed out an actual real-life case of "jackbooted thuggery," when President Clinton sent in military troops to remove Elian Gonzalez from his home to deport him back to Cuba. Remember?

You need only look back at the recently passed Presidential election season to see plenty of examples of Democratic intimidation tactics. Look here, or here. There were union goons who intimidated protesters in Pennsylvania at rallies (I searched for this through Google with no luck.), and Republican headquarters that had unruly mobs swarm their offices and trash the place. Shades of Krystallnacht, yes?

No. Most of Fly's commenters never got to my final paragraph before their outrage muscles started twitching uncontrollably. I pointed out that problems like this are endemic to American politics of all stripes: Democrat, Republican, Communist, Know Nothing, Whig, etc. It's nothing new. It's just that those who are prone to emotionalism over rationalism can't be controlled or deflected by cooler heads. All strong political movements engender this reaction. It's human nature.

It happened here. Rather than investigate first and then report, Fly Guy strapped on his rocket pack and blasted off to fight evil, not quite sure what or where the evil was. As one of the commenters noted, it's easy to look into this and get the facts. Having the facts, we can all look at the situation and decide what to do.

But no. There was even one commenter who did the newly developed political double back flip and labelled this a brilliant bit of Rove-fu. Ol' Karl (Hey, his name has a K in it just like the KKK! They're linked! It can't be an accident. And hey, isn't Karl Rove a German name? Ah HA!) carefully set up the situation so that Democrats look bad no matter what happens. Sheesh.

When Democrats leap to the Nazi and facsism comparisons so quickly, easily and happily it does no one a service. It diminishes the true horrors of the Third Reich, and the lessons we must never forget. It demeans the millions of deaths of the innocent. It overshadows the grim numbers of Communist oppression and murder. It is appallingly facile. It takes a common political problem -- zealotry --that can be addressed and throws it into an extreme posture that defies handling. How can we correctly address fools and criminals if we look at them with the loathing we reserve for true monsters? We can't. That's the point. Demagoguery tramples the issue and those with other agendas slip along behind.

It is the "destroy Bush by any means necessary" agenda, in this case. No, it is not correct to say the Republicans did the same thing to Clinton, as a justification. That, too, was wrong. I used to belong to that "destroy Clinton" crowd, but saw the erors of my excesses. Now, I fight political leaders and political ideologies in order to defeat and discredit them, not just to mindlessly flail and maim.

Authoritarianism is human nature. Too many humans need someone in control other than themselves. True freedom is terrifying. The Founding Fathers knew that. They didn't expect the government they'd launched to last a generation or two. That we're still as free as we are more than two hundred years later is nearly miraculous.

But everything the Founders recognised and fought to block is still with us. By slow accretion, laws and bureaucracies pile up, generation after generation. People who want political power for their own uses deform the structures and processes of government, sometimes maliciously and sometimes unknowingly. But it happens. And it must be combatted.

The surest tactic against tyranny, authoritarianism and fascism? Personal maturity and small government. A small government cannot intimidate its citizens. A mature, fully adult citizenry doesn't crave a Mommy to take care of them; it scorns those who seek to place themselves over others. True adults take care of themselves, their families and friends, and their community.

Calm down. Get the facts. Publicise those facts. Let the criminal justice system do its job. Feeding and pleasuring your emotions is not problem solving. Displays like that over at The Flypaper Theory aren't the way to go.

UPDATE: Saturday, 7PM. Already nearly 60 comments at the Flypaper Theory! The tide has turned now. Instead of howling for Bush, they've moved on to the "lone phoneman" theory, digging up every applicable law, planning strategy to SMASH THIS MISCREANT FLAT! A slight case of overbombing? Likely so.

These folks don't even know what's going on yet, but they're already thristing for blood, ready to start hurling stones, or torch the castle.

UPDATE: Saturday midnight Chris has now interviewed the business owner and gotten some details, though others remain elusive. Money quote:
Gasquet and others who have received similar calls will be discussing their polite, but unnerving calsl with Sam Seder (sitting in for Randi Rhodes) on Monday afternoon. Gasquet has also been interviewed by NPR, and Salon.
No word on contacting the police, the FBI or the phone company, but yeah, the media interview rounds have begun. I'm glad to see priorities are in order here.

UPDATE: Sunday 2PM Another voice heard from, as new-to-me blogger Autoegocrat, blogging at River City Mud, comments on both Flypaper Theory's and my posts. S/he also looks at one passage from President Bush's talk on Friday.

I'm already liking this blog because, even though our politics differ widely, Autoegocrat uses facts, links and sober analysis to advance arguments. S/he respects reader intelligence, which is always nice to see. River City Mud is already on my daily bloglist.

UPDATE Sunday 7PM And Chris responds! Not very nicely, but hey, what were you expecting at this point? Apparently my resistance to authoritarianism was too implicit for him to catch. Maybe if I use profanity, scream bloody murder, use outrageous characterisation in place of pointed questions, put hysteria ahead of facts, play to the lunatic fringe and shout down my opponents, do you think he'd understand that?
Give Me Slack or Give Me Death

Via Len comes this quiz:

You are Slackware Linux. You are the brightest among your peers, but are often mistaken as insane.  Your elegant solutions to problems often take a little longer, but require much less effort to complete.
Which OS are You?

Uhhh...OK, as Butthead would say. What tickles me about my rating, though, is the "Dobbshead" they use.

Yes indeed, that pipe-smokin', all-American face is none other than the Slackmaster himself, J. R. "Bob" Dobbs, revered figure of the Church of the Subgenius.

I was pretty into Subgenius in my twenties, but when X-Day came and went with no aliens, I definitively lost interest. It was kinda like when Garrison Keillor came back to Minnesota after his humiliation in New York. You failed, it's over, what's the point?

I still have a copy of Arise! on videotape (somewhere, I think) if anyone wants to buy it. Very trippy and funny propaganda / recruitment film. As Dobbs himself prophetically said, "You'll PAY to know what you REALLY think."
The View From the Secure Seats

President Bush did his Social Security Tour stop in Memphis on Friday morning. Lots of the usual media coverage, but you can get an up close and personal view from Mick over at Fishkite. He even has photographic proof! He and Bush, although separated by about twenty feet or so. It's a great write-up that's well worth your time.

Mick has been blogging a lot lately. I'm sorry not to have tossed up a pointer / reminder sooner. He's just redesigned things and the blog looks good. It's "the Blog between Church and State," though until recently it was "Grafitti on the Wall Separating Church and State." Either way, good descriptions of Mick's point of view. He's been on my daily reading list for quite a while now. Based on talking with him at previous blogger bashes, a nice young man, too; calm and thoughtful and considerate.

So go, already. Read!

Friday, March 11, 2005

After Action Report: Blog Panel

Sorry for the delay in posting this report on what happened Thursday. I was one of two panelists at the BusinessWire event. Mark Dunn was my contact, but Micky Pace was the onsite organiser and moderator. She did a splendid job in setting things up and running the proceedings, professional and pleasant.

I tried to enter through the front of the Pink Palace, but learned the Club Room was in the back. It kinda had the feel of a church basement meeting room, but was plenty spacious and comfortable. A woman named Carolyn was handling the breakfast part and really laid a nice spread across the back wall: donuts from Howard's (Yeah!), some ham and cheese breakfast sandwiches, lots of coffee and OJ, plenty of fruits in various styles, cheese, etc. I didn't get her full name or catering service, or I'd tell you. Believe me, she did a great job. I took home a bunch of those sandwiches. (Hey, they were drizzled with a hot mustard vinaigrette! I'm eating some now, in fact.)

Turnout was a disappointment, really the only one. About a dozen folks attended, though we had room for four or five times that many. Micky suspected that the date coming during Spring Break was the big problem. Peg, the other panelist, felt that so many Memphians not having computers or access was a factor. I thought it was just that most Memphians really don't know what blogging is or what the power of blogging can do. We both agreed that more information needs to get out. This survey backs that up. Micky said they would look into it and maybe try again in a different way.

The folks who were there were pretty sharp. The three big question topics were about blogging accountability and the First Amendment, using blogs in a corporate environment, and how to generate revenue with blogs. I was surprised to learn that the two most active questioners were from FedEx! I saw quite a few of the attendees taking notes. Every time Peg or I mentioned a site or blog, pens scribbled away.

Peg and I spoke in turns, bouncing answers and comments off each other's answers and the audience's questions, even going back to revisit previous questions and comments. We spoke from 8:45 until just past 10:30! We could have easily kept going for another hour or so.

One question I really liked was about accountability. Several wanted to know what prevents bloggers from printing outright lies? I said, "Libel laws." Which are the same laws that apply to mainstream journalists. Someone else worried about blogs turning into "paparrazi," or printing rumors and gossip. I asked her if she read People magazine. She and the rest seemed to get the point. There's a place for everything; reputations and credibility will have to be built.

Micky had passed around a hand-out of a story from the Nashville Tennessean about the evolving world of corporate blog policies. We batted that one around. One of the FedEx people seemed to want to have controls in place right away. He was worried about harm coming from blogs. I reminded him that corporate policies came about because someone made a mistake first, leading to the need for policies.

I enjoyed myself tremendously, even if I was just "a guy with a website," as I told them. Initially, they seemed to direct more to Peg, but given her corporate status, and my utter lack of corporateness, that's fine. I punctuated my comments with a statement: "Never underestimate the power of an angry customer." I talked about my frustrations with the local media and newspapers leading to the blog path. Afterwards, Micky brought up that blogs are a great way for companies to learn what their customers really think about their products. If I do this again, I hope she remembers to bring that back up. I think the PR types at the panel would really perk up at that.

A couple of folks I should mention. I got to meet former television newsman and current blogger Jamey Tucker. He's a lot taller than I thought -- 6' 2" at least -- and much thinner. On television, he appears a youthful late 30s - early 40s but in person he could easily pass for late 20s! Very friendly guy; it's a shame I didn't have much time to talk with him personally. Let's do lunch sometime!

The big surprise was Joe Larkins. That's right, retired Channel 3 morning show anchor. Asked what he's doing now, he said, "Growing a beard." Which was true! He had a really thick, full beard with stylin' shots of grey mixed in. With his turtleneck and tan leather jacket, and charm to spare, he seemed very relaxed and happy. He said his move from television was largely just a decision to try something different; that he'd gone about as far as he was going to go in television. I didn't get any hints of rancor, just relief at leaving the grind behind. He's an incredibly voluble guy too. You can't shut him up! (I kid. He told a lot of great stories about his career. Ask him about broadcasting in shorts during the Hurricane Elvis aftermath.) With his self-deprecating humor, you can really see why he's been such a popular and well-liked newsman.

There was one of the FedEx people whose name I didn't get, but she seemed really knowledgeable about blogs. I made sure to buttonhole her afterwards and she said she'd been interested for a couple of years. She's exploring ways to use blogs internally in corporations. She asked several very good questions.

So, I had a blast and seemed to have informed a few people. I made the mistake of answering a question from Jamey, where he compared blogs to talk radio in the 80s, by saying a better comparison was to 17th century pamphleteering. I know... too highbrow. Woosh! right over their heads. But I came back a few times to the fact that the Internet is equally as revolutionary as the printing press. Just as we couldn't have predicted universal literacy, or representative democracy becoming the standard of good government, from before the introduction of the printing press, so we can't predict the shape of our future from the early days of the Internet. Near universal access to vast libraries of information was a science fiction staple since at least the 50s, but the reality today looks a lot different than the single massive databases of then. Incomprehensible interconnectivity wasn't predicted, nor was the elevation of individual voices to par with mass-media corporations. The future is still very much an unknowable country.

Thanks to Peg, my co-panelist. (her comments here.) She was about to start vacation, so she was bubbly and having a great time. She spoke very openly about blogging from a corporate viewpoint, the pitfalls and dangers, but in a positive way. We made a grand pair.

So, thanks to Mark and BusinessWire for the invite. I hope they ask me again. Memphis really lags in taking advantage of the possibilities of the Internet, especially politically, and I'd like to help change that. If you have the chance next time, you should come! Especially if you're a blogger, but also if you work at a corporation and want to learn more about the potential of blogging to help your company.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Thanks, Unc

Half-Bakered has its first-ever blog ad running right now, courtesy of Say Uncle. It's up in the right hand corner. He's decided to institute advertising and offered a few free ads to the first folks to asked. I got lucky!

Make sure to go read his blog, which you should be reading anyway, then click on the ad to come right back here! Help a fella out, OK?

When I move off Blogspot, I'll be instituting some ads as well. One or two, no more; one at the top of each side column. I'm not sure if I'll manage them myself or sign up with a company. It's solely to pay hosting fees and bandwidth.

OK, and maybe the odd book from Amazon or DVD from Poker Industries or DVD Empire if there's enough revenue in it. I don't review books here, because I'm a slow reader these days, but I do DVD reviews. Not as many as I'd like because they take a while to write. I have to watch the movie at least twice -- once for enjoyment, once for the commentary (if it's there), then once again with a notebook. I enjoy bringing these unknown or obscure films to people's attention. A great many beat anything you'll see at the multiplex.

Anyway, thanks to Say Uncle for the free promotion.
Communists For TennCare

Half-Bakered is getting enough daily traffic, and a wide enough linkage, that it's fruitful for me to regularly scroll down through the referrer logs to see where folks come from. That's how I discovered Black Women for Rice, a blog dedicated to Condi Rice in '08 and the support of black women in her campaign!

This morning, I found another one: Communists For TennCare! What a concept. Go and read it right now. The genius of this is that you can't really say if it's truly pro- or anti-TennCare, although I suspect it's anti.

The design is awfully sharp, too. Check out the big blue circle, taken from our state flag, but with the three stars replaced by hammers-n-sickles. I'm a little jealous....

And they were nice enough to place me with the "Neo Con Capitalist Swine," too. Thanks, y'all!
Batman and Fan Films

[UPDATED I forgot to link to the film above! The image is from a discussion thread that included production photos, about the movie Batman: Blackout. Sorry not to give credit there.]

I was just playing around last night and came across the background image above. It's from a fan-made Batman film. I tinkered around some, taking a partly visible character out of the background (Bane), then adding the Batwing logo (from a GIS, Google image search) and the text. Pretty spiffy, eh?

While Star Wars and Dr. Who are the most popular subjects for fan films, Batman gets more than his share of the superhero fanfilms for one simple reason: he's only human. Granted, he's got superior athletic ability, superior detecting and critical thinking skills, a massive pile of money, and a dark rage to avenge his parents' murder, but he is still only a man. That makes filming his adventures quite a bit easier than those of Superman or the Flash or Spiderman. Although the costume isn't cheap....

Most fanfilms tends to be on the short side, five to fifteen minutes long, but a few are feature length. Some are quite good. One that caused a stir a couple of years ago, Batman: Dead End was made by a wannabe Hollywood director as his calling card introduction. In it, Batman is fighting the Joker in a rainy alley. Just as he finally brings him down, another villain appears behind. From another movie franchise. You see this monster and wonder if Batman could possibly win this one. It's a jaw-dropper and tantalising.

The same director then made a "movie trailer" called World's Finest. It was the "coming soon" featurette announcing a new movie, but there's only the trailer. No movie will get made. That's becoming another trend: making the trailer alone. They're short and have only the highlights. World's Finest is, of course, the teamup of Batman and Superman. The trailer has Lex Luthor, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White. Lois Lane is both hot and snarky. Batman fights in the alleys, Superman catches a dropped truck. They stand side by side against the sunset, discussing what to do. The production values are high, and so is the acting. Especially the actors playing Batman and Superman, who are pitch perfect. I remember the first time I saw this, as soon as the "Coming Soon" title appeared at the end, I was shouting "Yeah! I'd go see that!" only to realise that there would be no movie. Ever. Both of these shorts are more than worth your time. You can find them, and a lot of other genre films, here. The diversity, inventiveness and sheer exuberance of many of these films will surprise you.

And there's more. You can go here for screencaps, posters, trailers, reviews and links to a lot of other films: superhero, action, horror, you name it. Even comedies about a heartsick Superman who can't handle Lois Lane's rejection and so mopes are Jimmy Olsen's apartment, and "Cape Chasers," about the private lives of public heroes. I'd recommend you visit just for the delight of seeing what's out there and how good some of it is. You can also take a look at this article from Britain's The Sun, which also has some pictures, including a fan Lara Croft! Hubba-hubba.

That's the point. There will be no more Lara Croft movies, but fans want to see one. There will never be a movie teaming of Batman and Superman. Too much legal wrangling. You'll never see Spiderman fight Batman, no matter how exciting the prospect. Alien vs. Predator, the movie, only happened becuase genre fans drooled over the prospect for years, leading a comic book company to create a series. The success of that convinced studio heads to try a low-budget version. The failure of the movie has killed any chance of sequels, most likely. The people in control have other concerns than just the simple desires of the fans.

But back to the Batman. There's something potent in the mix of rage, vengeance, crime fighting, film noir and moral ambiguity that attracts so many back to him. He is iconic: the lone figure standing over the city skyline eternally on watch, the shadowy shape in the corner of your eye that makes you catch your breath, the righteous figure dealing justice to the criminal. No wonder we are drawn to him. Once you get past the expense of the costume (which can go into the thousands), making films for him becomes pretty inexpensive.

I truly believe that fan-made entertainment is the wave of the future. Just as inexpensive computers, easy to use software and the Internet led to the fan fiction explosion and then the birth of the blogosphere, so will cheap cameras and editing software lead to an explosion of fan movies and series. The tools get more and more accessible, then more people get hold of them. It's already happening, bubbling under the cultural radar and rising.

One newer variant is the all-CGI movie. Several folks have created Batman and Supergirl movies done entirely with computer-generated characters. Star Wars, too. Others have learned how to harness video game rendering engines to make the game characters "act out" their movie scenarios. Even MTV has caught on to this trend with their "music video mods," where videogames are turned into lip-synched music videos. Try Bloodrayne singing Evanescence' "Going Under." Whoo!

I mentioned the other day Channel 101, a fan-run "television prime time" made up of original pilots and episodes that are voted on monthly. People come to a theater, watch the new episodes of returning shows and the new pilots of hopeful series, then vote on what stays. The originality and creativity is astonishing, as is the number of people taking part.

Right now there are two blocks in the way of fan-developed fun. One is the lack of broadband connectivity. Once more than half of the country is on broadband, watch for fan entertainments to explode. Even short, five minute films are large downloads, ten to twenty Mb. Longer programs, like you find on Star Trek: Hidden Frontier run to 60 to 100 Mb! Full length features like Nightwing: A Knight in Bludhaven run even larger. Only with broadband can these be easily shared and we're just not there yet.

There's also copyright. At present the studios are treating fan films benignly. The general sense is that as long as you don't charge for, or sell, your creation -- don't profit in any way -- you're fine. Usually a legal disclaimer and props to the copyright holder are sufficient; maybe a linkback to the copyright holder's website. Occasionally, a cease-and-desist campaign will happen, as did with Harry Potter fanfiction when too many folks started writing pre-legal age sexual adventures involving Harry and his teachers, as well as Harry and Hermione.

There was also a flap at last year's Comicon, in San Diego, California. This is the nation's largest comic convention and, in recent years, a launching point for promotional and "buzz" campaigns for science fiction, fantasy and horror films from the big studios. The stars come out to talk with fans, new trailers are released to huge hype, panel discussions with filmmakers are held. Tens of thousands attend. The studios threatened to withdraw all their support from Comicon when fan films started being shown. The convention holders, of course, had to acquiese, but fans were still angry.

That's the nub of this. Someone creates a hugely successful character or story (Sherlock Holmes, Bugs Bunny, Batman, Star Trek and Star Wars), fans immediately want more, more, more. Studios can't move fast enough, or bravely enough in some cases, so fans take it into their own hands to make more. Star Trek and Harry Potter fan fiction are both rife with romantic adventures the producers just won't take a chance on showing. People make fan films to revisit odd forgotten corners, or favored secondary characters, like Boba Fett of Star Wars.

It's the central issue in Henry Jenkin's seminal book Textual Poaching, which looks at the issue of the popular spread of literary (in the book's case, but it applies to cinematic as well) figures and settings into the wider culture, the appropriation of the specific into more generalised thematic uses. In precisely the same way that the stories of the gods and heroes of old have come down to us and been used in a hundred ways, so do the popular figures of today get taken up by this generation.

Captain Kirk became the symbol of manliness, virility and action. Luke Skywalker, the symbol of finding your destiny. Harry Potter, too. Superman became the embodiment of the American Way as Batman became the symbol of flawed men fighting the endless fight against evil. X-Men: society's outcasts finding new societies, and the struggle against bigotry. Star Trek: unbounded optimism, friendship over fighting, and the Kennedyesque New Frontier.

Normally, this would be a good thing as new generations take up the heroes of old, re-examine them, recontextualise them, take them apart to study them, then rebuild them in new ways. Look at all the ways Cinderella has been explored over the centuries. Or Hamlet, or Romeo and Juliet, for that matter. Shakespeare might never have imagined his play done the way Baz Lurhman did in the Danes/DiCaprio version (actually, I think he would have approved), but it reconnected with a new audience in a vital way.

A recent minor example? George Lucas has admitted he isn't interested in the Clone Wars saga of Star Wars. A group of fans (professional animators and writers) managed to get major studio backing and approached him to take that story up. Lucas approved and the Clone Wars animated adventures came to be, done in a non-Star Wars anime style. An examination of part of the mythology in a new setting! Lucas also resisted novelisations of his movies and characters, but once he finally gave in, we got the story of the Jedi Knights and the Rebel Alliance. People want what they want and creators who don't give it find their works taken and explored against their wills.

Where before these fan works existed in obscurity or out on the fringes, the Internet Age allows them to find their audiences much more easily and far faster. Star Trek fan fiction was a field only known to a few hundred before the Internet. Now hundreds of thousands read and take part. Now the producers of Star Trek use the tropes of fanfiction (Andorians live on an ice planet and have complex families.) in the actual series. It becomes a dynamic process rather than the one-way feed of the past.

The problem is that studios resist this appropriation. They will lose their copyrights and hence, their profits. Copyright used to extend only seventeen years past the life of the author, allowing popular images, figures and settings to enter the wider culture freely. But now, with changes in copyright, studios and estates can keep their copyrights up to one hundred years! For example, Mickey Mouse and a host of other Disney characters should have been public domain decades ago, but aren't. Only a few specific variations of the early design are at this time.

The public wants to take up these symbols, so the struggle is on. Studios must enforce their copyrights or else lose them, hence the cease-and-desist actions every so often. The issue hasn't really come to a head yet, but it will soon. And the public will lose out. So will the wider culture. As a natural activity becomes criminalised and more and more people flout the laws, so will respect for other laws erode.

The public is already voting. Downloading of songs, movies, anime, and other works is a major portion of traffic on the Internet. It's not going to stop, no matter how the studios and publishers try. Once broadband becomes the de facto standard of accessing the Internet, all bets are off. Already the MPAA and the RIAA are filing hundreds of lawsuits, trying to stem the tide. The puzzled and angry reaction of the public tells you how their campaign will fare.

You'll see an explosion of fan-made works based on studio-owned works. People will get used to making their own stuff and watching the works made by others, although there will always be a market for studio works too. (The idea of freely sharing your creativity versus expecting to make a living with it is a whole 'nother post.) It then only becomes a matter of creating sites to bring these fans together and getting the word out. The Internet is spectacular in that regard.

The future is just ahead, and I think it looks great.

You can find more stuff on Batman films and more here and here.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

He Said It!

I can't believe anyone, much less former President Bill Clinton, could make the following remarks and not cause an uproar:
Iran is the only country in the world that has now had six elections since the first election of President Khatami (in 1997). (It is) the only one with elections, including the United States, including Israel, including you name it, where the liberals, or the progressives, have won two-thirds to 70 percent of the vote in six elections: Two for president; two for the Parliament, the Majlis; two for the mayoralties. In every single election, the guys I identify with got two-thirds to 70 percent of the vote. There is no other country in the world I can say that about, certainly not my own.
Unbelievable. This story is only being sporadically reported in the blogosphere, and hasn't reached the MSM that I know of. This is how far disconnected from reality some parts of the Left are.


Monday, March 07, 2005

Unintended Consequences

The new, re-imagined version of Battlestar Galactica added a character not in the original: President of the Twelve Colonies Laura Roslin, played by actress Mary McDonnell. As you'll see, she's a self-described "progressive." But playing the part of a President who must make hard, sometimes lethal, decisions -- letting some die to save others -- has started changing her:
"Playing this part on 'Battlestar'," McDonnell says, "I've been in the position of having to make sometimes military decisions regarding life and death. It has been a huge stretch for my progressive little heart and soul. The first time I had to experience this in the miniseries, I was really disturbed, when I really got inside that moment.

"As the 13 episodes went on, and I got more and more in command, I started to notice the separation taking place, separating the perhaps compassionate person from the practical person that had to keep the bigger prize in mind. You start feeling yourself becoming more male in a kind of cliched sense, but in fact, you start relying on a different side of yourself more often to get through the moment and not experience some of that pain."

Rather than [her character's] cancer being a hindrance, McDonnell feels it's actually worked in Roslin's favor.

"It's fascinating to me," she says, "but the cancer has freed me up to become clearer, stronger and faster. I've got nothing to lose, personally. All I've got to gain is the survival of the people. That's all she has, to do the job well that destiny has handed to her. The sicker she becomes, the more freedom she's experiencing to get the job done.

"Do you know what the truth is? Women are carrying all of it anyway. It's delusion to think otherwise. We're carrying too much, and now we're being called into power in a male, worldly sense as well. So how do you do that?"

Playing the president has had a personal effect on McDonnell as well.

"Because I am a middle-aged woman, I was not raised from the first day of my life to be prepared for a position of power in the world. I was certainly raised to know that I could do whatever I want. I had a family filled with strong women, and a dad who said, 'Doesn't matter, go out and do what you want.'

"But my education, the information did not come to me to teach me how to be in the male world and take command. So it's the same with Laura Roslin, in that she was not prepared to be the president or any of this. Now she, under extraordinary circumstances, has to discover her own power. She's a very latently powerful woman. I think that's a very good thing to talk about right now."
Knowledge and experience are great teachers, aren't they?

BSG is a groundbreaking show in other ways. The producers have just put the first episode of the series (after the pilot) up on the website as a free download. More episodes may come. Executive Producer Ron Moore keeps a blog, where he talks openly about the show and behind the scenes. He's also doing a series of podcasts, where he provides real-time commentary on each episode for the series. And they are free downloads as well.

After a lot of initial skepticism -- the original series was camp, cheap and cheesy -- the new series has earned wide-spread praise from all quarters for its style, its grittiness (the anti-Trek, in a manner of speaking), its realism, and the maturity of its character conceptions. This is a show about the effects of a major cataclysm on a civilisation. That it takes place in a science fiction world is purely secondary. Watching realistic people live day-to-day under enormous, unending pressure with no real hope in sight is what BSG is about.

Star Trek was the trend-setter in its day. In fact, Moore comes from Deep Space Nine, Trek's most complex and gritty series. Many people had thought that the SciFi Channel's other groundbreaking series, Farscape, would be the next trendsetter. But it's turning out to be little ol' BSG. Watch for science fiction to become grubby, dirty and lower-tech in its wake.
Bolivia and Hugo Chavez

With all the events in the Middle East, South America is getting short shrift in the American press. That's too bad, as Hugo Chavez, the socialist dictator/President of Venezuela, is setting up a Cuba-style socialist paradise and trying to export it to other South American countries, like Bolivia and Brazil. He's trying, with some success, to assume the mantle of revolutionary heir to Castro. Venezuela used to be a major world economy and now it's close to collapse. Bolivia is now being torn apart and is also facing crisis. Brazil isn't far behind.

You can read a lot more about Bolivia here, and for the geographically challenged, here's a map.

The Bush Administration needs to start paying real attention to the transformation going on down below us. A very ugly situation similar to the mess in Central America in the 1970's is taking shape. Spreading democracy in the Middle East is great, but watching socialism destroy our next door neighbors, crippling these countries for decades to come, will have severe consequences for America's economy.

I'm just going to clean out my Quick Note file. (See next post for explanation of Quick Note.) Lots of bits of random stuff, and no context, OK?

1. I spent 23 years of my life to get a girlfriend. I deleted all my pr0n for her. Now she is gone. Life is truly a misery.

Three words for you...
Off. Site. Backup.

Women come, women go, but pr0n is forever.

2. This is why scientists have to conform:

In 1680 Samuel Butler wrote in Hudibras as follows:-

What makes all doctrines plain and clear?
About two hundred pounds a year.
And that which was proved true before,
Prove false again? Two hundred more.

Different church, different religion, same mindset.

3. Searchable SOTUdatabase at AskSam!

More searchable databases:
In addition to the State of the Union, the following
are also available in searchable askSam databases:

The Transcripts from the 2004 Presidential Debates 

Selected Speeches from the 2004 Political Conventions

"Agenda for America" by President Bush

"Our Plan for America" by Senators Kerry and Edwards 

The Patriot Act

The 9-11 Commission Report 

The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act

askSam Systems

4. Liberal humanitarianism is all about teaching someone to fish, and being compassionate and giving him a meal while he's learning. Except the person doing the teaching only works office hours, Monday through Friday, and with a whole lot of other people besides you. He may or may not know how to fish. The kind of fish you try to catch, the rod you use, how you cook it and where, are all determined by the government and may have no relationship to the facts on the ground. You will also be given a free home and food until the program teaching you to fish is terminated, and all on my dime.

5. Thomas Jefferson, “Error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.”

6. Some great movies are coming out of Korea these days: Yoon-Hyun Chang's Tell Me Something is a spiffy serial-killer flick; Chan-wook Park's Joint Security Area is one of the best movies about the military ever made; Joon-ho Bong's Barking Dogs Never Bite is a shockingly sick and funny black comedy; Gee-woong Nam's Teenage Hooker Became Killing Machine in Daehakroh is a Looney Tunes vision by way of David Lynch; Ki-duk Kim's disturbing The Isle is a tale of obsessive love involving mutilation and fishhooks, and Kim Ji-woon's A Tale of Two Sisters is simply a masterpiece. See any one of these movies rather than Phone. Taken from the website forums. I've seen Phone and really love it; same for The Isle. Hopefully, Midtown Video is getting Chan Wook Parks's Old Boy later this year. It's a masterpiece of strangeness, violence and revenge.

7. From the Commonly Confused Words quiz, I got:
English Genius
You scored 100% Beginner, 100% Intermediate, 100% Advanced, and 77% Expert!

Hat tip to Abby for the link.

8. Whew! I feel better now:

I am 12% Metrosexual.
Metro-What? Git Off My Lawn!
I need some advice. I need to STOP BUYING MY CLOTHS AT WAL-MART!!!! I will never land a decent woman unless I shave this nasty facial hair, and spend more then $5 on a haircut.

Thanks to Chris for this one.

9. The value of complaints is a fantasy perpetuated by people who have a surplus. From the Channel 101 forums. Sites and concepts like this are the future of entertainment, once we have America wired for broadband.

10. This: IMAP:// showed up in my referrer logs. Any idea what it is? I've never seen this before, at least not in referrer logs. Weird....
Quick Note

Speaking of Quick Note, it's an extension for the Firefox web browser that functions just like a Post-It note pad for your browser window. Normally, it resides in the Tools menu, but you can also access it with a right-click or set it permanently as a sidebar, another tab or small floating window.

Just highlight some text, then click it to Quick Note! Instantly save some interesting bit of text, a quote, a passage or even a URL. You can set the number of windows in the Quick Note window, as well as some other functions. Very versatile, small and fast loading.

It's very handy for blogging or snagging something interesting for later. I use it many times every day; I can't imagine browsing without it.
Our Daily CA

This is an omnibus post about various problems at our daily paper, the Commercial Appeal. Come, take my hand and let us proceed....

First was a front page, above the fold story about Mayor Herenton's meeting with the school boards. The trouble? There's no reporting!

We go through nine paragraphs of stuff like this:
Think of Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton's first meeting with the city school board to talk about consolidation as a first date.

He was gracious, starting the Thursday evening meeting with hugs and a couple of smooth icebreakers before easing into humble offerings like, "I don't have all the answers."

He wasn't there to make an aggressive pitch for his plan to merge the city and county school systems.

Instead, he came to woo, to gain support for a plan he knows faces an uphill battle.
It's only with the next to last paragraph before the jump to inside that we get our first actual bit of information:
Instead, Herenton shared a grim financial forecast.
We never do learn what that forecast is. Instead, we get a lot of random bits connected by a first-date reminiscence. For a topic so vital to the community, and a meeting that may be pivotal in grappling with those problems, we learn pretty much nothing. It's inexcusable for something this fact-free to have gotten past an editor, much less into a high-profile slot on the front page.

Next is another piece of literary writing being passed off as reporting. The facts of the story, as I gleaned them, are that a woman who died after seven years in a coma is having the circumstances of her attack reviewed, and that no police report was taken at the time which seems to indicate that police had no intention of investigating the assault.

What you get, though, is this:
Family members say her life was a mystery.

So was her death.

She graduated from college, got married and got a job as a social worker.

But she was also arrested 16 times in 20 years for sleeping in a bank, loitering in parking lots and stealing things like a $1.29 bottle of rubbing alcohol from a drugstore.

The first 20 or so years of her life she had family and friends and direction, the last 20 she spent wandering the streets with no friends except for a guy named 'Cowboy.'

That might be why police don't really know how Lenatta Burnette ended up the way she did.
After all this, we get the facts, finally. Then we get a whole lot of heart-string tugging about the "mystery" of her life. When I first started reading, I was thinking "She had adult-onset schizophrenia." But it's only when the facts of her life are laid out, the so-called mystery is "solved."
Her mother said she was a sweet young woman who graduated from Talladega College in Alabama and studied for her master's at Auburn University's Montgomery campus.

When Burnette was younger Harrison called her "Diana" because, like a princess, she got everything she wanted.

She was raised in Montgomery and moved to Memphis in the 1980s, where she married briefly. She had a son but did little to raise him.

During this time a severe alcohol addiction gripped her.
Oh. Well. That answers that, doesn't it? There is no "mystery" to an alcoholic's life. It is an ever-tightening circle that strips and burns off every bit of humanity in a person until only the body and the bottle are left. Then you die. This kind of romanticising for the sake of tugging the emotions is reprehensible.
Harrison believes her daughter was beaten in the street and that no one cared because that's the life of a street person.
Yeah, that's right. "Society" is "responsible" for "letting" this woman die. Not even her own mother supports that statement:
"Her life was just like that. It was very raggedy and she fooled with the low type. She did not have to do it; it was her choice."
Exactly. An alcoholic who doesn't want help can't be helped, no matter the intervention. You may slow things down, but you cannot prevent the inevitable if the alcoholic doesn't want to stop.

This was a simple crime report, a re-examination of a cold case. Turning it into a sob story helps no one. Again, aren't there editors who are supposed to stop this sort of writing? Or is this "telling the story of Memphis?"

Last is a guest editorial that appears to be from Bill Bouknight, a local pastor. The editorial only says "Bouknight" without any other identifying information. I'm guessing the print edition said more, but I'll explain in a bit why the online edition was so sparse in a moment.

Anyway, it's an "anti-evolution" column that could have been written by any high school student in the county. Why it made it into the Commercial Appeal is likely a consequence of the author's position in the community, as pastor of a major church. Beyond that, it has no purpose or information.

Bouknight, who doesn't seem to have any training as a scientist or much understanding of how science works, nonetheless proceeds to enlighten us on why "science" is wrong. I'm sure that Bouknight would be just as welcoming and respecting of a scientist who came to talk with his parishioners about the Bible's history and origins who had no credentials in Bible scholarship. I'm trying to remember the last time the Commercial Appeal had some good guest comment on Bible scholarship and history written by hard-science historians like archeologists.

I normally don't Christian bash. I'm very much live and let live on the subject, even though I am an atheist. If you want the hardline, try here. I generally respect a person's religious beliefs when they are a core part of a person's outlook and personality. The religious impulse is undeniably part of the human make-up, found in many forms in all societies around the world. It's the "why" and "what next" parts we can debate, if you want. I usually don't, because it quickly becomes personal and defensive.

All of that is to say if the Commercial Appeal, a newspaper supposedly dedicated to reporting the facts, is inclined to discuss these topics, they also have a responsibility to uphold a basic standard in the discussion. Bouknight's column fails basic standards of rhetoric and science. It should never have seen the light of print.

As to why I didn't know for sure who wrote this, I finally gave in and installed the Flashblock, Adblock and Bug Me Not plug-in extensions for my Firefox browser. I'm generally willing to tolerate ads, since they help keep websites free. But when I go to television station and newspaper websites that are so badly designed, so chock full of badly placed, badly written content piped in from external sites, that it takes minutes for a page to load completely, then I have to act.

Since installing and turning on these plug-ins, the pages load much, much faster. They're still slow, because they aren't designed for readability or accessibility, but out of convenience, bad inherited design and the need to crank out ads. If their webmasters would improve what they do, then I'd gladly, if reluctantly, undo what I've done. As it is, I don't expect anything to change, so, tough luck for them.
Inside Jokes

A couple of my favorite programs are showing signs of "inside jokes" planted for attentive viewers.

Take tonight's 24. Jack Bauer tracks a terrorist lead to a defense contractor company called McLennan/Forrester. Is someone on the show's writing staff a Go-Betweens fan?

Then there's last week's episode of Lost, which told the story of Hurley, the rotund, unassuming guy with the enormous shock of frizzy red hair. We learn he used a series of "cursed" numbers to win a gigantic lottery prize. The winning Powerball multiplier number? 42. Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy fans rejoiced at that one.

There are even cross-series jokes. One of the characters on Lost is a musician whose band, Driveshaft, had one big hit: "You All Everybody." On an episode of Alias, produced by the same team, you could hear that song being played in the background of a party.

Any others?
Trouser Press

Back in the mid to late Seventies, when I was discovering punk rock and independent American and British music, I lived in the middle of rock nowhere: Huntsville, Alabama. My only sources of information were magazines like New Musical Express, Sounds, Creem, and Trouser Press.

TP had interviews and articles about up and coming new bands like Blondie, the Dictators, Television, Patti Smith, Devo, the Ramones, Pere Ubu, but the bulk of the magazine was taken up with reviews of hundreds of records from all over the world. It was a vital part of my rock and roll education.

Times changed and the magazine's leading light, Ira Robbins, eventually retired it. He published a series of Trouser Press Record Guides, basically compilations of reviews from the mag with some updates. But in the late 90's it was revived as a website. And now it's got most of the old content, along with additions well into the 21st century.

It's a great site to browse. The discographies are detailed, the reviews short but accurate, and the band histories pretty comprehensive. Today when you think "punk rock" it conjures a pretty specific image, but back in the early days bands like Blondie and Devo were part and parcel of the punk aesthetic. Look at pictures of the earliest audiences and bands and you'll see a lot of hippie length hair, polyester clothes.

Anyway, go and wander around. It'll give you fodder for your "to download" lists.
Open Season

Hear that shriek? That's the sound of cat lovers across the country reacting to news from Wisconsin that a local hunter "wants stray cats classified as an 'unprotected species' that could be shot by anyone with a small-game license."

The story is a bit unclear on facts, such as whether the hunter is talking about feral cats -- undomesticated, wild animals -- or stray household pets. And it's long on reaction -- mostly horrified -- from folks like the Humane Society.

I can understand the guy's point about controlling the feral cat population. My street, for example, has two feral cat colonies totalling about 20 cats. Those colonies are aided by misguided folks who feed the "poor animals." That only serves to keep the cat population higher than the natural food supply -- rats, birds, squirels, etc. -- can support.

On the other hand, a depletion of cats can mean an overabundance of rats, which can mean increased disease. There's also the yahoo factor, dipsticks with a hankerin' to kill something being given a license to start shooting.

But all this discussion will be drowned out by the wails from cat lovers. This guy's life is about to become hell.

Flipping across channels this evening, I stopped to watch a bit of FOX13's weather forecast. After the 7-day prediction, Joey Sulipeck went over to the anchor desk with Mearl Purvis and Steve Dawson. Joey was chatting with them about "burning" his lawn: cutting the grass extremely short to spur late season growth. Dawson joked about giving his lawn a "mullet."

Joey said, "A mullet and a Camaro" and then threw the goat! That's right. Joey is a metalhead. Or a Satanist.

Will the hordes who descended on Andy Wise for his religious statement now fall on Sulipeck for his? Will we start seeing bow ties at MidSouth metal concerts?

Dude! \m/
Absence Make Your Heart Grow Fonder?

Yeah, I'm back. Regulars know the drill. For the new readers: I occasionally go away. It's related to depression and crises of self-confidence. It's a feature, not a bug.

Thanks to those who asked after me, especially Jamey, whose blog you should be reading. Thanks also to those who donated last month; I'm very grateful.

Two new posts to tide you over until I can post more later today.

Since the release of WordPress 1.5, I've regained interest in moving the blog over to If anyone has PHP skills, or can point me to someone who does WP design, I'll probably want to hire you to convert this blog template to PHP at some time in the near future. I can handle the CSS themes. No hurry, as I have to update all the links first. But I have some mildly ambitious plans and need to make the change.

So, how y'all been?
Memphis Blog Panel

Business Wire, who have already hosted the BloggerCon in Nashville last year, will be hosting a blog panel here in Memphis, this Thursday beginning at 7:30AM in the Clubroom at the Pink Palace on Central. Peggy Phillip, news director for WMC TV5 and I will be on the panel. My role will be to speak on "citizen journalists" in the New Media.

From the press release:
What does it mean to my career? Here is how you can find out:

What: Information on the latest detour on the information
superhighway--the wild world of weblogs, commonly known as "blogs."
Join us for an insightful forum that will provide an introduction to
the cyber soapboxes and web diaries that are driving media and provoking
many PR pros to scratch their heads. Don't think blogs matter? Ask Dan

When: Thursday, March 10

7:30 - 8 a.m.: networking

8 - 9 a.m.: breakfast

Panel discussion begins at 9 a.m.

Where: Clubroom at the Pink Palace
3050 Central Ave
Memphis, TN 38111

Cross Street: Between Lafayette St and Tilton St

Who: Peggy Phillip, News Director, WMC
Mike Hollihan, Citizen Journalist, Half-Bakered

Moderator: Micky Pace, Regional Manager, Nashville Office, Business

RSVP by Thursday, March 3 to Denise Higgins Business Wire via telephone
at 615-661-6123 or

800-989-9889 or via e-mail at
I know the RSVP date is past, but if you want to attend I'm hopeful they'll still let you come. When I first got the invite, I mentioned a couple of other bloggers they might want, but I don't guess they were able to attend.

Wish me luck. I've done some public speaking before, but I still get nervous, especially when I'm expected to be knowledgeable. I'm going to try to mix local, state and national topics: the Memphis blog scene and our relation to the "old media" in town; Tennessee political blogging's arrival in 2004 and '05; and the effects of blogs on the national media and in the last Presidential campaign.

Who knows? With any luck I might attract a sponsor or two....
DVD Review: A Snake of June

[This review contains many substantial spoilers.]

June in Japan is the rainy month. The snake in Japan, as in many other cultures, is a symbol for the penis. 2002's A Snake of June, by Japanese director Shinya Tsukamoto (already famed for the Tetsuo films and Bullet Ballet) is an enthralling film about the awakening of desire and the explosive consequences of damming that desire.

The first thing to be said about A Snake of June is its look. Filmed in black and white, it was transferred to color stock for theatrical showing. Tsukamoto chose to use the possibilities of that stock to give his film a rich Arctic blue gloss that lends the film an otherworldly aura while still keeping the high contrast and heavy detail of black and white. (Beads of water and pores in the skin leap out in sharp relief.) The blue acts to cool the viewer even as events explode onscreen. It detaches us from events in a different way than straight-forward black and white would have. The choice of blue also ties in to the movie's extensive use of water as a metaphor.

The movie opens with photographer Iguchi, played by director Tsukamoto, trying to sell some pictures to a magazine. He's told that his pictures of inanimate objects aren't as desirable as erotic pictures. We next meet telephone social counselor Rinko Tatsumi, a quiet woman with a certain French gamin look about her: narrow horn-rim glasses, a stringy boyish bob cut and a mild androgeny. She seems very reserved and self-contained, nervous to please in that way unique to Japanese women in their twenties. Next, we meet her husband, Shigehiko. He's at least 20 years her senior, balding and pudgy and soft. A classic Japanese sarariman and apparently a bit of a momma's boy. (Even his name suggests it. "Ko" is derived for the word for "infant," and is frequently used as a diminuitive at the end of women's names: Michiko, Akiko, etc.) Shigehiko is a cleanliness and neatness freak. When we first meet him, he's scrubbing the kitchen sink. When Rinko protests, wondering if she did a good job, he replies with an odd smile that he enjoys cleaning.

As we soon learn, their marriage is dry and sexless. Repression and sterility is everywhere. Enter Iguchi. He mails a packet to Rinko titled "Secret From Your Husband." It's filled with surprising pictures of a reclining Rinko, sitting beside her living room window, exploring her body to erotic effect! We're amazed at the revelation about the prim Rinko and she's shocked by the invasion of her privacy. Iguchi has pierced the bubble built up around her.

Then she receives another packet with more pictures of her wearing a very short skirt and makeup, then having an orgasmic moment in the rain. Again, we're surprised to learn about this part of Rinko, as nothing we've been shown yet hints at it. Then, she finds a cell phone. Iguchi calls her and gives her instructions. And the movie kicks into gear.

Iguchi is one of her callers at the counseling center, we learn, someone she helped. He wants to return the favor. His plan is to blackmail her with his pictures into doing exactly what she wants to do anyway, but doesn't have the will to conquer her repression and do openly. Her fear of disrupting her marriage, shocking her husband -- her repression -- forces her to follow Iguchi's plan.

What follows is the erotic liberation of Rinko and her husband Shigehiko, after a torturous path of humiliation, voyeurism, curiousity, conflict and, ultimately, release. The film's very structure parallels the sexual act itself. We are seduced, violated, seduced again, then taken to climax.

All of this is presented through the lens, Iguchi's and Tsukamoto's. Literally, it's a movie drenched in voyeurism, just as the city itself is drenched from beginning to end in rain.

A Snake of June is all about fighting through the alienation and separation of modern city life. The film makes extensive use of static framing shots to set scenes or introduce characters. There are also a lot of circular openings -- eyes, windows, cones -- through which we see. Characters often hide around corners to watch other events unfold; there are frequent shots of background characters watching the main three in action, staring directly into the camera as though we are Rinko or Shigehiko.

Outside of their marriage, we see Rinko or Shigehiko interact with others, especially Iguchi the blackmailer, through the telephone. Other important moments come through the phone. As much as we see these three out in the world, they don't have much interaction with it. In fact, they own an observatory and a large telescope, the better to disconnect and turn their attentions elsewhere.

One stunning sequence involves Rinko being forced to wear her too-short skirt sans underwear through a department store. Her fear is so intense she dons a pair of dark glasses and clutches her umbrella in front of her, like a shield. Add to that her halting, fearful steps, knock-kneed to protect her sex, and she appears almost like a blind woman. Given that she's being led by Iguchi to her release from inhibition, that's a powerful metaphor. The sequence is shot with rapid cuts and shaky, too-close hand-held cameras, to help convey her fear and disorientation. When Iguchi next forces her to buy and insert a vibrator as she parades around the city, Rinko's all-consuming response is truly climactic, orgasmic. Her odyssey is sexual in both form and conclusion!

The counterbalancing theme is water. It pours, cascades, drips, splashes, pools and roars through A Snake of June. It's a metaphor for sexuality, the unstoppable pervasiveness of desire. In nearly every outdoor shot, it's raining. Windows are always being spattered with it. Clothes are soaked in it; faces and bodies spotted. There is a repeated shot of water racing like a torrent across stones to a storm drain, collecting in a strange, Lynchian place in the bowels of the city.

Another repeated motif is a constant use of the shadows of water running in rivulets down windows, those shadows falling on the walls behind and above the characters, to imply the repressed desire flowing through them, unceasingly running but only a hint of what could be.

There are a lot of beautiful shots of water hitting various things. Hydrangeas opening to rainfall; a snail slowly crossing a rain-spattered leaf; a rain-shrouded skyline; windows and walkways splashed with rain; public streets viewed through a haze of rain; and one genuinely wondrous shot of a rain puddle boiling with raindrops, it's whole surface alive with motion. Tsukamoto manages to combine it all with a shot I want to capture for a computer wallpaper: we see Rinko looking apprehensively out her apartment window, through the horizontal slats of open blinds, partly hidden by the angular leaves and limbs of a tree, obscured by heavy rainfall. Alienation, repression, fear and desire all in one aching image.

But this is a Shinya Tsukamoto film. His work has been compared to that of David Lynch and David Cronenberg with good reason. Viewers expect a certain weirdness from the man who brought the body-horror nightmares of Tetsuo: The Iron Man and Tetsuo: Body Hammer to life. With Lynch, he shares a similar view of the strangeness lurking just below the surfaces of seemingly normal life, though this movie gets comparisons to the directly weird Eraserhead. With Cronenberg he shares the same fascination with flesh and the body, the limits it can be put through, the fusion of flesh and machine. Though it's primarily a drama with overtones of psychological horror, there are a few moments of trademark Tsukamoto.

At two points in the movie, Shigehiko finds himself in a Lynchian underworld where businessmen such as himself are bound and their faces covered in intricate pig-snout cones that limit their view to tiny circles in front of them. These sarariman are forced at one moment to watch a young couple being pushed and shoved in a simulation of sex, as a fat woman in a vaguely circuslike costume bangs a drum. The couple are then put into a front-loader washing machine-like device that is equal parts carnival sideshow and cathedral altar, that fills up with water from the drains above, drowning them. Later, at his dramatic turning point, Shigehiko discovers himself inside the machine, also drowning in water from the streets, being watched by the cone-faced businessmen. Whatever is going on here is entirely metaphorical; it's not even clear he's actually in a real place. In a movie as firmly realistic as this, they are flights of absurdity that somehow still feel proper.

There's another moment, when Shigehiko is attacked by an obsessed Iguchi over Rinko, where a black corrugated tube-thing makes an appearance. The cast and crew call it the "metal penis." It's the purest "Tsukamoto" moment. I'll leave it to you to stumble on this scene.

A Snake of June reaches a shattering, life-altering climax (literally) when all three characters collide at a construction site unbeknown to each other, mostly. Rinko has at last liberated herself. After a brief call to Iguchi, she puts on the short skirt and makeup, then parades through the department store with obvious satisfaction, revelling in her freedom and power. A horrified but fascinated Shigehiko follows her, hiding like a voyeur, thinking she's having an affair with the photographer whose pictures he's found. When she struts into the site, during a torrential rainstorm, her husband hides around the corner wondering what's to come.

Iguchi flies up in his car. As he opens his window and begins to take flash pictures, Rinko gives herself to the downpour. In a solo performance of orgiastic awakening, she swivels and strips for Iguchi until she is naked, consumed in the sensations both external and internal. She finally reaches her orgasm, even as her husband does in the shadows, while Iguchi's flash pops non-stop. The scene is uncomfortable only in its intimacy.

Spent, folded into herself, she has one last thing to achieve. Rising straight, facing Iguchi's camera unflinching with a slightly crooked smile, completely naked -- not at all nude, but naked -- she invites his appraisal. Shigehiko, not comprehending that the moment is for ultimately for him, runs away ashamed.

All these events have been built up to slowly. The characters react to each other and move forward believably. But from here to the final act, it's like a rush to orgasm. I'll leave this to the viewer's delight.

As you've likely guessed by now, I'm in love with this film. It's a near-perfect blend of art, horror and drama. The intricate weaving of voyeurism into every aspect of the filming, theme, metaphor and composition of the movie, along with the concurrent use of water as another, conflicting yet complementary metaphor, makes for a dense viewing experience, even at a brisk run time of 77 minutes!

Don't think this is short. Tsukamoto makes use of a lot of the fancy film tricks -- abrupt cuts within scenes, shaky hand-held cameras, oddball angles, changing points of view, long empty establishing shots -- so beloved of modern film-makers. (Think Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels or Trainspotting.) Unlike many directors who need to pad their movies to 90 minutes, and will therefore cut back on the cutting edge stuff for more conventional narrative techniques to avoid wearing out the viewer (Again, think Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels), Tsukamoto does no such thing. He sticks with his choices all the way through. Consequently, the movie doesn't wear you out, nor does it feel truncated. It's a unified experience, from seduction to release, in every sense.

There are other elements I'd like to discuss (I took four pages of notes on the second viewing!) but I feel I need to stop before I belabor my point. I really liked this movie. It's probably now in my Top Ten. It's a visual feast, a compelling story of three repressed people finding what they want, a cinematic experience, and a stunning accomplishment of eroticism. Asuka Kurosawa, the actress who plays Rinko, is brave beyond words. What she does on screen would compare to the fearlessness of a Jennifer Jason Leigh or Jennifer Connelly. Amazing but organic to her character at every moment, so her craft is invisible. Even Yuji Kohtari, as Shigehiko, rises above his stereotypic middle-aged, middle class Japanese appearance to equal moments of bashfulness and confusion that are shaded with engaging subtlety.

There's no dub available on the disk, only subtitles. They fly thick and fast in this film. It means you should watch the film twice: once with subtitles that you follow closely to catch the dialogue and narrative, then again with no subtitles so you can lose yourself in the visual experience.

The odd monochromatic color scheme reproduces perfectly, with great detail and nuance, on my television and so is a treat of its own. No artefacts are in the black areas, nor is there bleeding of colors.

There are interviews with the director and his co-stars, and another, short "making of" featurette. Along with some previews of other Tartan Asia Extreme releases, that's it.

A Snake of June gets my highest recommendation. It's clear that it was long in the conception and meticulous in its execution. Everyone in the cast and crew are fully bought into Tsukamoto's vision. If you're not sure you'll want to watch any Japanese films, and would like to try just one, make it this. It's culturally specific enough to entertain, resonant enough in its story and emotion to knock even American audiences over. It's beautiful, exotic and erotic. Powerful and cathartic like great sex. And I mean that.