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Gandalf's bumpersticker.   
12:53pm 12/07/2004
For all port lovers out there, this site is quite interesting   
11:14pm 08/07/2004

Has a good history of the wine, and a pretty good explanation of where it comes from and how it's made. (Brandy is used to arrest fermentation while the wine is still fruity and strong.)
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Gibson working on another film ...   
04:22pm 17/03/2004
The Story of Macabees
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The Story Doctor #3: Mona Lisa Smile   
12:05pm 17/03/2004
  Well the good doctor is back in, and this time to perform an assisted suicide for a terminally ill screenwriter. Nevermind all those nominations by the Academy for this worthless trash. The doctor rather suspects that all the screaming liberal issues espoused in this film drew the praise of sympathetic ears in Hollywood, and that talent, drama, and most of all, plot, were just not required. At least the acting was pretty good.

The story is about a promiscuous and batty college professor that moves across the country to follow her dream of bringing the liberal light to a very conservative girl's college. Oh the horror, the girl's college is really just a holding pattern for the exceptionally bright and rich (not to mention snotty) young ladies to find husbands and become enslaved domestic servants! (Cheesy organ music ensues) These poor girls also obviously have no taste in art, since they prefer the old masters to the paint splatters of modern "artists". Okay, so I'm really heavy on the hatchet here, but it's the only way I'm going to have any fun after sitting through this snorer. So some of the art was good. So the batty lib professor learns that some women actually *want* to get married. So I could've actually bought the premise if only the author had built a STORY around it.

Events come and go in this movie. Some characters (like the prof's fiancé') come and go, and never come back or have any real impact on the story. You sit through 30 minutes of maneuvering between the MC and her fiancé, only for her to snub him and for him to disappear. So why did you just waste 30 minutes of my life? Was there any point? Multiple. promising relationships are built up to staggering anti-climax. I guess the author was trying really hard to be original, except this whole thing has been done before (right) with DEAD POET'S SOCIETY. The events just kind of happened without any direction. The best interpretation I could offer was an amalgam of weak subplots that had no real plot to sub. Nothing happens of consequence here, nothing seems to have any lasting repercussions except the one interesting aspect of the story where the Mother of All Rich Bitches has her life crushed by a philandering husband and therefore mends her ways. They could've told that story in 15 minutes and had a much better film.

Instead, we're drug through and endless series of disconnected events. The main character's supposed inner conflict (I have no clue how to love and be loved!) has no resonance with the overall conflict (we're all to smart to learn anything from you v I am the liberal light of the world). Therefore the theme falls to pieces and the story seems pointless. Without any crossover from these conflicts, how are we supposed to connect the dots and understand the story's message?

The end was the worst part, when all the girls come out to show their support for the professor, now rightfully chased out of an environment she never belonged in, and all you can do is roll your eyes and ask, "Why Should They Care?, Because I Don't!" The lib professor doesn't really do enough to merit the send off. The send-off is supposed to be really moving and show that, even though the nasty conservative teachers threw out this thorn in their sides, It Was All Worth It In The End Because Of All The Lives She Changed. Except they didn't change this time, her influence on them is slim to nil in terms of their choices in life.

Well the EKG just went flat, so the Doctor is off to help some other patients that hopefully have more signs of life in them.
Talk about paranoid   
03:40pm 11/03/2004
The Story Doctor #2: Runaway Jury   
12:16pm 11/03/2004
  Well the good doctor is in for another round, this time to extol the virtues of a relatively healthy patient. The doctor still has a band-aid or two for this movie.

This time we'll be examining the movie, recently released on DVD, instead of the book. If you like to read, I would have to recommend that you read the book before you see the movie. Knowing the story will spoil the twists, and that is where this story excels best, so if you're a bookworm like me, opt for the book instead of the movie. Then again you may decide, as I did, that the movie version makes for a better date.

Fair warning: the good doctor can't do his diagnostic without dropping in plenty of spoilers. So if that matters much to you (and with this movie it should), go and see it and then shimmy on back to the doctor to learn a thing or two about story hygiene.

The story is obviously a courtroom drama, with the gun industry on one side and a widow who lost her husband to a armed criminal on the other. Whether you agree with the political message of the story or not, it's still a good yarn. It won't change anybody's minds, but it won't irritate the political opposition too much either. Of course you know automatically that we're supposed to root for the underdog.

The deeper and much more interesting story is about the two underground groups trying to manipulate the jury to the verdict they want. It's a fascinating combination of spy v spy and courtroom drama. On one side you have the jury "consultant" that the gun industry hires, of course the best that money can buy, as the antagonist. He's brilliant, he's crafty, he's perceptive, and cares about nothing but winning. On the other hand, you have the protagonists who are apparently free agents looking for bids from either the gun industry's crony or the lawyer of the widow.

The protagonists are beautifully mysterious, with revelation moments coming out slowly but with great impact, and it is great fun watching them play the game. The screenwriter does a brilliant job of illustrating that the protagonists are vulnerable, perhaps out of their league. And because they're the underdogs, and so clever, and because we hate their opponent, we sympathize with them. This is a clever construct by the author since ordinarily we would find it hard to sympathize with protagonists who are out to swindle millions of dollars by corrupting justice.

I love a story that can still surprise me. This story had plenty of surprises, and a big one at the end. The author does this by concealing real motives, so that the audience defaults to the cliché' motive, until they are revealed. Ditto with character abilities. He reveals them one at a time, delighting and surprising us with each break from cliché'. The movie starts with revealing the perceptiveness of the antagonist. It reveals his methods, clever and clandestine, one by one. It reveals new abilities from the protagonists, from deft manipulation to desperate hand to hand melee.

Now for the band-aids.

The antagonist is a bit too flat. The author had to make us hate him, to prop up sympathy for the protagonists. By definition of his role he has to be corrupt to the core. All we needed really was a bit more evidence for what drives him to win at all costs, something to make us say, at least, oh, how sad. We can still hate him this way, but maybe we can believe in him a bit more.

The widow's lawyer is too preachy about his noble principles, and comes off as arrogant at parts. Even just a shard of self-deprecation or humility would help. In the end the author has him fall from his principles and lose faith in the system, which could've been developed into a delicious tragedy. But we don't feel his pain, because the whole time we've been wanting to knock him off his soapbox anyway.

The story has one major break from believability, when one of the protagonists tries to tell the audience (by saying it to the vanquished antagonist) that the jury decided without manipulation. Bull. You show us the manipulation, you show the protagonist dominating the deliberations, you show how he has manipulated them masterfully during the whole story without much effort, the jury comes out with a verdict far beyond what we expect, and now you want us to swallow that whopper? Eyah, whatever. An attempt to top off the nobility of the protagonist makes him look like a liar for no good reason.

Could be that all of these little faults have to do with compression from novel to film, but the good doctor doesn't know. It was already a pretty long movie.
The Story Doctor #1: The Distinguished Gentleman   
11:16am 11/03/2004
  I endured "The Distinguished Gentleman" for a couple of hours last night and came away surprised. It didn't surprise me that the entire story collapsed under the weight of every cliché imaginable. It didn't surprise me that I could've told you the whole story within thirty seconds of the movie starting. It didn't surprise me that each of the characters had only one motivation and emotion assigned by the screenwriter, so that they each seemed to be more like action figures than people.

What really surprised me is that the premise of this film had so much potential, and the screenwriter brushed it without recognizing it on his way out the door to mediocrity.

The story is a comedy (main character: Eddie Murphy) about a con-man who, upon discovering he has the same name as a recently deceased congressman, runs on pure name - recognition and next thing you know, he's on his way to Washington. Of course through the story he discovers that most of the congressman are bigger con-men than he is, and in order to win the heart of a zealous liberal lobbyist he's attracted to (the formula Hollywood love-interest), he must redeem himself and fight against the corruption. Oh, and we all learn that any congressman that becomes liberal is a redeemed hero.

Here's what the story doctor has to say about converting this from an eye-roller to a floor-roller:

The doctor says: comedy must flow from drama. The more serious, the more conflicted, the more painful the underlying drama is, the funnier the jokes when you make light of it. This movie treated a subject with deep dramatic depths so light-heartedly that it floated away like a balloon out of sight.

Making the love-interest the impact character (the catalyst character for the main character to change his nature) was an attempt to create a powerful motivation for the main character to change. A well-known device, but in this case one cliché too many. The main character had no contaganist (tempter) to hold him back, to cause an internal dilemma. In this case choosing between a conscience just born and a love interest dragging him down into further corruption would've created more interest and more laughs. Imagine trying to disguise furtive first attempts to solve a tragic social issue as naked greed to his love interest. Imagine his constituents getting a whiff of this disguise and now he must simultaneously convince them he is sincere. And the laughs commence as the action gets more and more exaggerated while he tries to juggle the two.
Besides that, we had at least two other candidates for the job of impact character in sincere congressmen that the audience could sympathize with more. Nobody sympathizes with a political lobbyist just because they have a liberal agenda. A lobbyist is a zealot, and all zealots are hard to build into a story unless you want to make them a really major character and build audience sympathy appropriately, eating up screen time. But a congressman nobly fighting for a just cause in a sea of corruption, now there's a body we can care about. Show how he stands up to the pain, makes sacrifices, and turns down easy compromises. Then we'll be in his corner. And we have a more direct model for the main character to emulate.

They brought in another minor impact character with the combo of the mother with the cancer-stricken daughter. But they white-washed the pain so much that the drama and the comedy both lost their punch. Something like cancer should have deeper consequences than a bald head. Why try to save the audience by saying the cancer is cured? Give us the pain. Make her death imminent. How to make comedy out of that? Well of course you don't want to make the audience hate the main character. The trick here is to have the main character use humor to comfort the girl, to relieve her from the fear of near death. It's bittersweet, yes, but that's better than limp.

The movie missed a chance for greatness when it almost put a real moral dilemma in the main character's lap. Convinced that he should legislate to protect Floridians from dangerously near power-lines, to prevent cancer clusters, he brings up the subject to his corrupt mentor. Never mind that he has manipulated the mentor into doing almost the completely impossible before, bringing him onboard a committee that no freshman congressman could ever dream of entering. No, he forgoes all the possible tension (and laughs) of a second round of manipulation directed at this new, more noble issue. It's the right choice to force the issue between them eventually. Maybe the screenwriter was running out of time in the movie, and fair enough. But at least give us some evidence as to why manipulation would fail for this seemingly much easier task. Now here's where the movie brushed greatness.
He mentions scientific studies linking the power-lines to cancer clusters, and the suffering of cancer victims in front of his mentor and his industry cronies. Their response bordered on brilliant then failed. (And I mean dramatically brilliant, all politics aside)
- They at first seem to have genuine sympathy for the victims, but then blow it.
- They point out that other studies have different conclusions.
- They point out that this is a five billion dollar cost to do in Florida alone and that
- This would cause job loss, hurting the poor, wrecking the economy, raise prices for electricity
- Homeowners near power lines would see the value of their homes plummet
- other economic mayhem, and they could've pointed out that this would cause real hardship to people, especially the poor
- They shouldn't have stopped here. They should've pointed out that even though they think that the cancer clusters are coincidental, that they give generously to cancer cure and treatment foundations. They should've volunteered to help the girl.

Now the main character is in a vice between one moral problem and another. He may be tempted to just give up caring and go back to being a pure con. So many possibilities for humor here. He could suggest solutions: "well all the people that lose their jobs can just come help you bury power lines, right?" He could turn to the absurd, suggesting that if the just build more power-lines near the right neighborhoods, they can kill enough poor people to achieve welfare reform. He could've ridiculed their study by cracking jokes about all the safe uses of power lines, and how they're so harmless. Instead, the character sits there and sulks as the mentor and his cronies throw out all shreds of humanity and make it a pure greed issue.

In the end, the character issue is muddied by the author's liberal agenda. Either make the story about going from corrupt to noble, or from one ideology to another, but don't dodge the issue. And here's what I mean: the main character pulls a final con to expose the corruption of his mentor, for the motive of revenge. He's still a con, he didn't even have a noble motive, just revenge. And the impact characters are ... happy with this? The reason we're to believe that the main character has transcended himself is because in addition to being a con who can avenge with the best of them, he has adopted a few liberal causes? Sorry, not even a completely liberal audience would buy it.

It would've been so much funnier if he had at least manipulated his mentor into supporting the noble cause against his own interests, like the story almost (almost brilliantly) suggested it would do. It would've been funnier if he had resolved his moral dilemma, painfully, instead of ignoring it. Either grow the character from one pole to another and have him win through honesty and integrity, or drop the liberal agenda and have the character master the situation through masterful deception and manipulation, forcing his mentor to help the victims and at the same time even duping the impact characters. Don't muddy the waters.

And the set up for a sequel (running for president) ... please don't do it. The screenwriter needs a few weeks in intensive care at the story hospital. Take some good medicine, and then go on to another idea. Recycling these clichés for a now even more clichéd sequel would make even the good doctor sick.
now here is a good review of the Passion.   
10:46am 27/02/2004

Man I love this guy ... he's connects the heart and mind so well in his commentary. He also did an outstanding job on writing a series of animated shorts from Jesus' life for children, so he knows not only the historical and theological context, but the dramatic context as well.
A review of The Passion   
10:19am 26/02/2004
  For anyone that the death of Jesus means something to, this movie will mean something to. As a collector of films about Jesus, I can say this is definitely the highest quality production values I've ever seen for such a film.

This is not a movie. It is a film. A movie tells a story. A film focuses on something a bit more narrow. In this case, the focus of the film start to finish was the suffering of Jesus for the atonement. If you think of it in terms of what it all means about his commitment and devotion to you, the film is really powerful.

It is a graphic film, but nothing should shock you if you've done much reading about flogging and crucifixion.

Mel made a mistake in having one of Jesus' eyes swollen shut most of the movie. That made the emotional connection more difficult to me. But the emotional punch is not all this movie is about. It's a meditation. It's a guided meditation of the atonement. I loved it.
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those pesky Jooooos!   
04:23pm 03/11/2003
God is a religious extremist   
04:22pm 03/11/2003
12:14pm 03/11/2003
mood: enlightened
So long as the covenant principles are principles to you, you will never perfect your living through them. Let deep call to deep. Let the manifest presence, in scripture and in worship, nurture what is natural to you.

Don't strive for anything or try to get anything. Let the reality of it in your spirit overflow into words and actions that will make it manifest.

Transcend the myth that peace means you don't care.

The gift of eternal life, and all of its manifestations, springs from within you and flows out. It is never attained or grasped from the outside.
Research tool   
03:15pm 27/10/2003
  Amazon.com has a very cool new search function for its book inventory; in addition to titles, authors and the like, it will also search the full text of some 120,000 books. If a keyword turns up in the text of a book, you can view the page on which it appears. Not all publishers have made their books available for searching, but this promises to be a very useful research tool.
03:12pm 27/10/2003

There is now a Centrist Coalition blog. I hate moderates... much more than even liberals. I bet Satan is a moderate; the best way to get evil accepted is to package it with some good. That's what moderates do; they're always like, "Oh! I'm so special because I don't take a firm stance on issues, and I see value in everyone's viewpoints." I bet right now a moderate is reading this and partially agreeing with it. Damn you!
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11:56am 15/08/2003
  Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson are going camping. They pitch their tent under the stars and go to sleep. Sometime in the middle of the night Holmes wakes Watson up.

"Watson, look up at the stars, and tell me what you deduce."

Watson says, "I see millions of stars, and if there are millions of stars, and if even a few of those have planets, it's quite likely there are some planets like Earth, and if there are a few planets like Earth out there, there might also be life."

Holmes replies, "Watson, you idiot, somebody stole our tent!"
unknown reality   
10:58am 12/08/2003
  "I have no respect for reality as soon as it is acknowledged as such. I am interested in what I can do with unacknowledged reality."

Elias Canetti
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upgrading your mind's graphics card   
11:00pm 10/08/2003
mood: contemplative
Does anyone remember the good ole CGA graphics card? Back in the early 80's, it was the best you could get for your PC. 4 Brilliant colors. Or, if you the ordinary green/black monochrome monitor, 4 glorious shades of green. A resolution of 320x240. No really. The text of the finest resolution looked like a toddler had composed the fonts with giant building blocks. It rendered photographs into kindergarten crayola scribbles.

A main component of your ability to apply your mind is your mental resolution. Imagine if your physical vision had a CGA card, and you saw everything in 320x240 resolution in four shades of green. You would blunder through your world, seeing no detail smaller than your leg. Your mental perceptions also have varying degrees of resolution, all depending on your ability to perceive and understand finer and finer distinctions.

To increase mental resolution, you need two skills. 1) The ability to see the simple from the complex. 2) The ability to see the complex in the simple.

To see the simple from the complex, train yourself to always search for context when you encounter a complex system. Nothing explains the behaviour of complexity better than the environment it lives in. You might ponder forever on the ramifications of gazelles having parallel vision, with eyes watching each side of it's field of view. In the context of lions in the environment, however, you already have a framework to lay the parts into and detect larger patterns.
Use syndiffeonesis to ferret out the context. To illustrate, take any two entities A and B. Pick any two things you know of. Describe how they are different. The differences you described must share some common medium for the comparison. For example, compare blue to orange. The common medium used to describe the difference? Wavelengths of light. This principle holds true for any A and B, no matter how different they are, even toasters compared to angst, stars compared to itch, or cheese compared to thought.

To see the complex in the simple eludes most people, and therefore they miss many important details. The soul of the art requires mastery of questions. Questions flow together in fibers and webs, each possible answer enclosing the seeds of a forest of more questions. Make yourself take the time to think of more questions, to drill down to finer distinctions. Some generally useful questions come to mind here:
1) How else can this be used?
2) What am I trying to accomplish?
3) Why does it do that? How does it do that?
4) How is this different?
6) What's it made of?
7) How could I describe this as completely and briefly as possible?
Your grand opportunity   
06:37pm 10/08/2003
  "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." - Thomas Edison  
10:23pm 09/08/2003
  "Rarest of all is the man who can and does reason at all times,
quickly, accurately, inclusively, despite hope or fear or bodily
distress, without egocentric bias or thalamic disturbance, with
correct memory, with clear distinction between fact, assumption, and
-Gulf, Robert A. Heinlein
Down with democracy!   
11:02am 08/08/2003
  "A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess from the public treasury." -- Sir Alex Fraser Tytler (1742-1813), Scottish jurist and historian, professor of Universal History at Edinburgh University.