Thursday, June 30, 2005

Harry Potter political structure

Last night, I stayed up far too late re-reading the fifth Harry Potter (in Hebrew, actually) and I found that the biggest problem in the wizard world is neither Voldemort nor the Dark Arts, but their own political structure. Unless I am very much mistaken, the Minister of Magic has almost absolute power. He controls the judicial (Harry's trial), legislative (all of Umbridge's new laws), and executive (controlling the Dementors and the executioner in book 3) branches of government. He also seems to control the one real newspaper in the entire wizarding world and can do whatever he wants with the one real school. And, most disturbing of all, there is never any talk of elections, impeachments, or any political opposition. The book mentions the post being 'offered' to Dumbledore, which implies that this absolute dictatorship is awarded by some shadowy counsel to anyone who catches their fancy. Nor do there seem to be any civil liberties, political action committees, or lobbyists. There is no one to prevent the rampant child abuse taking place in Hogwarts, nor does it seem that there's any to complain to. And this ministry seems to be a complicated, sprawling beaurocracy (almost all adult characters are employed by the ministry in some capacity) that legislates almost every aspect of wizarding life.
The only thing that confuses me is why Voldemort needed his reign of terror; it would have been simpler and more effective to have himself appointed Minister of Magic, and then he could rule the world without any opposition at all.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Star Wars III

I had a column in my high school newspaper one year devoted to 'critiquing' (read insulting) a variety of classics, but never once was there a work of literature or cinema that I have hated as much as the new Star Wars. Sad, but true. Including, by the way, the Lord of the Rings books, which is a whole separate rant and one that will probably get me lynched some day.
Anyway, I went to Star Wars with my brother Mike expecting it to be awful (I had seen the two previous ones), but hoping that it would at least be entertainingly awful. I was disappointed. Not that it didn't have its laughs (never intended by the scriptwriters), but such moments were drowned by the flood of unmitigated awfulness.
I will try to list my objections in some sort of orderly fashion:
1) The scene cuts. Apparently whoever wrote the accursed script thought that anyone viewing it had an attention span of about ten seconds, so it refused to focus on any battle, conversation, or inner musing for more than that. Any dialogue was limited to about three back and forth lines, and that's counting the 'clever' or 'drawing' one that they always had to end with and of course the cut-away shot. The light-saber battles would always be spliced with one another because somehow that would bore the short-attentioned watcher less. And any quiet dialogue had to be frequented alleviated with loud action shots involved light-sabers or space-ships. I was more than once tempted to scream out that I was not a moron, but the fact that I was watching the movie seemed to belay that.
2) The dialogue. Oh, that dialogue. A classic example is the Anakin/Padme conversation about exactly why she is so beautiful. I quote (as best as I can recall): 'You're so beautiful.' long pause. 'That's because I'm so in love.' Pause. 'No, that's because I'm so in love with you.' Pause. 'Are you saying that your love blinds you?' Very long pause where nobody cracks a blinking smile. 'That's...not exactly what I meant.' Cut-away camera shot to some more exciting action scene that would engage my quickly-fading brain cells. HELLO? Is that dialogue? Is that normal? Or what exactly is with the word 'youngling'? 'He kills younglings?' Of all the times not to add an exotic flavor to your pathetic script, the sentences discussing exactly how evil the hero has become and trying for some shock value are NOT the ones to call children younglings as if they were...puppies or something like that. And of course, the words that will echo in my nightmares for a long, long time- "I have been waiting for this moment a long, long time, my" I'd quote more examples but A) Almost every line was awful and B) They tried to avoid dialogue in favor of action scenes, which started all to look the same.
3)Acting. Little Orphan Ani's tranformation makes no sense unless he's insanely emotional (even then it takes believing). The fact that the actor had no talent and no emotions did not help my straining suspension of disbelief. The emperor was moderately better; at least his Cookie-Monsterlike "Gooooooooood" made me laugh (at, not with). Padme was simply annoying, Yoda was typical Yoda, though stilted, and no one else really mattered enough to be painful. Obiwan was actually a decent actor and got my only genuine moment of empathy for the film with his 'You were like my brother' line.
4)Plot. Talk about suspension of disbelief. Why exactly does the secretly married couple have public romance scenes, an unexplained pregnancy, and a shared apartment? And how does she go from invisibly pregnant to nine-months in what seems to be a few weeks? Why do the newborn babies look that way?(I've seen a newborn within minutes of a birth, and trust me, those babies are not it) Why kill the children- they might make good Sithlings? Why does Obiwan leave Anakin almost dead, but not quite? Mercy, if not intelligence, would have gotten me to finish him off instead of letting him be eaten alive by lava. Why does nobody on the council notice the whole going-evil thing and have just a bit of tact? I mean, flatter the stupid boy, call him master if he wants, who's it going to hurt? But of course, the most glaring and disappointing problem was the story of Anakin's reasons for going evil. I personally had been hoping for something very deep, very Machiavellian, about his having strength and that being all that matters, a bit of might-makes-right, a bit of why-evil-is-funner-than-self-control, etc. Instead, there was some convoluted mixture of worry about his ridiculous wife and the treason charges, ricocheting randomly back from one to the other whenever they got sick of one idea. But even worse, if possible, was the end of this sequence, where Anakin went from painfully deciding to save the chancellor to slaughtering little children and choking his wife with no further moral struggles in between. If I were going down to the Dark Side, I'd have a lot more issues murdering children (younglings, I should say) than preventing a pre-mature execution. But maybe that's just me.
5)Messages. Yoda told Anakin to release all feelings for all people; he didn't and went to the Dark Side. Is then the message of the film that Yoda is right and we should stop loving everyone? Or is that just for Jedis? Had I been Yoda or anyone trying to give a young lad some advice, it would have been: Shut up about your stupid feelings. Forget your blinking feelings, nobody cares about your stupid feelings. Use your blinking brain, and if you're worried about your wife, go. to. a. doctor. But Yoda advised differently, and he's 900 of something, so perhaps he's right. Although his strategy didn't work all that well.
6) Subtleties. Learn to write them, my friends. When Anakin was refused the rank of master and was inexplicably enraged, he threw a temper tantrum on the Council floor, probably not the best way to prove his maturity. The scene would have lost nothing in terms of foreshadows of evil, and gained so, so much in terms of not causing pain had he said, simply and expressionlessly (and expressionlessness is his specialty, whether or not you want it) 'Of course,' nodded once and sat down. I think that the scriptwriters should have had enough faith in the viewers' intelligence to believe that they would have noticed the reaction without the tantrum. And how about the line 'This is how liberty dies- in thunderous applause.' Thank you, Padme, we had noticed that liberty was dying- you've got a political body here where only one person speaks and he is allowed to vote himself absolute dictatorship- we didn't need you to point out where this meeting was going.
And, to be fair, 7) The good things. Obiwan was adequately acted, with the one genuine line of the movie (see above). And Anakin had a good evil face. And lastly, and so very thankfully, there was no Jar Jar Binks. Had he actually been present, I might have been forced to charge the screen, screaming incoherently and attempting to remove him from the universe for the good of humanity.
I'm sure there are a myriad of other problems, but I think this post is quite long enough.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Lorax Parody

I wrote this a little over a year ago, but decided it was just the thing to cannibalize for my blog. It was composed after reading and discussing with my economist sister the Lorax, one of Suess's more annoyingly preachy poems. In Suess's poem, the Once-lar's discovery of the Truffala trees and the possibility of making them into Thneeds (a highly sellable clothing) leads to totally ecological destruction of the forests, despite the admonishments of a wise old Lorax, who looks a bit like a furry yellow tree stump. Enough introduction. My poem picks up just as the Once-Lar cuts down the first tree and the Lorax appears and is described:

'Mister,' he said, or rather he barked it,
'I am the Lorax, I speak for the market.
I speak for the market, for it has no voice,
I speak for the market and popular choice.
And Mister, I tell you, you're crazy with greed.
There's no one on earth who would purchase that Thneed.
Mister, I'll tell you, you poor stupid guy,
You'll need something special to make people buy.
I speak for the market and I'm telling you plain,
To make people buy, you need a big ad campaign.
With billboards and slogans and jingles and chants-
"Buy a Thneed- what you need for your dresses and pants!
What you need- Now! Today! It's the latest sensation!
Join the brand new Thneed movement that's sweeping the nation!"'
I knew he was right, so I followed his hints,
And soon I became a textile prince.
Business is business, and business must grow,
So I appointed the Lorax my new CFO.
And baby, oh baby! How business did grow!
Now chopping one tree at a time was too slow.
So I quickly invented my Super-Ax Hacker
Which whacked off four Truffala trees at a smacker.
We were making Thneeds four times as fast as before.
And the Lorax?...Pretty soon he was back at my door.
"You fool!" he berated. "Can't you just understand?
Your supply is too high, it exceeds your demand.
It makes no fiscal sense to deforest this land!
My boy, what you need is a good fiscal plan.
If the market you glut, then you lower the price.
Four times as fast may sound awfully nice,
But you'd do a lot better if you heeded some facts,
And started using your brain, instead of an ax.
You've got a monopoly making these Thneeds
A larger supply is the last thing you need.
You don't need more Thneeds, they're fine as they are
What you need, my boy, is some brand new PR!
We'll spread the word of your Thneeds to near and to far!
'Ecological genius!' 'Friend of the Trees!
He never cuts more Truffalas than he needs!'
Take, for example, the brown Bar-ba-loots
Who are thinking of pressing some class action suits.
'Cuz you've taken their land and they're all getting crummies
Because they have gas and no food in their tummies.
And boy, I can tell you, we don't need class actions
So give them some land- as a tourist attraction!
They loved living here, so here they shall stay,
On their own piece of land that's not far away.
All day they can frolic, those brown Bar-ba-loots,
They can play in the shade, eating Truffala fruits,
And go frisking about in their Bar-ba-loot suits,
And people will pay just to watch them all do it!
Bar-ba-loot Land with restaurants and piers!
And, of course, lots of stores selling Thneeds souvenirs!
I took his advice and Thneeds, Inc. grew still more,
With the big Bar-ba-loot Land booming next door.
And I kept right on biggering, biggering, BIGGERING
With the Lorax beside me to do all my figgering.
And now, said the Once-lar, and he puffed his cigar,
And now, said the Once-lar, that's the way that things are.
I own a big business, I drive a big car.
The fame of my Thneeds has spread near and far.
And now I am wealthy, from my toes to my thorax,
All due to the fiscal advice of that Lorax.

Why blog

I don't think that I really need to have a blog. Nobody does, of course, it's supposed to be some kind of a hobby, but I'm already part of a blog for my family, so I don't really need a new forum to rant on, so the blame for this blog can only be placed on my sister.
A couple of days ago, we were discussing what on earth I'm going to major in during college. One of the possibilities that came up (actually, she was bringing up possibilities and I was explaining why I could never go into them) was English, but I pointed out the fact that this is the kind of thing that it's easy to major in, but very very hard to earn money in unless one has actual talent, which I'm not sure I do. So she said that I should create a blog as a writing forum to see if A) I enjoy writing something semi-daily and B) if anyone else finds it interesting enough to actually read. So far I can handle A) (Well, it's only been one post) and I have serious doubts as to B), but at least I tried.