TFPO column: CAPS' peaceful protest at Bark Works reminds us to adopt from shelters

I enjoy the colourful lights and sparkling decorations, even the Christmas carols when they’re not looped on the stereo system while the tofurky is still warm on the table. But to be honest, I don’t care for Christmas. To some extent, it’s because I have no personal interest in the birth of Jesus. Mostly, Christmas always strikes me as the most inauthentic time of the year, stirring my idealism but ultimately reinforcing my cynicism. Instead of invoking the ghost of columns past, however, I’d rather focus on those elements of the Christmas spirit that we can and should all come together for regardless of our religious persuasion: compassion, peace, goodwill. And as I contemplate these most universal of values in light of the day’s mostly grim news, I also have to think about other areas in which we can take the opportunity to exercise compassion. Hence, this week's column about extending compassion towards animals...

CAPS' Peaceful Protest at Bark Works Reminds Us to Adopt From Shelters


film review: stash

Without much ado given the lateness of the hour, except to point out that Stash is yet another successful example of the indie mockumentary genre, I give you this week's film review with apologies for the lack of film reviews over the past few weeks.

Entertainment: ** (out of two)
Craft: ** (out of two)

Stash: Porn-Be-Gone!

I miss my traffic light symbols for the ratings.


updates: TFPO, Morbid Outlook, the ladder

Apologies for the lack of timely updates. Here's a quick rundown of what's going on:

My second of an anticipated three columns on climate change posted at TFPO on Monday. I diverged slightly from my intended topic to answer editor Ari Noonan's editorial - Why Won’t the Global Warmies Engage in a Manly Debate? - with a question of my own Why Won’t Climate Change Deniers Accept the Science?

A new edition of In Rotation at Morbid Outlook with reviews of The Genitorturers, Ascension of the Watchers, Echo & the Bunnymen, Synthetic Dream Foundation, and Anders Manga.

Finally, The Ladder...What's so special about the patient code-named Red Queen? What is Dr. Harriman Seldon Poole's interest in her? How will Eriq and Vlad come up with a superhero that is more Superman than Superman? And what was Dr. Lumen working on before he disappeared? The answers to these and other question will continued to be unveiled in January.

As always, thanks for reading.


TFPO column : climate change denial, science, and the burden of proof

Climate change deniers puzzle me to no end; the hysteria, the irrational contempt, the seeming lack of compassion for the planet (not to mention life on said planet). Some arguments, seen everywhere from the pundits to the various comments in feedback forums at HuffPo and others, are so flawed it's amazing they still have any momentum. Yet, momentum they have. In honour of the climate change talks in Copenhagen, I tackle some of these unwarranted doubts.

Climate Change Denial, Science, and the Burden of Proof


TFPO column: what the fort hood shooting reveals about right-wing commentary...and us (part 2)

The ramble that began last week comes to a conclusion of sorts. Christopher Hitchens guest stars. (Thanks Nick!)

What the Fort Hood Shooting Reveals About Right-Wing Commentary...and Us (Part 2)

Please note there will no episode of The Ladder this week on account of Thanksgiving.

Have a great holiday!


film review: planet 51

Don't forget to sign up for the eMail subscription...a convenient way to keep track of film reviews...

And now, Planet 51:

Entertainment: * (out of two)
Craft: * (out of two)

Full review at The Front Page Online:

Planet 51: We Have Seen the Alien, and It Is Us


Morbid Outlook music reviews - November '09

New reviews of Lady Haidee, Nox Arcana, Delica-M, Veil & Subdue, and The Big Pink:

Morbid Outlook - In Rotation November '09


updates! a new feature!

Greetings: please take note that the RSS feed has been changed from "the recreational nihilist" to "ink and ashes." If you've been subscribing to the blog with whatever blog roll gizmo you've been using, I'm afraid you'll have to resubsribe.

Some good news to make your lives a bit simpler: I've added an eMail subscription feature so you can get posts fresh off the press and into your inbox.

Finally, I just thought I'd mention my other blog, The Fashionoclast, because...well, just because I think there's something there for everyone.

the ladder - synapse city (part 3)

The Ladder – An experimental web-only fiction series that spans multiple story lines and characters…Tune in every Wednesday for a new installment.

Headquarters; in a derelict industrial park of broken-down verses, rhymes of questionable character, and few residents save for sour-faced workers and visiting truckers. Parked on the street, The Slicer would stand out like a polished gem in gravel. But a quick turn into a small warehouse - off an alleyway and wedged between a shoe polish factory and a shoe - and navigation through carefully arranged shipping containers makes standing out a moot issue. The Engine drives inside a container deep in the maze; hydraulics lower the floor, car and all, to a basement wonderland of technology.

Parking the Slicer in a cradle of battery chargers and computer diagnostics, the Trio emerges from the vehicle grateful to stretch their legs. Through the biometric security door in a heavy steel and glass wall, into the main space divided into key functions: research and library, command and control, armory and equipment, living quarters. It’s retro sci-fi wood, cold steel and glass, but everything is precisely designed and engineered, functional and comfortable. The Engine heads for the armory for the post-mission ritual of checking, recharging, reloading, storing and, if necessary, repairing equipment. The Effect heads for C&C’s rows of monitors, radios, and computers orderly laid out in a semi-circle. The Equation walks to a semi-translucent blue cube standing on its corner atop a sleek steel cabinet of blinking lights and controls that straddles C&C and the research section. This is DELPHI: quantum hypercomputer and non-sentient artificial intelligence.

“Decryption is complete, Doctor,” Delphi says, synthetic voice rich and androgynous.

The Equation smiles, a fish in the water of book stacks, computer terminals, and a pedestal on top of which is a translucent dome surrounded by an array of touch-screen controls. “Best display for the results.”

A three-dimensional image forms in the dome; lines of different thickness and colours, dots both fat and tiny. The display coalesces into a web of connections. Manipulating the controls, the Equation discovers the data set associated with the dots: six digits grouped in threes.

“Nothing on the police scanner,” the Effect says. Gone is the sexy red number; in its place is a comfortable pair of faded black jeans and a white t-shirt strategically emblazoned with the Superman S. “A few muggings, some domestic disturbances, nothing major. Looks like Boss Marcone isn’t making a fuss for his pal.”

“It’s a bit of an embarrassment,” the Equation says with divided attention. “The Police Commissioner doesn’t appreciate trifles.” He frowns.

“What is it?

Still frowning, the Equation makes adjustments, moving dots and lines around the display. “Delphi: confirm origin point.”

“Origin confirmed. Synapse City marked at coordinates zero, zero, zero, zero, zero, zero. Recenter display?”


The dots and lines move in a wild frenzy until settling with a large glowing red dot marked “Synapse City (0,0,0,0,0,0)” at the center of the holographic display. Leaning over for a closer look, the Effect studies the beautiful construct.

“Hey, what is that thing?” booms the Engine, joining the Equation and Effect in the research section.

“An information map,” says the Effect. “Right?”

“Yes.” The Equation manipulates the display one more time, zooming in on the Synapse City dot. “Delphi: any other information encoded on the disc?”


“Can you cross-reference map data with last known locations of Dr. Lumen?”

“Negative. Insufficient information.”

The Engine with an exasperated look on his face: “So, Doc. The trail’s cold?”

“No,” the Equation says. “I think I know what Dr. Lumen was up to, more or less. And that, I believe, can lead us to him.”


TFPO column: what the fort hood shooting reveals about right-wing commentary...and us (part 1)

Beyond the fact that it is seemingly necessary to preface any mention of the Fort Hood shooting with the word "tragic" or some other similar adjectice - isn't it obvious that it's horrific and tragic? - what is often referred to as Islamaphobia seems to be seeping into the national dialogue. I'm not going to offer much by way of introduction to my dissection of media coverage of the shooting, however. I'll leave the conclusions and bigger-picture discussion for next week's column.

What the Fort Hood Shooting Reveals About Right-Wing Commentary…and Us (Part 1)


film review: the men who stare at goats

Enjoyable overall eve if it doesn't ultimately amount to much in the end.

Entertainment: ** (out of two)
Craft: * (out of two)

Review at TFPO: ‘Goats’ Will Be Funny, if You Don’t Stare Too Deeply


the ladder - blueprint (part 5)

The Ladder – An experimental web-only fiction series that spans multiple story lines and characters…Tune in every Wednesday for a new installment.

The news was delivered by a tight-lipped doctor whose grim expression conveyed the need for condolences long before he spoke. Mrs. Robertson, already in tears from the agonizing wait, collapsed on the chair as the doctor explained that, for all their efforts, Aaron could not be saved from his overdose. Holding on to his mother, Eriq cried too, feeling an acid mixture of grief and anger churning within. This, then, was his brother’s end, and life was no comic book. Superman was not to be resurrected after dying at the hands of Doomsday. Captain America would not be revealed to have been displaced in time and space after his assassination. There was no Lazarus Pit to bring Aaron back.

Guilt at feeling relief that, at last, it was over was too much to bear. The full impact of realizing that Aaron, good and bad, would not even have the chance of returning to the family became equally suffocating. All Eriq could do was hang on to his mother.

Vlad stifled tears of his own, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand, and he wondered: where do the Robersons go from here?


attention all subscribers! mark your calendars for november 16th!

If you're subscribing to TRN via RSS or some such thing, please note that I will be renaming the subscription stream from "the recreational nihilist" to "ink and ashes" on Monday, November 16th. This will allow me to properly set up an e-mail subscription. Unfortunately, the changeover means it will be necessary for you to resubscribe so you can continue receiving the feed through the RSS/blogroll system of your choice...the upside is that you can choose to receive posts in your inbox.

As always, thanks for reading.


TFPO column: a second look at the man from plains

Who is Jimmy Carter? A failed president? An Israeli hater? A statesman? The documentary film Jimmy Carter: the Man from Plains prompted a second look at an easily dismissed, and still relevant, figure in American - global - politics. And so, at TFPO...

A Second Look at the Man From Plains


TFPO column: suffer the little children

Apologies for being off-schedule with everything. Life, alas.

This week's column at TFPO delves a bit further into Where The Wild Things Are, taking up where my review left off.

Suffer the Little Children


vegas review: criss angel/cirque du soleil's believe

The short version of how I would describe this awful production is: sucks donkey balls. Unfortunately, that's not the kind of colourful metaphor my editor at TFPO is looking for. So, here's the more elaborate, articulate warning that you ignore at your own peril if you choose to see Believe in Vegas:

Criss Angel’s Believe: Some Things Just Shouldn’t Happen in Vegas


october in rotation music reviews at morbid outlook

This month's In Rotation at Morbid Outlook features Vergil, Silent Killer, Revolting Cocks ("RevCo") , and the new single from the Cruxshadows.

Note: Surprise deadlines at work interfered with my plans for another chapter of The Ladder. (Sorry, Nick.)


the ladder - secret hospital (part 6)

The Ladder – An experimental web-only fiction series that spans multiple story lines and characters…Tune in on Wednesdays for a new installment.

The guards were dressed in a black armored combat uniform developed as part of the Future Combat Missions project. Despite plans to release versions of the Future Force combat uniform to regular infantry troops, only the most elite and secret military units were deployed using the most cutting-edge technologies. Powered exoskeletons; networked, HUD-enabled helmets at the locus of a tactical sensor and communications array capable of providing 360 degree situational awareness; intelligent weapons that interfaced directly with the headgear to provide greater accuracy and synchronize fire with other networked assets; smart armor both lightweight and resistant to bullets and fire – the Red Cell Guard Detachment was the best equipped force to stand watch over the patient code-named Red Queen. They stood motionless, half a dozen faceless menaces, while another dozen both in and out of uniform remained on stand-by in nearby barracks. Only a single khaki-uniformed man, fresh-faced and freckled behind a podium imbedded with security and door controls, showed any visible signs of humanity.

Dr. Poole stepped out of the cell with a faint smile; candlelight in the darkness of stern military discipline. He hummed to himself as he eased his way past the unsmiling Captain and through the corridors.

“You seem pleased with yourself,” said a voice. Lieutenant Jazara Jones; Nurse Jones. She walked alongside him, fresh from her rounds and carrying a clipboard.

“A breakthrough, you might say.”

Maram had, at long last, put some small, delicate measure of trust in him, however hesitant. She let herself fall into his arms, head turned to look over the shoulder as if afraid he would let her fall. When he caught her as promised, she repeated the exercise with eyes closed.

“How did you do it?” said Nurse Jones.

The psychiatrist smiled, the skin around his eyes crinkling. “Apple pie; you gather the ingredients, you roll the dough for the pie crust, then you put it in the oven and take in the warm apple-cinnamon smell. Finally, the pie is ready. All it takes is patience and love.”

Jones looked at him with an expression of such ferocious doubt Dr. Poole felt like prey to a lion. “You sound like a self-help book.” A smile softened the blow. The psychiatrist studied the nurse’s face, not offended by her skepticism but puzzled.

“What made you decide to follow in your mother’s footsteps?” he said. It threw her off; she had been expecting a sharp comeback, some form of reproach.

“I wasn’t going to at first,” she said. “But when you grow up with military families, you see things…”

Jazara had met many veterans, young men and women who were physically or psychology maimed – often both. Most were vets from the first Gulf War. “All good people,” she said, “who needed looking after.”

Dr. Poole could not point to a similar, direct call to compassionate action; a college roommate with early onset schizophrenia, a shell-shocked grandfather who fought in World War II, a drastic case of mental illness in his personal sphere of influence. Yet while completing his residency, he became fascinated by the influence of the mind on pain, a question that led to a fascination with the mind itself. A rotation in the cold, sterile corridors and cells of a psychiatric ward – a world of screams and delusions, of sheer unreason and otherness. Filled, childishly perhaps, with Foucault on one hand and the psychiatric heroes of literature (somehow Abraham Van Helsing counted among these) on other, he felt drawn towards exploring that mysterious of all human frontiers. Exploring – and curing what had once been dismissed as demonic possession.

As they reached his office, it seemed to Dr. Poole as if the nurse had something else in mind.

“Oh, nothing,” she said when he offered her the proverbial penny. “I’m just wondering what she’s like…you know…”

The psychiatrist unlocked the door and switched on the light. He looked at Nurse Jones with an expression of sympathy, like a mall Santa looking at a child asking for something that he or she couldn’t possibly receive.

“There is a reason Red Queen is beyond idle curiosity,” he said.

Whatever reply Jones intended to offer was drowned out by an announcement on the public address system. “Well, I guess I’d better not keep the director waiting.”

Dr. Poole wished her a good afternoon, adding advice in a soft, old voice, “The wisest choice is always easiest in retrospect.”

Before she could ask, Dr. Poole closed the door and her summons to Colonel Di Nova’s office repeated on the loudspeakers.


film review: where the wild things are

Question: What does it say about a movie that it is about childhood, stars a child, but isn't the sort of movie children should watch?

Where the Wild Things Are:

Entertainment: zero stars
Craft: * (out of two)

Full review at The Front Page Online


general update and new TFPO column

My apologies for the inconsistent updates, but life has been on the wee bit erratic side. The Ladder will continue with a new installment next week, and since this week's column didn't post on time I was delayed in linking to it here. Without any further delay, I give you...

Not Another Obama Column

Tomorrow: a review of Where the Wild Things Are.


film review: whip it

Roller derby makes all the difference...along with a few other things that make fun and believable what could otherwise have been a giant cliché.

Entertainment: ** (out of two)
Craft: ** (out of two)

Whip It: Rollicking Entertainment, Not Whiplash


the ladder - blueprint (part 4)

The Ladder – An experimental web-only fiction series that spans multiple story lines and characters…Tune in every Wednesday for a new installment.

A waiting room like all waiting rooms – nondescript, inoffensive, with beach scenes on bleached wall and a vending machine filled, ironically, with candy bars and chips. The corridor bisecting the rows of chairs with worn blue cushions hummed with tight-lipped nurses and sour-faced doctors rushing along with insomniac medical residents, visitors, and the occasional shuffling or rolling patient. When they arrived, the overweight Latina handling phones, computers and impatient visitors like a calm octopus regretfully informed them that they would to wait for news. So they sat. And they waited.

While Mrs. Robertson retreated into quiet suffering, eyes moist but filled with resolve, Eriq sketched furiously on a large pad of paper. Vlad watched as vast scenes of superhero carnage unfolded in jagged black and white linework – caped muscle men and tightly-clothed women against armies of robot with volcanic eyes and the armament of a dozen Abrams tanks.


Mrs. Robertson stood up every so often to ask the receptionist for news, only to be told that the doctors were at work and would come out when ready.


Eriq was more angry than worried, fully expecting Aaron to bounce out of the intensive care like a doped-up tigger. What angered him was knowing that his brother would make yet another resolution to quit, yet another promise to his mother to be a good son, yet another attempt to do his part in healing the family. They’d been through it before, stuck in some hellish cycle of expectations and false hope.


Vladimir Kossakovsky remembered his years in the old Soviet Union, but only as if his memory were fogged in. He was nine when glasnost took hold and, in the euphoric freedom that emerged from a new age’s birth, his parents felt compelled to finally escape to the American Dream instead of suffering through the painful pangs of a transforming county. He had memories of that inimitable Russian stoicism, muted opinions, whispers, and a small candle to hold out against the looming shadow of the KGB. Why he thought of this now, he didn’t know, except perhaps for the fact that he caught a look between Eriq and Mrs. Roberson, a guilty exchange that suggested the familiar spectre of uncertainty.


What kind of mother was she? For a moment – a brief, stabbing moment – Mrs. Robertson wished Aaron would die, picturing him on a hospital bed lifeless and with tubes. Not out of punishment, only to spare him the wasted life of a junky or criminal. Oh dear God, she prayed. Why am thinking that? Of course she didn’t want him dead. She wanted him whole and returned to her. She wanted him living up to his potential. But if he wouldn’t listen to her or his brother or to the doctors – what hope did he have?


Eriq also thought of Aaron’s death – how it would be better for everyone – and the self-loathing bubbled up and burst from his pencil onto the page in the form of grotesque battle scenes. But what love did his brother have for him? When he needed someone older and stronger help fend off the bullies, someone more mature to dispense advice, where was Aaron?



TFPO column: smashingly good music within reach

A break from politics with a brief detour into music - this week's column at TFPO s exactly what the title says it is:

Smashingly Good Music Within Reach

I should probably add that by "within reach" I mean within the LA area.


film review: fat stupid rabbit

This Russian film distributed by Echelon Studios - actually their distribution sibling Singa Entertainment - is a rare thing: a surprise. Going by the movie poster, it won Best Foreign Film at the Schweitzer Lakedance Film Festival and Best Screenplay at the International Festival of VGIK Moscow Russia. In trying to title my review, and failing dismally at coming up with a suitable pun, I went with "a Little-Known Russian Gem." What it lacks in panache it makes up for in accuracy. This is a wonderful little film, and the surprise is not simply how good it is but how persistently it lingers.

Entertainment: ** (out of two)
Craft: ** (out of two)
Gold star recommendation!

'Fat Stupid Rabbit' - A Little-Known Russian Gem


theatre review: sole mate/death and giggles

No episode of The Ladder this week, I'm afraid, on account of being overloaded. But here's a review of Sole Mate / Death and Giggles on stage at the Ivy Substation in Culver City. High recommendations.

‘Sole Mate and Death and Giggles.’ Some Death. Mostly Giggles. All Magic.


TFPO column: A Transit Romance – can we say goodbye to bus advertising?

This week's The Recreational Nihilist topic: that damnable advertising on buses.

A Transit Romance – Can We Say Goodbye to Bus Advertising?


Morbid Outlook september book review and in rotation music

It's the Frederik issue at Morbid Outlook, with...

...a review of Melissa Marr's Ink Exchange

...a new In Rotation with reviews of Risqué, The Awakening, Shugo Tokumaru, and the Long Dead Sevens.

film review: 9

Although the marketing for 9 ranked only marginally above well-kept secret, trailers and the odd radar blips on various websites sparked the imagination. 9 looked absolutely stunning. It’s not unreasonable, then, for expectations to creep up just a little…stunning visuals, stunning story, right?

Of course not. For all of 9’s muscular visuals and intriguing premise, the film joins the ranks of other works that fit under the heading “pretty faces mask empty masks.” A bit harsh, though, since the film is enjoyable beyond the drop-dead gorgeousness of the animation. All this and more at TFPO.

Entertainment: * (out of two)
Craft: * (out of two)

9: Apocalypse Doll


the ladder - synapse city (part 2)

The Ladder – An experimental web-only fiction series that spans multiple story lines and characters…Tune in every Wednesday for a new installment.

They call it the Slicer. A Studebaker Phaeton. Black with white wheels, bug-eyed headlamps, heavily modified with an armored chassis and bullet proof glass. It’s more like a sleek cruising tank. The Engine, set to drive, disables the security system and the Trio get in. The Effect rides shotgun – manning the Slicer’s defenses - while the Equation sits in the back at a computer console. A roar, power coiled within the Slicer’s deep rumble. The Engine takes the Slicer to the streets like a pro racer, enjoying the quiet streets.

“Disc, please,” says the Equation.

The Effect reaches into her bra – the Engine chuckles – and pulls out a small square piece of plastic. “Can Delphi work with it?”

“Undoubtedly. I’m uploading now. The question is whether it will lead us to Dr. Lumen.”

Eyes in the rearview mirror, a telling side-glance from the Engine. The Effect opens viewscreens on the dashboard in front of her. She clicks her tongue. “We’ve got a party.”

Behind them, gaining, a forest green speeder, slim and low, with guntoting men hanging out the backseat windows. Assumption: Boss Marcone’s alleyway snipers, after recovering the eyesight overwhelmed by the flashbang, set out to hunt.

Gunshots. Wild starbursts. The Engine grins at the futility. Then he doesn’t. “Uh-oh.”

“A rocket launcher?” says the Effect. She pulls out a control console from beneath the viewscreens. Buttons marked SPIKE, GRAPPLE, and others. A pristine manicured finger aims towards the SPIKE button, but the car suddenly veers right. A parked ice cream truck explodes to their left – fireball and smoky-black cloud. The speeder punches through. Sharp left turn, sharp right. Zig-zag. Whoever drives the speeder is good – better than good. The Engine is as impressed as he is annoyed. Studying her viewscreen, the Effect waits until the speeder is in the best position and pushes the SPIKE button. From below the Slicer, dozens of sharp jacks spill onto the road. The Speeder avoids most of them, but even the driver isn’t good enough to escape them all. A jack, glimmering from the streetlamp, cuts into rubber. The speeder’s left rear tire goes flat. But the driver doesn’t lose control, not enough to go swerving through a glass storefront or into one of the parked cars lining the gritty streets. He does slow down. The Engine savours the victory. Then another car, a boxy green sedan turning right from 31st street, takes up the chase from the speeder.

“Effect…” says the Engine.

“I know, I know,” she says. “But we can’t shoot up the neighbourhood!”

The Equation, meanwhile, looks up, interrupting his work coordinating the data upload with Delphi. Sighing, he reaches below the seat for a small, bulbous pistol. He winds down the window, waits for a break in the bullet hail, sticks his head and arm out. A brief moment to aim and he pulls the trigger. Ever-expanding concentric rings of electric blue energy swallow the pursuers. Electrical wires shorts. Batteries die. Nervous systems become disrupted. The sedan dies, slows to a stop. Thugs fall unconscious likes babies after milk.

“No time for trifles,” the Equation says. “We have bigger problems.”

Pouting, a dog deprived of its favourite chew-toy, the Engine drives sedately. Mumbles. “You could at least install one of those things on the car.”

The Effect smiles - regret or relief? And the Slicer cuts through the heavy summer night air on its way to headquarters.


TFPO column: what does a plane hijacking tell us about religion?

I haven't set myself the task of advocating atheism, either militantly like Christopher Hitchens or with velvet gloves. But some newsworthy events so obviously raise questions about religion that I have to ask them. Unfortunately, we don't live in a culture - nay, world - that really encourages serious critical thinking about religion. It's the Great Off-Topic. You can nit-pick the details, but you can't question the basic integrity of religious faith. The hijacking of an airplane in Mexico, however, suggests otherwise.

What Does a Plane Hijacking Tell Us About Religion?


film review: my one and only

No preamble this week, just a link to this week's review at TFPO:

Entertainment: ** (out of two)
Craft: ** (out of two)

'My One And Only' Deserves to be Yours


the ladder - synapse city (part 1)

The Ladder – An experimental web-only fiction series that spans multiple story lines and characters…Tune in every Wednesday for a new installment.

Synapse City. Metropolis of mixed metaphors and literary allusions both respectable and dubious. New York density in an LA sprawl. A forest of skyscrapers, jagged skyline like broken teeth. The light is blinding, here, and shadows stick like tar. Fog rolls in like hard liquor and crawls out like a hangover. Everyone can hear you scream. Few people care.

63rd and Motter Avenue. Background noise: car honks and sputtering engines, two hobos arguing over a half-empty bottle of whiskey found in a trashcan, a chain reaction of barking dogs, a man and woman having loud sex like they’re reliving a ‘70s porno. The alley is dark and empty except for a large green dumpster that stinks up the dead-end with week-old food and other filth. Trash from a diner and the building of interest, a five-story brick Georgian that houses the Flowers nightclub. A door, gunmetal grey, in the wall under watch. A bald man standing still against the wall, in a shadowed corner, late thirties, thin, hallowed cheeks and pointed chin. He wears a fitted white leather smock-like jacket, asymmetrical black buttons. Black leather gloves like a second skin. Black pants and heavy-duty boots. Goggles with lenses that glimmer with the red of infrared sight. This is the EQUATION; scientist, inventor, cold-minded but warm-hearted, and de facto leader of the EQUILIBRIUM TRIO. Next to him a man built like construction equipment; tall, muscular, square-jawed and black-haired, dark-skinned, midnight commando garb with bandoliers of flash-bangs and grenades, holsters for various weapons and knives, goggles. This is the ENGINE; martial artist, special ops, expert tactician, and a penchant for playful pyromania.

They watch the door, the alleyway, the sky; everything and anything that might disturb their mission, even when they’re playing the waiting game. If there are stars above, they can’t see them. Synapse City spills light into the sky like a john spills himself into a cheap hooker.

“The metaphor is crass,” the Equation observes.

“But it’s true,” grins the Engine.

And they wait, nerves tense, muscles at the ready. Then a clank as the door handle turns, a mousy squeak as the door opens. The two men prepare for the worse, then relax slightly. It’s a woman. Buxom and curvy, a well-proportioned wet dream. Long wavy brown hair. Red dress. Strappy black stilettos with lace ribbons wrapping her calves. Face like a porcelain doll, soft, no edges, innocent, flashing green eyes, perfect makeup of rouge lips and kohl eyes. She looks around, sees the men, sighs relief.

“I have it,” she says. This is the EFFECT; spy, infiltrator, psychologist, seducer of men, women, and machines. The Equation pulls a pair of goggles from his pocket and quickly tosses it to her; she catches it smoothly and puts them on. Then, around the corner at the alleyway entrance: clicks on concrete sidewalk, footsteps. A tuxedoed figure cuts around the corner – suave, cool, but not flashy or arrogant. A stab of streetlight reveals his hook-nosed, masculine, movie star face. Thick eyebrows above serious brown eyes. Also: the cocking of guns from well-dressed goons at his sides, and more goons from the diner’s low-slung rooftop. This is Vitti “Boss” Marcone, an escapee from a Batman comic who set up his own Roman mob in Synapse City after taking out rival sharks with smaller, blunter teeth. He speaks at a measured tone, loud enough but not too loud. The Trio watch him, their goggles make them look like robots or insect. While the thugs are intimidated, brandishing their Tommy guns with a slight tremble in their hands, Boss Marcone is unfazed.

“I figured someone would make a play,” he says. “I even half-figured it would be you three.” A soft chuckle. “Did you think I wouldn’t plan ahead?”

A brief, subtle hand motion from the Equation; all three flick a button on their goggles while, a split-second later, the Engine presses a button on the remote concealed in his hand. A startling thunderclap and blinding lightning flash. Marcone and his goons put hands to eyes in a futile attempt to rub away the silver stars and blackness. The Engine then moves forward, a flash, and disarms the thugs. A few well-placed palm strikes to the chest, elbows to the jaw, and nerve attacks to pressure points on the neck sends Marcone and his muscle to the ground. The Equation smiles slightly - that alone is a magnificent display of emotion – and steps over the unconscious men out of the alley, the Engine following two steps behind. Hearing a groan emanate from Boss Marcone, the Effect lingers just long enough to crouch down, pat Marcone on the cheek in a gesture more sarcastic than sweet, and say with a smoky, caustic, sex-infused voice, “We plan ahead too, darling.” She pronounces it “dah-ling.” The Engine looks back as the Effect leaves Marcone to his appointment with a future headache, grins again, and repeatedly taps the side of his head with his index finger. “They’re crazy, these Romans.”


film review: (500) days of summer

It's a cliché by now that endings make or break a film. A mediocre film can be saved by a good ending, but a good film can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory with a mediocre ending. And by good or bad ending I don't mean happy or tragic. I refer to endings that follow, if not logically than at least sensibly, from previous events and characterizations. Whether it's smug irony or a plain lack of conviction, weak endings that don't fit with the rest of the film are like cement galoshes on a stool pigeon. A drag. Such is the case with (500) Days of Summer, a film I want to "love" more than I actually do, and all because of a scene that lasts but a few minutes. Still worth seeing, though, for those things it does get right.

Entertainment: * (out of two)
Craft: ** (out of two)

Review at TFPO -
(500) Days of Summer: Missed It By That Much


the ladder - secret hospital (part 5)

The Ladder – An experimental web-only fiction series that spans multiple story lines and characters…Tune in every Wednesday for a new installment.

Dr. James Di Nova – a heavyset man whose mass consisted mostly of muscle, attired with a white smock over his pressed olive Army uniform (rank: colonel), with the stern face of a senator from the days of the Roman Empire.

“I was denied access to the transcripts,” said the EPH director.

His office was a strange oasis in the wonderland maze; walls lined with file drawers and modernist shelves neatly, perhaps obsessively, stacked with psychiatry and medical textbooks as well as books on topics as varied as architecture and paleontology. A flat, uncluttered desk; a glass surface resting on an aluminum support structure. Dr. Poole was suspicious of pristinely organized offices, spaces devoid of personal mementoes, sterilized to be free of humanity. “Knick-knacks,” he was fond of telling students, “are the gateways to the mind.”

But while the Colonel could be commended for bringing a refined aesthetic to his office, especially in comparison to the drab utilitarianism of the Wonderland complex, Dr. Poole nevertheless preferred his own cave. Stacks of books, photographs, manuscripts in various stages of progress – nothing disorganized, but also nothing inhumanely classified and stored. He suspected the Colonel kept a file drawer full of nonsensical objects waiting to be fondled when in the comforting cradle of privacy. Perhaps he even kept a bottle of hard liquor.

“Yes. Classified,” Dr. Poole answered. “But you knew that.”

The Colonel nodded his square-jawed head, furrowing his brow into an expression of disapproval and suppressed irritation. Dr. Poole made a peace offering.

“No breakthroughs yet. Just small talk. It takes time to build trust.”

“I don’t like being shut out, Doctor Poole.” He slightly emphasized “doctor” as if it were an epithet.

Dr. Poole smiled with what he hoped was a reassuring expression. “I understand, and I am happy to keep you informed to the extent I am allowed to. But your facility’s record in treating Maram as an experimental subject has helped neither your military masters’ ambitions nor Maram’s mental health, which is in fact my sole concern at this moment. Surely you’re not surprised, are you?”

“I find it interesting you call her Maram.”

“You think of her as a code name?”

The two men stared at each other across the desolate battlefield of Colonel Di Nova’s desk, but Dr. Poole had no interest in a contest of machismo. Neither, apparently, did the Colonel, who cracked the silence to describe, with succinct detail, the extent of his security clearance. The Experimental Psychiatric Hospital was, after all, more secret than even the Air Force Flight Test Center. Dr. Poole was not unsympathetic, remembering his early days as a military psychiatrist butting heads with government officials over what was then a low security clearance. Sympathy could only go so far, however; Colonel Di Nova was an officer first and a healer second. Conflicting interests.

“The clearance is compartmentalized,” said Dr. Poole. “Surely you know that. I have the highest possible authority on this. The transcripts will remain sealed for everyone but authorized.”

“You answer to the highest authority. Sounds like a Hebrew National advertisement.”

Dr. Poole appreciated that the Colonel had a sense of humour, but he didn’t relent. Neither did the Colonel.

“And who is authorized, if not the goddamn director of this facility?”

“I’m afraid that’s also classified. But I’m sure you could make an educated guess.”

The Colonel turned a lovely shade of apple-red, but said nothing. Dr. Poole, seeing no further use to drag on the conversation, stood to leave. This shook the Colonel from his aggravation.

“What happened to Dr. Forrester? He seems to have vanished. Do you know anything about that?”

“I don’t know anything that would be of help to you, Colonel,” said Dr. Poole. “But while we’re asking questions, what is with this obsession with Alice in Wonderland around here?”

Eyes twinkling but filled with suspicion, Colonel Di Nova said, “You have a better name for this place?”

“How about Fortress of Solitude?”

Dr. Poole laughed softly as the Colonel looked at him, confused. The psychiatrist left the office, navigating the corridors, then the elevator, then the administrative offices on the surface. Once outside, he plucked a cell phone from his jacket pocket and, securing the call through an encrypted line, dialed.

“Delphi. I should have asked for this before, but eMail me a complete background on Colonel Di Nova. Full security, of course.”

On the computer monitor in his office, the Colonel watched as Dr. Poole made the call. Turning up the volume, however, didn’t make his words any clearer. It was if the psychiatrist were talking gibberish or in code. Annoyed, Colonel Di Nova ordered security to send a copy of the video footage for linguistic analysis only to be told, a few hours later, that they had insufficient information to determine what Dr. Poole had said.


TFPO column: prisoners of gravity - US BoB vs NASA

The US Box of Business takes on NASA at the Supreme Court in a feeble attempt at satirizing one of the most ridiculous things I've read in the news lately - and there's a whole lotta ridiculous out there.

Prisoners of Gravity: US BoB vs NASA


film review: w the movie

Some movies defy the quick, imprecise summary of a star rating, even the dual-pronged entertainment/craft kind. W The Movie is such a film. So, I'm afraid you'll have to slog through the whole review to get at film whose impression left me feeling ambiguously positive.

W The Movie: A Gonzo Bizarre Satire of George W. Bush

Entertainment: Pink
Craft: Blue


no post for "The Ladder" this week

I apologize for the lack of an episode of The Ladder this week but truth be told I kinda forgot. In between things I'm trying to wrap up Chapter 6 of a novel, which is rather critical as it marks the end of the first of three parts. I'll post another entry in the Secret Hospital plotline next week. Promise. I hope.


TFPO column: there's no healthcare signal in the noisy debate

The title says it all for this week's rant at The Front Page Online:

There's No Healthcare Signal in the Noisy Debate


film review: district 9

It would be easy to succumb to the action spectacle, bloody and explosive as it is. So let's be honest: a particular piece of alien military technology that makes a memorable appearance at the end isn't lacking in thrills. But at heart District 9's violent action carries with it a rich and unnerving subtext. And that subtext makes for a film that invites dissection and discussion long after the credits fade into black. It's a very different kind of movie from Moon: soft SF as opposed to hard. Yet in the tradition of good science fiction, it manages to bring together social commentary and hard-hitting storytelling within the classic context of humanity's first encounter with an alien race. Past the surface appeal of the film's craft and accessibility to audiences is a film of intelligence and sensitivity.

Review at TFPO: District 9

Entertainment: ** (out of two)
Craft: ** (out of two)
Gold star recommended!


the ladder - blueprint (part 3)

The Ladder – An experimental web-only fiction series that spans multiple story lines and characters…Tune in every Wednesday for a new installment.

The way to the hospital took them through residential neighbourhoods pitting flat-roofed houses and leftover bungalows against sizeable Ficus trees whose thick gnarly roots, pushing up and splitting concrete, wreaked havoc on the sidewalks. Eriq withdrew gloomily into himself, thinking of his brother, then trying not to think of him by cataloguing superheroes with addiction problems. Tony Stark, of course: Iron Man vs the “demon in the bottle.” Or before he was born, though he had many of those old issues, the Green Arrow’s sidekick Roy Harper, aka Speedy - Dennis O’Neal and Neal Adams’ memorable foray into the harrowing realm of heroin addiction. It was no Requiem for a Dream, but for comics it had been pretty intense. But Aaron was no hero. Just some punk with daddy issues. His mother would say the same of him. At least Eriq has his art. Aaron had shown an aptitude for math and science, but came to view it as pointless in light of his friends’ obsession with basketball and vandalism.

Vlad also thought of superheroes, noting that even the movie Hancock staked a claim for itself with an alcoholic superhero. But other than stories of heroics directed against drug dealers and powerful cartels, or the personal drama of overcoming addiction, what more was there to say? What kind of hero could rescue a drug addict from addiction?

Eriq considered a superhero with mind control abilities. Or maybe a superhero who could cure addiction by entering into people’s dreams. Certainly his dad wouldn’t be the hero Aaron needed, and his mother was overwhelmed. A story told thousands of times before – broken homes, devils in small plastic bags, all the usual heartaches. It all sucked. Stupid Aaron. He should know better – look at why Dad ran out.

Vlad didn’t entertain fantasies about a superhero who could rescue Aaron. It struck him as condescending, however much he had to admit it fit the challenge of coming up with a better Superman than Superman. As the trope went, we want to look up to heroes whose moral steadfastness inspires us to greatness. But it needed to be more than that. It needed to be…something. He didn’t know what. His own family background – Russian immigrants to the New World – was relatively free of the stuff of unnatural tragedy. Papa Kossakovsky, an autodidact librarian, and Mama, a housewife who had taken to gardening as a hobby and then a business, were ever-fixed marks that remained firmly unshaken by storm and

In the back seat, Mrs. Robertson stared out the window of Vlad’s venerable Jetta, chewing her lip and unconsciously removing her dark cherry lipstick. No thoughts of implausibly proportioned costumed heroes. No adventures in space or parallel dimensions. No saviour, except for a Jesus Christ who seemed ever more a fading wish. Only memories of a young girl in the community college’s nursing program, the handsome young English major with literary ambitions, an impetuous night in the janitor’s closet making love to the scent of pine-sol and rusty pipes. But forget all that: her baby was in the hospital, overdosed on whatever flavour-of-the-month of poison he’d ingested.


TFPO column (the disturbing incident of the child) and new MO in rotation

This week's Recreational Nihilist column is more of an expression of despair than anything else. The title, I think, speaks for itself.

The Disturbing Incident of the Child in the Movie Theatre

And this month is Morbid Outlook's 17th anniversary. My contribution involved more In Rotation music reviews. Clickety-click right here for reviews of GPKISM, Waves Under Water, and more.


film review - G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

I apologize for the week-long silence, but a much-needed staycation meant minimal time near a computer. But with this week's review of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, everything should be back on track.

There's much not to offer by way of preamble. Although I've never been a fan of G.I. Joe, I was certainly more entertained by the movie's trailer than the incomprehensible mess of trailer that announced the arrival of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Translation: I was actually looking forwarded to a little mindless B-movie entertainment. Alas...

Entertainment: no stars
Craft: no stars

Review at The Front Page Online:

G.I. Joe: More Zero Than Hero


the ladder - blueprint (part 2)

The Ladder – An experimental web-only fiction series that spans multiple story lines and characters…Tune in every Wednesday for a new installment.

Vlad’s blue eyes – icy but vivid – were anything but windows to the soul. The writer, who disdained metaphysics as, would have scoffed at the very notion of a soul let alone the idea that a glance into the eyes could reveal character. Eriq disagreed, of course; eyes, he often said, were an artist’s best means of revealing character in the printed page. Vlad would retort that living people weren’t drawings on paper and that “ocular fenestration” was only meaningful in the context of body language. It was one of many arguments they never resolved. But for all of Vlad’s disdain, Eriq could tell his friend was churning with ambition and worry beneath the glacial, haughty expression on his face.

“Superman,” said Vlad, reverently but also with clear distaste.

“Break it down for me.”

Not even Vlad could resist the pull of the Superman mythology or, at least, the idea of a Superman resplendent in his strength and power of flight. The steadfastly good hero all but invulnerable to evil, a desirable mirror image to that of unstoppable malevolence. The powerful saviour of the powerless. Even, of course, with the collateral risks of superpowers, dissected and analyzed countless times in comics and essays, Superman still possessed a kind of irresistible majesty. Vlad, raised on Superman and Batman and all the other icons just as Eriq had been, soaked up the fantastical promise of superheroism while aware that superheroes could just as easily be surrogate gods, harbingers of doom for a dependent humanity, catalysts of profound change. But he hated comics. At least, he hated the storytelling that often made comics little more than soap operas.

“It’s the lack of rules,” he said, animated in the peculiar way that only discussing comics or politics could evoke. “People die, they come back to life. You have magic, and aliens, and science fiction, and all these different genres mashed altogether. The Multiverse? You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. Just totally fucking kidding. It’s an excuse to do anything at any time. It’s ridiculous. Nothing means anything. Why do all stories have to quote ‘exist’ unquote in the same universe? But that’s not life. Right? That’s not life.”

And so on. That Superman was also an alien instead of a human irritated him to no end. “It’s like Von Daniken and his aliens-built-the-pyramids crap. Are humans really too dumb to do anything for themselves?”

“It’s a metaphor,” Eriq said, knowing full well that if anyone metaphor he didn’t like, it was Vlad. Distantly, he heard the phone ring – he didn’t keep one in his room because he hated the shrill disruption of his concentration while drawing. He ignored it.

“Yeah, yeah. Immigration to the US and all that. Of course I understand that. I’d still be in Russia otherwise. But think about it: Superman is superheroic because he isn’t human, and no human could ever hope to be Superman.”

Eriq was about to speak – he had a glimmer of an idea – when his mother’s voice jolted him. “Come down, Eriq! For God’s sake, get down here.”

Puzzled, Eric rushed down the stairs followed by Vlad, who wasn’t in quite the same hurry. They found Mrs. Robertson with the old-fashioned phone receiver in her hand, arm loose by her side. The expression on her face, one of corked anger and despair, put her at odds with the cheery peaches-and-cream décor of the living room. Eriq’s irritation turned to worry, then to resignation.

Mrs. Robertson wept. “It’s Aaron. He did it again. He…”
“That…” Eriq started before choosing instead to swallow the angry expletive. Vlad, who kept his expression neutral, remembered that the Robertson’s car was undergoing repairs at the dealer.

“I’ll drive,” he said.


TFPO column: race and the possibility of national dialogue

I don't normally feel compelled to comment on race related issues, especially when the news media is in feeding frenzy. Rightly or not, it seems to me that everything that can be said on the matter has been said. We know what the problem is. We know what the solution is. Or, at least, we have ideas of what the solution might be even if we disagree on the details. Yet, the spectre of racism haunts us still. The fundamental question is, is it still racism? And if it is, what is the underlying root cause beyond the obvious consequences of history?

Race and the Possibility of National Dialogue


Thanks, J.J., for Boldly Taking Me Back to Where It All Started

No film review this week. But I give thanks to JJ Abrams for the new Star Trek movie at The Front Page Online.

And you thought pigs couldn't fly.

Thanks, J.J., for Boldly Taking Me Back to Where It All Started


the ladder - secret hospital (part 4)

The Ladder – An experimental web-only fiction series that spans multiple story lines and characters…Tune in every Wednesday for a new installment.

Eyes only. Handle via CATA-9 channels only.

Wonderland – Red Cell 1
Dr. Harriman Seldon Poole
Patient code-named Red Queen
07/15/09 3:47 pm (continued)

Dr. P: (4 second delay) Thank you, Maram. I appreciate you saving my back. Would you care to try? (2 second delay). No? Yes? No? That’s all right. Perhaps next time. My first purpose in meeting with you today was to assure you that I’m not going to follow the usual script with the usual suspicions. Second, I want to clarify the way I see things, where I stand. (2 second delay). Those soldiers out there? There not bad people. But I’ll be the first to admit that they reinforce the very idea I’m here to rub away: that you are so unique that you have nothing in common with the rest of us. I’m here to tell you that whatever differences you have from us, and I understand these are significant physiological differences with unique psychological consequences, we share the same roots, the same planet, the same history.
RQ: Prick us, do we not bleed?
Dr. P: (5 second delay) Something along those lines. A quantitative difference, not a qualitative one despite what all the bad comic books and sci fi stories would have us believe. You are unique, yes, but just as human. I can assure you of that. But I’m getting too uptight, here. I don’t really want to start things off so formally. I just arrived. I wanted to introduce myself to you. Get some first impressions.
RQ: What a piece of work is a man.
Dr. P: Such stuff as dreams are made on. (3 second delay.) And on that note, I’m going to get settled into my new home, so to speak. I will see you again soon. (4 second delay.) It was a pleasure to meet you.

TFPO column: we have a budget...what next?

I've been under the weather this week, to abuse a clichéd turn of phrase, so this week's column is a just a mild musing on a topic that isn't generating nearly as much outrage and attention as it should. It did post on Monday, as scheduled; I've just been tardy with the blog. Sorry.

On to this week's question, then, at The Front Page Online:

We Have a Budget...What Next?


theatre review: a midsummer night's dream

From a reviewing standpoint, classics like A Midsummer Night's Dream come with a built-in limitation in the amount of interpretation to be enjoyed. It's a play that has already been endlessly dissected by theatre experts and Shakespeare scholars, and there comes a point whether it really is possible to say anything about the play that hasn't already been said before. Perhaps it would be different if the production itself were done in a wildly unconventional way - setting it in a different time period or going hog-wild with postmodernism, for example - such that the context of the play's events are changed. But this production at the Theatricum Botanicum is very much a traditional one. And there's nothing wrong with that, except that it means evaluating the production's quality rather than delving into uncharted territories.

Having said that, the Theatricum Botanicum is a wonderful venue. The prices aren't cheap-cheap, but for this production of A Midsummer Night's Dream it's worth it. So if you get the chance, head out to Topanga Canyon to experience...

A Magical Summer Dream at the Theatricum Botanicum


the ladder - blueprint (part 1)

The Ladder - An experimental web-only fiction series that spans multiple story lines and characters…Tune in every Wednesday for a new installment!

The doorbell chimed an off-key Big Ben. Eriq stomped down the small stairs – the elephantine racket earned him disapproval, shot across the living room by a woman who could stare down a stampede of Pamplona bulls without flinching – and nearly pulled the front door off its hinges. On the porch of the small side-gabled California bungalow stood a mod young man, twenty-something, short blue-black hair, rugged east European face whose paleness was accentuated by the black jeans and smoothly-cut blazer. Buddha as a well-dressed vampire.

Eriq put out a hearty hug. “What’s up mah niggah?”

“Hey there, honky!”

From the couch, Mrs. Robertson furrowed her brow, creases appearing in her otherwise smooth dark skin, lips tightened together. She set down her copy of the LA Times and looked over her turtle-shell reading glasses, dark eyes serious but not without a twinkle. “I wish you boys would stop that.”

“We’re just taking back the power of words, Mom,” Eriq grinned. “C’mon, Vlad mah niggah, let’s hit the headquarters.”

Bemused yet despairing, Mrs. Robertson watched them climb the creaky stairs to the attic space, shaking her head, then returned to her newspaper when they disappeared from view.

“You’re such a fucking stereotype,” said Vlad when he emerged from the narrow stairwell. The attic space that served as Eriq’s bedroom was a tight space further enclosed by stacks of comics, piles of randomly strewn clothes, and tattered, layered posters of everything from Star Wars to the Hulk movie. It was a slovenly artist’s den; the only reasonable fragment of space was the large drawing table next to which was a cabinet of neatly ordered drawing pencils, sketchpads, and other supplies. Eriq himself was no great embodiment of tidiness. The proud bearer of an old-school Afro and three-day old stubble, he wore carelessly maintained, torn blue Levi’s and a white t-shirt on which was written in thin red letters “ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US.”

“Yeah, yeah. Fuck that. Let’s talk about this mess you’ve gotten us into.”

A quick phone conversation the night before – Vlad talking at an amped-up pace, barely remembering to breathe. The announcement was shocking, like winning the lottery or finally being rid of a Republican president. After months of carefully cultivating contacts sown at Comic-Con and through various friends at the major houses, Vlad succeeded in arranging a meeting with a muckety-muck who had the power to make shit happen. But that wasn’t the shock. The shock came from learning that the pitch for a new comic book character, vaguely worded and stuffed with lofty visions, had worked. Eriq and Vlad, the artist and the writer, didn’t have long to work up a fully-developed proposal.

“Mess, huh. You’d rather keep doing those cheap porno comics you won’t tell your mom about?”

“That’s low, man. Boobella is not cheap porno.” Then, mumbling, eyes cast down towards a floor covered in a stained beige carpet: “And that was way before we did The Grave Captain’s Chronicles.”

Vlad laughed, muttered something about photocopies distributed to rockers coming out of concerts on Sunset Boulevard, then became serious when it seemed like Eriq would pull one of his notorious mopey faces. That was never a good sign for getting productive work done.

“All right, then,” said Vlad. He looked around for a place to sit while Eriq took to the squat stool in front of the drawing board; Foam stuffing from the stool’s cushion poured out of a tear when Eriq sat down. Vlad merely looked for a place to sit that could be cleared off without touching any of Eriq’s laundry.

“So what did we promise the suit?” Eriq said. “What are we supposed to do exactly?”

“He wasn’t a suit, honky. And let’s please not have the kind of conversation a bad writer would inject into a story. The kind in which two characters obviously know what they’re talking about but talk about it anyway for the benefit of readers.”

Eriq’s eyes, alert and restless, settled on Vlad with an intensity worthy of his mother. Unperturbed, Vlad returned the stare as if possessed of an infinite reservoir of cool.

“All I remember is our mouths going blah, blah, blah and the suit nodding his head and going blah, blah, blah.”

Vlad sighed. “At least you remember we promised to deliver something huge, right? I mean, fucking huge?”

“Yeah, yeah. I know.” All mockery suddenly stripped from his voice, he asked with great concern, “But how are we going to create a better Superman in less than two months? For Christ’s sake…a Superman better than Superman!”


TFPO column: what happened to the noble enemies?

I admit it: the ridiculously hostile rhetoric surrounding Obama, the Sotomayor confirmation...it's particularly annoying these days. Whatever happened to civil disagreement? Agreeing to disagree? Or - and this is truly radical, I know - compromise? In other words...

What Happened to the Noble Enemies?


film review: harry potter & the half-blood prince

The Potter series continues to astonish with its consistently high quality. But I'll say this: it helps to go into the movie with some distance from the book. I suspect that anyone flush with all the book details will be distracted by the differences between book and film. As it happens, it's been a year since I've read the book. With enough detachment, it was possible to enjoy the movie as a movie without it clashing with what I remember reading.

A Potent Mix of Magic, Love, Fear, and Terror in Half-Blood Prince

Entertainment: ** (out of two)
Craft: ** (out of two)
Gold star recommendation!


Morbid Outlook: july in rotation music reviews

As unusual as it for me to venture into music reviews, I couldn't turn down Mistress McCutchan, editrix extraordinaire of Morbid Outlook, when she offered me an especially successful In Rotation for the July edition.


the ladder - secret hospital (part 3)

The Ladder - An experimental web-only fiction series that spans multiple story lines and characters…Tune in every Wednesday for a new installment.

Eyes only. Handle via CATA-9 channels only.

Wonderland – Red Cell Alpha
Dr. Harriman Seldon Poole
Patient code-named Red Queen
07/15/09 3:47 pm

Dr. P: Good afternoon, Maram. I am Dr. Harriman Seldon Poole. I’m sorry to tell you that Dr. Forrester has…(2 second delay)…retired. (7 second delay.) I see. Well. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so sorry. (3 second delay.) First things first. I much prefer to be called Harry. It’s only fair if I should call you Maram. And second I want to be clear that my goal is to get you out of here. By which I don’t mean, obviously, breaking you out. I mean to help make it possible for you to walk out. (4 second delay.) I understand your skepticism. In fact, I hope to prove to you that I understand your position. For the moment, however, it has to be enough for me to say that I’ve been a psychiatrist for over twenty years and while you may think of the profession as consisting of pill-pushing shock-jockeys, I’ve made it my mission in life to raise psychiatric care to something compassionate and, yes, humane. So when I say I want to help you walk out of here, help you to be free of these rather impressively thick walls, I mean it. Fresh air. Freedom. No soldiers with guns. A future. (9 second delay.) I understand. You’re skeptical. You’ve heard this before. Dr. Forrester was…(3 second delay)…I’m sorry. You don’t like thinking about him, do you? I promise I won’t mention him again. Clean slate. (5 second delay.) And I know that with the clean slate comes a need to prove that I am here to help you. So I would like to propose a little exercise. No, not ink blots. No word associations. Actually, what I’m proposing is, I admit, a little silly – one of those things they do in team-building efforts. What I would like you to do is stand in front of me with your back towards me and let yourself fall. I will catch you. It’s a silly thing, I know. But it does help establish trust…(7 second delay). All right. I’ll tell you what. You don’t have to say anything and you don’t have to fall into my arms. But as gesture on my part I will stand right here and count down from. And at one, I will let myself fall backwards and trust that you will catch me. Ready? Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven. Six. Five. Four. Three. Two. One.


TFPO column: men should share the contraceptive burden

I don't have much by way of a preface for this week's column, other than to say that it is a rare response to another TFPO contributor. What can I say? The gentlemen asked for comments and ideas. Asking a bloviating columnist for an opinion is like asking a politician to kiss babies, only less sleazy. The title, I think, gives it away.

Men Should Share the Contraceptive Burden: A Reply to Mr. Hennessey


theatre review: spamalot

"Spamalot" presents one of those catch-22s in art criticism. As a production, it is uniformly excellent. As a comedy, it doesn't lend itself to analysis. Without recourse to literary interpretation - who wants a discussion on the Jungian perspective of the Knights Who Say "Ni!" - all that remains is to offer description. And description risks spoiling the experience. This review of "Spamalot" illustrates what happens when too much thought goes into trying to resolve these sort of esoteric problems.

Get Thee to a Shrubbery: See Spamalot

film review: public enemies

The moral of the story is: past successes can be a burden.

Public Enemies...and the Shiny Tommy Gun Shoots Blanks

Entertainment: * (out of two)
Craft: * (out of two)


the ladder - secret hospital (part 2)

An experimental web-only fiction series that spans multiple story lines and characters…Tune in every Wednesday for a new installment.

The dull, gunmetal elevator doors, clunky and of dubious stability despite their thickness, slid open to reveal a low-ceilinged lobby better suited to a profitable high-end corporation than a military hospital. Black polished concrete floors, rough cement walls the colour of oatmeal, white plaster ceilings with smoothly recessed fluorescent lighting that cast a diffuse, omnipresent light – the space was modern and minimal, warmed only by the circular receptionist and guard desk crafted from a grainy, amber-coloured wood. On the wall behind the desk, in plain sans-serif letters: US ARMY MEDICAL RESEARCH AND MATERIEL COMMAND – RAD 5. The universal symbol of medicine, the staff with entwined snakes, and the insignia of the USAMRMC, both etched into steel panels backlit with a soft white light, seemingly hovered above the text.

The young uniformed woman behind the desk, an attractive Scandinavian blonde, offered Dr. Poole the first genuinely human smile he’d seen while on base. Next to her, an older crew-cut man whose uniform rank insignia marked him as a Sergeant didn’t smile, but was nonetheless polite in carrying out his duty. Again, the Doctor showed his ID. His name was checked against a list in the computer, photographs were compared, and the card returned with the promise of a welcoming committee and lanyard ID he was told to wear inside the hospital at all times. As he waited, Dr. Poole marveled at the subterranean nature of AFFTC (D3). He couldn’t guess how much of the base was, indeed, below ground but of course it was a sensible countermeasure to the continual parade of orbiting spy satellites. Brilliant, if unconventional, was hiding the USAMRMC Experimental Psychiatric Hospital and its highly-classified patients within the country’s most secretive and ironically famous facility.

Soon enough, a jovial black woman with long straightened hair, a sharp jaw line and equally sharp brown eyes emerged from the frosted glass double-doors to the right of the desk. She wore a mock-wrap tunic the colour of a pinot noir with white piping along with matching scrub pants.

“Welcome to…”

“Area 51?” smiled Poole.

The woman looked at him with an air of put-on offense. “I was going to say welcome to Wonderland.”

“That’s good. We wouldn’t want to get started with a cliché.”

They laughed and she introduced herself as Jazara Jones, registered nurse.

“You’re a lieutenant, I understand?”

“That’s right. My mom was in the army Medical Corps, and before her was my granddad. All officers.” She laughed. “Granddad was good old country doctor.”

Dr. Poole smiled politely and murmured some kind of vaguely-sincere appreciation, then steered the conversation towards the purpose of his visit. As they talked, they navigated a set of stark door-lined corridors that reminded Pool of a favoured film, Brazil. The close quarters of the hallways, the numbered anonymity of the heavy steel doors – these were reminiscent of Gilliam’s set for Information Retrieval, where workers occupied tiny rooms laid out in dehumanizing rows and crammed with plumbing and bare furniture. Perversely, Doctor Poole rather liked it, finding some strange comfort in the geometrical, artificial environment. It was precisely the sort of canvas that human nature, as vague and imprecise a concept as any, could paint itself on. A healthy human nature, that is; one of sound mental states. What a chance for the human to define itself, but in confrontations with the dehumanizing? Of course, the Doctor did not subscribe to this sort of environment for any of his patients. He was of the firm belief that the troubled needed healing natural environments; grass between the toes, trees filled with fruit and birdsong, long winding trails. Though he understood the necessity for keeping his newly acquired patient in the highly secure facility unimaginatively code-named Wonderland, the reports he had read suggested it was entirely the wrong environment for her psychological well-being.

“How long have you been assigned here?”

“Over two years, Doctor. She’s a sweet young woman, despite…everything.”

As they navigated the rough concrete corridors, with the Doctor just as keenly aware of the restless eyes of security as Lt. Jones was indifferent, they reviewed a few basic facts. The patient, designated by the code-name Red Queen, was born Maram Abdul-Azim Zuhdi Hasouna in Gaza sometime in 1991. She was discovered in the rubble of a demolished house by an American Red Cross worker subsequent to an Israeli shelling – retaliation for Hamas-launched rockets – that killed her parents, grandfather, two brothers, and aunt. Given the direct nature of the hit, it was considered a miracle that she had survived at all – by witness accounts, the entire roof collapsed over her cradle, which was found in pieces. Although the aid worker found relatives to care for Maram, it soon became clear she was unusual in many respects. The strangest involved behavioural oddities, such as never crying, and biological oddities such as never getting sick. Most troubling, however, were the reports of developmental problems despite the absence of any neuro-physiological damage. Although capable of speech and fond of reading, she most often remained mute. At times, she refused to eat until forced, but even that presented problems in that she was several orders of magnitude stronger than any child her age could be. The poor girl also suffered from screaming nightmares that, inevitably, she never discussed. Eventually, Maram’s family encountered the aid worker again and begged for some sort of medical intervention. Through a torturous bureaucratic chain, this led to the Israeli, than the US, military removing Maram from both her family and the aid worker’s care. Eventually, her journey culminated in Wonderland.

“Your predecessor remained convinced to the end,” Lt. Jones said.

“PTSD, yes. On the surface that might be a helpful diagnosis. But I like to reserve judgment for myself.”

Wonderland’s corridors were neither labyrinthine nor dizzying but strictly ordered along a simple grid and colour-coded. Dr. Poole was not yet familiar with the hospital’s protocols and did not understand the significance of the colours or the guard placements. Even the medical staff’s uniforms were colour-coded. For his immediate purposes, however, the inner workings of the hospital remained a distant second to his much-anticipated introduction to Maram. As he and Jones finally reached red sector, obviously the most isolated and secured part of the hospital, he noted that euphemistically-named “patient quarters” involved the most sophisticated containment technologies available to the military. And a small but intimidating contingent of heavily armed and armored guards wearing one of those onyx-black super-soldier outfits Dr. Poole often read about in futurist speculations. After their identities were checked yet again, Dr. Pool was cleared to enter Maram’s cell. A single vast door confronted him; massive, impenetrable, solid steel and titanium.

“What sort of threat could a single human being pose that requires…all this? The report…”

Lt. Jones smiled, a strangely sad expression Dr. Poole made note of for later consideration. The locks disengaged with a resonant metallic clang and the door swung open.


TFPO column: an under-reported death in the state of Califonia

Apparently, some fellow named Don Lemon criticized critics of all this Michael Jackson supersaturated coverage as being “elitist.” His reason? The supersaturated coverage of Princess Diana’s death supposedly didn’t receive the same level of criticism – how elitism explains the disparity is something that Mr. Lemon doesn’t get into detail about.

I can’t speak to the coverage of Princess Diana’s accident except to say that I was just as sick of it as I am of Jackson’s. In regards to the coverage of Jackson, however, I do think it plays exactly into the same sort of media-frenzy that surrounds the cultural obsession with celebrity – Princess Diana included. There’s something sinister about it all.

A tip of the hat to Jessica Gadsden and Adam Fox for their influence on this week's rant.

An Under-reported Death in the State of California

film review: wait your turn

Would it be helpful if I gave the star rating in these little blurbs? Let me know.

In the meantime, this week's review is of an indie film distributed by Echelon Studios.

Wait Your Turn: Waiting A Long Time and Nothing To Show For It


the ladder - secret hospital (part 1)

A web-only fiction series that will span multiple story lines and characters…tune in every Wednesday for a new installment.

State Route 375 – the “Extraterrestrial Highway” for the tourists – in Nevada’s remote desert landscape. Winding dirt roads. Dust and beating sun. A seamless blue sky joining the endless reddish ground at a horizon that seems infinitely far. It was a long, pensive drive through the beautiful wasteland. Through it all, Dr. Harriman Seldon Poole rejected the kitschy UFO obsession of local tourist traps exploiting the region’s alien mystique but appreciated instead the more earthly alien qualities of the desert, especially in contrast to the legendary, contrived status of his destination.

After entering Nellis Air Force Range territory down in Tikaboo Valley, he traveled Groom Lake Road, taking note of the buses with workers from Alamo and other nearby towns, the desert camouflage Jeep Cherokees that formed part of the security patrol, and the numerous warning signs notable for their emphasis that the use of deadly force was authorized. After a good fifteen minutes, during which he keenly felt the extensive surveillance that came with visiting one of the country’s most secretive facilities, he passed by the row of orange posts that marked an official border and drove his sky-blue Prius to the barrier alongside the boxy white guard shack. An unobtrusively placed sign announced the entrance to AIR FORCE FLIGHT TEST CENTER (DETACHMENT 3).

“ID and destination,” said the severe young man in the tan-coloured uniform. Dr. Poole surrendered his military-issued, biometric-encoded identification card and waited patiently as the guard compared the photograph with the person. Mild olive skin; kindly, surprisingly patrician face for one so young; bright blue eyes; the sharply refined features and demeanour of a Pharaoh – the photograph didn’t do justice to the man, of course, but the guard had no interest in such things.

“Administration Building C, Logistics,” said Poole. The guard swiped the card through a hand-held fingerprinting device and handed the machine to the doctor. After placing his thumb on the small scanner plate and receiving the green light, Poole returned the device to the guard who verified the authorization and nodded curtly. The passenger door opened and another young man, just as serious as the first, took a seat with his M16 held carefully between his legs. Unfazed and with great dignity, Dr. Poole drove off, looking ahead of him to the dry white salt flat of Groom Lake with its airstrips and clusters of non-descript buildings. Next to him, his chaperone remained silent – more serious and attentive in his duties than any the Doctor had seen at other bases. Once away from the entrance station, Poole made sure to follow the precise directions given to him; deviation from his route into areas limited to the personnel involved in aircraft flight tests would earn him his chaperone’s disapproval.

The base was nothing special as far as bases went. Boxy buildings, hangars, utility structures covered in snaking pipes and HVAC equipment, barracks – the only useful description for these vital base elements came from their lack of descriptive features. But for all the carefully cultivated ordinariness of AFFTC (D3), the studied nonchalance, it glowed with the unmistakable aura of importance. Dr. Poole, a civilian through-and-through, was not entranced liked the scores of tourists hoping for a privileged glance at the base’s highly classified operations, whether the banal testing of experimental aircraft or the imaginary nonsense from which fanciful conspiracy theories were spun. He rather wished the patient he had come to see had been housed in a non-military hospital. These were, however, unprofessional and unproductive thoughts; he went where his medical duty dictated.

After a slow drive through the base, he finally reached the long blocky building marked Administration Building C. Chaperone still by his side, he swiped his card through the reader by the double-doors and entered into a bureaucratic realm as pretentiously ordinary as everything else on the base. A uniformed receptionist greeted him from behind a pile of paperwork and, on checking his identification, directed him through an open pit of identical metal desks, through a plain wooden door, into a corridor lined with numbered doors, and finally through the door marked 9 - Medical Procurement. Once inside the plain office with its gunmetal desk and Spartan chairs, the chaperone passed Dr. Poole on to yet another uniformed guard who checked his identification and fingerprints before performing a retina scan using a binocular-like device. Satisfied that Dr. Poole was, indeed, Dr. Poole, the guard buzzed him through an unmarked door, behind which was not a room but a utilitarian elevator that led to one of the base’s many underground facilities.

To be continued...