Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Glimpse of the Missus!

Go to my blogroll and click on Seedbyte if you want a peek into my private life. Deborah has a new post up that concerns the light of my life and it's pretty cool!

But what Deborah doesn't go into...


Okay, there was this one time when Karen acquired five pounds or so of tourmaline and handfuls of semiprecious stones were suddenly scattered around the house. So I was trying to wash the goddamned dishes and there are these crystals imbedding themselves in my feet and when I bent over to pick them out I brushed against the plant she's got next to the sink and a cascade of lavender flowers settled over me...

I swear, living with this woman is like living in a Clarke Ashton Smith story.

The Soft Pink Hands of the Parasitic Class.

When I was a manual laborer my hands had a thick ochre rind on their palms. Honestly, I could have made a few bucks by having guitar picks or spectacle frames carved from the horn on my hands every couple of weeks. When I grew frustrated with the idiot ape politcking of those around me I could take a shipping pallet out into the back alley and wring it like it was a fucking washcloth, reduce it to splinters inside of five minutes -- no martial arts, just brute animal strength and a willingness to accept abrasions, punctures and the breakage of small bones -- and then stroll back onto the work floor thoroughly refreshed.

Now my hands are soft and pink. White-collar hands. But I just noticed that I have... well, you can't call it a callus. But there's a thickened patch of transparent skin on the base of the pad of my right thumb.

It's from hitting the space bar.

I'd like to think this means I'm still a worker.

But Is It Art? Part One: Hey! Where's my culture?

The missus and I used to share models, me drawing and her sculpting. She had some friends who were dancers. Dancers make good models.

It's time for me to start coming to terms with art. Just as I haven't seen something until I've drawn it, I haven't thought about something until I've written on it -- so here goes. This is not an expository essay, though. It's an exploration. Expect me to wander.

Right off the bat let me say that this is an area where I have a lot of doubt and a lot of questions. I tend to express myself with a certain clarity that frequently comes off as a tone of authority -- nothing could be further from the truth. This is a subject that has me utterly at sea and I'm writing on it in order to get a grip on my thoughts.

The initial inspiration for blogging on the nature of art came from Glendon Mellow over at The Flying Trilobite. (See blogroll -- I really need to figure out how to put links inside of posts.) He and I had an exchange in a comment thread on Laelaps (ditto) where I made some snarky remarks on the fine arts and ever since then I've been trying to figure out what I really think about the subject. (I don't have any real background here so the best case scenario is that I'll reinvent the wheel. Oh well.)

Then yesterday I found myself making some statements in my Digital Drawing class that were reflective of some of this thought. They seemed to take the teacher by surprise -- they certainly startled me. (That's not unusual. Sometimes stuff just comes out of my mouth...)

The subject of appropriation in the arts came up and I suggested that one of the reasons it had become so common -- almost the dominant paradigm -- is that currently we are living in a state of cultural flux that's so intense as to render us almost accultural and that appropriation is on some level an attempt to experience a sense of heritage and cultural unity. (I doubt I expressed myself that clearly in class.)

By 'us' I mean those of us living in a post-industrial society dominated by mass communication. We do not share a common ancestry, we do not share a common religion or history or way of life.

Instead we are presented with a smorgasbord of culture and right now everything is being put through the blender. Right now I can go online and see work that's been done in the past few years that draws on cave paintings or Renaissance art or surrealism or, or, or...

Ever see the movie Moscow On The Hudson? It's not bad. And there's one scene in it that's going to stay with me for the rest of my life. The lead character (played by Robin Williams but don't let that scare you off -- he plays the character, not Robin Williams) is a Russian immigrant and in this scene he's in a grocery store. He walks into the aisle where they keep the coffee...

... and he sees one brand. And another. And another. There's decaf. There's flavored coffee. There's instant and drip and jars and cans and as he stares he mumbles, "Coffee, coffee, coffee," his voice rising until he's screaming, "Coffee! Coffee! Coffee!" as he collapses to the floor and is dragged away. Poor bastard is traumatized by the wealth of options.

That's where I see the artist at this place and time, in this accultural culture we live in. And while appropriation is one response another is to seek novelty, uniqueness, originality.

But there are limits to originality in the arts -- and it's entirely possible to pursue originality at the expense of everything else that makes art worthwhile. To entirely abandon tradition is frequently to abandon the ability to communicate effectively -- because most effective means of communication have already been discovered. There aren't that many new chord progressions or techniques of perspective or emotional states or narrative structures waiting to be discovered.

But to say that there is nothing new in the arts is a dead-end way of looking at things. While nothing is new, nothing is ever the same. Two people drawing the same object using the same techniques are going to produce two different drawings. Two people writing about the same event are going to produce two different writings.

So for me the question is, what are your cultural affiliations? What kind of heritage do you claim -- or more to the point, which heritage has claimed you? My taste is no more under my control than my sexuality is but in both cases I can choose how to express myself to a degree.

I wish I could remember who wrote it but I once ran across a statement to the effect that an artist spends his or her life trying to recreate the first images of beauty that came to them. I'd expand that past beauty but it's certainly true of me.

My first contact with beauty in this particular sense had three sources: the natural world, J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit for both the story and the illustrations, and the original King Kong. These things took me away from a rather brutal urban life and they gave me a sense of the numinous, that there was something outside my daily existance that was full of wonder.

And for most of my childhood I sought that wonder to the exclusion of all else. I tried to escape my life by spending time in worlds created by others or by creating worlds myself -- and that is the root of my creative impulse.

As I grew older I came to realize that all the magic and wonder of those imaginary worlds was real -- that a dream is a real dream and a fantasy is a real fantasy and that as such they are concrete additions to reality. More than that, the world I lived in was a much less limited place then I'd taken it to be and that the sense of meaning and significance I found in fantasy was a reflection of the significance of the here and now. Everything I found in art was present in life -- but not in a way that made art superfluous. Rather, art was something that could help me live life well by allowing me to view the world more clearly and more expansively.

And part of this grounding effect was to make me feel as though I did have a culture. I am a product of the last half of the twentieth century, I am a product of America, and I feel thoroughly alienated by the bulk of our culture. I hate cars, I hate sports, I hate phones, I hate fashion, etc, etc, etc. But through the arts I have come to feel as though I do have a people. That I am part of something as old as mankind or older, that I have brothers and sisters scattered throughout history. That what I'm doing now, regardless of its worth or quality, contributes to the larger pattern.

I wonder whether or not any art created during these times will live the way the art of the past has lived. There is so much art being made now and it seems so ephemeral and so closely tied in to a world and a way of life that are more temporary than anything humanity has known before.

And still part of me works with the vain hope that what I do will be remembered, that somewhere down the line some kid will see or read something of mine and have that sense of community, that feeling of not being alone.

I want to be part of my culture.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Sarah Palin is a Funny, Funny Woman.

I just saw some of Sarah Palin's interview with Katie Couric and boy! Does she have a great sense of humor or what? The sustained put-on that she's doing makes Stephen Colbert and Sasha Baron Cohen look sick. I thought Bush was good but Palin has thrown the whole curve off and now there's a new comedy gold standard.

It made me think of that great self-deprecating joke she had. I hope I remember it right -- I'm terrible with these things.

(Deep breath.) Okay, here we go.

Q: What's the difference between a pit bull and a soccer mom?

A: America is ready for a pit bull in the White House!

Back In Class.

This observational drawing was done entirely in Illustrator using the pencil tool. That's why it's so crude -- no sketching, no preliminaries. I kinda like it -- and it was neat to be able to go back after drawing and adjust things like line weight. Further experimentation seems called for...

So after missing a week of school due to the combination of illness and whaddaya call circumstances I'm back in classes. Not too far behind, thank goodness.

Digital Printmaking is a weird class -- it's actually an advanced Photoshop class that allows you access to high-end digital printers. Periodically there are going to be critiques of the prints you've produced. I'm really enjoying it but I'm gonna go broke making prints. Still, at two-fifty per square foot for photo glossy prints it is a bargain.

Digital Drawing, again, isn't what I expected. I thought that I'd be taught Illustrator -- instead, you teach yourself Illustrator during your lab time and the class itself is devoted to fine art with a focus on critiques of homework and viewing works that -- regardless of the medium they were created with -- could have been done in Illustrator. To be honest I find this sort of thing frustrating and challenging -- and I always benefit from it in the end. So I'm gritting my teeth and girding my loins...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Blogcessive Compulsive.

Ruth Leaf taught me how to make linoleum cuts. You can find her site over in my links -- check it out and get an eyeful of some real art. Not everybody gets a mother-in-law of this caliber.

So I've had a problem over the last few days. On Sunday I installed a hit counter on this page and, well...

I can't stay away from it. It's like having a loose cuticle or an itchy scar -- I keep picking at it. I figured maybe a couple of people were looking at this, maybe I was talking to myself. But there were a few more people here than I was counting on -- and the next day there were more. And more.

Then I started posting the Jurassic Fight Club review and on my peewee scale the numbers went through the roof.

But the numbers are deceiving -- it looks as if most people are here for zero seconds. So the typical citizen takes a quick peek and hits the back button when their eyes start to blister. On the other hand someone in Texas was on for more than nineteen hours, so I'm assuming he (or she, of course) left his computer on while he crashed and then went to work.

The map function is ultra hypnotic. Someone in Singapore took a peek? South Africa? Puerto Rico? (Speaking of which, I really want to eat in Singapore and Puerto Rico, while South Africa's Permian fossils call to me...)

Anyone who's curious is welcome to take a look at the numbers -- just click on View My Stats under the hit counter.

So. People are starting to notice this. But who are they? What do they want, aside from more TV reviews?

And more importantly, when the time comes for me to conquer the puny Earth will they heed my call to arms?

Inquiring minds wish to know!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I'm Gonna Be In A Book!

The teacher asked for a subtle use of gradient. It works but it seems a little... lacking.

Ahhh, that's better.

A little while ago I stopped sending stories out to professional markets. There were a number of reasons for this. First, I've been putting my writing energy into the novel. And right now I work with an editor who likes my fiction well enough to place it in the two small-press magazines he edits.

Of course, I also stopped because when I started sending stories out I got personal rejection slips -- here's what didn't work, came close, strong writing here -- but as I improved I started getting form slips and that hurt my little feelings.

So a little while ago I said the hell with it, worry about selling short fiction once the novel's finished.

So of course that's when a small-press editory, Dave Byron, contacts me and asks me to write a story for an upcoming anthology. (I'm putting his site up in my links section -- it's New Voices in Fiction.)

The book is to be titled Grand Guignoir and it's intended to combine Grand Guignol theater with noir fiction. In other words, over-the-top crime stories. "Doc" Byron ran across a sample of my writing on the Swill site and figured I was good at bad so he signed me up.

Bucky Sinister is going to be there -- he was in the first issue of Swill. (Tragically, both he and I submitted clown-oriented horror. Very different stories but it was enough to give the issue its theme.) Cool!

But the big news? Joe R. Lansdale has a story in there. I'm gonna be in an anthology with Joe R. Lansdale! The man is one of my minor heroes and has been a bit of an influence -- more than anyone else he taught me not to look away from what you're writing. He's also an example of someone who started off writing what was more-or-less pulp fiction and who has grown over the years into a very respectable author, one with real depth and strength who uses the tropes of popular fiction to address personal and political concerns.

Like I said, a minor hero of mine.

And the story? I first submitted a piece I'd had trouble placing elsewhere, and in an email to my writer's group I admitted that it was a story that didn't quite work for me and that I'd submitted it as an act of unconscious self-sabotage. (The world's most popular indoor sport, at least in my world.) I've since realized that it's really a spoken word piece and that's why it doesn't work on the page...

So then I went through my notes to see if any concepts seemed as though they'd work for an ultraviolent crime story. That was when I remembered a character I'd created for a novel, a costumed vigilante. He was based on my readings concerning organized pattern killers -- whose behavior was very strongly reminiscent of some superheroes.

Right now there's a celebration in the culture of the good guy who acts like a bad guy, of the man who isn't afraid to get his hands dirty when the time comes. Who isn't afraid to kill and torture as long as he does it to people who deserve it.

To say the least I disapprove. I see this as a corrosive concept, one that leads into a downhill spiral. Yes, I'm thinking Guantanamo among other things. And there was the question I had to answer.

If the bad guy is really bad -- really, really bad -- how can you show the agent of justice confronting him as being repellent in his own right? How do you show a strong man acting in opposition to evil in a way that doesn't engage the sympathies of the audience?

I think I pulled it off.

Jurassic Fight Club Epilog: Apologies, Clarifications, and Ponderings

Protoceratops andrewsi. He heard something and popped his head up out of the brush...
Note to self: Stop drawing 'em with their mouths open all the time.

Well, this Jurassic Fight Club thing has been a real eye-opener from an number of perspectives. As someone new to the blogging sphere it's given me my first taste of... well, fame certainly isn't the right word. Let's be optimistic and call it the start of an audience.

Here's how it worked for me. On Sunday I installed a hit counter and was surprised to see that there were five visitors and they'd seen eighteen pages. Wow. People are coming and they're actually reading stuff. Cool!

Then on Monday there were fourteen readers and then twenty-nine on Tuesday. This was the audience I was writing for at that point. I figured it was probably friends and relatives for the most part with a sprinkling of people I'd linked to and a few folks who got here through search engines.

Then yesterday I posted what I thought was the last piece on Jurassic Fight Club. A link went up over at Laelaps (see my blogroll) and all of a sudden the numbers started piling up. I had a brief idiot flicker of inspiration and posted links on the Jurassic Fight Club site.

Honestly, this started to feel like cheating -- like I was getting the hits not because of what I had to say but because I was talking about a TV show. By the end of the day I had a hundred and twenty-seven visitors look at two hundred and seventy pages. Mostly in-and-outs but here and there someone took a good chunk of time to look things over. And there were hits from A&E and Warner Bros...

And on the Jurassic Fight Club site a frustrated animator who had worked on the show posted a comment about the reviews that gave me pause to think. While he was kind enough to allow that he agreed with me about some of what I said it was pretty obvious that he had been offended -- offended to the point where he felt obliged to make a statement about the role of criticism in the arts. (And the popular arts are arts in my book.)

Here's where I make my apology. In my review I used some vulgarities in reference to the creators of the show. That was uncalled for and inappropriate and I will attempt to refrain from similar behavior in the future. I thought I was sitting around the living room sharing beers with some like-minded friends when in actuality I was standing on a soap box on a street corner. This may be my site but it is also a public forum and that does put me into a position of responsibility rather than license.

To those who were involved in Jurassic Fight Club, I apologize. I was rude and that was wrong.

So how would I have handled it differently if I'd considered the possibility that someone who worked on the show would see the review? I mean, aside from avoiding terms like 'dipshit.'

I wouldn't have come into it with a load of anxiety and resentment and used it as a means of blowing off steam. I would have focused more on what was right with the show. I would have been more clear about why I didn't like the aspects of the show that bothered me, even if it meant being a little harsh. And I would have been more specific in suggesting what could have been done to make the show more to my tastes. In other words, I would have written a critique rather than conducting a petulant frenzy.


I find the concept of the show absolutely irresistible. The format of alternating interviews with researchers and animation is a good idea. While it doesn't go with the name I think that the decision not to limit scenarios to the Mesozoic was very solid. The people appearing on-camera are well-spoken and likable and while this has nothing to do with paleontology it makes for a more enjoyable viewing experience. And as I said in the earlier sections of the review there is some wonderful animation work here, notable not just for the animation but for the choice of shots, the lighting, the composition, and the use of focus.

My main issue with the show is the way that speculation is presented as fact. Given the audience for this show it's a genuinely irresponsible stance to take. Let me explain why I take this so seriously -- why this actually arouses an emotional response in me and in others.

So far as I can tell -- and this is speculation on my part -- this is the result of a little conceptual confusion in the show. It seems to have a hard time deciding if it's entertainment or education. And as a result the entertainment part of the show is presented on the same level as the more educational elements. If you do have present the show as educational there are responsibilities that go with that stance; to claim to represent scientific thought while dishing out fantasy is a form of dishonesty. If you do not clearly distinguish between fact and fancy the audience will have the same level of belief in both -- and when that happens you are not educating.

Right now science education in America is terrible. The average citizen's ignorance is frightening in that we live in a quasi-democracy and many of the conditions we have to think about have scientific aspect to them. Even non-scientific issues would benefit from the kind of rigorous rationality that science teaches. So to see something labeled as science when it isn't does have serious ramifications. I'm not saying you're destroying our nation -- but when you do this you are in a small way putting weight behind forces that are acting against all of our best interests. And that is something I take seriously.

And on a more simple level, to present speculation as fact is deceptive. It's dishonest. I am not arguing that the creators of JFC are dishonest -- but a lack of discipline here produces dishonesty. I don't think you want that.

Even at this point in production it is still possible to put a notice at the start of the show indicating that it is speculative, that there are a lot of unknowns, and that what is shown is by no means conclusive. This would not only be honest; it would also greatly reduce the amount of resentment directed at the show by those with a serious interest in science.

And while it's much too late, if another season is produced it would be wonderful if each speculation could be debated -- if we could hear the arguments against Gastonia cutting bone with scutes or pack hunting in maniraptorans as well as the arguments in favor. That would very effectively raise the credibility of the show.

This is the central source of antagonism toward the show that I've seen in the online communities I frequent. While the details of how the animals have been presented are occasionally frustrating (non-feathered maniraptorans with curled-up hands for instance) they would seem much, much less problematic if they were not presented as fact.

I honestly did have trouble with the writing on the show. I honestly did have trouble with the pacing, with the jump-cuts, with this that and the other thing. If I were to do a serious critique of the show -- the kind of thing I'd do at a table discussion if I were a member of the staff -- I'd also go over those in detail. But I ain't.

Now here's the quote the animator gave me in reaction to my pissing and moaning about JFC. It's from Ratatouille --

"In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so." -- Anton Ego

There's truth to this but there's more to the question than that. Let's consider three aspects of criticism. First of is the simple opinion piece and I'd say the above quote fits the opinion piece neatly. An opinion piece is only of interest to those who share the opinion. And I am ashamed to say that what I wrote did have some big chunks of opinion piece in it. Mea culpa, and I'm going to try and avoid that in the future.

Next is the review -- this is useful to the consumer who can find a reviewer whose tastes are congruent with his own, or who is able to tell when someone's negative criticism indicates something he'd like. This is just barely removed from the opinion piece -- but it does serve a real function. Still, its only meaning for an artist is in how it affects his career -- an artist is right to be concerned about a bad review and wrong to be concerned about the reviewer's personal opinion.

Criticism is something else entirely. A critic is genuinely knowledgeable and works with the intent of furthering the art. (Oh, how I blush to describe dinosaur television as art -- but it is, it is!) And this is something an artist would do well to pay attention to. The best criticism is done by practitioners of the art. Ruskin, for example. While I disagree with much of what I've read by him it is still worthy of respect -- respect he has earned not simply through words and erudition but also through his drawings and paintings.

For an intuitive creator, one who is self-taught and self-motivated, even this level of critique can be damaging. But for the creator who studies and practices his skills, having one's work analyzed and commented on is an essential part of the process of education. And I speak from experience.

For years now I've sat down every Monday night and critiqued writing while having my writing critiqued. This is why my writing has improved. When I'm in an art class and I get a chance to find out how people respond to my work I learn. This is the level of critique I'm interested in receiving.

So if I write any more criticism I'm going to try and write at that level.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Meanwhile in Homicide Central...

There was a candlelight vigil last night followed by a community meeting. I participated in the vigil and the missus attended the meeting; she walked out partway through when it seemed as if it was just going to be a bunch of people throwing their hands up in the air and saying, "Oh, isn't this awful!"

And it turns out that the initial rumors that this was two dudes shooting each other over a dice game are false. They were involved in the drug trade and were executed by a party or parties unknown.

So we've got some killers on the loose.

Oh, and I was interviewed briefly yesterday afternoon and some of it made the news, or so I'm told. Now I'm curious...

And the missus tracked it down. I still don't know how to do links but if you're curious you can cut and paste.

The clip is Ken Wayne Reports On Growing Concerns Over Recent Spate Of Street Violence. I've got a sound bite at one minute and fifty-five seconds...

Jurassic Fight Club Part Three: If I were in charge...

A small Hypsilophodont and some poorly researched cycads or tree ferns or whatever. Time to do more work on paleobotany.

So in an imaginary world where I was in charge of dinosaur programming, what would Jurassic Fight Club be like?

The shows would start with the paleontologists. After selecting a fossil fight (and I'm amazed that they didn't use the battlin' Protoceratops and Velociraptor), two paleontologists or small teams of paleontologists would study the data and come up with a hypothetical scenario that incorporates the actual evidence and a brief animated segment would be produced illustrating each of those scenarios.

And the paleontologists would be consulted regarding the reconstructions of the animals as well -- each team would generate their animation from scratch, including all digital models.

The scientists and artists involved would explain the reasons why they made their choices -- and they'd also explain why some of their conclusions are more likely than others. No speculation would be presented as fact. (I'm looking at you, 'Dinosaur' George!)

Each group would then review and critique the other's effort and sections from this could be intercut with the interviews previously made so as to provide a sense of give-and-take. "This is what I was thinking." "This is why he was wrong/why I wish I'd thought of it."

After that the two two teams would collaborate on a third version that would hopefully be more rigorous and/or creative than the first two. The goal here would be to show something about the nature of science and speculation, to show that science is a collaborative and ongoing effort, and to highlight the extremely speculative nature of dinosaur reconstruction. It is not a science -- it's an art form that interacts with science and that's something that a lot of people don't understand.

Oh, and something I forgot to bring up earlier. What I've enjoyed the most about Jurassic Fight Club has been the animation... which has been very, very spotty. I have seen some of the best and worst dinosaur animation ever in this thing.

And the trouble is that the best stuff is good for visual reasons rather than scientific ones. They're animated using a look that duplicates the effects of filmed/taped footage which adds considerably to their realism -- but a lot of the time there are details that seem just plain wrong. Giving theropods big overlapping scales, for instance, or showing them literally bounding. There's also some inconsistancy in setting the animals into the scene -- sometimes their imposition is painfully obvious.

And there are moments when the animation is bad. The Camarasaurs from the episode set in the Cleveland-Lloyd quarry were embarassing.

But every so often something on the screen seems to be alive and the animation seems as if something real were being photographed. A lot of the reconstructions are quite pleasing to behold and that's enough to keep me watching.

Monday, September 22, 2008

My first series!

Another graphics element -- I used it in a grayscale illustration in the first issue of Swill.

As soon as I stuck my head in the bar I knew I was making a mistake. The place was packed and noisy and full of happy young people, a breed of human I can do well without. I started to withdraw when the bartender caught my eye and held up his hand and waved two fingers toward himself.


I pushed my way through the crowd and the bartender gestured again, moving me further down. That’s when I saw that there was a big chunk of territory at the end of the bar that was completely vacant except for a beefy beef-colored guy in a Hawaiian shirt and a dark-green fedora. He had a tumbler of something clear and fizzy in ice, a shot glass, a sweaty silver shaker and a red plastic bucket sitting next to him on the bar and he wore an expression of exceptional mildness.

The bartender smiled at me from behind his mustache. If I get much balder I’m going to have my scalp depilated and get a tattoo of his comb-over.

“Come on, hoss,” he said. “You’ve got to meet the latest. Get him while he’s here cause he’s going away fast.”

So on Friday I was feeling well enough to work -- but I didn't want to do anything I was supposed to do. Instead, I had a short story that wanted to get out. Seven pages later it was done and I'll be thrashing it over with the writer's group tonight. (Remind me to introduce you to the writer's group some time -- nice batch of folks. We are a diverse bunch to say the least...)

It's got the same setting and a couple of characters from The Little Things (currently available both on-line and in print form, see the Swill website over in the sidebar) and I realized that I've solved a minor problem that's been bugging me for a while.

I adore science fiction. The second book I was exposed to was Red Planet by Robert Heinlein and that was it. I was hooked.

But SF hasn't been an easy thing for me to write. See, the way I look at it is that if you're gonna write SF you need to make some kind of scientific speculation part of the package -- if it's just an excuse to give us weirdness you may as well just write fantasy.

But when I've tried to do this in the past the ideas ate the story. The fiction went away. And then I wrote The Little Things and found a way to make the ideas the center of the story. Make them into bar stories make the POV character part of the audience.

No more elaborate setups, everything is explained to the POV character and thus the audience, and best of all the idea is the story.

Bar stories are great. But I hate bars -- and that was the key element that really made things congeal for me. By making these stories unpleasant experiences for the POV character and by making the bartender into mean-spirited bully-ish asshole there is conflict built into the situation from the get-go.

This is a formula. That's appropriate here -- I just want an outlet for the goofy little riffs I come up with as I graze my way through the sciences. My ambitions for these stories are quite humble.

But they're gonna be fun.

The thought that triggered this entry?

Rational thought does not come easily or naturally to humans. Our brains are great for making up mythologies -- but achieving an understanding of the world and ourselves is an uphill struggle.

It's not what our brains were made to do. They've been doing brainscans of people making decisions. It looks as though most of our thinking takes place in parts of the brain that we share with fish and lizards -- what we regard as rationality gets very little play.

So what would happen if you had a brain that was made for rational thought? Here's a hint -- it doesn't go as well as one might hope...

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Jurassic Fight Club Part Two: Into the Maelstrom!

The best drawing I ever did was based on the same sketch I used for this. It was a scale-by-scale life-sized rendering done in graphite, ink, and Prismacolor. But because of its size I had to work standing up and my back had me bedridden twice by the time the neck was done. I wound up having to stop work on the damned thing just as I was getting to the fun part...

And now it's time to break out the hatchet. This is all based on the last episode I saw, one featuring a fight between Gastonia and Utahraptor -- I can't give you the species names because they didn't give them to the audience.

Here's the idea behind Jurassic Fight Club. Fossil evidence of dinosaur fights are analyzed by paleontologists and a computer-animated version of the fight is created. I've read that the fight scenes were done before the paleontologists were interviewed; that may be slander but that's how it seems when you watch the show.

The name is deceptive; very little of the show has been set in the Jurassic and it's not so much Fight Club as it is CSI. My first real criticism is that the show would be better if it filled a half-hour rather than an hour-long slot. There is too much repetition of thoughts and footage badly concealed by quick cutting -- the result is an onslaught of words and images that don't carry a whole lot of meaning.

Now, on to the previously stated criteria.

How much dinosaur do we get?

Not as much as I like -- the show is mostly interviews and field shots and so on, interspersed with clips from the final fight. And it didn't seem as though the final viewing of the fight was complete.

Do I get any new information?

As a matter of fact, yes. Gastonia is a lot more of a bad-ass than I thought. In particular the idea that some of the spikes/plates/scutes (sic) at the base of the tail could act as scissors is a fascinating one -- I'm not entirely convinced that they worked the way they show here, though. And it's always interesting to hear the story behind a fossil find.

How often does the show make me want to/actually scream?


First off is that science is treated quite badly here. Ideas ranging from solid speculation to flat-out whimsy are presented as facts. "Utahraptor could jump up to fifteen feet." We're talking about an animal the size of a bear here. Show me the biomechanics, tell me who argues this position and why -- and include a little room for doubt. Every conclusion is treated as fact; fuck that.

And the actual writing is terrible. Not like that's unusual in nature shows... Lines like "One hundred and twenty million years ago dinosaurs were the planet's dominant species," are just plain stupid. There is no such thing as the species 'dinosaur' and what's a dominant species anyway? Make sense or shut up, he said.

"Dinosaur" George Blasing seems as though he's a nice guy -- but he comes off as an enthusiast with no real rigor of thought. He's the main one throwing off unsupported and in many cases unsupportable assumptions and treating them like facts. I can't for the life of me understand why he gets so much face time.

The quick-cut technique they use here produces some bad results as well. For example, when Jim Kirkland is talking about ankylosaurs they cut to a shot of some stegosaurs. When Utahroptor is compared in size to a bear, they cut to footage of bears that don't have any scale, that don't give you an idea of their size. Why do this?

And it has to be said that there is no longer an acceptable excuse for showing Maniraptorans without feathers. If you can't afford to animate them then don't use them, dipshit. And they also got the hands wrong -- they were held in a position that's long since been discredited. Please make use of current knowledge!

Those aren't the only things that are just plain wrong. For instance, there's a claim that Utahraptor is more agile than Gastonia because it's a two-legged animal. Tell it to the wolves and cheetahs and antelope. Or the statement that fossils have no remains of organic matter in them. That's not what I've heard...

Kindly fact check when you're making documentaries. That would seem obvious, wouldn't it?

And finally, I'm not sure what to make of the sight of paleontologists entering states of full-on gooberosity in the public view. Watching people whose work I've read with pleasure going on about how bad-ass the dinosaurs are makes them seem, um... A little juvenile? I mean, I'm totally in favor of that kind of enthusiasm but the way it's used in the context of the show...

Look, if it gets to the point where I'm saying get a little dignity, well, that's just not a good sign.

Do we have any good visual moments? Do we recieve a frisson of the alien?

Yes, we do. The shots of Gastonia moving across the landscape with a group of pterosaurs mounted on its back are quite lovely and evocative.

How's the violence?

Disappointing this time around. The fight was poorly thought out -- Utahraptor seems to have deliberately put himself into the aforementioned bone-shears of the Gastonia. It's just a lot of jumping around shot like a sneaker commercial or music video.

And just between you, me, and my schadenfruede I would have liked some more gore. I mean, don't tease me with your parental warnings if you ain't gonna dish out the blood in gratifying quantities.

Okay, I can hear you saying. How would you have done it differently, Mr. Big Mouth?

(As an utter aside. I took a peek at the post I made when my fever was peaking and found that I was channeling Myles naGopaleen... I suppose I could have stolen from worse.)