I never developed a fear of flying, even when commuting back-and-forth from DC to Phoenix for six months in 1998 and 1999. Turbulence doesn't bother me, either; I suppose I rationalize my lack of concern by recognizing I'm in a situation where I am completely powerless to affect the outcome, so just enjoy the ride. That, and I always remember the Superman line where he says flying is statistically still the safest way to travel.So, it was with a mixture of provocative glee and defiance that I first read Michael Crichton's page-turning novel about a mid-air disaster, Airframe, on one of those commuting legs. The book centers around an investigative lead for an airframe (mostly everything but the engines on a plane) manufacturer scrambling to find answers to a mysterious mid-flight mishap before the 60-Minutes-type media outlet runs a story that would sink the company. Crichton doesn't disappoint the techno part of his 'techno-thriller' rep as usual; by the end you'll know as much about why the plane really had trouble as any executive.

We don't even meet our chief antagonist from the media until halfway through the book, but by then, the table has been set and the tension is wonderful. I'm not surprised that the book was never made into a movie; I can think of only two action scenes, and they are minor at best. No, the thrills in this tale come from the mental and verbal jousting between the airframe lead and her media counterpart; one trying to find out the truth and solve a mystery, and the latter trying to sell a sensational story regardless of what happened. And, I didn't need to be on a plane this time around to fly through this book again.


State of Fear

It goes without saying that I am an atheist, but I wasn't always that way. I struggled for years with the things I was told were true, or that were part of faith, when many of them just didn't make sense. And I really had a hard time believing that the God of my parents and so many others was flawed and even worse, a fiction. Ultimately, I took it upon myself to read books about religion and its history instead of relying on the opinions of others. Only after myself becoming more informed could I comfortably and assuredly dispel the myths of the gods.

Compared to global warming, that struggle was a piece of cake.

The casual (i.e., not a scientist) follower of global warming often share striking similarities to religious followers, akin to those who blindly believe what they are told. From my 'training' at picking apart religious arguments, the false logic is easy to spot. I have found the most common form of justification by casual believers are appeal to the people (e.g., a majority of scientists believe and therefore it is fact), and appeal to authority (e.g., Al Gore made a movie and therefore it is true). All this tells me is that they don't know what they are talking about. Adamant followers usually just skip to to beratement, or an attack on the person rather than the argument (e.g., what a nutjob!). All of these things makes the notion of global warming smell funny, to say the least.So, admittedly, I came into reading Michael Crichton's 2004 techno-thriller State of Fear with some eager anticipation. Yes, it is a book of fiction, which the author stresses, about environmental extremists trying to perpetrate ecological disasters to try and strengthen their monetary funding for their movements. However, Crichton has done extensive research (the bibliography has dozens of texts in reference), and there are pages of footnoted passages in the text to back up characters' contentions. It all makes for, first of all, a compelling and fun read, but secondly, an eye-opening experience to another point of view.

(The book is not out to dispel man-made global warming (although it does quite well in that regard), but makes a case for a media-driven 'state of fear', i.e., creating a constant state of hysteria and panic to control the masses.)

I'd put the book in the upper echelon of Crichton's books -- somewhere between Airframe and Congo -- and a wonderful read. If nothing else, the author stresses at the beginning and end that the reader should read more and find out for themselves what they think, which I couldn't agree with more.

Side project: Read the comments on Amazon to get an amazingly polarizing view and try to count the number of false logic arguments without going nuts.

In reviewing my own "Post of Note" about Why I Love to Hate Religion, I wrote the following:
    Third would be the mystery of nature itself. The feeling one gets (or I get for the purposes of this little treatise) from laying with your back on the grass and staring up at the clouds or the starry sky. Standing on the edge of the ocean on the beach at midnight, looking out at the murky blackness, the water vast and the horizon infinite. Or, it can be as simple as thinking about a person you haven't seen in years, and then suddenly running into them the next day. The feeling of powerlessness before nature, the vastness, the intimate unknown experiences, the unexplainable connection one feels. If I am convinced of anything, it is that there is more out there, and in here, much more, that we have yet to discover. Religion and the history thereof is a roadmap to many peoples' attempts to either find out more, explain, or manipulate people who are scared into doing horrors.
As it relates to the theory of man-made global warming, I just don't believe that we understand remotely enough about this planet to be able to control it. But that is just belief. I plan to read more and know.


QOS Reviews

I've been waiting two years for Casino Royale's sequel, yes sequel, Quantum of Solace to come out, so it's never too early to start getting excited when reviews come in. Especially if they are what you were hoping to hear, and then some.I mean, after all, I did it last time and it worked out just fine. From the London Times Online:
    "James Bond is back, and this time it’s mighty personal. Daniel Craig’s craggy agent picks up exactly where he left off in another bruising thriller that leaves you feeling both drained and exhilarated... What makes Marc Forster’s film such an intriguing watch is that this is the first of the 22 Bond movies where the plot flows organically from the last instalment, and Quantum of Solace looks a far stronger picture for this rare continuity."
From BBC Online:
    "Clocking in at one and three-quarter hours, it's a good half hour shorter than 007's previous outing. And its reduced running time results in a leaner, tauter experience... And it's a brave step to push even further a lot of the themes developed in Casino Royale, especially the rediscovery of who Bond is, and why he is the way he is. It's a film that feels like the second part of a trilogy, with this being the bleaker second act."
And from Empire Online: (all reviews from British sites as they get QOS two weeks before we do):
    "It's entirely admirable that Quantum of Solace is the shortest Bond movie to date - it drops a great many of the long-running series mannerisms (callous quips, expository lectures, travelogue padding, Q and Moneypenny) as it globe-trots urgently from Italy to Haiti to Austria to Italy again to Bolivia to Russia with stopovers in London and other interzones... If it doesn't even try to be bigger than Casino Royale, that's perhaps a smart move in that there's still a sense at the end that Bond's mission has barely begun."
Finally, a short one from Screen Daily:
    "One of the most remarkable action films ever made."
Expectations: sky-high.


Let Me In

Cinematical first clued me in to Let Me In, a surprisingly moving and graphic 2004 vampire tale written by Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist, with their opening paragraph review of the film adaptation:
    The vampire movie has been pretty much done to "death" by this point, right? Even the good vampire flicks are sort of treading over familiar ground, yes? Longtime fans of the undead bloodsuckers have more or less accepted that the sub-genre has become a fairly anemic wasteland, true? Normally I'd have to reluctantly agree with those assertions, but fortunately I caught a really excellent Swedish film this morning called Let the Right One In. Not only does this fantastic little import add a lot of new color to the "vampire flick," but it also turns out to be one of the strangest, stickiest, and (yes) sweetest horror movies I've seen in ten years.
Just reading the back flap biopic of the author, you know you're in for something a little different:
    John Ajvide Lindqvist is a Swedish author who grew up in Blackeberg, the setting for Let Me In. Wanting to become something awful and fantastic, he first became a conjurer and then was a stand-up comedian for twelve years.
The story is simple, but new to vampire-fiction
    Oskar is a 12-year-old-boy who is being bullied at school. He befriends a mysterious girl, Eli, who moves in next door with her father HÃ¥kan.

    In the course of the story the reader finds out all is not what it seems. Eli is really a vampire and her 'father' supplies her with fresh blood by murdering young boys. As Oskar gradually begins to understand who Eli really is, the bond between them grows stronger. Eli teaches him to stand up to his bullies and Oskar grows increasingly fond of her.
Oskar isn't exactly your typical hero, in fact he's a little creepy and is fond of knives. His off-kilter personality makes his acceptance of his vampire friend that much more believable. While I thought the book started a bit slow, it soon builds speed to the point where I couldn't put it down. The themes dealt with in the book are atypical of a horror book and very thought-provoking. Ultimately, the book ends up being romantic while being sick, twisted, and very bloody.The book has already been made into a foreign-language film, retitled Let the Right One In. Here's one of the trailers:
Unfortunately, at present, the film is only going to be released in limited cities and dates. According to Cinematical, it'll be playing at the E Street Theater in Washington on November 7. (E Street's website doesn't confirm this, so I'm hoping to find it somewhere.)


I think I was as surprised as my girlfriend that I was interested in going to see W. in the theaters. I'm not tremendously political, but I certainly lean heavily (at least financially and foreign-policy wise) towards the "right". But even more surprising was that I liked the film, and that my expectations were completely wrong.A friend of mine asked me, "What kind of movie is it? Satire? Dark-comedy? Political propaganda?" She's the kind of person that likes to know just what to expect, and I can't blame her in this case. I was most intrigued by the film because of Josh Brolin's purported great performance (not to be underestimated) and the fact that I wanted to see for myself just how Oliver Stone paints our 43rd president. My answer to her question was that it has humor, but it is by no means a comedy or satire. The picture still defies to be put in a category, other than a creative biopic that is entertaining, informative, conspiracy-theoried (Stone, naturally doing what he does), and thought-provoking. It wasn't what I expected.

That reminds me of another question that was posted to me by a VERY liberal woman (I would say she drinks the kool-aid), the kind that believes in a vast right-wing conspiracy and Bush is evil, etc., etc. She was surprised that I went to see it (my right-leaning rep is well-known) and asked what I thought. And I said the most surprising thing is the most sympathetic, well-developed, and human character in the movie is George W. himself. She looked visibly deflated and said, "oh". I suspect anyone with a similar POV will be disappointed that Oliver Stone's film actually conveys a compassion and understanding for W., instead of making a cheap pot-shot mockumentary. This is by no means saying the film is pro-Bush, but that Stone is trying (and I believe succeeds) to tell a story about real people, and real people are shaped by real events, real emotions, and other real people.

Now, where Oliver Stone takes liberties with characters (one assumes) is with W.'s cabinet. In the film, W. is portrayed as a person who believes in good and evil, and as a metaphor for his own views, the good in his own cabinet is Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright) and Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfus) the evil. Karl Rove (Toby Jones) comes off as both affable and slimy as the same time, but Thandie Newton's caricature impression of Condoleeza Rice is show-stoppingly distracting. That and Rice is made to be mostly a 'yes' person and doesn't appear to have much in the way of an opinion.

For me, it was most interesting to see the origins of W.'s christian faith -- assigned to a local election beating, where his opponent used those themes to beat him. Afterward, W. vows never to be "out-Christianed or out-Texaned again", even though he knows the themes are irrelevant and dishonest. Amazingly, I came out of the film with a better feeling about W. than when I walked in, and I think in this age of being besieged by cries of "worst president ever", I never say that coming.


A Dangerous Man

With Charlie Huston's final book in his Hank Thompson trilogy, A Dangerous Man, the temptation is there for me to be disappointed. After all, it comes after following an excellent (and a finalist for the Gumshoe award for Best Thriller in 2006) sequel, Six Bad Things, and the first and penultimate book of the series, Caught Stealing. (That Caught Stealing has not been adapted into a film yet is something of a crime.) Yes, the expectations were high, and A Dangerous Man delivers, but I think the sense of euphoria and escape is tempered by the somber finality of the end.It's interesting to speculate how I would perceive the book if the character of Hank wasn't so far removed from the first two physically; he has descended into what Booklist appropriately called "Fat Elvis" mode -- popping pills constantly and quite a bit slovenly and overweight. However, an encounter with a new baseball phenom-to-be, with Hank as his bodyguard, sets the final, ironic chapter in motion. No need to worry if there will be violence for Hank to mete out or for situations to take surprising turns; if you've read this far, you come to expect it and applaud the fitting end of a great series.

ABC's of Star Wars

Someone took the time to create a series of ABC cards using characters from Star Wars. I'm not sure if it was worth all that time, but it may have been just for the "S is for Sarlacc" one.


The Smiths

The Smiths in recent years have become a band that I say are a favorite preceded with a shrug, the gesture meaning "well, of course they are, but I don't listen to them all that much anymore." It is one telling shrug, which could encapsulate for me any band favorite who doesn't put out new music and whose songs you have loved dearly, but heard all dozens and dozens of times. For me declaring that I love The Smiths' first album, The Smiths, it is recognizing an era of musical development, discovery really, and embracing nostalgia.I will readily admit the album is NOT their best, not even close. It's a little slower, mellow than subsequent albums, but still contains some great riffs and classic songs. "Still Ill" remains a top-five favorite in my book.

Really, though this album is all about the opening track for me, "Reel Around the Fountain." It was May 1990, and I had just completed my first two semesters at Penn State. Having grown up in Southwestern New York State (NOT Upstate New York), I had very little exposure to any other music other than what was played on the radio, which means all I knew was classic rock and pop music. I friend of mine (Kurt was his name) had suggested that I check out this band (amongst others), so on a whim I bought the six-dollar cassette (yes, cassette) and popped it in my stereo in my room while I started to unpack my college things.I remember very clearly actually stopping what I was doing and turning around to look at the stereo when I first heard Morrissey's voice. Morrissey, if you haven't heard him (and if you are reading this and have not, I don't know where to start other than saying YOU'RE NOT COOL!! ;)) has a very unique, nasal sound, and a gift with words. It was unlike any other I had heard. Every time I hear "Reel Around The Fountain," like this morning on the way to work, I think about that moment, which still feels like the wool being lifted from my eyes or discovering your new favorite food. And it brings a smile to my face.