North, East, West, & South 1/28/09

There’s an apocryphal explanation for the term news that says it’s an acronym for the four points of the compass, N(orth)E(ast)W(est)S(outh), in other words, all the stuff happening in all directions. The truth is much more plebeian, with news simply being a plural of new, and meaning “new things,” but I’ve always liked the elegance of that apocrypha, so I’m gonna use it for a brand new feature under ye olde outlaw moon, North East West & South, which will appear at suspenseful intervals of no pre-determined schedule.

In this feature, I’ll share a few bits of the latest news of whatever sort I find interesting or amusing, and I may comment, perhaps in a snide, sarcastic, cruel, bemused, or ironic way. So, here we go…

Jessica Alba vs. Bill O’Reilly

alba

Kudos to the delectable Ms. Alba for publicly showing that she not only has some brains, but has more of them than right-wing nitwit Bill O’Reilly. In an interview just after Obama’s inauguration, Alba called O’Reilly “kind of an a-hole.” Later, a “reporter” from TMZ (a cheesy gossip site) tried to put her on the spot about it, and she playfully asked him what Barack Obama’s greatest characteristic was. The TMZ goon demurred, saying he was uncomfortable answering because he was a (ahem) journalist. Alba told him to “be neutral — be Sweden about it.”

Both O’Reilly and TMZ attacked Alba for her apparent idiocy, because any idiot knows that it’s Switzerland that stayed neutral during WWII, and she of course meant that. Except, no, she meant exactly what she’d said, and retaliated by writing this in her blog:

I find it depressing that, in the midst of perhaps the most salient time in our country’s history, individuals are taking it upon themselves to encourage negativity and stupidity. Last week, Mr. Bill O’Reilly and some really classy sites (i.e. TMZ) insinuated I was dumb by claiming Sweden was a neutral country. I appreciate the fact that he is a news anchor and that gossip sites are inundated with intelligent reporting, but seriously people… it’s so sad to me that you think the only neutral country during WWII was Switzerland. I appreciate the name calling and the accurate reporting. Keep it up!

And yeah, I could have put a picture of O’Reilly up there, instead of one of Alba, but it’s almost dinner-time.

Another Reason to Avoid High Fructose Corn Syrup

High fructose corn syrup is one of the chief supervillains in the fattening of the American populace. I’ve seen graphs which show how American weight started to spike steadily upward in the years since HFCS was introduced in the 1970s, and any good nutritionist can explain the reasons why (if you’re curious, go to this link, where it’s explained concisely and simply). Read over the ingredients of the food you buy very closely, and you’ll find HFCS in many surprising places. It ain’t good for you.

Now, it seems, it’s probably not just fattening, but toxic. As reported at Associated Content:

A recent report published in Environmental Health might make you rethink your next trip to the grocery store. Mercury was discovered in almost half of the samples taken from high fructose corn syrup used in commercial applications. Products by Smucker’s, Kraft, Hershey’s, and Quaker all tested positive for the toxic metal.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tested 20 samples of high fructose corn syrup in 2005. Nine of the 20 samples had detectable amounts of mercury in them. Even though the FDA knew about this mercury problem four years ago, consumers were not informed, and no additional testing was ordered. A different study conducted by IATP, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, found mercury in almost one-third of 55 different products containing high fructose corn syrup as one of the top two ingredients.

What? The FDA under the Bush Administration didn’t bother to let the American public know about this? But they were usually so forthcoming!

bush-dumb

And what does mercury do to us? The piece at Associated Content sums it up:

Mercury ingestion can harm people of all ages, but it can be especially harmful to children, infants, and developing fetuses. Mercury can affect a person’s memory, fine motor and spatial skills, cognitive thinking skills, and attention span. It can also impair a person’s hearing, speech, and ability to walk. It can cause muscle weakness and make one uncoordinated, and can cause a “pins and needles” sensation.

In short, stay the hell away from HFCS.

The Dark Knight Snubbed

Last years masterpiece of noir superhero cinema, The Dark Knight, was not nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. Christopher Nolan was not nominated for Best Director. But you know what?

It made a godzillion dollars (popular success), scored incredible reviews (critical success: 94% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, which averages all the reviews), and showed just how smart, topical, and arty a movie about superheroes can actually be.

Fuck Oscar. They haven’t been meaningful in any way except as a boost to advertising for movies in a long damn time.

Though I do hope Heath Ledger gets that posthumous trophy for his Joker, because he was awesome.

Gaiman Wins The Newbery

A hearty congratulations to Neil Gaiman who just won the Newbery Award for The Graveyard Book, the book I blogged about so lovingly not long ago.

Neil Gaiman: What I Look Like The Day After I Win The Newbery

And yeah, I’m up at 4:14 am, what about it? I been up for hours, beeyotch.

I need sleep. Anybody have any?

Writing Tips From Joss Whedon

Danny Stack at his “Scriptwriting in the U.K.” blog offers up “Joss Whedon’s Anatomy of a Screenplay,” a short piece originally published in 4Talent magazine. As Joss is one of the living gods of Story Itself, I am always willing and eager to absorb any wisdom that trickles down from his pad on Olympus (or his Olympus typewriter, maybe, which would be a cool bit of godlike wisdom product placement, except he probably writes on a computer like the rest of us schlubs, so damn). (But then again, his pad on Olympus, that’s not bad, because it can be his domicile, but it can also be his writing pad, which is something he probably does still use, even in this digital age, so hey, that works, right…right? Damnit, I need coffee. Or something.).

Anyway.

The piece is basically Joss’s ten tips for screenwriters (with a slight emphasis on script-doctoring, which is hiring on to touch up someone else’s script). I love the fact that Step 1 is “Finish It,” and my favorite bit of advice is #9:

Having given the advice about listening, I have to give the opposite advice, because ultimately the best work comes when somebody’s fucked the system; done the unexpected and let their own personal voice into the machine that is moviemaking. Choose your battles. You wouldn’t get Paul Thomas Anderson, or Wes Anderson, or any of these guys if all moviemaking was completely cookie-cutter. But the process drives you in that direction; it’s a homogenising process, and you have to fight that a bit. There was a point while we were making Firefly when I asked the network not to pick it up: they’d started talking about a different show.

The fact that this is my favorite bit would probably come as no shock to my editor (though I listened to him waaaaay more than I didn’t, and the book is better for it).

Go here for the full piece: http://dannystack.blogspot.com/2009/01/joss-whedons-top-10-writing-tips.html

It Takes a Graveyard to Raise a Child

There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.

graveyard

So begins The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman’s latest dark wonder, in which he kind of retells Kipling’s Jungle Book, but has the orphaned boy raised not in a jungle by wild things, but in a cemetery by things that go bump in the night.

It works. Gaiman is a master, and this book is pure Gaiman, spooky and clever and wry, written with a simple grace that belies its artful complexity. It’s one of those books that’s like drinking eggnog; it’s so good, you gulp it down, finishing it fast then immediately wishing you had more. (Plus, Gaiman’s book has no calories, so it won’t add to your gut).

The Graveyard Book is a fine book, and a great read for anyone over ten.

Interested readers should also check out Gaiman’s blog at http://journal.neilgaiman.com.

The Omega Turd

It’s cold comfort, after eight years,  degradation of the Constitution, loss of global respect, the near destruction of of our economy, and hundreds of thousands of deaths, but the majority of Americans have, indeed, finally recognized that George W. Bush is the Omega Turd of U.S. presidents:

President Bush will leave office as one of the most unpopular departing presidents in history, according to a new CBS News/New York Times poll showing Mr. Bush’s final approval rating at 22 percent.

Seventy-three percent say they disapprove of the way Mr. Bush has handled his job as president over the last eight years.

Mr. Bush’s final approval rating is the lowest final rating for an outgoing president since Gallup began asking about presidential approval more than 70 years ago.

The rating is far below the final ratings of recent two-term presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, who both ended their terms with a 68 percent approval rating, according to CBS News

Recent one term presidents also had higher ratings than Mr. Bush. His father George H.W. Bush had an end-of-term rating of 54 percent, while Jimmy Carter’s rating was 44 percent.

Source: CBS News

And Dick Cheney? He’s leaving office with a 13% approval rating.

Sophisticated Beehavior

Interesting article at Scientific American about the nature of consciousness, using bees as an example:

Although these experiments do not tell us that bees are conscious, they caution us that we have no principled reason at this point to reject this assertion. Bees are highly adaptive and sophisticated creatures with a bit fewer than one million neurons, which are interconnected in ways that are beyond our current understanding, jammed into less than one cubic millimeter of brain tissue. The neural density in the bee’s brain is about 10 times higher than that in a mammalian ce­rebral cortex, which most of us take to be the pinnacle of evolu­tion on this planet. In humans, widespread loss of cerebral cortex, as in the vegetative patient Terri Schiavo, leads to an irreversible loss of con­scious­ness. That is not to say that a cerebral cortex is necessary for consciousness in creatures with a different evolutionary heritage.

Very interesting stuff.

Appaloosa, A Book and Film Review

It was a long time ago, now, and there were many gunfights to follow, but I remember as well, perhaps, as I remember anything, the first time I saw Virgil Cole shoot. Time slowed down for him. He fought with an odd stateliness. Always steady and never fast, but always faster than the man he was fighting.

Last year I saw a trailer for Appaloosa, the cinematic adaptation of Robert B. Parker’s western novel, directed by Ed Harris, starring Harris and Viggo Mortensen. This trailer got me very excited, as I’ve been a huge fan of Parker’s for a very long time, I love westerns, and Ed Harris is not only a damn fine actor but a superior director as well (proven in 2000’s Pollock). And Viggo’s no slouch either, nor is Jeremy Irons, who’s also in the film.

But Appaloosa had actually sat unread on my shelf for a couple of years because Parker’s previous foray into the old West, Gunman’s Rhapsody (a novel about Wyatt Earp, one of my favorite historical figures), had been a disappointment. I’d intended to get to it (thus the fact it was on the shelf at all), but hadn’t yet. Since I generally prefer to read a book before seeing the movie it inspires, I immediately rescued Appaloosa from its lonely spot and dove in. Continue reading