Capitalism In Action

Russia has announced that, beginning in 2006, there will be no more free rides for American astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

So here's what you might see on TV about that time:


A Russian Soyuz spacecraft approaches the International Space Station and docks with it, the curving horizon of a beautiful Earth in the background.


There are two astronauts, RUSSIAN and AMERICAN, in the space station. The Russian is seated at a console. The American hovers over his shoulder, an anxious look on his face.

RUSSIAN: Docking is complete.

The American breaks into a broad smile.

AMERICAN: Whoo-hoo! My ride home! Finally! Lemme just get my bag!

The American floats across the space station's interior and picks up a small suitcase. He turns around and moves toward the hatchway.

However, the Russian has left his seat and is now standing in front of the doorway. He holds a hand out, palm first.

RUSSIAN: Not so fast, comrade. Have you forgotten? Today is January the first. Russia's new policy has gone into effect.

The Russian shifts his hand to flat out, palm up. He rubs his thumb across his fingers.

RUSSIAN: Payment for goods and services. Is that not the American way?

The American looks aghast and stunned. He glances frantically around the statioon for several seconds, then stops, looking suddenly thoughtful. A smile breaks out on his face.

The American opens one of the many pockets on his uniform, and pulls out...


... an American Express card.


The Russian's face breaks into a pleased smile as he reaches for the card.


We see the Soyuz capsule heading back towards Earth. We hear the American's voice, fading as the Soyuz grows farther away.

AMERICAN (OFF-SCREEN, FADING): Whoo-o-o-o-o-hoo-o-o-o-o-o-o!

NARRATOR (VOICEOVER): American Express. Don't leave home without it.


Unprofessional Jealousy

Sometimes you come across a phrase so wonderfully evocative that it makes you gnash your teeth and proclaim, "Damn, I wish I'd written that!"

A phrase like:

"Deep in your heart there is a sunlight so hot that it makes you love people."

And to add chagrin to jealousy, realizing that it was written by a six-year old girl.

Outwritten by a six-year old. Sheesh.

There's only one thing to do: We have to get that young lady interested in horses, as soon as possible.

Doing The Numbers

In an AP article, George Bush was quoted from an announcement regarding the tsunami disaster in the Indian Ocean:
Bush said the catastrophe had "brought loss and grief to the world that is beyond our comprehension," and he pledged a multifaceted response from the United States that goes far beyond the $35 million initially pledged.
The current estimate of fatalities from the tsunamis is 76,000 people.

And that's "beyond our comprehension."

The current estimate of civilian casualties in the Iraq war is 100,000.

And that is beyond our willingness to comprehend.


Food For Thought

Our friend Anne was over tonight, and one of the subjects the conversation wandered onto was: why were Irish immigrants in the 19th century regarded as "dumb"?

Beyond the obvious, that many immigants came from peasant backgrounds with little or no formal schooling, Anne conjectured the lack of things like, oh, food in Irish diets of the time might have prevented proper brain development in children. Or even before the Potato Famine, that the overwhelming preponderance of a single food item in the diets may have caused a nutrient imbalance with similar results.

"Ah," I said. "Then perhaps grits explains Red States election results."

Anne thought that over for a moment, then said, "No, I think you're committing a logical fallacy. You're making an add hominy argument."


"As You Know, Ged..."

Hilde and I watched Sci Fi Channel's Earthsea last night.

My old scriptwriting finger got itchy. It's been thirty years since I read the Earthsea books, so I don't remember enough to say how much, or how badly, the producers changed LeGuin's work. But I felt it certainly needed somebody (even me!) to give it another rewrite (or three).

The dialogue was clunky and (particularly in the first hour) filled with awkward expository lumps. The direction was... pedestrian (and actively bad in some spots, such as Ged's leading the soldiers over the cliff). The CGI effects were mostly of several-years-behind-the-development-curve level, and jarred with the real characters and settings. And despite a few bright spots like Danny Glover and Isabella Rosselini, the acting was mostly... again, this word... pedestrian. (And a special plea to the guy playing Ged's father: If you have a day job, please please please, go back to it.)

Could have been worse. In a bad fantasy movie, Ged would have been six-foot-three with rippling abs, and taking off his shirt at every opportunity. When he picked up a sword for the first or near-first time in his life, he would have beaten the well-trained villain. And there would have been a scene with the young priestesses relaxing in the communal baths. (We did have the villain and the traitorous priestess in bed together, but for a bad movie, you have to have lots of young women in a state of undress at the same time.)

I'll give it a "C". I'm thinking I'll re-read the Earthsea books; I may down-grade the movie after that.


HAGAR! The Film That Never Was

At Film Crew Online, the MST3000 geeks riff on various ideas for comic-strip based movies. One of which is for a film version of Hagar The Horrible.

Oddly enough, back in the early 90's when I was trying to follow up my episode of ST:TNG by pitching movie scripts to studios, my agent actually represented the Hagar strip (and a bunch of others) for a short while. This seemed serendipitous, and I worked up a short pitch for a possible script.

My concept for a Hagar movie was that it was basically a love story between Hagar and his wife. Hagar, incompetent Viking, gets into trouble, and more trouble, and still more trouble. Eventually placing his own family into peril. Which, of course, in grand movie tradition, motivates him to actual competence, and enables him to rescue the people he loves.

The Hagar dynamics are quite similar to The Simpsons. If you traced Homer Simpson's family tree back far enough, in fact, you'd almost certainly find Hagar bending down one of the branches.

Alas, shortly after working up that outline, I found myself having to take anti-depressants -- thanks to a Toxic (highly Toxic) Boss at my dayjob -- which had the rueful side-effect of removing any desire or need to write. By the time I was able to get off the meds and try writing again, about a year later, my agent no longer represented Hagar, and was shortly to be cut off from financial support by the patron who'd been keeping him afloat for several years.

And I never quite managed to regain what feeble momentum towards a scriptwriting career I'd had. (A not untypical Struggling Scriptwriter career trajectory, I'm afraid. *sigh*)


Werewolves of Christmas

For most of the year, at my workplace, the radio stays turned off. Too many people had too many arguments over which station to listen to. The old hippies objected to country. The Harley riders objected to classical. The pickup-driving crowd objected to hip-hop.

Every December, though, the radio gets turned on and tuned to one of the stations carrying Christmas music. Not particularly for the employees' benefit, but because the speakers also broadcast into the customer lobby, and Christmas music at Christmas season is, y'know, traditional.

The particular station tuned in this year hasn't ramped up to full Christmas content yet, so about half the songs they're broadcasting are still their usual classic rock.

So this morning things are going as usual, and then the speakers bring forth the pounding DUM-DA, DUM-DA, DUM-DA-DA-DUM of...

...Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London", in that voice that even back then was rough and gravelly, but strong and powerful.

And the first AWWOOOOOOOO! comes, and by god if a couple of people listening don't join in.

And the second AWWOOOOOOOO! comes, and even more of my co-workers join in.

And the third, even more.

And by the time the song ends, about a quarter of the employees, 25 or 30, are all going AWWOOOOOOOO!.

It was probably a good thing this took place before the lobby opened to customers. Normal people waiting to buy stamps or mail packages, if they heard a bunch of postal employees howling en masse, would probably reach for their cell phones and call 911. ("They're going nuts down here! Send a SWAT team as fast as you can!")

Werewolves for Christmas? Works for me.