Friday, May 31, 2013

A Brief Summary of My Fictional Realm

The world I have created for my writing is a vast and mysterious place. Either that, or an incredibly small and mysterious place. Feel free to pick one as you read on.

Imagine a grand archipelago, resting upon a bed of merciless ocean, filled with strange creatures and swelling tempests. Lurid jungles permeate the islands, all of them teeming with life and swarming with death. Great volcanoes spew superheated magma across the face of the keys, leaving scars of ash and dust in their wake. Even stranger still, are the great machines and structures that dot the landscape. This is a land of mystery, where death is quick to silence you, and life is quick to remind you that your turn is almost done.
Deep underground, seven thousand people awake, and find themselves with no memory of their past. They have are their names, a common language, and unique skills and talents. To survive in this harsh archipelago, these people band together, and form a civilization that would endure the savage forces pitted against them for the centuries to come.
The key to their survival lay in the machines they would come to discover. These machines gave them quick access to technologies that would otherwise be beyond them. Water purifiers, anti-gravitational field emitters, and other such marvels quickly propelled this people into a society that hybridizes medieval and modern cultures. Taking heed of the word written on many of these great machines, this people came to call themselves, the Septem.

This is merely a small taste of the world I have created, one written to help familiarize all of you with the setting that will drive my upcoming submissions. I will attempt to submit more detailed explanations of my world and its history to this blog, in the hopes that it will increase your interest and understand in and of my works.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Eric Metaxas and the Golden Fish or How an Author and a Book can Change the World

Take a young man (Eric Metaxas) born into a nominally Greek Orthodox family where religion is a cultural thing and God is the center piece of the culture rather than a belief system fixed on a True and Loving Being Who Wants Relationship, throw in a solid education and intellectual tendencies and you have a young man who ends up at a university (Yale) which was once founded on Christian principles by Christians to educate Americans to represent Christ in the earth. (Recognize this university has forgotten why it was founded and moved into secularism and finally into hostility to Christ, as much of American culture seems to be doing lately--why we Christians let whoever has done this to do it, I don't know.) Graduate this young man, send him on errands of fruitless futility seeking what he thinks he wants most in life, but not finding it. And finally, when his parents say, "Please, just get a job," put him in a boring, low-level position proof-reading chemical manuals. Now this young man is finally in a place where God can touch him. This place is called "the bottom." Unfortunately, many of us have to go there before we will listen to God. Bring in a charismatic (charismatic in the sense that he is filled by the Holy Spirit) artist who thinks outside the box (including the secular box) who prays for him and helps the Holy Spirit nudge him and...well, here's Eric Metaxas's testimony in his own words where he meets IXTHYS, the Golden Fish, in a dream.

In August 2011 Eric Metaxas' book, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy was released. Since then he has been on a practically nonstop "book tour" to promote this book about a man who resisted Hitler with the primary purpose of waking up American Christians to stand against the forces that have accelerated our cultural slide into the emptiness of secularism with its inane mantras and vile sacraments (abortion to name one)--the forces that call evil good and good evil. Essentially, using Bonhoeffer as his mentor, Eric Metaxas is calling all Christians to rise up and take ground for the Kingdom of God.

The hour is late, let us heed the call.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Laissez-Faire and Capitalism

Recently I finished and essay for school that was due about a month ago, but thanks to the sad state of American High Schools these days I can turn it in late.

I was assigned to discuss the concepts of Laissez-Faire and Capitalism.

According to Wikipedia (don't bother telling me Wikipedia is a bad source; it's as good as anything you can find on the internet), Laissez-Faire means "let [them] do," but broadly it implies, "let it be," "let them do as they will," or "leave it alone." Meaning less government regulation and more private decision making. It works because a relatively small group of government bureaucrats in Washington don't know as much about the complicated facets of the various professions as the professionals who specialize in those professions do.

It's really pretty arrogant and thoughtless of government officials, or those who would prefer a command economy, to believe that government bureaucrats know how to run your business better than you do.

Which leads into Capitalism. Capitalism means that private citizens own the means of production. These private citizens employ those means to create a profit. Of course there is competition and in order to defeat the competition, your company has to be better than the other company. How do you make it better? You innovate, you come up with new methods and new technologies that give your company an edge. But it doesn't stop there, the other company isn't out of business yet so he not only adapts your innovations (if he can), he also discovers further innovations to help him defeat your company. They cycle goes on and on driving the bar ever higher. The company and all of its employees innovate because they want more money. Call it greed or call it the profit motive, same difference. Capitalism and Laissez-Faire harness greed, a desire commonly considered bad, to raise society to ever loftier heights. The profit motive and its connection to innovation is one of multiple reasons why excessively taxing the rich is a bad idea. If the government takes half your profits, would you go to the same lengths to get new profits?

The connection between Capitalism and innovation is one of the reasons why the Soviets had to copy large quantities of their technology from the West, with an economy without competition and private profit motive there was no innovation.

Daniel Lathrop

Friday, May 24, 2013

On the fact that I had a well thought out post in regards to independent musicians, but failed to write it down at the time resulting in the planning slipping from my memory and writing a post on something else entirely with the inclusion of an overly long title:

Hello Writing Rogues!

So independent musicians... I like them. More often than not, I will buy an independently produced album over one produced commercially by Universal, Sony, etc. simply because I know that the money I'm putting towards their music is actually going towards them making more and not just into some fat cat's pocket. Musicians like Feather Oars, Aestus Symphonia, and Telekinesis!, I feel like I have a personal connection to (and in the case of Aestus I actually do) because they are my musicians and no one else's. I do share them, though. Every chance I get.

The quality of an independent artist can range from "this garbage should have never left the instrument/vocal chords" to "this should be the anthem of our generation" and in the higher end of the spectrum is often produced with quality to match Fat Cat Music and is much better written and played simply because they're not just playing for money. They play for fun and out of desperation and this drives their music to new levels that, frankly, Justin Beiber will never see. He didn't have to sleep in his car going from gig to gig just to pay for gas and strings. He doesn't know that balance between hopelessness and hopefulness that drives a song like "The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows" by Brand New.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a hipster, despite my indie tendencies. I love it when an unknown artist suddenly pops up into the public eye, I just don't like it if their musical quality drops when they go mainstream, when what made them unique is replaced by pop culture (I'm looking at you Weezer). If Aestus Symphonia hits the big time, though, I'll be first in line (or on Ticketmaster) to buy tickets for their world tour.

So my point is, I guess, I love indie music. Whether it's rock, metal, electronic, if it's good music, it deserves my attention. I'll follow this with a post script of some of my favorite indie/relatively unknown artists along with their genre, some of them have gotten popular since, but they'll always be indie in my mind.

Sidenote: I need a callsign of some sort...and a sign off...I kinda wish "Stay classy, San Diego" wasn't already taken. Alas! That is not of importance to this brief article, but I will give a callsign a shot.

Logging off! (after the PS)
The Trickster (if you get the reference in conjunction with our blog name, I'll give you a high five upon seeing you)

PS (as promised):
Aestus Symphonia (metal)
Modest Mouse (rock)
Telekinesis! (rock)
Generationals (rock)
Streetlight Manifesto (ska)
Bad Rabbits (hip hop/funk)
Feather Oars (rock)
Royal Bangs (rock)
Mazarin (rock)
Temple Veil (worship)

And I'm sure there are plenty of others that I missed. Comment with your favorites! I'm always looking for more.

EDIT: A nice web comic by The Oatmeal that describes the music industry pretty well, as well as my feelings as to where it should go here.

EDIT: Linked most (but not all) bands to respective band pages on the Facebook to listen to tunes and such.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

In Defense of the Optimistc Film Enthusiast

Tom and Jerry walked out of the theater, each presenting their opinions on the movie with increasing enthusiasm. Tom started off the loudest.
"Jerry, that movie was phenomenal! It had great action, it was funny, and it had my favorite actors!" Jerry shook his head with a sarcastic grin.
"Come on Tom, you actually liked that disaster of a movie? My favorite part was watching the trailers for heaven's sake!" Tom wore an expression halfway between shock and disgust.
"What's wrong with you?" He managed to say despite how utterly at a loss for words he was. "It was completely entertaining! I mean, it's not like it had a brilliant and original plot, but it was a solid movie! How could you not like that?" Jerry looked Tom straight in the eye.
"Because I have standards."

I swear, I have had this conversation about a dozen times, and I am almost always Tom. And since I know that most of my friends are the Jerry in this situation, I would like to explain why I am the way I am.
You see, I am an optimist when it comes to movies. Really, I am just an optimist in general. I hate wasting my time, so when I feel like my time is being threatened, I try to make whatever endangering experience there is more enjoyable by changing my perspective. In summation, I basically try to find a way to like EVERYTHING. The interesting thing is, I usually don't have to try very hard. Especially when it comes to movies.
Why? Because movies are actually extraordinarily well made. Virtually all of the ones we see are fantastic in the way they entertain. Want proof? Think back to when you first saw Star Wars: A New Hope. It was freaking awesome! In fact, it was probably one of the coolest things ever. Now, do me a favor and pretend that instead of seeing A New Hope as a kid, you saw The Phantom Menace. You know... that movie that just sucks so much, right?
I think by this point, you have begun to see my point. Looking back on it now, I can honestly say that the A New Hope isn't very well made by today's standards. The pacing is slow, the dialogue is cheesy, and the special effects leave much to be desired. If a movie came out today with those same qualities, it would bomb so hard we would all be screaming at North Korea. But somehow, I still love it, just like any of the other hundreds of thousands of Star Wars fans. 
In summation, I like movies because they are entertaining. They have funny quotes, memorable characters, attractive women, and more explosions than I could ever hope for being the right-wing hedonistic American that I am. I understand why other people hate so many of the movies we see in theaters, and I can live with that. This is merely a post trying to help you live with my opinions, however unrefined and unsophisticated they may be. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

"The Richard Burton Diaries" edited by Chris Williams

The hard copy of this book is abridged. The editor, Chris Williams, devotes several pages to the editing process, the changes he made, correcting certain things and including extensive footnotes and pages and pages of bibliography. He explained that he would indicate repetitive material not included in the hard copy with [...]. For the full version one must go electronic.

If you know Richard Burton at all you probably know him from his movies. My favorites are The Taming of the Shrew and Where Eagles Dare. (If you're viewing this blog in Explorer, you won't be able to see the videos posted below--get Chrome or Firefox--something besides Explorer!)

Richard Burton was born in 1925. He grew up in the Welsh coal mining country where the men worked hard and drank heavily. He always respected a hard working sort of person, though he didn't seem to care much for the "bourgeois." "Bourgeois" literally means "town dwellers," but these days it refers to the boring, socioeconomic group of people called "the middle class."

He was a diligent student memorizing great swaths of classic poetry only English students read now, poets like Yeats, Pound, Wordsworth and Shakespeare. He spoke Welsh and English as a youth and continued learning languages most of his life, French, Italian, Spanish and Serbo-Croat--or whatever it was they spoke in Yugoslavia when that place was a country and in his last years of life, German. For Richard Burton, a good pastime aboard a plane was to study with a Spanish grammar on his lap. He could memorize a script in minutes. He peppered his speech with quotes from literature, popular and literary. He did crossword puzzles for fun and rated the puzzles from the various newspapers based on their complexity. He loved to play Yahtzee and as a young man, Monopoly. He loved rugby. If he had chosen to go that route, he might have gone pro. He thought soccer was boring. He regularly played table tennis and loved to swim and sunbathe with a good book in his hands. For awhile he took up bicycling.

He was a boy when his family broke into pieces upon his mother's death. He went to live with his older sister and her husband, a boorish jerk. In the diaries from his teen years, he writes of attending church on Sundays all day, though he doesn't mentioned his denomination. Whatever denomination it was and whoever were the preachers and teachers, he didn't find Jesus. As an adult he rejected God, though in his diaries he slips up and says, "Thank God," or makes pleading prayers to God as so many of us thoughtlessly do, even those of us who should know better. Sometimes he catches himself and jokes about how absurd it is to evoke God when one doesn't believe in Him. He quoted hymns, once in praise to God and another time in grief. Chris Williams, the editor, explained that when Burton died he was buried in the Protestant cemetery in Celigny, Switzerland. Two days later a memorial service was held at the Bethel Baptist Chapel in Burton's hometown, Pontrhydfyen, Wales.

He was born Richard Jenkins, but when his drama teacher, Philip Burton became his guardian he adopted the name "Burton." Phil Burton helped launch him in the theater and was his first acting coach. Richard Burton had natural talent and presence, though he thought of himself as not particularly gifted at chatting. He lived large and wide. He dined with royalty, partied with the big names of the 60's, 70's and 80's. He often wrote brief and fascinating descriptions of many of the celebrities he was acquainted with in his diary.

From July 1970:
E (Elizabeth Taylor) made me as jealous as vengeance earlier on by saying that she'd called Marlon (Marlon Brando) on the phone and that they had talked for an hour and that he was very solicitous about me. He really is a smugly pompous little bastard and is cavalier about everybody except the Black Panthers and Indians. 'He's been keeping tabs on you,' said E. That infuriated me even more. That sober self-indulgent obese fart being solicitous about me. You can't get any of those surrounded-by-sycophants one-time-winners on the phone unless they want something from you. Sinatra is the same. Gods in their own mirrors. Distorted mirrors.
From May 1970:
 Lucille a monster of staggering charmlessness and monumental lack of humour.
For a time he was on a campaign to stop drinking and kept a record of what he drank in his diary, highlighting a day without drink by typing the heading in red. He noted that quitting drinking was good for his health, but the reader recognizes that his relationships with others also improved since he was a grouchy, mean drunk. No way of knowing, but if he hadn't started drinking again when his brother died, he and Elizabeth might not have divorced.

He loved food and described many of his meals. He also mentioned his efforts at dieting. He enjoyed living aboard the yacht he and Elizabeth Taylor purchased as it afforded them privacy when the paparazzi wanted to mob them. (He includes an interesting story of how the name "paparazzi" came into existence.) When they worked in Europe, the yacht was a handy base of operations. He bought the world's most stunning jewels for Elizabeth. (You can view some of them here: Elizabeth Taylor's Collection ) Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor purchased jets and Bentleys and homes in Mexico, Switzerland and elsewhere. He gave generously to family and friends and to charity.

Burton bought hundreds of books at a time. When he had a chance, he would read three or four books a day. Everything from paperback detective stories to works devoted to world history to entire encyclopedias. One of his most treasured gifts was an Oxford English Dictionary--unabridged--set in micro-print so that it took up less room complete with a magnifying glass in a built-in pocket. When traveling or working away from one of his homes, he viewed books as a necessary, like clothes or shampoo and would buy armloads of them to take on a trip. No home or yacht was complete without a library. He dreamed of writing a book. He did write articles from time to time and other short works of prose, but never the long works he fantasized about. His idea of an ideal day was to read for hours in his library with Elizabeth Taylor by his side, go for a walk at some point in a quiet countryside with one of his dogs, have some tea and a nice meal and read some more. This ideal never changed, though Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor divorced in the 1970's.

From November 1968:
I am reading two books at once: a political biography of de Gaulle and another of Pierre Laval. So far there seems little to choose between them, except height. Scheming, conniving, disloyal monomaniacal monsters, both protesting their love of la belle France. Of the two de Gaulle seems to be the bigger liar. But in politics all men are liars. The squalor of the latest Election campaign in the States has to be read to be disbelieved.
I especially like the part about the "squalor of the latest Election in the States," it's still applicable.

His older brother, Ivor, was the rock in his life. When Ivor fell, hit his head and was paralyzed Burton blamed himself. Later, he wrote that he wished Ivor would die because he suffered so much and was so depressed in his infirmity, but when Ivor actually did die, Burton disintegrated. His marriage to Elizabeth went asunder and his career down the tubes. He never really recovered.

Chris Williams includes several pages devoted to the historical setting for Richard (Jenkins) Burton's life, a perspective on Wales during World War II I hadn't read about before. He also addresses the question, "Why write a diary?" I hadn't thought about that question at all. I'd only thought of a diary as a record of daily life for those who like to record those things, possibly to be passed down to children. Williams points out that a writer writes either for an existing audience or for an anticipated audience. Who is the audience for a diary or a journal? One's self? Burton mentions in his diaries that one day he would write a memoir and that may have been his underlying purpose, but as Williams points out, the things he leaves out of his diaries are as important as the things he includes.

If one reads one's own account of a particular day, it's not necessary to include all the bits, just a few hints and one can remember the rest. And for the sake of a future memoir that may be enough, but it is still interesting what a person chooses to record.

Burton might say that he had a row with someone, but he seldom specified what the argument was about. Normally he berated himself for blow outs and dust ups more than anyone else. He might critique Elizabeth's appearance, but he was always kinder to her than he was to himself, describing his face as "pockmarked." He called himself, "idiotically listenable." He did not include his thoughts on certain key events in his life, even if he were keeping the diary at the time, such as when Ivor died or how he felt about a marriage disintegrating--he simply ceased keeping the diary shortly after such incidents. (There were gaps when he was working hard, however, but in those cases, he would resume as soon as he had time again.)

Burton's teen diaries stop just as he finished school. The years while he was married to his first wife, Sybil, he wrote not a word. His diaries pick up again after he and Elizabeth's relationship is well established and stop at Ivor's death to be resumed shortly before he remarried Elizabeth and stopped again during the last year of his life.

Several entries in the diary just before he and Elizabeth remarry are simply one word: Booze.

He wrote about plans around his various film projects, things that went on during production, rated other actors' performances and wrote about the business of acting. He seemed to have a love/hate relationship with acting. In the later years, when he did more live performances, he might say something to the effect, "Well, we won't know if the director knew what he was talking about until the audience weighs in."

Once in awhile Burton delves into accounting--talking about what it cost to be Burton-Taylor. Expenditures to maintain their entourage, security details (often traveling with the most expensive and admired jewels in the world), desired accommodations and other requirements. Occasionally he comments on ordinary folk, usually with empathy. He often wrote about his children--he included Elizabeth's children as his own. He worried about their schooling, their friendships, their characters and their futures in the world. He mentioned his father only once and other siblings besides Ivor seldom. One sibling was interviewed for a biography which irritated Burton. He commented that the biographies were all bunk.

Sometimes, when I least expected it, Burton would exhibit flashes of great writing.
I love my wife. I love her dearly. Honest. Talk about the beauty, silent, bare.... Sitting on the Thames with the river imitating a blue-grey ghost. My God the very houses seem asleep. And all that mighty heart is lying still.
Never take the sea for granted. She can change from the sweetest smoothest lady into a mad termagant in two minutes 
Burton played Yugoslavian dictator, Tito, in a biographical movie, "The Battle of Sutjeska,"1973. Helicopters took the actors and crew up to a mountain peak for filming. Burton and a handful of others were returning to their abodes for the night when without warning they were engulfed in a cloud. They had no visibility whatsoever.
On top of this it began to rain torrentially and the windscreen wipers whipped back and fore like insane crickets sharpening their legs.
He mentioned the longest town name in Wales--which I'm not sure I could remember even if I were Welsh! (Below is a humorous video about that name.)

Three things I learned from reading Richard Burton's diaries. First, be kind to your spouse, even if you don't feel like it. Forgive! Overlook flaws. There were times in the portions written during the late 60's and early 70's when I wanted to reach back through time and grab Burton by the throat and say, "If you can't be kind to Elizabeth, keep your mouth shut! Can't you see you love her?"

Second, the old cliche, "Money can't buy happiness," is actually true. I also wanted to shout at Burton, "Stop looking at what's wrong and look at what's good and right for crying out loud!" Once he stopped drinking up until Ivor's death, he largely ceased being such a grouchy jerk and seemed to enjoy life more. His diary entries from his second wedding to Elizabeth until that marriage fell apart are filled with anxiety, as if he worried that it was too good to be true and would soon end. Which it did. Made me wonder if it were a self-fulfilling anxiety and a hold-over of grief from Ivor's death--a sort of, end-the-marriage-before-it-crashes-and-hurts-too-much-to-bear sort of attitude. He seemed so frantic!

The third lesson: There's no time like the present. At one point Burton recorded that his longing to write a book was so acute it was practically physically debilitating, but he couldn't seem to budge himself to do it. I can identify with that.

All the way through the book I was impressed with the man's vast talent, intellect and appetite for words, languages and learning. However, at one point he says that his mind was too "muscular" to believe in God and I felt incredibly sorry for him in that moment. His reading of human nature: history, literature and reference works was vast, but there is no mention of reading time devoted to answering the question, "Does God exist?" It is the great cosmic question upon which eternity rests and one a person should not even pretend to answer without serious research!

The last thing I learned from this book is a thing I already knew, but saw portrayed on a large scale in the life of this man, one of the first movie superstars in history, who could buy anything he wanted, associate with the glittering personalities of his time and travel anywhere in the world: one cannot base one's life on career, no matter how successful because it's temporary. One cannot base one's life on glamorous things; on wealth or any human being, no matter how marvelous, not even one's self. Things give pleasure in the moment; wealth cannot buy health or love and a human being will inevitably fail you, if only by dying and leaving you bereft if not by betraying or failing you utterly while alive. And a career, what does it matter if the work does not produce eternal results? When it's all finished up and the coffin is shut, only a life lived for the glory of God, whether bourgeois or not, will stand into eternity.

Marilyn W Lathrop

BBC News: Richard Burton Diaries Reveal Actor's Passion and Shame

John Simon review of "The Richard Burton Diaries" for the NY Times 

David Thomson Review of the Richard Burton Diaries for the New Republic