Tuesday, May 27, 2008

``Iron Man'' Ignores its Inner Robots

In ``Iron Man,'' Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), techno-genius and massively successful head of weapons manufacturer Stark Industries, is captured by guerrillas in the Kunbar region of Afghanistan. The guerillas force Stark to make, with material they just happen to possess, a rendition of his latest and most lethal weapon.
Monitoring his work via closed-circuit TV, the rebels discern eventually that Stark is not fabricating a missile. Nevertheless, they give him more time -- just barely enough for him to assemble the prototype Iron Man suit, which provides Stark with armor, ballistic and incendiary firepower. He escapes by walking through hails of bullets, assassinating and blowing up Afghans before the suit -- which was also supposed to give Stark the power of flight -- onto the open desert.
Just then two helicopters fly over, site Stark, and he is rescued.
At a press conference back home Stark announces he will not make weapons any more. In the desert he had seen his firm's legacy, to paraphrase Yinsen (Shaun Toub), who was imprisoned with Stark and who helped him make the suit. (Yinsen is killed in the escape scene.)
Ignoring the fact that Stark Industries' stock price has tanked, Stark works obsessively -- with help from a few robots -- on the perfected robotic Iron Man armor
He flies back to Kunbar and destroys more of the rebels that had imprisoned him, just before they can execute a father in front of his family.
Senior Stark Industries executive Oidiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) is incensed by Stark's announcement that he will build plowshares from now on. Stane invents his own outfit, which compared to Stark's, is mammoth. The two go at it, and Stark kills Stane, thanks to his superior technological acumen, and the movie ends.
I haven't ruined it for you. I haven't conveyed the special effects, the out sized mise en scene, opulence, sexual tension and Stark's verbal energy. All that makes the film a lot of fun to watch, assuming you aren't distracted by the suspicion that you've seen the essence of this before.
I had already seen a building of a lethal suit -- technology gone terribly wrong -- by Otto Octavius in ``Spider-Man 2.'' Octavius let his anger defeat him, and make him the the villain after a misguided attempt to capture the sun's power. The suit bound him physically and psychologically; he becomes bitter after realizing he is stuck to that monstrosity for the rest of his life.
In ``Spider-Man 3'' there is the gargantuan Sandman. Although the Sandman dwarfs Spider-Man, Spidey defeats him anyway.
``Iron Man'' incorporates the themes of the treachery of technology and the myth of David and Goliath.
But why did Stark attack the rebels? Why did personal revenge trump his declared intention to do his bit to bring peace to the world? No indication that he had thought these questions over.
``Iron Man'' may be interpreted as saying that technology is the Goliath we face, but we can't get to that battle until we settle our personal scores.
But the real, untold story in ``Iron Man'' is the matter of the robots.
The film alludes to ``2001: A Space Odyssey'' by giving the suit, actually a tailored robot, a voice much like that of HAL the talking robot in the 1968 science fiction classic.
Stark's HAL, however, is droll, allowing for light banter. He is never malevolent; he always obeys orders.
In the real world, however, concern has been expressed that humans could develop robots sophisticated enough to discover free will. At that point, they would not settle for being tools, and they would rebel and enslave humanity.
So for the time being, Tony Stark and his helpmates are on good terms. It's possible, however, that he may end up in mortal combat with his creation.
But that sounds like good stuff for a sequel.

Monday, May 19, 2008

I screwed up my first post about the debate on how to pay for a new septic system at Granby Heights in Granby, Massachusetts. The 35-year-old septic system, which is already obviously incontinent, especially on hot days, could ``fail'' this year. A new one should be installed before the ground freezes, according to the engineering firm consulting with the Granby Heights Association.
Cost of the project has been estimated roughly at $1.2 million. There are 76 condos at Granby Heights.
Condo owners must vote whether to allow the condominium association to borrow money to replace the system. I used incorrect, second-hand information to say that if the association is not allowed to borrow, each of the condos would have to cough up a $16,000 ``assessment'' to cover the cost. I said wrongly that if the condo owners instead decide to let the association borrow, each condo would face a $100 monthly fee for the next 20 years.
In a May 13 memo, announcing a question-and-answer meeting at 7 p.m. May 21 at the West Street School, the association's Board of Directors does not specify assessment or fee levels. Assessments would be calculated ``proportionate to each owner's share in the Association,'' with a lump-sum payment up front.
The memo doesn't exactly specify who would make the calculations of proportionate financial responsibility -- board members, the association's property manager or banker?
It appears that the association's Board of Directors prefers assessments. Getting acceptable financing could be a difficult, if not insurmountable, ``burden'' -- it could be hard to get a bank to provide a financing package that the condo owners would accept.
The directors said that if residents vote to allow borrowing, it doesn't mean that the board will immediately turn around and shop for a loan. It would just allow the board to do so. ``Too many unknowns'' have to be clarified and too much research is left before the board can feel confident presenting condo owners with a financing package, the memo said.
A March 3 memo, circulated attached to the May 13 memo, addresses, implicitly, the national credit crunch. Even if condo owners vote to allow the association to borrow,
``there is no guarantee that a financial institution will offer to loan us the necessary funds on terms that are acceptable to the association.''

The board said it would not accept financing that would impede buying or selling of condos, and that it would schedule a meeting to talk about a financing package it obtains, if the association goes the borrowing route.
I see debilitating delays. According to the March 3 memo:
If residents vote to allow borrowing, the directors would establish a committee of condo owners, board members (same thing) and the association's finance director to
``explore financing options,'' such as ``conversations with banks and other lending organizations... possible grants, low-interest loans and other forms of assistance.''
The committee would also sound out a real estate lawyer. Sounds like a lot of work.
And then yet another committee would have to come up with a financing plan that would have to be passed by a majority of condo owners. (I rent here.)
The board recommends that condo owners get loans and pay their share of the septic-system cost up front. Doing so could get owners a tax break, depending on how they get their financing. It would ``remove the burden of borrowing from the Association...''

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Legalize Prostitution -- Vote Republican

If this primary season proves anything, it's that religion is everywhere. Consider
  1. Barack Obama's former pastor.
  2. Rev. John Hagee, televangelist, who has called the Catholic church ``the great whore,'' and who for some reason felt compelled to endorse John McCain, with McCain, seeing fit to spend precious campaign time standing by Hagee as the Rev. announced his endorsement. (How many people knew about Hagee to make his support so important, anyway? Maybe John McCain knows some things I don't -- such as the wisdom of hewing closely to George W. Bush's ideology, or assuming that the religious right matters in politics right now.)
  3. And speaking of your religious right, former Southern Baptist minister Mike Huckabee, who prompted chuckles May 16 while speaking to the National Rifle Association convention. Gearing up to make the point that folks who behave poorly beg for expensive and intrusive government, Huckabee heard a noise from behind the stage.
``That was Barack Obama... He's getting ready to speak, and somebody aimed a gun at him and he dove for the floor,''
quipped Huckabee, whose reflexes probably just got the better of him.
NRA delegates laughed -- some did find it funny, despite what The Wall Street Journal reported. Huckabee indeed went on to say that those who want less government must live ``more honestly and more ethically.''
``A democracy cannot operate in a moral vacuum.''
Bullseye, Mike.
Although Hagee and Huckabee have apologized, they wouldn't have done so if they weren't embarrassed. In the meantime, consider
  1. Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright, who promotes none but the Heavenly Father and himself.
  2. John Hagee, whoring for John McCain, and John McCain, pandering to the Christian Right.
  3. Rev. Mike Huckabee, pandering to the NRA for the GOP.
Which of those three categories does not mention whoring or pandering?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Cape Ann, Gloucester, May 4, 2008

We went to Gloucester during the off-season; based on what we saw last year on the postcards in the inn lobby we figured that the city and the beach would be impossibly crowded during the summer. Of course the off season was also cheaper, especially in 2007. There are always trade-offs to everything, however. In our case the trade-off for a better rate, a quiet inn and an empty beach was that during the first two days it rained and it was cold. When I took these pictures that afternoon I was afraid my hands would be chapped.
We stayed at The Good Harbor Beach Inn with a view of the beach from a sliding glass door. We were the only guests in the quaint worn out 98-year old building. It's the red structure at the bottom of the embankment in the bottom photo.
Of course, I could not photograph the smell in the air and the sound of the rushing of the water.
This tree is scrub near the marsh on the other side of the dune, which was grown along the top with long grass.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Who is that guy under `About Me?'

Charlie Patton (1891-1935) is a canonized unknown. If you've heard of him, chances are someone has tried to persuade you that he was great. The guitar and the voice scrape and rail against desperation. If you claim not to have heard of Charlie Patton, chances are you have no trace of awareness of him in your unconscious. There is no middle ground.
In 1900, Patton moved with his family to Dockery Farms in Mississippi, and he lived there at the same time with early Delta blues musicians -- Willie Brown, Tommy Johnson and Eddie James ``Son'' House. According to myth the Delta blues originated at Dockery. We know that Son House taught Muddy Waters slide guitar.
An image from Dockery is in the first video below.
I identify with Charlie Patton. Why? That's too personal a tale.
Here is Patton's ``Rattlesnake Blues:''

Mississippi John Hurt, Rev. Gary Davis and Howlin' Wolf took on the notion of a blues spoonful. Patton's ``Spoonful of Blues:''

Here are two wonderful Patton videos by SchwarzHee on YouTube. To make up for the existence of the only known photograph of Patton, SchwarzHee curated slide shows of Americans taken during about Patton's time. That many of them portray poverty suffered by black and white folks is significant.
``It Won't Be Long:''

``High Water Everywhere:''

I recommend ``Complete Recordings: 1929-1934.''