Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Last Picture Show


LeSueur Minnesota, July 2011

While watching last Sunday's Academy Award Show, it struck me that everything thing about the industry seemed a little less- Kodak is bankrupt, the "Best Picture" nominees were, for the most part, not exactly blockbusters, but even more importantly, they didn't capture the imagination of a large group of movie goers.

War Horse and Moneyball were genre pictures, The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and The Help were strong dramas but not exactly timeless masterpieces, while The Tree of Life was a personal vision of director Terence Malick. The Artist was the big winner of course- a throwback to the silent films of the twenties- it was pleasant and well done but I can't help but think that if it had come out in the twenties it would have been just another film. Hugo, Martin Scorsese's 3-D adaptation of Brian Selznick's graphic novel, a technical tour de force, was also tribute to early film makers.

There have never been more movies being made. HD TV on large screens in the home is replacing the trip to the cineplex, video on demand is on your computer or even in your pocket, but the theater experience is soon to be a thing of the past. Expensive, unpleasant (more and more ads before the show) with ear-splitting (and often lo-fi) sound and even low-quality digital projection.

Maybe it's just me, am I too old? I don't know. But grandeur of HOLLYWOOD is fading fast. It was always a dream factory, and there were always more bad films made than good ones. There just aren't very many sweet dreams anymore.

Which leaves us with Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris. Written by Woody, on a typewriter(!), this subtle musing on desire, art and bygone times may well be the film that will be remembered in the next millennium.

By Professor Batty


Comments: 4 

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Monday, February 27, 2012

Pike Place Market




   The deli on Pike Place was crowded, as it always was on a Saturday afternoon.The pastrami on sourdough was billed as Seattle’s best.

   “You’ve never spoken of your Father,” said Molly, beginning a conversation that had been long overdue. It wasn’t as if Sean was avoiding it, it was just that he felt that there was little to say and what there was made for a poor story.

   “Do you want the official version or my speculations?” said Sean.

   Molly’s eyes narrowed. “Both. Start with the ‘official’ one.”

   “My mother didn’t like to talk about him. Whenever she did, which was only after I asked, she said that she didn’t know. She had been, by her own admission, ‘more than a little wild’ when she attended college, but she also said she didn’t regret having me. That much was clear by the way she raised me.”

   “What do you think?” said Molly. She wasn’t buying that version. Sean didn’t either—once he was old enough to know a little about how the world works.

   “I’m not going to call mom a liar, especially since she isn’t around to defend herself, but I think she knew who my father was and knew him well,” said Sean, “I think she was always in contact with him. She made phone calls late at night. Those were the only times that she would lock herself in her bedroom. When I was a junior in high school and thinking about college there had been several of these sessions. After the calls, she would be obviously upset. When I was accepted at CMU the calls seemed to stop.”

   “Why Carnegie Mellon?” said Molly,  “You were smart enough for MIT.”

   “CMU had always been one of the better schools in computer science, and they were far ahead with the development of their information systems’ real-world applications. I really only had one chance of making it and they seemed to be my best shot.”

   “So, do you think your mother was talking to your father?” asked Molly.

   “I suppose so, maybe I’m just projecting—searching for someone who may not even exist.”

   “And you mother died in a car crash,” said Molly,  “Just after you went away to school?”

   “Yes. Her life insurance paid for my college, that was her legacy.”

   “Do you have any other relatives, O man of mysteries?”

   “There’s my mother’s sister Tina, she lives in Iowa.”

   “That’s why do you it.” said Molly, smiling slightly.

   “Do what?” said Sean.

   “Your job. You’re a searcher. I could see it in your eyes, even when I first met you,” Molly said, “You’re looking for your father, and a replacement for your mother, aren’t you? But you find it hard to connect with anyone in real life. That’s why you work with those spooks.” Molly said. She was no longer smiling.

   “We prefer to be called ‘information specialists.’ The guys are alright—really—but yeah, they are a different breed.”

   “No socializing, no company picnics, no nothing outside of work?”

   “It’s the nature of the job,” Sean said, “I'm sorry.”

   “I know how it is,” Molly said,  “I was looking for something too. I was tired of living alone.”


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   There is only so much data crunching that a man is able to endure. Opening a window and looking out over the Pike Place Market, Sean was trying to remember the breathing exercises he had been taught in the “Freshman Wellness” class he had taken in college orientation—where he had met Billy. Sean’s current project at ADR. It was a project he needed a break from. Billy was Senator William Clarkson’s wayward progeny. The Senator was making a run for the Presidency and his son, William Jr. (who had a long history of wildness), had disappeared. This situation was becoming a problem for the Senator’s campaign. It wouldn’t be long before a nosy reporter doing a feature on the families of the candidates would realize that there might be a good ‘prodigal son’ story about Billy or, what they would like even better, a really sleazy exposé.  As Sean did his ‘cleansing breaths,’ he tried to clear his mind. The current inversion layer over Seattle didn’t help his mental state either.  The aroma from all the coffee being roasted in the city did perk him up, however.

   Working for a state-of-the-art data-mining operation meant that Sean had access to the Google crawlers—and their raw data. This was not the ‘free’ search results they gave to consumers, this was the stuff they sold to marketers, corporations, and governments. Billy had been careful in never leaving any personal ID on the net, but Sean had enough information about Billy and his behavior that he was able to begin a search for Billy’s whereabouts. Creating a search based on all of the information about Billy that he could find, Sean got the results that were reduced to a couple of thousand ‘hits.’  Looking at this group with some additional filters brought the pool down to a couple of dozen—a much more manageable number. What Sean really needed was Billy’s credit card activity. To get this meant going beyond the usual search protocol—and was highly illegal.

   ADR had been in touch with the Senator’s damage control team. For obvious reasons, the Senator’s people couldn’t go where ADR could, but they were able to furnish a trust fund number from the Senator. The fund made regular deposits to a blind trust; it had been set up to insulate the Senator from Billy’s shenanigans. Sean’s current task was trying to get monitoring access of that account. He found that had he was able to tap an underpaid low-level wage slave who worked in the bank. Sean had another ace up his sleeve as well: when he was Billy’s roommate, Sean had plugged into Billy’s desktop computer and, just to see if he could do it, mirrored the whole thing. Sean had never done anything with that data then—it was encoded—but it was still stored on an old hard drive—a hard drive which was in storage with the rest of Sean’s college things at his aunt Tina’s house.  That hard drive was now in transit to Sean, to be examined by ADR's cryptologists.

   Looking down on the street vendors selling their tacky tees and cheap blouses, Sean was reminded of his old college ‘wardrobe’—similar junk, basically style-less, sometimes even tasteless. Sean had graduated to tailored shirts and slacks. He was more preppy now that he was on the other side of thirty than he had been when he was in school.

   Sean wondered if Billy had changed his style as well.


Fiction

By Professor Batty

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Sharon's Phrenology

Beneath the beret.






Bump heads with Sharon every Friday.

Used by permission

By Professor Batty


Comments: 0 

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Restless Urge



   As my 5 or 6 faithful readers know already, I've begun posting some longer form writing interspersed with my regular shenanigans. They are part of a bigger thing which should make itself manifest as the year progresses. There is a link in the sidebar to a master page listing all the posts in order. There will also be a link at the bottom of each post redirecting to the master list. In my perverse way, I won't tell you if they are fiction or not until the end of the post! This is a work-in-progress, so there may be occasional edits and rewrites in previous posts. I plan on writing one of these every 6 to 10 days... Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy them!

By Professor Batty


Comments: 7 

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Oral


Edinburgh, 1973

   Truly an odd couple—the aimless rebel and the aspiring medievalist. Touring ‘Fair Albion‘ on a shoestring. The trip had gotten off to a rocky start but by the time we made it to Scotland things had improved—somewhat. She did manage a smile or two, but it quickly became obvious to the both of us that our relationship would never be the same.

   Once the bond was broken all those little quirks which we once found adorable in each other quickly became insufferable. Vanity prohibits me from enumerating mine, but her disgusting fixation of chewing on some ratty shards of her ‘blue bankie’ soured any remaining enjoyment I might have had on the trip. She used it to fulfill the same needs as Linus Van Pelt did with his ‘security blanket’ in the ‘Peanuts’ comic strip.

   So when we chanced upon The Blue Blanket public house in Edinburgh I thought it would be amusing to snap a picture. I suggested that we dine there, but evidently she perceived it (rightly so) as a thinly veiled insult.

   We came back to the States and even lived together for another eighteen months. The ‘blue bankie’ finally disintegrated completely, as did our relationship. Both our lives really began then—she went off to Harvard Law School and I became mired in a pointless, but fun, career in show biz.

By Professor Batty


Comments: 3 

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Lake Union



  “Methinks a boat ride is in order.”

   Whenever the boss started speaking in Shakespearean English, Sean knew something was up.

   “OK, I’ll bite. What’s going on?” said Sean.

   “Won’t you let me take you on a sea cruise?” Mrs. Robinson said.

   “Mrs. Robinson, I believe you’re trying to seduce me,” Sean said, with a smile.

   Sean had been working at Applied Diffusion Research, (known in the industry as ADR) for over six months. Most of the cases were routine: deadbeat dads, disappearing embezzlers, sex offenders with new identities—all those people who, for reasons good or ill, didn’t want to be found. He would locate them and notify the interested parties. Sean would also ‘research’ the clients as well. After he showed them all he knew about their actives, they never questioned the billing. There was another class of cases, however, cases that involved political intrigue. Those accounts were strictly a cash+expenses deal, with a big chunk of the money upfront.

   Sean had heard of the boss’ ‘sea cruises.’ They were usually done when only the highest level of secrecy was needed. The boss had a little runabout that she kept in the marina behind the Naval Reserve building on Seattle’s Lake Union. When you were out on the water with the motor running no one could overhear or monitor your conversation.

   Later that afternoon, Sean boarded the small watercraft. It was known in the office as ‘Fleet ADR.’ The small craft was a classic motorboat: a teak deck supporting a divided windshield and a small canopy. The interior was spartan—two wooden seats, a wheel, and a dashboard which held only an ignition switch and a throttle. Mrs. Robinson gave the interior a thorough examination before casting off. The motor sputtered, then caught, and soon they were heading out in the direction of the Gasworks Park, on the other side of the lake.

   “You went to school with Senator Clarkson’s son, is that not so?” Her overly formal style of speech led Sean to believe that this would not be an idle chat.

   “Yes, I knew him, I knew him as well as anyone.”

   “We need your special knowledge for this case.”

   Billy Clarkson. Sean’s old roommate—his doppelgänger. They were almost dead ringers for each other. Billy had a way with women but suffered from a mental block when it came to English Lit. Billy’s myopic instructor never figured out that it was Sean who had taken Billy’s finals for him, in the process raising Billy’s C- average to a solid B. As a reward for this, whenever Billy had two dates for an evening—which was often—he would offer Sean one. Billy never really cared for any of the women he dated; he was a ‘Four F’ kind of guy. Billy would steer Sean to those girls who he thought wouldn’t ‘put out.’ Sean, for his part, played the role of the perfect gentleman. He later found out that most of these young women weren’t really interested in him, or in Billy.  They were just lonely, but wanting someone to do more than just talk. Sean would oblige them.

   “As you know, Senator Clarkson is running for president. His son has become a potential liability,” said Mrs. Robinson.

   “What is it that he has been up to? How bad could it be?”

   “We’ve been contacted by the Senator’s people. They’ve lost contact with him. William Clarkson Junior, as you know more than anyone, has a penchant for indulging in illicit liaisons. They think he may jeopardize the campaign if one of them were to emerge in, shall we say, an inopportune occasion.” Mrs. Robinson’s demeanor remained impassive.

   “Do we have anything on him?” asked Sean.

   “Almost nothing since he left college—that’s why I want you in on this case. You know him better than anyone. We need to make sure that Billy remains a non-factor until after the election.”

   “What would we do with him when we find him?” Sean was wary of taking on an open-ended case like this—too many things could go wrong, there were too many players involved.  Sean‘s relationship with Billy meant that there was also a lot at stake for him—in a personal way.

   The boat had been making lazy figure-8s on the lake. They were nearing the point from where they had started.

   “Well, that depends a lot on what he’s been up to. You might have to babysit him for a while.“ Mrs. Robinson gave Sean a look which said: “You can't say no.

   Location work. Sean knew that Molly wouldn’t like this. They had gotten real comfortable in their living arrangements over the last few of months. This would be the first real test of their relationship.

   After they tied up the boat, Sean and Mrs. Robinson walked back to her car.

   “You’re in, of course?” she asked.

   “Yeah,” said Sean.

   “It’s time get to work,” Mrs. Robinson said.

  




Fiction

By Professor Batty

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Friday, February 17, 2012

Scrub Sharon

Just scrub the Sharon under cold running water right before cooking. Remove any deep eyes or bruises with a paring knife.






Food prep is a snap with Sharon, Fridays at FITK

By Professor Batty


Comments: 0 

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

From the Mouth of the Whale

A novel, by Sjón
Telegram Books, London, 2011
Translated by Victoria Cribb

   This story of Jónas Pálmason, a self-taught seventeen-century Icelandic healer, naturalist and heretic (loosely based on the real Jon Gudmundsson the Learned), is a wild hallucination from start to finish. Sjón's vivid imagery and constant shifting of tone makes it a somewhat difficult read, but I found it to be rewarding enough to stick with to the end. Jónas is a misfit in a world of petty and small minded men: he is persecuted for years, banished to a small island, is humiliated and threatened. His tale captures the feel of 17th century Iceland. The inspiration of the natural world and Jónas' sometimes mystical interpretation of it is a constant theme. He perseveres even as his children and wife are cruelly taken from him. His merciless condemnation of those who have power over him could be taken as Sjon's indictment of the modern day financial "Vikings" who nearly destroyed the Icelandic economy, but that might just be me reading too much into it. There are numerous incidents based on Icelandic history (including the slaughter of Basque whalers) while other events occur which are fantastic, to say the least (see title.)

   I can't think of another contemporary writer who is working in these areas. Sjón is a modern, but this writing is presented in an almost archaic style. Victoria Cribb's translation realizes this beautifully- I think she works better in this mode than she does in modern crime fiction. If you are looking for a challenge, this might be just the book for you. It is is more than a bit "Icelandic"- the wider the knowledge of Iceland's history you have, the more you'll appreciate this unique book.

By Professor Batty


Comments: 3 

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

St. Sharontine

If Sharon had started the tradition.
Give the gift of Sharon this Sharontines.






Candy is dandy but Sharon's quiver is quicker.

Used by permission

By Professor Batty


Comments: 0 

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Monday, February 13, 2012

Book Now!



Yes!

By Professor Batty


Comments: 8 

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Friday, February 10, 2012

Sharon's Cake

Someone left Sharon's cake out in the rain.
Who would do such a thing?!








Commiserate with Sharon, Fridays at FITK

Used by permission

By Professor Batty


Comments: 2 

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Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Duality



The eternal dynamic. From Adam and Eve to the present, it's still the dominant pattern of human interaction: boys and girls together yet somehow apart. Getting together with old schoolmates- those people you still know but don't interact with on a regular basis- and the old back-and-forth begins anew. A bluff, a challenge, light hearted arguments made with twinkling eyes. It is as if you had only stepped out of the room for a minute- rather than the ten or twenty or forty years it had been since you last spoke to each other.

And so the facade goes up: the hiding of what you don't want the other to know, but what they do know, and what you know they know and what they know you know they know. After all of the stings and disappointments in a lifetime spent in toil and drudgery these people will always remain your foundation. They are the ones who defined your sense of self, the ones who kindled your first spark of passion, the ones whose faults have been washed away in the rains of time.

You greet each other and talk but the crucial words remain unsaid. The words that you want to share. The words which you couldn't say then. The words you won't say now.

Then there is that moment you share in a dark corner with an old crush. Your face is close to hers, you shut your eyes and and then you kiss. Suddenly, for that moment, you are both seventeen again- her kiss is the same, you are surprised at how the memory returns in an instant. When you finally do open your eyes you are once more both sixty-one but she is smiling and then she says, "I love you" and you say "I love you" and the words which couldn't be spoken are said at last and you both know that the bond which you share will never be broken.

By Professor Batty


Comments: 1 

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Monday, February 06, 2012

Future of Hope + Sumarlandið



"The only thing that can help us
is to believe in our country
and to believe in our people."

~Vigdís Finnbogadóttir

The UK documentary Future of Hope finally made it to Minnesota, via The Nordic Lights Film Festival. I first learned of it from Alda's blog The Iceland Weather Report in September of 2010, so this isn't exactly the latest news. Still, it does portray a group of Icelanders who were interested in new directions for for their country. Things have changed considerably since the documentary was made, some for the better, although not so much as far as politics go. The story of a restaurant owner who was mercilessly crushed in the Kreppa was the most gripping part- the peculiar Icelandic mortgage system is as big a villain as any. But most of the film looked forward- to renewable resources and more self-sufficiency.



After the screening, a trio of "experts" commented and answered questions. It was a nice touch, but kind of lost the thread at the end. The second film was Summerland (Sumarlandið), directed by Grímur Hákonarson who also didBræðrabylta. It is a light comedy/drama about a couple running a "Ghost House" attraction in suburban Kópavogur:



The always wonderful Ólafía Hrönn Jónsdóttir plays Lára, a medium and friend of the elves who dwell in the rocks in Iceland. Her husband, played by Kjartan Guðjónsson, is on the verge of losing the house when a couple of German art collectors offer him 50,000 Euros for the Elf-stone in their back garden. He sells the stone (without Lára's knowledge) and things go downhill from there. It sounds ridiculous, but this gentle farce contains a subtle family study. The parallel between this family and the real-life restauranteur in Future made this double feature a good pairing. Summerland may be available for download in the future, it's a worthwhile little film. Future of Hope is already out of date, but does possess some historical significance.

By Professor Batty


Comments: 2 

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Friday, February 03, 2012

Sharon, Lettuce & Tomato







Seats, fruits, and leaves, with Sharon at FITK

Used by permission

By Professor Batty


Comments: 0 

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Thursday, February 02, 2012

Iceland Airwaves 2012


Iceland Airwaves crowd, 2011

Numerous videos and films have covered Iceland Airwaves in the past, most notably the full-length Screaming Masterpiece (2005) which derived most of its footage from the festival. None of them have really given more than just fractured glimpses, and none have really captured the feeling of what is like to be part of the scene. There's a new promo video out, sponsored by Icelandair. It is really just a redone version of last year's but with some new scenes, interviews and a little tighter editing.

AIRWAVES- a Rockumentary by Gudjon and Bowen Staines gives a coherent look at what is essentially an unclassifiable event: over one hundred Icelandic acts, numerous international groups poised on the cusp of greatness, in an incomparable setting. Don't take my word for it. Watch the 40 minute video, in full-screen HD if you can, it really gives a sense of being there.

There are some problems the film only addressed obliquely, however. The festival may becoming a victim of its own success- more shows are being steered toward Harpa, a large complex of auditoria on the waterfront. It was built by somewhat dubious financing. Harpa is almost the antithesis of the festival's homegrown roots. Pushing the date into November may mean that those sunny scenes of frolics in the Blue Lagoon (shown in the video) are already a memory. Still, it is the spirit of the young (and young at heart) people of Iceland which is what The Airwaves Festival is all about.

I'm almost ready to make my reservations.

For those who can't wait until November, Live in the Lobby is a weekly concert series held at the Downtown Hostel. Many thanks to Auður Ösp, from the I Heart Reykjavík web site for the tip. I've seen many clips from shows held there- it is a very intimate and inviting place. Be sure to check out Auður's site- it is full of ideas for fun in Reykjavík and the surrounding area (that's her in the screenshot above- right below the woman showing her teeth in the center of the picture.)

By Professor Batty


Comments: 4 

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