You are currently browsing the monthly archive for September 2007.

So, while I was meant to be doing an assignment (writing several hundred words for a fictitious music magazine), I instead went off on a tangent and decided to see how many Australian Prime Ministers I could name off the top of my head, then American Presidents, then compare the two.

Australian Prime Ministers
John Howard
Paul Keating
Bob Hawke
Malcolm Fraser
Gough Whitlam
Harold Holt
Robert Menzies
John Curtin
Billy Hughes
Edmund Barton

Grand total: 10

U.S. Presidents
George Bush
Bill Clinton
George Bush
Ronald Reagan
Jimmy Carter
Gerald Ford
Richard Nixon
Lyndon B. Johnson
John F. Kennedy
Isaac(?) Eisenhower
Harry Truman
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Calvin Coolidge
Warren Harding
Woodrow Wilson
Teddy Roosevelt
Grover Cleveland
William(?) Garfield
William(?) Taft
Abraham Lincoln
William(?) Henry Harrison
Martin Van Buren
Andrew Jackson
Thomas Jefferson
George Washington

Grand total: 25, with a questionable degree of accuracy on some first names.

Now, that might not be as bad as it seems. The US has surely had far more leaders than Australia, since we’re 112 years younger and have no term limits, resulting in assholes like Menzies and Howard overstaying their welcome by more than a decade. But checking Wikipedia and then applying the magic of mathematics shows us this:

10 of 25 Australian PMs named, for a total of 2/5ths or 40%

25 of 42 US Presidents named. My maths skills break down here, but that’s clearly more than half.

So, even when you take statistics into account, I can still name more American Presidents than Australian Prime Ministers. This is entirely due to pop culture, of course. I only know the name Martin van Buren because of the Seinfeld episode where Kramer is harassed by the street gang “The Van Buren Boys,” and I associate Harry Truman most strongly with his Futurama appearance, in which he orders an Air Force colonel to: “Invent NASA and tell them to get off their fannies!”

Of course, it’s also worth noting that the only reason I could name Edmund Barton is because of the ad campaign the federal government put out about five years ago for the sole purpose of teaching us who the hell he was, as part of an indignified response to the discovery that more Australian children could name the first American president than they could the first Australian Prime Minister. This was apparently deemed a worthwhile use of taxpayer money.

So, to sum up, if you know more about another country’s history than your own, you really only have popular culture and/or the education system to blame, and have no reason to feel guilty. Just as long as you get your ass up to King’s Park on ANZAC day to salute the Diggers who were, according to popular opinion, fighting for Australia’s honour. Maybe even defending Australia from the imminent menace of the Germans’ conquest of Europe. (pro tip: ANZAC Day is blustery nationalism, our role in WWI was to be cannon fodder for the British Empire, and the veterans of the Kokoda Track are far more deserving of our praise.)

An assignment involving three short scenes: one consisting mostly of dialogue, one conveying a tone such as “menacing” or “cool”, and one dealing with action of some kind. About an hour before I left for uni I realised the second part actually had to be either “menacing” or “cool”, not whatever tone we wanted, but too late! The die was cast.

The scenes take place in a space opera setting I’ve been tinkering with for a few months, with the intention of writing some novels in it some day. It’ll be my next epic project after I bury the End Times leviathan (353,400 words and counting!)

An elegant restaurant. Windows reveal the city lights casting glittering reflections across the dark river. The clatter of cutlery drifts out from the kitchen, mingling with the bubble of conversation and pinging of wine glasses. A debate begins at a corner table.
“… because we could reclaim Earth.”
“Wishful thinking.”
“No! We could. We terraformed Mars, didn’t we? Two hundred and thirty Kelvin, poison atmosphere, air pressure one per cent of Earth’s? We terraformed Ganymede and Callisto and Titan, and those were even harder. The things we can do these days… the nanytes, the software, the engineering… we could rebuild Earth. We could rebuild Earth easily.”
“Earth is a bit different from Mars or Ganymede. Earth is still throbbing with radiation.”
“That could be overcome. There’s hundreds of amateur sims for it on the net. You should check them out. Estimates go as low as fifty years.”
“Yeah, and a hundred trillion dollars. Why do you want it so badly?
“Uh, it’s Earth. Mankind’s birthplace? Cradle of civilisation? All that jazz?”
“So what? Mars is better. Mars was always better. Mars has more to offer than Earth could ever dream of. Do you know how high the tallest mountain on Earth was? Eight kilometres. Eight! There are cliffs on Mars that high.”
“So why do we colonise Pluto and Mercury and every boring, backwater moon and asteroid in the system, hmm?”
“Resources. Minerals. Obviously.”
“Exactly. Earth has resources.”
“Not enough to justify all the time and money you’d spend scrubbing it clean. Earth was sucked dry long before the supervolcano and the war.”
“You just don’t get it.”
“No, you’re just trapped in sentimental nostalgia. Earth is gone. It’s been gone for nearly a century. Get over it.”
“Chill out. I don’t care that much. I’ve never even seen it. I’m just saying, we have the technology, we have the funds, so why not restore it? Why doesn’t mankind fix the mistake it made?”
“Because it would never be the same. Even if we spent a thousand years cleaning up the atmosphere, negating the radiation, replanting forests, cloning and releasing animals, it would still be artificial and constructed. We’d know it wasn’t the same Earth.”
“So? It’s better than nothing.”
“No, it really isn’t. It’s better not to disturb the dead. It’s better to leave it as a reminder of how easily a world can be destroyed. That’s why we don’t build fusion bombs or radiation curtains or orbital weapons platforms anymore. Because we remember.”

The Iron Lung is mostly quiet. Straining ears can pick up the muffled throbbing of engines, or hum of computers glowing in the darkness on the flight deck. It is a spacious ship, a freight vessel originally designed for a crew of dozens. But only one man lives here now.

His name is Hopper. He wakes alone, works alone, and eats alone. The net gives him access to media whenever he needs it, and he often cranks the volume up, filling the empty corners of the ship with music or news headlines, drowning out the silence.

Sometime he gives in and simply sits on the flight deck, gazing out the windows at the titanic Earth, looming up and filling his field of vision with its ugly brown atmosphere. He was born on Mars long after the war, but still he cannot help but think of the history, from the Mesopotamians to the Mongol Empire to the European Union, the whole epic sweep of human accomplishment, erased in the course of only three days.

The job is psychologically torturous. Some scavengers quit after mere weeks, flying back to the comforting atmospheres of Mars or the Jovian moons. Some commit suicide. Some go insane, staring at the dirt storms swirling endlessly across a world that was once green and blue. For the same reasons, all the Lunar settlements are on the far side of the moon.

Finding fresh wrecks to loot is the easy part; there are hundreds of them. The looting itself is far more stressful. Suiting up, kicking away from the airlock, gripping the meteor-pocked hulls of the target station with his lifeline unspooling back to the Iron Lung. Cutting through the hull, and floating into the depressurised cabins among the eternally tumbling papers and pens and food packets. Occasionally he finds frozen corpses, American or Chinese or Indian, nearly a century old but perfectly preserved. Sometimes they float in clouds of red ice spheres, from wrist-slitting suicides.

He frequently suffers from paranoia, hearing ghostly, muttered words, or seeing shadows flitting at the edge of his vision. Space dementia, he warns himself, but he still has nightmares. Fears of something dark and evil, some supernatural horror borne of the death of fourteen billion people, lurking in the forgotten fragile shells in decaying Terran orbit to prey on foolhardy scavengers. He doesn’t think he can do this much longer.

But the money is good.

Webster stalked into the pod bay quietly, holding his Koch .38 in one hand and surveying the room. The four escape hatches lined one wall, the others tastefully landscaped with a mix of ferns and flowers, like every other room on the Calypso. Corpses were strewn across the floor, and the smell of burning plastic lingered in the air.

Only one escape pod remained, the wounded stragglers from the raiding party having commandeered the other three when their ramshackle ship had retreated without them. Webster prowled towards it warily.

Without warning somebody burst from the flower bushes and slammed into him from the side, sending the gun skittering across the floor. Webster gasped for breath and struggled against his attacker as vicious blows slammed into his jaw, panic flooding his body. Desperately, he twisted a leg up and kneed his assailant in the crotch, pulling away and stumbling backwards, strings of blood hanging from his mouth, trying to override the frenzy of adrenaline and evaluate the situation. His attacker was a skinny, long-haired wretch. One of the pirates, an abandoned bastard who must have slipped past security sweeps and tear-gassed corridors in the aftermath of the failed raid, trying to reach an escape pod. He was scrabbling backwards on his rear, and Webster realised suddenly that he was reaching for the gun.

Webster yanked a combat knife from his belt and hurled it underhand towards the pirate. It twirled forward with a glint of light, then dug into the man’s forearm just as he brought the gun up. He howled in pain and dropped it, a vibrant ooze of blood seeping between the fingers he clapped to his wrist. Webster staggered to his feet, pulled out his second knife, and lunged forward, slamming the raider against the wall with the blade at his neck.

“Where are you from?” Webster demanded.

“Novybor,” the pirate choked.

Webster had heard of Novybor once or twice; some backwater Slavic asteroid, a failed state with one endless revolution or civil war after another. Evidently it wasn’t too far from the Calypso’s flight path. Unsurprising, really; the asteroids were full of tiny nations that had exhausted their mineral wealth, and had their society collapse as their economy did. Most ships were prudent enough to travel above or below the ecliptic plane, burning extra fuel but avoiding the piracy-soaked asteroid belt. Unfortunately, the Calypso‘s captain was a cheapskate. “Thank you,” Webster said, and slit the man’s throat.

I’m a huge fan of 24. It’s easily my favourite non-comedy on television, and is one of those shows that has impacted my life in tiny, almost imperceptible ways. I notice time a lot more, always curious to know exactly when a news event happens, and demand to know why George Bush went to sleep on the night of September 11. I’ve come to appreciate the concept of utilitarianism, working it into my personal philosophy and including it in my own stories. I also torture complete strangers with the conviction that they possess the knowledge I need, and lose a small part of my humanity each time I do.

After the dizzying, critically acclaimed heights of Day 5, the show took a peregrine nosedive this year with the worst season it has yet produced. Outside of the first four episodes, Day 6 was a laughably unentertaining bucket of recycled concepts, ridiculous storylines and contrived situations. Well, more so than the average season, in any case. Somewhere between Buchanan being fired for letting Fayed escape custody years before he was even considered a threat, and the Russians calmly informing the US that they would logically have to invade Central Asia if they couldn’t get the circuit board back, I lost interest. I still watched, of course, because I’m a loyal fan, but every Wednesday night viewing was filled with bitterness and contempt.

Season 7 premieres in January. But I’m understandably apprehensive. Here’s the five reasons why. Note that, as is standard practice, my single source is Wikipedia, infallible oracle of the 00’s.


1. Disbanding CTU: a foolhardy attempt to give the show a fresh spin
Along with the change of setting to the East Coast, the producers decided to inject some pizzazz into 24 by removing the Counter-Terrorist Unit, the government agency which has been the focus of the show during its entire run. Sounds interesting, right? After all, if there’s no CTU, then presumably the entire focus of the show will change, with completely new plots and…

Oh. Guess again: three CTU-associated characters will be returning (Chloe, Buchanan, and Morris), and there are no less than four “FBI Agents” listed in the main cast. What, exactly, was the point of disbanding a fictional government agency only to replace it with a real one? Drumming up interest, that’s what.

Still not convinced? Still think they’re gonna “revamp” or “reboot” the show, and completely revitalise it? Here’s what’s lined up for the first episode:

“In the premiere, Jack will hunt down Gabriel Schecter for information. This upscale man in his early 40s is a supplier of illegal contraband.”



2. Another wasted opportunity
I, along with many other fans, optimistically predicted Day 6 to chronicle Jack’s odyssean escape from a Chinese labour camp, possibly aided by an outside team of people who care about him or owe him a favour: Heller, Audrey, Chloe, Chase, Wayne Palmer, maybe even Aaron Pierce. It would have been a safe bet for change. If it didn’t rate well, they could have Jack return to CTU for Day 7. If it did rate well, Day 7 could have been anything (my personal favourite: Jack as a wise yet nihilistic soldier of fortune in Mongolia). Instead, Day 6 fed us another round of JACK TRIES TO STOP A NUKE BUT THE SOULLESS BEAURACRATS FRUSTRATE HIS ATTEMPTS SO HE GOES ROGUE!

In the same vein of “wasted opportunities,” Day 7 will apparently feature a main villain who “[isn’t] a terrorist at all. And the character is fascinating, someone with a supremely dark past who’s done something horrific and whose ambition is to regain his stature in the world.” I think that describes Jack quite well, which would make for a very cool season, but of course they’ll be going with the “corrupt businessman/politician” or something equally unoriginal. And I swear to God if it’s Logan I’ll kill something.

3. Poor timing
Day 7 will take place three years after Day 6, which by default places it just under twelve and a half years after Day 1. Guys, stop making seasons take place so much later. You don’t have any good reason to. Apart from rocketing the show’s timeline into 2016, it’s getting inconsistent with the characters’ ages. Kiefer Sutherland looks pretty much the same as he did in the first season.

Day 7 will also begin and end at 7.00 am, just like Day 4 and Day 5. Yawn. Start seasons at more interesting times, like Day 1 and 3 did. We all know that you’re only starting them in the early morning so that you can end each season with the sunrise, symbolising a new beginning, which is getting massively cliché. Not to mention that you usually fuck it up. The first episode of Day 6 had Jack stepping out of a Hercules at about 6:15 into pre-dawn darkness. The final episode showed it as already light at 5:59.

I know this seems rather trivial but I’m pedantic about such things, and also needed to pad out what is still a very minimal list. High five!

4. Jumping on the climate change bandwagon
I do actually believe global warming is a problem. No, switching off the light every time you leave the room isn’t going to make a difference, but we really should clamp down on all those industries pumping shit into the atmosphere. Even if it’s not doing anything on a global level, it sure as hell isn’t good for the local environment.

What I don’t like is people who watch An Inconvenient Truth and then jump on the bandwagon and start spouting out shit about “carbon credits” or whatever. Unexpectedly, FOX has thrown their lot in with these impressionable morons:

Measures will be taken during filming and production of season 7 to save energy and reduce enough carbon emissions throughout the season to make the season finale “carbon neutral”. Howard Gordon said that 24 cares about the issue of global warming and takes fighting climate change seriously. A number of ways that the production intends to save energy are listed on the site, some of which are: using a combination of petroleum diesel and biodiesel instead of regular diesel fuel, creating a series of PSAs with Kiefer Sutherland and other main cast members to educate the public on what they can do to help with the issue, and, when appropriate, applying the issue of global warming and reducing carbon emissions to the storylines.

Emphasis mine. Once again, in case you didn’t grasp it:

…applying the issue of global warming and reducing carbon emissions TO THE STORYLINES.


5. The resurrection
I saved this till last because I’m quite conflicted about it.

Tony Almeida will return in the premiere of season 7. Show-runner Howard Gordon explained that Tony’s “uncertain fate” left the door open for his return and cited the lack of a silent clock as a deliberate move to keep his death ambiguous. “We didn’t give him the silent clock because we always wanted to keep alive the possibility for some kind of (admittedly) miraculous resurrection … which we will explain,” and followed up with “He’s definitely NOT the Almeida we once knew.

Tony’s demise at the hands of a semi-comatose senior citizen was one of the few mistakes Day 5 made. As Progressive Boink put it in their excellent 100 Greatest 24 Moments (#16: “Tony Goes Out Like A Bitch”):

Palmer… was pretty much sidelined anyway once his presidency was over. Tony, on the other hand, had many more years of buddy cop adventures with Jack ahead of him. Personally, I think Tony’s death was one step too far in kill-happy season five.

I want to be happy about the return of Tony. I really do. After George Mason, Tony was my favourite character on the show. I would have done anything to undo his death scene, and I’ll be happy enough about his return that I’ll overlook whatever ridiculous hand-waving exposition they throw us about how he miraculously survived.

What really irritates me is Gordon’s bullshitting. No, dude, you did not keep his death “ambiguous” with a silent clock. You killed him. Period. You had Jack clutch him in his arms, sob uncontrollably, and then you covered his face up with a sheet. As much as I hated the method of death itself, I think killing off characters is an important thing to do. It keeps the audience on their toes and keeps the show realistic. And we all know that the only reason you’re bringing him back is not because of any long-term plan dating back to his ignoble expiration in the charnel-house that is the CTU clinic, but rather because Day 6 was panned by even the most devout of fans, and you’re desperate to avoid having your show cancelled and being taken out behind the FOX studios to be shot.

Not to mention the ominous words, “He’s definitely NOT the Almeida we once knew,” which makes me groan wearily. Presumably this relates to Michelle’s death (Day 4 already showed us the pathetic shit-hole that is Tony’s life without Michelle), and it would actually make sense for Tony to become a hollow shell of a man after losing his wife to his job. He’d be following in Jack’s footsteps. But rumour has it that the producers originally considered making Tony the ultimate, shadowy antagonist of Day 7, and I fear that there might still be lingering shreds of this vile idea hanging around the studio.

So, will I watch Day 7? Of course I will. Will I keep watching it as it marches on through boring political plotlines and uninspired story rehashes that make Day 6 look like Day 2? Again: of course I will. Because I’m a bitch. But at least I’ll be able to say with satisfaction “see, I told you it would suck.” And if there’s one thing that life has taught me, it’s that keeping your expectations low usually results in a pleasant surprise.

If your comments section is more than four scroll lengths down the page because the top half is overflowing with photos, video files and other superfluous shit that would make a web designer slit his wrists, take a drink.

If more than 90% of your friends are people whom you barely know and rarely speak to, take two drinks. (Pro tip: this applies to everyone)

If you’ve ever forwarded a bulletin containing a corny fictional story about a vacuous teenage relationship in which love blossoms despite tragedy/cheating/adverse circumstance, take three drinks.

If your photo album is mostly comprised of pictures of you and your whorish friends wearing an inch-thick layer of makeup and slutty clothes, swanning around in front of the bathroom mirror like prostitutes, drain your glass.

If you send out a bulletin begging for comments on the aforementioned slutty photos every time you so much as glance at your photo page, finish the bottle.

Finally, if you’re thinking up a myspace drinking game when you’re meant to be finishing a professional writing assignment that’s due tomorrow, then get the fuck back to work cocksucker.

Today I was celebrating the end of yet another brain-erodingly boring CIT tutorial in the Tav with Dave when two police officers entered. Eager to see them confront some motherfucker, slam his face down on the table, handcuff him and march him out of there, I craned my neck over the dismal rainy-day crowd and watched them wander between tables. To my disappointment they simply looked around a little and sauntered out again.

One and a half jugs later, another pair of officers entered, this time dressed in those fluorescent yellow jackets. Once again they simply took a gander around and left.

At about 5 o’clock, as I emerged into the rainswept evening and stumbled drunkenly towards the bus stop, I noticed a police car marked FORENSICS parked outside the library, as well as a small police bus on the pine lawn. My curiosity was once again piqued (had there been a murder? A rape? Surely we would have heard about a shooting?), but since I was already running late and really had to take a leak, I ignored it all and boarded a wheezing, dilapidated bus to travel all the way back north.

When I got home I googled it with anticipation and found that reality, as usual, was far lamer than anything my imagination could come up with.

I had to get up at 7.20 this morning, so I could be at work by 8. I think that’s the earliest I’ve crawled out of bed in about a year.

Driving through the suburbs just an hour after sunrise sure was weird. There were long shadows everywhere and the sun was in my eyes, so it was like late afternoon, but there was still dew on everything. And there were all these other people around waiting to catch the bus, or driving their kids to school. I sometimes forget that, on a normal day, most people are already at work while I’m still eating cereal.

Anyway, now I’m sitting here sulkily doing my “journal” assignment for professional writing. I basically have to write 300 words for every teaching week, discussing what I thought of the lectures and readings and so on. It’s a cheap, dirty, blatant trick to put pressure on students to attend lectures. Since these are at 9 a.m, I haven’t been to a single one this semester, and don’t even know where they’re held. So I have to bullshit my way through it. Not only that, but I have (like an idiot) left it until the last moment. Instead of writing one entry per week I’ve let it accumulate like a menacing snowdrift, and now I have a backlog of six weeks to do and it’s due on Wednesday. I do this, without fail, every time I have a journal assignment. Last semester I had three simultaneous units that demanded a journal, which made for an interesting night of OH FUCK THEY’RE ALL DUE TOMORROW.

I also need to come up with a plot outline for a science fiction story by Wednesday, and a write a scene from it. Not to mention an 800 word piece on “rammed earth” housing, whatever that is. It’s a wonder I have any time to murder homeless people at all.

Somebody’s going to get fired for this.

I saw the Bourne Ultimatum (also known as Run Around Freezing European Cities 3) the other night. Good movie. Better than the second, probably not as good as the first. The only problem I had with it was the overuse of “shaky camera.” A term which, of course, has a Wikipedia article.

I hate every fucking director who thinks this is an effective technique. The first time I ever noticed it was in Braveheart (also known as It’s Been Eight Hours, Just End Already), where every battle scene consisted of a few quick glimpses of swords, kilts, and horses whinnying in bug-eyed terror. I assume the general idea is to give the viewers the impression that they’re really there, and it works, except that you feel as though you’re really there as a cameraman having an epileptic seizure.

Not content with simply ruining action scenes by replacing the camera crew with a hardware-store paint agitator, the director also decided to change scenes roughly every 0.8 seconds, giving the viewer no chance whatsoever to actually process what is going on. The car chase through New York was an especially grievous offender. That’s not how an action scene should be. It should be precise, clear, and lavish the camera’s attention on the intricate details. Basically, keep it still so we can see what the fuck is happening. Movies which do that have specific moments you can remember as being especially awesome, and will fondly recall in the post-movie digestion conversation in the car on the way home. Movies like the Bourne Ultimatum give you only vague recollections of a lot of cars or guns moving really fast, and a case of minor eye strain or nausea.

As a brutal twisting of the knife, the camera also shakes during quiet, non-action scenes. I’m not kidding. Two guys are sitting there in a restaurant, and the screen is wobbling around crazily, and also burying itself in one character’s shoulderblade à la 24. That’s sheer stupidity and an insult to the art of cinema.

If you’re ever going to make a movie then please: take a cue from Children of Men, my favourite movie of all time. It features several incredibly awesome single-take action scenes, one of which lasts nearly eight minutes, and all of which are textbook examples of masterful cinematography that was somehow cheated out of an Academy Award by Pan’s Labyrinth. Also note that the cameramen managed to refrain from the temptation of tying their cameras to ropes and whirling them around their heads during the middle of a take. If I ever walk onto a set and see someone actively engaged in creating “shaky camera” magic, I’m going to staple the camera to the fucking wall. Through their hands.

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September 2007