Sunday, August 31, 2008
I'm astounded how many commentators on the Sunday talk shows welcome the possibility of the good governor of Alaska being their President and aren't, like yours truly, scared to death of the possibility.
"He's so unhip that When you say Dylan, he thinks you're talking about Dylan Thomas, Whoever he was. The man ain't got no culture,"
I'll never forget the evening I stood in line behind two teenage girls in the supermarket. This must have been in the mid 70s. One was leafing through a magazine. Suddenly her eyes got wide and she said to her friend, "Did you know Paul McCartney had a band before Wings!?"
I still recall a dinner conversation when I was a kid in L.A. My parents had befriended new neighbors and were talking about how much they liked them. Suddenly my dad said, I think they may be Republicans. My parents were FDR Democrats. He wondered this and changed the subject, which was never brought up again. They became good friends with the neighbors. I learned years later that, yes, the neighbors were Republicans.
Contrast this to several friends I have today who cannot imagine being friends with a Republican! What an extraordinary difference! It used to be that personal beliefs were personal. Your religion, your politics, were private matters. It was rude, rude, to ask, Who are you going to vote for? You seldom saw lawn signs pledging allegiance to a candidate. You seldom saw political buttons on a vest. Oh yes, you'd flaunt your beliefs at a political convention if you went, but then you returned to your community and played your beliefs close to your vest. It was nobody's business where you went to church or whom you voted for.
The ballot was secret, and the secret ballot was a sacred institution that deserved this kind of respect.
Where political differences were important to come into the light was in government itself. I had the good fortune to write a long profile about Oregon's former governor Tom McCall before he died. I spent a week hanging around with him, and in our long taped conversations he told me a remarkable thing about his tenure in office. His top advisor was a bright conservative Republican. McCall was a liberal Republican. In the governor's own description, "I thought he was a fascist, and he thought I was a commie." This was the way it should be in government, McCall went on, because every issue became a debate, and every decision became a careful compromise in the middle of extreme beliefs.
How different the Bush administration is, with its cadre of Yes Men and its disgraceful treatment of someone like Colin Powell who questions the party line! How refreshing for Obama to flat out say he doesn't want to be surrounded by Yes Men. (Of course, saying and doing are two different things. We'll see.)
The important subtext of a secret ballot is that our similarities matter more than our political differences. Who cares, finally, if the new neighbors are Republicans or not? We enjoy them for other reasons than their political beliefs.
Our culture has lost this respect for privacy. This has been lost in part because we've been shaped into a nation of consumers -- and political beliefs are just another product to consume. Politics is visible far, far, far more than when I was growing up -- ads, lawn signs, bumper stickers, talk shows, phone banks, door-to-door solicitations, all points of view screaming, Buy me! buy me! buy me!
One of the perpetual disagreements in our household concerns lawn signs. I will not put up a lawn sign for anyone under any circumstances. I think to do so undermines the sacred notion of a secret ballot. My wife would put up a lawn sign for dog catcher. Our house is far off the street, so now and again she puts up a sign far enough from our home that I can ignore it.
I love my parents, FDR Democrats, becoming great friends with neighbors "who may be Republicans." I don't understand my friends today who flat out declare, "I could never be friends with a Republican." Ironically enough, these same people in another context talk about the importance of diversity! "All people are equal but some are more equal than others."
Here's an irony: some of the lost older traditions of this country, like great parental focus on the education of children, are getting a shot in the arm by immigrant families, whose kids spend more time in books than at the mall. Many immigrant families respect the secret ballot because they come from state-controlled tyrannical environments. Many immigrant families behave the way Americans used to behave.
Saturday, August 30, 2008
These books look at a real cultural phenomenon. Look at our brightest kids: check out the spelling bees, the science fairs, the scholarship winners, and you find a disproportionate (i.e. with respect to their population) number of non-white, non-mainstream "Mom and apple pie" Americans. You find a lot of parents from immigrant cultures in which education is respected more than in our mainstream. (Since whites will soon be the minority, maybe this will be to our cultural advantage.)
The trouble with our national mythology is that we confuse equality of opportunity with equality of achievement. I don't want "just your average [fill in the blank]" to operate on my brain, write my literature, compose my symphonies, represent my country in the Olympics -- or be my President. I want people far better than average in the appropriate skill set.
This is not to say "the best and the brightest" are always right, far from it. But the life of the active mind must be nurtured and respected. Ideologues, whether in a political party, a religion, an AA meeting or elsewhere, begin with conclusions and search out evidence to support them. The culture needs a shot of healthy skepticism and enough humble curiosity to let evidence lead, not follow, the journey to whatever makes the most sense at the time. We need a lot more epistemological uncles in the land.
Perhaps William James put it best: to be tough-minded and tender-hearted. The combination has become all too rare.
I especially like the way FNL is shot.
Friday Night Lights is unusual in its use of actual locations as opposed to prefabricated stage sets and its lack of any sound stage for filming. This, along with the production team using hundreds of locals as extras, gives the series a uniquely authentic look.
The drive towards authenticity continues in the show’s documentary style filming technique which employs three cameras for each shoot and shoots entire scenes in one take. This differs from most productions in that most productions will film scenes from each angle repeating an average scene several times and readjusting lighting to accommodate each shot. The show is mostly improvised and scenes in the show are usually the first takes. By filming a scene all at once, the producers have tried to create an environment for the actors that is more organic and allows for the best performances.
I'm considering using a similar technique when I shoot my first feature next summer. I'm also thinking of doing something with the color to give it a faded older look. I don't want to do it in black and white, done that, but give it a less bright, more subdued color look. I'll start fiddling with settings soon and see if I stumble upon something that looks right to me.
I think this election campaign is going to get very surreal. I think it's also going to make me cry.
Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) is a controversial United States Supreme Court case that resulted in a landmark decision regarding abortion. According to the Roe decision, most laws against abortion in the United States violated a constitutional right to privacy under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The decision overturned all state and federal laws outlawing or restricting abortion that were inconsistent with its holdings. Roe v. Wade is one of the most controversial and politically significant cases in U.S. Supreme Court history. Its lesser-known companion case, Doe v. Bolton, was decided at the same time.
The central holding of Roe v. Wade was that abortions are permissible for any reason a woman chooses, up until the "point at which the fetus becomes ‘viable,’ that is, potentially able to live outside the mother's womb, albeit with artificial aid. Viability is usually placed at about seven months (28 weeks) but may occur earlier, even at 24 weeks." The Court also held that abortion after viability must be available when needed to protect a woman's health, which the Court defined broadly in the companion case of Doe v. Bolton. These court rulings affected laws in 46 states.
Overturning Roe v. Wade
John McCain believes Roe v. Wade is a flawed decision that must be overturned, and as president he will nominate judges who understand that courts should not be in the business of legislating from the bench.
Constitutional balance would be restored by the reversal of Roe v. Wade, returning the abortion question to the individual states. The difficult issue of abortion should not be decided by judicial fiat.
However, the reversal of Roe v. Wade represents only one step in the long path toward ending abortion. Once the question is returned to the states, the fight for life will be one of courage and compassion - the courage of a pregnant mother to bring her child into the world and the compassion of civil society to meet her needs and those of her newborn baby. The pro-life movement has done tremendous work in building and reinforcing the infrastructure of civil society by strengthening faith-based, community, and neighborhood organizations that provide critical services to pregnant mothers in need. This work must continue and government must find new ways to empower and strengthen these armies of compassion. These important groups can help build the consensus necessary to end abortion at the state level. As John McCain has publicly noted, "At its core, abortion is a human tragedy. To effect meaningful change, we must engage the debate at a human level."
(Note: Sarah Palin is even more conservative in her views than McCain. She wants to drill in the Alaskan wilderness, and she believes Global Warming is not manmade. I can understand Evangelical Christians being thrilled by her nomination. I can understand the non-evangelical far right being thrilled. But I can't imagine a supporter of Hillary Clinton being thrilled unless the support was completely ideological about gender issues, not a commitment to issues Clinton fights for. At any rate, the battle lines now are clearly drawn. We'll see what kind of future the majority of Americans want. Do I have a prediction? Not really. But I wouldn't be upset by an Obama landslide ha ha.)
Here is just one issue where the differences between the candidates are monumental. There's plenty here to debate without throwing mud.
Everything in my rhythm changes after this weekend. For me, the school year begins three weeks before I enter the classroom. As I usually am by this time of the summer, I'm eager for the term to begin. I like teaching and I like the schedule it puts me on. I didn't get everything done I wanted to this summer but I had a very productive summer nonetheless, writing two new screenplays and finishing a new video. No complaints. We still get a few days at the coast, our vacation, but mostly now it's time to get serious about putting together my new syllabus. Onward.
Friday, August 29, 2008
ME: What did you think of Obama's speech last night?
SHE: Somebody's gonna shoot him.
Here is the terrible legacy of the sixties, the memory of all those assassinations. I pray history doesn't repeat itself. I pray for the better angels of our nature. I pray for better security in this Age of Terror. I pray the newer generations don't have to experience the baptismal fires of the 60s.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
But hope is on the horizon again, as it hasn't been experienced since the 60s, and we who were there can't help but worry if history will repeat itself, if "they" again will bring out the assassins to keep change from getting out of hand, from redistributing income in any significant way, to challenging corporate power in any significant way. What new conspiracy are "they" planning now?
Of course, Obama may not even get elected. I like to believe he will be but maybe the country isn't ready for the kind of change he represents. Unfortunately, it will be a mean-spirited and dishonest and dirty campaign, and Obama will be urged to throw as much mud as he gets. I hope the excitement and hope he inspires doesn't get lost in the smoke.
It's an extraordinary moment in our history. The question is, Is it a dangerous one as well?
While I was having an early breakfast at Nobby's today, a fellow came in, sat at the bar and ordered a beer. Beer for breakfast, I remember it well. A quarter century ago, my favorite drinking time was morning when circumstances permitted, as they often did when I was supporting myself on grants and deadline-defined projects. My preference was red beer, beer and tomato juice. (There was a bar in Bend where Dick and I often ordered their morning specialty, beer and clamato juice.)
There were, and probably still are, bars in Portland that were more lively at 8 a.m. then at night. One was a bar close to the main station of the post office, home to the midnight shift getting off, who came in ready to party. Two more were Kelly's downtown and the Gypsy in NW, though both have been gentrified and no longer welcome the early morning alcoholics whose presence defines the lively morning bar. In fact, I'm not sure they're even open in the mornings any more.
Morning drinking was attractive in part, I think, because it was a way to give the finger to the 9-to-5 rhythm of the majority. Hadn't yet occurred to me that one prison is as good as another. I found much more interesting folks in bars in the mornings than at nights, and a part of me was always a spy, getting people to talk, stealing stories for my work. This goal deteriorated along the way, of course, as drinking became its own justification -- but at least I had the good fortune to find myself with a doctor who gave me a ton of shit and scared me into realizing what I was doing to myself. As the Japanese saying goes, first the man takes the drink, then the drink takes the drink, then the drink takes the man. I quit in the second stage, probably in the nick of time.
Although it's not fashionable or politically correct to say so, I don't regret my drinking days. I regret singular moments of bad behavior but not the broad spectrum of behavior. I learned things I never would have learned without the experience. I also had some amazing experiences and some incredibly fun times. Of course, I have the usual list of bad behavior as well -- it's a zero sum universe -- but if you are summing to zero, there's something to be said for +100 and -100 versus +1 and -1 in energy of life experiences. There's not too much in my life I would change, and having a beer for breakfast isn't one of them.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
And it was moving when Obama officially became the nominee, our first minority candidate in a major party, and many in the hall were in tears, and I don't blame them. An historical day. Obama has an incredible opportunity and audience with his acceptance speech tomorrow night. Talk about pressure. Curious how he'll do.
If I were advising McCain, I'd choose a woman as VP, just to stir the pot. I think it'll be Romney, which I think is to the Dem's advantage. We'll see.
The Democrats have not shown much passion like this by Dennis Kucinich, in an afternoon speech I saw on C-SPAN. In general, the convention is considerably more boring than this. One typically has three choices: the hot air of the politicians (uninterrupted on C-SPAN), the hot air of the political commentators (networks and cable, often worse than the politicians) -- or silence (turn the damn thing off).
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
By my lights, Yves Lavandier's Writing Drama is the best book on dramatic writing. Unfortunately this book is not available at Amazon except in a much over-priced "collector's" edition, even though it is readily available from European booksellers (order page). As a result, this book may not be as well know among American screenwriting students as it should be. This book is comprehensive and clear and does not try to reinvent the wheel, bringing under single cover the accepted wisdom of the principles of dramatic writing. Very highly recommended.
Monday, August 25, 2008
MOLIERE: Shed no tears! You rot in one grave as another;
If you don't believe that, don't ever have a mother.
The luck that gets us all got me—
Though I'm better off than most, you must agree.
Consider this: though I am dust, you're glad to pay
Right through the nose to see my plays!
Without me, Montfleury's just a name;
Because of me, he has a kind of fame.
The Archbishop of Paris is no concern of yours
Except for me — I give him the notoriety he deserves.
In other words, why shed a tear for me?
My plays live on until eternity!
Oh, I know — in your age the time is getting short,
Everywhere there's war, famine, a great environmental wart.
Yet you insist your own age is unique:
"Never has civilization reached such a peak!"
But I question this wisdom found on TV and in "Forbes,"
Though maybe that's presumptuous, coming from a corpse.
Still, I don't see our times as different, I confess,
Since in your age, as in mine, it's all a mess.
Though you've reached the moon, discovered strange galactic gasses,
Three hundred years later, the world's still full of asses!
(LA GRANGE enters.)
LA GRANGE: So we hope we've moved you and given you a little fun; In truth,—
MOLIERE & LA GRANGE: — there's not a damn thing new beneath the sun.
(MUSIC FANFARE AND CURTAIN CALL: THE PLAY IS OVER.)
Even Martha Washington succumbed to the propaganda, telling a clergyman that Jefferson was "one of the most detestable of mankind."
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Saturday, August 23, 2008
Friday, August 22, 2008
And the weather is turning back to summer, after too many days of unseasonal wet and chilly grayness. Into the 80s this weekend, they say, which is better than what we had before.
Kara Goucher, Portland's 5000m entry in the Olympics, finished 9th in the final but the good news is that she was the first American, beating out her constant rival from the east coast. Good for you, KG! Contrary to the common sports mentality, winning isn't everything.
I'm feeling mellow today. Maybe it's wrapping up the project, finally.
Music! I am behind, behind, behind. Well, I apparently have spent the work recuperating from the first six weeks blazing sprint through projects. That's fine. It all totals zero in the end ha ha. But I am eager to get back into a work groove again.
Received mockumentary script pages from H. -- the actors are writing much of their own parts. Good stuff! Not only a good actor, she's a talented writer and is working on her first video (directing), too. Tons of energy. I love working with her. Well, I like working with everyone in the company (Small Screen Video). H gets obsessed with projects the way I do and likes to do things sooner rather than later. I gave everybody an Oct 1 deadline, and it wouldn't surprise me if one or more don't quite make it. We'll see.
Picked up a copy of J.B. to look at after many years, thinking of using scenes in the documentary on Evil.
I can feel myself rising into productive energy again.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
A dear friend retires and moves next month to live with her son in Bali. Talk about an adventure! She loves Portland, so I'm making her a DVD focusing on her favorite things here, including a tour of the country house she rents. One of the things that's so much easier to do today than it was only a few years ago, thanks to technology.
As I was doing business at Create Space, the screen refreshed itself and I got the message of a sale of a copy of Kerouac's Scroll. Like a greeting in cyberspace. (So few buy the book, it's a big deal! ha ha)
But this is like the young screenwriter writing about storm chasers. Whenever a Big Event movie comes out, a zillion writers with similar scripts think they've been ripped off. You can't copyright a concept, only its specific execution. That adds a bit of danger to marketing high concept scripts!
I turned in at the 65th minutes in the soccer game, watched for 5 minutes and wondered why Brazil wasn't ahead 10-0. This was a victory for defense.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Otherwise another funky day, doing a lot of necessary grunt work, and made-up grunt work, and otherwise I somehow passed the time of day.
Several things stuck with me.
- He died from complications following a medical error in surgery. Jesus. I have no idea if anyone is getting sued over this, but it's not all that rare. The moral is, be guarded and suspicious about your doctor. Half of them graduated in the bottom half of their class.
- Ex-wife #1 gave the most remarkable, insightful, kind and loving tribute I've heard from an ex-wife. They were both mathematicians. I like to think this explains the utter logic of her remarks. There is great kindness in logic with a heart, and we see far too little of it. Her remarks about their breakup in the 70s after she became a feminist ("he couldn't change that quickly") hit home since my own marriage ended somewhat similarly, if in more radical circumstances. A lot of marriages ended in the 70s as wives demanded more than they were getting in their relationships and men were slow to make the right angle turns demanded of them. Decades later, of course, the picture has changed once again. May you live in interesting times.
- Are large, well attended memorial services like this the exception or the rule? Not even a dozen of us gathered in the Shakespeare Garden to spread my friend Ger's ashes. Dick had no memorial service. My parents, by request, had no memorial service. If I have one, it will be my wife's doing. Many of us disappear with far less fanfare. And relatively speaking, we seem more quickly forgotten, too. Here today, gone tomorrow. The end. The loners, the folks living on the fringe, on the edge, the non-joiners, the existentialists. Who remembers them?
The ex-wife made a profound impression on me. What a heart! What a mind! They had met in grad school, both nerds. They apparently had a fine marriage until everything changed in the 70s -- and the question becomes, well, did they then have a fine marriage before or was it just fine to him, a nightmare to her? To a degree, my posthumous play Oregon Dream addresses this question. When is memory an echo of the past and when is it a singular hallucination? Many men, I suspect, believe the former about their past marriages, and many women the latter. If this isn't a dramatic situation ha ha, what is?
After the funeral I ran into one of my favorite directors, who did my work in the late 70s, whom I run into about once every five or ten years.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Ah, the echo of that wonderful very old woman who told me why she hadn't voted in twenty years (she was in her 90s): "I don't want to encourage them."
Weather turned gray and gloomy again but summer is supposed to return by the weekend. Very strange cycle of weather lately.
Kara Goucher, Portland's "other" distance runner at the Olympics (Galen Rupp the other), qualified for the finals -- but not by finish but by time. She finished 7th in her heat, the first 6 moving on. Her time, however, would have won the other heat! She was in the tough one apparently. She moves on, at any rate, can rest a day and then see if she can run the race of her life for a medal. Probably not but I'd like to see her do her best time.
Monday, August 18, 2008
What a fascinating world of technology we have. If I were younger, or maybe I should say young, I think I would found a periodical that reviews digital literary and film products, a kind of clearing house to bring the best stuff forward. This service is very badly needed. It's a jungle out there with a lot of home movies stuff and some crap and a ton of mediocre work -- but also a few extraordinary gems. There needs to be a trusted resource that sorts it all out.
Mailed off some DVDs this morning, including to CreateSpace, a bundle of what I consider to be our three best projects to date. The packaging was posted below.
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Heat wave continues, and H and Sketch are melting. I love it.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
Multnomah Days today, a neighborhood parade, the usual Americana drill, and of course I wouldn't miss it. Might even shoot some video to add to my stock file.
Friday, August 15, 2008