The Way of the Word

31. January 2011

RIP John Barry

Born John Barry Pendergast, November 3, 1933, died January 30, 2011, of a sudden heart attack, at the age of 77.

John Barry’s father was a classical pianist who also onwed a chain of movie theaters.. Originally a classical pianist himself, he continued to learn the trumpet and developed an interest in composing and arranging. During his time in the British Army, he learned the how-to with the help of a corresponence course. In 1957, he abandoned his original career path of arranging music for big bands and formed the John Barry Seven. The band remained in business until 1965, and had several hits. During this time, he arranged music for several performers of the BBC show Drumbeat. Including Adam Faith. When Faith made his first movie, Beat Girl, in 1960, he hired John Barry to write the music. It became the first movie soundtrack to be released as an LP in the UK.

His work first for EMI records and then for Ember Records caught the attention of a movie producer who was in the process of producing “a little spy movie,” and who was unhappy with a theme delivered by the original composer, Monty Norman. They hired John Barry to revise the theme.

John Barry went on to contribute to altogether 12 of the James Bond movies. One thing led to another, John Barry kept getting more and more calls from movie producers, and he went on to become (one of) the greatest movie composers in the history of cinema. (The “one of” is to appease the fans of other film composers — for me, Barry was the greatest.) Barry’s distinctive style concentrated on strings and brass, but he was also an innovator. He was one of the first to use synthesizers in a film score, and he made extensive use of contemporary rock and pop music. He usually didn’t just provide the theme music, but wrote the entire soundtrack score, thereby very much improving and enhancing frequently already impressive movies.

You couldn’t go wrong with a John Barry score.

Some other examples of his work are the music to the movies Zulu (1964), Born Free (1966, two Oscars for the music), The Lion in Winter (1968, Oscar and BAFTA awarded), Midnight Cowboy (1969, Grammy Award winner), Star Crash (1978), Somewhere in Time (1980), Out of Africa (1985, Oscar winner), Dances With Wolves (1990, Oscar winner), Enigma (2001). His other work includes five musicals, the best known among them probably being Passion Flower Hotel (1965) and Billy (1974).

An illness suffered in 1988 rendered him unable to work for two years, and left him vulnerable to pneumonia.

He won five Oscars out of seven nominations. He was the proud owner of four Grammy Awards, two BAFTA Awards and several Golden Globe nominations.

You know the saying that “they don’t make them like this anymore?” That might as well refer to John Barry. Forget all the rest (although, yes, there are good movie composers working in the business now), John Barry was the best there was at what he did. Hands down.


27. January 2011

Novel in Progress: Die Young – Shaw Returns!

Naming the babies.

Finding a title is, for me at least, always one of the more difficult parts. I listened to the James Bond title songs and settled on two and a half soundbites. One from Goldeneye by Tina Turner, A Bitter Kiss. And the others from A Vew to a Kill by Duran Duran: Sounds of Broken Dreams, or the more complete Fatal Sounds of Broken Dreams. I put them up for vote on my Facebook page. A Bitter Kiss got 3 votes, Fatal Sounds of Broken Dreams got 1 vote.

To be honest, I like A Bitter Kiss better too. It’s shorter, easier to remember, and not such a mouthful. Just typing it here, I had to actively resist to abbreviate it as Fatal Sounds. And A Bitter Kiss works nicely, because the first victim gets poisoned.

But. (Isn’t there always a but?)

In parallel, I was trying to figure out character names. Specifically, the name of the first victim. I played around with some names, but I was never quite happy with them. Everyone has some favorite names, and I kept falling back on those. You could say it’s the Charlie – Christie – Cassidy problem. They are similar enough to get mixed up if you don’t pay enough attention.

Somewhere along the way, I thought of a really bad pun for the first victim’s name: Diana Young. Di Young, get it? I’m sure you do. It’s a stupid enough pun that it made me chuckle, and I was this close to actually using it.

Then it occurred to me that Die Young would be a terrific title for the novel. It means I can’t use the name for the character, but I really like it as a novel title. So I’m going to use it. To be honest, I’m glad that I thought of a good title for this one. I like A Bitter Kiss, but it would work far better as the title for another Shaw novel I’ve got notes for.

So, Die Young it is. At least as a working title, until (and unless) I think of something I like even better.

And maybe I don’t even need to change the character’s name. Maybe it just spares me the effort of driving the pun home by always referring to her as “Di.”

By the way: according to the stats, there is quite a bit of interest in this workblog. If you’re curious about this second Shaw novel, I suggest you might visit Amazon and get a Kindle copy of The Coldest Blood, the first Shaw novel. It costs less than $3.50, meaning you’d pay less than you’d pay for most  standard comic books, and you’ll get a lot more reading out of it. Plus, unless more people buy The Coldest Blood, I’m not going to publish Die Young, meaning you’ll never get to read it. Which, as I mentioned, is currently the plan. I’m writing Die Young only for myself, but economic interests might sway me to change my mind.

25. January 2011

Novel in Progress: Shaw Returns!

First off, a word about spoilers. There will be. In the course of this workblog, I’m going to talk about plot developments and my thoughts behind them. For example, how the original idea evolved into what will actually end up on page, the thought processes, research, procedure. I don’t see the harm in that, because as things stand right now, the only person other than I who will ever read this novel will be my porn consultant.

Yes, I have a porn consultant. Sounds like a great job title, doesn’t it? As I said in the previous post, this adventure is set before the backdrop of the porn industry, about which I know next to nothing. But I do know people who have some knowledge about it, and one of them agreed to be my Porn Consultant for this novel. As such, I ask for his input during the planning and research phase, and he will have to read the script as it develops to tell me where I got things wrong.

He was already useful. There’s a trend in porn right now that I didn’t know of. He knew, and commented on it conversationally. I immediately seized on it, because that trend adds very much to my Big Bad’s motivation. Why does the villain do what he does? Because his sort of crime no longer pays, so he needs to find new ways to make an illicit buck.

The next thing is Naming the Babies. I have a lot of title ideas in my Plotmaster 3000, inspired by the fantastic titles Mickey Spillane used for his books. I’m keeping Hell to Pay in case I ever do that televangelist story, but others that might fit this story are .40 Caliber JusticeDeath’s Angel, Survival of the Deadliest.

However, the first Shaw novel, The Coldest Blood, got its title from a James Bond movie theme song. It’s a soundbite from the Casino Royale theme song. So I’m contemplating the idea of making that into the pattern for the Shaw titles. Which means I’d need to listen to all the James Bond movie theme songs (not much of a sacrifice, except in the cases of Die Another Day and Quantum of Solace – I hate those two songs) to check if there is a soundbite that I might like as a title. (Actually, there might be: GoldenEye has the soundbite A Bitter Kiss, which I like as the title for this story. But I also like it as the title for another possible Shaw story, so I’ll keep looking.)

Character naming is also difficult. Oh, it’s easy for throwaway characters. Like the three hitmen the Big Bad is going to send to take out Shaw. If I name them at all, I’ll simply take the first three spam mails in my junk folder and use the names of the senders. Important characters are where it gets tricky.

For example: Shaw has a recurring character whose name is Christie. I’m definitely not going to rename her. But there’s another character who is relevant in this story, his love interest for Shaw 2. I had wanted to name her Charlotte “Charlie” Parker. But Charlie is too much like Christie, it might confuse the readers. Which means I need to rename that character. It’s not much of a sacrifice. In the honored tradition of serial action heroes, no love interest ever returns for a sequel. (Well, hardly any, hardly ever — I could name two or three, but they are exceptions rather than a rule.) It’s the character who won’t return who gets renamed.

The next time I’ll update this workblog, I’ll have at least a working title for this novel.

23. January 2011

Novel in Progress: Shaw Returns!

Who is Shaw, you ask, and where does he return from? You might want to check those links on the right and click on the one for The Coldest Blood.

Shaw is my hardboiled PI character, the protagonist of my hardboiled mystery The Coldest Blood. If you haven’t read it, you’re missing out on something. Don’t take my word for it, I’m biased, buy a download, read it and see for yourself.

When I’m out by myself, I think about how to kill people. It’s inevitable, and you’re lucky that I’m more of a mystery writer than a psychopath. When I think about how to kill people, it usually ends up on paper. Or at least a .DOC file.

Yesterday, that was combined with something that had been making news here in Hamburg recently. I’ll talk about that in a future blog post. That news event is a tragedy, but even so, it makes no sense that it keeps me occupied, because I don’t know the people involved, I don’t know the business they’re in, I don’t know anything about them. Except where they live, five minutes’ walk from where I live. But that in and of itself shouldn’t influence my thoughts in any way.

I decided to take those thoughts and exorcise them in the best way that I know how to do: by writing about them. And since there is an interesting mystery thriller hiding in that tragedy (actually, there isn’t, unless you let your thoughts drift in regards to how to kill people, then you add one and one and get a homicide… Never mind), I decided to turn it into a mystery novel.

Re-enter Shaw. He was supposed to be my Mike Hammer, he was supposed to establish me as the next Mickey Spillane.

Except, he didn’t. Instead, the lack of interest he generated in everyone he met crushed down all my aspirations towards a profitable writing career. I had resolved to discard the notes I had for future Shaw novels and never return to his dark adventures.

But. I like writing Shaw, I’m comfortable with his supporting cast of homicide Detective Robert Weaver, Christie the hacker, Paul Pogue the information broker.  Also, I’m lazy, and I thought that if I write another mystery novel, why not revisit Shaw and his friends instead of creating all new characters from scratch.

So here you go. Shaw will return, solving a crime that will take him into the depths of the porn industry. I’ll tell you more about that in future posts.

As soon as I have a title.

21. January 2011

Extinction Event

Misanthropy Week concludes. An Extinction Event is a catastrophic occurrence that wipes out most life on Earth, leaving the survivors to fill the now-freed ecological niches.

The most famous Extinction Event is the one that killed the dinosaurs 65 Million years ago. It paved the way for the evolution and domination of the mammal. That’s us. It wasn’t the first, though. There were altogether five or six of the darn things.

Yes, that’s right: it has happened five or six times that most life on Earth was wiped out, basically cleaning the slate for the next try. The Discovery Channel’s website has a very nice interactive graphic about it, so I’m linking here instead of repeating the list.

Here’s the timeline.

Done? Quite interesting, isn’t it?

You ask why this is relevant? Because we’re currently in the middle of another Extinction Event, one that rivals the dinosaur-killing one in magnitude.

I’ll grant you that the site this link leads to is biased, but they are mainly a link collection, so you can look at the data they’ve collected and make up your own mind.

Sadly, the cause of this Extinction Event is obvious: the human race. In between wiping out everything that we can’t make useful, either for sport, or because they’re food competitors, or because they’re in the way, or because we’re afraid of them, or yes actually to feed our ever-growing numbers, or simply because humans don’t need a reason to kill anything, it’s what we do; and simply not giving a damn about the consequences of our actions, we’re busily destroying pretty much all life on this planet. If this keeps up, we’ll be there sometime in the 22nd century, and that’s an optimistic estimate.

Sometimes, when people say that god put us here for a reason, we just don’t know its plan, I think that his plan has become fairly obvious: every couple of million years, god becomes bored with its creation and decides to wipe everything out to start over again.  This time, it just happens to be one of the species that does the wiping out, we, instead of an asteroid, or a change of atmospheric composition.

So, yes, there is an Extinction Event going on. And we’re it. And we’ll have wiped the slate clean for the next step in evolution, whatever is going to end up filling the ecological niches the mammals and birds and reptiles that we’re wiping out are freeing up, in about a hundred years or so.

By then, this planet will no longer support life as we know it. Who knows, it might be anaerobic microbes who will end up as the dominant species. Again. Because they were the dominant species before Earth developed oxygen, you know.

But, seriously: if we’re the Extinction Event for this geological era, don’t you think we should hurry this up and get it done? Anything else seems so needlessly cruel.

Oh, wait. I forgot who I’m talking to for a minute. Needlessly cruel, that’s us, that’s two very fitting words for the human race.

20. January 2011

Conspiracy Theory

Misanthropy week continues. There are some things that you need to remember, always:

1) You need to pay very close attention to how a politician says something, instead of what they say. Back in 1989, then-Chancellor Helmut Kohl told the press that they would not raise or create new taxes to pay for unification. The way he said it made me think that, “Then they’ll call it something else.” It turned out I was right: a few months later, they annouced the “Solidarbeitrag” (Solidarity Contribution) to pay for it. Technically, it was not a tax raise, and it was not a new tax.

2) When a government has found a way to worm its way into your wallet, they’ll keep their fingers there forever. The Solidarbeitrag was originally supposed to last five years. That was in 1990. Last year, 2010, the government announced that they might be able to do away with it in 15 years. Perhaps. Don’t bet on it, though.

3) It doesn’t matter who you vote for, because they are all controlled by the same campaign contributors, sponsors and lobbyists. And you don’t get to vote for those.

I’m a cranky old man, and as such, I reserve the right to be upset about the generation that follows mine. The kids whose only ambition seems to be to find out how drunk you can get without falling into a coma. The kids who don’t want to make any effort to succeed at anything, because they’re spoiled brats who expect to be handed everything on the proverbial silver platter. The other kids who know that there is no silver platter, so their only ambition is to beat up as many people as they can get away with. All of them aren’t really interested in getting an education. Half of them believe they won’t need one, the other half belives it won’t do them any good anyway.

If those brats are the future, then we’re even more royally screwed than I already thought. But then again, that’s what our parents probably thought about us, and look at how we turned out.

Okay, their fears were totally justified, doesn’t mean that ours are.

Okay, whom am I kidding.

The thing is, however, that this is exactly how the politicians, or rather the corporations that control our politicians, want us: uneducated, ignorant and unthinking. Because if you’re not trained to think for yourself, you’re much more easily manipulated.

The corporations and the politicians, they want us stupid.

I’m sure you know the feeling: you’ve seen a movie or a TV show, and you thought, “Wow, that was so bad, I feel my braincells dying.” Don’t tell me you didn’t notice that movies have gotten increasingly stupid over the last few decades. And don’t get me started on TV, specifically the so-called reality TV. If you get your news from the internet, you probably know the phenomenon that you half-glimpse something that sounds important, but by the time you manage to move your cursor it has already been replaced by the latest celebrity gossip and you can’t find it again because it had originally only half-registered on your consciousness anyway. Even if you manage to avoid all those traps, there aren’t just all those pundits/commentators out there who tell you what and how to think, there are also all those who listen to those commentators who told them how and what to think, and who cheerfully spread that gospel, and you’d better listen to them or else.

You know what? If I were conspiracy minded, I’d smell one. (For the record, I’m not. I like conspiracy theories, but mostly as fodder for story ideas.) I’d look at the schools, how they are ideologically influenced, and ideologically influencing. They promote boredom, not curiosity, they don’t encourage the kids to think and to find things out for themselves. Rather, they encourage the kids to not think for themselves, to just accept whatever crap they’re fed. The media promote that way of life. Its not important to think, to be critical, all that is important is to look good, to be wealthy and famous. Someone has it better than you? Keep your place, but do be envious. Listen to the politicians who control your world. You’re not sure who you can trust? Trust that pundit on that TV station that tells you how you should see the world, just like everyone else in your peer group. Don’t think, they know better. Trust them. Sure, that politician over there seems dumb as a doorknob, and her only qualification is that she used to look pretty once upon a time, but you can trust her, she parrots the same stuff that your pundit says. The pundit who is paid by the company that owns shares in the companies that pay for the politician’s career. Of course the politician will later repay those generous contributions, either by elevating the corporation’s leaders into government, or at least by looking away when those corporations do something that would get you locked up for life and beyond. Because, hey, that corporation paid for the politician, and should get their money’s worth, right, and besides it’s far more valuable than water or land or some dumb fishes, or even you, or how much were you worth on the stock market today?

As I said, if I were a conspiracy theorist, I’d smell a conspiracy behind the rise in stupidity of the human race.  But I’m not a conspiracy theorist. There is no conspiracy. We’re doing it to ourselves, and those who can simply exploit what we do. Because exploitation, that’s what they do best.

19. January 2011

Homo Moronicus

Misanthropy week continues. Back when I was young, Homo Sapiens was translated as “knowing man.” Even at the time, that would have been my early- to mid teens, I joked that that label fit – knowing things doesn’t mean you understand them.

Imagine my surprise when a couple of years later, Homo Sapiens was suddenly changed into “wise human.”

Wise? Really? You serious? Honestly, I don’t see that. I mean, look at the standard definition of “wisdom”:

Wisdom is a deep understanding and realizing of people, things, events or situations, resulting in the ability to choose or act to consistently produce the optimum results with a minimum of time and energy. It is the ability to optimally (effectively and efficiently) apply perceptions and knowledge and so produce the desired results. Wisdom is also the comprehension of what is true or right coupled with optimum judgment as to action. Synonyms include: sagacity, discernment, or insight. Wisdom often requires control of one’s emotional reactions (the “passions”) so that one’s principles, reason and knowledge prevail to determine one’s actions.”

Be honest: does that really describe humans? I’m talking about the human race as a whole. The human race that is in complete denial of the fact that we’re making our own planet uninhabitable for the sake of our immediate convenience. The human race that indifferently uses up all the world’s resources because, hey, who cares. (With some nations  even taking pride in being the ultimate resource waster — really, pride.) The race that takes those places that don’t have any resources to exploit because, since those spots are worthless anyway, they’re perfect for storing an increaing amount of (mostly toxic) waste. Just so long that it’s out of sight; let the future generations worry about the consequences. Not to mention all the pollution that results from wanting a quick buck, so let’s cut costs. (Here’s looking at you, BP.)

Does that sound wise to you?

Under the circumstances, it’s no surprise that the human race as a whole seems to be getting dumber. Or at least increasingly less willing to apply ourselves. Some people blame the media. They claim that we get so barraged by information from all over that the degeneration of our attention span to that of the average fruit fly is the logical consequence. Evolution in action. The same people claim that in order to capture what’s left of our attention for even the fraction of a second that we can still muster to apply is, one has to be increasingly loud, irritating and, well, stupid. Because, according to this theory, we no longer have the attention span to think about issues. It’s more like, there’s this issue, and what do they really… oooh, shiny…

That doesn’t explain the rise of sub-standard role models, though. When I look at the media, I don’t see anyone who can function as a role model. I see braindead celebrities who are not famous for doing anything, they’re just famous for being famous. I see politicians who, instead of standing up for something and inspiring us, are in it for the quick buck, the media appearance, personal power. Our supposed leaders might as well borrow a page from the Formula 1 racecar drivers and wear stickers of their sponsors on their suits. They no longer care about issues, all they care about is feeding their power base what that power base wants to hear, so that the power base will keep them in power. It doesn’t matter to them that their frequently hateful rhetoric (some of them sound like the reincarnation of Joseph Goebbels, and they aren’t even Nazis, they are just feeding the same base emotions) can incite murder and destruction. All they care about is the spotlight.

I’d say that it’s a shame that we want leaders whose only qualification is that they are hateful and even more stupid than we are. But then I remember that we keep those people in charge, which does lead to the implication that no, we are still stupider than they. If we weren’t, we’d get rid of them, put them back into the backwater obscurity where they belong.

It is, however, something of a trend. It seems that we can no longer tolerate heroes who act brave, heroic, considerate. Heroes who have values and principles. Heroes who, in other words, are better than we. Instead, what we look to as heroes are farces, caricatures. We don’t look to them for inspiration, we look down on them, we despise them, we feel not admiration but contempt.


Is it because it makes us feel bad to see that there are those who are better than we? There used to be a time when heroes served, as I said, as role models. As inspirations. We looked up at them and resolved to be better than we are, to become like them.

Now we tear them down to our level, or even lower. Is that because it requires an effort to aspire to something, an effort to be better than we are? And we can’t make that effort, because Jersey Shore is on, and it’s far better to mock those idiots on the screen rather than put in an effort to make the world a better place. It’s far better to choose as our leaders people who are even more stupid than we are (or so we think), because those leaders are folksy and might have a beer with us because deep down they’re no better than we are. (If you really think that, dream on. Those folksy folks will never dirty themselves by consorting with the proverbial unwashed masses. That folksy act is just an act, to make you vote for them.)

Or do you choose morons for leaders because they make you think that, since they are no better than you are, it might just as easily be you in charge? Dream on. The simple fact that you choose an unqualified moron as your leader proves that you’re at least as unfit to lead as they are.

The deeper problem with this, however, is that we are on a downward spiral. Instead of looking up, striving to be better, we tear everything down so far that we can look down on it. We ignore the fact that by doing so, we reduce ourselves, so the next time something tries to raise us up from the muck into which we voluntarily jumped, we tear that down too, and trample it down even farther, sinking even deeper ourselves. It’s a downward spiral in which we’re trapped. We can still get out, but we’d need to make an effort.

We don’t want to make that effort. And that, precisely, is why “wise human” doesn’t apply to us, never mind how often we repeat that phrase. We’re not wise. We’re exactly the opposite. We could be wise, though. We could change, we could improve ourselves. All it requires is the will to do so, the will to make that effort.

However, I’m a Star, Get Me Out of Here is on now, right?

18. January 2011

Legally Entitled

Filed under: Commentary,general,politics,review,Uncategorized — jensaltmann @ 10:31
Tags: , , , ,

Misanthropy week continues. I mentioned yesterday that the fact that we need laws is testament to our failure as a species.

You probably at least know of the seven Cardinal Sins: pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed and sloth.

I’d call those the baseline attributes of humanity.

So, of course there is some regulation required for human behavior. We can’t manage it by ourselves. And I admit (knowing from personal experience) that sometimes, laws are the only thing that stand between us and being screwed over by the rich and powerful. Not always: it’s exactly the rich and powerful who make those laws, so they are naturally skewed in their favor; nobody does anything that goes against their personal interests.

Still, once a certain baseline is established, laws become redundant and oppressive. Do we really need (as we have in the EU) laws that regulate just how much a cucumber may be curved? I don’t think so, Tim. If you don’t like the curve of a cucumber or banana, just don’t buy the damn thing. There’s no law needed for that.

So, what about laws that interfere with our personal lives in ways that don’t affect anyone but ourselves? You can’t pretend there aren’t any such. There are plenty, initiated and powered through by people and groups who believe that their values, morals, prejudices and phobias are so utterly Right that they need to be imposed on everybody.

I’ll use marriage as an example, because that is screwed up on so many levels. For one thing, marriage is absolutely unnecessary. You love someone, you move in together, you live together, you fall out of love and split up. If you feel the need to, you can have your relationship blessed by a priest. Other than that? It affects only you two and your eventual offspring. Of course, since those separations usually end in both sides trying to destroy one another, it makes sense to set up regulations for how to do such a separation; it might even save lives. In that regard, it makes sense to treat marriage like a business contract.

But beyond that? Your marriage is none of my business, so it requires no further regulation. And yet, there are interest groups who believe that they not only need to but have the right to codify their morals, ideas, prejudices and phobias to make your and my life more difficult. By insisting on laws, rules regulations for something that does not affect their lives in the slightest.

Take this guy, for example: Lee Jin-gyu, a man in Korea who married his pillow. Or the Japanese man who married a video game character. I’ll leave your value judgment to you and withhold my own. Because at the end of the day, there is only one factor:

Is it any of our business?

Does it affect your life or mine (beyond the two minutes required to read each of the articles I just linked to)? No. It absolutely doesn’t. The fact is, it only affects the lives of those two men. (And perhaps their parents, if they hadn’t already abandoned all hope of ever being grandparents.) It makes them happy, and it doesn’t cause anyone any harm. So should there be laws against it?

“Above all, do no harm.”

I say thee nay.

The same thing, to pick a more hot-button example, goes for gay marriage. While I did say above that the very idea of codifying marriage is mostly superfluous, that codification is fact, so… In the case of gay marriage, we have exactly the scenario that I describe above: interest groups (be they politically conservative, religious or simply arrogant busybodies) that try to impose their values and phobias on others, by way of creating laws that are not required to oppress people who just want to live like everyone else: legally with the person they love. Now, if a gay couple gets married, that doesn’t affect your life or my life in the slightest. It has no influence on my life, it has no influence on my marriage, it has no influence on my sexual identity. Or yours.

In summary, it’s none of my business. Like those two otaku who marry pillows or video game characters, if it makes them happy, why shouldn’t they do it? Now, I’m half of a biracial couple. There were times when that was illegal. I’ve read (but didn’t bother to confirm) that there are places where it still is. It shouldn’t be, though, because so long as my wife and I entered the marriage of our own free wills, it’s nobody’s business who we married.

17. January 2011

What We Leave Behind

Filed under: Commentary,general,Uncategorized — jensaltmann @ 10:27
Tags: ,

When people talk about the human race (from now on referred to as “we” or “us”), they justify everything we did and do with, “Look at all the things of lasting value that we have achieved.”

Have we? Have we really? Our artificial caves (that which we call “houses”) are things of lasting value? Okay, some of them (those not built of shoddy materials) will likely outlast us. Although I’ve read that the expiration date of the average modern house ranges between 100 – 200 years, before it has fallen apart to the point of being unsalvageable. Looking at some other architectural marvels, is building a skyscraper of a certain height really an achievement? How long until the world’s highest building becomes the world’s tallest pile of rubble? I’m not even talking human action, but one tsunami or earthquake will probably do the trick. Is building a higher house, or a more artful facade, really that much of an accomplishment? It will outlast those who built it, and will be remembered long after those who built it will be forgotten (quick: who designed the Sears Tower? Or the Cologne Cathedral? No Googling!). But even those will eventually fall apart without maintenance.

Looking at sports, there is no such thing as an achievement. Every time someone runs 1/100th of a second faster than someone else did (which boggles the mind, if you think about it: does that really matter to anyone besides statisticians and sports nerds?), it only spurs on those who feel the need to run 1/100th of a second faster than that. You also need to take into account that there are many sports where what the human body can accomplish has been surpassed already. That means any record that follows has probably been accomplished with the help of doping. Under those circumstances, should we really ban doping and reduce those competitions to what is actually humanly possible (probably not — where’s the excitement in that, right?), or should we man up, admit it, and allow the advances of doping technology to enter into sports? The latter would also have the advantage that it would reduce athletes to something the average armchair-bound sports fan can look down to: “If I took dope, I could do that too.”

After all, as we see everywhere now, modern man doesn’t want to be inspired. They don’t want to be confronted with role models and ideals to aspire to. That makes them feel bad because they can’t measure up, not without making an effort, and who wants that? Make an effort? That’s for chumps. No, better to bring down anyone who might be a role model to the lowest level, so we can feel better about ourselves for not measuring up.

Some people consider art things of lasting value. I’ll see that and raise you Mark Twain. If his work had any value, he wouldn’t have been censored, just because his 19th century writing offends 21st century sensibilities. I’ll see your William Shakespeare and raise you Kit Marlowe, who was supposedly even better but whose work is remembered mostly by scholars. I’ll see your distribution of literature and rase you multiples: first the everyday censorship of interest groups who claim that because they find something offensive, nobody should be allowed to read it. Second, the declining interest in actually reading, because, you know, that’s too much of an effort, man, let’s see the new Adam Sandler fart comedy instead. Third…

Well, actually, the third point takes a bit longer. You know all those postapocalyptic movies where the last remnants of humanity hang out in the ruins of libraries and use the books stored there as fuel for a fire. Let’s face it, under such circumstances, keeping warm through one winter trumps preserving art, so the value of literature is reduced to how long a book will burn. A nightmare vision? Actually, considering that even movies were written (well, most of them) by writers, it’s nightmare fuel for them. The average person, probably not so much, because people don’t really read anymore anyway, and who needs books when we have e-readers (which will also not survive in a postapocalyptic world, but that’s a different bullet point). In a postapocalyptic world, the entirety of human literature will probably be gone after one single winter.

But, you cry, what about digital? Okay, I’ll see that and raise you a complete technological breakdown. Without working computers, or even electricity, everything digital will be irretrievably lost. Wait, irretrievably? Won’t it be back once you turn the power back on? Well, we once again go with art vs. survival. In a postapocalyptic world, if you got power back, what would you switch on first: your Kindle, or the lights? Plus, you need to remember that the computers themselves will eventually break down. Those things are pretty damn sensitive, it won’t be too difficult.

Paintings have a similar lasting power to literature, but what about sculpture? Usually made of stone, won’t that outlast pretty much anything? Possibly, unless some interest group takes offense at some sculpture and smashes it. Besides, one man’s art is another man’s junk.

Let’s face it, the things that we say validate our civilization only validate it because we say so. The moment we say otherwise, those values are gone.

Do I hear you cry, “Laws! Our civilization is also defined by laws! They make us civilized!” To which I say, the fact that we need to codify how we treat one another is a point against us. The fact that even though we codify how we treat one another, we need groups to enforce those laws because we won’t do it unless we’re forced to is another point against us. If we were as civilized as we claim, if we were as terrific as we think, we would need only one single rule: “Above all, do no harm.” Actually, we wouldn’t need even that one rule, because we would know to behave in that way without having to be told.

If mankind were to vanish overnight, there is only one legacy we leave behind. Only one thing that, even in a few thousand years, would show that we ever existed at all, are the damages we’re causing this world. Nuclear waste, oil spills, toxic waste dumping. That is all we will leave behind that will not be gone within a few hundred years.

16. January 2011

RIP Susannah York

Born Susannah Yolande Fletcher, January 9, 1939, died January 15, 2011, of cancer.

Nerd alert: if I think Susannah York, I think of Superman’s mom, Lara, in Superman 1, 2 and 4.  She was, of course, much more than that.

Susannah York’s movie debut was 1960, in the movie Tunes of Glory, where she played alongside Sir Alec Guiness. She also performed in the award winning movies Tom Jones (1963), A Man for All Seasons (1966), The Killing of Sister George (1968) and Battle of Britain (1969).

While the Superman series might have been what imprinted her on a whole generation of nerds, her crowing moment in movies was probably the 1970 film They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, a movie about couples who try to win a dance marathon in the depression era. Susannah York was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role of Alice in this one, but stepped on the Academy’s toes when she declared that she felt offended that she was nominated without being asked first. The Oscar subsequently went to Goldie Hawn. One wonders… She did get the BAFTA for the same role, though.

Although she did a lot of work for movies and TV, York claimed she was happiest on a theater stage, where she felt she truly belonged.

She also wrote two children’s books, In Search of Unicorns and Lark’s Castle, and was politically active.

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