Friday, April 07, 2017

The Month That Was - March 2017

It was the best of months, it was the worst of months. It was actually a month like most others. I managed to duck off to Key West for a few days in search of some head clearing and skull scrubbing. Don't think I was successful at that but I did enjoy the sunshine.

We've had a fairly mild winter but this month brought a savage windstorm that had some folks without power for days. I only lost power briefly, but the wind managed to pull down three 20+ foot spruce trees in my yard. All said and done it's going to be about $1200 to remove them and grind the stumps. Insurance will cover precisely $500. And that doesn't include the cost of replanting trees there, which I know from past experience to be very expensive. Compound that with the fact that I am getting the exterior painted along with some four digit window repair and....ugh. I should just sell the damn house.

I did make some writing progress. I would say I am about 41.67% done with the first draft (all numbers approximate). More importantly I've got a decent handle on where to go next -- as you recall, plotting is the most difficult part of writing for me. I have to keep reminding myself that once the first draft is done, however lousy it is, all that's left is re-writing an edit, which are orders of magnitude easier than writing.

[Books] Book Look: Man on the Run, Paul McCartney in the 1970s
[TV] Toob Notes
[Rant] A Vanishing

[Books] Book Look: Man on the Run, Paul McCartney in the 1970s, by Tom Doyle

It was an odd set of circumstances that led me to this book, starting with a post I made on this site that referred to the first album I ever purchased with my own money, "Band on the Run", by Paul McCartney. I don't remember the exact path I followed but it ended up with me reading this biography of McCartney in the 70s. Much interesting info to be had here. I'll just highlight some random observations.
  • McCartney seems to be a true eccentric
  • He really, really likes (liked?) his weed.
  • Overall he is filled with contradictions
    • An inveterate pot snarfing hippie who is also a solid family man
    • An impossible wealthy dude who likes a pauper's home life
    • A shrewd and frugal business man who can be a babe in the woods in the real world
    • A man who can (and often does) write, sing, and play all the instruments on his songs but desperate wants a collaborator
    • He is known for silly love songs but is actually responsible for the bulk of the sort of amiable avant garde of the late Beatles albums
  • Allen Klein was thoroughly despicable and was the most responsible for the breakup of the Beatles
  • After the break, they all said and did fairly mean things to each other yet always seemed to maintain almost familial connections
  • Linda thought a pack of Nigerian muggers would leave them alone if they knew they were musicians (Shades of the Blues Brothers?)
  • The various incarnations of Wings were populated with some volatile characters.
  • His emotions are always close to the surface and he has a temper, but he seems like a very decent fellow overall
  • There's not a theme here or much of an arc -- 1970 McCartney doesn't seem that different than 1979 McCartney
McCartney's true legacy is of course his marvelous songwriting and his virtuoso musicianship, especially as it pertains to bass guitar. The events of his life are really just mildly interesting curiosities. Should you read Man on the Run? Sure. It's clearly written, lively, and nicely taut. You will likely find no great insights, but if you have an interest in the music and personalities of the times it's a fun read, and if you are of a certain age, there is a nice sense of nostalgia to it.

The end of this book roughly corresponds with the end of McCartney's music as something of cultural significance. He was still fairly prolific in the late 20th century but was no longer a force in popular culture in any way. To this day he remains productive and still moves in the circles of high popular music; he has recently announced a new album is coming and his concerts sell out like crazy. He's really one of the most enduring and remarkable talents of my lifetime. Even with my first album purchase I had demonstrably good taste.

[TV] Toob Notes

Iron Fist Bleh. Every flaw of the Marvel TV shows is on display. Endless exposition. Meandering plots. Superfluous characters and scenes. A pointless villain shift halfway through. Poorly executed attempts at humor was delivered in such a sorry way that I could not tell if it was intended as humor or just bad writing. In this case we have to pile on an annoyingly overwrought lead actor, a bland supporting actress, and disappointing action. Yikes. The previous installments (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage) all felt like 8 episodes stretched to 13. Iron Fist feels like 5 stretched to 13.

Was there anything good? Of course. The Meachum family and the portrayal of them were very entertaining (Tom Pelphrey's Ward is mesmerizing) although as villains they weren't really memorable. Rosario Dawson reprised her supporting role as Claire and totally dominated the two leads in the charisma department. There was a fun "drunken master" fight scene. That's about it. Apart from that it was the rough equivalent of a third rate network TV drama -- NCIS: Kun-Lun.

You know, all these series are ripe for one of those mad genius types who take indulgent films and re-edit them into something tight and entertaining, like so? You could cut/combine all four of the Marvel TV universe shows into say, 24 episodes -- one full old school season -- and it would be Yuge. It could be they've gotten the message on this because the upcoming combo series, The Defenders, is only going to be 6 episodes.

Legion And yet I may have spoken to soon. Legion is a Marvel property of X-men orientation that goes for full on creative madness and actually achieves it. It's the brainchild of Noah Hawley of Fargo (TV series) fame and it's a visual treat. Beneath the surface it is a bit derivative in concept, but cleverly so. Sourced from the X-Men mythos, it's the standard "fear of mutants leads to their oppression" theme, although this time it's not so banally parroting a dull normal social justice narrative. It also weaves in what is essentially a demonic possession plotline reworked such that the demon is actually a bizarre form of mutant.

Mad, hallucinogenic visuals can only go so far, though. Luckily Legion doesn't depend on them. Quirky, surreal, well-portrayed characters help, but the is a key indicator of a quality TV show is the amount of exposition in the dialog. There is little here. Hawley is obviously a big "don't tell, show" guy. Lots of good writing flows from simply following this principle, including pacing and character development. And the good writing here is evident, especially in contrast to, say, Iron Fist. The final scene and post credit tag was a clear set up for next season, which in this case is unquestionably a good thing.

Aside It's interesting to see how the other Marvel streams have reacted to the astoundingly consistent high quality of the Avengers stream. X-men, through Legion and Deadpool and (I hear) Logan, have chosen to push the envelope in various ways and have generally succeeded. Spiderman, on the other hand, appears to have said "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." Fantastic Four, well, maybe they've just given up -- that's probably for the best.

Coming Attractions While these Marvel shows are nice distractions, the good news is that some real quality drama is coming back soon. Both Better Call Saul and Fargo are imminent. Also encouraging, the stylish but ultimately disapppointing True Detective looks to be getting a dose of David Milch. No word yet on the only quality drama on TV that is not centered on crime, Halt and Catch Fire.

Comedy, too, is looking up with the return of the funniest show on TV, Archer, and Silicon Valley promos starting to appear. Plus, I will be giving side-eye to the new version of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 to see if it's a worthy of its comeback. Don't know how I'm supposed to get things done with all this on the horizon.

[Rant] A Vanishing

This article/expose in Outside about missing persons on public lands was interesting on two levels. I have spent a fair amount of vacation time hiking, trail running, and mountain biking on public lands (National parks, and so forth), almost always solo. Evidently, folks go missing in those circumstances more commonly than I would have thought. This article tells one particular story, highlighting how utterly baffling these disappearances can be. Vanishings might be a better word. It also indicates how much luck is involved in actually resolving them. In this case folks searched for nearly a year only to find the body less than 2 miles from home in a spot that they had been within spitting distance of. I occasionally joke about my ability to get lost on the simplest of trails, but maybe I shouldn't. Considering my solitary life, if I was lying dead in some unvisited ravine it could be weeks before anyone realized I was missing.

The other aspect of interest is the reaction of people to these situations. The writer makes a dramatic point that no one really knows how many people have vanished on public lands. Considered estimates run around the 1600 mark. That's 1600 people who have gone missing on public lands over the years who remain unaccounted for, but that's just an estimate because there is no agency the tracks this. Furthermore, if someone goes missing somewhere other than a major National Park like Yosemite, Grand Canyon, etc., the task of searching more often than not falls on small local sheriff departments who have to recruit volunteers for the search efforts. They do get volunteers although they are often not professionals, just folks willing to go searching for a day or so to do their part. Some individuals give even more effort and end up building non-profit organizations to assist in dealing with vanishings, often because a they have suffered a loss in similar situations.

But never underestimate the human propensity for righteous indignation. In this case, the missing fellow's father appears to have taken the opportunity to use the sympathy of others as an occasion for consequence-free impudent incivility. And why not? Who's gonna call a guy with a missing kid an asshole, even if he is? Evidently it got so bad the the local sheriff in charge of the search simply stopped speaking to him. More broadly, numerous sources and the overall tone of the article seem to imply it's an act of shameful neglect that there aren't well-funded government agencies brought to bear on this scourge. Why is no agency keeping statistics? Why isn't there an professional response team? What about the children?

To be clear, this is a good story and a well written article. You learn how easy it is to disappear even when you are capable and knowledgeable and not really in any sort of dangerous position. You see how people respond in this situation: mostly well -- volunteers participating as much as they can to help out, overworked authorities doing their damndest, etc. You sense the effect on friends and family. It's all good, personal, human, dramatic stuff. But that's not enough in our world. No, we have to have an outrage angle; everything has to take on the air of correcting some perceived grievance or injustice, because God forbid we do anything in life that is simply human and isn't sourced from a desire to correct a moral shortcoming of society.

Sorry to get cranky but there are times I am wearied by how deep this impetus is embedded into our lives now. It is the default vocabulary we use to communicate any complex message. The culture of indignation permeates everything we do and say. From a tweet to a facebook post to a press release to a corporate mission statement to the story of a missing person, it's become a thoughtlessly natural to refer to some greater societal moral failing as a cause. If there isn't one readily obvious, we snark up a comment about the current outgroup political enemy for cred. The socio-political has completely marginalized the human and the personal, and the way the socio-political connects with people emotionally is through sympathetic affront.

The cold truth is that 1600 missing people, some unknown percentage of whom are "missing" on purpose, don't amount to a hill of beans, especially in light of the millions and millions who tread upon public lands each year. The idea that this is indicative of negligence on anyone's part is way outright silly and, I suspect, often self-serving if for no other reason that the tone of indignation seems to be expected of any journalism for it to be published.

(Deep breath) Anyway. Like I said, good article and relevant to me. I think I will post on facebook anytime I'm about to go off into the wilderness alone. At least that way when someone gets around to wondering where I am, they'll have a lead. But once you find my rotted carcass please don't use me as a poster-boy for some noble cause or the source for some polemic. Just call me a dumbass and move on.

Addenda: A couple of tangentially related articles. 1. Age of Offence explores the effects of the desire for moral outrage on intellectual life. 2. The Strange Persistence of Guilt posits that the evelation of prestige via victimhood is sourced from a secular version of original sin (or somehting like that), although the author might put it differently. Both of these articles are a bit highbrow but not unclear. I continue to be troubled by the sweeping human desire for status through sanctimony.