Thursday, June 21, 2007

Great minds

John August is a great man. He's a working screenwriter of some pretty big movies (Big Fish, Go, The Nines, Charlie's Angels), and he started up a blog to give back to the community. Being a writer, not only is his site well written, but it's chock full o' wisdom for all aspiring screenwriters. I read his blog every day over grape nuts, fat free milk, and a packet of Equal.

Occasionally, John answers mail, and today's question was about plagiarism, a cause of common concern among writers. In particular, this paragraph caught my eye:

In my early days, I outlined a series that would chart the last years of Earth — a meteor was coming, and everyone knew it. So I was understandably disappointed when not one, but two movies with essentially the same plot hit theaters. It forced me to look back and remember where the idea really came from: a bunch of popular-science articles at the time which mapped out what had likely killed off the dinosaurs, and what would happen if another such asteroid hit Earth.

Ha ha. No way. I thought. So I posted my own reply:
Wow, here's the irony of all ironies: I also had an idea for a TV series about a meteor coming to hit earth and everyone knew it! The only difference with my series was that nobody could do anything about the meteor and the show was more of a exploration on how people dealt with the inevitable destruction of everything and everyone they had ever known... It sometimes blows having a commercial taste—damn you, John August! :)

I often wonder how Hollywood releases two films of strikingly similar subject matter within months of each other (Robin Hood and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Deep Impact and Armageddon, Antz and A Bug's Life). Rather than paint Hollywood as a dishonest pride of Johnny Come Lately's, I'd like to think that two equally influential development execs just happen to be watching the same late night documentary on the History Channel about Robin Hood, or see the Discovery Channel's documentary on how to stop an meteor impact, etc. Then, because the studios might have already spent many months in production before becoming aware of a competing studio's project, they decide not to jettison their project onto a backburner for a few years, but instead to race to the finish line to recoup any monies already spent. And in any event, Burger Kings sell more burgers when they're planted directly opposite a McDonald's.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

When hot babes go bad.

Britney Spears is bald...

Lindsay Lohan is in rehab...

Paris Hilton is in jail...

and the über-hot Christina Aguilera is pregnant.

What happened? Did somebody change the channel???

Friday, June 15, 2007

Detective Warren has a few questions

Below is a short clip from Sweet Embry's short noir film In Double Dutch, which is currently being edited now. Don't you just love black & white? (If you listen, you can hear me calling cut at the end.)

And here is In Double Dutch's Myspace profile where we've posted a few screenshots...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

West Bank Defenestration

This news article passed my desk today:

Palestinian forces clashed in Gaza on Sunday, killing two militants by throwing them out of high-rise buildings.

Hamas militants kidnapped an officer in a Fatah-linked security force, took him to the roof of a 15-story apartment building and threw him off. Mohammed Sweirki, 25, from the Presidential Guard of President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, was killed in the plunge.

This news piece struck me because this poor man's death is the latest usage of an age-old method of summary execution. In fact, it is so common that it even has a name: defenestration.

I love this word. It derives from the Latin de, meaning "out of", and fenestra, meaning "window"—thus, to defenestrate means to literally expel something or someone out of a window. How can anyone not love such fitting etymology?

My fascination with this particular word began when I learned the French word for "window" was fenêtre. The circumflex accent above the e represents the former use of an s. Ironically, some English words, like hotel, are actually derivatives of French words with their circumflexes removed: hostel —> hôtel —> hotel.

[My wife tells me that, in med-speak, fenestrated is a medical term, too. Merriam-Webster lists its definition as "having one or more openings or pores" as in "fenestrated blood capillaries".]

Defenestration dates back at least as far as the Italian Renaissance, and probably even as far as Ancient Greece and before. Wherever a higher place existed far enough off the ground, be it a cliff, a man-made structure, or even a plane, it is certainly the most bloodless method to end a person's life. There are no sharp knifes, no loud guns, no hot pokers, and no unwieldy billy jacks. You just push somebody out a window. Anyone can do it.

Historically, defenestration has been most used as a tool of political dissent. From the defenestration wiki:
  • It has been suggested... that King John killed his nephew, Arthur of Brittany, by throwing him from a window in the castle at Rouen, France, in 1203.

  • In 1383, Bishop Dom Martinho was defenestrated by the citizens of Lisbon, having been suspected of conspiring with the enemy when Lisbon was besieged by the Castilians.

  • On April 26, 1478, after the failure of the "Pazzi conspiracy" to murder the ruler of Florence, Lorenzo de' Medici, Jacopo de' Pazzi was defenestrated.

  • In 1572, French King Charles IX's friend, the Huguenot leader Gaspard de Coligny was killed in accordance with the wishes of Charles' mother, Catherine de Medici. Charles had allegedly said "then kill them all that no man be left to reproach me." Thousands of Protestants were killed in the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre after soldiers attacked Coligny in his house, stabbed him, and threw him out the window.

  • On the morning of December 1, 1640, a group of noblemen who wanted to restore full independence to Portugal started a revolution, immediately supported by the people. They found Miguel de Vasconcelos, the hated Secretary of State, hidden in a closet, killed him and defenestrated him. His corpse was left to the public outrage.

  • The Revolutions of 1848 in France led to a period of unrest in Germany. When an agitated crowd forced their way into the town hall in Cologne on March 3, two city councillors panicked and jumped out of the window; one of them broke both his legs. The event went down in the city’s history as the "Cologne Defenestration".

  • In 1941, Mafia informant Abe "Kid Twist" Reles fell to his death from a window on the sixth floor of the Half Moon Hotel on Coney Island, on the eve of his scheduled testimony. The angle of trajectory suggests that he was defenestrated rather than trying to flee.

  • On March 2, 2007 Russian investigative journalist Ivan Safronov, who was researching the Kremlin's covert arms deals, fell to his death from a fifth floor window. Friends and colleagues discount suicide as a reason and an investigation was opened looking into possible "incitement to suicide".

I always thought it would be cool to have a movie villain with a defining characteristic of only killing his victims by dragging them up skyscrapers to hurl them off. His nickname? The Defenestrator.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Approval Ratings

Saw an interesting chart* today listing approval ratings for presidents since Harry S. Truman. Here it is:

Some things I noted, with no particular partisan angle:

  • Truman had the largest point drop (65 points)—highest high & lowest low—87% in 1946 to 22% in 1952.

  • Only three presidents have ever had over 80% approval ratings: Truman, Bush I & Bush II.

  • Truman had the lowest rating. Nixon was a point behind him.

  • Clinton was the only president to have a higher approval rating when he left office than when he became president.

In other news, Paris Hilton is going back to jail.

*Sources: Gallup, AP, research NOTES: Plotted points are the averages of all approval polls taken by Gallup in each three-month period of each presidency. The first two points for Johnson and Ford are for polls taken in their first two months. Key dates are marked next to the poll results for the three-month period in which they took place.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


Long time coming, but I finally re-designed my blogspot site. I added a bunch of goodies in the sidebar which some of you might enjoy perusing, including a perpetual photo slideshow updated at my whim, a "greatest hits" section of (what I feel are) the best posts on my blog, an interactive chronological index and total list of searchable tags, plus an exhaustive catalog of my credits to date and current projects I'm working on.

I've been wanted to do this makeover for about a year, but have had neither the guts nor the time to upgrade to Blogger's new layout system. Truth be told, I'm more of a Wordpress kind of guy and considered migrating to that platform given their CSS mastery with typesetting, but I feel that—in the long run—Google will eventually win the CSS battle, too.

Anyway, have a gander at my new blog and leave a comment if you like what you see. Or even if you don't. :)

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Can't Stop The Signal

What happens in the light, stays in the light. What happens in the dark is brought into the light.—Mark Overman

A private TV station in Venezuela fearlessly criticizes their bombastic leader, Hugo Chavez. In turn, Chavez yanks their broadcasting licence. So how does the station retaliate? They start broadcasting on YouTube.

There was a massive public outcry when the station went off the air (see picture at left), so the station's bold decision to use YouTube should be a reminder to all despotic leaders that, in the information age, it's impossible to completely control communication within a country's borders. Armchair historians might cite Voice of America as the precursor of non-native broadcasts to oppressed peoples, but this is a unique instance because a private broadcaster is using a public service to reach its viewership. It's only a matter of time before China's government is either usurped by its virtually vocal resistance or it's forced to watch its country get left behind in the internet revolution.

Of course, YouTube is just a tool, and all tools can be abused. Consider the 27 year old spammer recently arrested by federal authorities. This one guy sent millions of spam emails... catching him has been so significant that "authorities said computer users across the Web could notice a decrease in the amount of junk e-mail." One guy? Really? Jeez, talk about market penetration.

Here's the full article about the TV station:

Silenced Venezuelan TV station moves to YouTube
POSTED: 10:41 p.m. EDT, May 31, 2007

CARACAS, Venezuela (CNN) -- Radio Caracas Television, the station silenced by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, has found a way to continue its daily broadcasts -- on YouTube, the popular video Web site.

Although the station is officially off the air, CNN's Harris Whitbeck said its news department continues to operate on reduced staffing, and the three daily hour-long installments of the newscast "El Observador" are uploaded onto YouTube by RCTV's Web department.

In addition, RCTV's Colombia-based affiliate, Caracol, has agreed to transmit the evening installment of "El Observador" over its international signal. The program, which will run at midnight, could reach about 800,000 people in Venezuela.

Although this is drastically reduced from RCTV's previous audience, its continued presence is a sign of hope for the staff.

"We're just doing our job as journalists," said an employee of RCTV. "As long as somebody is seeing us, we consider what we are doing to be valid."

Thousands of people, most of them from area universities, took to the streets of Caracas in protest this week after Chavez refused to renew RCTV's broadcasting license, which expired last Sunday. (I-Report: Watch marchers fill street to protest station's closing )

Chavez accused RCTV of violating broadcast laws and supporting a botched coup against him in 2002. He replaced RCTV on Monday with a state-run broadcast station .

RCTV, which had been on air for 53 years, aired soap operas, programs and news broadcasts with a decidedly anti-governmental perspective. It was one of only a handful of private broadcast stations in Venezuela that openly criticized the government. Another, Globovision, has received similar threats from Chavez regarding its right to broadcast.

One of YouTube's many features is the option for viewers to comment on the posted videos, and recently old and new segments of RCTV programming on the site have been accompanied by fiery debate about the limits of free expression.

"Cerrar un medio de comunicacion es una monstruosidad sin excusa alguna," stated one commenter: "To close a means of communication is an inexcusable monstrosity."