Archive for November, 2003

Finish Him!

NaNoWriMo 2003 Winner

Sunday, November 30th, 2003

Designing… Something, I guess.

Yes, I’m still playing with tools. This time around, I’m trying to learn how to use Poser. And the learning curve is steep. So far, the best I’ve been able to do is put a bald woman in a jumpsuit.

That’s the first actual render that I’ve done. The character is a prototype of one I’ve been working on named “Red.” What do I know – that might be the only picture ever made of her. Or it might just be the best. I might never be able to make another render that looks that… normal.

The model is a Beta release from Dark Whisper distributed through Daz3D, called “Sara.” Background is a one-click dealie from Photoshop. She’s bald solely because I’m still learning how to work with hair in Poser.

In other news – I’m much more confident in my graphic design using Adobe Photoshop. I’ve put up 3 new books in Kallixti Publications (3 Shots Fired Point Blank has been there for a while now). The anthologized edition is exclusive to the Dry Goods Floor, but the etexts of the individual plays are available in the Digital Goods Store.

Aaaaand NaNoWriMo is now vastly behind schedule – but I’m working like a fiend to catch up. I will complete the manuscript this year.

Friday, November 28th, 2003

Choose Your Meaning Carefully.

In the middle the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade – right after the USO’s tribute to Bob Hope – there’s a massive flag-waving celebration of American pride with a lot of cheerleaders dancing to patriotic music. And in the middle of the medley is a familiar Springsteen guitar riff.

I’m amazed that people use this song over and over and hardly ever realize what the lyrics have to say.

Born down in a dead man’s town
The first kick I took was when I hit the ground
You end up like a dog that’s been beat too much
‘Til you spend half your life just covering up

I got in a little hometown jam
And so they put a rifle in my hands
Sent me off to Vietnam
To go and kill the yellow man

Come back home to the refinery
Hiring man says “Son if it was up to me”
I go down to see the V.A. man
He said “Son don’t you understand”

I had a buddy at Khe Sahn
Fighting off the Viet Cong
They’re still there, he’s all gone
He had a little girl in Saigon
I got a picture of him in her arms

Down in the shadow of the penitentiary
Out by the gas fires of the refinery
I’m ten years down the road
Nowhere to run, ain’t got nowhere to go

I’m a long gone Daddy in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A.
I’m a cool rocking Daddy in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A.

Thursday, November 27th, 2003

Virtual Life

A lot was made of Square Pictures’ Aki Ross. Well, as much as could be made before the movie sank out of the theatres – in my opinion, much more quickly than it deserved. In the pre-release hype, however, people couldn’t stop talking about Aki – about her finely-rendered hair, the beauty marks on her face, and the fact that she had pores. Lots of pores.

And – as Maxim and serveral other magazines were ready to prove, she was smokin’ in a bikini. If I remember correctly, there were a couple of magazines that voted her the “Hottest Woman of the Year” – not bad for somebody who was created entirely in a computer to star in a movie based on a console video game.

And now, Alceu Baptistão continues the defunct Square Pictures’ quest1 to make actors obsolete with a project called “Kaya.”

Kaya (provisory name) is a work in progress. I am trying (as everyone else) to make a believable digital girl, to act as a future singer/performer/whatever. The idea is to get a pleasant face out of common features, such as a big mouth, big teeth, round nose, dense eyebrows, oily skin, etc.

Kaya’s not likely to have a bikini shoot any time soon. Not because she’s “common,” but because she doesn’t have a body yet. Or even hair (she wears a beret to avoid questions). But the “screen test” is interesting to watch, and it looks very smooth. At least, to my untrained eyes, it looks very smooth.

I’ll talk in a while about my feelings on “virtual actors” versus the real thing, but for now I’m curious – for the more experienced 3D modelers and graphic designers out there, what are your thoughts on this? The beginning of something interesting, or just a retread of work that’s been done before?


1 Yes, I know that Square – the software company – just joined with Enix to form “Square Enix” (creative name, that). But Square Pictures sold off its state-of-the-art complex and folded itself into Square after losing money on Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. They’re credited on The Animatrix for one short, but officially they are no longer their own entity. So get off my back – I’m mourning.

Wednesday, November 26th, 2003

McMedicine

The big buzz of the last few days has been around the Republican-endorsed Medicare “overhaul” and how even AARP has gotten behind it. And, frankly, a lot of the talk about the Medicare bill and what it does is starting to sound like the stuff McDonalds is being smacked for in London.

The ASA said McDonald’s argued the advert was “not intended to be a literal and comprehensive statement of all the processes involved”.

It accepted the burger giant’s case that it had not used beef tallow in Britain since 1993 and that there was no gluten contamination.

However, the ASA concluded the claim “we peel them, slice them, fry them and that’s it” was misleading and told McDonalds to stop the adverts.

See, we’ve been told again and again that this bill is an “overhaul.” And overhauls are supposed to be good, right? I mean, an “overhaul” is what you do when something doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to. It’s supposed to make things work again. The Merriam Webster definition of “to overhaul” includes “to renovate, revise, or renew thoroughly.” And we all know that renewal is a good thing.

But along with the “overhaul” hype, we’re told that the good thing about this new bill is the way it makes Medicare “competitive” with the private sector. In other words Private organizations like AARP can now afford to “compete” with Medicare. And as we all know, competition is the healthiest thing in the world. It makes our skies cleaner, our women prettier, and our teeth whiter.

So why is it, then, that people are leaving AARP in protest over their support of the bill? Why are seniors having big meetings to discuss how they’ve been sold out?

Perhaps because the sunshine, lollipops and rainbows promised by the Republicans mask a darker agenda?

Along with “competition,” the folks celebrating the Medicare bill like to push “privatization.” Life will be better when all of our goods and services come from private corporations and we don’t have any of these namby-pamby public services any more.

Services like the Postal Service. Because right now, it’s just too convenient to pay thirty-seven cents to mail a letter. I want to be able to pay six bucks and have to drive to an out-of-the-way location to mail a single sheet of paper to my mother.

Medicare is a public service – “competitive” is not a word that should be associated with it. It is a safety net – something that is always supposed to be there for anybody who needs it.

And even thinking on competitive terms, what the overhaul bill sees as “competitive,” others would see as destructive to the system itself. The recently-passed legislation makes Medicare “competitive” by crippling it and forcing it into situations where it won’t be able to provide the service it has in the past. As Trudy Lieberman points out, the meagre benefits promised by the Republicans behind the overhaul will not be worth the ultimate cost of privatization.

It’s simple french fries, really – McDonalds tells Londoners that in order to make their fries, “we peel them, slice them, fry them and that’s it.” But they neglect to mention that the fries are partially fried (usually right here in the U.S. of A.) – sometimes in beef tallow – then shipped overseas after being soaked in dextrose and frozen, then fried once again upon arrival and coated with a liberal dose of salt. And it’s that part of the story that’ll kill you – the bit they don’t tell you when they try to pretend they’ve told you everything.

Like barring Medicare from negotiating lower prices for medicine based on volume – a practice that none of the private companies will be forced to stop.

Or rigging the budget figures to make insolvency almost definite.

Or placing stricter eligibility limits on funds intended to help those who can’t afford premiums, co-payments, or deductibles.

Hey. It’s an overhaul, it’s competitive, and that’s it.

Wednesday, November 26th, 2003

75 and still mousey

The New York Times reports that the Disney corporation is not planningretirement for Mickey any time soon, as they celebrate the mouse turning the big 7-5 (at which point he should – by all rights – be partially available in the public domain, but more on that later). And at least part of that celebration is over the Mouse dodging a bullet and being kindly allowed to remain the property of Disney Co. and all of its investors.

But there also appear to be some dark times looming in the Magic KingdomTM

Despite the hoopla, which included a party at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., for the unveiling of 75 hand-decorated Mickey statues, the mouse’s popularity is waning.

Revenue of Mickey-related products sold by Disney’s consumer products division, for example, has shrunk to less than 40 percent of the division’s $2.3 billion annual total, down from 50 percent during the peak in 1997, according to Disney executives. Winnie the Pooh merchandise is now outselling Mickey items.

Even the company’s own research suggests that the 75-year-old mouse is becoming increasingly difficult for Americans of all ages to relate to – particularly children, whose entertainment world is filled with online computer games and other distractions.

Considering that Disney has actually considered Mr. Mouse to be in semi-retirement for many years – from 1953 to 1999 (with one starring role in 1983 and another in 1990, see Jan’s Mickey Mouse Page for a timeline) – it seems an odd concern now to go back and worry about whether or not he’s marketable.

He hasn’t been a marketable character for years. The only time Disney has pulled out the Mouse and let him squeak is whenever they needed to justify extending the copyright laws inappropriately. In the in-betweentimes, he’s been more of a company logo than anything else. A familiar sillhouette slapped on any and every project to come out of the company, a centerpiece to a stylin’ wristwatch, a silk screen design for T-shirts everywhere, a hat sold at an amusement park, and occasionally a pop art model appearing James Dean jackets with Harley Davidson motorcycles for jaded hipsters everywhere to hang on their wall and be keenly ironic.

But now Disney is very concerned about the Mouse’s marketability. So concerned, in fact, that they’re working on two whole new projects for the Mouse that Roared:

Disney is also planning new feature films, including next year’s “Three Musketeers,” the first full-length film starring Mickey Mouse and his friends, and for 2005 the first computer-animated Mickey movie, “Twice Upon a Christmas.” The movies will not be released in theaters, instead going straight to home video, under the theory that it can be difficult to muster cinema-size crowds for animated characters older than many of today’s children’s grandparents.

Wow. That’s amazing. I mean, that’s totally and completely… underwhelming.

There have been a lot of successful direct-to-video releases of late, and many of them have come from Disney. But let’s be honest. Direct-To-Video is still the dumping ground for many a half-hearted cash-in product – and most of those come from Disney, as well. Everything from poorly-conceived direct-to-video sequels for movies nobody wanted to see in the first place, to soulless sequels to movies everybody held near and dear to their hearts. When Disney has a prestige piece – a piece they really want to hang their ears on – they don’t care how old the characters are. They release it directly the theatres and spend a truckload of money to make it popular.

The fact is that Disney has become a heartless copyright hog. In fact, it goes farther than just fighting to extend the copyright law so they can hold onto Mickey Mouse (more like “Steamboat Willie,” but more on that in a moment). They’ve even started co-opting other people’s copyrights, as well. First, they announced their intentions to sue the people behind the popular Denmark children’s character Gummi-Tarzan, claiming that they owned the copyright to the character of Tarzan.

Even setting aside for the moment that Gummi-Tarzan’s only sin is having a similar name to the Edgar Rice Burroughs character, the truth of the matter is that Disney doesn’t own the copyright on Tarzan, the Burroughs Estate owns it. And even then, it’s a copyright on the character – the original novel’s copyright has expired and it is now in the public domain. But even in defending the character, the Burroughs Estate is supposed to take up that cause (and has – aggresively – over many years), and not Disney, who paid a licensing fee to make their movie (and the direct-to-video sequel).

And now there’s the more recent story in which Disney has pulled out of the new live-action Peter Pan movie just weeks before it was to be released because the Great Ormond Street Hospital – legal owners of the original play – decided that they wanted a share of the merchandising. Disney feels that having paid a yearly fee for the right to create their animated character (and – note – none of the profits from merchandising for those films), they shouldn’t have to pay anything else in order to use the character in a completely new production with a completely new and potentially very profitable line of marketing.

But that’s not really Disney trying to flex their stolen copyright muscle – even if it does suggest that Barrie’s work and the subsequent protection of the play by Great Ormond Street was nothing more than “work for hire” that was completed in 1953 when Disney made their first version of Pan.

Look down toward the end of the article, and you’ll find this neat little tidbit:

Last year Disney wrote to a Scottish retailer demanding she change the name of her Peter Pan clothes shop because it infringed the company’s copyright.

The retailer was, however, able to keep the name after Great Ormond Street issued a statement confirming that it owned the copyright and was happy to let the shop continue trading in exchange for a one-off payment of £500 ($1180).

Once again, Disney sued somebody for use of a name that was not theirs to begin with. Legally, Disney had no business suing a Scottish company unless it used their version of the character in addition to the name. The people who had a claim on the name were the ones who had any business making demands – and they did. Five-hundred pounds.

Disney has become a heartless, soulless entity feeding off of ill-gotten lawsuits in which they claim restitution for use of properties that they don’t even own. Not only that, but they toss out token projects in order to justify extending the copyright laws inappropriately (if not indefinitely), and skew the public’s view of what they’re doing.

“We’ve built our entire company around Mickey Mouse! You can’t take him from us and make him public domain! Besides, what if people make him do things that are inappropriate for his image? Think of the children! For God’s sake, won’t somebody think of the children? (Shut up, Great Ormond Street).”

What Disney fails to point out, however, is that even if the copyright on the oldest of the Mickey Mouse cartoons lapses, Mickey Mouse will remain the property of Disney. Remember what I said about Tarzan earlier? Even though the copyright on the very first Tarzan novel has lapsed, the character is still owned by the Edgar Rice Burroughs Estate. The Burroughs Estate can (and does) sue for unlawful use of the character and seek damages to their trademark on the ape-man.

Disney works very hard, however, to spread the idea that Mickey Mouse would become Public Domain – and to hide the fact that it’s actually “Steamboat Willie” that would be freed from copyright. People could use “Steamboat Willie”-era Mouse designs in their own work, true – but if it were marketed as “Mickey Mouse” (as in, say, Mickey Mouse Does Dallas, just for an example), Disney would still be able to exert their legal muscle and seek damages to their trademark – including shutting down such a production.

So why does Disney fight so hard to extend the copyright?

It’s not to protect the Mouse. If they cared about the Mouse, they would actually use him instead of letting him float around in a semi-retired limbo between court battles.

It’s because Disney just can’t bear the thought of anybody making money without having to pony up the big bucks to the House of Mouse.

And that, my friends, just isn’t good art.

Monday, November 24th, 2003

Bush sentences Turkey to Cajun Deep Fryer

President George W. Bush has made a habit out of breaking Presidential traditions in his term of office. He has broken records for vacation days taken, for size and expense of entourage while travelling abroad, and for the number of chefs used to offend the Queen of England. Nevertheless, people were shocked by President Bush’s actions today as he rejected Mr. Gobbler’s request for a Presidential pardon and instead upheld the court’s decision to sentence the unfortunate turkey to death.

Dr. Arthur T. Moore, defense attorney for Mr. Gobbler, seems particularly shaken by the announcement. “It’s always been traditional,” says Moore. “Every year, the President is presented with a turkey to pardon, and every year the President is supposed to grant the pardon. I just don’t understand what makes this year so different.”

President Bush – a staunch proponent of the death penalty – defended his choice not to issue a pardon in this case.

“As to guilt or innocence,” said President Bush, “I feel that this poultry has been granted fair access to the court system. And whether he’s guilty of this offense or not, he’s got to be guilty of something or he wouldn’t be here. At the very least, he’s guilty of looking really tasty.”

In October, Mr. Gobbler was sentenced to execution by beheading, followed by a quick brining in a solution of vegetable broth, brown sugar, salt, and Cajun spices leading to a dip into a deep fryer and subsequent serving at a Thanksgiving table.

Citing the new “Poultry Non-Combatant” legislation before the Congress, Bush stated that he felt justified in refusing the traditional pardoning.

“There are some who might think that this is just a dumb bird,” said Bush. “And they would probably be right. About the bird part. But Gobbler’s petition for a Presidential pardon is clearly part of a terrorist agenda to rob us of delicious and nutritious family meals. And given that threat to our national health and well-being, I can only say that I get the drumstick.”

Reacting to Bush’s failure to pardon Mr. Gobbler, Senate Democrats announced their intention to filibuster the Poultry Non-Combatant legislation. House Democrats were quoted as asking if somebody would pass the cranberry sauce.

Monday, November 24th, 2003

Sensationalism in the media… and how it could kill you…

The Washington Post today faces that age-old question: How do you write a sensationalist story without appearing to be sensationalist, yourself?

Answer: Publish an editorial on how every other newspaper is running a sensationalistic story. See, that way you get to report all of the gory and prurient details without seeming to be commercializing on them, yourself. Because, y’know, you’re being critical of other people who are doing it.

Will this become the latest wretched-excess, pull-out-the-stops, over-the-top, high-decibel, facts-be-damned, pointless-speculation, round-the-clock frenzy?

Um, probably.

Michael Jackson has been the media’s favorite punching bag ever since he descended into the bizarre, skin-dyeing, young-boys-sleepover, dangle-the-baby-over-the-terrace behavior that has marked his recent life.

And the best part? You get to quote all of the other people’s stories, meaning you get to up your word count with almost no work at all! Wowzers!

Hm. I wonder if that could work to pump up my NaNoWriMo count – I’m getting a bit behind….

Thursday, November 20th, 2003

While you were sleeping…

It was just a couple of weeks back that the warning flags went up, and now Democratic Underground appears to be first to the web with the news (link via TalkLeft):

Read this official budget carefully and you will see that Bush is gearing up the draft—there is no longer any doubt about it. Selective Service must report to Bush on March 31, 2005, that the system is ready for activation within 75 days. So on June 15, 2005, expect the announcement that the first draft lottery since Vietnam will be held for 20 year-olds.

The primary source for Democratic Underground’s story?

The Selective Service’s own website, itself.

The Selective Service lists its four strategic goals for the period ahead:

  • Increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the manpower delivery systems
  • Enhance external and internal customer service
  • Improve overall registration compliance and service to the public
  • Enhance the system which guarantees that each conscientious objector is properly classified, placed, and monitored

Ouch. See, this is what happens when you don’t press a point. When the Pentagon was issuing statements that it had “no contingency plan” to reinstate the draft, shouldn’t somebody have asked whether that meant it was their intention all along, then? After all, a contingency plan means that it’s a plan you can fall back on. If it was their plan all along to reinstate the draft without trying anything else, first, then they told the truth – they had no such contingency plan.

But even more interesting is the date on which Bush wants the report. March 31, 2005.

Just like his attempts to get the Patriot Act renewed, Bush is specifically planning on four more years – not hoping for them, not campaigning for them, but planning. As far as he’s concerned, they’re already in the bag.

I think it’s about time he should repack his bags and plan for a long retirement.

See you at the voting booth in 2004…

Tuesday, November 18th, 2003

Paranoia doesn’t look good on you.

The Observer reports:

Home Secretary David Blunkett has refused to grant diplomatic immunity to armed American special agents and snipers travelling to Britain as part of President Bush’s entourage this week.

In the case of the accidental shooting of a protester, the Americans in Bush’s protection squad will face justice in a British court as would any other visitor, the Home Office has confirmed.

The issue of immunity is one of a series of extraordinary US demands turned down by Ministers and Downing Street during preparations for the Bush visit.

These included the closure of the Tube network, the use of US air force planes and helicopters and the shipping in of battlefield weaponry to use against rioters.

It appears that poor Bushie is going to feel uncomfortable in another country where he can’t safely quarantine the protestors in “Free Speech Zones” blocks and blocks away from wherever he is.

Of course, it’s a good thing that there are some people in the British government who are still awake. Awake enough, at least, to know that giving Bush’s gurads carte blanche to shoot “rowdy” protestors and then allowing those guards to cart a minigun through London (yes, they asked for that, too) might be a bad idea.

As a matter of fact, the demands made of the British government carry a hint of paranoia – which is not a word that I use lightly, here.

Protestors have been gearing up for Bush’s arrival – painting signs and negotiating(!) demonstration routes with the police.

So, naturally, somebody’s afraid that there might be a suicide bomber in the Tube network. And that they might detonate their bomb while on the Tube. After somehow determining that Bush is overhead. Through many feet of dirt and concrete.

Excuse me, I think I just sprained something in my brain while trying to think like the Bush administration.

There’s a healthy amount of concern over the President’s safety – Kennedy in Dallas shows that readily enough.

But Bush even wanted British security troops removed from the area while he was in London – he wanted only Americans to be allowed to work security. Because, y’know, a Brit is a Brit – and Bush can’t trust any of them aside from his friendy Tony.

Workers in the British government are being asked to work from home during his visit because the U.S. requests “cleared secured vehicle routes around London,” and Bush’s security will be working hard to create “a sterile zone.”

The man wanted immunity in the event that any British people got shot!

Oh! Ouch! There it goes again!

Tuesday, November 18th, 2003