RIP Bryan Hoover

Some interesting hits on my site from Google searches today. Apparently there was a US soldier in Afghanistan with a similar name to mine who was killed by a suicide bomber. Bryan Hoover. Kinda spooky.

At one point I was friends with about 18 people with the same name as me on Facebook. We had quite a good time commenting on each others statuses but it got old pretty quick and I dropped them all. One guy was pretty creepy and was the catalyst which forced me to refine my usage of privacy settings.

ANZAC Day Dawn Service, Mandurah

Here’s a couple photos from the Dawn Service we attended this morning. We woke up at about 4:45, got the bleary eyed kids ready and drove into the Mandurah to the Mandurah War Memorial. Kids enjoyed it, but they said there weren’t as many speeches from people as the service they’d had at school last Friday. It was all very quiet and reverent.

Rules of a firefight

My favourite rules and pics are #21 and #22. Though #23 has been what I have mostly lived by in real life..

Mandurah War Memorial

To round out our Easter weekend we just went for a local, unscripted drive looking for something to do. We wound up at the Mandurah War Memorial which I have not seen before. It gave us a chance to talk to the kids about war, and what “Lest We Forget” means. This particular sculpture rises from the water, getting taller in the middle, then diminishing again on the other side almost representing headstones in a graveyard. Indeed, Ashton asked if there were people buried there. Some of the white stones had inscriptions, ranging from along the lines of “I was a carpenter” to “I fought in hell at Tobruk” through to “I am proud to be Australian” towards the end. I don’t claim to be a master at interpreting meanings, but me and Ashton between us got the idea that the structure as a whole represented the rise of courage and the falling of some soldiers in battle, and that the inscriptions might have given us a better understanding that the soldiers were just regular people like you and me.

Government, patriotism, war and truth

Just some quotes I ran into a couple days back. This kind of stuff makes me think.

Joseph GoebbelsIf you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.
Joseph Goebbels (1897 – 1945)

Herman GoeringNaturally the common people don’t want war . . . but after all it is the leaders of a country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or parliament or a communist dictatorship. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country.
Hermann Goering (1893 – 1945)

George BushYou gotta keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propoganda.
George Bush

My thoughts on the movie Avatar

Avatar eyeSuzanne and I went to see Avatar on the Boxing Day public holiday. I hadn’t heard anything about this movie until about 3-4 months ago when the sci-fi forums I frequent were abuzz with chatter about James Cameron’s newest offering. Some were talking about it as if it was going to be the greatest movie in the history of celluloid, others were ‘meh’, another over hyped movie from a director who hasn’t worked in 15 years. Some friends of mine were in one camp, some friends in the other. So I decided I’d keep an open mind about this movie and do a bit of research before I went to see it.

After it opened, various articles appeared in blogs and newspapers. This one said the movie was “vomit inducing”, but in a nice way. This article from Wired is one of the better ones, and makes it sound like Avatar is the culmination of a 30 year quest for James Cameron to prove he has a bigger wang than George Lucas. He was pretty much trying to out-Lucas what George did with Star Wars in 1977.

In 1977, a 22-year-old truck driver named James Cameron went to see Star Wars with a pal. [snip] Now he was facing a deflating reality: He had been daydreaming about the kind of world that Lucas had just brought to life. Star Wars was the film he should have made.

Young George LucasBut it’s apples and oranges. Here’s the thing; George Lucas was a young director, was working with 70′s technology and worked to a budget of about $8M and managed to produce the magic we call Star Wars. Cameron, as of 2009, has had 25 years of experience working with the latest digital and robotic technology, and with movies budgeted in the tens and hundreds of millions of dollars. Don’t get me wrong; Terminator, Abyss, T2, True Lies and Titanic (at least the second half) are among my favourite movies but they don’t hold a candle to what George created. Star Wars changed science fiction and movie history and 30+ years later the franchise and fanbase is still going strong. Sure, a lot of fans complain that George stole their childhood from them and destroyed Star Wars with The Phantom Menace, but compare James Cameron’s Aliens to the original Ridley Scott masterpiece, Alien. One is a dark, moody science fiction horror, the other is a hoo-rah shoot-em up exercise in Marine flagwaving, which is one of the lowest common denominators in cinema.

Which leads me to the theme and storyline of Avatar. I had heard it described as “Dances with Wolves” in space, and this description is pretty much on the money. I guess it’s true that in 2009 there are no more original stories, so most movies nowadays sell the way the story is told and not the story itself. Selling the sizzle rather than the steak. In this case, the story is told in a fantasy world with state of the art 3-D digital technology.

I knew I'd seen all this beforeAll in all, the movie was great. It was a familiar story, well told. The 3-D effects were a good novelty. The only other 3-D I’ve seen was a docco on the International Space Station when I was in San Francisco in 2002. But the digital world Cameron created was fantastic; the level of detail was breathtaking, and because it was all digitally filmed the physics and movement seemed to be very realistic. Often with CGI and live action mixed you can see where one starts and one ends, and sometimes the interaction of the characters and the sets don’t seem to work well together, with visual mis-cues confusing the viewer and detracting from the overall effect. But Avatar was pretty seamless. From dust and smoke in the atmosphere, to the physics of a foot (or hoof) impacting on the ground… it was hard to fault. You can certainly see where $300M went. The only thing nobody has been able to do well so far in CGI is full sunlight. Even with Avatar, you knew that it wasn’t real because it still looked a little dark like it was an overcast day. If the jungle scenes can look like a natural environment like Apocalypto or something, then I think anything will be possible.

Lunch Democracy, Hoover style

emot-v Me
emot-j Suzanne
emot-what Subway Sandwich Artist

emot-v So what’s for lunch, dear?
emot-j Want to split a $7 foot long sub?
emot-v Sure!
emot-j What flavour do you want?
emot-v Umm, I’m in the mood for a Pizza sub! They’re so yum!
emot-j No.
emot-v No?
emot-j I want Meatball. I’m not going to eat a Pizza sub. We’re having Meatball.
emot-v Well, why ask me what I want?
emot-j So that you have at least the illusion of freedom and control.
emot-what What kind of bread do you want?
emot-v Hang on, let me ask… Suzanne, what kind of bread do I want?
emot-j Who said you’re not a quick learner?
emot-v Can I at least have chillis?
emot-j No.

I always get the shakes before a drop.

Starship TroopersStarship Troopers by Robert A Heinlein is my favourite all time novel. I bought my copy in high school probably because it had the word “Troopers” on the cover, so it had to be something like Star Wars Stormtroopers, right? Ahem. Anyhow, I’ve read it at least once a year since 1984 which makes it my most well-loved and most dog-eared novel on the shelf.

Starship Troopers isn’t an action story, though there’s plenty of technology and explosions. It isn’t the story of a great hero, though there are plenty of heroics. It isn’t a book about tedious daily routine of military life, but parts of it would make a great documentary.  It isn’t the inspiring story of someone who overcomes and achieves all, though the central character does have his share of failures, tragedies and achievements. It isn’t a book about the government, the military, or even being a soldier though the story uses these as a framework. It’s a book about civic virtue, and what it means to be a citizen. In the book, the rights of a full Citizen (to vote, and hold public office) must be earned through voluntary Federal service and are given only to these who are honourably discharged from Federal service. I’m not going to pigeon-hole myself or paint myself into a corner by saying that I fully agree with this philosophy, but I can’t say that it’s a bad idea. Those who are willing to put their society ahead of themselves, who are willing to risk their lives for their fellow citizens have proved themselves and should be rewarded ahead of those that are not willing.

The central character of the story isn’t a mighty hero. Juan Rico is just an ordinary guy who, almost on a whim, decides to enlist in the service right out of high school. His story is told mostly as a collection of flashbacks to different parts of his life including childhood, high school, basic training, and OCS school up to the point where he gets command of his own group of warriors.

The book suffers (rightly or wrongly) from allegations of militarism, racism, sexism and fascism but I think most if not all of these allegations can be refuted when you look at it in this context: it was written in the 60s when the United States military was largely conscript, when there were still white and coloured drinking fountains and when female cadets were not allowed at the service academies. Indeed, the lead character is Filipino, the Navy not only has female officers but is dominated by female officers, and the government is explicitly described as a representative democracy where the only difference between those with full citizenship and those without is the right to vote and hold public office.

I waited for the day this would be made into a movie. I always thought Brandon Lee would make a good Johnny Rico, but alas he died young. I always thought it’d make a fantastic movie if narrated in the first person and told from the single point of view in much the same way Full Metal Jacket was done, but with more voiceovers. I was so excited when I heard this movie was coming out in 1997 and I just hoped it would be done right.

Instead, we got an abortion of a movie which made little to no sense and wasn’t a shadow of the book. I can only live in hope that this crime against cinema will be corrected by having the movie redone