Ktismatics

26 November 2008

NaNoWriMo Win!

Filed under: Fiction, First Lines, Reflections — ktismatics @ 5:53 pm

The hallway was surprisingly silent. Glaring but ineffective lights lined the ceiling above the corridor where the footsteps of a slight, uniformed figure hurried to reach the end. The nurse could not see far enough into each cell to distinguish the drugged and sleeping patients. She was quite sure that she did not want to be there.

Thus begins Progress to Grey, a new novel written this month by Kenzie Doyle. This is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. The challenge is to write an entire novel of 50,000 words or more, from start to finish, during November. Kenzie finished this afternoon, with 4 days to spare: word count = 50,055. That’s 2,000 words a day. Plus she continued to get all her homework done and, best of all, she didn’t whine about it.

Here’s the info on the email announcement sent by the author to the first invited readers:

Tagline: Instability is the only path away from self-delusion
Rating: PG-13 to R
Warnings: Violence, depictions of insanity, weird messages, etc.
Dedications: Rachel and Kerry, for also participating and letting me blab about my word count to them.
Sophie and Alexandra, for supporting me and just being great friends who are more objective, since you weren’t panicking about your own stories.
My parents, for actually thinking that this is an interesting project and putting up with flurries of self-loathing and bragging.
And to various authors, actors, musicians, and directors, for creating worlds and characters that I could steal and change, and for providing a soundtrack for my writing.
Apologies: I’m sorry if I suck at talking to you enough, especially during November, and for bragging SO MUCH. Also, I’m sorry that this isn’t edited and probably has a lot of sentences and scenes that make no sense. (I’m also sorry that I’m making so much of a bit deal about this for no reason…uh…yeah.)
And now…Here it is!!
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24 November 2008

Nightmare Alley by Goulding, 1947

Filed under: Movies — ktismatics @ 5:33 pm

nightmare-club

“Have you an answer for this question?”

“Oh, I’m afraid not.”

“Why?”

“Because this question has to do with the stock market, a labyrinth whose eccentricities no mentalist of my acquaintance has ever been able to solve. As a matter of fact, I tried it two or three times myself and find that I can do much better at the racetrack.”

nightmare-geek

“Magicians are a dime a dozen nowadays. Anyway I never fool with an act unless it’s got something sensational. Wait… I just happened to think of something. I might have a job you can take a crack at. Course it isn’t much, and I’m not begging you to take it, but it’s a job.

“That’s all I want.”

“We’ll keep you in coffee and cakes. A bottle a day, a place to sleep it off in. What do you say? Anyway it’s only temporary, just until we can get a real geek.”

“Geek?!”

“You know what a geek is, don’t you?”

“Yeah. Sure, I know what a geek is.”

“You think you can handle it?”

“Mister, I was made for it.”

A “Bold Plan”

Filed under: Culture, Reflections — ktismatics @ 8:57 am

I wake up Monday morning to discover that a “bold plan” has been announced. The US Treasury is pumping an additional $20 billion into Citigroup, and the Treasury and FDIC are guaranteeing $306 billion of risky loans in Citicorp’s portfolio. In exchange, the US government receives $7 billion in preferred stock and warrants for 254 million shares of Citigroup common at $10.61 per share.

We aren’t privy to all the information and my expertise is limited, but based on what’s been publicly revealed I’ll attempt to summarize the value of the deal for both the Citigroup Corporation and the U.S. government.

  • The $20 billion cash injection is easy to understand.
  • How much are the loan guarantees worth? All loans are “risky” in the sense that the lender faces some risk that the borrower won’t pay back the loan: that’s why the lender charges interest. That these loans have been specifically identified as “risky” means that there’s a greater-than-average likelihood that the borrowers will default. They aren’t all likely to default; rather, some higher-than-average percentage of them probably will. Ordinarily extra risk commands extra interest. But we presume that these are extraordinary loans: subprime, earning lower-than-average interest. So let’s say that the loan guarantees are worth the difference between the interest rate actually charged and the interest a high-risk loan ought to earn. How much is that? Let’s be conservative and say it’s 3%, meaning that if an additional 3% of these loans default the guarantor breaks even. So: $306 billion in guarantees × 3% risk premium = $9.2 billion is the value to Citigroup of these guarantees. In fact these guarantees could be worth a lot more if the property held as collateral by the bank securing these loans — presumably mostly houses and other buildings — turn out not to be worth in today’s real estate market what they’re valued at in Citigroup’s books. Because the government is only guaranteeing the loans and not acquiring them outright, Citigroup continues to hold the collateral. I presume this means that Citigroup can still decide when to sell these non-liquid assets and for how much. If they sell a house now, when its market value is down, then presumably this difference between book and sale value of the collateral will be written up as a loss on Citigroup’s loan. The government would then have to recoup Citigroup for the difference.
  • Now the preferred Citigroup shares. The news releases say the shares are worth $7 billion. These aren’t shares currently in investors’ hands, traded on the stock exchange; they’re a new issue offered directly and exclusively to the U.S. government as part of this deal. The government is paying another $20 billion in cash to Citigroup to buy more of these preferred shares. How was the value for the preferred shares set? I don’t know, but let’s assume that they really are worth what the dealmakers say they’re worth. Why be skeptical? Well, there’s this…
  • The warrants. The US government receives an assurance that it can buy Citigroup stock at $10.61 per share, whenever the government chooses to exercise its option to do so. At the time this deal was struck Citigroup shares were trading at $3.71 per share. That means the warrants are worthless. Potentially even worse, the government could decide to redeem their warrants at a loss in order to prop up the market for Citigroup stock.

To summarize: Citigroup gets $20 billion in cash, along with presumably uncollateralized loan guarantees in excess of $300 billion worth a minimum of $9.2 billion in risk premiums, for a total of $29.1 billion cash and equivalent. In exchange the U.S. government gets $7 billion in preferred Citigroup stock. That really is a bold plan. Put it this way: I’m not sure I’ve got all the facts at my disposal, but what’s been said leaves plenty of questions unanswered in my mind anyway.

23 November 2008

Why I’m Antisocial, Part N+1

Filed under: Reflections — ktismatics @ 12:12 pm

After reading my short story in a recent “Open Mic” public reading, an event I described in a comment to this post, I emailed Dave, the organizer of the event, telling him that I’d enjoyed it and asking him what he thought. Dave was disappointed in the turnout, feeling that neither the bookstore hosting the Open Mic event nor the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers (RMFW) which sponsored it had done enough publicity. Dave concluded his email by saying that he planned to write a skit for the next public reading and asking if I’d like to play one of the parts.

I said I’d be happy to oblige with the skit. I also added my two cents’ worth about possible improvements to the reading segments of the evening’s entertainment:

Three of the writers presented the first chapter from their novels. My sense was that they intended to titillate the listeners, perhaps inciting them to buy. Maybe there was also a desire by the unpublished writers to achieve some credibility with their peers in the RMFW, perhaps to get some advice or to make connections. But there was no interaction between readers and listeners during the program, and other than cursory “nice story” remarks all around I engaged in no conversations with anyone afterward.

I suggested making the readings more interactive:

E.g., someone else might read the piece beforehand and engage the writer in a brief discussion about some aspect of it. I write a blog, and just before the public reading I put my story up to see if anyone had any suggested modifications. A high school kid suggested a change in the ending, which I more or less followed in the reading I presented. Subsequently several other blog commenters said they liked the original ending better, which generated some interesting observations about crafting a story generally and about this story’s meaning in particular. The danger is that this sort of interaction might feel academic to the casual attendee.

I told Dave that, since I’m not a member of RMFW, I wasn’t aware of their PR efforts, but that I was curious about connecting with the innumerable book reading groups scattered around the area and inviting them to attend/participate in the next public reading.

Dave’s reply conveyed a different tone and message. He wondered, given the lack of PR and my non-membership in RMFW, how I’d found out about the public reading.

I did pitch to the board that all participants would be members of RMFW. Now, as far as I’m concerned, that has a lot of wiggle room. If…let’s say…the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band were in town and heard about the show and wanted to come play, I’d be a fool to reject them.. I have no problem with you assisting in a skit. However, plugs for your work, provided (I’m assuming) that you write prose, needs to be exclusive to RMFW members.

My reply in part:

Sorry about crashing your party. I know nothing about RMFW other than the Open Mic, so I’ve never really considered joining. I guess if I go to the website I can find out the benefits of joining, annual dues, etc. I’m afraid I tend to agree with Woody Allen about joining clubs, so if you’re going to be all members-only about it then maybe I should bow off stage now. I’ve written a couple of novels, neither of which has been published or is being considered by any agents or publishers, so I bring no Nitty Gritty PR benefits as a non-member participant. Maybe if I ever get famous I can include this vignette in my memoirs — going rogue in my first public reading.

Then Dave

Although, I’m sure you intended the “crash” as humor, by no means did you upset any balance of the universe. Loved having you. Well, you have two novels and perhaps you should push them. RMFW is good at encouraging you to do that and educating members to the pitfalls. Whereas I’m generally a non-joiner, this organization has worthy benefits…

Then me again, after complaining about the non-informativeness of RMFW’s website and encouraging Dave to go see for himself.

In your prior email I got more of a sense that the Open Mic is intended primarily to publicize both the organization and the works of the members — I guess that hadn’t occurred to me before. I thought it was more about getting writers and readers together in a public place focusing on what’s written.

It’s been 3 days now and I’ve not yet heard back from Dave. Some day I’ll go back, see if they’ve fixed the RMFW website, report my findings to Dave.

18 November 2008

WR: Mysteries of the Organism by Makavejev, 1971

Filed under: Movies — ktismatics @ 8:29 am

wr-apt1

wr-comrade

wr-stalin

wr-crash

wr-head

17 November 2008

Werkmeister Harmonies by Tarr, 2001

Filed under: Movies — ktismatics @ 10:37 am

werck-eclipse

werck-qualities

werck-square

werck-whale

Haunting theme music by Mihály Vig begins partway through this scene…

16 November 2008

The Three Burials of Melchiades Estrada, 2005

Filed under: Movies — ktismatics @ 5:21 pm

burials-dance

burials-cave

burials-blind

burials-bar


15 November 2008

999

Filed under: Christianity, Reflections — ktismatics @ 8:42 am

999 is the brink, the moment before transformation, the anti-666, crisis and opportunity.

1000 is the millennium, the catastrophe, the fulfillment, the end and the beginning.

1001 is infinity, eternity, what comes after The End.

Who will dare push it over the edge? What will happen then?

13 November 2008

Looking Up

Filed under: Fiction, Ktismata, Reflections — ktismatics @ 9:47 am

About two weeks ago I got myself invited to participate in a public reading organized by a nearby bookstore. At first I planned to read an excerpt from something I’d already written, but while taking a walk I thought of a story that would fit the occasion. I get ten minutes just like everybody else, and timing myself I find that read aloud about 200 words a minute. That gives me 2,000 words to work with: long for a blog post, but short for a story, forcing me to get to the point quickly. My first draft came in at 3,000 words, so I had to do some severe pruning. Here’s what I’ve ended up with, as of this morning. The reading is tonight, Thursday, so if you think anything isn’t clear or could be eliminated I hope you’ll leave a comment to that effect. Also, is it just me, or does this story sound like it’s already been written by a thousand other writers? Tomorrow I’ll report on how the public reading went.

———————————————-

LOOKING UP

I glance over my shoulder at the big-screen image of my own slouching profile and I know it’s over. The faceless throng jamming the arena has remained silent and attentive during my first two hours, but I’m certain that by the end of this evening everything will be different. The arena might be reduced to rubble by air strikes, or maybe gravity will stop working and we’ll all wind up crushed together inside the concavity of the domed roof. Or I’ll turn the page and there will be nothing there.

* * *

I’ve always felt uncomfortable looking up from the page. Even on that first night – was it really only two months ago, or has the structure of time changed in some fundamental way? – even then I knew I ought to look up, make eye contact. Certainly I was familiar enough with my material to lift my eyes off the page now and then, try to coax my audience a little farther into the world I was showing them. I had assured myself that the novel isn’t me after all, isn’t even about me really: it’s just something I wrote, as separate from myself as any other book I might pull off the shelf. Still, there I was, making what amounted to a flagrant pass at two dozen strangers, and I was terribly afraid they weren’t looking back.

I enunciate clearly and with inflection. I rarely stumble over even the most convoluted syntax, probably because I’ve had plenty of experience reading bedtime stories to my daughter. Sometimes for fun I would look up theatrically from what I was reading to her, my face painted with ersatz emotion, my eyebrows arched, eyes and mouth opened wide. My daughter would laugh and tell me to stop it. That’s when I understood: I don’t need to master the arts of locutionary seduction in order to lure someone into another world; I just need to hold the door open and the world itself does the work.

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I’d never heard about the public readings at the bookstore, never made inquiry. Even after I’d been given a slot on the roster for that Thursday night I almost didn’t make it. People were gathering their things and putting on their coats when Karl Schroeder spotted me standing just inside the doorway and beckoned me forward, asked everyone to please give their attention to the last scheduled reader of the night.

I glanced at my watch as I’d neared the end of my text that first time: right on schedule; no need to hurry getting through the last page before my ten minutes were up. But anxiety had begun to creep over me. I stumbled over a word, then I repeated a line, and still the end came rushing toward me. Two paragraphs, one. Imbued with a strange dread I forced my way through the last sentence of Chapter One.

My finger hovered over the text for a moment longer, then abruptly I raised my head and gazed into the void. I discerned the faces, dispassionate and expressionless. They did not move; they made no sound – as if they were waiting for something. I detected motion in the periphery: a neon light near the door was flickering on and off. I picked up the manuscript, tapped it a few times on the lectern, and replaced it in the accordion folder. I nodded unsmiling toward the silent motionless audience and left.

I was surprised to find a phone message waiting for me at home. “Mr. Molina, this is Karl Shroeder, from the library? I wanted you to know that we really enjoyed, really appreciated, your reading this evening. I wondered, we wondered, if you might come back tomorrow night. You can just keep going where you left off.”

Again the reading went smoothly. I managed to look up a few times and again found myself confronted by attentive but expresssionless faces. After I’d finished my ten minutes I took an empty seat in the second row. The audience members began chatting among one another, preparing to leave – apparently I was the only reader scheduled for that evening. Two young women approached. “We looked for your book on the shelves but we couldn’t find it,” the black-haired one informed me. I acknowledged that it wasn’t published. To me surprise they seemed thrilled. “Then we’re the first ones to hear it?” I nodded. “Well that makes sense then,” the taller one remarked. “See you tomorrow.”

Reading aloud is slow going, but you do get to the end of the book eventually, and since my nightly readings had been extended to half an hour things were moving right along. By the end of the second week I had begun to feel a little relieved knowing that soon I’d be finished. It saddened me too, of course. Anticipation often exceeds fulfillment, but the reality of reading my own work every night to what had grown into a roomful of people – it had changed my life. I actually started thinking again about quitting my job and devoting myself to writing – the craft of it, the art, the truth, the paradoxically diffuse intensity of it. That first night I’d felt like I was on trial; now it seemed as though everyone in the store, reader and listeners alike, were entering together into another world, a world conjured out of nothing but words and imagination.

Soon enough there came that inevitable night, raw and blustery, when I drove to the bookstore with only five unread pages left to go. I’d framed the narrative according the traditional third-person-singular, past-tense convention, but then in the last chapter, Chapter 42, the story shifted abruptly to first person – as if the teller of the tale had suddenly become the main character, stepping out from behind the veil of anonymity. At the same time the story itself took a sharp turn toward the surreal. The previous evening, as I’d begun reading this final chapter, I experienced a momentary visual distortion, or perhaps it was a lapse of attention: the letters arrayed before me wouldn’t congeal themselves into meaningful units. I blinked hard two or three times, and when I looked up every person in the room seemed to have moved a little closer to me, gotten incrementally larger. Their wide-open eyes were locked onto my own, as if by the power of their gaze they could make my eyes see the words as they’d always been meant to be seen…

As I had done for the past 26 nights I extracted the loose-leaf manuscript from the accordion file and set it in front of me on the lectern. With a singular gravity I transposed the written words into sound. I was speaking no louder than usual, but somehow my voice sounded larger to my own ears. Whenever I finish reading a page I place it face-up at the bottom of the stack, so that the top sheet is always the next one to be read. One after another I read those top five pages, delivering them flawlessly; carefully and deliberately I slipped them one by one to the bottom of the stack. I grasped the entire sheaf in both hands and tapped the bottom edge on the lectern, just as I always do at the end of a night’s reading. I was sliding the manuscript back into the accordion file when I noticed that the title page, which should have risen again to the top of the sheaf, seemed to be missing. I scrutinized the top sheet more closely: “Chapter 43,” the heading read. Silently I scanned the opening lines: familiar yet disconcerting. How could I have forgotten? I still had about 15 minutes left. Sweeping a glance across my expectant audience, I read on.

And on. The hallucinatory tone of the narrative intensified as past tense turned the corner into the present. The story, which for its first 42 claustrophobic chapters had taken place almost exclusively inside one room, was chapter by chapter exploding outward: the rest of the house, the neighborhood, the town, the nation, the world. The narrator, who in first revealing himself had born only a generic resemblance to the author, gradually emerged as a distinct character. Sex, age, stature, back story, day job, literary aspirations: more and more the narrator was becoming Edgar Molina, was becoming me. To this fictional Edgar remarkable things were happening. From benumbed obscurity he had risen rapidly to prominence; his voice, so long unheard, struck resonant chords in the people’s hearts; the worlds he conjured from imagination began taking on shape and substance. Obscure adventurers crisscrossed the globe; wars ended while others began; world leaders in every sphere of endeavor sought his counsel. If, reading from his magnificent book, the words this fictional Edgar intoned said let there be light, then light there was.

In the narrator’s book the crowds swelled to enormous proportions – and it was so. Soon I was reading 3, 4, 5 hours a day. My job faded away; reading is what I do now. And yet every night, every time I finish a page and slip it to the bottom of the stack, I have to master the same dread again: what happens now, after the end? Every time another new page awaits me, familiar, expected, predestined. The world into which I speak these words is changing dramatically, but the book seems to keep pace with the changes, even to anticipate them, as if I had known the future when I’d written these astounding pages. And just when had I written them? The book itself explained that Edgar had written it, was writing it, would continue to write it, until the time came when he would not.

And now that time has arrived. As the page draws my eyes to itself I read it to the people, and reading it to them I read it to myself: the time is at hand. Desperation has seized certain pockets of resistance to the grand trajectory laid out by my, Edgar’s, book. Even now forces are arraying themselves against him, me: not just the will of determined and dangerous men, but the very fabric of nature being rent asunder. As I glance over my shoulder to the gigantic image of my profile, my attention is drawn to a figure leaning toward that profile from one of the exit ramps.

* * *

Centering his target in the crosshairs, the sniper watched Edgar Molina return his attention to the large stack of paper in front of him. Edgar’s mouth stopped moving; half a second later his amplified voice cut off mid-sentence. The vast auditorium fell silent. Edgar’s shoulders shrugged; his features seemed to melt down his face. The sniper had been concentrating his full attention on that face, but now his mission was completed and Edgar’s face had fallen from view. The sniper shifted his left wrist ever so slightly so that the top sheet was framed by the telescopic lens. He couldn’t read the words from there; he would have to go down to the arena floor, stand at the lectern, pick up where Edgar had left off.

10 November 2008

Gut and Run

Filed under: Culture, Reflections — ktismatics @ 9:04 am

Bear with me on this one.

In March 2008 a bipartisan group of 22 senators, including Democrats John Kerry, Barbara Boxer, Patrick Leahy, and Carl Levin, introduced bill S. 2666, the Affordable Housing Investment Act of 2008. The stated purpose of this bill is “To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to encourage investment in affordable housing, among other things.” Affordable housing is set aside by the government for low-income renters whose housing costs are reduced by government subsidies. To increase the availability of low-income housing stock, the government offers tax incentives to investors in affordable housing developments.

I direct the reader’s attention to TITLE III–FACILITATE PRIVATE INVESTMENT CAPITAL TO INCREASE THE EFFICIENCY OF AFFORDABLE HOUSING INVESTMENT. Section 303 – REPEAL OF RECAPTURE BOND RULE proposes to modify Paragraph (6)(A) of Section 42(j) of the existing law to read as follows:

IN GENERAL- In the case of a disposition of a building or an interest therein, the taxpayer shall be discharged from liability for any additional tax under this subsection by reason of such disposition if it is reasonably expected that such building will continue to be operated as a qualified low-income building for the remaining compliance period with respect to such building.

Related to this bit of obscure rewriting you will also observe the even more cryptically impenetrable TITLE IV–HELP PRESERVE EXISTING AFFORDABLE HOUSING, SEC. 401. REPEAL OF 10-YEAR RULE FOR ACQUISITION HOUSING CREDITS:

(a) In General- Subparagraph (B) of section 42(d)(2) (relating to existing buildings) is amended by striking clause (ii) and by redesignating clauses (iii) and (iv) as clauses (ii) and (iii), respectively.

(b) Conforming Amendment- Section 42(d) is amended by striking paragraph (6) and by redesignating paragraph (7) as paragraph (6).

I would never have known about this piece of proposed legislation, let alone deciphered the pertinent passages, had it not been for an white paper submitted to the Senate by the Surety and Fidelity Association of America , or SFAA. (I used to work in the surety industry and have been renewing my familiarity with the Association’s activities lately.) The document begins:

The Internal Revenue Code in 26 USC 42(j) permits investors in low-income housing to take tax credits for 10 years on the condition the property continues as low-income housing for 15 years. These tax credits are subject to recapture if the investor changes the nature of the property during the compliance period and… fails to maintain the property as low income housing for the remainder of the 15-year term…

Legislation has been introduced in the last two sessions of Congress to repeal the long-term guarantee of future compliance with both the tax laws and the federal housing program and to substitute a notification to be made after a compliance default and the tax credit recapture event have already occurred. This increases the profits of a few investor-sellers at the expense of U.S. taxpayers and low-income tenants who will bear the cost of future non-compliance.

The SFAA is an association representing surety bond industry, a relatively small line of insurance business. A surety bond guarantees the performance of a contract; if the contractor fails to perform, the surety steps in and pays to have the work completed. The surety company charges a fee for its guarantee, which is in effect  a risk premium not unlike that charged by a lender protecting itself against the borrower’s default. The underwriter invests considerable effort to make sure that the contractor is technically and financially capable of fulfilling its obligations before issuing the guaranty bond on the contractor’s behalf.

Under current Federal tax law, the developer of a low-income housing project qualifies for significant tax breaks, so long as the property remains dedicated to its original purpose. The developer is allowed to capture its tax benefits up front, with the understanding that the unearned portion must be paid back if the developer converts the property to, say, luxury condominiums within 15 years. The surety bond guarantees that the unearned tax benefit will be repaid if the developer flips the property to another use. If the developer can’t pay then the government draws on the bond guaranty and the surety company has to pony up. The SFAA briefing continues:

The tax recapture bond is required for the benefit of U.S. taxpayers not the investors. The bond requirement was enacted in 1986 to prevent investor abuse of the government housing programs. The tax recapture bond prevents aggressive investors from taking the tax credits in the early years of the compliance period and then disposing of the property in the later years. These were so-called “Gut and Run” schemes, in which investors gutted tax credits from the property and then sold the properties to shell corporations with little assets for the IRS to pursue to recapture unearned tax credits.

With the SFAA explanation in mind, we return to the proposed legislation. Instead of requiring that the new development continue to be operated as affordable housing for 15 years in order to qualify for the tax credit, the proposed revision permits any change of ownership or management “if it reasonably expected” that the property will continue as affordable housing. The surety bond, which guaranteed developers’ compliance with the requirement, would no longer be required. And instead of recapturing up to 10 years of unearned tax breaks from the developer or the surety bond guarantor, the proposed legislation strikes out the recapture clause altogether. With the restrictions lifted and the financial penalties removed, investors in affordable housing developments would be given carte blanche to rip off the taxpayers while at the same time pulling the rug out from low-income tenants by selling or renting the properties to higher-paying customers.

The proposed Senate legislation and a similar bill introduced into the House of Representatives are both currently in committee and have not yet come up for a vote.

7 November 2008

The Edge of Heaven by Akin, 2007

Filed under: Movies — ktismatics @ 3:02 pm

edge-jail

edge-joint

edge-lotte

edge-beach

6 November 2008

Reruns: A Zombie Pastiche

Filed under: Ktismata, Movies, Reflections — ktismatics @ 12:16 pm

In a comment awhile back I mentioned that I was thinking about doing some sort of collaborative moviemaking project with the local high school kids. Thus far the teachers at the school have been useless (won’t respond to my emails), but the handful of kids who’ve heard about it seem fairly enthusiastic, so I’m going to move forward and see what happens. I’m putting together an email description of the proposed RERUNS Project, as well as a blog which would have as its first post something like this:

* * *

RERUNS: A Collaborative Movie Project

If you go to school at Fairview High School, how would you like to:

  • make a short video about or starring zombies,
  • collaborate with your fellow Undead moviemakers,
  • have all or part of your video included in a larger feature movie, and
  • take a bow on stage when the movie is screened in the Fairview Auditorium?

If so, then the RERUNS Collaborative Movie Project might be for you.

The Proposal

Zombie sitcoms. Zombie drama. Zombie reality shows. Zombie commercials. Zombie shopping network, art films, sports, news, soaps, cartoons, music videos — anything you want to see, 24/7, on Zombie Cable TV. The premise: a couple of the Undead are sitting on the couch watching television. These zombies might be a little slow but they’ve got short attention spans, and one of them has an active remote control reflex. Click. Click. Click. First we see the two zombies watching, then we start watching what they’re watching — bits and pieces of all sorts of programs produced for this very special viewer demographic.

So the proposal is this: a bunch of people (probably all high school students) make short videos, each of which consists of something that might be showing on one of the zombie cable channels. The video doesn’t have to be a whole episode of some imagined program — a scene or two is enough; even a short clip or highlight will do. Then we edit them all together into a single feature, a pastiche, cutting in with occasional glimpses and reaction shots of our two undead friends clicking the remote and watching this explosion of weird entertainment. The working title for the whole compilation is RERUNS.

A film festival is a competition; RERUNS is a collaboration. As you work on your script, your acting, your sets, your filming, you can ask each other for feedback and suggestions. There might be mini-workshops on techniques, guest presentations from experienced filmmakers in the community, pre-screenings of early takes, and so on. Everybody’s video gets included — or at least part of it anyway — so everybody gets their name in the credits. At the World Premiere (at Fairview High School? in March?) the dozens of undead filmmakers take a collective bow before a stunned and speechless and horrific audience…

Zombiedom is a great genre to mess with in any number of ways. Even if you’ve never made a video before, how bad can it be? — heck, it’s just a freaking zombie movie! Besides, if your movie sucks the editors will find something good in it to include in the final cut. But zombie reality can also let you stretch your skills and your imagination. The zombie world has room for plenty of diversity, so you can imagine your zombiesrevenants any way you like, from bedraggled rotting flesh to people who look like you and me.

they-jouissance

Here’s a screengrab from the 2004 French film Les Revenants, or They Came Back. The guy with his back to us looking at the woman is a zombie. What does his face look like? As videomaker you get to decide. Since the composite film is sutured together Frankenstein-like from bits and pieces, each mini-film can have its own distinctive look and feel. Zombiedom can also be an intriguing and multipurpose metaphor for contemporary life, so you can make a Grand Statement if you like. Even if your reach exceeds your grasp there’s no pressure — heck, it’s just a freaking zombie movie!

About Me

My name is John Doyle. I am not a high school student; I’m just an old guy whose daughter goes to Fairview. I like movies, even though I’ve never made one. I also like when people channel their creative energies toward a common end, bringing out the best in each other. I can be useful behind the scenes, doing organizational stuff, helping make things easier for the moviemakers. But RERUNS fails unless it’s a student-run project from start to finish.

Next Steps

Does the RERUNS project grab your imagination at all? If you want to make a video, write a script, act, do makeup, build sets, just curious, whatever — please come to the preliminary planning meeting. It will be held after school in the Fairview library on ____. If it looks like there’s enough interest we’ll come up with a plan. No fees, no requirements, no course credit, no credentials necessary — just show up.

* * *

Too pushy? Not pushy enough? Do I sound like some sort of perv luring highschoolers into my lair? Any comments or suggestions from Ktismatics readers before I go out the door with this?

UPDATE: Per a friend’s excellent recommendation I added the brief summary with 4 bullet points to the very beginning of this write-up.

3 November 2008

Election 2008: Presidency

Filed under: Culture, Reflections — ktismatics @ 9:59 am

I look at these people and can’t quite believe that they exist. Are they professional actors? I wonder. Or are they simply laymen who want a lot of attention? To put them in perspective, I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. “Can I interest you in the chicken?” she asks. “Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?” To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked. I mean, really, what’s to be confused about?

– David Sedaris, “Undecided”

A few months ago I decided to vote Socialist Party USA, even though I keep forgetting the name of the candidate. I had a chat with my father yesterday and he’s voting for Nader again, just like he did eight years ago in Florida and four years later after he moved to South Carolina. My dad thinks there’s not much substantive difference between McCain and Obama, that Obama will say anything at all just to get elected. Of course my father might be right. Like a lot of people, I tend to think that Obama is really more left than he’s letting on, that he is shifting rightward in order to grab up what passes in the US for moderate voters. But maybe he’s been this way all along, invoking semi-left rhetoric mostly to hold onto that wing of the Party. Maybe Obama is being held hostage by a Party apparatus that won’t let him be the change agent he wants to be. All this psychologizing isn’t going to get me anywhere: after all, I’ve never even met the man.

I’m not sure I understand the objections to deciding among political candidates based on ideology, but I presume this is part of it: talk is cheap; people will say just anything. So then along with ideology I have to add morality to the decision matrix: is he a man of his word? I have judged the Democratic majority in Congress to be corrupt for not shutting off the Iraq war funding after ascending to power on the 2006 wave of antiwar sentiment. Even Obama, whose earliest claim of distinction in the primaries was his vote against the War Powers Act, has made peace with the pro-war faction of the Democratic Party. In making a case for himself as Commander in Chief Obama emphasizes his personal credentials as cool-headed decision-maker and competent manager — like an applicant for a CEO position. I keep wanting him to take a firm ideological stance against the wars, but then I remember that according to the Constitution the President is supposed to be an administrator rather than a leader, that the Congress is supposed to decide these things, that as elected officials the members of Congress are supposed to act on behalf of the electorate. As a Senator Obama has consistently voted to continue funding the wars rather than pulling the plug. It would seem that, other than the original vote to authorize Bush to invade, Obama’s war voting record hasn’t been substantively different from Hillary’s or from Biden’s, or even from McCain’s. Does that make Obama a liar? No: he’s consistently stated that, while he disagreed with the launching of the wars, once war was underway he felt it important that the military intervention be managed and funded adequately and that the American troops be supported. I’ve been prepared to discount Obama’s rationale, believing that he’s being a good Party player, making tactical concessions in order to achieve a larger strategic antiwar victory. Why would I have believed that when I had no evidence to support it? Because I wanted to believe it. On the other hand, why do I believe that if Nader had been in the Congress he’d have voted against the wars and their continued funding? Because that’s what he says he would do, and I perceive him as a man of his word. Rhetoric, ideology, personal morality.

I suspect that Nader would make at least as good a President as either McCain or Obama. As best I can recall, on every political position where Nader differs from Obama I agree with Nader. I was of the same mind about Nader vis-a-vis Kerry, and I felt like I’d betrayed my conscience voting for Kerry, a feeling that was certainly exacerbated by Kerry’s defeat. At the same time, I’m kind of like the guy who, when asked if he’d rather have the chicken or the pile of shit, says he’ll have the fish. Though Nader is on the menu, I understand that I can’t have my own personal Nader for president. I can insist on ordering the fish just to remain true to my own convictions, as well as to erect a tiny spectacle of dissent for others possibly to observe out of the corners of their eyes as they’re eating what the majority selected from the menu, a little reminder that we could all be eating fish right now if enough of us said we wanted it. But I have to face it: at the end of tomorrow I’m going to be served chicken or shit.

Comparing Nader with Obama point by point I’d pick Nader. But in comparing Nader with my own personal political ideas I’d find points of disagreement. Comparing Obama with McCain point by point? While they’re similar to one another in so many ways, there are differences. On every difference that I know of I agree with Obama. Can I operate within the pragmatic binary, deciding which of the only two possible winners I prefer? Or by occupying the larger political-ideological field do I choose the one I like best but who surely will lose? If I flip the binary toggle while still floating in the vaster space of all conceivable presidential politics, then I have to pick the lesser of two evils. But if I consciously constrain my electoral horizon to just these two candidates, Obama and McCain, maybe I can persuade myself that I’m actually picking the one I like better, whom I agree with more, whom I think will be a better President for the country. Voting for President is just one among any number of political acts I can take from within the larger space, each of which is constrained by the real circumstances in which it plays out.

I’ll have the chicken, thank you.

1 November 2008

Election 2008: Boulder County Issue 1A

Filed under: Culture, Reflections — ktismatics @ 1:16 pm

Here’s an intriguing proposition being put to the vote here in Boulder Colorado:

Shall Boulder County debt be increased by up to $40 million… with no increase in any county tax or tax rate, for the purpose of financing the costs of constructing, acquiring, and installing solar and other renewable energy systems or energy-efficient improvements for property owners… by the issuance of special assessment bonds payable from special assessments imposed against benefited properties…?

Say you own a home or business property in Boulder County. You want to retrofit your building for solar heating — install panels, cables, transformers, etc. If Issue 1A passes, you can finance this installation by borrowing money directly from the County government. These loans would be priced below market rates of interest, and for income tax purposes they would be treated like mortgages: the interest paid by the owner is deductible. The loans are attached to the property itself, so that if the current owner sells the building the new owner acquires the responsibility continuing the loan repayments.

The supporting documentation, mailed by the County to every resident, says this:

WHEREAS, coal and natural gas are the principle sources of generation of commercial quantities of electrical energy for the power grid in the Western United States, and home and business consumption accounts for 73% of the overall usage of electric energy; and…

WHEREAS, if the United States is serious about moving away from fossil fuels in order to limit the greenhouse gas effect leading to global warming, the existing occupied building stock must be retrofitted…; and…

WHEREAS, existing homeowners, and to a certain extent business property owners, are highly leveraged on their properties currently…

NOW, THEREFORE, etc. etc.

In addition to the arguments in favor of this bill, the County summarizes arguments submitted in opposition. Here the language gets a little more colorful:

This is another example of Boulder County’s excessive obsession with green initiatives regardless of the negative financial impacts… One of the problems with the current financial meltdown on Wall Street is predatory lending, lending by mortgage companies to people who could not possibly afford the loans. Yet this is exactly what 1A does… To commissioners want to lend money to people that the market has determined cannot repay additional loans, and saddle the poor homeowner with even more easy debt using the good credit of the citizens of Boulder County…

This is similar to mortgage companies who attempted to be so creative in creating debt instruments that we had a housing market collapse… The county is acting like a crackdealer for people hooked on money… Vote NO on this insane proposal by the County Commissioners.

I admire the creativity of a local government that’s prepared to take on the role of lender as a tangible way to encourage use of renewable energy. According to the documentation it will take 20 years before the building owner’s energy cost savings offset the price of the solar equipment installation. In backing these loans the citizenry doesn’t participate in these savings, but they are on the hook in the event of default. Then there’s this crackdealer angle to consider: instead of providing relief for already-distressed mortgagees, 1A would encourage homeowners to take on even more debt.

I wouldn’t be sorry if this bill passed: an innovative and tangible local effort to clean up the commons. However, I can’t get past the crackdealer argument. I’m going to vote NO.

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