Monday, October 31, 2011

Grimm and Once Upon a Time

I've seen a fair amount said about the two shows. Obviously, this is a case of one network having gotten wind of another network's show. It's not so much "copying" that goes on as that the studios have tons of projects that have been proposed at any given time, so when they hear "modern day fairy tales" then can quickly greenlight whatever they have in the proposal stage that's similar.

The similarities aside, the two shows are radically different, and I think they'll appeal to different crowds. Grimm looks to be a police procedural with fantasy elements (Buffy the CSI Werewolf Slayer) while Once Upon a Time is more like LOST in many ways (large cast, stranded in a strange place, flashbacks) and definitely the more daring concept.

My problem with both series is that the writing is good with a few painful bumps along the way. Fantasy is hard to get right and fantasy melded into the modern day is even harder. But both Jane Espenson (Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, Battlestar Galactica, Torchwood, Once Upon a Time) and David Greenwalt (Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Grimm) are alumni of the genre, so I expect that they'll both bring what they have to bear over the long run.

I've heard people ask, "where is Once going to go once everyone remembers," but that doesn't concern me. A few things to keep in mind: while the major first-season villain is likely the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla), I very much doubt that she will end up being the "big bad" for the series as a whole. Right now, my money is on that being Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle) or perhaps whoever he's working for...

Grimm is also setting up quite an interesting set of villains. Without spoiling things too much (as there are some heavy spoilers to be had) the villain that is introduced at the end of the pilot will obviously put a spin on the series. I imagine that villain is going to be a one-to-two season focus and then they plan to broaden the scope of our hero's "hunting".

I'm probably going to stick with Once for now, but I'll come back and check out Grimm once the DVDs are out.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Obamacare has to go

I think most Americans will agree with me that Obamacare needs to go. It's a dangerous and uncertain plan that looms over American businesses at a time when this country needs growth in order to extract itself from a terrible financial crisis. However, I also think that the majority of Americans understand that the status quo in healthcare isn't working, and we need to fix it. Thankfully, we don't need anything as radical as Obamacare in order to fix it.

The problem with our current health care system is that it pretends not to be a universal health care solution, but it actually tries to function as one. Medicare acts as a catch-all, paying for those who cannot afford health care when they are brought to an emergency room. Sounds reasonable, since that's a life-or-death decision, but in reality, people who can't afford coverage wait until their conditions are life threatening, and then the go to the emergency room, there to be covered by Medicare. They don't do this because they want to live off of the public dole, but because it's the only option they have.

So we end up paying far more in emergency room expenses than we would otherwise (vastly more) because these patients can't afford the cheaper coverage before hand that would let them see an out-patient doctor for an infection or broken bone.

Obamacare tries to patch this up by intruding into people's lives with a giant government plan. Instead, what we need is to involve the free market. Open up options to people to allow them to subscribe to the plan of their choice where they can afford it and to provide some kind of market-sourced solution, not a giant government bureaucracy, when they can't. To help individuals to work together to get costs down, we can leverage employers by having larger employers who can already afford insurance, subscribe to the plan of their choice from the provider of their choice. Again, the market will solve an awful lot of these problems for us.

For smaller employers, we need to remain hands-off so that they have the chance to grow and flourish to become the Googles or the Amazons of tomorrow!

There are some other concerns. No matter what side of the abortion issue you're on, I think it's fair to say that Americans are divided enough that our national health care strategy should't go to pay for it. Resolving contentious issues should never be done through giant bureaucracies!

Also, the existing Medicare system should be modified to work more closely with this new, market-driven plan. That allows the government to save a substantial amount of money on Medicare and transition those services to the lower-overhead system.

To everyone who's giving me an "amen" on this anti-Obamacare rant, I'd just like to say one thing: I kind of lied. The above is a description of the Obama Health Care Plan. All of the cries of "uncertainty" and "government takeover of health care" are basically just a smoke screen to prevent you from thinking rationally about what is really the only rational solution for a country that is so heavily invested in the idea of the free market. If that were not the case, we could cut costs and improve quality of care by going to a Canadian or British single-payer model, but there's no sense pushing such a model in the U.S. right now.

The limitation of the Obama plan is that it doesn't really address many of the outstanding issues with Medicare and Medicaid coverage, but that makes it an incomplete plan, not a useless one.

If you want to understand the Obamacare plan better, and really have a handle on where it does and doesn't live up to what we should expect, see my previous article about the bill before it became law.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Oil and Gold: What will the end of fossil fuels bring?

I just came across Charles Stross's posting about the end of fossil fuels boding the end of space exploration (or at least a massive slowdown).

I have to disagree, but the topic brought up a lot more thinking about fuel and our economy than it did about space, at least for me. The man he's quoting calls the end of fossil fuels an, "unprecedented transition," but of course, it's not. Our original fuel (and building!) material of choice was wood. When wood ran out (understand that when we talk about a resource "running out," we mean that it became difficult enough to use that it was no longer the ideal source) we moved on to a combination of iron and oil. Interestingly enough, this lead to a massive explosion in both out economy and technological growth. One could argue that if wood were a much more rapidly replenished resource, we might not have had a space race, or at least it might have come much later.

So, what will the end of fossil fuels bring? We can't really know, but one thing it won't bring is the end of our desire to expand, learn and explore. Will that be in space, or will we decide to go to the bottom of the oceans or into the Earth's crust first? I don't know. We have a lot of 3-dimensional territory to explore and exploit. What I do know is that running out of oil will be a fast process when viewed in the long term, but probably slow enough that we'll transition to something new, just as we did before.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Thinking about The Avengers' trailer

If you haven't seen the trailer for The Avengers yet, here you go:

All set? OK, let's talk about what it says about the film. Joss Whedon's name is on this one, and there's something he does better than, I think, anyone else in Hollywood right now: he uses other people's material. Buffy drew on vampire movies and it didn't apologize for them or "reboot" them. It had one thing to say: what if the cute blonde in the alley kicked the monster's ass? Beyond that, it just rolled with the genre. When he did Firefly, he didn't constantly rub your face in the fact that it was a planet-of-the-week show, a concept pioneered by Lost In Space and Star Trek, but that's exactly what it was. He didn't need to tear apart the Star Trek idea and tell you he was doing so; it was its own show, and proudly part of its genre(s).

So, what does that bring to The Avengers? I think the primary thing it brings is a respect for the existing films. Tony Stark's (Iron Man) snarkiness comes through loud and clear in this trailer, making it clear that the humor of the first Iron Man movie (and to a lesser extent, the second one) inform his story in this film. It's not going to be a case of "re-imagining" Iron Man and making him Joss Whedon's Iron Man, and that's really important. Whedon's voice will come through loud and clear without having to beat us over the head with it, so he can use what the other films gave him.

On the down side, we get only a taste of Loki, but he does have that Master/Evil Spike (Buffy: The Vampire Slayer) sort of feel to him. The overwrought arch villain, which is something Whedon does well but his best villains have always been the very slightly sympathetic sociopaths like Saffron (of the Our Mrs. Reynolds and Trash episodes of Firefly), The Operative (from the Serenity film) and of course, lovable Alan Tudyk as the deeply disturbed killer, Alpha in Dollhouse. These maladjusted but brilliantly competent characters who could easily have been the hero, but for some wrong turn in their pasts, are what I look forward to in any Whedon work. Indeed, we even get to see the creation of one such villain in what I think is Whedon's best work to date: the farcical, musical short film, Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog. So, it's with some disappointment that I note that so far The Avengers lacks that sort of villain.

A few other observations: others have pointed to all of the civilian eyes pointed at the sky in this trailer. I won't divulge the currently hot rumor as to why that is, but suffice to say that there may be quite a lot of plot that you don't get wind of, here. Also, I'm not yet sure what they'll be doing with Black Widow or Hawkeye, but my guess is that they're going to be the cynical military types at first who our super-powered heroes need to win over in order to create a real team. That can feel tried and worn or it can build a sense of larger purpose. We shall see...

And when talking about S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, we can't skip over Nick Fury, played by Samuel L. Jackson. With his shaved head and long, black leather jacket I can't help but be reminded of Fishburne in The Matrix. Especially as he's coming out of the helicopter with his extra-large collar. The facial hair and the eye patch are the only things that make him not a caricature of Morpheus. Still, Jackson was a brilliant choice, and leather coat or no, he's entirely capable of playing Nick Fury to the fullest.

The trailer is clearly about the Iron Man character, and I expect you'll see a new trailer every month or two, now, that will focus on each of the others. I can't wait for the Hulk-focused trailer. His story is probably the trickiest in the movie, and can fall flat quite easily.

One last note on Downey: I'm always impressed with his comic delivery, but the "genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist," line is delivered with such ease and yet the sense that he's thinking about it and ticking off the boxes in his head... it makes it feel like wit and not just ego. Stark hasn't thought about the answer to that question before, and he's probably just as surprised by the answer as we are. That's comic gold, and it's what Downey delivered over and over in the first Iron Man movie. I can't wait for more.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Azam Ali, Niyaz and Vas

I've been following Azam Ali for years, now, ever since she was the lead vocal in the duo, Vas. She is, according to Wikipedia, an Indian American of Iranian descent, and she has two qualities that make her a knockout performer: a beautiful, sultry and mysterious voice combined with a sense of ethnic heritage that stems from the parts of Persia and India that we very rarely hear much about in the U.S.

Her recent solo album, From Night To the Edge of Day, embodies the fusion of her heritage perfectly. There's an Indian sensibility to many of these songs, but it's unlike any Indian music I've ever heard because of the Persian influences.

If you check out her most recent work, I also highly recommend you look into Vas (who I've only mentioned in passing, here, before). This was the original group that I heard her in, before she left the "alternate worlds" duo to be the lead of Niyaz. I don't think I've ever heard her sing in English, which is kind of interesting, since she's certainly capable of it, but I'm not certain that I'd enjoy her performance as much without the ethnic distance that I feel from it. Listening to a Niyaz or Azam Ali song is like taking a vacation in an exotic corner of the world.

Azam Ali's music has also been featured in a number of films and television shows from the songs Whirling from Prince of Persia to Svarga from Fight Club (neither one of which is available on the soundtracks for those films, sadly). Probably her most recognized work is a small but memorable vocal part in the fight theme from Matrix Revolutions, Navras by Juno Reactor.

As you can tell, I really enjoy her work, and pretty much anything she's involved in, I'll probably get around to listening to at some point. Hopefully, a Niyaz tour will come to my area someday...