Re-reading some old favorites

When I was younger, I read a few series of books over and over and OVER again. I can still quote whole passages from Anne McCaffrey’s Harper Hall series, the early Xanth books (I’m so ashamed), Robert Lynn Aspirin’s Myth series, and, of course, The Lord of the Rings. These days, I’m reading Patrick O’Brian’s historical novels about Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin. I have a hard time explaining why I like the books so much; O’Brian overuses certain narrative figures and lines far too often (no character “says” when he can “cry” something) and the books contain passages about seamanship that remain a mystery (e.g., a double sister block, coaked). But I do love them. I love the mix of locations, from Hampshire and the English Channel to the Mediterranean, Java, the Galapagos Islands, North Africa, and Boston. I love the deep character exploration of Aubrey and Maturin over many books–Stephen’s loathing of anything smacking of an informant, Jack’s good-willed, clumsy wenching. I love the matter-of-fact, deliberately sudden way that important characters can die from the myriad dangers of war, seafaring, or simple low-tech danger. I’m running a steampunk RPG soon, and while it’s not set during this period, I think re-reading the books is helping me get back into the long-vanished mindset of the European gentry.

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We don’t have a choice?

I’ve been hearing this a lot the last couple of weeks. “The world’s credit market is in crisis. Ginormous banks can’t lend to each other. We have to pump huge amounts of cash into them to save our economy. WE DON’T HAVE A CHOICE.”

You know, I’m pretty sure we do have a choice. In his speech, President Bush spoke of banks that “found themselves saddled” with huge loads of toxic debt. It’s not like they woke up one morning and found those debts behind the toaster. They actively sought them out, leveraging their purchases in defiance of common sense to get as much risky debt as they could. Economist talking-heads argue that while the banks made poor decisions, we have to save them now or else.

Or else what? Some other world financial system could spread prosperity and promote sustainable growth based on industry and innovation rather than speculation. A market correction and tightening of regulations could lead to more prudent lending and the return of a barrier between investment banks, personal banks, and insurance companies. If things get really bad, the return of local money and barter could carry us through for a while. I don’t know that these would be good things. Perhaps pumping liquidity into the market is the best course, but I’m tired of hearing that it’s the only one.

One two three, hail TV

I haven’t had proper, regular TV access for some years now. I’ll watch shows by DVDs of seasons, by streaming video, by other means frowned upon by the TV industry. It makes me more selective about what I watch, but it’s also made me more oblivious to things like memorable ads, special sweeps week episodes, and the new Fall season. TV networks began starting their new shows around the end of September because that was when the new car models were released and auto companies needed something to get more eyes on the screen for their commercials. That motive is long past, but the tradition remains, and this week I’ve explored modern television a little beyond my comfort zone.

First, I studiously looked through all the new shows in TV Guide’s Fall Preview issue. It’s such a parade of failure, and I’m amazed every year at the obvious clunkers that studios pay big money for. More sassy comedies, more “reality shows” featuring common real-life situations like trying to fit through weird holes in a wall or become a Playboy bunny, more spooky pseudo-science fiction with pretty people blathering intensely about unbelievable conspiracies. Over the years, I believe I’ve become a better watcher of TV (refuting a core tenet of Neil Postman) and it amazes me that the networks have gotten no better at cultivating great television.

Second, I’m going to watch a few shows that I might like, but haven’t given a proper try yet: Ugly Betty, Battlestar Galactica, The Big Bang Theory, Torchwood. I’ve heard good things about all those from at least one person whose taste I trusted, so it’ll give a little variety over my usual all-H diet of Heroes, House, and How I Met Your Mother.

Finally, I’ve been watching the hilarious British show Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe–and so should you. Brooker doesn’t just poke fun–he seems genuinely ANGRY at bad TV, and that anger is smart and vulgar and cheeky all at the same time. He doesn’t ignore the good stuff either–the show passionately advocates for programs like Deadwood, The Wire, and the new Dr. Who. It’s pretty much all available on YouTube. It’s interesting to see bad British TV that’s never imported here: there’s a late night show on British TV equivalent to the Girls Gone Wild videos that ACTUALLY FLASHES A SYMBOL ON SCREEN to tell its viewers when to stop masturbating. I knew TV could be bad, but I had no notion that we were so closed to Idiocracy‘s Masturbation Channel.