“I am not an animal!” – review of The Lobster

The Lobster movie poster

The Lobster: Colin and invisible friend

Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster, released in the US in 2016, is one of the most original films I’ve seen in years. I shouldn’t have been surprised since that same director also created the bizarre Dogtooth in 2009. It received an award at Cannes, an Oscar nomination, and 89% on Rotten Tomatoes. Yet I had mixed feelings about it. Although it’s thought-provoking, watching it was frustrating at times.

The film’s premise is strange. Its setting is a world much like ours, except that being single is in effect illegal. Anyone who becomes divorced or widowed is taken by the authorities to a special resort with others of their kind. Here they must find a new mate within 45 days. If they fail, they will be surgically converted to an animal of their choice. The protagonist, David, played by Colin Farrell, has chosen to be a lobster – an exemplary, unusual selection. Too many people, David’s counselor explains, choose a mundane animal like a dog. This was the fate of David’s brother Bob, who is now his pet.

You might assume, as I did, that in this situation, people would hook up with just about anyone; yet they are irrationally picky. All believe that couples must have at least one common trait. David’s friend John (Ben Wisham) takes a fancy to a girl who gets frequent nosebleeds (Jessica Barden), so he repeatedly injures himself to fake a similar condition. Robert, the lisping, autistic fellow (played hilariously by John C. Riley) doesn’t have a prayer.

Many singles try to escape, and resort attendees are forced to hunt them down with tranquilizer guns. Each captured escapee extends the capturer’s 45-day grace period, but one particularly aggressive woman (Angeliki Papoulia) bags most of them. After a brief, disastrous fling with her, David flees to the woods, where he joins an underground group of fellow loners. This is also the home of random animals such as camels, peacocks, and hogs. All, we assume, are former humans.

Here David meets his true love, a fellow runaway (Rachel Weisz.) Since both are myopic, they are compatible. Unfortunately, the society of the loners forbids intimate relationships on pain of mutilation. The lovers secretly plan their escape back to the city, but meet with the treachery of the group’s leader (Lea Sedoux). The ending is either a triumph of love, a tragic farce, or both.

On the surface, Lanthimos appears to be saying that society is geared around couples to the detriment of singles. To me, the more interesting aspect was the self-defeating behavior of the singles – passive, unconfident, and exceptionally picky. Farrell’s low-key performance was perfect in this regard. The culture of the society of loners was an astute comment on today’s disconnected alienated society. The scene where everyone dances separately to techno music, each listening to his own headphones, was quite striking. On the downside, I found the message to be so obvious and relentless to be tedious at times. Still, I have to give it high marks for originality. I’d give it 3.5 stars out of 5.

Speaking of weird animals, check out my sci-fi short story “Found Pet,” only 99 cents on Amazon.

 

My Two Left Feet

by Arlys-Allegra Holloway

Victorian Boots

The perfect steampunk accessory: original button-up boots from the Victorian era. Photo by Arlys Holloway.

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “two left feet” to describe someone who’s awkward or clumsy. Back in the 1800’s, this was, in a way, literally true. As late as the 1850’s, the two shoes in a pair were interchangeable. The owner had to break them in order for them to be wearable. Most shoes and boots at that time came in only two widths, slim and “stout.” Since they were handmade, though, a cobbler could adjust or customize a shoe to fit.

The Victorians were much more comfortable than those of previous eras because shoes were finally being made differently for left and right feet. William Young is credited for perfecting the process in the early 1800s, although it didn’t become the norm until much later.

Around the same time, it became acceptable for women to wear the same kinds of boots that men were wearing. Women’s boots would feature intricate embroidery, and lace of many colors often dyed to match one’s dress or gown. They were made from rubber and leather, and were heeled in a different way than men’s. With scalloped edges, patent leather, and suede, these stylish boots were not the kind their owner would want to wear in mud. Fashion boots still survive to this day as a lasting testimony to the Victorian Era.

Well-bred women took great pride in their feet and wanted them to look as small and dainty as possible. Ladies’ magazines of that time would instruct, “The foot is one of the chief points by which a woman’s social position is judged. If the feet are small, well-shod, and prettily used in walking, they add an additional charm to the appearance, and are an indication of high standing and … of gentle birth.” It was crucial that women’s feet looked as presentable as the rest of their outfit. (I was unable to find the exact source for this quote.)

Footwear has seen many changes over the years, in particular with the introduction of different shoes for left and right feet in the mid-1800’s. This gave way to the elegant styles of the Victorian era, which remain popular to this day.

Daylight Scammings Time

bullwinkle-backwards-clock

Crazy time! I miss my backwards Bullwinkle clock.

Those of you unfortunates in the rest of the USA lost an hour today. We in Arizona (and Hawaii; our fellow holdout Indiana succumbed to the Borg a few years back) do not practice such nonsense. The idea was first proposed by Benjamin Franklin, though it was a moot point since official time zones had not been established. It came into common usage in Germany during World War I with the rationale of saving coal by promoting energy savings. Daylight Savings Time is the archetypal grand government scheme in that its proponents exaggerate benefits and ignore negative external costs. If it’s such a great idea, private businesses are free to adopt summer hours on their own initiative. There’s no need for coercive standardization.

The original benefits touted for DST were energy savings. By adjusting the hours most people were awake, it would supposedly require less use energy usage. Wikipedia’s article on DST reports several studies in which energy savings were predicted, but subsequent follow-ups showed little to no benefits. In fact, when Indiana adopted DST in 2006, energy consumption actually increased due to greater use of air conditioning in the summer evening hours.

The other alleged benefit of DST is that people can enjoy more time after-work outdoor activities in the summer. Here in Arizona, this is a drawback. Due to the high temperatures, we welcome the sunset. (A few years back, our august legislature proposed reverse DST. Ugh!) Again, private businesses are free to adopt summer hours. Government offices could do so as well. However, with increasing air pollution and traffic congestion, communities would benefit far more from staggered work schedules, which would render the whole issue moot.

Now for the widely ignored downside: DST has a significant detrimental effect on health. Days on which the clock shift see a 10% increase in heart attacks (also from Wikipedia.) Its effect on global business is a nightmare because the many nations who observe “summer time” tend to shift their clocks on different days, making time coordination more baffling than a backwards Bullwinkleclock. For example, Mexico adopted DST as a result of NAFTA (so-called “trade pacts” have little to do with reducing tariffs and everything to do with the centralization of authority) even though, as a sub-tropical nation, it sees little benefit. It’s interesting to note that Mexico changes its clocks on different days than the US, meaning this “standardization” simply increases confusion.

Daylight savings time is a scam that offers our citizens little or no benefit at a significant cost. If we’re going to eliminate grand government schemes this would be a good place to start, since its repeal wouldn’t bankrupt any companies or start any rebellions. President Trump, gadfly that he is, should consider this move as a less controversial way to benefit America.

The wise Victorians didn’t observe DST. Escape to a simpler time with my steampunk novels Fidelio’s Automata and Miss Ione D and the Mayan Marvel.

 

The Great Glass House

Crystal_Palace_General_view_from_Water_Temple

London’s Crystal Palace, 1854

The Crystal Palace was one of the signature landmarks of Victorian London. It was built to house the Great Exhibition of 1851, which showcased many of the wonders of the Industrial Revolution. After the Exhibition ended it was moved to a park on Sydenham Hill and remained there until it was destroyed by fire in 1936.

330px-Crystal_Palace_Dinosaurs_overview

The famous dinosaurs!

Besides the Palace, the park featured the famous Hawkins dinosaur statues, which were among the first scholarly recreations of those prehistoric creatures. Of course, many of their conceptions were spectacularly wrong. Unlike the Palace, these statues remain and were extensively restored in 2002.

At the time, the Crystal Palace was the largest glass-walled structure in the world. It must have been a beautiful sight illuminated from within on a foggy London night. Photographs of its interior show it was big enough to enclose living trees. This reminded me of visits to Biosphere 2 in southern Arizona, another large glass structure, and I wondered how the two compared. According to Wikipedia, the Crystal Palace had 772,784 square feet on the ground floor alone. I didn’t take the time to find accurate specs for the biosphere, but an article I found on the design site Curbed estimates it as 2.5 times the size of a football field. If that includes the end zones, that would be 142,000, or less than one-fifth the size of the Palace. That would make the Victorian edifice impressive even by today’s standards.

Biosphere_2_Habitat_&_Lung_2009-05-10

Arizona’s teeny-tiny Biosphere 2

Therefore, the Crystal Palace seemed like the perfect place for Arlys and I to use as the backdrop for our fictional First Royal Epicurean Exhibition in our upcoming Ione D novel. It makes the perfect backdrop for old-fashioned intrigue and mayhem. Too bad it’s not around anymore! Watch this site for updates and previews of future Ione D and other steampunk adventures, including a sequel to my 2015 novel Fidelio’s Automata.

Photographs from Wikimedia commons.

 

The Glory of Retro Design

RoverBoys

A vintage cover: The Rover Boys On Land and Sea, by Arthur M. Winfield, 1903.

While doing a web search for steampunk art, I came upon a site which displayed a number of pre-made covers for sale to independent authors. I can’t criticize their quality, as they featured high-res photos of attractive models in top hats, goggles, and bustiers. As good-looking as these designs were, they were too modern. They didn’t seem appropriate for a genre that celebrates the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. That kind of cover says 21st Century, not the Victorian era. That’s why I favor custom covers, in an attempt to simulate the look of an old-fashioned leather-bound volume. I contracted out the designs for the covers of my first two books, but for Ione D, I tackled the job myself. Though I’m no artist, I’m good at the Gimp (the Linux equivalent of Photoshop), so thank Cthullu for my collection of antique books whose copyrights have passed into the public domain. For Miss Ione D and the Mayan Marvel, I adapted a 1918 German-language Artsongbook which I inherited from my grandfather. The attached image is we’d call a “young adult” novel, published in 1903, which I plan to use as the model for the cover of Professor Ione D. and the Epicurean Incident. Watch this site for updates and previews of future Ione D and Fidelio releases.

Steampunk Fashion Extravaganza

brittney_as_emma

Brittney Reed as Professor Ione D’s childhood friend, Mrs. Emma Farrington

My co-author Arlys once again proved her creativity and fashion sense in a steampunk photo shoot held at our house this weekend. In the above photo, Brittney Reed portrays Ione D’s best friend, Emma Farrington, from the upcoming second book in the series. Titled Professor Ione D and the Epicurean Incident, the story revolves around Ione’s visit to the First Royal Epicurean Exhibition in post-Victorian London. A number of mysterious mishaps arouse the suspicions of our intrepid heroines. Are nefarious parties conspiring to disrupt King Edward’s culinary initiative, or is it just bad luck?

brittney2

Arlys’ character-based photography sessions have been a fun and imaginative way to create graphics for our book covers and publicity releases, as well as provide guidelines for our artists’ illustrations. Professor Ione D and the Epicurean Incident is tentatively scheduled for publication next Victoria Day, May 24, 2017. Watch this site for updates and previews.

brittney3

 

Coming Soon: a New Ione D Adventure

Ione D in Steampunk Hat

Arlys Endres as Professor Ione D

While we prepare the Mayan Marvel paperback for production, my multi-talented co-author Arlys has been preparing for the second book in the series, Professor Ione D and the Epicurean Incident. Its publication is tentatively scheduled for Queen Victoria’s 198th birthday, May 24, 2017. Here we see our model Arlys Endres playing the globe-trotting young Professor, Ione Dyfrdwy. This time, we’re getting a jump on getting the illustrations for the novel ready ahead of time. We’ll be keeping you informed of our progress.

 

Liberty and its Discontents

Statue of Liberty

Lady Liberty, Photo from Wikipedia

For many years, we libertarians studied, wrote and theorized in the shadows. We believed with a religious zeal in the benefits of liberty and a laissez-faire economy. The Libertarian Party’s motto says it best: “Working for freedom because freedom works.” Though we continued to be marginalized as a movement, our efforts began to pay off. Starting in the Reagan era, many of those in power began to take our ideas seriously, or so it seemed. Four libertarian principles – deregulation, privatization, free trade, and open borders – have become economic and political orthodoxy.

Abolitionist Frederick Douglass once said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” In other words, we should have been suspicious of our rulers’ good intentions. Politicians and bureaucrats are not inclined to surrender money and authority without a personal benefit. In this case, it was the monetary support of billionaires and multi-national corporations. As their elite-centric policies have borne their rotten fruit, we find ourselves in the uncomfortable position of defending our ideas on multiple fronts, from progressives, populists and even the Alt-Right.

Though we still believe in freedom, the issues are more complicated than they once appeared. The recent relaxations and abolitions of laws and regulations happened to apply mainly to the rich and powerful. Yes, freedom is an end in itself, but it is not always beneficial when enacted unevenly or unfairly.

Take for example deregulation. The Enron scandal occurred partly as a result of the government’s deregulation of energy distributors but not energy producers, allowing the company to reap massive profits. Even more disastrous was the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Banking Act during the Clinton administration. This allowed banks to move into risky derivative markets, while still insured by the taxpayer, creating a moral hazard that caused the financial crash of 2008.

Privatization, too, has had its share of disasters. Privately owned prisons are another source of perverse incentives. Rather than simply providing a cost-effective alternative for the incarceration of dangerous criminals, these corporations made contracts with governments specifying minimum “occupancy” levels, which indirectly led to a vast expansion in the US prison population. The “Affordable” Care Act, too, was conceived as a “free market” alternative to a single-payer health care system like the one in Canada. Markets do not work well with compulsion, and the Obamacare “mandate” allowed insurers to raise rates and deductibles dramatically for their captive consumers.

Perhaps the worst example of privatization gone awry occurred after the fall of the Soviet Union. Led astray by Western “experts,” Russian officials privatized their nation’s industries, granting shares to every citizen. This happened simultaneously with massive unemployment and the gutting of Russia’s social safety net. In order to avoid starvation, citizens were forced to sell their shares to foreign investors who proceeded to strip-mine Russian industries. This is why the Russian people love Putin because his government put a stop to this madness.

As for “free trade,” when the elitists use the term, it means more than eliminating tariff barriers. Trace organizations like the European Union create a huge unelected supranational bureaucracy, which is accountable only to large corporations and the wealthy. Newer trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would create special courts in which corporations could sue to have national laws and regulations changed for their benefit. If this wasn’t insidious, why were the terms of the TPP kept secret even from Congress?

Despite its benefits of efficiency and closer international relations, free trade has the downside of promoting the outsourcing of jobs and industries from high-wage to low-wage countries. Instead of using tax policy to mitigate these problems, the US government actually incentivized the practice, ravaging the American middle class and bankrupting the heartland. It was this problem, not the rise of minorities, that made the so-called “deplorables” so furious.

At the moment, the biggest issue in both America and Europe is immigration, with illegals and refugees causing anger in the native population. Though libertarians have traditionally favored immigration as a component of individual freedom, we find the double standard infuriating. Why does one group get to flout Federal law, when a citizen doing something comparably illegal would end up in a private prison? Even worse is the uncontrolled Islamic invasion of Europe. These so-called refugees receive taxpayer support and special legal privileges. Rather than expecting the newcomers to assimilate, European governments demand that their citizens accommodate the newcomers’ primitive, misogynist culture. This insanity is what turned me away from my life-long “open borders” advocacy.

Can the philosophy of freedom survive? Some of us libertarians have turned to populism and the Alt Right and supported President Trump as a lesser evil, even though many of his policies are authoritarian in nature. Yet the fact that the entire Establishment opposes him is a mark in his favor. As for the Libertarian Party, if it is to continue, it needs to pick a standard-bearer who isn’t a single-issue (legal weed) know-nothing like Gary Johnson. Speaking of weed, could there be something behind the marijuana movement besides the desire for increased tax revenues? Perhaps the Elite once again have something sinister up their sleeves.

 

Lala Land, the Awesomeness Behind the Hype

Lately, everybody’s been talking about a movie called Lala Land. It’s directed by Damon Chazelle and stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling as Mia and Sebastian, star-crossed lovers in modern-day Los Angeles. The movie has been nominated for 14 Academy awards, which ties the all-time record set by All About Even and Titanic. I hate to be an echo when the film has already gotten so much praise, but it deserves it.

Lala Land is not the best movie I’ve ever seen, so perhaps so many Oscar nominations is a bit of overkill. I think, however, that it’s warranted given the current dearth of good solid films with general appeal. Furthermore, it’s fun to revisit the time-honored musical format. Unlike many of the old-time movies, in which another person’s voice was dubbed in for the musical numbers, both Gosling and Stone sing, and they do a good job. As for the choreography, I’m by no means an expert but it looked good to me.

Like all romantic stories, there’s a bit of a formula. The protagonists, an aspiring actress and a struggling musician, meet by accident and it’s hate at first site. Their paths keep crossing, however, and as in any formula romance, the initial repulsion turns to passionate attraction. On the other hand, La La Land mixes it up with an ending that’s not quite the standard “happily ever after.” I liked that, not because I’m anti-tradition but because it’s nice to defy expectations for a change. Are the protagonists’ personal dreams more important than a cherished relationship? The way the characters approach that dilemma is what makes the story.

It’s been so long since we’ve seen a musical set in contemporary America, it seems jarring to have one with cellphones and electric cars. In a way, it’s less of a musical than its spiritual predecessors. Though it begins with a surprising and impressive song-and-dance number on an LA freeway on-ramp, the songs don’t appear throughout. Since Sebastian is a musician, much of the music is organic to the story.

My favorable opinion of Lala Land has been solidified by the disgruntled reaction from Social Justice types in the media. One of these ridiculous reviews was by Geoff Nelson on Paste. He argues that the nostalgia the movie expresses is racist because things were bad for black people in the good old days. Furthermore, Nelson finds it insulting that Gosling’s character, a white man, strives to save jazz, while the black character Keith (played by John Legend) is a sell-out to pop music. Excuse me, but jazz has never been a purely African-American art form. The Jewish contribution to early jazz has been well documented. We never see Sebastian in a yarmulke, but who knows? (Gosling himself was raised Mormon.)

This identity politics reaction is all the more ironic since Emma Stone was one of those Hollywood lefty girls in the “I Will Survive” anti-Trump video. I care not one whit about Stone’s political opinions; she’s a great actress and adorable to boot.

If you haven’t seen La La Land, see it; it’s a lot of fun. Those of you guys who are worried about the “musicals are gay” stereotype, see it when it comes out on video. Your secret will be safe with me.

For a dose of nostalgia and alternate history, see my book Miss Ione D and the Mayan Marvel, currently in e-book and coming soon in paperback form.

No Tea for the Tillerson

no_tea_tillerson

Former Exxon-Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, was on Capitol Hill yesterday for confirmation hearings before Congress. Given the general hysteria over Tillerson’s business ties with Russia, I thought at first he’d be a good pick. Nothing is more important than repairing America’s damaged relations with Russia. It’s a powerful country, rich in resources, with an educated population and a shared opposition to Islamic terrorism. Most importantly, it has nuclear weapons, so to attack it would be suicidal.

Unfortunately, the US government is lousy with “exceptionalists” who deny that Russia has the right to defend its own interests. They’re apoplectic that Moscow has opposed the illegal installation of hostile regimes in two of its former allies, Ukraine and Syria. The neo-conservative anti-Russian crusade is not about “human rights.” If we cared about that, we wouldn’t support countries like Saudi Arabia that murder gays and enslave women.

As for Tillerson, he’s more of a war-hawk than his detractors thought. He supports our pointless sanctions on Russia as if either Crimea or Aleppo was any of our business. Furthermore, the accusations of Putin “hacking” the Presidential election are just that, accusations, unsupported by credible evidence. Even if the Kremlin DID hack the Democratic Party’s server, the released information was true and relevant to the voters’ decision, so the leak was a public service.

Perhaps Rex is repeating this neo-conservative rubbish so the clowns in Congress will confirm him. I hope that’s the case, but I have my doubts after hearing his belligerent remarks about China. What gives us the right to tell a sovereign nation what it can and cannot do in its own coastal waters? Open navigation in the South China Sea is critical for Beijing’s survival. Despite that fact, Rex insists that China must stop building artificial island bases and threatens to send our Navy to kick them off.

Is this man insane? It’s acceptable to make war for our own national defense, but not to attack the vital interests of another country. China has every right to defend itself and having come late to the party, there are no leftover islands for it to occupy as bases. To Beijing’s credit, these built-up shoals were not inhabited. They’re not conquering and coercing native peoples as we did with Guam, Samoa, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Even Diego Garcia, which the US rents from the UK, was stolen from its native population.

Why do so many powerful Americans continue to frame other nations’ defensive moves as aggression? It must be psychological projection because the US is second to none at portraying imperialism as defense. We needn’t accept this nonsense. Congress should reject Tillerson’s nomination, not because he’s (allegedly) soft on Russia, but because he’s unhinged, unfair, and unbalanced on China. We don’t need another conflict, especially one that could escalate into a nuclear war.

If you like political intrigue, you’ll enjoy my novel Centrifugal Force.