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Posts Tagged ‘Waterman Thorobred’

Fifty Ways (roughly)

Posted by Dirck on 13 August, 2013

In my previous excursion into responding to a film review, I expressed my deep appreciation of El Santo’s powers.  I therefore surprise myself as much as anyone when I say that he’s dead wrong in his review of Starship Troopers.

Well… that’s too sweeping a statement.  In the course of examination of Starship Troopers, he gets something wrong.  This one wrong item doesn’t have any real bearing on the general conclusions he reaches, and in that respect the only complaint I can think to make is that he’s a little to generous in giving the thing a rating of ½– this in the full knowledge of his inverted bell-curve of ratings which allows a stupendously bad film a high negative rank for the unintended entertainment value.  Zero, and the half-stars to either side of it, indicate a film which is a failure in terms of its own intentions and in terms of that failure to provide any joy to the viewer.

Back when this thing came out, or rather just before it appeared in the theatres, I watched an ad and said to myself, “Aw, damn.  This is going to suck, and I can’t not want to go see it.”  I told my wife about this crippling disability, and promised to arrange the viewing so that she could avoid being dragged along.  She was at that time some months away from the title of Wife and thus suffering her own crippling disability– Besotted Girlfriendhood.  She threatened me with terrible consequences if I thought to go to a movie without her, even one which promised to be as bad as the Jurassic Park sequel which our combined problems had landed us at not long before, and would not be reasoned out of it.

However, since she is not entirely without wisdom, she brought a book.  About half-way through, we were both reading The Haunting of Hill House and trying to ignore the terrible thing happening on the screen above us.  On the drive home, we began to formulate a list of the diverse ways in which it was a bad movie.  The list grew to include forty-three separate heads; lost now, alas, and I’m not willing to subject myself to a re-watching of it to attempt a reconstruction.  But I will cast what aspersions I’m able to recall from that single, long-ago exposure.

I should mention that I intend to quote El Santo pretty liberally throughout.  Let’s start with what was for me was the only real disturbing element:

     The general consensus on the part of its defenders is that Starship Troopers is a satire on modern American militarism of the Gulf War variety, or on the propagandistic war movies of the 1940’s, or even on the Nazis’ notorious propaganda machine. And for my part, I’m going to assume this to be true, on the grounds that the idea of a Dutch director growing up in the 40’s, only to film a ringing endorsement of fascist militarism 50 years later is too disturbing to contemplate.

Exactly my thought.  The high SS-flavouring of the officers’ uniforms certainly suggests a specific point of reference, and it almost has to be an ironic reference… but Verhoven was playing it even more deadpan than he did with Robocop‘s initial ED-209 deployment if that’s the case.  It’s so deadpan that in fact I think it’s almost a case of the director pointing a finger right at the people who were gearing up to elect George W. Bush and shouting “You guys are idiots!”  The final line in the film, if I remember correctly, is spoken of an unarmed alien surrounded by armed humans– “It’s afraid!” is greeted by a whoop of joy, as if this state of affairs guarantees inevitable human victory in a conflict which is manifestly not running very well for us.  If you joined in that whoop from your seat in the audience, I think you’re the very person Paul Verhoven is snickering at.

Which gets us to one of the more common complaints about this film, which even its defenders generally admit as a problem.  Unlike El Santo, I read the book, and re-read it not long before seeing the movie.  Heinlein was modelling the war on the “island-hopping” Pacific campaign of the Second World War, so like the US Marines his Mobile Infantry had very limited reserves.  However, those limited reserves were the orders of magnitude more destructive than the 20th century model had available, as befits a society capable of summoning the energies needed to move between star systems in conveniently short times.  The movie version of the same force has… a bunch of riflemen.  Heavy weapons?  Mechanized units?  Air support?  None of the above, and as El Santo points out these defects combine an almost psychotic unwillingness to learn any tactical lessons from previous encounters.  There is an animated series founded upon the film, aimed at kids, and it does a much better job on these points.  Once again, if Verhoven is actually using Starship Troopers as a means of rubbing its primary audience’s nose in its own stupidity, this makes sense, but it’s being done in awfully broad strokes.

This military incompetence is not limited to the level of policy.  In the book, the MI was an all-male enterprise, while in the film it’s co-ed.  I don’t myself have any brief against women filling any role in the military; as with firefighting and engineering, there are some general requirements in terms of mental and physical ability, but one’s role in procreation has little bearing on those requirements.  However, in the case of this film the inclusion of both sexes is not a means of showing how the future has overcome silly modern gender prejudices of our current era; it is rather a means of servicing the lamentable soap opera aspects of the plot.  Boys and girls in a military setting?  Shenanigans!  What makes this particularly galling is the unit commander, calling out that the enemy is inbound and all the troops need to be at their positions in five minutes, looking into the flagrante tent, smiles, nods, and says, “…ten minutes.”  Because the requirements of the service and duty to humanity must take a back seat to carnal satisfaction.  Is it any wonder that the aliens are winning?

The aliens, by the way, are something most people, including El Santo, view as a mark in the plus column:

Cool as the Arachnids are (and by the standards of CGI monsters, the bigger ones at least are fantastic), their eye-candy value is nowhere near enough to make up for the stupidity, incompetence, and tedium of Starship Troopers.

I will agree that visually they are pretty cool and a pretty high-standard of CGI for their day.  I also rate the exterior bits of the space battle (I think there was only really one) as something that one can look at with some enjoyment.  However, the way the aliens are handled also left me a little angry.  They’re a space-faring race in their own right, let’s remember, which underline their powers by obliterating Buenos Aires not with a handy solar-system asteroid but with one shipped in from their own system.  All we’re shown of their technology, though, suggests that it’s based upon genetic manipulation of their own species.  Their soldiers are a specialized fighting caste.  Their rulers are a “brain” caste.  Their response to orbiting unfriendly spacecraft are colossal bombardier beetles.  This last is where my disbelief begins to slither to the floor, because the containing the kinds of energy which launching vast globes of incandescent matter into orbit within the frame of a living creature runs too far beyond my imagination’s limits.  How much farther, then, the growing of a warp-drive, or hyperengine, or whatever you what to call your Dillingham?

Even setting that aside, the aliens’ tactics are not actually any smarter than the humans’, in that the central command appears to be “crush them under mountains of our dead”.  Granted that this is an attitude honeybees will comprehend, but this, I point out once again, an advanced society.  It takes resources to grow billions of soldiers to the point that you can throw them away like human armies use bullets.  You must really want a barren, protein-free moon a lot to throw away that much of your race’s biomass to hang onto it.  Or… be really stupid.

Touching upon the acting, I bow again to El Santo:

{T}he incompetent young actors who comprise the bulk of the cast are incapable of anything but the cardboard earnestness they display here.

Yup.  For some subjective reason, I find Denise Richards authentically objectionable rather than merely uselessly cardboardish, almost as if she’s a bad actor with malice aforethought rather than a bad actor through common negligence.  This only serves to elevate her slightly above the bunch.

And at last, I come to the point at which El Santo is entirely astray in his review.  I will let him damn himself out of his own keyboard:

Major characters drop one by one (including, frustratingly enough, Rico’s commanding lieutenant, who is played by Michael Ironside of Scanners, the only decent actor in this movie), and Rico is consistently promoted to take their places, until finally defeat becomes so obviously unavoidable that the fleet airlifts the soldiers off the planet.

I give Ironside mad props (as the kids once said) for delivering that “…ten minutes” line without appearing to be dying inside, but he was not alone.  Clancy Brown suffered through rather more of this mess, and aquitted himself at least as well.  I was also going to defend Neil Patrick Harris, but casting my mind back, I think he allowed himself to drift down to the level of the leads; understandable, but it leaves him culpable.

It’s… good heavens, sixteen years since I saw this thing.  I remain angry at it.  I guess Verhoven can claim to have made an impression.  There’s one last thing to address, the departure of the film from the book.  As I mention, I had read Starship Troopers prior to seeing it, and I agree that it does step away from Heinlein’s parable about the underlying sacrifices required of a thinking citizenry.  I don’t know that this is a reason to abuse the film; I can see and even agree with some of the points Heinlein makes while finding the whole of the philosophy rather unappealing, but I don’t think a film based on the book would necessarily have to engage that same philosophy.  It could have been a rollicking space opera rather than a turgid soap opera.  It could have been an examination of the way the bonds of fellowship are refined by the forge of conflict, as more conventional war movies have previously done but in a different setting.  Not clinging to the source material is a tradition in the making of films into books, and it’s just fine if the film is a good film.   Which this is most emphatically not.

Today’s pen: Waterman Thorobred
Today’s ink: Diamine Syrah

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Call an Inspector

Posted by Dirck on 29 March, 2012

Something I got up to in an idle moment at The Regular Job:

"Calligraphy is the physical manifestation of an architecture of the soul."

This is attributed to Plato, but the wording is from Patrick O'Brian

I guess this means that my own architect is still revising the blueprints; it’s not horrible, but it’s not what one might call entirely regular.  Better than I might have done a few years ago.

Today’s pen, at play above: Waterman Thorobred
Today’s ink, surprisingly dark in this example: Herbin Bleu Myosotis

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Revenge of the Vacumatic

Posted by Dirck on 27 March, 2012

This past weekend, I fixed a Vacumatic.  Again.

The pen in question had been in my hands about a year ago, for a general restoration to function.  I won’t say “Easy peasy,” since it was actually somewhat resistant to my efforts to break into it, but it wasn’t much more challenging than the average Vacumatic.  New diaphragm, a bit of a cleaning, and home it went.

A couple of months ago, the owner contacted me and said, “Um… it’s not filling right.”  A long-distance diagnostic is tricky, but I thought that either the breather tube had come loose or the diaphragm’s pellet had gotten loose from the mechanism.  I could conceivably disclaim responsibility for the former, but I would absolutely be on the hook for the latter.  With a little direction, the owner got the section off, and confirmed that there was something askew with the diaphragm.  My problem!

I spent the time between this email exchange and the pen’s arrival in a bit of a desolation of self-doubt.  Did I mess up the mounting of the diaphragm?  How?  With the older version of the mechanism, the pellet cup is a sturdy bit of metal rather than the later brittle plastic objects, the possibility of messing up (once the filler is properly removed) is extremely low.  So, where did I go wrong?

I can now report that, happily, I did not go wrong.  The diaphragm came out looking very like a lump of gum, and since I know what I did during installation I know I didn’t cause it.  If I’d used smelly baby powder, then I could find fingers pointed at me, but I use only the purest talc.  I also don’t think the owner has a role in it; I know he uses Aurora inks, which are appropriate, and there was not evidence of anything inappropriate going into it.  No, I think we have another instance of spontaneous rubber failure; sometimes, for no evident reason (but probably down to a small error in formulation), the latex goes gummy, if not goopey. I had this happen once before, and rather more dramatically, and while upsetting it’s not what we might call a regular occurrence.

I still take the responsibility for putting it right, so I am out the return postage on this pen.  However, since this gave me a chance to take a decent picture of it for my Vacumatic page, I look on it as a balanced event.

Today’s pen: Waterman Thorobred
Today’s ink: Herbin Bleu Myosotis

Posted in General Blather | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Chilly Receptions

Posted by Dirck on 10 February, 2011

Today is the day for cold shoulders.  In a literal way, I arrived at The Regular Job to discover that the furnace had failed.  The indoor temperature stood, according to the non-metric thermostat, was 53 (for the non-bilingual, that’s 11.5C).  This is substantially warmer than outside, but it’s not what you’d call a convenient temperatures for data input.  This did not affect the whole building, but it did affect the presidential office, where the temperature is even lower as the corner office doesn’t share a wall with the brimstone-scented accounting department.  It’s always warm in the accounting department, for some reason.

I have noted previously my disinclination for extremes.  Last week we had too much fire, and now too little.  Can we not learn the lessons of Buddha and Goldilocks?

We’re informed that the repair is taking longer than it might otherwise, because the furnace is old and parts can’t be had quickly.  I forebear from suggesting that a local brass-working machinist be found to fabricate the needed parts.  I am happy I wore my pea jacket today, as I can wear it comfortably in my office chair.

Less personal is a story from the Fountain Pen Network, in which a chap recounts his daughter’s being marked down for having used a fountain pen on a school test.  The issue was not the pen itself, apparently, but the fact of the ink.  The possibility of infinite ink colours that is a strength of the fountain pen, has undone one of the users!

I’m not going to castigate the distant, anonymous teacher, by the way.  I have been a teacher myself, and I understand the need to get some regularity into the kids’ work to keep madness at bay.  I can only wonder at the patience of the teachers I had during my childish Skrip Peacock Blue phase.

Today’s pen: Waterman Thorobred
Today’s ink: Diamine Dark Brown

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Conveying Emotion

Posted by Dirck on 8 February, 2011

A friend of some years absence recently asked in an email how, given my status as a slightly frustrated writer, I felt about emoticons.  I answered in brief, and said to myself, “Ah, there’s something I can milk into a topic.”

As anyone who’s fought their way through this load of palaver will already know, I’m a big fan of the old ways of doing things, but not because of some axiomatic, nearly religious assumption that old and right are interchangible.  The areas where old ways beat new tend to be those where craftsmanship comes into play.  The current standards, set as they are by mass production, tend to be so low that any evidence of craftsmanship at all tends to tip the observer right over.

How does this bear on the matter at hand?  Well, writing is one of those craft-susceptible fields, isn’t it?  The emoticon crops up as a tool of modern short-hand, things like 😉 standing in for the much harder to produce “nudge nugde, wink wink, say no more” or the much harder to produce careful phrasing which conveys subtly to the reader that the author expects you to not take entirely seriously what is being said, as it’s meant to be understood ironically or perhaps sardonically.  As a curmudgeonly aside, I remember a time when that was spelled 😉 and I can’t help but wonder why the kids these days can’t be bothered with a nose. {I see after posting that “semi-colon end-parenthesis” AND “semi-colon dash end-parenthesis” are both replaced by the same little cartoon through intervention of software.  Alas, the loss of freedom of expression to the machine!}

In this as in so many things I take a moderate position (rather than merely waffling indecisively– that’s something else entirely).  You’ll note, with the exception of the example in the previous line, that I don’t give the little devils any space here.  While the stream’o’consciousness in a half-hour or less affair this pile of words represents is hardly going to manage to be art, I do view it as at least a means of building the muscles needed for crafty writing, and I’m not going to be doing myself any favours by LOLing about the place.  However, in a forum like the Fountain Pen Network, into whose messages one puts even less effort (yes, that is possible) and which are likely to be read briskly and by a somewhat polygolt community for whom the Anglo-Canadian sense of fun might not quite come across, I view them as extremely useful tools.

Tools.  Good when used in the right place.  A bread knife may not carve an imperial bust.  A crutch is not a ski pole.  Go ahead and use them, say I, but only where they’re appropriate.  I’ve a correspondent who does something similar in written letters, but her skill in art is such that it’s not only appropriate, but delightful.  A proscriptivist might miss out on some nice stuff, but the user must remember that over-reliance on artifical strength may lead to the atrophy of the actual muscles (for those keeping score, you can probably write that down as a mixed metaphor).

Having touched upon craftsmanship in this sort of format, I will lament the apparent departure from the world of Mobilis Ink Mobili, a blog which displayed the sort of craft and erudition possible in an online periodic.  Perhaps the Noughtilus will re-emerge one day, but unless and until it does, I’ll cherish the memory of Nemo’s raging wit.

Today’s pen: Waterman Thorobred
Today’s ink: Diamine Dark Brown

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Greasy Kid Stuff

Posted by Dirck on 10 August, 2010

Another unexpected lunch with the Regular Job staff, so I must be brief. Referring to the TWSBI pen and its potentially leaky seal, there is an interim solution while awaiting the replacements being sent out by the maker.  I mention that the pen comes with its own little supply of silicone grease, but what I do not mention is that this is an extremely high-quality liquid manifestation of the material.

What I more generally use is a slightly lower grade grease that is in texture much closer to petroleum jelly than anything else (but never use the latter in place of the former– they are not interchangible).  The thicker texture of this stuff acts as a much more effective barrier than the super-good grease supplied.  A erring in favour of quality has proven, briefly, to be an error.

This is not my idea, but that of one of the other inmates of the Fountain Pen Network.  I’m just reporting my results.  As soon as the replacement seal arrives, I’m switching back to the good stuff.

Today’s pen:  Waterman Thorobred
Today’s ink:  Herbin’s Lis de Thé

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Dying with Great Vigor

Posted by Dirck on 9 March, 2010

We are informed by general knowledge and occasional news reports that letter-writing is a dying practice. Ever a low-wattage contrarian, I differ. Letter-writing is merely shaking itself free of those not devoted to the effort.

In the pre-internet days of communication, one had to choose between a prolonged telephone call which was unconfortable on the ear and if outside one’s own community frighteningly expensive (this predates calling plans as well), a telegram which demanded brevity as you paid by the character, and a letter. People who were unwilling to meet the demands of the first two were stuck with letter writing. A lot of the lost volume of letters is, I should think, the sort of thing that e-mail is very good for; angry notes to suppliers, holiday greetings, and similar stuff that isn’t really meant for the ages.

A letter should be an intellectual exercise in the most positive sense. You sit down, you contemplate your correspondent and the news you’d like to convey, and set it down in the most pleasing language possible. Is it time consuming? Oh, yes. I should right now be devoting these few minutes of lunch to a letter which is about to become, in my own mind, overdue; a response to one which arrived last week. But it is also relaxing, as your mind gets to loaf along at its own pace, not driven by the demands of direct conversation (was that a silence?!) or the imperious flashing cursor. You are allowed the leisure of composition which ensures that you won’t say anything inflammatory, nor have your meaning misconstrued. It is an interesting form of distant intimacy, even when in the Platonic vein, that no quantity of wires can quite replicate– unlike telephone, telegram, e-whatever, and even direct speech, a letter leaves an artifact that has been handled by both writer and reader, a tangible residue of communication.

I know, thanks to this internet thing we’re all mesmerized by, that I’m not alone in my enjoyment of letter. Have a look at my links, and you’ll see a couple aimed at people and organizations that want to promote the use of real mail, and you’ll find a load more links on those sites. Deutsch Post, for slightly self-serving reasons, has set up a random-assignment pen pal engine. My current correspondents are all the result of poking around for this sort of activity in the crannies of the web. One might assume that the numbers of letter-writers will increase as the tendrils of the internet reach out and envelope ever more people inclined towards the activity for its own internal rewards.

It is, of course, more fun with a fountain pen, but if you lack one you need not let that stop you. Even inferior writing instruments can rise to the occasion, if the mind directing them is willing.

Today’s pen: Waterman Thorobred
Today’s ink: Private Reserve Burgundy Mist

afterword– could you tell I was pressed for time? I’ll bet you could. Tomorrow will be even worse, and I don’t guarantee I’ll appear at all. I need to go and set up an RESP for my son’s future post-secondary education, and if I start now, the effect of compound interest will actually have time to mean something.

Post Scriptus from some days later: A fellow of the Fountain Pen Network provided this link to what I think is a premature elegy for the letter.

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Exercising Literacy

Posted by Dirck on 25 January, 2010

Last week I mentioned properly exercising the spine of a book. This is something I mean to put into my website, but since I’m moving quite glacially in the book side of the site, I’m going to cover it here.

When a book is new, it should in theory have just come from a series of clamps and presses all aimed at making it the densest object it can be. Exercising it returns some of the lost flexibility to the spine, giving it some direction in its future opening. It’s also not a bad idea to treat in a similar manner books which have stood on a tightly-packed shelf for some years.

The first step is to take the closed book and set it so that the spine rests on a table top– as if you’re about to let it drop open to a random page. Don’t, however, just let it drop open. Carefully lower only the covers to the table while holding all the pages upright, which gives you something shaped like an inverted T with a rather thick stem.

Now, in very small doses of five or ten pages at a time, let sections of the text down onto the covers. Run a hand along the valley, where the section you just released meets the still-upright portion of the book, to smooth it down so it lies in a relaxed manner. You want to alternate sides when doing this, working incrementally towards the middle of the book. The last smoothing gesture along the valley should occur at just about the centre of the book, and when done should leave you with a book sitting happily flat and open on the table you’ve been working on.

None of this applies to paperbacks, of course– this will do just as much damage to the glue that holds the papers together as regular reading on those sad creatures. The closer to a traditional flexible binding your book has, the more good this will do it. The very cheaply-bound modern hardcover will hardly profit by it at all, since they’re essentially disguised paperbacks. The slightly-less-cheaply-bound ones, which have the pages arranged in signatures which are gouged and glues, take a little more good from exercise, and books with authentic sewn bindings (of which there are still some on the market) will positively revel in it. This applies also to journals, of course, and if you find yourself with one of those odd objects from Paperblanks with the visible stitching it’s also applicable.

This is one of the areas in which e-books really can’t compete. You may through a Kindle or Nook come into contact with the notions of a writer, but you lose this potential of ritual and communion with the medium through which those notions come to you. Gently massage a book, and in addition to the tactile rewards you can explain to the onlooker that it helps the book last. Do the same to an ebook reader, and you’re just a weirdo.

Today’s pen: Waterman Thorobred (I think I shall have a Waterman Week as counterpoint to last week’s theme)
Today’s ink: Herbin’s Lis de Thé

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