Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Fair Way to Boost the US Economy

The US Congress seems to have issues with coming up with fair methods of repairing our ailing economy. They are more than happy to bail out those who actually caused the problem so that they can go back to rewarding themselves with massive bonuses. Why not pass a bill that would boost our economy by helping those who did not cause the problem and have been most hurt by it?

I think it's a no-brainier -- allow anyone not tied to the financial industry and whose income is below a certain amount and who has not missed any mortgage payments to refinance their homes to today's historically low rates while the federal government covers the closing costs of the refinancing. This would be far more inclusive than the weak HARP program, and thus would be more fair and do more to help our economy. It would increase tax revenue by allowing middle-class Americans to have more money in their pockets and, perhaps even more importantly, it would increase consumer confidence. The only people to lose would be the banks who would get lower interest on their loans, but hey, it was these banks who caused the problem in the first place and have been bailed out by us.

A second idea is to improve the manner in which we dole out foreign aid so that it helps other countries, as intended, but also helps America. Do some basic research of particular areas that need our help, such as infrastructure projects, and offer to fund these projects, but rather than giving the money to the country for the project, we would use US companies to produce the work. Yes, this would cause the projects to cost more than if produced locally, but being efficient is not the point here. The project gets completed, benefitting the foreign country, but the vast majority of our tax-payer dollars gets reinjected back into our own economy rather than vanishing overseas.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Describing Characters -- Close 3rd vs Omniscient

Long ago I purposely chose to use close 3rd rather than omniscient POV in my writing, because it gives the reader a sense of intimacy with the character. The reader will feel almost as if he or she is the character. However, the one trouble I have had because of this decision lies with learning how and when to describe characters in the story.

I was reading today and came across this character description that struck me as being so much better than anything I do (bonus points to anyone who can tell us where this is from without having to Google it!):

"Her pretty little upper lip, shadowed with a barely perceptible down, was too short for her teeth and, charming as it was when lifted, it was even more charming when drawn down to meet her lower lip. As always with extremely attractive women, her defect--the shortness of her upper lip and her half-open mouth--seemed to be her own distinctive kind of beauty. Everyone took delight in watching this pretty little woman, brimming with health and vitality, who, soon to become a mother, bore her burden so lightly. After being in her company and talking to her for a while, old men and somber, apathetic young men felt themselves becoming, like her, more animated. Talking to her, and seeing at every word her bright smile and flashing white teeth, made a man feel that he was in a particularly amiable humor that evening. And this was true of everyone."

Never mind that part of the reason I was struck by this description was that it reminded me in a fashion of how I feel about my wife, this passage showed the advantage that omniscient has over close 3rd. In close 3rd when you already know someone well, especially if it is a spouse or one of your children, you have no realistic reason to be thinking about them in such descriptive terms, and after all close 3rd is supposed to be strictly about what the POV character is thinking or seeing or sensing at any given moment. A husband is more likely to focus only on something that stands out, such as if his wife had a smear of blood on her cheek or something of the sort. He's unlikely to give a full-on description of someone he sees every day of his life.
Vika in Beijing
My lovely wife--who lights up any room she enters--preparing for a dinner party in Beijing

So, I tend not to describe in much detail, but I am trying to learn how to do better. I am trying to keep this in mind while reading close 3rd stories, looking for brilliant passages that can give me clues as to how to do better. What are your thoughts?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

More Great Modern Music

Sorry I'm on a music kick, but I'm stuck in Washington far from home, so I can't do any writing. I have to have the comfort of my own desk in order to write. So, here's another modern rocker that very few people ever hear -- Buckethead. There's a good reason for this, as he plays some truly strange music. However, hidden deep within the haypile are a few needles. My favorite is Killing Cone, which I bet none of you have heard. Sometimes I daydream that I bring my guitar to a street corner and play this song, just so I can see peoples' jaws hit the pavement.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Insanely Great Music

Once upon a time there was musical genius in the world and bands wrote and performed their own music. Life was good. We had Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, The Who, Donovan, Simon & Garfunkel, The Stones, and so many more.

Well, time went on and newer generations of kids decided they didn't like talented musicians anymore. They wanted choreographed pretty boys and girls lip-synching to throbbing beats that they couldn't write or perform themselves in a million years. Yeah, music pretty much sucks these days.

Genius is still out there, however, even if you have to search for it long and hard. I've got lots of it in my collection, but I'll just give a sampling from one great singer/songwriter -- Maynard James Keenan. If you haven't heard of him, well he sings for Tool and A Perfect Circle (and some other bands when he feels like it). He's one odd duck, but he has an amazing voice and writes some of the best modern songs around. I dare you to listen to these five or six times and tell me he's not a genius.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Given it's huge international success, I felt it necessary to read Stieg Larsson's book The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It was better than I expected. I wouldn't read it again, but then only my very favorite books fall into the reread category.

Naturally, having read the book, I decided to see the movies. I started with the original Swedish version, not just because it was released first but also because I tend to enjoy the original foreign versions of such films better than the American remakes. I thought the Swedish version was fairly well done, and given the shortcomings of filmmaking, I don't think it was a big deal that they changed so many details. I didn't like the movie as much as the book, but that is to be expected.

What really surprised me was how much I liked the American remake. Other than the lame opening credits, overlaid with an odd mangling of Led Zeppelin's classic Immigrant Song, I really enjoyed this version far more than the Swedish one. Each film had elements done better than the other, but the overall movie-watching experience was better in the US version for me.
Especially impressive was the acting of Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander. She won't win the Academy Award for which she is nominated, but she should, in my opinion. I think the voting members are a bit too staid and stuffy to let a newcomer like Ms. Mara win, but she embodies this role almost perfectly. I enjoyed seeing her work far more than the other nominees that I have so far seen.

Once I return home to Budapest (I'm stuck in Washington DC for work for a month), I'll read the other two of Larssen's books, at least once I finish the ones I am currently reading. This may take awhile, since one of them is War and Peace!

And for something completely different, my Patriots are playing in the Super Bowl for the fifth time in the past decade. This is a repeat of the matchup four years ago when the Patriots had a chance to be the first 19-0 team ever but were upset by the Giants. I hope the Patsies get revenge, but I have this odd feeling that they won't. I keep reading about how Patriot running back Green-Ellis has never once fumbled in his five years in the NFL, so I can't help but feel that this is the perfect setup -- my Patriots losing due to his first fumble.