Film treatment of The Return of the King

January 4th, 2004

The Lord of the Rings.  It is a novel I have read and re-read many times with deep enjoyment, often finding new perspectives on the narrative.  I awaited the film versions with great anticipation.

The Return of the King

I give it a B overall; a good execution, but the departures from the book were at times incomprehensible, especially in as much as they diminish the humanity of some of the major characters.

Better than the second film, though, in that regard, as I found to be worse in The Two Towers the side track of Aragorn going over a cliff on the way to Helm's Deep, how the ents were enticed into attacking Isengard, and the appearance of elves rather than rangers just prior to the battle at Helm's Deep (and what happened to them in the third film - bad continuity there).  Not to mention the treatment of Legoloas skateboarding down the stair, firing arrows all the way (which was just juvenile direction), or Aragorn kicking in frustration the ashes of the burned orcs (juvenile characterization).

As for missing the scouring of the Shire, more would have to be done with Saruman for that part of the tale to be explicable, but the way they _did_ end up handling the return to the shire was consequently anticlimactic, and perhaps only served to make it clear to viewers unfamiliar with the original that there would be no sequel.

Perhaps the TV miniseries format would allow these flaws to be avoided.

Turrell lights

December 7th, 2003

No one should miss the James Turrell exhibit at the Henry Art Gallery

I hadn't been by the new permanent Skyspace exhibit much since construction was completed, but remember it going up in various stages.  I went Thursday evening, walking there after dark in the light rain.  On the footbridge you approach diffuse lighting, soft pastel colors, illuminating the perimeter, a ridged, almost corrugated surface.  Nearly uniform colors, slowly changing from purple to lavender to blue to green to red to pink and so on.  We saw it at various points and perspectives and colors through the evening.

Inside the museum, we access the inside of the work across a short footbridge, through the elements and then a small portal. 

For some reason I had in mind that it was a circular cylinder, so the first impression was a surprise.  The interior is an oval shaped room, with a fine finished wood bench about the perimeter.  The floor is black, speckled with white.  The walls are white, as is most of the ceiling, except for a shape like the inside of an egg, bubbled up and lit blue like the sky.  The floor reflects the light from above.  The whole space is diffuse, very subdued.  The shapes and surfaces, and the lighting, all combine to make the levels and surfaces deceptive of what is flat and horizontal.  Very cool.  In good weather and daylight they let the natural light shine through the upper opening.

But that's not all.

There were around 6 other Turrell pieces, each uniquely combining space and light.  One was a room entered through an opening reached by climbing a short ascent of pyramid steps.  Looking on the portal from outside on edge, it was a flat blue screen;  people approached it and appeared about to pass through a wall.  Inside, the room was all blue, difficult to precisely say where were the edges.  The floor ramped down and expanded.   Looking back, the opening was a dark contrast, beyond which another room opened to a dark space, people disappearing into it. 

The dark room opposite contained models of a work under construction at Roden crater near Flagstaff, Arizona.   Six years from completion, people will arise through a tunnel to the center of the crater's bowl, with the sky arching overhead. 

Another room was very dark, black floor, walls, ceiling. Except for a lightly lit area in the rear; in red, it angled off like a broad cut from concentric cylinders.  After sitting there for some time, it looked like the wall on the way out had a broad curve to it.  I had to touch it to tell it was flat (and then find my way out).

Another wall with two comfy chairs before it, had what looked like a small screen that flickered lights of different pastel hues, changing irregularly over time.   Sometimes the color would go black, and this black looked dark like a black hole, reflecting no light at all.

The whole installation was fantastic.  Everyone should see it.  Except for the Skyspace, the other works are being removed in February, so don't delay.

a pile of rocks

August 25th, 2003
a pile of rocks

While 5 AM isn't much earlier than I normally get up during the week, it is a few hours before I normally arise on Sundays.  But I awoke with a start nonetheless, knowing in an hour I needed to be at the meeting place in Tukwila.  So I got dressed and finished loading the pack: water, burrito thingies, energy bars, apples, camera, extra clothes, ...  put all that and myself into the car and headed south; destination: from Paradise to Camp Muir, on Mt. Rainier, 5400 to 10,100 feet, ~4700 feet up in about 4 miles (

Tukwila is suburban USA like all others: interstate, shopping malls, hotels, office parks.  The hotel where we met had coffee.  Rich brought the Expedition (plus trailer, yeow), and we all loaded up and climbed in: Rich (I've known since Huntsville), his soon-to-be-senior-in-high-school son Jesse, guide Bryan (co-worker, he does this all the time), Nancy (spouse to another co-worker), Lynn (also works on the program), me.  Omelet at Shari's somewhere along the way, we approached from the south to avoid the fires, deer along the road side, lake about 20 feet low (record number of days this summer with temperature above 70 - it's been quite dry), finally the Paradise parking lot (which must be some kind of ultimate non-sequitur, especially for a national park).

Weather on arrival: beautiful blue skies, a few light clouds at the peak, crossed by the contrail of an airplane flying much higher.

We were out of the parking lot around 9 AM, and I was feeling it in my legs almost immediately, because once you get started it is only up.  The first mile or so is paved to accommodate the many tourists;  lots of little snaky trails in the near vicinity.  But at every turn in the trails near the Paradise lodge one immediately knows where to go - there is only one way - up.  Part of that first section for us was along the Dead Horse River trail (didn't actually see any), but pretty soon the Skyline trail is all there is, a little bit winding back and forth, and pretty well developed with rock steps and edges to keep people off the meadows.

While we were still below the tree line it was very green, but the trees were noticeably thinning at a rapid rate.  Saw a pair of marmots near the trail at one point, nibbling the grass;  a little farther on we heard their whistling calls behind us.  Near the end of the developed trail we crossed Pebble Creek and stepped over the first little bit of snow, just beginning to melt and get slushy in the warming air.

I looked up.  A common sensation for me this whole trip was that of the deceptiveness of the distance we were to travel.  From many points along the path I could look up and see where we were to end up, and it always looked about the same.  Rather fractal, self similar, in a huge vista of snow and rock and sky kind of way.

We donned gaiters for the rest of the climb (my donation to REI for this trip), and the nikwax application to my boots held up great.  Before long we were on the first of two long snow fields (in August!).  Somehow I managed to be in front for a while, and I would be climbing away, targeting what looked like a crest that would be followed by a flat section.  It turns out there _is_ no flat section, just one false indication after another.  After a good bit of this I saw what seemed like a good point and started to aim for some rocks to take a rest, but Brian was behind me, calling out "go for the next set of rocks". "Over there?", I say, pointing maybe 50 feet farther.  "Up there" he says, our target now another 200 yards or so.

But who knows what distance it really was.  It all started to look the same at a certain level.  But we made it to that rest point, but not all made it on from there.  Rich had really loaded himself down, and had been lagging;  he was carrying a full sized pack with a sleeping bag.  We were ready to go before he reached that point, so five proceeded from there.

I found that it was easier after a break if I did not sit down.

Looking back at all the other mountains I could see that none of the near ones were as high as I was at that moment.  St. Helens and Hood visible in the far distance.  Looking up and our destination appeared about the same distance away.  But I also spent time looking down, watching my feet, seeing that they tramped into the marks made ahead of me, slipping a bit here and there.

More snow.  Actually more like little ice crystals kind of like slush, but more solid.  Much of it with slight tinges of blue-green or red, sign of some micro-organism.  A crevasse marked with little flags crossed the path at one point.  Not very wide;  easy enough to step over, but it looked dark down there.  In addition to snow there are sections of rocks, lots of them, all piled on top of one another.  Big ones and little ones and great huge ones.  Flat ones and round ones, too.

After the rocks there was more snow, the final stretch to Camp Muir.  A huge field of ice, pock marked with dips created by the melt in the sun.  Bright whitish stretches and dark dirty places (that snow's been around a long time to collect all that dust).  Jesse took this point to return to where we left his dad, so then there were four.

Looking up to the final crest I could make out the little cabins of the camp.  Bryan and Nancy in the lead;  Lynn and I following ultimately about 8 minutes back when we reached the end.  Total time up was about 5 and a half hours.  Had lunch.  Bryan surprised us with hot chocolate from his thermos, and it felt so civilized to sit up there sipping it.  Looking around I could see path to the summit (14,410 feet), another 6 to 8 hours to complete.

After about 30 minutes we headed down.  The descent was much quicker, as we could slide on our boots and the main concern was to not go too fast, while the gaiters helped keep the snow out.  Bryan had also brought with him a few heavy plastic garbage bags, for use to slide down upon, which was a blast.  On the way up we had seen several paths people had formed sliding down like that, and by the time we were going down some of those trails were pretty long and smooth.  A couple times I went spinning around backwards, and once I was barely slowed before reaching the rocks (felt that collision in my shoulder for a few minutes afterward).  We joined up with Rich and Jesse, and before long the snow field ended.  And then it was just the climb over rocks down to the trail, back across Pebble Creek to the Skyline Trail.  We saw the marmots again, and a lot more people going up (few of them, I suspect, would make it as far as we did).

At around 5 PM we hit the parking lot, found the car, and I stretched my back, thinking about how I had just spent all day climbing that huge pile of rocks, only to turn around and come back down again.  The ultimate summit will have to wait for another day, but having done as much as that I allowed myself to think I could make it the rest of the way sometime.

Park Service Directions:   From the Paradise upper parking lot (5,420 ft) take the Skyline Trail to Pan Point, (6,900 ft) continue to Pebble Creek and follow the Muir Snowfield to Camp Muir at 10,100 ft. Make sure you pick up the "Get your Bearings" brochure which has the compass bearings from Pan Point to Camp Muir. At Camp Muir, there is a ranger station, guide hut, client hut, toilet facilities and public shelter. The public shelter holds 25 people and has an emergency radio inside. It’s open all year however the door may become blocked from the inside during snow storms. Camping permits for Muir are issued on a first come, first served basis. There is a limit of 110 people per night.

Life and Debt (2001)

February 23rd, 2002

Life and Debt (2001), Stephanie Black, Director

It might ahve been the anti-WTO crowd that brought this documentary to latte-land, which was not clear in the review I read today, that caused me to see the film this afternoon down at the Varsity (in the U district, of course).  It probably would not have made any difference had I known about that ahead of time, but I liked to be warned about overt politics.

The film has a tale to tell, and much of that tale is about poverty in Jamaica, and how that poverty is a result of world trade, but of course not very clearly distinguishing trade from the government corruption, and various import and export subsidies and restrictions around the world (mostly favoring the developed West over the undeveloped third world, but who is surprised at that?).  A prominent sponsor:  National Endowment for the Arts.  The enemy:  The International Monetary Fund, and I do not doubt that there is a lot of politics in how international bank loans are arranged, and then how the money is spent.

Much of the film showed the contrast between life for tourists in resorts and that for native population.  Only a driver's license would allow me to visit Jamaica (for example), but travel by a Ja native to the USoA requires substantial life documentation (although what exactly was not made clear).  The main point being to show with these contrasts that the (mostly western) tourists are banal (no doubt), and oblivious to the lives of most of the local populace.

Apparently the US dairy policy, which is also known to heavily subsidize US milk producers, allows powdered milk to be exported to Jamaica at rates that make it cheaper than the local fresh milk.  And the US poultry industry, since Americans like their white meat so much, exports the dark meat prices below which the local Ja farmers are able to manage.  But there are other factors effecting the island economy and the ability of those local farmers to compete, and what the film failed to address was even their existence, let alone their relative magnitudes:  tax policy, inflation rate, restrictions on some business while subsidizing others, other waste of taxes and printed currency.  As for inflation, they quoted something around 15-18% for the time of production (~1998, may be overestimated); the tragicomic aspect was the surprise of the filmmakers to find that borrowing money would take 18-23%.

what terrorists want

October 31st, 2001

In response to this article in the New Yorker


The desire for control of nation states is a reasonable terrorist motivation;  power lust has motivated so many criminals to government in the past.  It wouldn't surprise me if bin Laden already exercises such control in Afghanistan.

However, after weeks of US attacks, bin Laden may never surface, the islamic world is more polarized and radical than ever, innocents are dying under US bombs ("precision" is relative, as is "high reliability"), they hit that Red Cross warehouse twice (how stupid is that?), the taliban quite casually execute their internal enemies, US forces are being fired on in Pakistan (!), ...

It looks to me like the response to US bombing has been to consolidate their power in Afghanistan and make the rest of the muslim world more shaky.  It seems naive in the extreme to count growing hordes of bin Laden supporters as a good thing because such large numbers will allow more pro-western spies to infiltrate.  We'll then be able to foil a terrorist plot every month (of course, there will then be 10 a month to deal with).

It really worries me to hear US policy advocates speak in terms of "divine mission", as if a god damned religious war were a good thing.  Others speak of disengaging from the middle east as a bad thing, as if we had nothing better to do than decide from which theocracy to buy oil.  But if the people in those countries can't sort out their own problems, what kind of arrogance is it to think we can do it for them?  Let's get the hell out and let their gods sort them out.

This situation is so agonizing because one wants to have some solution that will get the bad guys and put everything back to normal, but I don't think it is going to happen.

I'm for stopping the bombing and increasing the reward.  $25M isn't nearly enough.  If $100M doesn't bring in the culprits of 9-11, then make it $150M.

discriminating response

September 12th, 2001

To the Editor of The Seattle Times:


To be unmoved by the tragedy of the recent terror is impossible for anyone who loves the liberty this country provides.  And if you do love that liberty, please think twice before advocating indiscriminate retaliatory strikes against people in countries that may or may not have harbored the criminals responsible for those acts.

If the police in our town were to spray bullets into a crowded street in the hope of stopping one criminal who might be there, we would gasp in horror.  Let us not then allow our government to do the equivalent on a international scale, by recklessly bombing cities around the world.

To predict the result of such a response, all you need to do is look at the examples of the Middle East and of Northern Ireland.  Both regions  are marked time and again not by the prosecution of violent perpetrators through the courts, but my murder of innocents, merely because of a weak association with the true criminals.  If you ever looked at events in Belfast or Palestine and wonder why they choose to keep fighting each other after so many years,  remember that it started with the killing of innocent people in reprisals for murder, when the proper recourse was to bring the original criminals to justice.

While we feel justifiable rage over the death and destruction in the East, now more than ever is the time for us to breath deeply, keep cool heads, and resolve to bring the true criminals to a well deserved prosecution. 

If you value your freedom, and your sense of security, think about what brought to pass events in which some people so hate the United States that they would take such awful steps.  Those people have no experience of the freedom we enjoy;  rather they face a US foreign policy which props up dictators, attacks, and stations troops in countries where we have no business being, the Middle East most of all.  It is not a wonder that they hate us;  it is more a wonder that it took them this long to hit back so hard.

Remember that in the last couple years Osama bin Laden offered to end his "holy war" against us if we would merely leave Saudi Arabia.  I thought then, and in retrospect feel more strongly now, that sounds like a pretty good idea.

Hempfest 2000 heavy on toke-lore

August 22nd, 2000

I have occasionally submitted material to The Seattle Times.  The subject to this was the headline of the article to which I responded (those headline editors are so cute).  No record of being published at the time.

The quotation used by Peyton Whitely in your article about Hempfest was inaccurate to state that the political interest shown at the fair was "mostly Democrat".  I worked 6 hours conducting an "Operation Politically Homeless" survey and found that the majority of respondents were libertarian.

This surprising result was found upon posing 10 questions of people regarding their views on subjects of personal and economic liberty, including questions about the drug war, regulations on sex, immigration, trade, taxes, freedom of the press, the military draft, foreign aid, and business and farm subsidies.  The more people respond in favor of individual liberty in the subjects covered by these questions, the more they fit in the libertarian portion of the political spectrum.  The results were tracked throughout the day, and I was happy to see so many libertarian stars as I left for home.

Contrary to my expectations, Hempfest participants reflected all walks of life, young and old.  Even so, at a festival such as this, it was no wonder to find people agreeing that the drug war is a complete failure and should be abolished.  However, it was also inspiring to see such a large number of people extending their confidence in the benefits of freedom to the other areas of our lives, areas in which government interference causes far more harm than good.

The drug war is a travesty of justice, which has proven completely ineffectual in reducing either the supply or demand for drugs in the country.  It is time to recognize this and work to end the prohibition, which, like that of alcohol in the 1930's, has only given us more gangs, crime, death, and corruption.  If you desire a sane solution to the drug problem, including those problems caused by the prohibition, then vote Libertarian this fall, because you won't get satisfaction from any of the other political parties.

Only Libertarians, including 66 challengers in races across the state, such as Presidential candidate Harry Browne, gubernatorial candidate Steve LaPage, and congressional candidate Joel Grus, will free us from the war on drugs.  Only Libertarians will put the drug gangs out of business, pardon non-violent drug offenders, stop drug war corruption, and devote police resources to violent criminals.


I got only a little sun burned, and had a lot of fun talking to people, although I was a little hoarse and tired from standing all day.  Hempfest, by the way, is apparently the single largest such gathering in the United States, whose purpose is to promote the normalization of marijuana laws.  It took place down at Myrtle Edwards park on the waterfront downtown.  They were expecting between 40-90,000 people through the day.