Purpose one: writing a travelogue to describe my various trips.

Purpose two: muse.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Daybreakers vs. Let the Right One In

I have seen two great vampire movies: "Daybreakers" and "Let the Right One In." Of the two, I thought Daybreakers was better. Here is why.

Daybreakers had a few twists that made it interesting. Unlike practically all other vampire stories, in Daybreakers, the vampires are in the majority and running civilisation, while humans are scattered in hunted bands.

A subtler, but more interesting, twist is that the vampires do not change internally when they become vampires. Vampire-hood is brought on by a parasitic disease, so that nothing happens to the victim's faculties, soul or conscience. In other vampire worlds, the turned vampire is anywhere from a completely unrecognizable to seriously twisted version of the original human. In the Buffy world, for instance, many personality traits are retained, but the vampire has no conscience. This leads to a range of reactions, where some vampires take pleasure in the damage and pain they inflict on humans, but most of them are just hunters out looking for their next meal.

In Daybreakers, most of the vampires accept the situation, some with a hint of remorse, others with relish. The protagonist, Ed Dalton played by Ethan Hawke, is so conflicted about the situation that he eventually stops drinking human blood altogether, at the danger of becoming emaciated. In Daybreakers, the vampires do not die from starvation, at least not immediately, but rather turn into a creature like a giant bat.

There is a political undertone to this situation. The vampires retain the full mental capability and moral outlook that they had as humans, yet, when it comes to survival, most of them goes with the flow. If Bromley must lock up humans in a facility, keep them barely alive, and milk them for their blood; if they must fund the military to hunt down and wipe out the last human resistance; if the police must taser, imprison or even kill the poor weaklings that did not make it and are turning into vile bats, then so be it.

These twists make the movie interesting, and it is well done on top. As one small sign of the thoroughness of the world, consider that since vampires do not reflect in mirrors, these high-tech ones use video-cameras to view their own image. With twenty-first century technology, the traditional vampire weaknesses, such as not being able to withstand the sun, is easily overcome. It is not really clear if vampires are stronger, which is another facet I liked. When the characters are fighting with even 19th century technology, there is no reason strength should be an important advantage. (The humans use crossbows in Daybreakers, presumably because they do not have resources to make gunpowder).

Many users call the movie horrible, including one companion I watched the movie with. Let the Right One In got better reception by critics. It has an impressive 8.5 score in its IMDB user rating, where Daybreakers only gets 7.1 (still not bad). Why is this?

I believe it is because Let the Right One In is not really a vampire movie. To enjoy Daybreakers, you must accept the vampire theme. Let the Right One In, on the contrary, is a pretty traditional story about a young, isolated boy, Oskar, who needs to overcome his nemesis. It is a story told countless times. The movie could have worked equally well if his new friend, Eli, was different for any other reason than being a vampire, such as a religious outcast or part of a family of career-criminals. Sure, there are some scenes that play on Eli being a vampire, including a tense moment when Eli and Oskar is lying in bed together, Oskar half asleep. Yet, these scenes are not critical to the overall story. In Daybreakers, the vampire theme is central.

I could have done without a gratuitous explosion or three, but overall, I think Daybreakers adds wonderfully to our vampire folklore.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Yesterday Morning the Redwood Took Revenge on my Axe

As I was cleaning up fallen branches after our recent storm, a chunk of my hatchet got stuck in the heart of a solid redwood log. It was not a small chip either, but a nice big bite.

The hatchet was an old one and no big loss. It has, over the years, cut up a lot of redwood, and I was impressed with how thoroughly the wood got back at it.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Wonders and Dangers of Emotional Thinking

Here is another great grook entitled A Psychological Tip:

Whenever you're called on to make up your mind, and you're hampered by not having any,
the best way to solve the dilemma, you'll find, is simply by spinning a penny.
No -- not so that chance shall decide the affair while you're passively standing there moping;
but the moment the penny is up in the air, you suddenly know what
you're hoping.
This is an example of emotional thinking. I find it particularly useful in dating. I can go on a date with a woman, and she can be smart, funny, pretty and at ease with herself. When I tell her I am going to call her again, I probably mean it at the time, but if a week or two passes, and I have not felt like calling her, we both have the answer we need.

Do not confuse my use of the term emotional thinking with emotional intelligence. The latter is the ability to identify emotions and their causes, in yourself and in others. Emtional thinking is when you use your feelings to make a decision or conclusion.

The danger with emotional thinking is that it is useless when abstractions of any kind are involved. Abstractions can invoke emotion, but those emotions are much weaker than those invoked by specifics. To make matters worse, large numbers are abstract, at least to most of us.

This is why relief organizations use pictures of a single child, and stories of individuals, to solicit contributions. The appeal, "Abebi is a three-year old, starving Nigerian girl" is more powerful than "A quarter million Nigerian children are starving." It is a bit absurd, but very true.

Emotional thinking is an important tool in our personal lives, but it is unfortunate when people let it guide their input to discussions about social issues, or at least, when it is the overriding guide.