Thursday, January 22, 2015

Knight of Nothing Is About To Break The Internet

After eight years as a solo project, I am pleased and proud to announce that Knight of Nothing has added a second contributor!

Greatness, it shall ensue. Welcome, Lizzie!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Islamophobia Creeps Into LinkedIn

I'm pretty disappointed with LinkedIn right now.

Every few days, I get an electronic newsletter from LinkedIn. This email contains links to a variety of professional development articles and other business-related news tailored to my career interests. I know email is pretty passe, but I review these messages regularly; I almost always find something relevant to my job or that I think might help solve issues I face in the workplace. It is one of my chief methods of staying current with my industry, and one of the features of LinkedIn that I use and like.

A few days ago, however, was a different story. I was quite frankly shocked by one of the articles that was included in the message.

Surprised by this provocative and suspicious title, I clicked through to investigate the story. It was worse than I expected: the article ominously claimed that "some areas" in the U.S. were governed (or close to being governed) by "Sharia Law." It contained no useful or thoughtful opinions; no sources were used to corroborate any of its claims, no names were given, and no specifics of any kind were provided. It simply asserted that this was so. To describe this piece as written is to refute it. In short, it was simply prejudicial fear-mongering at its worst.

Okay, so what? Lots of people believe this kind of nonsense. But this isn't some back-water basement blogger who sent me this tripe - this is LinkedIn, ostensibly a clearinghouse for professionalism, and the third largest social media site in the world. I expect more from a site like LinkedIn, and I would guess that from a bottom line perspective, it might not be such a good idea to alienate a quarter of your potential customers.

What is even more troubling is that the content of the article violates their own community guidelines: "Do not use LinkedIn's services... for hate speech acts like attacking people because of their race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, political or religious affiliations, or medical or physical condition." [emphasis added]

Needless to say, I contacted customer support to try to answer the question, "how did this come to be in my version of LinkedIn's official newsletter?" I am almost more gobsmacked that they have not yet seen fit to answer my question.

LinkedIn, I await your reply.

UPDATE: searching on, I was able to find what appears to be the source of the link, but seeing it here does not explain how the link got into my copy of LinkedIn's newsletter. I hope that a thorough explanation is forthcoming.

UPDATE II: I changed the title of this post to be less snarky, because LinkedIn finally did contact me, escalated the issue, and seem to be genuinely concerned about it. I hope that something positive comes out of this. 

UPDATE III: Fox has apologized for promoting this story as news. But LinkedIn is still standing by this story under the cover of "free expression." What gives? 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

We Are Made Of Star-Stuff

The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.
- Carl Sagan
In the last two-day period, here in the comfortable Western world, we have collectively witnessed a couple of barbaric attacks. It's hard to make sense of it. But I find some measure of comfort in Carl's quote.

May the perpetrators be brought to justice, and may the victims and their families and friends of these attacks find some peace.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Road Goes Ever Ever On

In case you haven't seen the movie yet - spoiler alert! Also, you can see my reviews of the first two films here and here.

The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies marks the end of an era that began thirteen years ago with The Fellowship of the Ring. It makes seeing this movie and talking about it a little sad - it's all over! As a fan, in spite of my reservations about (and outright objections to) Peter Jackson's interpretations of J. R. R. Tolkien's stories, it is hard to approach this film with anything resembling objectivity. Knowing that it is the last one* makes it all the more difficult.

BotFA is the only one of Jackson's six Tolkien films that I did not see on opening weekend. Partly because work has been so busy, partly because I have a toddler, and partly because this holiday season was a little more hectic than usual, I just did not have the time to see it right away. But there was another thing that held me back: I was simply reluctant to get out there and put a final end to all of the hopes that I had had for these six movies.

Before FotR was released in 2001, the anticipation of what these films might look like, how the stories would be adapted, and how these movies would be received thrilled me and my friends, and speculating about all of these things was an endless source of excitement. So when The Hobbit was announced as a two-movie treatment (later updated to three), my enthusiasm was rekindled. But after five films had come and gone, my own hopes and dreams for these movies had been thoroughly replaced by the reality of PJ & Company's imaginings. There is a colonization of sorts that takes place when you see someone else's interpretation of a beloved work, and part of me wanted to keep alive the visions I had for a film version of The Hobbit by holding off seeing BotFA for just a little longer.

Of the three Hobbit movies, I enjoyed BotFA most. The high notes of the film - the dragon's assault on Laketown, the dwarven phalanx facing off against superior numbers, the death of Thorin, Bilbo's return to the Shire - brought the story to a satisfying conclusion. But I can't sit here and say it was a good movie: once again, it neglected its own story, cluttered itself with way too much action, and depicted far too many physics-free CGI acrobatics performed by Legolas. And significantly, by appropriating Tolkien's supplementary material to address plot issues in the original tale, the filmmakers wound up introducing more problems than they solved (I'm thinking here of the Arkenstone, the Battle of Dol Guldur, Thorin's madness, and the Earth-Eaters aka Were-worms).

For me, the best scene in this film comes about halfway through: Bilbo, having realized that Thorin has succumbed to his madness and greed (the "dragon-sickness"), decides to slip away and meet with Bard and the Elven-king Thranduil in order to give them the Arkenstone - the jewel with which they might barter for a peaceful settlement. The writing was straightforward and Freeman's note-perfect performance restored a breath of fresh air into the overwrought action and stuffy haughtiness that fills too much of the movie. It needed more of this plain Hobbit sense.

I thought the opening action was great, but it wasn't really a movie opening: it was the end of the last film. In fact, BotFA is the only film of the six that doesn't have a true opening sequence. I guess that makes sense, given that the last movie didn't really have an ending. It speaks to the problems of writing two movies and then expanding the story into three.

There are plenty more nits I might pick, but as I said, overall, I enjoyed the experience of seeing this movie - as a fantasy-action film, it has a lot to recommend it. Looking at the series as a whole, my main gripes can be summed up very succinctly: (1) PJ & Company needed to answer more of the questions that their own script posed, and (2) they needed to dial back (and even remove some of) the extended CG sequences, especially those which ignore the Laws of Motion. As for my second point, given Jackson's work in the 21st century, I can say with tolerable certainty that he's just not going to make this change -- he's too enamored of those tricked-out antics. But as for the first, it needed to happen in order for the Hobbit Trilogy to really shine, and the biggest disappointment is that they didn't do more with such great source material.

ETA: apparently, Aragorn agrees with me:  "Mortensen thinks - rightly - that The Fellowship of the Ring turned out the best of the three, perhaps largely because it was shot in one go... "Anybody who says they knew it was going to be the success it was, I don’t think it's really true," he says. "They didn't have an inkling until they showed 20 minutes in Cannes, in May of 2001. They were in a lot of trouble, and Peter had spent a lot. Officially, he could say that he was finished in December 2000 - he'd shot all three films in the trilogy. The first script was better organised... really the second and third ones were a mess and needed massive reshoots... " he says. "Also, Peter was always a geek in terms of technology but, once he had the means to do it, and... the technology really took off, he never looked back. In the first movie, yes, there's Rivendell, and Mordor, but there's sort of an organic quality to it, actors acting with each other, and real landscapes; it's grittier. The second movie started ballooning... and then by the third one, there were a lot of special effects. It was grandiose, and all that, but whatever was subtle, in the first movie, gradually got lost in the second and third. Now with The Hobbit, one and two, it's like that to the power of 10."

Not all that is gold glitters, my friend. 

*Note: Some have speculated that there will be more films and/or a reboot. They are almost certainly right. But Peter Jackson has pretty much exhausted the Middle Earth materials that he has the legal right to depict on film. So unless and until the rights to The Hobbit and LotR are secured by someone else, PJ & Company's work will stand as the definitive films. And given how many artists and craftsmen were involved with the making of these movies, and their care and attention to a myriad of details, it's not difficult to imagine that the influence of these films will weigh heavily on any attempt at a new telling of the story in the medium.