Les Miserables

This is a movie I’ve waited a quarter of a century to see. I saw it three times when it opened in Boston, from the second balcony. Since then the music has acquired layers of meaning for me. The cat songs I improvised for Johann. The housewarming song I wrote for Debbie Ohi the day before she moved in, to the tune of “One Day More.” While hearing “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” I was in a castle in Germany for the moment, hearing a different set of words, mourning a different person.

Inevitably it wasn’t everything I’d hoped for, but it was 80 to 90 percent.

At first I had trouble getting used to the close perspective. Aside from my second-balcony experience, the musical is a flyover of a large and complex novel with large amounts of historical background; characters literally stepped from one scene into another on a turntable stage. Seeing the characters so close seemed wrong, and at times the movie tried for an excessive level of realism (e.g., the “galleys” in the opening scene). It particularly bothered me that some of the sung lines were turned into speech. Either this decreased as the movie continued or I got used to it.

The American version of the musical was left almost entirely intact. (Note for Joey Shoji: “Do You Hear the People Sing?” is included.) I don’t recall the convent scene; if it was added for the movie, it was a good touch, improving the continuity and keeping a bit of an important part of the book. (The US and UK versions had some significant differences, and the French one was very different, so bits may have come from any of them.) One change that seriously annoyed me was Javert’s drawing a sword on Jean Valjean at Fantine’s deathbed; I was overdosed on swordplay from The Hobbit and many other movies, and it meant that Valjean had to flee instead of overpowering Javert. In that scene, the amount of overlapping between Valjean’s and Javert’s words was greatly decreased, making them easier to understand but reducing the musical tension.

Hugh Jackman did an excellent job of holding the movie together as Jean Valjean. I very much liked Aaron Tveit as Enjolras and Samantha Barks as Éponine. Daniel Huttlestone was great as Gavroche, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens when the pup grows up. According to IMDB, this is his first movie, but he has some stage background. Russell Crowe, who played Javert, provided fine singing but wooden acting. There was a nice bit by a French officer who looked as if he really hoped for a peaceful resolution at the barricade before ordering his forces to fire.

Setting up the Thénardiers as comedy relief in the musical never went well with me; they’re deeply nasty characters in the novel. Sacha Baron Cohen makes things even worse in the movie by trying to play Johnny Depp. Anne Hathaway’s Fantine left me cold, though I can’t really say why.

I sniffled a lot. It wasn’t the perfect realization of what I would have liked to see, but it was close.


At last week’s owners’ meeting of our condo association, one of the people complained that a neighbor’s window had red holiday lights instead of the regulation white. It’s strange how people living in condominiums so often want every home to look the same and can’t stand any variation.

It’s not an issue of rights and liberties, since we’re talking about a private association, but I’d think that people would welcome a little variety from one unit to the next. The latest newsletter warns us: “The following items are prohibited — exterior Christmas trees, exterior lighting of any kind, exterior decorations of any kind except wreaths, and nothing on any exterior portion of the buildings, including shrubs, trees, light posts, lawns and decks.”

This isn’t a new phenomenon; a previous condo development that I lived in was much worse than this one. I think it deserves a name: Condomentalism.

A web search on this term turns up only misspellings of “condimentalist,” a person who uses condiments on everything, so it’s brand new.

Solstice song blogging

A song for the winter solstice: “Beacons in the Darkness.” Copyright 2010 Gary McGath. All rights reserved.

Firefox reports a “clickjacking attempt” when I click on the player. It’s nonsense.

Beacons in the Darkness

Music and Lyrics: Gary McGath, Copyright 2010

We have learned to live by reason
And our knowledge guards us here,
But the caves still live within us,
We still know the ancient fear.
When the cold and dark are growing
And the light shrinks day by day,
It is time to make our own light
That will drive the dark away.

    Lighting beacons in the darkness
    To await the sun’s return,
    Keeping hope against the winter
    Let the solstice fire burn,
    We fight cold with celebration,
    And we answer gloom with light,
    As we keep the beacons burning
    Through the winter’s longest night.

In our stories and our legends
Comes the tale of death and birth,
Of how light and warmth escape us
Then return again to Earth,
Of the heroes who regain it
Or in trying fail and die,
Of the sun that falls in weakness
Yet still climbs back to the sky.


Every culture in the north world
Has its version of the tale.
Something dies, yet life continues,
It will not forever fail.
So we raise our lights defiant,
Each one in a different name,
And whatever we may call them,
All our hopes remain the same:


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Child murderers and news coverage

I didn’t learn of the Newtown school massacre until Friday evening, when I visited a friend’s house and saw the TV. When the coverage got to the point of reporters pushing microphones at surviving pupils, I asked her to change the channel.

Whenever this sort of mass murder occurs, the news media are on it like vultures, continuing coverage long after they’ve exhausted every fact. They take away the privacy of those who want to grieve, and they give child murderer Adam Lanza what he wanted: an orgy of misery, helplessness, and bewilderment all over prime time TV and the Internet. A CNN story makes it sound like a Greek tragedy unfolded by the gods:

In a town still numb from an inexplicable massacre of children, relatives of the victims will meet with President Barack Obama on Sunday when the president visits.

Questions and anguish abound two days after the gunman allegedly shot his mother before killing 20 students and six adults at a nearby elementary school. He apparently turned a weapon on himself, silencing any way for the world to fully understand what was in his mind.

While the community grieves, authorities continue chipping away for clues as to why the tragedy unfolded.

Lanza committed the most despicable of all forms of suicide, killing children in order to go out in blaze of glory and having people trying all over TV and the Net to “understand” him. The attention, the treatment as some mysterious force that makes everyone helpless, may provide fuel to the next life-hating piece of scum who considers a similar exit.

News media have the right to do what they’re doing, and I’m not suggesting they should ignore the event. But let’s recognize what they’re doing: turning a tragedy into a chance to build up their ratings. Let’s also recognize that audiences who want to lap up the suffering of others provide those ratings.

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Kickstarter project: Files That Last

After lots of planning, preparation, and nervousness, today I’m launching a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the completion and publication of my e-book, Files That Last! This is a book to explain the importance of keeping digital data alive for a long time and how to do it. I’m dragging preservation out of the library niche where it’s been so long and creating an e-book for “everygeek.”

If you want to fund the project ($10 will get you a DRM-free copy when it comes out), I’ll be grateful. If you can spread the word in appropriate places, that would be even better. I’m already making good progress on it and have pledged, if the project is funded, to have it out in the spring. The Files That Last page has two banners with HTML which you can paste where you think it will do the most good.Banner: I'm a preservation geek / Support Files that Last

I’ll be looking for professional proofreading and cover design and will pay real money for it. If you can recommend someone who can do either, let me know.

Paraphrasing Abby, “You’ll have your files for all time if you read FTL!”

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Atlas University

David Kelley and William R Thomas have put up a new set of online video lectures in Objectivism, called Atlas University. I’ve just watched the first one by David Kelley, on the subject of reason. For me it covers familiar ground, but it’s quite good. Kelley’s style is direct and simple, without the belligerent air that makes some other speakers for Objectivism turn people off. I’d recommend it to anyone who’s heard about Rand’s philosophy only by rumor and wants to learn more about it. Naturally, I can’t say yet how any of the lectures beyond the first are, but I’m optimistic.

Obligatory nitpick: Kelley mentions in passing that reason can also produce bad results, such as weapons of war and fascism. I understand him to mean that fascism is a set of conceptual ideas, not that it’s a rational philosophy, and that the most bizarre religion is a product of reason in this sense, but I wish he hadn’t chosen that example. The idea that fascism is the outcome of rational thought isn’t as popular as it used to be, but we still hear it. It’s actually the outcome of the idea that people should subordinate their individual thoughts to the mass and the leader.

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Boskone filk

The coming Boskone 50 will be one of the most impressive ever for filk. Confirmed guests include Heather Dale and Jordin Kare. With Heather comes Ben Deschamps. In addition, the following people have said they’re planning to be in the filk program: Mary Crowell, Mary Ellen Wessels, Ed Stauff, Denise Gendron, Gary Ehrlich, Ellen Kranzer, Paul Estin, Spencer Love, and several members of Sassafrass! (Check out Mary’s new album, Acolytes of the Machine!) Apologies if I’ve forgotten anyone, and remind me.

I’m pushing for as much filk program time as the program heads will allow for filk, so this should be a truly impressive program!

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