Watched “Screamers” over the course of a few nights, a lavish sci-fi bomb that had two things going for it: Peter Weller, who still has good will by the gallon left over from Buckaroo Bonzai, and Dan O’Bannon, one of the writers of the original "Alien." That movie, you’ll recall, concerned some scrappy assorted proles far from home, attacked by a strange murderous creature, betrayed by orders from the home office. “Screamers” repeats the formula, substituting small robots with sawblades that run through the sand for a giant drooling multi-jawed acid-blooded monster. The robots also turn into small children. And full-sized humans. How they accomplished this was not entirely clear. Something to do with "upgrades." Nice sets, though.

Everyone smoked. One of the amusing twists: when radiation levels were elevated, everyone had to smoke a certain kind of cigarette. O the irony. But otherwise everyone was smoking unfiltered cigarettes, just as in “Alien.” Somehow this makes the future more futurey: unapologetic smoking. When I was a smoker I used to take comfort in these scenes – the future may be a strange and dangerous place, but a man can still fire up a nail. They haven’t beaten that out of us yet. But I think in 100 years these pictures will look as anachronistic as the old sci-fi movies that had the Computers of the Future with whirring tape drives and flat metal voices.

Long long long day. No camp no pre-school no playdates. Just the two of us. We painted. We read books. We played Barbies. (I was the stepmother – first evil, then good. Then evil. I had to cast a spell, which required making claw-hands and issuing some sort of crackly lightning sounds. Thus are spells cast, I guess. How pop culture managed to make all children conversant in the ways of necromancy by the time they hit four is something I don’t quite get, but I’ve long abandoned hope of fighting this ridiculous strain of medieval nostalgia. The princes and princesses, the castles and masked balls, the enchanted forests, the pointy hats with flowing scarves – what of the rotten teeth and stinking armpits, eh? The chamberpots and neck-boils and the stench of the slaughterhouse wafting up from the courtyard? Where’s the nosegay for Barbie to press to her pert little schnozz to keep the fumes of modern life from putting her flat on her high round rear, eh?

This is why I love Rolie Polie Olie. It takes place in the 1930s, where everyone is a robot and they have TV and rockets. And no computers. Hence no upgrades. You never have to worry about Olie shaving your leg off with a serrated blade.

After lunch we went to the pool, it being a hot smuggy day. (Hey: if I can say trival, I can say smuggy.) (No, I retract that. It’s a cutesy word. As for “trival,” that was a misspelling on the bleat graphic to the left. Since repaired. Always save your origs in unflattened .psd format, I say, and for GOD’S SAKE don’t simplify the layers before saving.) (Cripes. I just noted that I spelled Blatherations wrong too. Shoot me.) She bobbed around and swam and had a grand time, even if there weren’t any friends around. Lots of strange kids in packs; lots of boys having squirt gun wars, with the guns held at groin level. It’s in the DNA, I tell you. Then we played in the park. Then home.

“I want to shower,” she said. Really. Well, her bathroom has a small shower tucked behind the door, something I didn’t discover until we moved in. I got the water going, and in she went for her first shower at home. I went down the hall to futz with the computer – I’m MP3ing this huge pile of 1940s radio detective serials I have, so I can listen to them in the car some day. As I was setting it up I heard Gnat singing:

Oh Boogie Woogie Daddy Rock and Roll.

Eh? I went back to her bathroom. Same lyric, repeated over and over. Oh Boogie Woogie Daddy Rock and Roll.

“Where did you learn that?”

“It’s Disco, daddee.”

“I hope not. Where did you learn it?”

“From her.” She pointed to a Groovy Girl, sprawled boneless on the toilet. Great. Now her dolls are not only possessed but teaching her about disco and the misuse of the terms “boogie woogie” and “rock and roll.”

It’s an evil spell!

Cooked dinner – Monday spaghetti, what a surprise. Did the radio show, walked the dog, noted with dread the orange dots on several huge local elms. The topography of Jasperwood is due to change, I fear. Came home. Struggled with the column. Not because I didn’t know what to say, but because it’s been said 10 times all over the place. This is the challenge of writing syndicated pieces for newspapers: the blogs have accelerated the pundit / spin cycle, and what was once a stately procession of received wisdom doled out over a week is now the frantic banter that chews up the news in a day. So you take the grand overarching approach and aim your stuff at people who only read papers, and you end up looking like old news to the people who are already six news cycles down the road. I’m just glad I’m not tied entirely to print. At some point print will stop thinking of itself as print, and start thinking of itself as text; then it can get on with the 21st century.

That said, I was disappointed in the contributions of bloggers at the convention. The best of the batch, natch, was the Matt Welch / Tim Blair blog at Reason, which had the virtue of being written by smart good writers who had two different takes on the event. But otherwise: meh. The very idea of a “blogger’s row” is wrong; no journo is going to sit at the bureau’s HQ and write stories. You go out, you report, you come back, you write. Veteran conventioneers know this well. Every one of them has found himself sitting at the terminal in some makeshift room, sweating, tie loosened, staring at the screen, wondering how they can write something they can live with. The real stories are the off-site marvels, the drunken parties, the expense-account suppers, the barroom arguments, but no one gets a Pulitzer for that. Even if you write a book about it, no one will read it – Ted White is dead, and no one nowadays really wants to read long accounts of losing campaigns filtered through the sepia tones of Noble Autumn. I mean, the best story of the 1996 RNC convention took place at the wrap-up party at Dick Head’s bar in Houston, complete with snarly bikers, jello shots, hundreds of bras hanging from the ceiling, dozens of heavily-hammered writers, and something later about French Toast somewhere. I remember being in the back seat when we hit a curb. Then there was syrup.

Of course, if I really intended to make a difference here I’d go to the conventions, put up & shut up, but not this time, alas. Anyway: back to work; see you tomorrow. Oh: new Fence. Enjoy.


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c. 1995-2004 j. lileks