Saturday, June 30, 2007

Script Frenzy: Excerpts a Go Go

Whee. Excerpt dump time!


Here's what I had up on my profile temporarily yesterday. But let's see if I can't get it properly formatted this time:

EXT. ERDANUS VALLEY - continuous

As the KNIGHT and LUKE reach their spot in the battle lines, a tall figure in elegantly etched armor and a great, flowing cape astride a giant warhorse is addressing the troops. The OLD KING, his long hair streaming behind him as he rides past and shouts encouragement. He tells them that this battle will be remembered through the ages. That Fresk will long count these men among their finest. That they will stand their ground and save the Kingdom here, on this ground, from the vile invaders from the West. Luke, by the side of the Knight's fierce charger, listens raptly. The King's voice is as golden as his hair. Almost musical as he spins his speech into the air. After a while, the words don't matter. Only his rich, commanding tone does. It bring certainty, surety that this battle will be won. He raises his arm in a flourish and the soldiers cheer as he continues. But his words fade away as a young woman's voice (Although we don't see her, it's the PRINCESS, his yet to be born niece.) begins to narrate over the scene of the Fresian army stretching up the hillsides.

PRINCESS

(v.o.)

On this mild, pleasant day in the height of summer, the forces of Gustavus Reius kahso Lionne, the rightful King, drew themselves up for battle on the gentle hills of the Erdanus Valley. The air was still and full of the scent of Oak and of the Cherry trees about to bloom.

The King had decided to make his stand. There, on those lush grass covered slopes.

The spring's thaw had brought with it invaders from across the desert wastes to the South.

Throughout the summer the defenders of the Kingdom of Fresk had fought indecisive battle after indecisive battle among the lowland flood plains. Sapping their strength and wounding their pride against the seemingly endless stream of invading troops. Steadily they were pushed back. Steadily they had lost ground as wave after wave of reinforcement poured across their borders.

Now, should this valley fall, the heart of Fresk would lay open to the invaders.

Should this battle be lost so, too, would the war.

And with it, the kingdom.



MONTAGE. THE CONTINENT AND THE GROWTH OF THE HUAN EMPIRE - cont.

A map shows the Huan empire, starting from the small, coastal city-state of Qhua, spreading and stretching across the continent. Overlaid with images of marching Huan soldiers marching. Of victory parades and burned out farms. Dead bodies sprawled on the ground. A forest of pikes moving towards the East. Towards Fresk. As the blood red borders of the Huan Empire reaches towards the coast, towards the Widdendahk Sea, it draws ever nearer to the small, isolated nation of Fresk. Dwared in size, the camera draws in on the looming border - now only miles from Erdanus Valley.

PRINCESS

(v.o.)

The invaders called themselve the Huan. They came from the far West. From distant lands with strange customs.

Through centuries of bloody warfare, already they'd carved an empire stretching from one end of the continent to the other. Each conquest, each nation which fell before them only swelling their treasury for the next war.

Now, they began to creep northward, ever closer to the idyllic country side. Fresk lay before them like a shining jewel ready to be added to their crown.



EXT. ERDANUS VALLEY - cont.

The rag tag peasant levies of the Fresian army run across the hills followed by the heavy cavalry. The sound of hoofbeats is like thunder as the ground roils and grass flies under their hooves. A solid wedge of horses stretches over the hills like a blanket of metallic ants. Banners of all sorts of colors and sizes snap crisply in the wind as the mounted knights trot forward at a brisk and determined pace. At their center, the Old King is surrounded by his Cavaliers, his heaviest, most elite cavalry dressed in ornate, crimson red armor embossed with gold leaf. Each mounted on a gleaming white steed. The King raises his sword arm, pointing the way forward, as the knights press forward. The charge is called. Pages, archers, and unmounted Men-at-Arms follow behind at a dead run, trying to keep up with the racing horses. In among their number is the odd robed figure, a wizard, each wrapped with their own unique blend of talismans, totems, and charms. As the trumpets blare, the army surges forward. Flowing down the valley and up the opposing hillside where the Huan army waits.

PRINCESS

(v.o.)

The Fresian soldiers were courageous. Men of valor and honor. Their knights were the cream of the land. Who'd stood watch over the land's defenses for centuries. Holding the borders against any and all threat. They were tested, trained, and hardened by the heat of combat from the earliest age. With their steel and their strength, they were determined to hold this line against the latest threat to their homeland.

Many of their number were eager, almost, to head into the fray. Much glory could be earned by those who fought well. Land and title awarded after a victory by a generous and grateful Lord. A brave man could make his fortune for generations to come. These Western invaders were nothing more than the latest challenge to Fresian pride.

The King had assembled his forces well. It was the largest army assembled since the time of legends. More Knights, more foot soldiers, more archers and more had answered the call to his banner than had ever been seen. They stretched across the land from horizon to horizon. Old arguments, old slights had been set aside to repel the outsiders.

And, unlike so many armies before them, they had fought the Huan to a standstill on other fields before. But always, the King's generals and advisors had urged him to pull back, to conserve his strength, to run and hide and chip away at the Huan's vast strength, before he could press his advantage home and end the threat.

No more.

This day would be the end of the war, one way or another. The King aimed his army like a dagger at the invading host and sounded the charge. The war bred chargers began to race across the hills towards their waiting enemy.

On the opposite side of the valley, the Huan army has lined up. A solid wall of pikemen, each dressed professionally in matching armor, their long spears waving gently in the wind, stand their ground as the drumbeat of hooves draws larger. Captains and officers stride amongst the troops, shouting orders. Beyond them, on a nearby cliffside, the MANDARIN - the Huan's general - sits in a sedan chair. Serenely, he watches the approaching army almost impassively, his long, flowing, finely tailored robes fluttering in the slight breeze. Three women in long robes, their faces covered by veils stand near him. As does the rest of the Huan's command staff. Below, the officers order the troops to hold their ground. To wait. To wait. Until finally, the order is given and they lower their pikes. Set to receive the charge, the wall of Fresian riders crashes into the rows of pikes. The battle is joined.

PRINCESS

(v.o.)

But the Fresians had never seen an enemy like the Huan.

They were not an army bolstered by peasants and farmers called to defend their homes and forged by the chains of noble pledges to serve.

They were a professional army.

One that had marched from one end of the continent to the other. Their boots had trampled over dusty sands and lush grass, an unstoppable force of inevitability. And Fresk was only the latest to stand against them.

The men who served the Emperor's throne had seen war before. They understood that there are setbacks in war. An opponent must be ground down by the millstones of time and steel.

A handful of bloody skirmishes, though costly against the unexpectedly resilient Fresians, hadn't changed that. They had been bloodied, shamed, but not intimidated.

They would not break.

They would not waver.

They would not bend.

Unable to break through the wall of pikes, the ranks of Fresian cavalry press in on them. Knights slash downward with broad strokes of their massive long swords as the Huan pikemen try to cut their horses out from under them. As the screams and shouts of battle rise to a fever pitch, horses rear up, tossing pikemen to the ground before crushing them with their metal clad hooves. Swords scrap along armor, pikes glance off of shield, bowstrings twang as arrows fill the sky, orders are shouted back and forth along the line. A Fresian knight is dismounted but, unfazzed, continues to hack away. Another is dragged from horseback by a group, crashing to his back in his heavy armor amongst a group of Huan who quickly stab him to death. The KNIGHT is in the thick of the fighting. With strong, quick sweeps of his sword he cuts down one opponent after another with one hand gathering up his horses reins. He screams encouragement at his fellow soldiers as the fighting continues.

Further behind the battle lines, a fierce melee has broken out as Huan skirmishers have descended on the Fresian footsoldiers. Armed with large, rectangular shields and lightweight curving swords, they're covered in light, loose mail and they've slipped past the Fresian flanks to threaten their rear. The Fresian unmounted knights and pages try to defend their archers who continue to launch volley after volley into the fray. LUKE is surrounded by the chaos of the fighting as bodies and weapons fly everywhere. Desperately blocking and parrying with the short sword, Luke is hard pressed just to stay alive. A wild slash and a Huan soldier goes down. Men are dying all around Luke. Luke's sword, Luke's clothes, Luke's face are splattered with blood. The fear at the pit of Luke's stomach wells as Luke's eyes grow larger. But Luke keeps swinging and blocking because there's nothing else to do but fight.

PRINCESS

(v.o.)

The mystic arts were not unknown to the Fresians.

A HEDGE WIZARD strides through the battle, in sandals, in measured, confident paces. His long, nappy beard streaming in the breeze, dressed in a ratty robe strewn with bits of herbs and leaves tied to it with coarse hemp string. He holds a long, gnarled staff over his head which is throwing lightning bolts in all directions. The earth explodes around his feet as the electricity grounds itself. Huan and Fresian soldiers alike are scattered as the beams of lightning slice through their ranks.

PRINCESS

(v.o.)

But the Huan had found new ways of harnessing it. Of controlling it.





That's the big prologue that sets up the movie. There's a bit before to introduce KNIGHT and LUKE – who goes on to become the SOLDIER of the main story which is set years later. But this is my big info-dump about where we are and what we're doing and so forth.


Here's what I'd like to put up but I'm not sure if it's in good enough taste:


Dawn has broken. MAGE is curled up behind a support beam. Safe in the long shadows still covering the floor. Her fingers grip tightly at her knees. Twitches and tics cross her face as she sleeps. Her dreams are troubled. SOLDIER is nearby on a pile of straw. Sprawling, she's half out of her clothing and slumbering heavily. The CAVALIER bursts through the door. Flooding the room with bright sunlight, he's fully dressed, his riding uniform hanging off his frame just right. His brass buttons polishedto a shine. He smiles broadly as he saunters into the room. His gregarious voice booming.

CAVALIER

C'mon, let's go. Rise with the morn. Why, when I was quelling the Heskhan Rebellion we'd roll out of bed at a moment's notice and stand at attention before we'd even opened our eyes. In fact, there was only one thing that could keep a good soldier abed.

(Claps a waking SOLDIER on her shoulder.)

Wipe the cunny off your face, lad, and let's be on with the day.



SOLDIER

I don't think I've ever been so tired before.



CAVALIER

That's the spirit, then. But, come there'll be time enough for loveplay when our work is done.



MAGE

Lass.



CAVALIER

Your pardon, lady mage?



MAGE

She's a lass, not a lad. And we weren't at... weren't at loveplay.



CAVALIER

(twirling his mustache between his gloved fingers.)

Is that so?


Yeah, I totally stole that line from Gangs of New York. But I can't help it. I've never understood those people who go “Oh, this character should be played by so and so.” Until I wrote the Cavalier. He's entirely Daniel Day-Louis as Bill the Butcher. Incredibly fun to write, too. Even though I was going more for a Baron M√ľnchhausen thing. But what can you do?


I'm totally going to put that up before long. But, for now, this is what's up at my profile page:


MAGE

You're a girl?!?

SOLDIER

Last I checked.

MAGE

You've been a woman this whole time?

SOLDIER

Pretty sure I always have been.

MAGE

But...but...but you're in love with me!

SOLDIER

Oh, so you've noticed?

MAGE

(Gapes.)

Don't be disgusting.

SOLDIER

Disgusting? You finally admit you're in love with me and I'm being disgusting?

MAGE

I never said that I love you.

SOLDIER

Oh, you never said it. But you don't have to. Not with me. It's alright, I know.

MAGE

You're in the military, for the king's sake. Don't they, you know, check these things?

SOLDIER

I'm a guard, m'lady, that's not the military.

MAGE

Do you dress in a uniform?

SOLDIER

Yes.

MAGE

Wave a big sword around?

SOLDIER

Uh, kind of.

MAGE

Kill people?

SOLDIER

Sometimes.

MAGE

Oh. What's the difference?

SOLDIER

A lot.

MAGE

Is it the pay?

SOLDIER

(Fixes her with a look.)

You're right, though, I did serve as a page in the Fresian army once.

MAGE

A page boy? And what, praytell, happened?

SOLDIER

Erdanus.

MAGE

Wait, you were at the Battle of Erdanus Valley?

SOLDIER

My leige lord had his horse cut out from under him. And...ah...and, well, after that I figured there wasn't much of a future in the army.

MAGE

You couldn't have been more than a small child.

SOLDIER

Old enough to lift a sword and strap down my master's grieves.

MAGE

But you were a girl!

SOLDIER

It's not like there's much of an entrance exam to become a page, you know.

MAGE

But you

(waves her hand around SOLDIER's face)

were a girl.

SOLDIER

I wanted to fight. I wanted to be a knight, to be a hero. Ran away from home. Cut my hair, found a spot in my liege's camp and that was all it took. Next thing you know, I had a job as a page and we were headed to war.

MAGE

No one...checked?

SOLDIER

I don't know what you think goes on around a war camp. But there's really not all that much reaching down the front of someone's pants to squeeze their goods.

MAGE

It's just surprising you weren't caught.

SOLDIER

Oh, I wasn't the only one. It's more common that you think.

MAGE

Really? I mean, alright, in stories, maybe.

SOLDIER

Sure, most women are content to stay home but there's really no rule against us picking up arms. It's just not done. But some noble girl wants to head off to war, nobody bats an eye. Some village twist wants to run after her beau what's joined up, as long as they can swing a sword, no one really cares. If you can fight, you can fight. I mean, you should see the Huan, they had these--

MAGE

What was that?



Always think it pays to have a bit of comedy to take the edge off the big moments. It's a bit of an extended play version here. But this is what comes immediately after what I like to call “The Big Reveal”. The revelation that the Soldier we've been following throughout the movie is a she. Not a he. It's the kind of crucial, important scene that I'm really not capable of writing. So I haven't yet. Maybe now you understand why the second half of my script is such a mess now.


One more quick one before I'm out:



SOLDIER

Oh hells, it's a Bladedancer.



MAGE

A what?



SOLDIER

Down!



Just so you don't think I always let the exposition fairies out to play.

Script Frenzy: A Fitting End

So, at the start of the month, I got myself a rather nice bottle of wine that I was going to set aside for the day when I finally reached the finish line. A nice bottle of Reisling. A wine I fell in love with while trekking around Europe one summer and which reminds me of open-air cafes on the streets of Prague and nights snuggly nestled away in barns out in the formerly Soviet countryside. It's a white wine. And the best ones are crisp and flavorful. Perfect accompaniments to the kind of spicey, full-bodied food that I prefer. It's got the power to keep up with hearty curry stews or intricately layered stir-fries, to dance on the tongue along with a hunk of meat literally rolled in cracked pepper and lightly seared. But a good example also has a delicate, sophisticated taste profile as well. It works with a lot of things, really.


I had planned to serve it, if only for myself, with a meal fit for, well, the e-king. I had visions of risottos, bruchetta topped with a sauted mushroom puree, and mirin soaked brussel sprouts to go along with this recipe for Chicken thighs that takes hours but results in the most tender, most flavorfully infused shreds of flesh you've ever tasted. It's glazed and sugary and savory and spicy all at the same time. And for desert, as I skimmed over a printed copy of my script for the first time, probably a good glass of tea spiked with Baileys to go along with one of my famous cheesecakes. Or maybe a key lime pie. Maybe even a Baileys milkshake with some gourmet coffee ice cream. Thoughts, visions of a gastronomic feast danced in my head. It was going to be a treat, a reward, for myself for a month of hard work and nights spent slurping cold noodles while trying to jot down an idea or three. Of days tossing something in the microwave on my way out the door because I just didn't have the time. Of letting things go at the margins while I rediscovered my creativity.


If you've been following along you know that I approached the 20k mark early and then decided that I wasn't going to be satisfied with anything less than a finished script. Not a perfect one, not one that didn't need any more editing – you're never done with a piece of art, you're only ever done working on it – but one that went all the way from FADE IN to FINIS (THE END, if you're not a pretentious ass, like myself.). And you'll also know that I didn't quite make it there. But I did manage to turn in something that topped the 20k mark, put on my flight suit, and unfurl the “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED” banner. A bit of an empty victory but still, after all the blood, sweat, and tears this month was something to celebrate. Know that bottle of Reisling was calling to me.


But also know that I wore myself out the past few days in a mad scramble to get things done. Tried to retype the entire script from start to finish and I could only make it a little over halfway. Just...ran out of energy. Ran out of clock, really, although I maintain I could have made it if I'd kept up my pace from yesterday. It was just too draining, though.


As tired as I was, I couldn't muster the energy to spend hours in the kitchen. Not just cooking but cleaning afterward. Not just for myself. Not for almost making it. So, I ordered a pizza. Not even the good stuff. Just your average, $5 large pepperoni pizza. The kind you have after a little league game when your coach is handing out the trophies for participation. The ones everyone gets. To go along with my treasured bottle of wine.


That's what I had for dinner. Wine and pizza.


I can't think of a better way of summing up the month than that. But, you know something? It tasted good. Real good.


My brother still didn't manage to talk me into putting ranch dressing on the pizza, though. I have to draw the line somewhere.

Script Frenzy: What Have I Wrought?

Ah, just a bit of misty eyed memories as I survey the ruins of a month's worth of script writing.


I started out in May with Swamp Opera. A practice script about the tender and touching tale of an arogant occupation of a foreign country by people who don't understand the culture gone horribly, horribly wrong. I can't imagine where I could have gotten the idea. First script I've written in ages, I really have to get back to it one day because I like the idea and I think I've learned how to treat it much, much better now.


Then there was my abortive comic script. That was about a crazed alien lifeform attacking New York. Or something. I didn't think it was very ambitious but I got bogged down in thinking about the backstory and the medium and everything else and never got very far. This is the script that taught me that descriptive passages are a very, very different beast when you're talking about a script.


Then, as June kicked off, I started with First Kiss. The heartwarming coming of age story of a precocious suburban Detroit area teenager in the early 90s who gets tangled up in a love quadrangle he never wanted. Trust me, it sounds a lot more autobiographical than it really is. This was a rather free-form script. I had a lot of preplaning work done regarding the characters and the setting and the various points I wanted to hit. But no idea of how I was going to put it altogether. It quickly became a mess. I was sick of it by the end of the first week. And losing steam fast.


Next, I switched to what became my current script. Although, at the time, I called it The Pact. This story, I had a definite beginning, middle, and end although I wasn't quite sure exactly how to connect all the dots. But it was a fantasy story about a Mage trying to escape from an unwelcome fate with the help of some interesting folks she met along the way.


That quickly led to the second revision which dropped the idea of an adventuring party in favor of concentrating on the Mage and the character I'd come to call the Soldier. The other characters were still there but they got pushed into more supporting roles to focus on the interesting relationship the two had. At this point I had an entirely different ending in mind. I thought of my current ending back here, too, but I was working under the assumption that I'd be doing the “happy ending”. In that one, um, spoilers, but the Mage gets killed and it's the Soldier who survives and takes up the mantle of another dead character, called the Cavalier, to try and bring some sense of justice to the occupied country. It's happy because it ends on an upbeat note of, well, hope for the future. And the Soldier's recovered the sense of duty and honor he had at the start of the film.


Next, in the third draft, came the first real big change. And that was changing the Soldier back from a male to the female he'd originally been envisaged as. I was going for the adventuring party thing originally, remember, but I switched to a buddy cop/unrequited love story and felt that needed a male and female lead to pull off. But the Soldier really kept wanting to be a female. It meant, of course, rewriting a lot of the story not only to correct all the pronouns – because while I was at it, I'd be looking at the scenes I had and figuring out where they went wrong but also because I wanted the Soldier's gender to be a surprise. For it to be a twist. And that meant setting some stuff up from the very beginning to pay off towards the end.


The forth draft, although I'd realized that I wasn't taking advantage of some interesting possibilities, that I wasn't making the most of foreshadowing and other narrative tricks, really came about when I decided to switch from “happy ending” to “sad ending”. That one, um, spoilers, ends with the Soldier dead and the Mage alive (There's really a shockingly high body count in this film. But it's dramatically necessary, I think.). And it's the sad ending because it ends with the Mage still on the run and probably going to be so for the rest of her life with no hope for the Kingdom to be saved from those occupiers. This draft brought with it a title change from The Pact to Unbound. Which I still think works better. But it also meant that all the foreshadowing I had been doing was pointing in the wrong direction. I had to start over. Again.


My fifth draft came when I decided to juggle the order of some of my scenes. Needed to move some things up so they wouldn't run together and that involved pushing some things more towards the middle of Act II. If you look on my outline, we're talking about reordering the whole DOLLMAGE, CAPTAIN, REBEL sequence. Originally I had the Cavalier joining the group early on in the second Act and after he joins the team takes care of the Guard Captain who's been pursuing them for a while. And they only joined up with the rebellion that the Cavalier was a part of towards the end of the act. Instead, I decided that I needed to establish the Dollmage character – who's just wicked evil fun, by the way, the spoiled brat from hell – who was going to play an important part in setting up the resolution in Act III a lot earlier. As well, I decided to make the Princess less of a MacGuffin and more fleshed out. But, again, that meant some drastic rewrites.


The last draft, sixth by my count, I started on Thursday night. I rewrote all my notes, all my outlines. Created updated maps. Plotted out everything. Drew all sorts of connections and conclusions. Identified all my problem areas and motifs, the whole ball of wax. Just to get it clear in my head what I was doing and what I had yet to do. And then, the next morning, I started rewriting everything starting from the very first scene. And kept going as long as I could, adding what I could from the previous drafts, tweaking what worked, throwing out what didn't.


I managed to get about halfway with that. The rest of my vaunted word count comes from the tail end of the 4th draft, where I started with the end and worked my way back. Some day, I think I'll start again with lucky number seven. But for now I think I'm content just to review my memories.

Script Frenzy: Frowny Face

Fell asleep at the keyboard last night. Which means I'm probably not going to polish off my script after all. I'm going to keep working on it today but the chances I'll be able to write THE END are infinitesimal. Too much to do, not enough time.

Also, a quick check of my word count showed that - if you include last revision's version of Act III - I'm over 20k. Well over. Put it this way, in my "start from scratch" rewrite I'm up to a little under halfway of Act II and I have 15k.

Since I wrote that much yesterday I could try and keep going. But I'm still so, so tired. I'm afraid what I'm writing is drivel. I'm sure I could do it, but why actually do it?

So, I'm throwing in the towel and taking the easy way out. Validate the scraps. Move the goal posts. Declare victory and move on. If I had an aircraft carrier, I'd be landing on it right now wearing a flight suit. But, nope, all I've got is this:


A winner is me. Feels dirty. I really wanted to have a finished script. As it is, I've got a gaping hole in the second half of Act II, an Act III in desperate need of a rewrite, and a bunch of frantic handwaving to get through Act I - which runs way, way too long. Sigh.

Oh well, that's what revisions are for, right? I'm just worried that without the driving force of the frenzy behind me I'm going to drop this entirely. Which would be a shame because I've really taken to the script form. Hopefully, I can get this done over the next few weeks (The next couple days become a bit crazy since, you know, I've put off so much to Frenzy like mad these last few days). But if nothing else, I can say I won the first (And, hopefully, not last. Although the financial picture is kind of scary, you know?) Script Frenzy.

Because, well, take all the drafts and scripts I worked on this month and my total word count smashed through 20k some time around the 10th. Throw in all the outlines, notes, maps, character sketches, practice scenes, warm-ups, exercises, oh, and 130 odd blog posts. Message boards. E-mails. Letters. Class. Work. Everything else. And, yeah, I think I accomplished something this month. I want my prize.

Just wish it felt like I'd earned it.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Script Frenzy: Writing Like the Wind

Because I'm more than slightly insane, I present a running journal of the mad dash to the finish line. Two days. A half finished script. 20k is just the beginning. All aboard the crazy train.


I've gone over all my notes, maps, and outlines and brought them up to date. Prep work is amazingly important for this kind of thing. I want to keep my character names and geography straight. And not, say, switch between CHEVALIER and CAVALIER halfway through the script. It's little things like that which make me a pro.


Just a bit of polishing here. I'm pretty happy with my beginning. It's a bit of a slow burn to start off, a bit of a misdirection as to what people can expect from the rest of the running time and I've contemplated dropping it and starting when the story action does, but I think it works. First, people walk into a fantasy story expecting nations to rise and fall, kings to be made, princesses to be rescued and the whole ball of wax, I start off looking like I'm going to be doing that and then shifting gears to something a lot more grimmy and personal. That's, you know, my kind of art all over – play with expectations, make like you're giving them what they think they want, then give them what they need. Second, I'm using it to set up the world and its rules and I think that's an important necessary step so that the audience knows what's going on – I'm all for in media res but this isn't Star Wars or Middle Earth where some basic knowledge can be assumed, and outside of page after page of thudalicious exposition, I can't figure out another way to cram this information in.


If I'm going to get this script done, I really have to start writing less here...



Ugh, that's a lot of narration. Ho hum.


I'm not even looking at the word count. What matters is putting a check mark next to those scenes. We're about getting done, not getting to the finish line here. And I'm really, really behind there.


Well, a couple more complete scenes done. Revising this first act took longer than I thought. At this rate, I'm never going to get done.



Despair at the empty word count. Break time.


And I'm back and feel much better now. Got some food, got some sugar in the bloodstream.


In case it's not obvious, I'm going through my whole script, retyping it, starting at the very beginning, and working my way forward. I'm trying to revise and plug gaps as I go so, basically, I'm planning on rewriting the whole thing. In two days. Because I'm insane, that's why. No, I'm really insane.


Put up a new excerpt at my Frenzy profile. It's not exactly the best (And had to get a bit wacky with the formating but the auto-formating was making the narration and action blend together too much.). There's a bit a little later on that I think is much more effective and effectively done but that isn't quite done at the moment. There's a few clunky bits where I've waved my hands and hope to get back to later - at the moment, we're moving on before we get too bogged down in revision. But what I've put up is a good example of what I've been working on. It's not exactly the first scene in the movie but it's close to it. And it shows what I've been trying to do with narration juxtaposed with imagery at the moment - probably not the best idea in a script but, hey, it's my movie and that's what my mind's camera sees - while establishing some background information.


You know, a quick estimate and I think I'm up to around 4~5k already today (Going by my languid pace of about 1k an hour and accounting for the fact that scripts just tend to take longer to write than, say, this.). The way I'm retyping some scenes and rewriting others on the fly makes it a bit hard to judge. But I'm not even done with the first Act yet. I'm starting to worry that I'm going to go long. Really long. Oh well, this is a first draft and things can always be condensed later on, I just want to tell the story I want to tell. And that'll take as long as it takes.


Hmm. I rewrote a scene but I'm not sure if I actually improved it or just made things more confusing. It's the sort of thing that probably winds up on the cutting room floor, I think, in favor of just moving the story forward because it's really just about establishing character - I could do it a lot quicker, I think. The characters were really telling me they wouldn't act that way and I'm having to fight them to get back on track with the plot.

I'm ready to spike Act One. I don't even want to think about the word count but it's a lot. That sounds impressive but it's also the smallest of the Acts so there's a long way to go here. Still, maybe a quarter of the way there.


Back from supper. Going to keep this train rolling well into the night here.


There's so much to talk about like the crazy Supreme Court rulings – I actually wanted to mention them last night but I also wanted to, you know, not go insane from sleep deprivation. And SiCKO which I'm hoping to see just on Sunday. Oh, and technological utopias. The draft and trade fallouts. The Tigers – my mother ent to a game the other night and I've been meaning to try and spin that into a post. But, nope, we're frenzied tonight (And, when you get right down to it, probably going to take a break. I guestimate I've written over 15k already today. I wouldn't, you know, count on much out of me on Sunday, is what I'm saying.).


Quick update, we're through with Act One which is about where I thought we'd be at this point. I figured if I could make it through Act I today and Act II tonight and early tomorrow then I'd be able to knock out Act III and cruise to the finish line. It's going to leave me tired, drained, and if I was smart it wouldn't have come to this but, you know, viva la Frenzy. I'm not done yet and there's a chance I could be. I don't just want to take it. I have to take it.


A quick review of what I've gone through so far and I think I've figured out why that scene I was talking about earlier bothered me. I overplayed my hand. I amped up the drama which is generally speaking a good thing but it's a case where I really needed to play things subtle. Early in the movie you don't want things going into histrionics and when you need your characters to do something it's a bad idea to give them a reason not to. I think I could go back and correct it – and hack about a thousand or more words out of it – but even though this is a fifth or sixth draft at this point, we're still in the “whatever you do, don't edit” mindset. I can fix it next week or next month or never, but we're not filming this, we're just trying to get it written at the moment. The scene, as is, gets me where I need to be, it's just not doing it as well as I'd like. But that'll do for now.


Act Two. AKA the jangled mess in the middle where I'm not sure how everything connects. (whimpers)


Back from supper. Going to keep this train rolling well into the night here.


There's so much to talk about like the crazy Supreme Court rulings – I actually wanted to mention them last night but I also wanted to, you know, not go insane from sleep deprivation. And SiCKO which I'm hoping to see just on Sunday. Oh, and technological utopias. The draft and trade fallouts. The Tigers – my mother ent to a game the other night and I've been meaning to try and spin that into a post. But, nope, we're frenzied tonight (And, when you get right down to it, probably going to take a break. I guestimate I've written over 15k already today. I wouldn't, you know, count on much out of me on Sunday, is what I'm saying.).


Quick update, we're through with Act One which is about where I thought we'd be at this point. I figured if I could make it through Act I today and Act II tonight and early tomorrow then I'd be able to knock out Act III and cruise to the finish line. It's going to leave me tired, drained, and if I was smart it wouldn't have come to this but, you know, viva la Frenzy. I'm not done yet and there's a chance I could be. I don't just want to take it. I have to take it.


Figured out why that scene I was talking about earlier bothered me. I overplayed my hand. I amped up the drama which is generally speaking a good thing but it's a case where I really needed to play things subtle. Early in the movie you don't want things going into histrionics and when you need your characters to do something it's a bad idea to give them a reason not to. I think I could go back and correct it – and hack about a thousand or more words out of it – but even though this is a fifth or sixth draft at this point, we're still in the “whatever you do, don't edit” mindset. I can fix it next week or next month or never, but we're not filming this, we're just trying to get it written at the moment. The scene, as is, gets me where I need to be, it's just not doing it as well as I'd like. But that'll do for now.


Act Two. AKA the jangled mess in the middle where I'm not sure how everything connects. (whimpers)

Oh, Like I Have Time To Come Up With a Title

Hey, Mr. Yglesias sez the Bush administration is underfunding a vital governmental agency designed to protect us all. It's not like I'm surprised or anything. But maybe I was hoping they'd treat nuclear proliferation a little more seriously than, say, picking up after Katrina.


The problem, of course, is that programs like the IAEA succeed by not failing. They can't point to the cases where their diligent efforts at keeping the bomb out of someone's hands have yielded amazing results because their whole point is to make sure nothing happens. And it's hard to point to what countries don't have as proof. So, it makes it easy to ignore them, hard to judge what impact they have, but I don't know about you but I sleep safer at night knowing someone's out there at least trying.

NBA: On Darko

Yes, again, you make that pick. You make that pick 99 out of a 100 times. The thing people forget about the Piston's draft that year was that it was an unexpected windfall. They weren't expected to pick that high and were coming off a solid year with a packed roster. They only picked third because of the consequences of a years ago trade and some incredibly lucky bounces of the ping pong balls. You're telling me you don't take a chance there? That you wouldn't take the potential franchise center and sit them on the bench to develop for a few years? To build around when your core of players starts to age and fall apart right about, oh, now? If you think that you're either a) deluded by hindsight, b) a sportswriter, c) running the Knicks. Dumars makes that pick again and so does every other GM in his spot.


Look, there are possible actions and potential actions. I have the potential to walk down the street and punch the third person I see as hard as I can but I'm really not likely to, am I? I can do it. But I won't. It's not in keeping with everything leading up to that point or the kind of person I am and the choices I make. The chances of time bouncing down that particular pair of trousers is really slim. The potential exists but you won't ever see it happen. On the other hand, someone like Dumars is bound not just by the pressure of tradition and common wisdom directing his hand but he's also constrained by the reality created by every choice made up to that point. Decisions are not made in a vacuum, what comes before them influences the possibilities.


In retrospect, it was a bad pick. Plenty of other good players available to be had that didn't wind up playing at the Palace. And, at the moment, nothing in return for a player who never really worked out. But at the time, it was just about the only way Mr. Dumars could have gone. Everything pointed to Darko. Experience. Need. Fate. The pick could have been handled better, the player could have been tended better, but it was a bust. That's the draft. You're trying to judge how an eighteen year old is going to turn out years down the line – that's not an easy task. Busts happens. You take the knock, pick yourself up, and move on.

NBA: Draft

That's a whole lot of guards drafted by the Pistons last night.


I mean, the poor man's Wade is probably a good fit for the team – Chauncey or no Chauncey - but to spend all three picks on Guards?


Mr. Dumars has done a lot of good things for this team and it's hard to quibble with the results but, really, if he has one glaring flaw it's the draft. Starting with Mateen Cleaves in 200? to the whole Darko fiasco, the Pistons haven't drafted well under his leadership. To be sure, they've had some good picks – like Prince and Okur (who's playing for another team now so I'm not really sure that counts) – especially late in the draft. And if you can pick well late it bodes well. But for every Prince there's at least one Delfino. Hit and miss. And with two first round picks in a draft as loaded as this one, thanks to the NBA's new age policy, they really need a hit.


Elsewhere...


Oden went first, of course, because sanity prevailed, I guess. This isn't Manning over Leaf. despite efforts to gin up some kind of controversy here, this was about as brainless a decision as taking James over Anthony in 2005.


The Bulls picked up Joakim Noah. Because another high energy player who can defend but can't score is exactly what they need in the low post.


The Heat got Jason Smith who really fell from where he was expected to go. But since he's not a Shaq who's fifteen years younger or a fresh pair of legs for Wade, I'm not exactly concerned.


And the Celtics managed to avoid the world's first SportsGuy liveblogged harikari by not drafting Yi Jianlian. Probably kept the suicide rate down in Boston this weeend, too. But just imagine, in some alternate universe they're pulling on their Odem jerseys now while Tim Duncan looks on approvingly having just led the team to yet another ring and... There, that work?


And, yes, I'm concentrating on Eastern contenders because that's who the Pistons have to get through first. And beating whatever comes out of the West is scary enough without considering what they managed to add last night.


Also, I have a script to write.

Tempus Irreparabile Fugit

I realized tonight that there are less than 2 days left in the Frenzy. YOU EXPECT ME TO BLOG WITH ONLY 48 HOURS TO FINISH MY SCRIPT!?!? Ack! Panic time, panic time! Must keep writing!

So, uh, yeah, I'm probably not going to post much for the next few days unless something goes very, very wrong.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

What the Hell?

Gah, there's a post I've been wanting to make for a while now but I just can't get the words out. Just can't find the right way to express it. No time for that, though, because we're in the final apocalyptic push to finish this script come hell or high heating bills.


They're doing a remake of Hairspray now? The original (And awesome) version's only 19 years old! Isn't there, you know, some kind of rule about this? A statute of limitations or something on when you can start remaking things? A restraining order? Something? I know there has to be one about having John Travolta reprise the divine, well, Divine's role. Okay, and, really, some kind of moratorium on the whole film to musical back to film thing.


Then again, maybe not, I broke my movie fast (This is a peculiar quirk, I'll admit, but when I'm in the middle of creating something, I tend to tune out other examples of the medium. Just don't like stray ideas and techniques clogging up my creative process. When I'm looking for inspiration, that's when I dive headfirst into, surround myself with, a given form. Since I'm working on a script now, though, it means I've been avoiding any kind of film. Not really purposely but it's there.) the other day by watching Dreamgirls. Another movie based on a broadway play. But at least it was real-life and not a movie before that. It's basically a roman a clef about the whole Motown music thing so you know I was down for it – although it tacks a fairly happy ending onto the unbelievably tragic tale of Florence Ballard but, hey, that's movies for you. Not exactly a good movie – great music and acting, though – because it's really...soulless. I, of course, blame the scriptwriting. But it sets up a lot of interesting drama and doesn't really explore it. It's a story that's interesting more for the rich metatextual cloud hovering around it (Not even the whole appropriating Motown thing but also for things like the movie studio pushing Beyonce Knowles for a Best Actress award while relegating Jennifer Hudson to the Supporting Actress category – it's like they didn't even watch the movie.) but not as much on its own merits. But, man, does that script move.


I'm never watching another movie the same way again, am I?

Script Frenzy: How Bad It Is

When I get stuck – which a has been often – I resort to making an outline. Broken down into scenes by what I call chapters, or a cycle in the repeating motiffs which takes a lot longer to say the same thing and further into Acts. Just to give me an idea of the points I want to hit, the points I have hit, and an idea of where I'm going and how much time and space I have to do it in. A checklist of what's done and undone. To give you some idea of just how much adrenaline I'm going to have to pump through my veins to get this script done, here's the latest one I've worked up:


ACT I. ESTABLISH

I. INTRO
1. Camp
2. Prologue (VO)
3. Battle of Erdanus Valley
4. CREDITS

II. NOLANI
5. MAGE's home
6. MAGE's training MONTAGE
7. MAGE escapes
8. MAGE charms SOLDIER
9. The leap

ACT II. JOURNEY

III. DOLLMAGE
10. Riverbank
11. Stealing clothes
12. Travel
13. 1st Village
14. Flight from the CAPTAIN
15. The Fort
16. Fight with DOLLMAGE
17. Foreshadowing

IV. CAPTAIN
18. 2nd Village
19. The arrest
20. Prison
21. Meet the CAVALIER
22. Escape
23. Fight with the CAPTAIN, CAPTAIN is killed by the CAVALIER

V. REBELS
24. Travel, the Big Reveal
25. At the hideout
26. The Plan (VO)
27. Escape

ACT III. RESOLUTION

VI. DOLLMAGE REDUX
28. Travel
29. The ambush
30. Captured by the DOLLMAGE

VII. THE BARON'S
31. In the Dungeon
32. Rescued by the rebels, CAVALIER
33. Rescue the PRINCESS
34. Fight with the DOLLMAGE
35. Enter the BLADEDANCER, CAVALIER killed
36. Fight with the BLADEDANCER, SOLDIER killed
37. PRINCESS kills the BLADEDANCER
38. Escape

VIII. OUTRO
39. The docks
40. On the boat
41. CREDITS



Oh, um, spoilers, I guess. But, really, do you care? Yeah, I thought not.


Anyhow, guess how much of that is done. Guess how many of those places are me going... “Um, something happens and they get to here. Yeah, I'll fill that in later.” Go on. Guess (Here's a hint. Anywhere I say “travel” I have no clue what's going on.). Because that's what's left to write. That's what I've got four days to get done.


Damn, I love the Frenzy.

Freeform Beat Strategy

It's hard to vote for something. Easy to vote in opposition against it.


Standing up to be counted for your beliefs is different than saying someone else's beliefs are wrong. It's the difference between putting yourself out there to be judged, which is a scary and terrifying thing with real consequences, and judging someone else who's put themselves out there, which doesn't carry nearly as much risk.


The Democrats need to force the Republicans to go on record not as being against their policies but being for the war. They have to shift the debate from the nuances of whatever their proposals are to the overall narrative of the President's intransigence and Republican attempt to run the clock out. They need to scream bloody murder about the gridlock. Because, again, we're talking about the bloody murder of our country here. Our soldier's lives. Our budget. Our international reputation. All of it, being pissed away by the hawks who continue to persist in their myopic belief that if we just wait long enough, if we just wish hard enough, we can turn things around. We can salvage things, we can turn this around, we can find a solution but only after we admit that we need one. And it's the people who are standing in the way, who are opposing any and every attempt with a snide, “It'll never work, so why bother?”, who are the ones keeping us from reaching that solution. The Republicans have to be made to say, for the record, whether they're trying to help our country get through these trying times. Or whether they're the ones who are the anchor around our collective waist.

How Altruism Matters in Game Theory

I've been talking a lot about game theory today. Especially as it relates to the political arena. Where, I think, it's a complicated but natural fit. But while I'm at it I thought I'd flag up this interesting little tidbit.


One of the keystones of game theory is that, when you're trying to figure things out, you're trying to deal with homo economicus. The Economic Man, the one who will act in a ration and self-interested manner. The perfect player, in other words, who'll always act in her own interests to win the game and not for some kind of greater, common good.


Naturally, then, if you dive into game theory you might think that logically, then, the only way to play is to be a greedy, selfish bastard. And, of course, that everyone else is as nasty, amoral, and unscrupulous as you when sitting on the other side of the game table. And therefore come to the conclusion that human beings are messy, illogical creatures who've created things like mercy and kindness and civilization out of sheer, dumb luck and not any kind of rational, deliberative process.


It's the reason why, in talking about a game of multiplayer Chicken, I avoided the idea of the Volunteer's Dilemma. Because that's a game where the best and worst move, at the same time is to do nothing. It's a game that logically proves, in so many words, there's no profit in being altruistic.


That's not entirely true, however. Because another keystone of game theory is reducing complex events into simple games. In a single round of a Prisoner's Dilemma or, say, the Pirate's Game, it might well pay to be a complete bastard. But as those games are iterated over multiple rounds, especially if the participants remember the events of previous rounds, then the benefits of attempting to screw someone over fall off drastically.


For example, a researcher named Robert Axelrod organized a Prisoner's Dilemma tournament tournament with a few simple rules and he invited his colleagues to submit game strategies which would be played over and over again. He was looking to see what would happen in so-called Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma games (Also known, by the way, as Peace-War), ones where multiple rounds are played and the memory of the past rounds is carried forward. For which strategies would be the most successful over any number of terms. What he found, which was published in a book called the Evolution of Cooperation was that, over time, those strategies which were altruistic tended to succeed in maximizing their game states while those which were guided by self-interest tended to fail. While what happens when you get two strategies that are designed to benefit the opponent together should be obvious, the rest is somewhat counter-intuitive. Two greedy strategies matched against each other would be cannibalistic, each driving the scores of the other lower. And a greedy strategy and an altruistic one matched against each other would result in the altruistic program – at least the best ones - adapting to and countering the self-interested strategy to the benefit of both. Mr. Axelrod argues, I believe, this as proof that altruistic qualities can arise naturally through evolutionary selection.


Mr. Axelrod, by the way, also found that the statistically best strategy to use is one known as “Tit for Tat” which was submitted by Anatol Rapoport. Which, very simply, begins by deferring to the opponent and then, in subsequent rounds, does whatever they did the last round. It retaliates against aggressive strategies while rewarding co-operative ones. It's, at the same time, nice and tough. It offers a hand up for the opponent but doesn't fold when presented with a threat. It's something so simple even a child could understand. And it's so important because it's a strategy that shows the strength of forgiveness. Because it says, “I will work with you, I will help you, I will help myself, we will help each other, if you trespass I will oppose you as strongly as you oppose me but no more, if you return to good behavior then I will work with you again, I will help you again.” Reach out the iron hand in the velvet glove. It's so sublime, so powerful, a strategy because it co-opts, subverts, and destroys an enemy through benevolence.


Which, again, might seem counter-intuitive. Just like the Volunteer's Dilemma where one player can make a sacrifice to benefit every player. There, the more players you have the less incentive each has to play and the more likely it is that no one will. Because the more people around the table the more you can believe that some other sucker will make the foolish choice to be altruistic. But experimental evidence (Which is far from conclusive and, of which, my brief searching isn't able to find a good example) seems to suggest otherwise. Even rational players can be motivated by something other than pure self-interest. And sometimes, the best move to make, is the one that leaves everyone better off.

Winning the Game

Alright, so I think we've established that we're playing a game here. The greatest game – politics – but still a game. Much of game theory is concerned with the idea of a Nash equilibrium. The point where all parties involved have maximized their rewards in regards to their risks. But people who play games are concerned not with making sure no one loses but making sure they win. And doing so is a matter of making not the best response to a given game state but the right play from their current position. And, so, you might well ask, Mr. Rex, what do you see as the winning moves given the pieces on the board at the moment? And since no one asked, I'll have to do it myself.


The winning play for the Democrats is to keep ratcheting up the pressure on Republican members of Congress and force them to continually make their losing plays. Eventually, the game will reach a tipping point where the best move on the point of enough Republicans will be to clear out of the way of the tide of public opinion. And then the game will tip into a derivative state where Democratic advantages will multiply, building on themselves, until they've reached the winning state. Either through the unlikely route of passing legislation which will survive the threat of a Presidential veto. Or by creating an electoral advantage that will change the players in the game and give them the margins or the president in office they need to end the war.


The winning play for the Republicans is to keep their coalition together in the face of an increasingly bleak reality. Eventually, the clock will eventually run out on the game. And public sentiment will turn against the Democrats who will be seen as ineffectual. This will result in an election which reverses or maintains the slim Democratic advantage in the legislature. But, more importantly, which seats another Republican in the White House who will allow the game to continue for at least another term.


You can see, perhaps, that the Republicans aren't in a good position (And it might be a bit of bias on my part here because, you know, it should be pretty clear which side I want to win here.) as they're playing not to win the game but to string it out as long as possible. Their position – that the war should continue – is a position they're required to maintain indefinitely. Trying to preserve the status quo, then, they are playing defensively. The only thing they have on their side is time as they try to outlast their opponent's assault.


The Democrats, on the other hand, can play aggressively here. As they're on the offense, they're the ones who gain the advantage of maneuver – their opponents have to respond to them, not the other way around. And they can try any number of ways to crack that coalition that's opposing them. To convince the odd Republican Congressperson that it's to their advantage to vote for their own interests and not for their party's (Which stand in opposition to theirs in regards to, say, getting reelected.). To force their opponents into moves which weaken them. The odds are against them winning outright because of just how many chips they'd need to stack up before shoving them into the middle of the table to get past the President's obstinance. Given how timidly they've acted in the past, it's hard to see that happening. But, at the very least, they should be able to capitalize for the next subgame – the one after the next set of elections.


The general direction the game is heading in means that they're going to eventually accrue enough advantages to win out without playing extremely aggressively. And I can see why the Democratic leaders are so reluctant to go on the offensive. They don't want to overreach with a slim majority in both houses and a press that's poised to hammer them if they try. So, what they've been doing has been working. It could work better, be more effective, but standing pat will work. While it won't work, not forever, for their opponents.


And I could accept that, perhaps, if we were talking about game pieces and scraps of paper instead of spilling real blood and treasure while we wait to resolve this matter.


In other words, as a liberal, I'd say this to the Democratic legislators: Get out of the damned defensive crouch and start taking things to the Republicans. The more polls, the more votes shift their way, the more likely they are to take some bold actions.

Shorter Version of the Previous Post

Right, that took longer than I thought. Okay, the gist:



The game we are in is at a point of equilibrium. Unless something changes, the game is stalemated. Neither side gains by changing their strategy and risks much by doing so. However, this state of equilibrium is not stable and can yet be altered. And if something should change then a cascade effect can lead to rapid and radical change in the game's state.


We are playing a complicated game that simplifies to a variation of Chicken.


Neither side sees gain in switching from their mutually exclusive positions – we are still at a point where the cars are headed towards each other. However, outside events can induce either side to balk. This will result in a collapse of the present game state and a transition to a new one. Potentially, the derivative state where one side has an overwhelming advantage against the other – ie the winning state.


Winning a game of Chicken depends on convincing your opponent that they have no choice. They either ruin themselves or lose. And losing is preferable to ruin.


Correlary: Winning at Chicken depends on convincing yourself that you have no course but to give your opponent only one choice – you either force them to allow you to win or to ruin both themselves and yourself. Admitting possibilities where you can lose is not an option.


In order to win you have to accept the risk of ruin while at the same time working to avoid it.


Such a strategy is dependent not on in-game factors but on the meta. To outgame your opponent you have to rely on forces outside the game to influence their behavior within the game.


The solution? Find ways to increase the outside pressure on your opponent to change their moves.


With so many players each looking to their own priorities the more you convince that they're playing to lose, not to win, the easier it is to convince the rest. Convince one to switch, then another, then another, and soon enough, they'll be convincing themselves to take the least bad option.


And, conversely, the more you can hold your own coalition together the more likely you are to succeed yourself.

The Greatest Game

Ah, Luger. The move of a few more Republicans to the side of sanity and light seems to have sent everyone into palpitations that we've – finally – reached the mythical tipping point. And normally I'd be right there along with them hoping against hope that morning might actually have broken. But maybe it's the unbearably sunny weather outside my window or maybe it's the 3rd degree burns lingering from the last time I bought into the optimistic view but I don't buy it. I've learned, the hard way, September never ends. This isn't signaling the end of the great wall of Republican opposition. It's a few opportunistic politicians trying to rearrange the deck chairs of their own, personal Titanics.


However, someone said the magic words. And made the mistake of invoking the specter of my beloved game theory. Not that I'm an expert or anything. Just someone who plays a lot of games and has long taken an interest in finding any and every advantage to be had. So, I find having some passing familiarity with game theory helpful. Being able to reduce decisions to a series of logical outcomes or to match them to framework templates can be a tremendous advantage. So, allow me to take a crack at Mr. Marshall's paradoxical phalanx of Republican support for the President's policies. Not because I'm particularly well suited to it but because the problem – and the solution – intrigues me.


The game we're playing here is, in fact, Chicken. Not between the President and Republican officials. But the board laid out in Congress itself is a big, iterative, multiplayer version of Chicken. But in this game of Hawks and Doves, votes cast are the moves and the stakes are influence, political capitol, and, incidentally, the fate of the nation.


Now, Chicken is a game the simple version of which probably everyone knows. If not, well, imagine two cars speeding towards each other. The only plays are to stay on course or swerve away. And the only way to win – beyond, you know, not playing – is to be the car that never deviates from a straight line while your opponent wimps out and clears your way. There are, then, four different pay out states. The one where you win – you go straight and your opponent doesn't. The one where you tie – both players swerve. And two where you lose. The first where you swerve and your opponent doesn't. And the second where both cars go straight and crash headlong into each other resulting in catastrophic failure for both players.


But what I mean when I say we're playing Chicken here is that we have a game with mutually exclusive winning states. In the case of this legislative showdown (And, yeah, be warned because I'm going to vastly oversimplify here.) you can either vote to end the war or to continue it – there's no middle ground. And strategies of mutual cooperation – both cars electing to swerve – are undesirable. The maximum payoff in a game of Chicken comes from getting your opponent to defer but that runs the risk of the mutually catastrophic failure. To me and, I'd think, a lot of others, this is a game of Chicken because we're playing with the future viability of our ship of state. Conservatives believe we're in an existential conflict and cannot veer from our course or risk, you know, dhimitude. Liberals, like myself, believe we're engaged in a foolhardy and wasteful conflict and will throw away whatever remains of our international prestige and reputation if we continue on our current course of pissing our country away. Neither side can accomplish anything unless the other side relents. One has to bend but if neither side does then ruination follows for both.


It's multiplayer because the classic version features only a pair of players. Here, we have all 535 members of Congress involved. That's a problem because game theory isn't very advanced (or accurate) when it comes to dealing with multi-agent problems. Especially ones where rational actions and the resulting perfect plays aren't quite assured. It gets messy quickly. But one way it's dealt with is the idea of teams – known as coalitions in game theory – or groups of players that act with coordinated interests. And that translates nicely to the various political parties and voting blocks at play here.


And it's iterative because there's more than one round being played. Which sounds odd if you're thinking of the classical game of chicken where if the two cars crash it's all over. But, if instead of catastrophic failure we represent the situation where both sides elect to maintain their current course as a penalty rather than the game ending, that might make more sense. Hence, we get a game where each round being played affects the overall score. If, say, we assign a value of 1 point for winning and a penalty of -10 for “crashing” we'd have a payout matrix for each round that looks like this:



Player B
Swerves Aside

Player B
Goes Straight

Player A
Swerves Aside

0,0

0, +1

Player A
Goes Straight

+1,0

-10,-10


These values are, of course, arbitrary and could easily be something else. But the point is that “winning” provides only a slight gain while “crashing” is extremely costly (Here, one round where you risk going straight and your opponent doesn't defer and you've set yourself back ten rounds worth of wins. Of course, so has your opponent but that's not your concern if you're playing entirely rationally.) and a state to be avoided. But a state that's hard to avoid because the only way to gain a winning score is to risk that penalty.


And, again, we're simplifying here because that's how we can apply logic and decision making gates to the swirling chaos of real life. If you extend the game out, add in different point payoffs and penalties to go along with providing different options – the same way you can extend Rock, Paper, Scissors by adding new signs to throw – then you get something more closely approaching reality.


Here's how I picture the abstract. There are two vehicle that have been built in the Congress – one for the war, one against it – on opposite sides of a very narrow track. And all the players in this little drama line up behind one car or the other and push it. The sum total of all those vectors is the direction of the car. Each side can either crash their cars into each other or work to shift their car to avoid their opponents. But swerving out of the way on the narrow track lands them in the ditch along side of it. While, of course, running into each other means they have to pick up the shattered pieces, rebuild, and try again. Winning is a matter not just of making your opponent swerve first but also of having more momentum than your opponent (Letting them bowl over and through the other car. Read: Public opinion here.) or of having more undamaged pieces to continually rebuild with (Letting them win the slow and steady war of attrition. Read: political capitol here.). And it's also conceivable that it's possible to squeeze each car past each other (Read: bipartisan compromise) though extremely unlikely. Like a game of staring into the sun, the best way to get ahead is to get your opponent to blink first.


But whatever game it is we're playing, what Mr. Marshall is talking about is a change in the game's equilibrium. A game that has a limited move set only has a certain number of states to be in regardless of how many rounds it's played (There are four, for example, in Chicken – Draw, Player Wins, Opponent Wins, and Both Lose Big.) and among those potential states there are certain positions that are more beneficial than others – for each player, the states where they win more than they lose. In game theory, each round the players make a move, attempting to make the best move possible – known as making a best response – to either move the game into a more advantageous state or keep it in the previous state which they found acceptable. The case where every player sees no reason to shift the game's state is called equilibrium (The - game theory – famous Nash equilibrium is the one this really is true. It's defined as the point where, if everyone plays the same way as they just did, you and every other player gain nothing from changing their own play.). It's a stable state that results in a game being frozen, as it were, as all plays will be the same no matter how many additional rounds are played.


The game state persists to infinity, however, only if it's taken for granted that every play is made rationally. One player randomly changing their move to something less advantageous would be, well, insane, but it alters the evaluation of every other player potentially resulting in a different outcome. As well, outside information can alter the perspective of players. If, for example, in the classic Prisoner's Dilemma game, you know that you're playing the final round of the game against an opponent who retaliates if you attempt to harm them then your best move is to always screw over your opponent – because they won't have any chance for payback in the next round. Or, if for instance, someone passed you your opponent's top secret game plan – the strategy they intended to follow for each and every round – then you'd have a reason to act irrationally and make moves that, logically, might not be in your best interest but will, in reality, both block your opponents move and benefit your own position.


Such moves, though, require a knowledge outside of the game. Of what's known as the metagame. Like bluffing in poker, they require you to not just read what's on the table but your opponents around it. And their past actions. And the game of Chicken is all about the metagame. You want to make your opponent swerve before you lose your own resolve. It's the only way to consistently win.


Interestingly, Chicken is also a game where you're actually better off reducing your options. If your opponent believes you're never going to swerve then they can either suicidally charge into you or they can wisely step out of your way and concede the points. Eliminating any possibility that you're going to swerve yourself means you vastly reduce the chances that your opponent won't (Barring irrational actions, of course. You don't want to run into that stubborn bastard who'll wreck his car just to prove a point, right? However, if we're talking about a game with points – a war of attrition, say – then sometimes the rational action is to charge into your opponent to establish that you won't swerve. It hurts your position in the short term and, thus, isn't a best response, but it helps your position over the long term. And that's where game theory starts to fall apart, at least as I understand it.). This can work against you, though, as it cuts both ways. If your opponent believes you're always going to swerve they've got no reason to divert their own course. They can charge forward and win every single time. Which is why, by the way, the Democrats strategies in the last round of showdowns over the war were so stupid. They shot themselves in the foot by showing, from the start, that they were going to blink first. That left the Republicans free to, in so many words, rip the steering wheel from their car and put the pedal to the metal.


And when, as happens with this reality, you have some factor that upsets the equilibrium what happens is a realignment of the game board. Mr. Marshall is correct when he says there's safety in numbers for the Republicans. As long as their coalition hangs together, as long as they vote the same way, then the game state continues to be in a state of equilibrium that's favorable to them. But as soon as that coalition breaks apart then the game can tip over to a new state. It can either reach a state where one side has won or devolve into a new equilibrium which can be better or worse than the previous one. How? Well, it's all very Pareto.


And this shift in the attitudes of a handful of Republican representatives might, indeed, signal such a phase change. And if enough Republicans think the state of the game has actually changed then, yes, there's going to be a rush to get through the door and play their chips, as it were, in a way that preserves their fading advantages. If it ever looks like there will be a successful vote against the President's policies here then, yeah, game theory says you should see a rats leaving a sinking ship effect here. But until that tipping point is reached, the benefits of staying pat outweigh the risk of shifting states and the game's in equilibrium.


The problem with this game (Beyond the ingrained defensive crouch reducing Democratic strategies before the pieces are even doled out.) is that no one knows exactly what are the rules to this game. It's changing, shifting, and it's eminently possible that the Republicans have convinced themselves they're playing a different game entirely. Some version of Pesky Brother, maybe (Which is a game where, say, you and your little brother both have coins which they flip, heads or tails in secret and then reveal the faces to each other. If they match, your bratty little brother owes you a buck. If they don't, you put a dollar in his grubby little mitts. The proper move in such a game is to just go completely random. There's no best response possible so just flip your coin and take your chances with luck. It's, you know, Morra. In other words, it's a game where there is no good move and the only move is to do the opposite of what your opponent wants.). And that means they're operating under an entirely different set of logical conclusions and imperatives.


And, if we're being really nasty then it's also possible that the liberal view of this as a game of Chicken is wrong as well. That there aren't mutually exclusive winning states but, instead, beneficial states that arise from cooperation. That we're really playing a complicated game of Prisoner's Dilemma and the metamove is to convince everyone playing that reaching a compromise is going to be better off for everyone involved. That way, however, lays the madness of High Broderism. And, thus, I reject it soundly.


No, the stakes here are real. And there's no potential for a compromise to be a viable game state. And the only logical course here is to keep increasing the apparent potential rewards for those players in the opposing coalition to alter their play which strengthens, reinforces our own position and creates an opportunity to tip the game from equilibrium into an advantageous derivative state. To, in short, peel off more Republican votes.


Or, to put it another way, to keep playing the hand we've been dealt.

Whither This Blog?

Ah, yeah, been a bit of an unscheduled vacation there, hasn't it? Again. I think, you know, you just have to put up with the flaking with me. And while you might have guessed that with the looming deadline, I'd be hard at work polishing up my script before the month ends, working in a maddened frenzy at getting that story done, driven, consumed by the act of creation you'd be wrong. Truth is, I've pretty much been slacking off. Just been bored and disinterested in a lot of things lately. Couldn't really tell you why. No good reason to relate. No excuse to spin wholecloth into a tale. But I can tell you that I'm sick and tired of being, well, sick and tired. And I think I'm ready to make a change.


First, though, there's four days left and an unfinished script to deal with.

Blog is Back

Whaaaaaaaa?



That's right, little meme-flinging rodent. The e-king is back. So let it be written.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Why Rudy Will Never Be President III

He's batshit crazy.


No, wait, that's why he's running in the first place.


No, he supports people like this:


“He’s one of the people I admire most in the world, and if most people did half the good that Alan’s done, the world would be a wonderful place.”


[Alan] Placa (by his own admission) is referred to as “Priest F,” a Priest who engaged in pedophilia.



I am going to go out on a limb here and say that the voting public is generally negative about child molestation. So, Giuliani supporting a priest who's tied up in the whole Chruch abuse scandal is – I'm guessing – a bad thing.


More importantly, the skeletons and blunders just seem to be sprouting out of the woodwork for Giuliani – the above linked article mentions the Kerik fiasco and Rudy's attempts to assume extralegal authority following 9/11, for example, and that's not even the half of it. And it's not even the general campaign yet. The press has yet to focus, laser-like, on discovering any and everything wrong with him and bringing it to light (If, you know, they ever will. He's got that patented conservative steely-eyed gaze that turns all the reporters into squeeling girls. That manly musk that turns all the pundits into panty tossing concert goers. That x-factor that turns his failings into a giant blind spot.) so who knows just what we're going to find out in a few months time? What we're seeing, with all these scandals, is a narrative being constructed that there's something not quite trustworthy about Giuliani. It's not too late for him to turn it to his advantage, of course, with that gigantic “me against the world” chip on his shoulder feeding into the conservatives feelings of being an oppressed minority (Or, you know, rich, white Christians.). But, eventually, even if one of these scandals doesn't stick, the narrative will.

Republicons: The Linkening

Ack, I'm behind on current events. So, behold, the directionless megapost that mortal men call – LINK BLOGGING!


Dana Perino. You know, it is kind of interesting just how often these constitutional questions are posed by the Bush administration.


Yes, that's right. Mr. Cheney says the Vice President is some kind of extra-constitutional body that transcends the normal dimensions of governance. Neither fully legislative or fully executive it enters into that strange place known as....the Totalitarian Zone!!!


If I may, I have some expertise in this matter having, apparently unlike anyone in the VPOTUS's office, actually read the constitution. In it, the Vice President has a sum total of exactly two functions. The first, to cast the deciding vote if the Senate is deadlocked (It, by definition, having an even number of members that prospect must have seemed likely at the time. Of course, things like the fillibuster and cloture rules make it largely superfluous today.). And the second, to wait around in case something happens to the President. That's it. The story of how it's been twisted and transformed throughout the years – as has the president's office – is an interesting one. But hopefully when it's written, Mr. Cheney's chapter is going to be a dark, cautionary tale.


I'd say something about the continuing US Attorney flap but, at this point, it's descended into such depths that I can't bring myself to stop laughing long enough. Because when I do, I start sobbing uncontrollably.


Seriously, these are the idiots who are running our country?


Personally, I'm also of the belief that a potential Bloomberg run is more problematic for the right than it is for the left. Democrats are fervently motivated, energized (Largely thanks to the fallout effects of the politics of resentment practiced by the Republicans), and eager to put anyone other than Bush's heir in office. And they've had several cycles to repeat the “Votes for Nader cost us” narrative. So it's unlikely that many are going to be peeled away. On the other side of the aisle, Bloomberg's natural constituency seems to be, not the consultants he can lavish money on, but the Rockefeller Republicans; liberal on social issues and even foreign policy but staunchly pro-business. Liberal to moderate Republicans – and they do exist, somewhere, and not only in the dead end 26%ers - can't be very happy with their party and their potential candidates. Bloomberg would seem tailor fit to appeal to those conservatives discouraged and disillusioned by the past six+ years. So, he grabs more Republican votes than Democratic ones and, likely, it's a wash with independents. The real question is where this takes place. If Bloomberg's presence affects the electoral map at all it matters a great deal if it happens broadly or in Democratic or Republican strongholds. But, at the very least, he causes the Republicans to burn time and money defending their right flank.


The doomsday scenario here, of course, is that Bloomberg fractures the grand Republican coalition of pro-business types, foreign policy hawks, and social conservatives. If that's the case, you could have something like the election of 1860 where one side of the ballot disintegrated into squabbling factions. That, of course, led to civil war. I think that a case more like 2000, 1992, or even 1980 where a small margin for a third party candidate is going to influence the results, somehow. But it's a pretty stunning turn around considering that just a few short years ago it was looking like the Democratic Party was about to implode, resulting in a political realignment and the long-awaited Sixth Party System. So much for the Rovian vision of an everlasting Republican empire, huh?


I, for one, think the CIA is great, just, and kind. And I'm certainly not saying this because I fear being monitored, kidnapped, and then experimented on.


Giuliani tries to talk his way out of his latest mess. You know, the one the press seems to be strangely silent on. The one where he's off accepting speaking fees instead of trying to fix the Iraq mess? It's something you really have to read since it's laughable.


But this whole mess does point out the fact that, as Mr. Yglessias mentions, Giuliani is in the awkward position of anointing himself as the foreign policy candidate while being not only curiously disinterested in actual foreign policy but also stunningly uneducated about it. He, more than anyone else, has built his campaign on the shattered remains of 9/11. On the idea that he, and he alone, can best protect the nation. But he's been studiously silent about the looming issue of Iraq. And that's not something he can really keep up even with the complicit media fawning over him.


This is someone the people running our country find rather influential talking about bombing Iran. I'll be huddling in the corner now.