I'm one episode from the finale of Deadwood, and I'm feeling prematurely nostalgic for the pantomime conversations between the Cantonese-speaking Wu and English-speaking Al Swearengen. These "conversations" generally involve frantic sketching with charcoal, oaths unprintable in a family blog, and very little English. They tend to conclude with the declaration "hang dai!" which means "brothers," and reciprocal gestures of intertwined index and middle fingers, as shown above. Hang dai, Mr. Wu. I will miss you.
Let's put this matter to bed
Their lives on the B‑list
Question: Is there a better litmus test of 1980's celebrity than a guest appearance on Love Boat? Wikipedia's master list includes Corey Feldman, Pat Morita, Rich Little, Menudo, the Village People, and the Pointer Sisters. Also included: Lorne Greene, Shecky Green, Pam Grier, and Andy Warhol. Surprisingly omitted: The Harlem Globetrotters.
I've been working on a design project involving income tax, and I'm a big fan of Big Love — so naturally I wonder how a polygamist fills out a 1040. My project has given me a good introduction into some techniques that people in exotic situations use to avoid getting nailed by the IRS, and I wonder which ones are employed by Bill Hendrickson, Big Love's plurally-married husband.So, all you tax protesters out there, tell me how this guy does it … On the surface, the Hendricksons are typical suburbanites, living in a subdivision with manicured lawns and white picket fences and SUVs, continually weaving a protective cloak of lies when it comes to dealing with the rest of the world, hiding the fact that three seemingly independent families living side-by-side are actually one large, plurally married family. The husband, Bill, owns a Home-Depot-style super-store, so clearly he's got some income, in addition to a variety of avenues to shelter that income. Each of the three wives lives in her own house. Bill lives with the first wife, Barb, and the other two wives — Nikki and Margie — live in the houses adjacent to Bill and Barb. Nikki and Margie both work part time, but they clearly don't earn enough to cover living expenses — rent, taking care of the kids, etc. We can assume that Bill owns all three houses. Maybe he "rents" houses to Nikki and Margie for a very reduced rate, and perhaps he also pays them a salary to be babysitters, or house cleaners? Still, you'd think that this sort of situation would be suspicious to the IRS, especially since they live in Salt Lake.You'd also think that the Internet would have a lot of information about how polygamists can avoid income taxes, but, if it's there, it's not easily Google-able. How Stuff Works actually has an article called "How Polygamy Works," which includes this bit:
The economics of polygamy can be hard on the families as well. Colorado City, Arizona, a strict polygamist enclave, suffers from severe poverty. The families are simply not able to make enough money to support all their wives and children. They rely heavily on welfare, and in some cases commit welfare fraud. The problem is so severe that Colorado City and similar communities put a serious strain on state welfare systems.
It would be even more suspicious, I would guess, if they collected welfare while living in a fancy subdivision. So: Who has some insight here? How do they do it?
Lost / Story-wrangling systems
I've always been fascinated by Lost, the intricately-plotted TV series about the survivors of a plane crash. On the surface, it's a new-fangled Gilligan's Island meets The Bridge of San Luis Rey. The goal is simply to get off the island, and the story of doing so is advanced in parallel with flashbacks that tell the stories of the characters. But the writers go way bigger than that, and after four seasons the story has woven threads of Lord of the Flies (in the way that social systems develop among the survivors), The Prisoner (in the discovery of a mysterious group of people living on the island, known as "the Others") The X‑Files (in the occasional supernatural events), and Rashomon (in its use of overlapping flashbacks and contested testimonies) — among, I'm sure, others.With all that is going on in the story, I've always wondered how the producers keep track of the various threads. Well, as it turns out, there's a person called "script coordinator" who is in charge of this. Gregg Nations, Lost's script coordinator, described his role in a post to The Fuselage, described as "The Official Site of the Creative Team Behind ABC's Award Winning TV Show Lost:"
A script coordinator creates the show bible, which is generally a summary of each episode and tracks the introduction of any new characters or important story points. However, on "Lostâ€ it's a little more difficult than usual. In place of a show bible I created a character bible, an island timeline and a flashback timeline.In the character bible I track important facts about the characters or other elements in the show established in the episodes, either through what the characters tell each other or the flashbacks. I track how many survivors we have, who has died and their names, when we've seen the polar bears or the smoke monster, everything about the hatch, when we've had contact with the Others, etc. Again, it's very detailed work but I think the writers appreciate having all that information at hand in a document so they don't have to worry about it.The island timeline is a record of how many days they've been on the island and what happened on what days. The flashback timeline tracks the events that happen in everyone's flashblacks.
So, the next question is: How the heck does he manage all of those bibles and timelines? Needing to visualize interconnected timelines, you'd think that he'd use something like a Gantt chart — maybe Microsoft Project? Or maybe he has some proprietary TV production software that links the timelines with character information? As it turns out, his system is a little more low-fi. In a recent profile in the NYT, Nations briefly alludes to his methods for managing the details:
Had he a background in computer science, Mr. Nations now says, he might have approached the "Lostâ€ project differently. "The best thing would have been to create a database where everything's linked, and if we're talking about Jack and what was established in his first flashback episode, you could click on something that takes you there,â€ he said. But as an accountant, he was more inclined just to make notes in a ledger. "I've just created these Word documents, and I just write everything down.â€
Nooooooooo. Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo! Even the fan-generated Lost wiki, Lostpedia, is linked up in a rudimentary way, making it roughly 1000x more wrangle-able than disconnected Word documents. Still, like any Lost fan, I'm curious to know what's in the "bible," even if it would be torturous to find anything.