10 September 2006
New periodical

Four Weeks Magazine is — well, let them tell you:

Four Weeks is a free, monthly online lifestyle magazine for women that introduces something new: it's the first magazine to be specifically tailored to each week of a woman's monthly hormone cycle.

This means we don't simply recommend the best undiscovered and quintessential products and travel destinations that help make a woman's life fuller, easier and more fun. We go one step further. We recommend only those products and places that a woman will enjoy and need most during each week of her monthly hormone cycle.

I suppose it would be difficult to make this a print publication, inasmuch as you'd have to send it to a quarter of the subscribers each week.

(Via All Things Jennifer, where this question is posed: "Why?")

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:38 AM)
15 September 2006
Use the west entrance only

This fall Francis Tuttle Technology Center is offering a course in feng shui:

Feng Shui is the art of harmony and balance in your home and life. When the principles of Feng Shui are applied, a person will see dramatic change in their overall energy level and the quality of their life. By following the Feng Shui axiom a person can enhance their life, career and finances, along with better overall health. Bring a photo of the outside of your home, a basic floor plan and pencil and paper.

Okay, it may not be as immediately useful as, say, Spanish for Hotel & Restaurant Personnel, but I'm sure the demand is there.

Yet to be determined: if there's a demand for copywriters who don't use "their" as a singular pronoun.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:30 AM)
16 September 2006
Somewhere off Main Street

"One Gleeson Plaza" is the new designation for Sean and Phoebe's place, and it has a certain upscale sheen to it, which makes sense since it's only a stone's throw from the fabled Blog Building.

It's an American thing, I think, to want our surroundings to bear pleasant-sounding names, although The Onion is reporting that Chicago is running out:

"It was bound to happen sooner or later," Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley said at a Monday press conference in front of City Hall. "Oak Dale Springs, Whispering Pines, Stonewood Creek... We have used every tree, body of water, and living thing in the almanac. You don't have to drive all the way out to Kevin Acres to know we need a new naming system."

Oklahoma City is currently processing plats and such for Oakdale Valley, Quail Ridge Estates, Settler's Ridge, Silver Leaf East, Somers Pointe, Country Hollow, Marble Leaf, and Robin Ridge, among others.

Most of these are innocuous, but enough with the "Pointe" business already: "pointe" is a ballet position, not a term of location.

Which, in turn, reminds me of this from five years ago:

This afternoon, on the road to No Place In Particular, I traipsed through something called Danforth Farms, where every other street name has an equestrian origin — Oklahoma City insists upon the retention of numbers for east-west thoroughfares, lest the fire department get lost somewhere around 197th Street — and "Farms" notwithstanding, it's about as pastoral as a GMC dealership. Besides which, there's this unwritten Law of the Suburbs which mandates bigger boxes made of ticky-tacky, though they still all look just the same.

The city of Edmond, on the other hand, likes trees. Loves trees. The joke a few years ago was that there was a City Council motion to ban all further street or subdivision names that contained any mention of "oak", before the entire population wound up living on Something Oak Drive. At least, I think it was a joke.

Coming back down Covell Road, I happened upon a subdivision that probably should have been called Ashford Oaks, but was in fact called "Asheforde Oaks", with a double helping of that Olde Englishe Codswallope that presumably impels people with ancestors named Martinez (such as, well, yours truly) to look elsewhere for housing.

Include "Pointe" in said codswallop.

Of course, here at Surlywood, we pay attention, not only to this world, but the next:

Having been part of a few focus groups in my time, I rather expect that when the Final Judgment is read, I can count on an extended stay at One Brimstone Place.

Sounds almost like a trip to Vegas, doesn't it? (And what happens there, I understand, really stays there.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:31 AM)
17 September 2006
But not too scentsible

Most of your high-zoot (even medium-zoot) fragrances have wispy yet evocative names: Femme Fatale, Winter Kiss, Midnight Rain. Viktor & Rolf, up there in Amsterdam, decided to keep the evocative and lose the wispy; their scent is called "Flowerbomb," of which Peppermint Patty says:

The Iron Maiden — goes on soft and floraly, but with the engine of a freight train. Sheíll befriend you, seduce your husband and then kick your dog when you arenít looking.

All that for a measly $95 for 50 ml, a buck ninety for one milliliter, which is only slightly more than ink for my HP DeskJet at work, which goes for $1.84/ml and presumably doesn't smell as good.

V&R now have a scent for men, which bears the curious name "Antidote." I admit to being at least slightly curious, especially since the ineffable Rufus Wainwright has penned a tune for it:

Even though you were never mine to start with
Even though one day the golden age will come
But until then, this bottle of perfume will have to do
Because the only antidote is you

And let's face it, nobody's going to write a song about Old Spice. (Carmina Burana doesn't count.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:48 AM)
19 September 2006
Yeah, but they all do that

I've never written any genre fiction, unless there's a genre called "sucky," but from what I've read, I have to believe that an essential component thereof is an adroit manipulation of cliché: if your characters are stock, they should be at least recognizable stock.

Or maybe not. Major romance fan Tara Marie has some serious questions:

Do all redheads have fiery tempers and green eyes? Are all Italians hotheads? Can you imagine what a red-headed Italianís temper must be like?

[shudder]

Why do 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Ö generation Hispanic, Italian and Cajun men all revert back to their grandparents' mother tongue while making love?

If they lapsed into Latin, you'd suspect them of having a surplice in the closet somewhere.

Should all vampires be tormented, wear black and speak without ever using a contraction?

I had an idea once for a vampire from Georgia (our Georgia, where Atlanta, not Tbilisi, is the capital), complete with (faint) accent, a disdain for monochrome garb, and a fondness for NASCAR. I could not, however, bring myself to call him "Count Dacula."

Does "feisty" in the back blurb mean the heroine will inevitably do something stupid enough to need rescuing by the hero?

"Feisty," in my experience, is a substitute for "short": regardless of whatever attitude she may be copping at any particular moment, no one will ever refer to Elle Macpherson as "feisty." In fact, people over five-eight in general are never described as "feisty" unless they play in the National Basketball Association, in which case the cutoff is six-one.

I need hardly point out that this does not at all preclude stupidity.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:35 AM)
21 September 2006
Looking out for Number 2

A few eons ago, Sheri S. Tepper wrote of Mavin Manyshaped, one of a clan of shapeshifters, who, once her powers develop, flees from the family compound, lest she be abused like the other women in the clan. Mavin takes her younger brother with her; to speed the process along, she assumes the shape of a horse.

So far, this is a fairly routine fantasy concept, but Tepper is never routine. If you think about it — obviously she did — the Mavin/horse is going to have to eat, and eat a lot, during a long journey like this, and once she returns to human form, well, what's going to happen to all that bulk she was carrying as an equine?

Exactly. Tepper doesn't dwell on the point, but she doesn't evade it either.

Nor does Lileks sidestep the issue:

[L]ast yearís Magic of Pegasus ... was really the Phantom Menace of the Barbie movie genre. Not to give anything away, but it turned out that the talking Pegasus was actually Barbie's sister, which was rather creepy. I suppose they figured it was a little girl's dream — a flying horse who's also your bestest sister ever — but if you thought things through, flying horses would necessarily drop huge pies from great heights. Once your sister had retaken human form (and started borrowing your stuff without asking) she couldn't use the bathroom without making you wonder whether she'd taken out a cottage or two with a few high-velocity sky apples.

Do not expect this wisdom to be reflected in this year's My Little Pony® product line.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:02 AM)
22 September 2006
What the world needs now

Love, sweet love?

"More dried-up, bitter old post-menopausal hags," says Andrea Harris:

No one suffers fools less gladly than a tart, astringent crone who is no longer in thrall to her hormones and thus has gained mental strength to compensate handsomely for the wasted years she spent dripping and seeping. However, thanks to the miracles of modern medicine [/SARCASM ALERT], there are fewer of those every year. No, most women these days, far from being dried up, are far too moist for longer than God and nature intended them to be, in fact they are positively drenched with the stolen juices of other women's youths. Elizabeth Bathory used to bathe in the blood of young virgins in order to stay perpetually young — today's Modern Woman v. 2.0 soaks in a daily bath of the slaughtered innocence of society, where thanks to the zombie stinking of the grave of dead philosophies that is the contemporary "feminist" movement women are free to be sluts and nothing else. And paired with this evil liquid substance is the older, yet no less poisonous, potion that is traditional female morbidity. Too many women of my acquaintance (young and old) are addicted to those creepy medical shows that seem to only feature children with deforming diseases or people who have been in horrifying disfiguring accidents. They are also fond of those shows that feature another kind of deforming disease, the Jerry Springer-type trash talk show. And of course, there is that old standby, the soap opera. And these "likes" carry over into what they read; and that fact combined with the hold Zombie Feminism has on the literary world, has produced the Oprah-approved victim-novel.

Or, on occasion, the Oprah-approved bogus memoir.

I think, though, this "free to be sluts" business is as much a matter of politics as of philosophy: the only sort of freedom unequivocally endorsed by the left, and therefore by its client subcultures, is sexual freedom. (Which, of course, comes with chains of its own, but that's another issue.)

And I suspect that the endless parade of feebs and fools that crosses the television screen between Good Morning America and World News Tonight is intended, at some level, as a self-esteem booster for the customers, since there is nothing, after all, more important than self-esteem, and even the least-favored of us can feel superior to that sorry lot. It's Socrates updated: the unexamined life is a source of entertainment.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:51 AM)
Step 2 is the hardest

Okay, one white iPod. Here's the pitch:

Remember that dude who gradually traded up from a red paper clip to a house? Well, I was thinking about that this morning and got to wondering: What if you took that scheme, but started with something of substantial value, something most people actually want, something like an iPod? Then I did some math:

1000 paper clips cost $5.48 at Staples which means a single red paper clip is worth 0.548 cents.

The average home price in Saskatchewan (where the dude finally traded up for a house) is C$134,000 which converts to about $119,000 in American money or approximately 21,715,328 times the value of the original paperclip.

So, I concluded that if I begin with a lightly-used 20gb iPod Photo, which appears to be worth about $150, I should be able to trade up to something valued at around $3,257,299,200. The only question left was what I wanted that costs around $3 billion.

What he decided he wanted: Dreamworks SKG, which was acquired by Viacom recently for $1.6 billion.

Me, I think he's gonna have to adjust his goal slightly to allow for the been-there-done-that factor. I hear Facebook's for sale.

(Via Defamer.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:03 PM)
24 September 2006
K. 2006

Composer Charles Gounod once said: "Mozart exists, and will exist, eternally; divine Mozart — less a name, more a soul descending to us from the heavens, who appeared on this earth, stayed for a little over thirty years, and left it all the more rejuvenated, richer and happier for his appearance."

If anything, Gounod was underestimating him. The independent film Mozartballs, named for the popular Salzburg confection, makes the case that Mozart's influence, the power of his music, the resilience of his spirit, is undiminished today, 250 years after his birth.

This film focuses on five individuals whose lives are literally transformed by that power: a retired schoolteacher in Switzerland, once despondent, now rescued; a composer who uses the original music to create new works in the same spirit (sort of "Amadeus ex machina," if you will); the first Austrian space traveler, for whom the music provided connections to both earth and sky; and a couple in Oklahoma who have found that spirit dwelling deep within themselves.

Or, in other words, Mozart lives! (Which, I discover, was a working title for the film.) If you've ever doubted it for a moment, Mozartballs will persuade you otherwise.

The US premiere was late last night at the Okie Blogger Roundup; being old and infirm, I was unable to attend — they buried poor Wolfgang at thirty-five, and I'm pushing fifty-three, fercryingoutloud — but Steph Waller was kind enough to set me up with a DVD of the current 56-minute version, for which I am grateful. This fall, an expanded cut (70 minutes or so) will be issued on DVD. It's worth your time just for the music — it's Mozart, after all — but the story is so compelling that you, too, may be touched by the spirit of the man from Salzburg.

(Playing while this post was written: Piano Concerto No. 17 in G major, K. 453, John O'Conor, Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Sir Charles Mackerras.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:21 PM)
28 September 2006
Fear at the top of the hour

Perhaps I'm too old to have been creeped out by the 1970s Screen Gems logo known familiarly as the S from Hell: it's an irritating little tune, but not particularly scary, though the Eye of Baal, or whatever the heck that is in the center, is genuinely off-putting.

The sound that freaked me as a kid, and still raises measurable amounts of gooseflesh, is Jack Webb's Mark VII Limited logo, the clang of the hammer so loud it actually hurt. (The link is to a more recent version, mostly because it sounds better, if "better" can apply here.) The one thing that saved me from certain aural trauma was the fact that they usually cut right away to the logo for Revue Studios and/or MCA Television Distribution, which provided an escape from the anvil chorus in my brain. (Sample here; this is at an odd bit rate and may not play on every machine known to man.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:36 AM)
1 October 2006
This story's just six words long

Ernest Hemingway, it is said, once came up with a short story — a good one, yet — that ran all of six words: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn." As nanofiction goes, if it's not the standard-bearer, it's pretty darn close: how much of a tale can you tell in half a dozen words? There's "In the beginning was the Word," same length, but not what I think of as fiction.

Caterina Fake is collecting samples from her readers. Here are some I particularly liked:

Lucky, yes, but my twin wasn't.

She loved again. I never did.

Today, I threw her toothbrush away.

They do seem to be somewhat sad, don't they?

(The best short story I ever wrote took a whole 804 words.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:46 PM)
3 October 2006
Accounting for tastes

Terry Teachout's Cultural Convergence Index is simple enough, yet fiendishly complex: there's no obvious, or even concealed, pattern to it. As the man himself explains:

Are there other critics whose taste is as predictable as that? Sure — bad ones. And how can you tell they're bad? Precisely because they are that predictable. Taste is not an ideology. It's a personal response to the immediate experience of art. If your responses to new or unfamiliar art are wholly predictable, it means that instead of allowing experience to reshape and refine your taste, you're forcing your perceptions into the pigeonhole of your pre-existing opinions. That's the opposite of what a good critic does.

Sometimes, we like things because, well, we like them, without regard to whether it fits into some particular school or tradition or era or whatever. The true value of the Teachout Index, I'd say, is that it reminds us of this fact without having to slap us in the face with a damp carp.

John Salmon of Mystic Chords tried his hand at the Index today, which is what prompted this post.

And if you're wondering if I were going to do this, you're about twenty-seven months behind: see Vent #397 for my own results. (I agreed with Teachout roughly half the time.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:30 PM)
5 October 2006
Remind me to work on my accent

I've never been to the Marshall County (Tennessee) Memorial Library, but I'm willing to bet that they've got some books on the shelves (in the 400s if they use Dewey Decimal) in rather a lot of languages besides English.

God forbid the locals should find out:

Library leaders in one Mid-State community ... heard a message loud and clear for its residents Tuesday: they don't want one penny of their tax dollars paying for books not in English.

Some residents in Lewisburg are angry with the Marshall County Memorial Library for having books in Spanish. Among them, Lewisburg resident and eighth-grade social studies teacher Robin Minor. He said if somebody comes to check out a book, that book should be in English saying, "It should not be paid for by the taxpayerís money of Marshall County. I do think we have a lot of county commissioners that will be interested and again. If it's one penny, it's one penny too much."

Minor, who teaches at Lewisburg Middle School, along with a few other residents, spoke out at the Marshall County Memorial Libraryís Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday night. "I would like to see a policy that if somebody's going to donate a book to this library where English has been the dominant language since 1836, let's make those books be donated in English only.Ē

I am sorely tempted to go buy a non-English book and have it delivered to the library (310 Farmington Pike, Lewisburg, Tennessee 37091) just out of spite. The Annoyed Librarian might approve:

I really just don't understand this American resistance to languages other than English and the accompanying library challenges. And don't give me that argument about we're just trying to fight off the illegal immigrants, etc. That seems to be just the latest excuse to justify the notorious American ignorance of foreign languages and cultures. Being in favor of English as the official language of the United States, which in fact I am, has nothing to do with believing that English is the only language anyone should know. At least the Lewisburg librarians are fighting off the rubes.

Maybe a novel by Gabriel García Márquez. That ought to shake them up a tad.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:05 PM)
Dispatches from the Gas Chamber

By some standards, I (or my lovely doppelgänger, about whom too much has been said already) achieved Fixture status in the local BBS scene in the middle-to-late 1980s. However, it must be said that while there were plenty of users in my chronological cohort, most of the headlines were inevitably made by, so to speak, punks half my age.

Except for Jack Flack, who was one-third my age.

Flack's memoir Commodork: Sordid Tales from a BBS Junkie, published under his ostensibly-"real" name of Rob O'Hara, is now out and about, and it's about as unfiltered a history of this era as I'm ever likely to see: yes, there were some, um, illicit activities going on, and O'Hara knows copyfests and krackage as well as anyone in this time zone. Today, of course, is (sorta) different:

I pay for the software I need, the music I listen to and the services I use. But this book isn't about now. It's about a time when pirated software ruled the land. Those with the most, newest, and best programs had the power; those who didn't groveled at their feet. It's about good friends, good times, good memories, and good warez.

And woe betide he who pronounces that last word as though it were a city in Mexico.

(Find Commodork at lulu.com. And do read this: it's an overview of that very subculture, written by Flack himself.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:21 PM)
7 October 2006
Dates from hell

Springtime in New York: what better time for romance? It's about time, thinks Haley Walker, and you can't blame her: a few years back she and daughter Vera fled Austin, Texas and "psychotic" husband Roger, with little more than the shirts on their backs — and about six hundred pairs of designer shoes.

Haley has done fairly well for herself. Upon her arrival in the Big Apple, she waited tables at a restaurant, which turned out to be a front for a money-laundering operation for Romanian mobsters; when the ringleader was tossed into the slammer, she was the only person on staff who had any idea of how actual restaurants were supposed to work, and by default she became the manager. Now the restaurant's a success, the daughter's turned thirteen, and maybe, just maybe, it's time to dip one Jimmy Choo-clad toe into the dating pool once more.

This is the setup for Theresa Rebeck's Bad Dates, the season opener for the Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre, and in true CityRep tradition, they're working without a net: Bad Dates is a 95-minute monologue, the musings of Haley Walker in her Manhattan bedroom as she reflects on the perfidy of men, the mythos of Mildred Pierce, and the value of quality footwear. And the dates? Bad, bad, and finally, at long last, worse.

The genius of this particular play, I think, is establishing Haley as an expat Texan, as fiercely independent as any native New Yorker, but maybe too wistful to immerse herself in that legendary Manhattan cynicism. It also makes an already difficult role more so, since at any given moment there are two or three or more emotions being juggled and only one person to convey them all. And in this production, that one person is Oklahoma City native Stacey Logan, who's spent enough time on the Broadway boards to know where the Southwest and the Big Apple intersect, and whose timing is Borscht Belt-perfect. Logan's Haley is utterly believable: you share her excitement when she goes out, and her disappointment when she recounts the horrible story of what happened when she did. (Pacing is critical here, but director Michael Jones maintains a steady hand.) And remember that jailed Romanian mobster? He's not going to stay in stir forever.

It's hard for me to talk about Bad Dates, simply because I've been someone's Bad Date more than once (and someone's psychotic husband once). But I laughed out loud at the funny stuff, of which there is an abundance, and I was moved by the suddenly-scary events of the second act. The crowd this afternoon was smallish — something about a football game, they tell me — but appreciative. And you've got until the 22nd to see it yourself.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:13 PM)
9 October 2006
Diffraction effects

I admit to being a sucker for off-kilter love stories — even off-kilter teenage love stories, if they're done with some degree of finesse. Laura Whitcomb's A Certain Slant of Light has so much finesse it nearly slipped away from me, but I was able to maintain some semblance of a grip right up until the only possible ending that made any sense.

"Someone was looking at me, a disturbing sensation if you're dead." And so she was, her own life having run out a century before, bound to a succession of "hosts" who are never aware of her existence, final disposition of her case evidently still pending. While looking after "her" English teacher, she's somehow seen by one of his students, and she must find out more.

He, like her, is Light, assigned to this in-between world. Yet he somehow has a body:

"How did you take Mr. Blake's body?"

"He vacated it," said James. "He left it, mind and soul, like an empty house with the door open." He seemed excited to tell me his strange adventure.

"When his spirit left his body, why didn't he die?" I wanted to know.

"His body didn't die," he said, still fascinated by his own luck. "His spirit chose to leave. It's difficult to explain. Instead of the ship going down taking the crew with it, the crew abandoned the ship, but the ship was still seaworthy." Now he looked embarrassed. Something in my expression had shamed him.

"It seems wrong," I said. "Like stealing."

"Better that I have him rather than —" An untold and eerie story flashed by behind his autumn eyes.

"Than what?"

"Well, left adrift, something evil might pirate him away."

This seemed more plausible to me than I thought it would. And eventually the want overwhelms the rules, and she finds an "empty" body of her own:

Jennyís eyes closed and her hands folded. I decided I couldnít wait forever. I stepped over the sleeping child and sat where Jenny was sitting. The ringing sound of crystal vibrating was all around me. I felt like I had pressed myself into cold marble. I stayed in her, and in a moment I started shaking. It was frightening, but I wouldnít let myself run. I tried to see James in my mindís eye, smiling at me. The ringing stopped with a popping sound. I felt like an ice sculpture starting to crack into pieces. Then it happened. I felt the shape of her, the shape of myself, inside the fingers and shoulders and knees of her. I even felt the snug shoes and the difference between her warm arms inside her sweater and her cool legs exposed to the breeze. I could feel the tickle of Jennyís hair brushing my cheek. My hand went to my mouth when I heard myself cry out in amazement. I opened my eyes to see every face in the circle turned to me, and then the ground flew up and I was in the dark.

Two people, both long dead, now pretending to be the teenagers whose bodies they inhabit. It's not hard to see where this is going, but it's difficult not to feel something for them, so long deprived — or for the departed youngsters who had no idea what they were giving up. It's a fascinating story, more than a little bit creepy in spots, and, I'd say, worth the extra effort it demands of the "young-adult" audience to whom it's pitched. How did I wind up with this book? I wish I knew.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:16 PM)
13 October 2006
Thirty percent off!

And I want to order these:

  • 0.7 Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
  • Slaughterhouse-3.5
  • The 4.9 Habits of Highly Effective People
  • Catch-15.4
  • The Crying of Lot 34.3
  • Around the World in 56 Days
  • 58.8 Charing Cross Road
  • Fahrenheit 315.7
  • 1400.7: A Space Odyssey
  • 14,000 Leagues Under the Sea
  • Seven Hundred Thousand Little Pieces

(Via Gawker.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:20 AM)
16 October 2006
Elviramental concerns

Allison Glock goes costume-shopping and is dismayed at what she finds:

Since when did Halloween costumes become marital aids? The hobo has turned into the Hillbilly Honey. The traditional vampire is now the Mistress of Darkness. I have nothing against playing erotic dress-up, or even mass-market fetishism. I'd just prefer it didnít converge with a family holiday (and wasn't sold next to the dryer sheets). If you want to play cheerleader at home, go team. But trick-or-treating with your children in anything featuring latex and cleavage seems like a little too much trick.

And really, wasn't Halloween the one day modern women could relax about looking hot? What if I just want to be a mummy sans yummy?

I noticed that on the outside of every package was a photo of a woman modeling not only the costume, but teetering heels and bras of the push-up variety. The First Lady costume was not, as one might expect, a red business suit, but a pink crepe mini-dress. At least it had the matching pillbox hat. The angel was dubbed "heaven's hottie." Even the witch had a slit up her tattered skirt.

I suspect, however, that part of her annoyance lies elsewhere:

I casually searched for the male equivalent of the Stewardess. Perhaps a Hot Fireman costume? Or maybe Handyman? But there was no Pool Boy. No Sexy C.E.O. There were, in fact, very few men's costumes at all. A gorilla. A generic monster. A handful of serial killers.

"Sure, degrade men as well. That's the ticket," sniffs Mona Charen.

Still, whatever the grownups must endure on the last night of October pales in comparison to the truly crappy stuff inflicted on the kids.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:07 PM)
20 October 2006
It's stamp-lickin' good

KFC thinks its founder ought to be on a postage stamp:

Starting today, chicken lovers nationwide can visit www.KFC.com to sign an online petition asking the U.S.P.S. to honor Colonel Sanders, an American entrepreneurial icon, with his own stamp.

"The Colonel's entrepreneurial spirit and hospitable nature made him an American legend," said James O'Reilly, interim Chief Marketing Officer for KFC. "We believe that a postage stamp in his honor would be a fitting tribute to his memory."

Colonel Sanders recently was named one of America's two favorite advertising icons for 2006 and inducted into Madison Avenue's Advertising Walk of Fame. He is the first real person ever to receive this designation.

Younger folks may be forgiven if they look at the cartoon portrayal of the Colonel in recent TV spots and sniff, "Real person? Yeah, right." But Harland Sanders was very real, and by all accounts extra crispy: after selling off his company, he complained that the post-Sanders mashed potatoes and gravy were "wallpaper paste" covered with "sludge", prompting the new owners to sue him for maligning the product. Of course, I have always believed that biting the hand that feeds you is one of the four basic food groups.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:05 AM)
21 October 2006
Missing a couple of posts

No, not here. I mean that apparently I haven't kept up with the Zeitgeist worth a darn.

Lisa Schwarzbaum's review of Marie Antoinette (in Entertainment Weekly) contains this curious sentence:

This yummy-looking, artfully personal historical fantasia, borne on currents of melancholy and languor and rocking out to a divine soundtrack of 1980s New Romantic pop music (plenty of the Cure, Bow Wow Wow, and Adam Ant), is the work of a mature filmmaker who has identified and developed a new cinematic vocabulary to describe a new breed of post-post-post-feminist woman.

Emphasis added. Now what the heck does that phrase mean? I'll grant that Sofia Coppola is a filmmaker, and that she's matured, and I don't doubt her capacity to create a "new cinematic vocabulary," but I'm not quite sure where the transition from post-feminism to post-post-feminism occurred, or if it has anything to do with so-called "third-wave" feminism. If I've counted this up correctly, Coppola, says Schwarzbaum, seems to be ushering in the fourth (maybe the fifth) wave.

Not that there's anything wrong with that, particularly, though when I think of cultural harbingers, Kirsten Dunst in a big wig isn't the first image that comes to mind.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:07 PM)
24 October 2006
My shadow weighs 42 pounds

Andrea Harris, on the Chubbening of America:

I've been thinking lately, though, of the strangeness of how there seems to be so many more fat people, people who are really, really fat, around than there were when I was a kid. I am sure that the food of past decades was even fattier and greasier and calorie-laden than it is in these days of low-carb this and diet that, but people seem to just be growing wider and wider. I thought humanity was supposed to grow taller as we ate better, not fatter. But I don't see any more seven-footers around than I ever did. Maybe it's a gravity thing and all these fat people would really be eight feet tall if it weren't for the pull of the earth.

We are become our own cities: we grow outward rather than upward. I see more seven-footers than I used to, but this is because we now have an NBA team on loan. (And actually, Tyson Chandler is the only one who checks in at 84 inches or above.)

Maybe it's just that people who once never dared venture out of the house, for fear of public mockery, have grown a spine. Not that I'd want to look for it, particularly.

But then:

Or another, more horrid thought has been occurring to me lately ... maybe we are being fattened up for something.

Think about it. The environmental movement and all those other leftist movements have been getting very odd lately. Then there are all those "animal rights" and meat-is-murder proponents. A vegetarian diet is necessarily high-carb, which we are told causes more people to become fat. Has anyone gotten close enough to Al Gore to see if that's really a mask concealing a ravenous alien visage of meat- and bone-crunching mandibles? All I know is, I am going to keep on eating meat, so as to at least render my fatty flesh unpleasant tasting to any cannibal looking for a sweet ruminant human on which to feast.

The secret, I suspect, died with Dr Atkins. And really, I don't know any fat vegetarians, carbs notwithstanding. Perhaps not even they could stand to eat that many greens.

If you ask me, the entire philosophy of the animal-rights movement boils down (45 minutes at high heat, add many grains of salt) to "Animals, unlike men, do not wage war," granting the critters the sort of moral standing they would never bestow upon humans — except, of course, themselves. It is, of course, possible, even desirable, to extend kindness to animals, though we should never delude ourselves that we and they can live in perfect harmony so long as no one ever goes to Burger King. And rapidly moving up my Fondest Dreams chart is a vision of Peter Singer being eaten by shrews.

The idea of leftist groups getting odd, of course, is about as remarkable as the idea of Seattle getting rain.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:08 AM)
25 October 2006
One scent per copy

Danielle Steel now has her own signature fragrance, called, sanely enough, "Danielle," which will be marketed by Elizabeth Arden through the usual outlets.

The Internet Writing Journal blog thinks this is a great idea, and that other writers should do likewise: "It" by Stephen King, say, or Neil Gaiman's "Shadow."

I anxiously await two Dr. Seuss scents — "Green Eggs" and "Ham" — and shudder at the thought of what they might come up with for Gabriel García Márquez: "Solitude"? "Time of Cholera"?

(Via Brenda Coulter at Romancing the Blog.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:34 AM)
27 October 2006
That's right, they're bilingual

Seen (presumably) in North Vancouver, British Columbia:

Bilingual sign
(Via boinky.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:22 AM)
29 October 2006
Mi casserole es su casserole

Hot DishSo I catch sight of this book cover — the book itself is out in November — and my second thought (my first thought, inevitably, is "Hmmm, nice legs") is "What are the chances that this author has Minnesota roots?" The answer, as it turns out, is 100 percent, though there's still one nagging question: Does the spelling of "hot dish" as two words, something one simply does not do in Minnesota, have any particular significance, or is this just some New York publishing weasel's misapplication of the term? (Yeah, I know: buy the darn book.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:10 PM)
2 November 2006
Don't want no fancy funeral

And they didn't get one, either:

Thieves last week led archaeologists to the graves of three royal dentists, located near to the Step Pyramid of King Djoser, believed to be Egypt's oldest pyramid.

Zahi Hawass, chief of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, told ... reporters that the tombs date back more than 4,000 years to the 5th Dynasty. They were meant to honor a chief dentist and two others who treated the pharaohs and their families.

Although their services were in demand by the powerful, the dentists likely did not share in their wealth. The tombs, which did not contain their mummies, were built of mudbrick and limestone, not the pure limestone preferred by ancient Egypt's upper class.

Back in the day when General Motors was struggling to keep its market share below 50 percent, dentists and lawyers and such, even if they could afford Cadillacs, tended to buy Buicks and Oldsmobiles, lest their clientele wonder if maybe they might be getting overcharged. The idea that there's historical precedent for this sort of modesty is just this side of fascinating.

This is not to say, though, that the dentists weren't protective of what was theirs:

[O]ne of [the tombs] included a curse warning that anyone who violated the sanctity of the grave would be eaten by a crocodile and a snake.

It could have been worse: the curse could have included root-canal work.

(Stolen from Scribal Terror.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:20 AM)
7 November 2006
Archie Bunker: SUV owner

Well, okay, no, he wasn't really. But there's one parked outside his house.

(Probably not a LaSalle, though. Via Pop Culture Junk Mail.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:46 AM)
15 November 2006
Shed no tears for her

Ex-Rocketboom host Amanda Congdon has landed on her flexible feet: she's signed a development deal with HBO and will be making broadcast and Web appearances on ABC.

On t'other hand, Joanne Colan has come into her own as the face of Rocketboom, and she's bound to be just as much of a household word eventually.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:36 AM)
18 November 2006
Pictures of silly

Even though they've been legal for two and a half weeks now, I have not felt compelled to run out and get a tattoo; while under certain circumstances they can be attractive — there's a nice little ankh-like design near one ankle on the second-nicest pair of legs I've ever seen — there's still something a trifle off-putting about the whole concept.

Steph Waller, as usual, puts it more aptly:

I'm probably just an old fart, but I don't like tattoos. They look dirty to me because they're usually the same color as the grease that gets trapped under the fingernails of auto mechanics.

And on me, regardless of color, it would create the image that the Goodyear Blimp is subletting advertising space.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:41 AM)
20 November 2006
Instantaneous Bonding

One of the lifers here (nearly 20 years) at 42nd and Treadmill is considered, mostly by default, to be the expert on Hot Guys, and I made a point of staying out of Casino Royale until she pronounced her verdict on Daniel Craig, especially since I had expressed minor reservations about the fellow. (I tend to trust her judgment on men, since she's never shown the slightest interest in me.)

Not to worry, she assures me; at some point they sprayed him down with Wuss-B-Gone, and he comes off as credible, and credibly studly, an important characteristic for Double-O operatives.

Which, of course, got me thinking: M, these days, is a woman (Dame Judi Dench). And I don't claim to understand all of the M.O. over at Universal Exports, but it seems only logical to me that one does not become M without serious field experience. So at some point there may have been a Bond — Jane Bond.

With this in mind, I point you to this AfterEllen compilation of ideas for a female Bond, largely from a lesbian point of view; after all, at least part of the appeal of the series has been the steady procession of "Bond girls." (Via Swirlspice.)

And with none of this in mind, Eric Siegmund reviews Casino Royale.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:41 AM)
21 November 2006
Not buying

Just received from the subscription-fulfillment house:

Our records indicate that your last issue of Harper's Magazine has just been mailed to you.

However, you can still guarantee uninterrupted service of your subscription by renewing today. There's no need to send payment now, we'll be glad to bill you later.

No, you were right the first time: my last issue of Harper's Magazine has just been mailed to me.

The decision was made some months ago when literary editor Ben Metcalf went into paroxysms over the sheer delight of strangling George W. Bush with his bare hands. Even Lewis H. Lapham, who wrote a piece about what he'd heard at the 2004 Republican National Convention before the convention actually took place, never sank to this level.

Mother Jones (another lefty magazine to which I subscribe) doesn't pull crap like that. Yes, they're over the top now and then — I expect that from a publication with a political bent, and the angle of the bend doesn't matter — but they're not in the habit of going out of their way to be stupidly offensive. If I need literary criticism, I can read the Atlantic; if I need fatuous explanations of why Bush! Is! Evil!, I can read Vanity Fair. (I've discovered, incidentally, that V.F. is improved markedly if you rip out Wolcott's pages beforehand.)

So Harper's is gone after the next issue. I figure they've survived for 156 years; they don't need my twenty bucks, or whatever fire-sale price they're offering. (Single copies are a startling $6.95.) Maybe I'll use it to renew Stuff.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:30 PM)
22 November 2006
Young doctors in love

Young doctors, claims a Miami physician in The New York Times, are dressing inappropriately:

Among older and middle-aged physicians (like myself), tales of salacious and sloppy trainee attire abound. One colleague commented that a particularly statuesque student "must have thought all her male patients were having strokes" when she walked in their exam room wearing a low-cut top and a miniskirt. Another complained about a male student who came to class unshaven, even though he hadnít been on call the night before. One Midwestern medical school dean reported that her school instituted a formal dress policy after administrators noticed students revealing too much flesh while sunbathing on a small patch of grass outside the school building, directly below patientsí hospital room windows.

Patients and colleagues may dismiss a young doctorís skills and knowledge or feel their concerns aren't being taken seriously when the doctor is dressed in a manner more suitable for the gym or a night on the town. There are also hygiene considerations: open-toed shoes donít protect against the spills that commonly occur in patient care, and long, flowing hair can potentially carry harmful bacteria.

Well, okay. Dr Pamela A Rowland, director of the Office of Professional Development at Dartmouth Medical School, says that it can also affect the outcome of oral exams for board certification:

"You donít want to look too attractive to be serious," she said, adding that "a certain amount of the nerd factor" can help a doctorís performance.

As a rule, I shy away from That Which Is Medical, and therefore I have little anecdotal evidence to cite here, though I did once (okay, more than once) avail myself of the services of a dentist who seemed to fulfill the Texas Babe stereotype: slender and rangy, moderately-big blonde hair, endless legs. However, it must be pointed out that, at the office anyway, she dressed more like Lubbock than Dallas — no effort to be trendy — and she didn't go out of her way to dazzle you with any of that Dr McLusciousness stuff.

Meanwhile, Lindsay Beyerstein has her doubts:

It's always newsworthy when someone claims that an unexpected group of women is dressing wantonly: six-year-olds, pro bowlers, physicians.... It's the sort of thing the public needs to know about right away. You don't necessarily have time to establish whether one person's anecdotes [are] representative, or even plausible.

Unfortunately, the NYT couldn't find any of these scantily-clad doctors in time, so the editors had to make do with a more impressionistic illustration.

And indeed, the Times illustration reeks of stockphotohood; I don't know any physicians who look like that, and if I did, the first thing I'd want to know is "Is she in our network?"

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:34 PM)
26 November 2006
Not that kind of girl

Stirring new storyline, or desperate grab for viewers? You make the call:

ABCís All My Children this week will introduce a transgender character who is beginning to make the transition from a man into a woman.

The character, a flamboyant rock star known as Zarf, kisses the lesbian character Bianca and much drama ensues. The storyline begins with Thursdayís episode of the daytime drama.

The only transitioning character I can remember seeing on series television was Cindy McCauliff, played by Lisa Edelstein early in the fourth season of Ally McBeal. She was far enough along in transition to refuse to take a corporate physical, got fired for it, and is suing the employer. In the midst of things, she and attorney Mark Albert (James LeGros) wind up dating — he's not working on her case, so he doesn't know, and no one is in a rush to tell him — and the unveiling, as it were, is not pretty:

Richard: You know, these things happen, Mark.

Mark: What do you mean, "these things happen"? My girlfriend has a penis! These things don't "happen."

Odd that I should remember this. Or maybe not so odd; Edelstein, as I recall, was kinda hot. And the writers botched this badly: early in the first episode of the arc, Cindy admits to being a "man," which I can't believe any self-respecting M2F would say out loud.

I suspect AMC will handle this, so to speak, with no greater sensitivity. Not that I'm a big fan of sensitivity or anything.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:00 PM)
27 November 2006
I, Blockhead

Lileks speculates on what happened to the Peanuts gang:

I'd guess they all ended up happy, or as happy as can be expected. Schroeder is an audio engineer, Lucy is a lawyer and living with Peppermint Patty and raising a boy, Linus got tenure, and Charlie Brown has a nice living maintaining legacy systems for IBM.

Given the lifespan of dogs in general, you have to assume that Snoopy shuffled off this mortal collar years ago; still, I see him and the Baron hoisting a couple of root beers in the Great Repository of War Clichés in the Sky. (For the holidays, of course.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:10 AM)
6 December 2006
They didn't have to count them all

There may have been four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire, but there are forty million leaves in Montclair, New Jersey.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:29 AM)
I think he looks more like Tugboat Annie

David Hasselhoff, Roger DeBris is you:

Former Baywatch star David Hasselhoff will take the role of a flamboyant director in the Las Vegas production of the hit musical The Producers.

Hasselhoff, who is six foot four, will wear a dress to play the gay director Roger DeBris, whose shows have an unbroken record as flops.

"He is perfect for Roger DeBris because he has the best legs in Hollywood," Mel Brooks said in announcing casting for the Las Vegas production [last month].

Didn't we meet him on a summer cruise?

(Via Lawren.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:45 AM)
7 December 2006
The handwringing on the wall

While I have been known to do unspeakable things like defend Thomas Kinkade, I'll be the first person to tell you that sometimes it's the function of art to shake you up a bit. (I attended, for instance, this exhibit, and wrote about it here.)

"Shake you up a bit," though, stops well short of what Jennifer went through:

The art was as painful to look at, a withering internal glare the artist forced mercilessly upon herself; a train wreck of pain and destruction, twisted fear and mental instability, so hideous you couldn't take your eyes off it. Even when the gawking began to wrench knots in the spot where your neck greets your shoulders; even when finally seeing it for what it was bruised your eyes. Even when you realized what you were seeing was the bottomless pit of one woman's tattered, tortured, wilted soul, the lurid, hellish evidence left smattered and splattered on the wall for public consumption. Not one thing more, and not one single thing less.

This was, I believe, the desired effect. From a promotional page for the same artist, and possibly even the same exhibit:

Using her own visual vocabulary, [the artist] orchestrates past, present and anticipated events connected to her misplaced sense of self. Utilizing paint, ink drawings, found objects and collage, [her] work references her own feelings of inferiority, abnormality, social anxiety, nervousness, and misplacement.

Jennifer recalls:

My insides twisted, my face flushed hot, my hands shook. From disgust and fear. From devastating sadness and aimless pity. From anger, directed toward an vast unknown, so vile its metallic aftertaste stung my throat.

A little of that, I submit, goes a long, long way.

The artist in question, apparently, is the visual equivalent of Jandek, a few of whose recordings I have heard over the years, despite warnings from Irwin Chusid, who says things like this about him:

[I]magine a subterranean microphone wired down to a month-old tomb, capturing the sound of maggots nibbling on a decaying corpse and the agonized howls of a departed soul desperate to escape tortuous decomposition and eternal boredom. That's Burt Bacharach compared to Jandek.

And yet Jandek has made forty-eight albums at this writing. (Corwood Industries, Jandek's record label, is normal in one respect, anyway: they started numbering with "0739".)

There is, I conclude, a market for this sort of thing. The Muses, I assume, have their off-days, or a fairly warped sense of humor — or, conceivably, all of the above.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:23 AM)
Ellipsis sweet as candy

Dawn Eden talks to the Washington Times, and there are ... rather a lot of ... apparent ... gaps.

Since she isn't disowning the Times interview, I assume that the points she made were not affected by the nefarious practice of Dowdification.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:59 PM)
8 December 2006
Sticky situations

A few days back I put up a brief piece about this year's Bad Sex in Fiction award.

It occurs to me, or at least to someone, that the award might actually be superfluous, because "all sex scenes are gratuitous":

There used to be something of a point to sex scenes in novels. Back in the 18th and 19th Centuries. The average semi-literate shopkeeper, who learned everything he knew about sexuality from bawdy limericks, and could count his sexual conquests by the number of different genital rashes that appeared in a calendar month, loved to read racy novels written in French and printed on parchment soaked in vinegar to rinse off the ink from Napoleon: I'll Be Back. It was exciting, back then, to read about having sex on sheets, and to indulge the fantasy of raping the scullery maid without the "comeuppance" of being castrated by her scythe-wielding boyfriend.

By the 20th Century, most people had at least heard of sex, and fictional portrayals began to move on to exotic locales and positions, and introduced the revolutionary concept of having extramarital intercourse without a slow descent into Hell afterwards. In the last quarter-century, the average teenager's sexual experiences were beginning to outstrip the inventive capacity of wallflower future authors who were in the library salivating over the one dog-eared copy of Henry Miller's Tropic of Capricorn when their classmates were exploring the seductive powers of pre-mixed vodka and orange.

Now, of course, anyone with Internet access can have any sexual question answered, and any fetish satiated, in 0.13 seconds. So, the only sexual frontier left for fiction to explore is what it might be like if Galadriel, Lois Lane and Ally McBeal gang-banged Professor Snape and the fat guy from Lost.

Such a tease, that Lois.

But the real reason that they're extraneous is that they never seem to have anything new to say:

Almost all of them could be edited down to "And then they did it," without losing anything original.

Human anatomy, after all, is pretty well standardized. Once upon a time the characters were portrayed as breaking the laws of North Podunk; today they're portrayed as breaking the laws of physics.

(Which, of course, may explain why Lois Lane and Superman ... um, never mind.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:27 AM)
With Owen Wilson as Ron the Baptist

Something I quoted from Premiere's Libby Gelman-Waxner:

The Da Vinci Code suggests that Jesus was actually married to Mary Magdalene, and that they were very happy and had a child. It's the Pretty Woman take on the New Testament, with a powerful guy falling for a hooker. This theory of course made me violently jealous of Mary Magdalene, because she could go to cocktail parties or cookouts and just casually say things like "Well, when Jesus and I were in Aruba . . ." or "Can you believe it? I had the baby two weeks ago, and I'm already back in a bikini. It's like a miracle!"

Let's face it, Jesus would have been the best husband of all time. He was gorgeous, he was incredibly compassionate, and he was a carpenter, so none of your cabinets would ever stick.

Perhaps Libby was more prescient than she thought:

From Variety, news of a new romantic comedy called Prodigal Son: "Story revolves around a workaholic single woman who is set up on a date by her mother. Her date, a handsome, kind and caring carpenter who works at Ikea, turns out to be Jesus Christ, who's returned for Armageddon and settled in contemporary Los Angeles. Deal was worth high six-figures."

Well, you have to figure that Armageddon isn't going to start in Indianapolis, but apart from that, what's wrong with this picture?

I hope Ms Gelman-Waxner collects at least a "Suggested by" credit.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:00 PM)
13 December 2006
Murthafarkin' mnemonics

If you want someone to remember what you said, throw in a friggin' vulgarism or three:

Kensinger and Corkin hypothesized that emotionally negative words would be remembered better than neutral words (in general, people remember negative things better than neutral things, so the prediction wasn't that much of a stretch), and in six experiments, they confirmed this prediction. Negative words were consistently remembered better than neutral words. But in four of the experiments (3-6), another type of words was remembered better than negative words: taboo words.

Kensinger and Corkin used taboo words (words for sexual body parts and swear words), starting in Experiment 3, to test whether the memory benefit of negative emotional valence was separable from arousal. The taboo words they picked had higher emotional valences (i.e., they were less negative) than the negative words, and their valences were only slightly lower (i.e., more negative) than the neutral words. The arousal scores (how arousing they were) for taboo words were much higher than either the neutral words or the negative words (which were less arousing than the neutral words).

The lesson Kensinger and Corkin take away from this is booooooring: the effects of negative emotional valence and arousal on memory are separable. Yawn! The cool lesson is that we remember words for sexual body parts and swear words really well, and the memory benefit extends to the context in which they were presented! So, next time you're having a conversation with someone, and you really want them to remember what you're saying, use as many swear words and words for sexual body parts as you can.

(Via Steph Mineart, who says "No shit. I've said this for years.")

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:20 AM)
14 December 2006
Old buttermilk sky

Lileks, on the Pillsbury Doughboy:

What was his goal, exactly? Perhaps he wanted to shape our conceptions of dough — not what it was, but what it could be. Perhaps — and more likely, really — he had found himself come to life, realized that a horrible life of experimentation and confinement awaited, and deftly disarmed the Meat Giants by tempting them with delicious biscuits and sugar-drenched rolls. We can only imagine him alone at night, his day's work done, trying to shape dough into the form of a companion, and breathing into its mouth. Failure; every time, failure. He wept small clear perfect tears, and they tasted like beer.)

This narrative skips over the fact that there was once a Doughgirl at his side, to greet him with a smile, to comfort him when the croissants wound up curved in the wrong direction. But she disappeared almost as quickly as she had appeared, which would no doubt explain his sorrow, his desolation. Nobody ever explained what had happened to her: had a defective can caused her to explode? Did something from the oven prove to be her undoing? Was it something as simple as a yeast infection?

To this day, no one at Pillsbury is saying.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:37 AM)
15 December 2006
Je suis Hayekian, tendance Salma

In the Agora's Eric Seymour, noting some slightly fleshy pop-ups (so to speak) at Reason's Web site, asks if maybe the libertarian magazine is planning a swimsuit issue.

Me, I'm not particularly interested — unless they're planning to bring back Virginia Postrel.

(Title inspired by this Scribal Terror post.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:30 AM)
Ripping yarns

But don't call them bodice-ripping. Brenda Coulter reveals that a lot more guys are reading those love stories than you might think:

According to a 2005 study by Romance Writers of America, 22% of romance readers are male. I suspect that number may actually be quite a bit higher, because just as some women won't admit to reading romance because they fear ridicule by their peers, surely not every man will own up to reading the books. On top of that, I'm convinced that some men have read romance without realizing they were dipping into that genre. Case in point: I recently heard from a young man who found my second book on the coffee table at his mother's house. He was bored and wanted something to read. He finished the book and then wrote a very polite e-mail asking if that was a "real" romance novel and if all of the other romance novels were just like it. (Yes, I replied. And no.)

I admit to having read a few of them. (Fewer than thirty, anyway.) And I approach them just about the same way I approach science-fiction stories: I assume that I will be thrust into an environment with which I am wholly unfamiliar. The difference, of course, is that I studied science when I was younger, and mostly enjoyed it.

A reminder from Syaffolee:

Genre is nothing but an arbitrary guideline set by publishers and bookstores trying to organize their product. Look beyond the branding and read a book for the story. Don't mindlessly believe that a book is only read by some make-believe demographic because some marketing executive somewhere decides that the novel should be pitched to that make-believe demographic.

But that said, I think it will be virtually impossible to dissuade people from their genre prejudices. Unless we start a cross-genre trend! I wonder if there is more gender equity in the reader base of sci-fi romance/romantic sci-fi. . . .

Star Wars, you'll remember, was a Western.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:52 AM)
Second-tier holiday specials

Since these won't be getting much in the way of network promotion, I figured I'd get in a plug or two here for these worthy seasonal offerings:

"The Star Wars Prequels Christmas Special, featuring Jar Jar the Red-Nosed Reindeer and How Palpatine Stole Advent"

"The Year Santa's Reindeer Took Time Off to Avenge the Death of Bambiís Mother"

"The James Bond Christmas Special, or The Little Drummer Boy with a License to Kill"

"How to Make a Nativity Scene Without Making Anybody in It Look Muslim"

As always, check your local listings.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:21 PM)
18 December 2006
A thoroughly-researched dorkumentary

Maybe no one else does this, but when I'm reading a book and I come across a paragraph I particularly like, I'll pause, take a breath, and then read it again out loud, just to savor the sound and revel in its resonance.

And it's been years since I did that as many times as I did in Frank Portman's King Dork, which I finally got around to reading this weekend, and which reminded me on every page how grateful I am to be thirty or forty years away from high school.

I'd be hard-pressed to name a favorite paragraph in the book, but I read this one twice:

I'm not any religion myself, but for the record, I'm pretty sure I believe in God. It's just a feeling I have. I can't prove it, but since when are you supposed to prove a feeling? God is the only situation where they expect you to do that. (Though I have to say, the universe seems so flawlessly designed to be at my expense that I doubt it could be entirely accidental.) Even if I didn't believe in God, though, I'd probably say I did just out of spite. To irritate people like my mom who think believing in God is tacky and beneath them. They're wrong about everything else; chances are they're wrong about that, too. Plus, God embarrasses people. Which I totally enjoy.

Not even Gagdad Bob could say it better, or more efficiently. I find myself now yearning for the audiobook version, and I hate audiobooks. I am forced to conclude that Frank Portman is at least as much a genius as Sam Hellerman.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:44 AM)
20 December 2006
And another one gone

Once again I tap Lileks for my opening:

Got an email today from a photo editor at the Fargo Forum; they wanted a copy of a picture I had on the old Fargo site. Nixon at the Public Library. I said Iíd try to find it. Incurious me, I didn't ask why — but tonight while googling for Fargo blogs I discovered the reason. The old library is closing. The old library will suffer the Ball and the Claw, and a new one will rise on the spot. Presumably they're getting the books out first. Itís a good idea, I suppose — the old library (built in 1967) was a perfect expression of library design at the time, and that's the problem. It had two wings of equal size — kids and adults — and this, as you might imagine, put a crimp on the grown-up collection. The building was two stories tall, but the rooms had only one floor, with a mysterious librarians-only mezzanine connecting the wings. (Mortals were not allowed up there.) The previous library was a cramped drafty Carnegie joint with clanking registers and creaky floors, and I'm sure they wanted the latest modern design for intellectual contemplation. White walls, stark black chunky letters, stainless steel fixtures — I tell you, it was like a lab from "The Andromeda Strain," and I loved it. All libraries are embassies, and this one represented a logical place ruled by benevolent rationality. All hail Dewey and his blessed decimals.

The shock of recognition hit me toward the end of the paragraph, for the most obvious of reasons: I've been there. I spent half a week in North Dakota during World Tour '04, and at least an hour of that time I spent combing through the Fargo Library, because it was there and because it looked interesting. I had, of course, no idea that it was Marked for Death.

The current Fargo library will close its doors for the last time Saturday. The city is spending serious money on Books 'N Stuff; a new storefront branch opened this past summer on the city's north side, and the storefront branch on the south side will be replaced by a new facility next year. As for the downtown library, it will be given a shot of explosives and will be replaced by something different. Maybe better, though Lileks isn't sure:

The new one, I expect, will be Fun and Engaging and a Vital Part of the Community, and Iím certain books will always be involved. But Iíll miss [the old one].

We did okay here in Oklahoma City when we replaced our old Stern Institutional Facility with this neat place. And now I have an excuse to go back to North Dakota some day.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:41 AM)
1 January 2007
The NAPS Project

Or, how to lose 3 pounds in 3 days in bed.

Wake me up around the middle of September.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:56 AM)
They spent it buying a vowel

Zzyzx RoadI remember seeing the trailer for Zyzzyx Rd. online in early 2006; it didn't look all that appealing, but it stuck in the mind, which I suppose is all you can ask of a trailer, and the tagline — "What happens in Vegas is buried on Zyzzyx Road" — contributed to fixing that memory in place. For some reason, the spelling of the actual road, which is out somewhere in the desert on the 15 between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, was changed for the film; your guess as to why is at least as good as mine, maybe better. (Picture borrowed from Paul's Ponderings.) A lot of movies never get to a theater at all, but Zyzzyx did, and the combined star power of Tom Sizemore and the lovely Katherine Heigl brought it to a domestic gross of ... thirty dollars. (Apparently two-thirds of the take came on the opening weekend, which is not unusual for smaller pictures.) Interestingly, the film has 36 votes on the Internet Movie Database; I've got to wonder how all these people saw it, since it's apparently not on DVD.

(Story seen at Fark.com.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:30 AM)
3 January 2007
Why everybody else's taste sucks

There are few things in life as much fun as the curt dismissal of an entire genre:

Science fiction isn't all Star Trek and spaceships but it is almost completely devoid of stylists, writers whose mastery of poetic language lends their works an enduring quality. It is really not that daring to suggest that the typical sci fi devotee is a socially awkward white male who prizes laborious detail of setting over literary quality. Hence the dominance of writers like Isaac Asimov and Frank Herbert and William Gibson, in whose entire output one will find not a single stirring passage or notable use of metaphor. And yet their fans must number in the millions.

It is indeed not that daring, but that's as far as I'll go with it. I have to admire, though, the sheer pluck of someone who can read the complete oeuvre of three fairly prolific writers while presumably being bored throughout the entire exercise. (I couldn't take that much of Herbert myself.)

Of course, there's always the chance that our critic is more interested in demonstrating how superior he is to those SF partisans, inasmuch as he's read The Vicar of Wakefield, but that couldn't be it, could it?

And God forbid women should read this stuff:

My suspicions about any woman who announced a love of science fiction would be, in order:
  1. Dumpy looking
  2. Socially maladept
  3. Resigned to grabbing the low hanging fruit of mating material

Encountering a truly good looking woman who enthuses about this male-oriented dreary genre trash would certainly cause me to raise an eyebrow.

Is that the problem? It's "male-oriented"? Horrors! Bring on the romances!

(Via Kathy Shaidle, who presumably had her reasons.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:22 AM)
4 January 2007
The center doesn't hold

You've seen the Likert scale before: you're given a list of statements, and you're supposed to:

  • Strongly disagree.
  • Disagree.
  • Neither agree nor disagree.
  • Agree.
  • Strongly agree.

The scale itself isn't biased, but how it's displayed can be:

Our bias for the left-hand side of space could be distorting large-scale surveys. Past research has shown that when people are asked to bisect a horizontal line down the centre, most will cross the line too far to the left. This leftward bias is thought to stem from the right hemisphere — it plays a dominant role in allocating our attention and is also responsible for processing the left-hand side of space. It may also be related to a cultural tendency to read from left to right. Now Andrea Loftus and colleagues have reported this spatial bias could be distorting survey results.

The researchers presented two groups of students with the same questionnaire statements about their experience at university (e.g. "My course has been enjoyable"), except that one group answered using a 5-item Likert scale that ranged left-to-right, from "definitely disagree" to "definitely agree", whereas the other group answered using a scale that ranged left-to-right across the page, from "definitely agree" to "definitely disagree". The positive questionnaire statements were the same as those used by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) in its survey of 250,000 students.

In the current study, the students' natural bias for the left meant those answering using the Likert scale that started on the left with "definitely agree", responded with that answer to 27 per cent more statements than did the other group of students — that is, their views came out as more positive. By contrast, those students who answered using the scale that began on the left with "definitely disagree" responded more often with "mostly disagree", meaning their views came out overall as more negative.

The most expedient solution, it would seem, would be to prepare all surveys of this type with half the forms with "Strongly agree" on the left and half with "Strongly disagree" on the left. Still undetermined: whether this bias persists to the same extent with extended Likert scales, with seven or nine choices. Also still undetermined: whether my beginning the description of the scale with "Strongly disagree" instead of "Strongly agree" reflects my bias.

(Via Zack Wendling.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:48 AM)
7 January 2007
The Grey Lady and the children

Byron (his friends call him Barney) Calame is the "public editor" of The New York Times, the second such since the position was established in 2003, and he may be the last:

"Over the next couple of months, as Barney's term enters the home stretch, I'll be taking soundings from the staff, talking it over with the masthead, and consulting with Arthur," meaning publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., wrote Bill Keller, The Timesí executive editor, in an e-mail to The Observer.

Mr. Keller wrote in his e-mail that "some of my colleagues believe the greater accessibility afforded by features like 'Talk to the Newsroom' has diminished the need for an autonomous ombudsman, or at least has opened the way for a somewhat different definition of the job."

Daniel Okrent, first Times public editor, said he "would be disappointed to see [the position] eliminated."

This detail in the Observer piece caught Brendan Nyhan's eye:

Mr. Okrent was a sharp critic who raised hackles and then won respect during his 18-month term. In contrast, Mr. Calame has been a bit more like that other Barney, the friendly purple dinosaur — and not entirely unlike Snuffleupagus, the once-invisible creature of Sesame Street. The readers were Big Bird, and we could see and hear him — but did he exist to anyone inside The Times?

To which Nyhan responds:

[T]his is a whole new style of media criticism. Coming next week: Is Maureen Dowd more like Miss Piggy or Dora the Explorer?

Short answer: yes.

Actually, I think Maureen Dowd is the secret child of Disney's Kim Possible and Ron Stoppable, and whatever Type A personality traits she may have inherited from Kim are offset by Ron's intractable B-ness. Besides, Ron is sweet and goofy, and God forbid Maureen should ever show such a side.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:38 AM)
With an eye toward precision

Triticale titles a piece about beards "Gras bilong fes", a Tok Pidgin term for "beard," which I, after looking at it for a moment and recalling what little I knew about Pidgin syntactic rules, determined was "grass belong [on] face," a pretty good description when you think about it.

Curious, I poked about in the weird world of Google, and found this Pidgin translation of the Biblical prohibition of adultery:

Yu no ken duim meri bilong enaderfelo man.

It helps to say it out loud. Here's a translation site, using the presumably-preferred "Pisin" spelling for "Pidgin." (Hey, if Peking Beijing can do it, why not Papua New Guinea?)

While I was working this up, the wheat-rye guy himself sent me this:

In one of the languages of South Africa, the word used for "cellphone" translates as "noise in pocket".

On a hunch, I tried the Latin version of Google to look up "cell phone," which did not yield up "telephonicium cellulare" as expected.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:34 PM)
8 January 2007
The Harlequin Law

Based on a theme by Mike Godwin, and in my experience at least as valid:

As any discussion about literature grows longer, the probability of a comment disparaging romance novels (especially Harlequin romances) approaches one.

By Diana Peterfreund, and first seen here. (I think "Peterfreund's Law" is probably a better name for it, but it's not for me to say.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:41 PM)
14 January 2007
Fun for the whole dysfunctional family

Well, okay, maybe not the whole family: there's a bit or two of salty language.

DysEnchanted is a six-minute short (plus, inevitably, two minutes of credits) by Terri Edda Miller, in which various storybook heroines — you know them all — are at their weekly group-therapy meeting. This could have been extremely silly in the wrong hands, but Miller keeps the silliness dialed down while making the characters fit together well. I liked it well enough to hunt it down on DVD.

There's a Web site, and for the moment at least, it can be caught at YouTube, with an occasional blip. (I saw it at Nina's place.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:45 PM)
18 January 2007
Sit down and have a sandwich

It is a measure of things that Jessica can describe America "Ugly Betty" Ferrara as "curvy" and then feel compelled to explain the term:

She looks tall and curvy. Which, by the way, I don't mean as a Euphemism For Fat. I hate the fact that "curvy" now means, in Secret Hollywood Patois, "tubby." For example, according to Star Magazine, Jessica Alba recently said to a journalist, "I know I'm curvy. I'm working on it." Fast-forward to Jessica Alba dropping ten pounds she didn't need to drop. CURVY IS GOOD, PEOPLE. Curvy is sexy and feminine, not Marlon-Brando-In-A-Muu Muu-Fat. Women — all women: naturally very thin women, naturally not so thin women, flat-chested women, big-breasted women, ALL WOMEN — have, as we learned from America's debut film, some curves of some size somewhere on their body.

I mention in passing that my best subject in secondary school was geometry.

Said debut film, incidentally, was not, in fact, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:59 AM)
26 January 2007
Graph paper

"Don't ask me to find the topic sentence in a paragraph containing two or more sentences," says novelist Brenda Coulter, and she means it:

I have long been baffled by paragraphs. When I first started writing, I assumed my editors would correct my improper paragraph breaks, consolidating some paragraphs and dividing others as necessary. But they've never done that, and I mean never, which leads me to conclude (1) that I am accidentally getting it right, or (2) that proper paragraphing isn't an exact science, or (3) that the whole paragraph thing isn't nearly as important as my teachers wanted me to believe.

I'm thinking a mixture of (1) and (2), inasmuch as Mrs Muckenfuss (may she rest in peace) would taunt me from the Grammar Netherworld for suggesting anything like (3).

Of course, one can always avoid Topic Sentences by doing single-sentence paragraphs, but this is a technique used mostly by untalented hacks.

(See?)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:30 AM)
27 January 2007
Molly Ivins: still not dead

Breast cancer, nasty stuff that it is, has rounded up its forces for one more surge at the expense of Texas journalist Molly Ivins, who's back in the hospital again.

This is the third recurrence of the disease for the 62-year-old Ivins, who suggested the "Still Not Dead" title to Editor and Publisher last year. Brother Andy says she's "tough as a metal boot," and I hope she has the strength to kick her way out of this.

(Via Lindsay Beyerstein.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:07 AM)
28 January 2007
Right in the shorts

Karl Mechem's The Journal of Short Film is a quarterly DVD (ten bucks, $36 a year) that features worthy short films you probably won't see otherwise. This year there's a roadshow of sorts, and Mechem himself was on hand at OKCMOA's Noble Theater to introduce two collections of shorts featured in the Journal; I caught the second one today.

Steven Bognar's Gravel is a stunningly beautiful, if rambling, tale of a social worker who's fallen for an ex-con who used to be one of her clients, and her better-grounded teenaged daughter. It goes nowhere in particular but is seriously involving just the same.

Brian Liloia's ¡Sí, Se Puede! looks at two Mexican brothers who have left their homeland and their families behind to seek work in the States, and argues, with varying degrees of subtlety, the case for open borders: certainly you wouldn't want to see these two fellows, who want only to work and help their familes, sent home.

Chel White's Dirt is a fast and funny tale, part Jean Cocteau, part Joe Frank, about a man who grew up eating the very substance of the earth and now is become his own self-contained biosystem. (The Joe Frank-like voiceover is supplied by, yes, Joe Frank.)

Peter Sillen's Grand Luncheonette deplores the Disneyfication of Times Square — and, by extension, the world — by looking at a decidedly non-chain hot-dog stand which had survived for nearly six decades but which was finally put to death by the ostensible "upgrade" of the neighborhood.

Deron Albright's The Legend of Black Tom is the only-slightly-fictionalized story of Tom Molineaux, a slave in early-19th-century America who wins his freedom as a bare-knuckle boxer and who is brought to England to take on the champ. Said champ successfully defends his title, but apparently the fix was in from the very first round. Albright shot this one in live-action and then composited it into what he calls "a woodcut with a watercolor wash," giving it the look of charcoal animation. The voiceover, in verse, is every bit as compelling as the visuals.

Josh Hyde's Chiclé is a tale of two Peruvian brothers, the younger struggling to stay on the path of righteousness, the older seemingly already lost. Pablo, who earns a few soles for the family by selling chewing gum (hence the title) on the streets, gives up his stake for the next day to help a lost American girl, language differences notwithstanding; he does not know that his brother has already complicated matters.

Finally, Borja Cobeaga's Éramos Pocos, which is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Short Film-Live Action, posits a quandary for a man and his son: what will they do, now that the woman of the house has gone? The answer: retrieve her mother from the retirement home. Easy enough — maybe. A splendid example of comic timing.

The folks behind the deadCENTER Film Festival helped bring this series to town, perhaps reasoning that getting more people interested in short films will bring more people to their June event. Good call, say I.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:03 PM)
29 January 2007
The Carlton papers

We've now gotten to the point where seemingly everyone on earth is Google-able, and we don't think anything of it until we discover someone who isn't — and that goes double if it seems like that someone really ought to be. This past weekend's project was the transfer from LP to CD of an album by Betty Carlton. And who exactly is Betty Carlton? Here's what the liner notes said:

Star of Ishtar by Shirley WhiteBetty Carlton, Oklahoma's Poet, was born in Ada, Oklahoma and attended East Central University. She is widely known throughout the Southwest for her prize-winning poetry. Her latest award was a national contest in which her entry, "Gramarye," won first place in [a] field of over 5,000 entries.

She has been nominated for the Poet Laureateship of the State of Oklahoma.

She is the first woman ever to teach in an all-male prison in the Oklahoma Correctional System. Her successful creative writing class has opened doors for other women to teach in all-male prisons in the stste.

She is a legal expert on drugs and does extensive rehabilitative work with women alcoholics and drug addicts.

Her poetry ranges from street poetry to mysticism, making it possible for any audience to identify with and enthusiastically welcome her performances.

She is a member of the Oklahoma Poetry Society, the National Federation of State Poetry Societies, and is listed in the International Who's Who in Poetry in London, England.

The album, titled Moxie, was cut in 1976 for the Val-West label in Albuquerque. (The illustration above is the Star of Ishtar by Shirley White, which serves as cover art.) I couldn't tell you how many copies were pressed — a hundred, maybe? — but apparently only two are known to survive, and one of them was brought to me for transfer. "Gramarye," one assumes, is her Greatest Hit — these days, we spell the word "Grimoire" — and it leans hard against the "mysticism" edge of her range; rather than transcribe it here, I'll let you hear it for yourself.

And maybe, just maybe, someone will remember, and will fill in some of the blanks.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:37 AM)
1 February 2007
A fitting tribute

The late Molly Ivins was the editor of the Texas Observer for six years, and for now they're devoting the front page of their Web site to her memory.

I remember this passage — it was in her last Observer before moving to The New York Times — and it still sounds wonderful:

I have a grandly dramatic vision of myself stalking through the canyons of the Big Apple in the rain and cold, dreaming about driving with the soft night air of East Texas rushing on my face while Willie Nelson sings softly on the radio, or about blasting through the Panhandle under a fierce sun and pale blue skyÖ. I'll remember, I'll remember Ö sunsets, rivers, hills, plains, the Gulf, woods, a thousand beers in a thousand joints, and sunshine and laughter. And people. Mostly I'll remember people.

And people will remember Molly, with a smile the size of Texas.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:26 PM)
9 February 2007
Angel was a centerfold

Last year I made up a list of "Phrases I never want to hear again," and prominent on that list — to the extent that it was the only item that drew a reproach in comments, anyway — was this:

"Anna Nicole Smith," unless followed by "was found dead"

In the wake of Vickie's demise (that was her real name, and I always liked it better anyway), I have decided to append a note about it to that post. (Unlike some denizens of blogdom, I have never suffered from the delusion that I could cover my tracks.)

Meanwhile, were I inclined to do one of my infamous pop-culture sendoffs — and believe me, if I couldn't come up with something heartfelt for Frankie Laine, I surely wouldn't be able to say anything about Ms Smith — I'd be better served just ripping off this item from Tam:

[S]ince there are plenty of celebrity-watching blogs out there eulogizing and scandalizing in all their banner-ad festooned, audio-streaming glory, I figured I'd let them do what they do best, which is pretending to care about Anna Nicole Smith, and I'd stick to doing what I do best, which is making fun of stuff that pretty much has nothing to do with Anna Nicole Smith. That is, until I saw that PETA had released a statement on her demise. The highlight?

"A long-time vegetarian who had slimmed down into a stunning beauty when she stopped eating meat..."

...and she died at 39, you tree-hugging dingus. I'm her age and, while I lack the dope habit, I do smoke and I eat meat and you don't see me keeling over in any Florida hotels, do you? So there you go: Learn from Anna, go eat some steak today.

I'm readying a New York strip for the grill this evening.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:14 PM)
12 February 2007
Your lovin' don't pay my bills

Are there social strata in blogdom? Neil Kramer goes to the heart of the matter:

I love that ONLINE there is freedom to walk in different social circles. I'm hoping that race, religion, etc. is never a factor in online friendship.

But, let's be honest, do you think differences in MONEY would hinder many of us from becoming friends in real life?

I don't think so. I have only the vaguest idea what most of my friends make, and don't give much of a damn one way or another.

Of course, I don't know anyone (1) living on the streets or (2) building a second mansion, either.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:57 PM)
22 February 2007
Balancing net income

In 1884, when women first competed at Wimbledon, the top prize was a silver flower basket worth 20 guineas (£21). The top prize for men was worth 30 guineas, and it was gold.

This disparity continued through 2006, when menís champion Roger Federer received $1.170 million and womenís winner Amelie Mauresmo got $1.117 million. Beginning this year, though, the All England Club has agreed to offer the same prizes to men and women competing at Wimbledon. Club chairman Tim Phillips' announcement:

Tennis is one of the few sports in which women and men compete in the same event at the same time. We believe our decision to offer equal prize money provides a boost for the game as a whole and recognizes the enormous contribution that women players make to the game and to Wimbledon. We hope it will also encourage girls who want a career in sport to choose tennis as their best option. In short, good for tennis, good for women players and good for Wimbledon.

Last year, Phillips had said:

We believe that what we do at the moment is actually fair to the men as well as to the women. It just doesn't seem right to us that the lady players could play in three events and could take away significantly more than the men's champion who battles away through these best-of-five matches. We also would point [out] that the top 10 ladies last year earned more from Wimbledon than the top 10 men did.

I note that the women's two-out-of-three, of late, has been at least as big a draw as the men's three-out-of-five.

The 2007 Championships will be held 25 June through 8 July; the exact amount of prize money has not yet been determined.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:24 PM)
23 February 2007
Heavy petting

The story goes that a neophyte show-dog exhibitor somewhere on the West Coast was utterly horrified when the judge casually referred to her little furry darling as a "bitch": how could she say such a cruel thing?

Which may or may not have anything to do with the grumbling over the Seattle pet boutique known as "High Maintenance Bitch".

I suppose it's probably a good thing that HMB doesn't have a big sign out front pushing its line of cat products.

(Via Fark.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:37 AM)
25 February 2007
Dugong show

How in the world did NBC end up operating a Web site called HornyManatee.com?

It happened just like this.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:14 PM)
1 March 2007
With a minimum of spin

The Oklahoman's Tricia Pemberton's daughters discover the Hula Hoop at Wal-Mart:

"Mom, look they're only $2.50. Can we get one pleeeease?"

Two dollars and 50 cents is cheap entertainment these days, so I said sure before they could beg for a movie or the latest CD.

On the way out of the store, Emmitt, a greeter, stopped us.

"I was working Phoenix, Arizona, in 1956 when the hula hoop first came in," he told us. "We sold about a thousand of those a day for four straight months."

Emmitt was a little off on his chronology — Wham-O (still the greatest corporate name in history) began selling the round plastic doomaflatchie in 1958 — but I suspect he understood its world-changing nature.

Unlike, for instance, the doofus board of Hudsucker Industries:

Board Member 1: What if you tire before it's done?
Board Member 2: Does it have rules?
Board Member 3: Can more than one play?
Board Member 4: What makes you think it's a game?
Board Member 3: Is it a game?
Board Member 5: Will it break?
Board Member 6: It better break eventually!
Board Member 2: Is there an object?
Board Member 1: What if you tire before it's done?
Board Member 5: Does it come with batteries?
Board Member 4: We could charge extra for them.
Board Member 7: Is it safe for toddlers?
Board Member 3: How can you tell when you're finished?
Board Member 2: How do you make it stop?
Board Member 6: Is that a boy's model?
Board Member 3: Can a parent assemble it?
Board Member 5: Is there a larger model for the obese?
Board Member 1: What if you tire before it's done?
Board Member 8: What the hell is it?

Geez. Even Alvin wanted one of them, and he was a farging chipmunk.

One other thing: Wham-O's original hoop, forty-nine years ago, sold for a buck ninety-eight. Adjusted for inflation, this should be $13.92 today. And they say Wal-Mart is bad for us.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:16 AM)
2 March 2007
The cat in the borsalino hat

"You could kill him on the train,
You could kill him on a plane.
You could kill him here or there,
You could kill him anywhere!"

Sorry. It's impossible not to think in these terms when you're dealing with this recent revelation:

It seems that Dr. Seuss (aka Theodor Seuss Geisel) and seminal mystery author Raymond Chandler were friends and drinking buddies when both authors lived in La Jolla, California.

One canít help but wonder what they talked about or, really, what they drank. (Scotch for Chandler. Ooblek for Seuss?) Did they share stories about agents? Editors? Sequels? Or how about their respective concerns around plot and deadlines and story pacing? Did Chandler sometimes say stuff like, "You know, Doc, I really love that elephant character, Horton. But you had him sitting on a whateveritwas for that whole damned book. Readers are fickle, they get bored. You gotta shake things up. See, it's like this: next time out, let Horton pack some heat. That oughta spice things up. You need the danger; the uncertainty. And see if you can't weave a rhyme around 'gams'."

On the flipside, of course, there's the possibility that Seuss offered up some tips for Chandler: telling him how he could brighten up his stark prose with the addition of a few carefully chosen rhymes.

Bartholomew Cubbins knew all this, of course, but he kept it under his hat.

(Via Bill Peschel.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:42 AM)
7 March 2007
50th anniversary of Goth

Dawn Eden traces it back to the spring of 1957. And she's posted a Beverage Alert, which strikes me as eminently sensible.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:04 PM)
17 March 2007
Perfunctory holiday content

Your assignment: to rid the Emerald Isle of snakes. Who will do the better job for you: St. Patrick, who has divine intervention somewhere in his portfolio, or Samuel L. Jackson, who operates on sheer mothersomething fury?

We may never know for sure. But if you complete the exercise, treat yourself to a green beer — and a Quarter Pounder with cheese.

(From the files of Miss Cellania.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:50 AM)
23 March 2007
#53 works for me

A Michael Iva manifesto: 100 Ways to Kill a Concept: Why Most Ideas Get Shot Down. [Link to PDF file.]

I liked this bit:

Creativity is a lot like gunpowder. It is comprised of benign elements that do nothing, until they are combined.

And this, an update of Schopenhauer:

A great concept passes through three stages when it is new: First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.

(Via Church Marketing Sucks.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:11 PM)
26 March 2007
That Tab A, Slot B stuff

Kimber An calls them "Standard Issue Sex Scenes", and she's not impressed:

The author feels the pressure of sales numbers to write a sex scene. She's uncomfortable with that. It's not her style and it doesn't flow well with the story. Wanting to sell her novel, she labors away at it anyway. The result is a Standard Issue Sex Scene.

The progress of the relationship up to that point is ... irrelevant. The hero is always highly skilled (regardless of experience) and selflessly concerned (even if he's only one step up from a Neanderthal) with pleasing the heroine who is always fantastically pleased. No matter how skillfully written, I'm jarred right out of the story and I toss it over my shoulder.

And that's the real issue: not the sex scene per se, but how well it fits into the story. Even a fairly-inept description can be forgiven, I think, if it's a logical progression from what has gone before, but I don't want to find myself wondering "How the hell did they wind up in bed? Weren't they just rolling down the New Jersey Turnpike?"

And this applies also to motion pictures, although jump cuts in film are somewhat less disconcerting.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:10 AM)
Also available in melon

Benefit Cosmetics of San Francisco sells something called Benetint, which is:

The sexiest flush you can get from a bottle. Innocent yet provocative, our ruby-tinted cheek and lip stain is kiss-proof color that looks naturally sheer and radiant.

Innocuous enough. But New York magazine's Beth Landman has apparently seen a different pitch for the product:

In just one more sign of the stripperization of the Everywoman, Benefit's Benetint, conceived in the seventies for an exotic dancer to color lips and cheeks, is now also being sold at Sephora and elsewhere as a "kiss-proof and water-resistant" nipple tint. "Women want nipples to be pert and fresh-looking, and this shade makes them appear that way," Benefit spokeswoman Alison Haljun says. "For a long time, the idea of a ripe, rosy nipple has been considered appealing and alluring." But aren't the nipples usually undisplayed? "Even if you don't show it off, you know they're rosier and more perky," she says.

I dunno. There's a lot to be said for self-confidence, assuming you can get this sort of thing from a $28 bottle of stuff, but most of the guys I know are grateful to see any nipples at all, tinted or otherwise. Thumbs up, or something, for "kiss-proof," though.

(Courtesy of Tom Mulhall.) [probably NSFW]

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:50 AM)
27 March 2007
Unsullied by intelligence

Remember the 19th century? It refuses to go away:

I work at a bookstore. I was cashiering today when a woman and her two kids (a boy and a girl, both somewhere between 13-15) came up to the register. The mom was buying 2 celeb gossip magazines, and the boy put down a book. The girl then walked up and set down the newest volume of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series.

The mom says "You can't buy that."

Girl: Why?
Mom: Because it's too big.
Girl: [Brother] is buying a book that big. It's not very expensive.
Mom: [Brother] is a boy. You're a girl. And girls shouldn't read big books like that. It's too thick. Boys don't like girls who read thick books. You want boys to like you, don't you?

The girl went and put the book away.

In hardcover, Forever in Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood runs 400 pages, maybe two-thirds the length of Harry Potter stories, and no one complains about their thickness.

The horror, though, is that this sort of notion is still being bandied about in two thousand seven, fercrissake. As Syaffolee, who can probably turn 400 pages by breakfast, says:

[A]s for guys who don't like girls reading big books, well, those guys are probably not worth knowing anyway.

And they probably don't even read the celeb gossip mags.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:38 AM)
28 March 2007
Scanning well

Brian J. Noggle has retrieved from his archives a sonnet which does not quite compare thee to a summer's day. I'd quote it here, but how much of a fourteen-line poem can you extract without getting into copyright difficulties?

I will, however, quote this:

[R]egardless of my merit in structured poetry, much of my free verse is crap. Which is par for that form.

My free verse, historically, has been so called because I obviously can't sell it to anyone.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:33 AM)
29 March 2007
No time for stoners

We start with Exodus 12:20:

Ye shall eat nothing leavened; in all your habitations shall ye eat unleavened bread. [KJV]

The Jews have a term, hametz, to denote leavened items, which are barred during Passover. The applicable law requires that you get rid of them before the official beginning of Pesach: they're not allowed anywhere on the premises.

What determines hametz status is whether the presence of water enables fermentation of the grain. The list, which is fairly long, includes wheat, barley, rye — and hemp:

Cannabis is among the substances Jews are forbidden to consume during the week-long festival, which begins Monday, said Michelle Levine, a spokeswoman for [Israel's] Green Leaf party.

Biblical laws prohibit eating leavened foods during Passover, replacing bread with flat crackers called matza. Later injunctions by European rabbis extended those rules to forbid other foods like beans and corn, and more recent rulings have further expanded the ban to include hemp seeds, which today are found in some health oils — and in marijuana.

Passover begins at sundown on the second of April, so you have until that morning to dispose of your stash.

(Via Tinkerty Tonk.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:10 PM)
31 March 2007
Porter's Premise

It goes something like this:

If a human community has the ability and opportunity to collect, harvest, consume an unlimited amount of anything, it will always do so on the basis that no proof exists that doing so is bad. The result will inevitably be one or more negative consequences which were not anticipated at all when the decision was made.

I take minor exception here — with the exception of BS, nothing is available in truly "unlimited" amounts — but otherwise, this seems to be beyond cavil.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:38 PM)
2 April 2007
Nature's little bastards

Been there, ran over that:

During his career, Walt [Disney] probably did more to protect animals that don't deserve protecting than anyone else in human history. Mice, whether you call them Mickey or Minnie, are not cute little adorable balls of furry fun; they are vermin. Ducks really are as vile-tempered as Donald is, so there's a little truth in advertising there, and deer are not sweet, lovable nature's children who only want to play and frolic in the forest primeval with their cute little furry friends without having to worry about people and their nasty firearms; deer are oversized rats with hooves. Deer don't want to frolic in the forest primeval; they want to eat my mother's geraniums and her shrubbery and crap all over my front yard every chance they get. So when my co-workers accused me of trying to kill Bambi the other night, my answer is a) I didn't kill the deer, b) I wasn't trying to kill a deer at all, it was an accident, and c) the little bastard had it coming.

Next time, waste 'em. Might as well get some satisfaction out of it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:12 AM)
5 April 2007
Now that's proactive

If you're traveling through the Philippines and find yourself visiting the South Cotabato Provincial Hospital in Koronadal City, you might want to curb that desire for a smoke, because the hospital staff will send you some place you might not want to go:

"The law requires us to designate a smoking area so we picked the morgue," said Dr. Edgardo Sandig, South Cotabato health officer.

Sandig said they decided to impose the rule because of the continued violation of the hospital's "no smoking" policy by visiting relatives or acquaintances of patients.

(Via Interested-Participant.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:19 PM)
8 April 2007
Clams got sorrow

Cartoonist Johnny Hart, who created the B.C. comic strip in 1958, has died at his home in Nineveh, New York at the age of seventy-six.

Today's strip seems somehow appropriate.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:50 PM)
13 April 2007
Or maybe it was someone else

Lynn, on the subject of being wrong:

Almost everyone hates being wrong. Even when we have been shown, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we are wrong, most of us still resist. I'm no different; I certainly hate being wrong. (Not that I'm admitting I'm ever wrong, mind you.) I have no doubt that there are situations in which even Adam Savage would hate being wrong. But his typical, genuinely happy, reaction to being wrong on Mythbusters started me thinking.

Discovering that you have been wrong means that you have learned something new, that you are a little bit less ignorant than you were before discovering that you were wrong. That's something to be happy about. Discoveries are not always pleasant, of course. Sometimes they force us to make huge, and uncomfortable, mental adjustments. That, along with the feeling of shame about being wrong, is why we hate to be wrong.

I doubt these thoughts will make being wrong any easier — for me or anyone else — but maybe it's something we should remind ourselves of on those occasions when we are forced to face up to being wrong.

Which is why I strive never to be wrong at work, and confine my questionable ideas and fuzzy thinking to this space. (Lynn, of course, is right about this. I think.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:28 PM)
14 April 2007
Trust company

Horton Hears a Whom Department: In 1956, CBS debuted a quiz show on Tuesday nights with the provocative title Do You Trust Your Wife? If this sounds vaguely sexist, well, maybe it was: host Edgar Bergen (yes, that Edgar Bergen) presented the list of categories to the married-couple contestants, and then the husband would decide whether he or the Mrs. would take those questions. Neither the jackpot ($5200, paid in $100 installments weekly) nor the looming presence of Mortimer Snerd endeared the show to many viewers, and in the fall of 1957 ABC picked up the show, turned it into a daytimer, installed Johnny Carson (yes, that Johnny Carson) as the host, and streamlined the title to the shorter but less grammatical Who Do You Trust?

Carson (and his announcer, one Ed McMahon) departed in 1962 to take over some obscure NBC show; Woody Woodbury succeeded him, but Who Do You Trust? finally died in late 1963 and stayed dead — until now:

CBS has tapped conservative MSNBC pundit and famed bow-tie aficionado Tucker Carlson to host its game show pilot Who Do You Trust?

In the project, strangers wager how much they trust each other as they develop a relationship via gameplay. The concept is loosely based on the classic game-theory experiment "prisoner's dilemma," where players weigh cooperation vs. betrayal for differing levels of reward and punishment.

The project, executive produced by Phil Gurin (Weakest Link), is shooting this month.

I'm waiting for Bill O'Reilly's version of Truth and/or Consequences.

(Via E. M. Zanotti.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:00 AM)
15 April 2007
16 April 2007
Meanwhile on the tapioca tundra

So how many monkeys, bashing away at typewriters, does it take to produce the works of Shakespeare?

A hundred years ago, French mathematician Émile Borel suggested this particular Gedankenexperiment as a means of envisioning events of close to infinite improbability. More recently, six crested macaques were locked in a cage with a keyboard and observed: they produced five pages of unreadable type and rather a lot of, um, residual waste material. A simulation begun in 2003 posited not quite infinite monkeys and not quite infinite speed; in the first year the cyberprimates coughed up a string of twenty-one characters from Love's Labour's Lost, and by now they're up to a whole line from Henry IV, Part 2. Still, I wouln't count on getting a transcript of Hamlet's soliloquy anytime soon. (Maybe if they used Dvorak keyboards?)

As for me, I'm looking for a ferret with a prehensile tail to take over my duties here, and I have a (much shorter) counterexperiment to suggest: drop all of Shakespeare's known text into a database and see if it's possible to extract the lyrics to any song by the Monkees.

(Via Fark.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
17 April 2007
No sacrifice too final

It is a measure of something, surely, that now that I've spent all these years in blogdom, the name "Zap Rowsdower" doesn't even elicit a perfunctory eyebrow elevation anymore.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:45 PM)
18 April 2007
Minus five for Dr. Phil

I admit to being a couple of generations behind, college-curriculum-wise, but I honestly can't see the value of offering ten extra-credit points for watching an episode of Oprah — especially in an English class, since whatever the technical term for the touchy-feely verbiage woven into the very fabric of that program, it bears only the faintest resemblance to actual English.

Now if they assigned Futurama for physics, well, that's different.

(Prompted by a conversation with a reader: more specifically, a reader who's taking an English class.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:24 AM)
Stephen King must die

And Dean Koontz too, while we're at it. Anybody who can think up sick and twisted plots is obviously a potential mass murderer:

Professor Carolyn Rude, chairwoman of [Virginia Tech's] English department, said she did not personally know the gunman. But she said she spoke with Lucinda Roy, the department's director of creative writing, who had Cho in one of her classes and described him as "troubled."

"There was some concern about him," Rude said. "Sometimes, in creative writing, people reveal things and you never know if it's creative or if they're describing things, if they're imagining things or just how real it might be. But we're all alert to not ignore things like this."

Oh, please. If you think you can tell from a writing sample — well, see what you make of this:

If a creative writing teacher can't tell between fact and fiction — well, never mind. Many creative writing classes I have taken were a bunch of bunk. And it should be obvious that English professors are not psychology experts.

Anyways, as a student who moonlights writing weird fiction, I resent the fact that someone is trying to pigeon-hole all writers of disturbing fiction as gun-toting depressive maniacs. It's an implication that the only acceptable writing is "happy" writing. Pfft. You might as well dose the entire populace let alone the literary critics with soma.

Now: is the writer exercising his demons, or exorcising them? If you're absolutely sure, and you're not making enough money in academia, maybe Kreskin is looking for an assistant.

Addendum, 8:30 pm: In comments, Matt Deatherage points to a relevant Oklahoma case he had extensively researched; I made reference to it here.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:19 PM)
22 April 2007
Kurt Vonnegut: still dead

But not too dead to sit for an interview.

(Surprise guest: Kilgore Trout.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:44 PM)
25 April 2007
Way greener than Annie Green Springs

What, pray tell, is a "biodynamic wine"?

The grape growers don't use chemical pesticides, fertilizer or weed killers and to maintain their certification all interventions in the vineyard must be traceable.

Most of this seems quite reasonable, though I draw the line at "An astronomical calendar is used to determine auspicious, planting, cultivating and harvesting times," which strikes me as a tad, um, unscientific. Still, if the products are good, I don't much care if they're harvested by bisexual Slovak dwarves under the full moon.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:14 AM)
27 April 2007
The years of living dangerously

Due out next week in the States is the British bestseller The Dangerous Book for Boys, by Conn and Hal Iggulden, and, well, there's a lot to be said for a bit of applied peril:

The Dangerous Book is a childhood how-to guide that covers everything from paper airplanes to go-carts, skipping stones to skinning a rabbit. It spent months on British best-seller lists, has sold more than half a million copies and took the book of the year prize at last month's British Book Awards.

The book will be published in the United States May 1, allowing American boys — but not their sisters — to learn how to play marbles, make invisible ink, send Morse code and build a tree fort.

Yeah, right. Does it come with its own "No Girls Allowed" signage? Then again, the wearers of short skirts get short shrift in the Dangerous Book anyway:

Girls are discussed, in a single chapter, as something akin to another species: "They think and act rather differently to you, but without them, life would be one long football locker room. Treat them with respect."

At the very least, don't skin them like a rabbit. And anyway, turnabout is fair play:

[L]et the boys have their books. You see, there's a book coming out just for girls, soon. It's called The Great Big Glorious Book for Girls, for women "who dream of making elderflower cordial and need reminding of how to play cat's cradle."

Meanwhile, next week I face the hitherto-unprecedented (for me, anyway) task of trying to talk a woman into installing a sound card for me.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:59 AM)
Otherwise not known as the Red Period

David Pryce-Jones recalls a darker side of Pablo Picasso:

Pablo Picasso, it is generally appreciated outside museum circles, was an old fraud in matters of art, and a monster in all other spheres. Painting was to him primarily successful commerce. He behaved despicably to other people, especially women unfortunate enough to be his lovers. In politics, he was always on the make, backing whatever he thought was the winner. Guernica, his famous picture done during the Spanish civil war, was an exercise in being fashionably on the anti-Nazi side. But when the Germans occupied Paris in 1940, Picasso stayed, and his studio became a resort where German officers were welcome, especially when they bought his pictures. One such was Ernst Jünger, the cold-hearted but brilliant writer then on the German staff, and Picasso one day said to him that the two of them could bring about peace in twenty-four hours. Picasso was an outright collaborator, and after the war the Communist Party blackmailed him on that account. The Party threatened to expose him unless he made amends by marching at the head of the mass demonstration in Paris on May 1, 1945. Marching next to him was the singer Maurice Chevalier who similarly needed an alibi for his collaboration with the Germans. "One goes to the Communist Party as one goes to a spring of water," was how Picasso lied his way out of it at the time.

On the other hand, he was never called an asshole.

(Via Lastango.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:52 PM)
29 April 2007
Maybe someone did eat his shorts

Jack Valenti is dead, so it's pointless to ask him now, but I suspect it was pointless to ask him before, given the general inconsistency in US motion-picture ratings. (It's not that I have a problem with the concept: as Quentin Tarantino once noted, "The alternative would be every jerkwater county in America having their own obscenity laws," and nobody except a handful of jerks actually wants that.)

Still, what's the deal? Female nudity is more or less routine these days at any level above PG, but let a guy take his junk out of the box, even for a couple of frames, and suddenly it's an instant R — unless it's Bart Simpson:

According to Newsweek, which got a sneak peek at The Simpsons Movie, "little Bart flashes his little part to the entire world" while skateboarding sans clothing on a dare from dad Homer.

Fritz the Cat was unavailable for comment.

(Link and title swiped from Fark.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:31 AM)
I'd watch this if I had the time

24 SECONDS
A NEW TELEVISION SERIES WITH A CLIFFHANGER EVERY SECOND!


FIRST EPISODE

MAN: (Bursts into the President's office at the White House)
Mr President! THE WORLD IS ABOUT TO EXPLODE!

PRESIDENT:
No!

ROLL CREDITS.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:19 PM)
4 May 2007
Architectural indigest

The palatial estate at Surlywood was constructed in 1948, which may mean that I am fortunate indeed:

You have to wonder: have Americans forgotten how to build dignified houses, or are we simply not dignified people anymore? Virtually every building put up after 1950 looked terrible and many of them were rotting into the ground. Most of them are little more than elaborate packing crates with a few doo-dads screwed on — exactly the kind of buildings, by the way, that [Robert] Venturi and [Denise] Scott-Brown celebrated in their writings. They called them "decorated sheds," the vernacular expression of the mainstream American soul.

The design failures of these things might be attributed to a loss of knowledge and a lack of attention to details, but I think a deeper explanation has to do with the diminishing returns of technology. We've never had more awesome power tools for workers in the building trades. We have compound miter saws, electric spline joiners, laser-guided tape measures, and many other nifty innovations, and we've never seen, in the aggregate, worse work done by so many carpenters. For most of them, apparently, getting a plain one-by-four door-surround to meet at a 45-degree miter without a quarter-inch gap is asking too much. In other words, we now have amazing tools and no skill. What you wonder is whether the latter is a function of the former. Is the work so bad because we expect the tools to have all the skill?

Another issue is the choice of materials. As you march down the decades from the 1950s, the materials-of-choice for finishing the exterior are more and more materials not found in nature. Aluminum siding was a big favorite for a while — and you can always spot it because of the dents below the three-foot high level, where the lawnmower has shot stones at the panels for decades. After the 1980s, there is a distinct acceleration in the use of vinyl for practically everything. The vinyl clapboards, soffits, window-surrounds, et cetera, are often little more than stapled onto the house. And naturally they begin to sag and pull apart instantly. After twenty-odd years of that you end up with a house that looks like a birthday present wrapped by a five-year-old.

I think I've just been talked out of some vinyl trim.

More on the sheds, from Elaine Brownell's Master's thesis:

The problem with the decorated shed is not that it exists; the justifications for its widespread use are all too clear. The problem is that as architects have become less involved with the space, structure, and program of a building, they have focused primarily on the ornament. In our time of widespread standardization and unquestioning pragmatism, the program, siting, massing, structure, and general floor layout for a building are already decided by the time an architect is hired to finesse the details of the curtain wall. Realizing the limitations of the architect, Cesar Pelli has become a champion of the skin. Herzog and De Meuron have followed in due course. In the day of the triumph of the corporate logo, it has become all too tempting to leave one's stamp on the box, without much consideration for what happens inside it. And, as building development processes become more complex, increasingly specialized, and faster paced, architects are hard-pressed to keep up, applying their talents solely to the creation of an image, which is manifest in a thinner and thinner envelope.

I am not suggesting that the wrapper is inconsequential; it is unfortunately only too rare that the envelope of a building be truly beautiful. However, substance is more important than skin. In their 1971 treatise on "ugly and ordinary" architecture, Venturi and Scott-Brown distinguished between "urban sprawl" and the "megastructure", which they presumed to be opposites.

And now, of course, they're right on top of one another, so to speak.

Cesar Pelli, you'll remember, designed Tulsa's BOK Center. Is it all skin, no structure? Guess we'll find out soon enough.

In the meantime, when visitors ask me about the house, I will continue to explain, "It comes from the period when they'd learned how to build one-story houses with a certain degree of panache, but before they figured out how to make them all alike."

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:30 AM)
5 May 2007
This is not how they make Gatorade

If you've been on the Net for any substantial length of time, you've almost certainly seen the Joe Cartoon about the frog in the blender.

And if you haven't, well, maybe the Peruvians have:

Carmen Gonzalez plucks one of the 50 frogs from the aquarium at her bus stop restaurant, bangs it against tiles to kill it and then makes two incisions along its belly and peels off the skin as if husking corn. She's preparing frog juice, a beverage revered by some Andean cultures for having the power to cure asthma, bronchitis, sluggishness and a low sex drive. A drink of so-called "Peruvian Viagra" sells for about 90 cents.

Gonzalez adds three ladles of hot, white bean broth, two generous spoonfuls of honey, raw aloe vera plant and several tablespoons of maca — an Andean root also believed to boost stamina and sex drive — into a household blender.

Then she drops the frog in.

Now when they start offering this at Starbucks, then I'll worry.

(Via Scribal Terror.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:21 AM)
7 May 2007
Chases, and the cutting thereto

Two complaints about recent films that you may have heard, maybe even have spoken before:

  • "Everything worth seeing is already in the trailer."

  • "There's no story, it's all special effects."

Not at all intending to address these issues, Britain's Team TV has something for you called V3:

V3 was a project conceived of as a series of test Special-Effects shots to improve our capabilities and push what we could do in terms of fakery to the limit. The shots were very successful, and as they followed some form of storyline, it seemed fitting to put them together into this concept trailer.

The full version of the film and the story behind it will probably never be shown or made in its entirety, but it is enjoyable in this form nonetheless. It serves best as an example of what we can achieve on next to no budget.

In the meantime, you have 63 seconds of stuff which fits right into the mix at the multiplex. (You'll need QuickTime to watch it.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:30 AM)
9 May 2007
So predictable, these humans

G. K. Chesterton, anticipating 2007, way back in 1920:

For the modern world will accept no dogmas upon any authority; but it will accept any dogmas on no authority. Say that a thing is so, according to the Pope or the Bible, and it will be dismissed as a superstition without examination. But preface your remark merely with "they say" or "don't you know that?" or try (and fail) to remember the name of some professor mentioned in some newspaper; and the keen rationalism of the modern mind will accept every word you say.

(Via Dawn Eden.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:32 AM)
11 May 2007
Reads great, less suing

Interesting question from Syaffolee:

[W]ould the world be a better place if we had less lawyers and more writers?

I'm not persuaded that it would be. At the very least, we need half our lawyers to keep the other half busy. (According to the old joke, the only lawyer in a one-horse town was almost starving to death — until a second one hung out his shingle.) And do we already have enough writers? "Everywhere I go, I'm asked if the universities stifle writers," said Flannery O'Connor. "My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them."

What we do need, I think, are people skilled with the pen (or the keyboard), but who don't necessarily think of themselves as writers. (In other words, someone like me, except with talent.) One of the happier byproducts of this whole blogging thing is that people are getting the sort of drill they used to get in English comp. Over the course of twenty-two years online, my style has gone from "well-nigh unreadable" to "not especially sucky," which is more of an improvement than you'd think. I am not much of a storyteller — I'm certainly not in Sya's league — but I do have some small facility for the short, pointed sub-essay.

Then again, my eyes glazeth over within mere seconds of cracking a law book.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:46 AM)
12 May 2007
A smaller Lake

There have been times in recent history when "Ricki Lake is doing a magazine cover in a swimsuit" might have been a cause for alarm in some circles. Still, here she is on Us Weekly wearing a size four.

A couple of things perplex me about this incident. For one thing, there's the cover subheadline "It's a time of self-acceptance right now." Because, of course, you can't possibly accept yourself if you weigh 250 lb. (Disclosure: If I weighed 250 lb, the first good Oklahoma windstorm — you never have to wait very long — would pick me up and drop me somewhere in [fill in name of remote location based on wind direction]. If you don't believe me, ask McGehee.) Besides, the next Administration is busily planning the new Federal Bureau of Body Mass Index Enforcement, so we can probably assume The Artist Formerly Known As Tracy Turnblad is less fearful these days.

Then there's this, from the magazine article:

"For the longest time, when I was very heavy, I couldn't cross my legs. I couldn't physically do it. Love that I can cross my legs now."

Which, it is reputed, is actually bad for your health, though I've long suspected that one reason it fell into disfavor in some circles was its tendency to draw attention from random males of the species. Personally, I blame Sharon Stone.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:05 PM)
15 May 2007
Not to be confused with Don Quixote

The Fugs, somehow having been signed in the late 1960s to Reprise Records, home of Frank Sinatra, disgorged a number of inexplicable bits, one of which contained the inscrutable phrase "donkey scrotum in Saran Wrap."

Said nutsack still sets the gold standard for pack-animal genitalia-related verbiage, though this comes close.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:17 AM)
18 May 2007
The name is Bond. Jane Bond.

British intelligence is looking for female operatives, and not everyone thinks this is a wonderful idea. Ben Macintyre in The Times:

A female officer must have all the qualities of her male counterpart — courage, ingenuity, resourcefulness — but she must also deal with the fact that in most non-Western countries she will be a woman working in a man's world. In many parts of the world a woman, especially a good-looking one, attracts attention — the last thing a spy wants. In Muslim countries this attention may be openly hostile if she is unaccompanied, and there may be other practical problems: for instance, if she is sent to Saudi Arabia, she will not be allowed to drive a car. There are also the risks of being mugged or worse, and sadly spies are not allowed to carry guns as often as the movies lead us to believe.

Still, she may have advantages. Annalisa Barbieri in The First Post:

I can say that intelligence work is, in a way, an ideal job for women. They are naturally very good at it. Spies need to multi-task, be many things at different times to different people, be good listeners. And have a great ability to recall information. (Try this: ask a man what someone said on the phone, then ask a woman, the difference in response length will be at least 1,000 words.) Also, women are cunning. So spying's not difficult — or at least, I didn't find it so.

I did some time in US military intelligence, thirty-odd years ago. If we had female operatives, I wasn't aware of them. (So maybe they are that good.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:14 PM)
19 May 2007
Would you, could you, under oath?

In 2001, Portland playwright Charles Augustus Steen III filed suit against the estate of Theodor Seuss Geisel, otherwise known as Dr. Seuss, charging that Daisy-Head Mayzie, based on a manuscript found by Audrey Geisel in her husband's papers after his death and subsequently published as a new Dr. Seuss book, was in fact based on Steen's copyrighted-but-yet-unpublished book The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. The case was dismissed on a technicality — Steen missed a filing date for some papers — but it wasn't over.

Steen's next step was a play with the incendiary title The Tragical History of Audrey Geisel or How the Grinch Plagiarized My Goddamn Children's Story, a copy of which was emailed to the Geisel estate's lawyers, accompanied with a drawing by Steen of several Seuss characters enjoying some, um, amok time. (The Grinch seems happy, and when's the last time you saw the Cat out of his Hat?) Somewhere along the way, Steen asked for $2.5 million ("after taxes") from the estate; he was charged with extortion, and drew three years' probation and a series of anger-management classes.

Out of probation, his record expunged, Steen's still out there; Tragical History was presented at Portland's Someday Lounge earlier this month, and he's posted his take on the case on his MySpace page. The Oregonian has posted a summary of the situation.

(Via Bill Peschel.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:28 AM)
23 May 2007
And the yards went on forever

Your lawn? "An irrational consumer preference," says Zack Wendling:

There's no reason why we must demand sterile subdivisions with high-maintenance vegetation surrounding our homes. They only exist because we lack imagination and worry about resale value (or selling the thing in the first place if we are the developer). Hopefully, a greater awareness of the high costs of lawns (in terms of construction, maintenance, aesthetics, and ecology) and the low benefits (in terms of use and status) can change that.

Believe me, I know the costs. It's about a buck and a half worth of gas every week, plus $300-500 a year for the weed-control regimen, plus a whole lot of time, plus whatever I spent on the tools of the trade. And I do as little maintenance as I can get away with, if only to avoid the appearance of suburban sterility.

And while my front yard is mostly for show — which is a tragedy, because it doesn't look so wonderful — the back yard does get used, for sunning and (gag) occasional exercise.

Still, I have a thousand-square-foot house sitting on a quarter-acre-plus lot. I do not envision ever having the same thousand-square-foot house sitting on a quarter-acre-plus parking lot: to me, that's low status.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:05 AM)
26 May 2007
The actual positioning is critical

Buying gifts for that Special Someone is fraught with anxiety. (Well, not for me, since I don't have one, but work with me here.) You want that gift to say something, and you hope that it's not misinterpreted.

In the event that I ever feel compelled to say "I love you, but you totally scare me sometimes," I figure that this is the way to say it:

razor blade necklace

Sterling silver, handcrafted in Brooklyn, New York. Price $110, plus the willingness to, um, live on the edge.

(Via Popgadget.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:04 AM)
No, I mean the other one

Around the end of 1968, there was a breezy little Latin number on the radio called "Lo Mucho Que Te Quiero," billed to "René and René," who turned out to be René Ornelas and René Herrera, who failed to get much more traction on the pop charts — "Lo Mucho" peaked at #14 — but who are justly revered in Tejano music circles. I was fifteen then, and more or less pre-hormonal, so the fact that these were two guys with the same first name never struck me as having any potential repercussions: I mean, it's not like they were dating or anything.

That, though, was then. This is now:

I sometimes think my life emulates a badly made Farrelly Brothers comedy and no, I don't masturbate a lot. I am actually the result of a same-sex, same-name relationship. My name is Renee and my girlfriend's name is also Renee.

I think the whole same-name relationship phenomena occurs much more frequently in same-sex couples (for obvious reasons) than in heterosexual ones, although I have yet to meet another couple who shares the same name like we do.

Rather a lot of names that used to be given to boys (Beverly, Leslie, Terry) are now seen more often on girls, but it seems to me (and I pay way too much attention to this sort of thing) that once a name catches on for girls, it drifts off the radar for boys. (Sir Carol Reed might be inclined to disagree, but he was unavailable for comment, having died in 1976.)

So this particular phenomenon is indeed more likely to occur among gay couples than among straight ones, but I can't imagine it being that rare, and indeed Renee drew rather a lot of comments from others in a similar position, including one of my regular reads, Steph Mineart, who said:

My girlfriend and I are both named Stephanie, and we have the same middle name, Ann, as well. We met at game night, and hit it off because we always ended up on the same team together — the "Steph Team" which has now extended beyond game night and into the rest of our lives.

To make it even more strange, my girlfriend's mother is also gay, and her partner shares her name also — they are both "Judith Ann." They go by Judy and Judith, and we go by Steph and Stephanie. But it's still confusing, because my extended family prefers my childhood "Stephanie," and her friends have always called her "Steph."

Our families have tried Stephanie 1 and 2, but my family calls me 1 and her 2, while hers calls her 1 and me 2, so that doesn't sort it out.

And there's this:

And if we ever get married? Well, neither of us could adopt the other's last name without literally becoming the same person.

I think the worst part of all is that horrible 1960's song by Left Banke "Just Walk Away Renee" which somehow seems to come to everyone's mind when they hear our name. It's bad enough we have the same name, but you're not making it any better when you and 6 of your friends chime in to a round of this overly annoying song (I might be biased, but still).

Just another one of those things that we straight folk can never imagine, I suppose. (Although I really love "Walk Away Renee," though I suspect I'd love it less were I named Renee and had it sung to me every other day for most of my life.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:00 PM)
27 May 2007
Hope we die before you get old?

If you're sick about hearing about the Baby Boomers — if indeed the very mention of them drives you up the farging wall — well, at least you can watch them die, and you don't even have to go to Reno to shoot them.

(Via Kathy Shaidle.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:42 PM)
29 May 2007
All that vulgar crap

The Web site of the Independent Film Channel is presenting this month The 31 Best Movie Moments in Bad Words: A Celebration of Cinematic Swearing. Each day there's a foul-mouthed clip from a motion picture. Some of them are obvious — you know what they're going to include from The Big Lebowski — and some of them are less so. The best part, though, is called "Try This At Home," in which ordinary non-Screen Actors Guild civilians take on the same lines and demonstrate that Samuel L. Jackson, for one, is nowhere near being replaced.

As IFC says:

Here at IFC, we believe you should speak your mind — even if what you've got to say is something that would have your mother washing your mouth out with soap.

This month, they'll go through a couple of bath-size bars.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:35 AM)
No, we aren't there yet, shut up

Spoiled brats? Blame car seats:

[C]hildren are treated like little maharajahs, complete with servants (their parents or caretakers) toting a palatial burden of food, extra clothing, and an entire Toys 'R' Us-worth of games, dolls, and the like everywhere they go. Not to mention the elaborate transportation systems the little tykes get, some of which have so many accouterments that you could use them to fly cargo to the moon.

I think the whole thing started with car seats. Car seats are a laudable invention, but as with everything in American life no one was content with making just the car a baby-safe environment, and no one was content with mere safety being the consideration either. Now kids don't have to spend one amusement-free minute in their lives; their every waking moment they are reassured that the entire world exists to indulge them. This can't be good for them or the nation.

Abridged: "When I was your age, we had to ride in the truck bed, and we liked it."

Still, the presumption exists that if we don't keep their little minds occupied, God knows what they'll get into. The fact that kids are supposed to get into things — that's how they learn things, fercryingoutloud — never enters the calculation. I am quite certain that nothing can teach a child to stay away from a hot stove quite as efficiently as a first-degree burn.

The upside of all this, of course, is that sooner or later the child will complain about having to be buckled into that damn seat; you then explain that it's a government mandate, and suddenly you've planted a seed. "Life is full of doing things you don't want to do, and this is a major reason why." If you chafe under the Nanny State at six, you'll really hate it at twenty-six.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:28 AM)
30 May 2007
No more pencils, and so forth

My youngest will turn 26 in a month or so, which means that I'm missing out on this phenomenon:

The problem with schools these days is that they don't spend enough time making children hate school for the right reasons. Perfectly healthy-minded children have hated school for as long as the institution has been around, but they hated it because they were challenged, they were held accountable, and the teachers made them work, they used to actually make kids learn things they didn't want to learn. We didn't like it as kids, but as adults of course we are thankful for it.

Did someone say "parental involvement"?

Back in the old days the only time my parents ever even so much as set foot in our school building was to pick us up if we had thrown up in math class, or to go to a Christmas program. Other than that they knew by the fact that we came home every afternoon with homework that we sat down and did on our OWN with very little prompting that all was well. They knew their children could read a newspaper, and even add 161 plus 39. We had books to read, we read them. We had work to do, we did it, and we were lazy little shits too, but we knew if we did not do it, we might fail, and that was the worst nightmare we had.

"Don't you know how much damage you're doing to your child's self-esteem?"

No one under the age of 70 needs self-esteem. It does teenagers no good — every high school is Lord of the Flies writ large and illegibly — and once they've achieved adulthood it's more trouble to maintain than it's worth. Besides, the little shits can't add.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:56 AM)
31 May 2007
Esteem cleaned

Just yesterday morning they let me know you were gone ... um, wait, wrong brain thread.

[whir r r r]

Just yesterday morning I said this:

No one under the age of 70 needs self-esteem. It does teenagers no good — every high school is Lord of the Flies writ large and illegibly — and once they've achieved adulthood it's more trouble to maintain than it's worth.

The esteemed Tamara K. has been thinking along similar lines:

I am absolutely sick and tired of the very phrase "Self Esteem"; embodying as it does the concept that one should have warm fuzzy feelings about one's self for no adequately explained reason whatsoever, as though by simply existing, one was doing something inherently good rather than merely converting oxygen into greenhouse gas. With "Self Esteem" came the notion that we were to go to any extent to avoid things that may damage it in our little tricycle motors, even if it meant dumbing down grades and no longer keeping score at kiddie sporting events. All this seems to ensure is that we're producing whiners who will expect the real world to be as careful of their self esteem as the artificial environment of William Golding Memorial Elementary School was, and who will proceed to vote for anyone who promises to make it that way.

But she takes it a bit further than I did:

Whatever happened to self respect? The idea that one should have some sort of internal code and judge one's self based on how well one lives up to it? Or would that reveal that so many people are worth very little esteem at all?

Incidentally, there exists in my hometown a firm called Esteem Cleaners, not far from the palatial Surlywood estate.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:20 AM)
4 June 2007
Museum pieces, as it were

"California tumbles into the sea / That'll be the day I go back to Annandale." Steely Dan wasn't talking about this, but they could have been. The scene is Bard College, Annandale, New York:

I picked my way through the galleries at the Hessel Museum. A "video installation" by Bruce Nauman in which a man and a woman endlessly repeat a litany of nonsense, tinctured here and there with scatological phrases. Been there. Photographs (in four or five different places) by Robert Mapplethorpe of his S&M pals. Very 1980s. Histrionic photographs by Cindy Sherman of herself looking victimized. Been there, too. Nam June Paik and his video installations. Done that. A big pile of red, white, and blue lollipops dumped in the corner by Ö well, it doesn't much matter, does it? Any more than it matters who was responsible for the room featuring images of floating genitalia or the room with the video of ritualistic homosexual bondage. Ditto the catalogue: its assault on the English language is something you can find in scores, no, hundreds of art publications today: "For Valie Export, the female Body is covered with the stigmata of codes that shape and hamper it." Well, bully for her. "As usual with Gober, the installation is a broken allegory that both elicits and resists our interpretation; that materially nothing is quite as it seems adds to our anxious curiosity." As usual, indeed, though whether such pathetic verbiage adds to or smothers our curiosity is another matter altogether.

About as outré as I get — in several senses of the word — is Louise Nevelson, who boxed up the detritus of everyday life and repurposed it as sculpture. I think I understood some of what she was doing: certainly she provided context for her boxes, even for her non-boxes, and at no time (and I've been to two different Nevelson exhibitions, one of which was concurrent with actual study) did I feel that she had assembled a broken allegory that resisted my interpretation.

Still, if Nevelson, who has since passed from the scene, was close to the edge, where is the current state of the Art? Out trying to preempt criticism, I suspect:

[A]rt is increasingly the creature of its explication. It's not quite what Tom Wolfe predicted in The Painted Word, where in the gallery-of-the-future a postcard-sized photograph of a painting would be used to illustrate a passage of criticism blown up to the size of its inflated sense of self-worth. The difference is that the new verbiage doesn't even pretend to be art criticism. It occupies a curious no man's land between criticism, political activism, and pseudo-philosophical speculation: less an intellectual than a linguistic phenomenon, speaking more to the failure or decay of ideas than to their elaboration. Increasingly, the "art" is indistinguishable from the verbal noise that accompanies it.

While this particular phenomenon may have escaped Becker and Fagen's notice, it didn't get past Orwell:

The artist is to be exempt from the moral laws that are binding on ordinary people. Just pronounce the magic word "Art," and everything is O.K. Rotting corpses with snails crawling over them are O.K.; kicking little girls in the head is O.K.; even a film like [Buñuel's] L'¬ge d'or [which shows among other things detailed shots of a woman defecating] is O.K.

There are times when I think that defecation is the whole point.

(Suggested by Mark Alger.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:04 AM)
5 June 2007
The Laugher curve

Ian Birnbaum is wondering where his comic mojo went:

For the longest time as a kid, I was known amongst my friends for being very, very funny. I was quick on the draw with an insult, comebacks would snap away like a whip, and I can joke or deadpan like a comedian. Comedy Central was my favorite channel, and Douglas Adams was my favorite author.

I've grown up a lot in ways I like. Responsibility, ambition. Spiritually, I feel closer to my center than I have in a long time, and being an adult is actually kind of fun.

But somewhere along the line, I lost the ability to write "funny". Somewhere between a needless war, a dangerously powerful president, pathetic ass-covering politicians, the mainstream adulation of Paris Hilton as a celebrity to look up to, a war in Lebanon (again), terror warning level Orange, and China becoming an economic superpower — somewhere between "I care about you but this isn't working" and "I need $100 by Tuesday or I can't pay bills," I forgot what it was like to feel a good belly-laugh. And the thought of being able to cause a good chuckle became foreign to the level of impossibility.

I think what Mr Birnbaum is discovering is that one's sense of humor migrates a bit: its center wanders about as experiences pile up, and the edges get a mite ragged here and there. Especially there [gestures].

Mark Twain figured out a long time ago that the secret source of humor is not joy, but sorrow, and the worse things get, the greater the potential for yocks. I can't imagine anyone of a jocular bent, even a comparatively gentle soul like, say, Garrison Keillor, scratching around for material today. And let's face it: were it not for pathetic ass-covering politicians, Stephen Colbert would be doing the weather in Dubuque.

The ultimate extension of this premise, of course, is so-called gallows humor. We don't execute a lot of people these days — at least, none of the ones I want — and their sentences are normally carried out behind very thick walls so it's impossible to know for sure, but I have always believed that if you don't actually go insane as your time approaches, the quality of your remarks is bound to go up sharply. And when the Nanny State finally achieves the dominance it desires and I'm sent before a firing squad for extreme disloyalty, seditious remarks and ownership of a George Foreman grill, I plan to ask the riflemen if those things have trigger locks. Because if I have to die, and I assume I do — and if I don't, I'm wasting a crapload of money on insurance — I intend to die laughing.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:00 PM)
8 June 2007
Don't call us, we'll call you

Around 1960, PacTel installed a phone booth in the middle of the Mojave Desert, about 70 miles from Las Vegas, not particularly close to Zzyzx Road. In 1997, the booth gained a measure of Net notoriety when a Web site devoted to it sprang up. The site, and then the booth, picked up traffic; in 2000 the booth was taken down at the request of the National Park Service, citing environmental concerns stemming from that traffic. The site, however, lived on, and eventually filmmaker John Putch dropped by:

I was in Vegas — I don't know, must have been 2000, or right when the booth was removed or something — and I read an article in the Sun-Times, or whatever the Vegas paper is. It was the first I'd ever heard of it. I thought the article was really interesting. Typically, the booth is gone now, and I didn't get a chance to see it or look at it or call it or anything. So I got home and I started looking it up on the web and I found [the] site — and everybody else's, the blogs or whatever — and I just read a whole mess of shit on it. I guess what interested me were the same things that interested other people, and that was just this wonder aspect of it, that people actually connect, strangers so far away, and the best part is that you're in a weird, surreal setting, you know?

And so it came to pass that John Putch, on a budget of $38,469.49, brought forth Mojave Phone Booth, the movie, which played tonight at deadCENTER. And this is exactly the point he wanted to make: that people, strangers so far away, actually do connect in that weird, surreal setting. I've always thought that communication was far easier once you detach yourself as much as possible from the everyday, and Mojave Phone Booth is an object lesson in that detachment: the characters who would never discuss matters with the people closest to them will willingly talk to Greta, whoever she may be — altruist? therapist? the voice of God? — at the other end of the line.

The script, by Putch and Jerry Rapp, pulls off the difficult task of getting inside these characters without making them into caricatures. In the wrong hands, this could have been the sort of overwrought melodrama that gives away all its secrets in the trailer. Instead, the details accumulate, slowly but surely, the complexities unfolding, the stories unexpectedly intertwining. And this version of Las Vegas, the city these people flee to find a voice in the desert, is decidedly blue-collar and downscale: that fabled nightlife is a job, nothing more.

That reference to the budget, incidentally, isn't an apologia: it's a boast. Mojave Phone Booth is beautifully shot, its desert scenes balanced on the edge between compelling and disturbing, its Vegas scenes appropriately glitz-free. And the thread of hope which connects its characters proves, ultimately, to be far stronger than it seems.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:47 PM)
9 June 2007
Everywhere you look there's a radius

There's only one thing that bothers me particularly about the deadCENTER Film Festival, running through this weekend in downtown Oklahoma City: it is impossible to see everything being offered and still hold down a day job — at least, a day job like mine, in which the 40-hour mark is reached on Friday morning (or in the case of this week, Thursday afternoon). That said, though, the Festival has grown considerably in its seven years, big enough to have actual staff, and the 140 or so films that are being screened across downtown — there are half a dozen different venues — will be seen by a few thousand folks who'd never get to see them otherwise, which is a Good Thing in spite of any minor inconveniences I might suffer.

I did learn in prior years that peeling off a few bucks (this year it's $8) for each and every screening is a major pain; this year I was prescient enough to snag a Screening Pass ($50) in advance. (Well, actually, I got two, inasmuch as I hate to go alone.) I might not attend as many as seven screenings this year, so this saves me no money, but the convenience is considerable, and there's always the Support Your Local [insert name of cultural organization] factor.

Last night at the Harkins, there were some, um, technical difficulties at one screening, which caused some mild tittering (and, briefly, some serious aural discomfort) among audience members. Once underway, though, there were no further glitches. And as low-level moviehouse catastrophes go, this sort of thing beats the hell out of falling ceiling tiles.

Addendum: Dwight and Sarah are trying to attend as many events as possible and are duly posting their adventures.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:46 AM)
Family entertainment

Contrary to popular belief, it ain't all Ozzie and Harriet down here:

BITCH the movie has been on the "circuit" for about half a year now, and played its fair share of festivals. Anyone who's seen the film knows, it's full of gratuitous punching, threatening gender neutrality, offensive non-colored movieness, and the sensual kissing of Mexicans. Not to mention abortion jokes. Ohhh, the abortion jokes.

Surprisingly, BITCH has played, almost exclusively, at southern US festivals and in fact, has never won a festival award that wasn't in a Red State.

And this might seem puzzling:

If these states are such ubiquitously conservative, bible-thumping theocracies, why do Southerners seem to like BITCH the movie the most? BITCH the person thinks maybe there is a higher concentration of frustrated, creative, free-thinking individuals living in the south than anyone realizes. Even Southerners.

As your basic Southern (yes, I was born near Chicago, but I grew up in South Carolina fercrissake) right-wing death beast, I am compelled to admit that I thought BITCH the movie was flat wonderful, that I laughed a whole lot, that I was sitting right across from writer/director Lilah Vandenburgh during the screening and I'm sure she caught me doing a spit take during that line about VH1's 50 Most Important Bands for Poseurs. (Vandenburgh, incidentally, despite her gentle, kindly, JCPenney Petites vibe, can almost certainly kick my ass, and I expect her to threaten to do so when she reads this.)

And as a general rule, the only people around here who have their lips pressed to Dr. Dobson's derrière are the politicians, and we have no respect for them anyway.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:49 PM)
10 June 2007
A success out here in the Styx

Artist Sandow Birk, it seems, had stumbled across an old copy of Dante's 14th-century Divine Comedy, with illustrations by Gustave Doré. At some point Birk noted that Doré's engravings, while true to Dante's story, inevitably reflected a mid-19th-century sensibility as well, and maybe it's just possible to update the tale enough to reflect life at the beginning of the 21st. Working with writer Marcus Sanders, Birk, over a three-year period, completed the entire Comedy in three (of course) volumes, each presented as an art exhibition alongside his original drawings.

Sean Meredith knew Sandow Birk: the director had translated Birk's In Smog and Thunder, a tale of a Civil War between Northern and Southern California, into a 45-minute film back in 2003. And the Inferno, the first section of Dante's trilogy, seemed a natural. But a full-fledged CGI epic would cost zillions. Paul Zaloom, who had worked with Birk and Meredith on the Smog and Thunder project, and who knows puppets as well as anyone, suggested that the film be done in the style of Victorian "toy theatre," which would require a few hundred puppets but which could use Birk's drawings as sets.

Dante's Inferno, the film, premiered at Slamdance this past winter, and if you were wondering if the contemporary references mar the story, the answer is no: the original structure of the Inferno is not tampered with, and the punishments, updates notwithstanding, still are designed to fit the sins. And the look of it is simply marvelous: the fact that you're viewing a bunch of cardboard cutouts mounted on sticks doesn't occur to you at all after the first couple of minutes, and Birk's drawings on the big screen are, well, fiendishly clever. James Cromwell is the voice of Virgil, and he conveys wisdom, world-weariness, and occasional irritation, just as he should; Dermot Mulroney's Dante, appropriately, manages to sound simultaneously headstrong and scared spitless. It's a marvelous piece of work, gritty yet somehow uplifting; it was the last screening I caught at deadCENTER, and I can't think of a better finish to a splendid festival.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:38 AM)
12 June 2007
Yes, but is she hot?

Terry Teachout muses:

In America, only pretty young women become movie stars. Middle-aged male actors who are unattractive — or at least Bogart-ugly — can and do play romantic leads, but no actress who is much short of beautiful or much older than thirty has much chance of seeing her name above the title of a big-budget movie, save as part of a package deal. This harsh reality is, of course, a flagrant and fundamental contradiction of all that the members of the film industry hold most politically dear. I sometimes wonder whether one of the reasons why Hollywood is so liberal might be that its male inhabitants are secretly ashamed of the sexual double standard by which they live. They will sign any petition, contribute lavishly to any sympathetic-sounding candidate, perform any act of political penance — anything, in fact, but sleep with an ordinary-looking woman of a certain age, much less cast her as the love interest in a major motion picture.

This does not, of course, explain why Hollywood females are similarly positioned to the left, unless they've been told that's their good side. And I suspect that there are legions of Lotharios Lite who will sleep with anyone who breathes, and possibly with those who don't.

Mort Sahl anticipated this decades ago. "Liberals," he said, "feel unworthy of their possessions."

And then he added, "Conservatives feel they deserve everything they've stolen."

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:46 AM)
14 June 2007
Which one's Pink?

Why, the girl, silly:

Not so long ago, pink was a colour reserved for little girls. It was the colour of Barbie and bubblegum, of plastic tat that parents were pestered into buying, of pre-teen bedrooms and pocket-money accessories.

Then, suddenly, it was everywhere — and being targeted at grown women. Next month, for instance, sees the launch of Fly Pink, a "boutique airline designed especially for women" which plans to operate from Liverpool's John Lennon airport. The airline will offer flights to Paris for "shopping breaks" in customised pink planes, and, to complete the experience, will also provide pink champagne and complementary manicures before take-off.

Cate Sevilla objects:

Fly Pink is making massive assumptions about women, and forget that not all women like pink, or manicures, or shopping breaks in Paris. How can we expect the rest of society to stop stereotyping women if we can't even stop stereotyping ourselves?

Hey, I live in a pink house, and not one of Mellencamp's either.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:29 PM)
17 June 2007
Known quantities

The romance novel is the Rodney Dangerfield of literature: it gets no respect. Michael Carr suggests a reason:

I think the reason romance isn't respected as a genre is the same reason why Hostess Snacks aren't respected as desserts. They may be tasty, you may love them, may even prefer them to something like tiramisu, but they fit within a narrow band of possibilities: Twinkies, HoHos, Ding Dongs. You know what you're going to get, and if you bite into a Twinkie to discover some sort of coffee-flavored chocolate filling, you're going to say, "This is not a Twinkie."

No credit for shelf life? Twinkies seem to last forever, assuming you've forgotten where you hid the box and therefore can't actually eat them.

Admittedly, it's not a broad genre, and we like our commodities clearly delineated:

For better or worse, Harlequin et al. have put themselves in the business of turning romance into a small number of recognizable and reproducible shapes. It constrains the author but it also means that a reader knows exactly what she's getting when she picks up a novel. The publishers further refine this by coming up with narrower labels. Say, Silhouette Intimate Moments, or Harlequin Intrigue.

The thing is, romance fits so nicely into all those other genres. You can put it in science fiction, in adventure, into suspense. You can make a startling, unexpected movie, like Shakespeare in Love, that is, at its heart, a romance story. The non-Romance reading public simply would not see a connection between a movie like this and the bare-chested, bulging pants heroes in the racks of romance novels they see at the supermarket.

Truth be told, I never noticed the pants, and if I have a lick of sense, I won't in the future.

Sometimes I wonder if the romance genre would be less disrespected if its audience weren't so overwhelmingly female. (Apologies to all you big, burly Brontë fans out there.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:24 PM)
19 June 2007
Hot funds in the summertime

Time was, someone collecting for a local charity had a good chance of being, well, local. Punctilious remembers:

When I used to assist our local public television station, I sat at a row of phones on camera and answered them when they rang. Each night a dozen or so volunteers from a different local organization would man the phones until the auction was over. It was all local products donated by local businesses with local volunteers answering the phones. There were a few paid staff, regular station employees, who organized and orchestrated the fund drive. But everything else was volunteer. As in free. As in none of the funds raised paid people to raise funds. The money all went to the station to continue broadcasting. (I know, but in those pre-remote days we had 4 channels and PBS had programming with some thought so we supported it. We didn't have any other choices.)

This practice hasn't entirely died out, but:

So now I get a call from some bored and androgynous sounding person half a continent away asking me for funds to support the local art museum. I wonder how much of my renewed membership fee is going to pay the monotonous Dianne from Oregon and her supervisor and her supervisor's boss and the guy who travels the country wining and dining museum curators to get their marketing business. I imagine the percentage is significantly smaller than that of the old PBS local auction days.

I wonder if maybe the sheer unpredictability of local fundraising efforts is motivating organizations to go out and seek, um, professional help. When I was in New England, back in the days when Roger Williams was a pianist, I watched the Channel 2 Auction with enthusiasm, not because I had any particular fondness for WGBH, but because the possibility for Great Weirdness was always lurking. One year (1973?) WNAC-TV, then a CBS affiliate on channel 7, offered some advertising spots to 'GBH to sell at auction: the high bidder was WKBG-TV, an independent station on channel 56. And sure enough, for the next couple of months, between CBS programs in prime time on 7, there were promos for shows on 56. I suspect the rules were changed after that.

And I also suspect that were public-radio fundraisers to start sounding more Hollywood than homespun, the pool of donors would wind up drier than Michael Feldman's sense of humor.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:56 AM)
24 June 2007
From the "If Only" files

Mary Stella, who's written some fiction of her own, tosses out a zinger of a question:

Of all the fictional characters you've ever read, is there one that you truly wish was real just for one night because you think he or she is that hot and you want to have your way with them?

For some reason, I keep seeing Kugelmass sporking about with Emma Bovary in the back of my mind, and the image immediately short-circuits the evaluation process.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:17 PM)
26 June 2007
What's more, Gnat's away at camp

So Lileks cranks up the score from Disney's Fantasia, and this occurs to him:

I wonder if I'm one of 16 people who can't hear "Dance of the Hours" without anticipating the timpani thump they added to highlight the dropped hippo. If you know what I mean.

I do know what he means. In the original (and very noisy) recording of "Wild Thing" by the Troggs, there's a break after Reg Presley croons "You move me," and right before the band comes crashing back in, there's a very audible board click. You get used to that click. Many years later, there was an otherwise-forgettable CD compilation of songs from this period which was distinguished only by the fact that they'd edited out that piece of studio noise. So proud of themselves, they must have been. I can't hear it without wondering where the hell is the click?

On the other hand, the 16 people who anticipate the timpani thump probably outnumber the folks who can hear "Dance of the Hours" without once thinking "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah." As Mr. Sherman says, camp is very entertaining.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:03 PM)
27 June 2007
Fame and other vapors

If Andy Warhol were still around, he'd probably say something to the effect that in the future, everyone will have a Wikipedia entry for fifteen minutes.

And then, of course, it will be deleted.

Jane Galt wonders:

I've been deleted from Wikipedia for not being famous enough.

It's not a devastating blow or anything, but why does Wikipedia care how famous you are? Are they worried the volumes won't fit in people's basements?

Jane is certainly more notable than I, but who isn't? (Let's not always see the same hands.)

There are about half a dozen people in Wikipedia with some version of my name, which surprises me not in the least. I suppose, were I to take this personally, I could add myself to the disambiguation page and hope that no one ever gets around to deleting me — I've written stuff for Wikipedia before and know the drill — but what would be the point? I'm about as famous as I'm ever going to get, which is not very; in fact, I suspect I've probably stretched Warhol's standard, if not his patience, to the limit already.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:50 AM)
The real Magic Lasso

Says here at Absolutely Bananas that you definitely need to know how to Photoshop your head onto someone else's body, and it makes sense to me:

Dear Marsha,

Sadly I will not be able to attend the ... high school reunion due to pressing concerns brought on by my vast wealth and prestige. However, I am attaching a recent self portrait so that you know what I look like these days. Feel free to print out several poster-sized copies to hang around the reunion.

If I ever want to send something to one of mine — next one is the 40th — I will definitely want to render myself from the chin down as vaguely Schwarzeneggerdly.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:45 PM)
30 June 2007
Somebody wants Moore

Someone landed here today looking for a place in Oklahoma where Michael Moore's Sicko is playing. And so far as I can tell, there's exactly one: AMC's Southroads 20, at 41st and Yale in Tulsa.

I don't know if it's showing in Cuba.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:42 PM)
2 July 2007
I thought there were no second acts

TV Guide polled its Web readers: "Who do you think has a greater chance of bouncing back professionally?" The choices: Isaiah Washington or P*** H***** (I can't even bring myself to type her name).

Fifty-five percent of the respondents voted for H*****, which compels me to ask: "Bouncing back to what?" What exactly is it she does, beyond the production of headlines and carbon dioxide?

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:54 PM)
3 July 2007
Moore than usual

Sicko took in a modest $4.5 million in its first weekend, a bit under some of the wilder predictions, but still within the Exhibitor Relations Top Ten (at #9). On the other hand, it's not like Michael Moore spent Jerry Bruckheimer-level money on it, and apparently Moore, or at least his agent, is one sharp negotiator:

Moore's agent, Ari Emanuel at Endeavor, negotiated one hell of a deal with the Weinstein Co. for his client. Moore is in line to receive 50 percent of Sicko's gross profits (that's after the theater owner collect their take of ticket sales), arguably one of Hollywood's most lucrative deals for a filmmaker. To put it in perspective, it's well beyond the cut that Tom Cruise used to receive in his heyday on films (and big-name actor deals are usually much richer than directors, but Moore obviously works both in front and behind the camera).

But the place where Moore's deal is most noteworthy is in his DVD take. A-list actors and directors usually get a small slice of the proceeds, which is taken from only 20 percent of the total DVD revenue (the studio would hold back the other 80 percent). These numbers have pretty much been sacrosanct in Hollywood for years and have allowed the studios to recoup any theatrical losses with their homevid take. But in Moore's deal, he'll be receiving 50 percent of all DVD revenues.

According to traditional Hollywood accounting, if you get profit points at all, they're out of the net, after every conceivable cost has been deducted. Moore's getting gross points, most likely more than enough to constitute what some of us in different walks of life used to call FYM. He says so himself:

Nothing can ever be held over my head in the sense of "If you don't do this, we won't give you your money!"

Which is an exceedingly comfortable position to be in.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:48 PM)
5 July 2007
Hither and yawn

Pepsi-Cola has introduced something called Diet Pepsi MAX, which contains 46 mg of caffeine per 8 ounces, a jolt just this side of, well, Jolt. They're pitching this stuff as an antidote to the Great American Yawn, and according to their survey, as recounted by Popgadget:

  • 84 percent of Americans experience a daily "afternoon slump."
  • More than half of respondents admit to yawning up to five times a day.
  • Another 86 percent believe that those yawns are contagious.
  • One-third of Americans (31 percent) blame the workplace as the reason for their exhaustion.
  • Half of all survey respondents have caught someone asleep on the job, while 28 percent have confessed to falling asleep at work themselves.
  • The most popular ways respondents overcome their slumps at work include walking around the office (58 percent) and consuming caffeinated beverages (52 percent).
  • About one in five respondents (18 percent) has faked a yawn to get out of a conversation.
  • Nearly one in ten (8 percent) Americans has yawned while on a job interview.
  • 54 percent of working Americans say they would take a nap at work to reinvigorate themselves in the afternoon if given permission by their supervisor.
  • One-third (32 percent) have admitted to yawning on a date.
  • Nearly one in ten (9 percent) Americans has had a bug fly into their mouth while yawning.

That last, I think, I'd rather not have known.

Oh, and one hundred percent of women who have dated me have yawned during the proceedings. (Warning: this may not be statistically significant due to painfully-small sample.)

If you were wanting to compare caffeine counts, try this.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:44 PM)
7 July 2007
Scenes from the abyss

In 1990, Jeff Jarvis invented Entertainment Weekly, and one controversy immediately sprang up: their reviews were summed up by a straight-outta-high school letter grade, a grievous affront to the creative community — especially the segment of the creative community who got C-minus or below.

Over the years in EW, there have been a number of A's, even an A-plus once or twice, and rather a lot of F's. I've read every issue — I was one of the very first subscribers, and make of that what you will — but I don't remember ever seeing an actual F-minus.

Until issue #943, in which Ken Tucker describes "a book that should never be published":

You just knew that O. J. Simpson's aborted book, If I Did It, his "hypothetical" account of his role in the 1994 murder of Nicole Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman, was going to be leaked. I've read a version of the manuscript from Judith Regan's now-defunct HarperCollins imprint and am here to tell you, there is no guilty pleasure to be gleaned from these ramblings of a craven, whining, self-pityingly aggrieved man.

I think I've just been talked out of writing a memoir.

As for the rest of the mag, my favorite section is getting to be Alynda Wheat's What to Watch, which I suppose is an odd choice since I seldom watch much of anything on television, but her single-paragraph distillations are always fun, and she doesn't even have to assign letter grades. On the Food Network's new series Simply Delicioso:

Believe it or not, when you need Latina cred for your network you actually do wanna hire someone named Ingrid Hoffmann.

This is a show it would never occur to me to watch, and yet suddenly it appears almost ... interesting. Which, of course, makes me worry if Ms Wheat is in fact the creature I fear most, the woman who can talk me into anything.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:00 PM)
9 July 2007
Well, we got no class

And I don't have a whole lot of principal, which brings down my overall results in The New York Times Social Class Calculator.

Nor am I alone. Erica notes:

I think people in my particular demographic are seeing a huge discrepancy between occupation / education / income and wealth. At least I am, anyway.

In their case, it's likely because they simply don't own a lot of the stuff that is considered "wealth." I have more of it, I suppose, but I also have more debt than they do (two words: "Surlywood mortgage"), so I come out around the same place. I may own six figures, but I also owe six figures. (Fortunately, what I own is still more than what I owe.)

And I used to have the same obsession with class as the Times has:

When I was younger — and, let's face it, up to now I always was younger — I was convinced that the world, or at least the part of it that was relevant to my existence, operated on a caste system, and that movement across those social strata was less common than the American We the People mythos would have us believe.

I perceived three subsets: lower, middle and upper, each of which was divided into three further subsets: lower, middle and upper. The bottom of the range was therefore Lower Lower (duh), while the top was Upper Upper (double duh). I should have known that there was something askew with this scheme when I couldn't locate the dividing line between Upper Lower (#3) and Lower Middle (#4), despite the fact that crossing that line was high on my list of Things to Do; I saw myself as Middle Lower (#2), and that sight made me ill.

Fortunately, I got over (most of) it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:41 AM)
Have some beef and don't crack a smile

In 1485, the Tower of London was first surrounded by Yeomen Warders, whose functions included looking after any prisoners in the Tower and keeping an eye on the Crown Jewels.

The Warders (there are thirty-six of them, one of whom is designated Chief) all come from the ranks of the Royal Armed Forces, where they served with distinction for at least twenty-two years. For the first 522 years, they were all men.

Not anymore:

[S]oon Moira Cameron will be resplendent in the traditional scarlet and blue livery of the Beefeater when she makes history as the first woman to join the oldest corps in the world.

The 42-year-old from Argyll, Scotland, beat five men to secure the post as a Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London, and yesterday she said she could not wait to start in the summer.

The admission of a woman into the ranks of the Beefeaters did not sit well with some traditionalists:

John from Tendring has said: "That's 500+ years of tradition gone and a large tailors bill to show for it." Rose Howard from Milton Keynes also thinks Moira is ruining tradition: "Just does not look right, why can't we hang on to our traditions, what is the point of this 'updating' ... because they can ... but whenever did a woman fit into the history of the Beefeaters at the Tower. That is what it is all about, it's not an ordinary day job."

Then again, she paid the same dues as the men at the Tower, served the Crown just as long, just as honorably. I really don't see why this would be an issue, unless they're worried about whether she has the capacity to behead someone, a one-time duty of the Warders that has long since fallen into desuetude. (There have been no prisoners held at the Tower for half a century, and no executions since 1941, when German spy Josef Jakobs faced, not the mighty blade, but a firing squad.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:22 PM)
Here, hold my beer

This is almost believable:

I have this feeling that if the very last human being to ever die is a male, his last words — and thus the final words of our once-promising species — will be some variant of "Hey, watch this!"

Of course, if he is the final member of the species, there remains the question: "To whom is he saying this?"

Similarly: Frederic Brown's short story Knock, which begins like this:

The last man on earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door.

(Seen at A Sweet, Familiar Dissonance.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:14 PM)
11 July 2007
While I contemplate a paint job

Homeowners Association: brilliant invention or instrument of torture? Joel at the Oklahoma City Real Estate Blog has looked at them from both sides now:

To some there is no greater violation then to be micro-managed in the affairs of one's own castle. To others there is no greater transgression then to have one's greatest possession degraded by another's poor behavior. These feelings about one's home are at their root emotional and personal.

Which presumably explains why they've ended up in a blog. Not being a member of an HOA, I really can't say much: we have a Neighborhood Association around here, but it's not in a position to micromanage things for the residents. And there isn't a whole lot of "poor behavior" around here, either; most of what there is can be traced to nonresidents skulking about, or to a small segment of apartment dwellers (we have a fair number of apartments, but few actual thugs) on the edge of the neighborhood.

Whatever your perspective, consider this a call for dialogue. (I have readers who sell real estate, and I'd particularly like to hear from them.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:10 PM)
14 July 2007
And it's not even gender-specific

There is one universal pronoun in English, and, like an infinitive, it takes two words: "your ass".

Seriously. Maybe.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:17 PM)
17 July 2007
Jersey barriers

Being a grown-up sort of girl is not one of them.

(Via Brian J. Noggle.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:07 AM)
24 July 2007
A woman of some importance

Your reading assignment for the day: The Photoshop of Dorian Grey, by Rachel.

Seldom will you see a classic fable updated so skillfully.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:00 AM)
27 July 2007
Cottage cheese

Bridgeport Development operates three different home-building companies, each aimed at a different price point. In today's Oklahoman classifieds, Bridgeport has a full-page ad supporting all three: Newhaven Homes, the middle child, has eleven units for sale in the Williamson Farms area, near SW 119th and Meridian. Seven of those units are denoted "villas" in the ad; the other four are listed as "estates."

The line of demarcation isn't quite as obvious, though, as I might have anticipated: the largest "villa" (1764 square feet) is bigger than the smallest "estate" (1702). Then again, I'm still trying to figure out "cottage," which, perhaps due to too many fairy tales, I tend to think of as a smallish sort of place, although houses sold as "cottages" around here tend to look about the size of Costco stores. (Disclosure: We don't actually have any Costco stores in these parts.) The only thing I'm sure of these days is that four houses equal one hotel.

And keep in mind that there are smartasses out there who have the temerity to refer to a house barely over 1000 square feet, on a lot just over a quarter of an acre, as an "estate," and "palatial" at that.

Home on the ranch

Bonus: This is the sort of house I dreamed about when I was much younger. The drawing is cropped from a 1948 Packard brochure found at The Old Car Manual Project. By coincidence, the palatial Surlywood estate was constructed in 1948, to, shall we say, a smaller scale.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:59 PM)
Hoping Christmas is late for once

I just watched the trailer for Alvin and the Chipmunks, due out in December, and while the voices are blessedly correct — IMDb credits them to Ross Bagdasarian, Jr., and wife Janice Karman, who've done them ever since 1972 — I've got a very bad feeling about this.

Maybe it's because the Chipmunks, who originated on black and white television, are just not supposed to be three-dimensional; more likely, it's the coprophagia joke in that trailer. The real David Seville (Ross Bagdasarian, Sr.) would never have countenanced such a thing.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:16 PM)
28 July 2007
Do the walk of life

BatesLine suggested Walk Score, a Google Maps-based application that rates your neck of the woods on a 1 to 100 scale based upon what's nearby and hence theoretically within walking distance.

Here at Surlywood, we rate a 78, which seemed a trifle high to me — I had guesstimated somewhere in the upper 50s — so I punched in what was once my parents' house (my stepmother lives there now) to see if its more-suburban character would cost it points. It scored a 43. With a little fiddling, I was able to locate an address with a 98 score*, though not anywhere near here. And don't do too much playing with it: they have a connection limit to Google Maps which they're not allowed to exceed.

The creators explain their thinking here.

* 666 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10103.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:20 AM)
31 July 2007
In lieu of a ten-foot pole

Your physical distance from someone, it is said, is indicative of how close you are in other ways. With this in mind, David Seah introduces the Social Yardstick:

Physically, The Yardstick is a measuring device that collapses to fit in your pocket. The prototype here is constructed out of popsicle sticks and packing tape. Each popsicle stick is labeled as listed below:
  • Acquaintance — This is someone you know only slightly.
  • Co-Worker — Someone you work with regularly, but probably not daily. Casual friends too.
  • Co-Conspirator — Someone you are working with, perhaps sharing a hidden agenda or personal goal. You're close, but not too close.
  • Best Friend — Someone you're pretty close with. They're inside your personal space.
  • Close Family — That is, family members that you actually like.
  • Sweetie — You've slept together. Or really want to.
  • You — This is the end of The Yardstick you hold.

Use of The Yardstick is commendably simple:

To use The Social Yardstick, merely unfold its length and stretch between yourself and the person you are standing near. Read the label on the segment that is closest to the other person, and adjust your distance appropriately.

This strikes me as far too useful to be dismissed as mere "chindōgu."

(Via Bill Peschel.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 PM)
1 August 2007
Here in the Sub-Kreskin Zone

I pulled up at the Gazette office this afternoon to snag a copy, and parked near the door was a shiny new(ish) Vespa with, heaven help us, bumper stickers. I admit I did crack a smile at "One Less SUV." (Across the street at Iron Starr I caught sight of a pink scooter, which temporarily disrupted a substantial number of brain cells for reasons I'd just as soon not go into.)

Of course, if you hang around alt-weeklies and other places with ostensible countercultural cred, you hardly need bumper stickers to determine the Zeitgeist. To demonstrate, Stewpid reads the minds of the Whole Foods shoppers, and comes up with stuff like this:

"Where are all the hot horny hippie chicks? This place doesn't even have subs. This sucks."

"Hmm, if I frown over the label of this Ugandan wine for five whole minutes, will people stop suspecting that I am just buying it because it costs $4.99?"

"I just bought a wrap with Thai peanut sauce! I am like the most ethnic, exotic person on the entire planet!!!! I am like the Angelina of my entire subdivision! Thai sauce! I'm edgy!!!! Grrrr!!!!!!!"

Being about as edgy as the Pillsbury Doughboy, I am in no position to grumble, but just the same, I don't think we're ever going to run out of hot horny hippie chicks. Not that any of them are likely to cross my threshold.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:38 PM)
3 August 2007
Or there's a simpler explanation

Kevin Beck on Asperger's Syndrome:

The most interesting thing about Asperger's syndrome is that its "discoverer" decided he had it and named it after himself, which he might have done even if not "suffering" from this "disorder." Maybe.

Asperger's, like too many other mental illnesses, is in effect an almost whimsical diagnosis of exclusion: If someone is really smart, arrogant beyond measure, and tends to be an asshole or otherwise impossible to converse with in a normal way, then he must have a form of autism. It's not treatable, but hey, labels are always fun and interesting.

And inevitably, there is a quick-and-dirty test online, consisting of 50 questions on a four-point scale (there is no Neutral). The cutoff point:

Scores over 32 are generally taken to indicate Asperger's Syndrome or high-functioning autism, with more than 34 an "extreme" score.

Well, isn't that special.

There is, of course, a limit to how seriously I'm going to take a mere 50-question inventory of this sort, but then I'm really smart and arrogant beyond measure.

(Via the kindly James Joyner.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:41 PM)
9 August 2007
Usually the monkey is on your back

Not this time:

A man has been questioned by police at LaGuardia airport in New York after smuggling a monkey onto a flight from Florida by hiding it under his hat.

Passengers spotted the animal when it climbed out and perched on the man's ponytail, Spirit Airlines spokeswoman Alison Russell told reporters. Ms Russell said the monkey — a marmoset — spent the remainder of the flight in the man's seat and was well-behaved.

Didn't Johnny Carson warn us about marmosets on our heads?

(Via Majikthise.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:18 PM)
11 August 2007
Now I feel better

More than once I've bought a book which turned out to be a book I'd already bought, and I hated to give it away, so — well, you get the idea.

Still, sometimes there's a good reason for owning two copies of a book:

I suppose on first glance, it is sort of crazy to have two copies of Alberts. The thing is like a concrete door stopper. Not to mention, expensive. But if you're in my field, you have to invest in these kind of things. I got my first copy as an undergrad. However, when I went to grad school, they came out with the next edition which had some new stuff in it. There's always new stuff coming out in science and, well, you just have to keep up. Unlike 18th century British literature.

"Alberts" being The Molecular Biology of the Cell, by Bruce Alberts et al. It's indeed a bruiser, with a triple-digit price.

On the other hand, if there is anything new coming out in 18th-century British literature, I'd like to know about it. Even if there's no mention of mitochondria at all.

(I think I once had two copies — different vintages — of The Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, another massive tome that's subject to change.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:51 AM)
Are all the good ones taken?

Was there ever a corps of Professional Street Namers? Because boy, do we need them now:

Main Streets, Oak Streets, Elm Streets. Must've been either people with a tree fetish, or NO imagination (1st Street, 2nd Street). I totally get Broadway, but just who exactly are all the King Streets named after, anyway?? King George? King Kong? King Vitaman?? And what's the deal with Boulevard and Avenue?? A sign-maker who charged by the letter?? That would explain the names of two roads near where I live. "Upper Grassy Hill Road" and "Hoop Hole Hill Road."

Nowadays, only the purveyors of suburban sprawl get to name their new cul-de-sacs, and they've got NO imagination whatsoever! They either name the roads after their daughters, or try to sound British, like "Wintonbury Court."

The one thing you can be sure of is that King Street is not named for Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.

And dare I mention that Bismarck, North Dakota has a Boulevard Avenue?

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:31 PM)
12 August 2007
Who was Merv Griffin?

"I'll take Renaissance Men for a thousand, Alex."

Okay, maybe if you run down the usual list of Renaissance Men, you probably won't run into Merv Griffin. But Merv, who died this week at 82, had as diverse a life as exists in a Beverly Hills ZIP code, and probably more fun than most of his contemporaries.

Really. In a career that spanned more than half a century, Merv Griffin wore the following hats:

  • Singer
  • Actor
  • Talk-show host
  • Game-show host
  • Game-show creator/developer (Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune)
  • Real-estate developer
  • Thorn in the side of Donald Trump

See? Fun. What's more, he was named "Merv," a name with verve, even if it had been shortened from "Mervyn." You just had to like this guy.

(Via Lorie Byrd, who did.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:00 PM)
13 August 2007
Never mind the barracks

The Urban Land Institute has a nice little booklet (available here in PDF format) called "The Advantages of Multi-Family Housing."

They do not, of course, address the disadvantages:

The family above us allows their children to do who knows what at all hours of the night (it sounds like they are attempting to juggle bowling balls while jumping on their bed and screaming) and the only way to get them to quiet down is to call security. At one point we thought that the mother was intervening, to which I would have applauded her, but it only made the problem worse.

I learned today just how devious these undisciplined children really are. We started having sewer issues last night which caused the hall bathroom, hallway carpet, and the kitchen to flood. (Can we say disgusting?) Maintenance came out last night, and checked the line. No problem found. Same issue happened this afternoon. Come to find out, some little brat has been shoving plastic cups, paper towels, and all sorts of various garbage items down the sewer drain located in the breezeway.

Which is why no one lives on my urban land but me, dammit.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:03 AM)
The measure of a woman

Ramón Salazar's 20 Centimeters, just to balance all its plot complications, assumes the frenetic pace of those people spinning plates on the tops of poles on the Ed Sullivan Show to the accompaniment of the Sabre Dance from Khachaturian's Gayane. Certainly Salazar has loaded plenty on his plate: Marieta (Mónica Cervera) is a hooker and a pre-op M2F transsexual and a narcoleptic. What's more, every time she nods off she has fantasies somewhere on the continuum between high-budget music videos and low-budget Hollywood musicals, and, oh, did I mention she lives with a dwarf who wants to learn the cello? You'd expect this to have a high WTF quotient, and of course it does, but it's just insane enough to work.

Not as angry as Hedwig and the Angry Inch and a lot more European than Transamerica, 20 Centimeters fits into no particular niche: it's a romantic comedy, maybe, but it's also rather gritty in a dreamlike sort of way, as though Scorsese had been working for the old Arthur Freed unit at MGM, and there's far more in the way of punchlines than I expected. The musical numbers are somewhere between wacky and wondrous, and my old rule of thumb — really drippy love songs work better in Spanish than in English — is seriously put to the test, especially when one Spanish-language number drifts imperceptibly into "I Only Want to Be With You." The only real misfire is the finale, which is set up beautifully but which is choreographed to too earnest a version of Queen's "I Want to Break Free," and while Cervera is game, she succeeds mostly in reminding us how much we miss Freddie Mercury.

The title? Well, Marieta is every inch a woman, except for, um, eight inches. (Do the math.) As a motion-picture epic, it ranks somewhere below, say, Fellini's ; as the answer to the question "What would you get if Pedro Almodóvar decided to remake Grease?" it's very good indeed.

(Disclosure: Reviewed from DVD purchased by me.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:25 PM)
14 August 2007
Shady Pines, Ma

Only in L.A.: an art show where the centerpiece is a painting of a topless Bea Arthur. [Not safe for ... um, anywhere, really.]

"Back in St Olaf you'd never see anything like this unless you happened to catch your blouse on a pitchfork," said Rose.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:18 PM)
15 August 2007
Stirring your qwerty

Miss Cellania pointed me (she'd do the same for you) to something called Typewriter Erotica, which notes (if you read the text instead of look at the pictures): "Secretaries have fed the imagination since the first one entered the office in the 1880s."

Typewriters, of course, are so 20th century. Despite this, I still own one, and maybe so do you. I have to wonder, though, if this particular fantasy remains viable. It was certainly alive in the 1950s, when David Janssen starred as Richard Diamond, Private Detective, a standard-issue noirish hunk with a secretary you never saw except for her legs. Come to think of it, I don't remember if she even had a typewriter, though surely she must have, and given the fact that in early episodes those legs belonged to no less than Mary Tyler Moore, I doubt I'd have paid much attention to a nearby Underwood.

I think the last time I got anywhere near hot and bothered over an administrative type at this level was 1988, while I was putting in an application at something called the Fashion Channel, a cable outfit based in Los Angeles. I attribute this condition as much to being recently divorced as to the, um, appearance of the young lady in question. (The following year the Fashion Channel was acquired by, and merged into, QVC; I never actually worked for them.) I'd like to think I'm older and wiser now, and "older," at least, is indisputable.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:15 PM)
19 August 2007
Honoring an online tradition

Venomous Kate would like to know: What are you wearing?

Feel free to fill her in on the details of your current wardrobe. It's got to be more interesting than mine.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:55 AM)
20 August 2007
Priorities, man, priorities

Meanwhile in Germany, where at least they have electrical power:

Eleven people were injured when they fell off the back of a truck during the shooting of Tom Cruise's latest film [Valkyrie] in Berlin, police said on Monday.

Down in the fourth paragraph they get to what's really important:

"We have no findings to suggest anyone famous was involved in the accident," said a police spokesman.

Oh. Well. Carry on, then. Nothing to see here.

(Via Tam.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:28 AM)
21 August 2007
Way before Ugly Betty

The Human Marvels has a brief article (with picture) about Mary Ann Bevans, billed during her carnival-attraction days as the Homeliest Woman in the World. Mrs Bevans, born in 1874, exhibited symptoms similar to acromegaly; widowed at forty with four children, she turned to the carnival circuit to earn a living.

If you haven't looked at the picture yet and you're expecting to see something out of a Basil Wolverton nightmare, you may be surprised to see that while she's definitely not cute, Mrs Bevans is hardly horrifying. Certainly Mr Bevans wasn't scared off. Come to think of it, Cleopatra wasn't exactly a looker, either.

(Via the perennially-hot Miss Cellania.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:05 PM)
22 August 2007
The tibiazation of television news

The Daily Mail, in a bit of classic Daily Mail feigned outrage:

In olden days a glimpse of a newsreader's stocking was looked on as something shocking. But now, it seems, almost anything goes — at least as far as Emily Maitlis is concerned.

The glamorous presenter decided to liven up proceedings during a televised trailer for the BBC's 10pm news. Perched casually on the edge of her circular desk, her stilettos dangling above the studio floor, the 36-year-old blonde swung one toned leg over the other.

Although she was wearing a relatively demure navy skirt-suit, Miss Maitlis's flash of shapely calf caused a stir among more conservative viewers who saw the 9pm trailer on Monday.

Which, if nothing else, demonstrates that England is way behind on this cultural phenomenon: here in the States, we're already in the Post-Couric Era. And considering what can be seen on a regular basis on our Spanish-language channels, I suspect the Brits doth protest too much. (Personal favorite: Ana Patricia Candiani on Telemundo.)

(Via Fark.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:23 PM)
30 August 2007
Dentists and such take note

Michele doesn't want to hear your tunes:

And it's really not fair for you to subject us to a station that plays nothing but sappy love songs all day long. There's only so much Michael Bolton one can take before a "workplace incident" occurs. And every time they play "Sometimes When We Touch" I have the sudden urge to strap on a pair of roller skates and wait for someone to ask me to skate the "couples only" song.

Look around the office. Some of us — like me — are wearing these new fangled things called headphones. They are this great invention that allows you to listen to Journey's "Open Arms" in your own little headspace, where no one else has to hear it. I don't subject you to my repeated playings of HellYeah's "You Wouldn't Know," do I? No. So don't subject all of us to "Butterfly Kisses." Unless you have a desire to see yourself bleeding on the 5:00 news.

Two points:

  • Not all workplaces permit headsets of this sort.

  • Beside my desk is a JBL Harmony box which blasts out classical music at too many dB when there are too many people coming through the door.

Still, I applaud on general principle anything that reduces the incidence of Michael Bolton. If it can be done with Elton John, fine; if it takes the Dead Milkmen, so be it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:53 AM)
3 September 2007
A quick bright thing come to confusion

Because you can't keep a good iamb down, A Mid-Summer Night's TXT Comedy:

R not thou puck?

EARTH GIRDLED 40 MIN MAX KTHXBAI

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:06 PM)
8 September 2007
Toilet retraining

Bars serve drinks, and drinks, sooner or later, sooner if you're taking diuretics, will demand that you excuse yourself for a few moments. Some facilities make this task simple, while others prefer to dazzle you with glitz:

If you go looking for the restrooms at Bar 89 in SoHo, instead of a private room for women and a separate one for men, you'll encounter an open area upstairs with a row of hi-tech looking stalls. Through the glass doors, you can see the toilet and sink lit up in red and blue. I observed someone going into one of them, and when they closed the door, after a second or two, the glass door became opaque and the word "occupied" lit up at the top of the door. I entered a stall, saw that I could still see the guy sitting on the sofa across from me, and assuming that I was no more invisible to him than he was to me, quickly exited. But I went back to investigate and take some photos with my cell phone camera (my Helio Ocean).

This works both ways: if I'm in a stall, I'd just as soon not be able to see anyone else, irrespective of context.

Apparently, though, this variation on the standard (not to say "American-Standard") toilet theme did the job just fine:

Just as I was thinking that I need to get out more in order to keep up with bathroom technology, I realized that everyone in the place was taling about the crazy doors — it's quite a conversation piece. I never did get to the bottom of how they work; it's either the lock or some kind of motion sensor that causes the door to fog up.

Those folks who use the toilet for some purpose other than to, um, use the toilet may find this sort of thing offputting, though. Gridskipper reports, and the reports tend to run well beyond PG-13, so be warned. Me, I have a more direct concern: suppose the door gizmo freezes up and you're stuck in the stall?

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:24 AM)
9 September 2007
OMG SMF TXTSPK

This item turned up in the Playboy "Raw Data" for October, and it piqued my curiosity:

According to a survey by Samsung, 39% of single women have sent a text message that they regretted the next day, a feeling known as "text shame."

Wondering just what sort of survey this was, I revved up the search engines and came up with this:

A recent study commissioned by Samsung Telecommunications America shows that Single Mobile Females (SMFs) — young single women who have cell phones — are using their phones as much more than a communication device.

The SMF survey shows that women's cell phones play an important role in relationships and dating, organizing their lives and fashion.

Some of the other findings:

More than one out of three SMFs have had a friend call them to interrupt a date (34%).

40 percent of respondents have faked technical difficulties to avoid someone they were not interested in dating.

More than 10 percent of females surveyed said that the "three day rule," which is waiting to call someone until three days after a first date, only applies to calling and you can send a text message to someone before day three (13%).

12 percent of females surveyed said that they would be less likely to date someone if they had a big and bulky cell phone.

Well, that's it for me and my six-year-old Nokia. Then again:

The survey, commissioned by Samsung, was conducted by Kelton Research and included more than 500 U.S. unmarried females ages 18 to 35 who have a cell phone.

Oh. Okay. They weren't interested in me anyway.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:59 AM)
Better than it was before

With the return to television of The Bionic Woman, the question just naturally arises: "If you could have one 'bionic' body part of your choice, which part would you prefer?"

Mo Rocca asked this question on the street, and I hope to God there was a lot of footage left on the cutting floor.

(Via Uppity Rib.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:00 PM)
10 September 2007
Black Hawk downsized

The cell phone: the enemy of cinema, says director Ridley Scott, and not because people are texting each other during the fight scenes, either:

People sit there watching a movie on a tiny screen. You can't beat it, you've got to join it and deal with it, and also get competitive with it. We try to do films which are in support of cinema, in a large room with good sound and a big picture. I'm sure we're on a losing wicket but we're fighting technology. Whilst it is wonderful in many aspects, it also has some big negative downsides.

One of which, perhaps, is that no one is going to pay $9 for a 320 x 240 download.

On the other hand, how likely is it that iPod-sized devices will become the favored medium for watching films? Aren't the people with the portable-video boxes pretty much the same people with the monstrously-large television and/or monitor screens?

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:10 AM)
12 September 2007
A ripping yarn

Rebecca Brown gets a Brazilian, and You Are There.

Actually, I'm not so sure I want to be there: the very mention of the topic tends to induce involuntary nerve activity of a sort I do not particularly enjoy. But in the end, so to speak, morbid curiosity won out, and I found this quote from "San Francisco skincare and waxing goddess" Marilyn Jaeger, to this effect:

If you want to sell the house, youíve got to mow the lawn.

[Insert joke about evicting tenants here.]

Terry saw the piece on Digg, and posed this question:

If Digg comments are any indication, there are a lot more men big on the idea than there are women willing to rip it out. I wonder what the reaction would be if the situation were reversed?

Honestly, I don't know. I wince at the thought. But I'll tell you what: you get a guy persuaded that the procedure will guarantee him more, um, attention paid to this region, and he'll be down there with a frickin' belt sander.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:29 PM)
14 September 2007
Michael Wolff thinks I'm old

He wasn't thinking of me personally, of course, but apparently anyone who values news qua news is damned near antediluvian:

[M]ost of the people I know who are interested in news, rather than, say, social networking, or solitary blogging, who believe news media might thrive, online or in more classic forms, are old.

Barry Diller, the former Hollywood kingpin, who has remade himself as an Internet titan, has talked about his desire to start a new news thing online (indeed, I briefly try to convince him he should help start mine). But is his interest in news the result, I wonder, of his Internet acumen, or just an older mogul's hobby, similar to the interest of his friend the mogul David Geffen in buying the Los Angeles Times? Diller is 65. Geffen is 64. Rupert Murdoch may have paid billions for Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal, but he is 76.

Arianna Huffington, the gadfly and publicity hound, has, at 57, actually succeeded in starting her own online newspaper, the Huffington Post, a kind of left-wing broadsheet competing with the right-wing tabloid Drudge Report (Drudge himself must be getting on in years). Then there is Jeff Jarvis, one of the original bloggers. He is an implacable believer in all things Internet, but, at 53, also no spring chicken.

Drudge is reported to be forty, which qualifies him for poulet du printemps, at least compared to this bunch.

I note here that I am older than Jarvis, who has been 53 for all of two days at this writing.

And after three pages, Wolff eventually gets around to making his point, which is this:

My civics-class generation continues to put high value on public life: the president, the Congress, the courts. But increasingly these dysfunctional bureaucracies are of interest only to strangely fixated people. Politics itself is, more and more, a kind of obsession. (Indeed, people who do want news are people who seem dysfunctional themselves — obsessed, narrow-focused, militant, A.D.D.) Whereas a new generation, through the magic of the Internet, dispenses with this old idea of the commonweal and converts its private life into its public one.

In my capacity as someone who once sat through a civics class, I must demur: politics, at least to me, is less an obsession than a form of entertainment. And it's not just the cynicism talking, either; having rejected out of hand the notion that "the personal is political" and the inversion thereof, I find that I get the same buzz watching the candidates that I get watching dinner theatre, train wrecks (cf. Spears, Britney Jean), and other decidedly low-tech amusements.

Michael Wolff, incidentally, is two months older than I am, and gets far more traffic at Newser, which name proves he's around my age: he didn't spell it "Newsr."

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:20 AM)
17 September 2007
Not adjusted for inflation

"Oh, look, Archie," said Edith Bunker. "Chanel No. 5. That's their highest number!"

Which wasn't quite true: you could buy No. 19 back in 1971, a year before that particular episode of All in the Family aired, and being the tedious little snot I was at the time, I pointed this out just about every time it was rerun.

I did not, however, know that just this year Chanel introduced No. 18:

No. 18 is an homage to Chanel jewelry (and, to me, a jewel among the new releases). The first Fine Jewelry collection, Bijous de Diamant, which consisted of platinum and diamond pieces, was launched by Mlle Chanel in 1932. In 1997, a worldwide flagship fine jewelry boutique was opened by the company on 18 Place Vendôme in Paris. It was the boutique that inspired Jacques Polge to create No. 18.

Not everyone loves it, though:

I know the fans of ambrette seed are legion, but I am not one of them. I appreciate its pickled-musk smell in theory, but in practice Ö no. It's not an offensive or unattractive smell by any means (and who am I to judge, given some of the nasty things I wear?) But I defer any further comment on No. 18 on the grounds that it's not going to appeal to me no matter how well done it is.

On the other hand, this sort of comment does make me curious, though not curious enough to spend $175 for 200 ml. (This is about half the price of HP DeskJet ink, which doesn't smell good at all.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:08 PM)
19 September 2007
Antisocial insecurity

Kim du Toit quotes author Dan Rhodes:

To most women, a writer is a self-absorbed misfit with poor personal hygiene and lamentable earning potential — we're only a whisker above drummers in the future husband-material stakes.

I'd wonder if this might be why my son switched to guitar, but he's already married.

And I wonder if maybe for those six days without a proper shower, I might have been a real writer.

Nah.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:11 PM)
21 September 2007
Dave's not here (yet)

If you're looking for Dave, look toward the United Kingdom:

TV channel UKTV G2, which shows cult comedy and game shows aimed at young men, is to be rebranded Dave.

UKTV says the new name is based on the idea that "everyone knows a bloke called Dave".

The head of Dave, Steven North, said: "Changing the channel name to Dave enables us to create a strong and noisy personality for the channel that immediately aligns us with our core 16-34 male audience."

Which, I suppose, explains Spike TV in the States, and suggests a few other changes:

  • MTV: Beavis
  • Fox News Channel: Roger
  • Lifetime: Camille
  • ESPN: Barry
  • ESPN2: Larry
  • Fox Sports: Garry
  • Trinity: Jerry
  • HGTV: Sherry
  • CNN: Kerry
  • Animal Planet: Hairy
  • MSNBC: Uriah
  • BBC America: Basil
  • G4: Megatron

Feel free to add to this list.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:41 PM)
23 September 2007
The quiet man

"Do not the most moving moments of our lives find us without words?"

Marcel Marceau, whose lithe gestures and pliant facial expressions revived the art of mime and brought poetry to silence, died Saturday in Paris, French media reported. Former assistant Emmanuel Vacca announced the death on France-Info radio, but gave no details about the cause. (AP link here.)

Wizbang's Jay Tea is observing a moment of silence.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:30 AM)
So you see a chance, and you post

Over at Romancing the Blog there's a thread on whether an adventure (which a romance certainly is) works better in first person or in third, and there's no overwhelming consensus either way, though most participants seem to have a distinct preference.

Among the comments:

Trisha:  What I like about first person is that it seems to allow for more flawed characters. Because youíre in the narratorís head, you can get more insight into their actions, so what may seem TSTL* or just annoying in a third person narrative becomes more understandable.

Chessie:  Really good third person has a depth to the POV where there is very little difference between first and third. Limited third also has their intimate thoughts, their intimate observations, and should reflect their voice as a character. And when the character is off on their assumptions about another character, you know it.

Gabriele:  I only notice POV when itís done badly. If done well, I can immerse myself in the world of a book no matter whether itís told in first, third, alternating, multiple, or omniscient POV, and present or past tense. You could make me read a book in second person future if youíd manage to rip it off.

I've read one book in second person present, Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City, which opens this way:

You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy. You are at a nightclub talking to a girl with a shaved head. The club is either Heartbreak or the Lizard lounge. All might come clear if you could just slip into the bathroom and do a little more Bolivian Marching Powder.

I always thought the finest Marching Powder was Peruvian, but McInerney wasn't talking about me. I found this device off-putting for a couple of pages, but eventually I picked up the groove. Which tells me that I don't really have a preference for any particular POV, as long as it's done with finesse.

* "TSTL" = "Too Stupid to Live," which describes entirely too many characters, and not just fictional ones.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:01 PM)
24 September 2007
Why supermodels always look peevish

If you believe this, they aren't getting any:

Dr. Sarah Brewer, a sexual health doctor, reports that size zero models have very little if any sex drive. She claims that the bodies of very thin females goes into protective mode by diminishing sex drive and hence the prevention of pregnancy. As models lose weight, Dr. Brewer said that "As soon as body weight plummets below a critical point, the womb shrinks, menstruation stops and your level of sexual interest, fantasy and enjoyment falls." This is most likely to happen to females who lose weight by not eating. Dr. Brewer said this was "nature's way of making sure you don't get pregnant when you donít have the resources." She said that this might explain the "glum stares" of models on the catwalk.

Asked about this, Nicole Richie, size 0, due date 30 December, said, "Are you going to finish that sandwich?"

(Via Fark.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:07 AM)
26 September 2007
Coming unStuffed

Unlike most magazines that are signing off forever, Stuff actually bannered it on the cover: OUR LAST ISSUE! Then again, they knew about it way in advance. Here's the opening of the Editor's Letter:

After eight years outside the mother ship, Stuff is returning from whence [sic] it came and will henceforth be a part of the Maxim nation as a special section inside America's favorite men's magazine. Long ago we were born from the loins of Maxim as a gear section and spun out into this crazy world, where we rocketed to success as the No. 2 men's lifestyle magazine in the country. Well, like an old cowboy, we've defeated all of our foes, and now it's time to hang up our spurs and hit the hot tub. Lord knows we deserve it!

For those wondering why I know this: Back in the spring of '05, they started sending me Stuff for no reason I could determine; I hadn't actually ordered it or anything, nor was it a substitute for something else that had been put out of its misery. They continued to send it for two whole years; on the basis that well, I was at least looking at the pictures, I sent in a one-year renewal, which, apparently, will now be fulfilled with Maxim. And I suppose that it's in some way useful for me to know what (and whom) guys one-third my age lust after.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:00 PM)
27 September 2007
A Pigman of one's imagination

Bereft of context, the name "Pigman" doesn't mean anything in particular; I see it and I conjure up a vision of someone like Python's Mr. Creosote, with a name like J. Featherstonehaugh (probably pronounced something like "Fanshaw") Pigman.

Bosch Fawstin, though, has a different sort of imagination entirely:

The main character in The Infidel, the upcoming graphic novel by the ex-Muslim Bosch Fawstin, is another ex-Muslim cartoonist. The one who is a character in the book creates "Pigman," a ruthless counter-jihad superhero, as a response to 9/11. His creating the Pigman comic book brings him face to face with the enemy: his born-again Muslim brother, who has become a jihadist.

It will be a while until all the chapters are released, but I suspect it ends with our bacon being saved.

Disclosure: Mr Fawstin wrote me to tell me about the project; no other consideration was involved.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:55 AM)
29 September 2007
Sorting the dead-tree detritus

I mentioned earlier that three magazines to which I subscribe would die in 2007, and then had to backpedal, inasmuch as one of them did not in fact die, or at least hasn't yet. Among still-extant mags I no longer get are Harper's Magazine, which is just too saturated in Bush Derangement Syndrome to be readable anymore, and Us Weekly, which was sent me as a replacement for the late, lamented Premiere, which I might have found useful were I more interested in celebrities in unfortunate outfits — and Heather and Jessica do it better anyway.

Stuff, as noted, will give way to Maxim. I am considering dropping US News and World Report, which of late has been more listmonger than actual news magazine; I am definitely dropping the online mag Salon. I spend more time with The Week than either, and I figure, if either US News or Salon has anything of interest, it will show up seven days later in The Week. Besides, I like the idea of a news magazine owned by, well, the guy who owns Maxim.

With two houses vacant, I now represent 11 percent of the block, but I suspect I get about twenty percent of the mail, so I figure the postman, at least, will be happy to see me cut back.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:44 AM)
7 October 2007
Into the Circle

The previous entry was something of a review of In the Shadow of the Moon, which I saw last night. Regular readers might have noticed this complaint last Thursday:

What do we have to do to get In the Shadow of the Moon booked here? Do we not have enough screens for Good Luck Chuck, or what?

And indeed there was no exhibition scheduled anywhere in metro Oklahoma City, a situation not entirely unfamiliar to those of us at this end of the Turner. So inasmuch as I had already driven to Tulsa, and having satisfied myself that yesterday's awards had fallen favorably, I took the advice of a reader and headed for the Circle Cinema, the one theater in the state which did book the film.

The Circle, north of 1st on Lewis, was built in the 1920s as part of Tulsa's first suburban shopping center, Whittier Square. It's a small place, the antithesis of the contemporary multiplex, though eventually it will have three screens. The Circle is owned by a nonprofit foundation which has several community-outreach programs in addition to the regularly-scheduled screenings. The closest equivalent in Oklahoma City might be the film program at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, which works similar cinematic turf, but which operates only four days a week. And the Circle, at least, has popcorn.

Apparently the Circle is Tulsa's last remaining pre-1960 moviehouse. (We have a few in OKC, though they're not being used for movies: the Plaza is now part of the Lyric Theatre complex, and the Tower is being converted to offices, retail, and maybe a music venue. The Centre, of course, was redeveloped as the Museum of Art.) It's gratifying to see it serving its original purpose, to a small but no doubt intensely-loyal audience; we could definitely use something like this down around my neck of the woods. And at least some Tulsans assumed that we already did: upon leaving last night, I made some noise about the long drive back to Oklahoma City, and people were shocked that In the Shadow of the Moon, which was drawing fairly well — they sold probably 60 of the 105 seats for the 7-pm showing, and people were arriving for the show at nine — wasn't going to be seen at all in the capital. "They needed the screens for Good Luck Chuck," I grumbled, getting double duty out of a single snark.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:02 PM)
8 October 2007
Those crapulous Sixties

Using that good old 20/20 hindsight, I've come around to the idea that their effect was more baleful than beneficial, and Lileks zooms in on one particularly noxious manifestation thereof:

This is what annoys me to no end about the 60s, to cram it all into a tidy convenient decade; the overculture and the underculture ganged up on the great Middle, for different reasons but with equal gusto. The Middle was Crass, in the eyes of the overculture; Phony, in the eyes of the underculture. Now here we are a half-century later, and people will build websites detailing the few remaining examples of postwar roadside architecture, documenting the survivors, eulogizing their demise.

I spent enough time on Route 66 this weekend to appreciate this phenomenon. But here's the punchline:

No one organizes a petition to save a building the underculture built, because they didn't build anything.

And they're certainly not going to start now, unless you count the palatial Washington home of the Department of Health Enforcement and Energy Rationing. Or was that the other way around?

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:29 AM)
9 October 2007
Teacher, teacher, I declare

Communistic fashion-wear:

The first time I see a Che t-shirt at this school, I will be hauling the wearer to the office. I'm sick to death of murderer-worship. It would be no different than if someone wore a Bundy or Gacy shirt.

Suggestion: 500-word essay on "Why it is important to honor the memory of a disreputable thug."

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:04 AM)
10 October 2007
Think outside the bunk

Another day, another complaint from a plundered culture:

It sounds like a fast-food grudge match: Taco Bell is taking on the homeland of its namesake by reopening for the first time in 15 years in Mexico.

Defenders of Mexican culture see the chain's re-entry as a crowning insult to a society already overrun by U.S. chains from Starbucks and Subway to KFC.

"It's like bringing ice to the Arctic," complained pop culture historian Carlos Monsivais.

Come on, Sr. Monsivais. Polar bears like ice. It keeps their Coca-Cola cool.

Besides, anyone who's ever actually eaten there knows that Taco Bell these days is about as Mexican as lutefisk. (Not to mention Taco Ockerse, a Dutchman born in Indonesia who works in Germany.) But I'll concede the defenders' point about how Mexicans despise the trappings of American culture, since obviously no Mexicans ever come here.

(Via The Local Malcontent.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:38 PM)
The newest wrinkle

It's been literally years since I saw an Oklahoma Gazette that didn't have at least one advertisement for cosmetic surgery: they don't outnumber the restaurant ads — yet — but I figure it's just a matter of time.

What I hadn't seen before, though, was actual pricing in those ads. One surgeon is offering something called "Augtoberfest," and a special: get your consultation by the end of the month and have the procedure before the first of December, and your new boobage is only $3700 (I assume per pair).

Turn the page, and there's a whole list of "introductory prices" by another clinic. Rack jobbers they're not: they specialize in skin care, and they have package deals for procedures that require repeat performances — say, laser hair removal, which is $400 a treatment or six for $2200 if you're having it done to your legs, and rather a lot less if you're tending to smaller areas.

I probably didn't need to see this at dinnertime, but given the asymmetrical nature of medical information, the fact that they're actually quoting prices is surely a Good Thing for the comparison shopper, and who among us can afford not to be?

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:04 PM)
12 October 2007
Groin elevator

In the 26th century of Mike Judge's Idiocracy, the top-rated television show is called "Ow! My Balls!"

If you can't wait that long, here's a blog called Nad Shot.

(Via Fark.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:21 PM)
14 October 2007
The art of the post-mortem interview

Michele has questions to ask the dead, and she doesn't expect to get answers:

See, here is what I always wondered about [John] Edward and others who claim to speak to the dead: Why aren't they telling us anything important?

Why waste time talking about Aunt Maude's garden when there are so many other things to be learned from the dead? Surely, just one of those spirits that has been contacted is dying, pardon the pun, to tell us something about the afterlife.

Not that anyone would dare ask:

Now wait just a minute, John Edward. Here's what I want to know, not what you want to tell me.

And I would ask grandpa about the mysteries of life. What happens when you die? Is there real life out there? Is there a heaven? A hell? Purgatory? Was there a God waiting for you? If so, which god was it? Greek? Jewish? Was it Buddha? Or is it the Catholic god? Do you get to see people who are still alive? Do you spy on us? Was that you at grandma's funeral who knocked down the flowers?

And thus, grandpa would solve everything. He would tell us which god, if any, was the ruler of the afterlife. He would tell us what death is like. Why don't the dead on Edward's show ever say anything like that? Why has not one relative of the called-upon deceased ever thought to ask "Did it hurt to die? Was Aunt Maude waiting for you? Can you see us all the time? Do you watch us masturbate? IS THERE A GOD?" Not one person has ever asked a question like that. One might think they were led by the producers of the show as to what questions to ask.

I've not made a habit of watching this particular spectacle, but I've always wondered why no one ever seems to come up with something as simple as "What was the combination to the safety-deposit box?"

George Carlin once suggested that if you really wanted to test a faith healer, you should ask him for a smaller shoe size. And me, I'm ready to entertain questions from the dead: say, Will Rogers asking "What were you thinking, naming an airport after me?"

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:00 AM)
19 October 2007
Report to parents

CONGRATULATIONS!!!!! said the blue paper from the Monroe School First Grade Team. And indeed, there was much to be congratulatory about:

Your child is now a proud owner of an official metropolitan library card! They have checked out a book from the Belle Isle Library (located at Villa and N. W. Expressway). They may keep the book for two weeks. It must be returned to the metropolitan library by Tuesday, October 30th 2007, or you will be charged a late fee. Do not return this book to Monroe.

Your child has been shown where to find books in the library that are appropriate for their reading level and they are excited about beginning this new adventure. Keep the enthusiasm going by establishing a regular routine of visiting the public library every week or two. (You can count these books on their reading log.)

Remember, your positive attitude and effort toward your child's reading will create an excellent reader!

There is much to cheer about here: getting started on a regular reading habit is clearly a Good Thing for a child, and a little encouragement always helps. But looking at the actual sheet, I see three potential problems:

  1. As Daffy Duck might have said, "Pronoun trouble." I can appreciate not wanting to get into that whole gender-of-words thing, but until such time as the Surly Grammarians League approves plural pronouns for a singular person, it's wrong.

  2. It's in Comic Sans, fercrissake. How is anyone supposed to take it seriously?

  3. And perhaps most grievous: I found it in my flower bed, which means there's a good chance that the parental unit for whom it was intended never saw it at all.

Still, I figure that at least the area first-graders are seeing the inside of a big building full of books, and you know that can't be bad.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:09 AM)
What's your name? Is it Mary or Sue?

Of course, what Don and Juan (Roland Trone and Claude Johnson) really wanted to know was in the next line: "Do I stand a chance with you?"

And they're not asking if her name is Deirdre or Elspeth, which brings us to this discussion at Jezebel:

"What's your ideal name for your perfect girl?" And while I'm weirded out that this is something guys actually devote brain energy towards, as a person with an unusual name, I often think about what names mean, what feelings they invoke, whether they sound pleasing, are fun to say, seem sassy, smart, cute or sexy. Even if you're open minded, don't the names Mildred and Ethel inspire a certain mental picture? It may not be fair, but it happens.

That mental picture is "old," which seldom seems "sassy, smart, cute or sexy," and being old, I should know. While Ethel was the 8th most popular name for girls in the 1890s, and Mildred hit #6 in the 1910s, both names were considered hopelessly passé by 1980. (Stats by The Baby Name Wizard's NameVoyager.) I can't help but wonder if maybe the names you consider sexiest are the names that were popular around the time of your adolescence: on a whim, I keyed in a dozen names that for some reason push at least one of my buttons, and all but one of them peaked somewhere between 1950 and 1980, followed by a descent into desuetude.

I'm also guessing that what guys think along these lines is colored by how they were treated, or how they think they were treated, by someone by that name.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:21 PM)
21 October 2007
How busy moms stay sane

I particularly liked this suggestion:

Best way to fit in couple time
Make it nonnegotiable. My husband, David, and I bought season tickets to the Civic Center in Oklahoma City so weíd be forced to go somewhere other than the local drive-in with the kids.

Although if I'd had a lick of sense I could have asked her myself.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:20 PM)
24 October 2007
The demotivated shopper

I think of myself more as unmotivated: I will buy something if I can invent a need for it, if I think I will derive tangible benefits from it, or if not buying it would cause me great inconvenience and/or hardship (cf. yesterday's water-heater purchase). I'm not particularly adverse to the act of buying, though I definitely dislike being among crowds when I'm performing that act and will shop online when it's feasible.

The next step beyond me? About like this:

Your Curmudgeon absolutely hates to shop, especially for clothing or shoes. Therefore, he buys items that will minimize the necessity. His style and color choices allow him to wear anything he owns with anything else he owns ... well, apart from his cherished Mickey Mouse Club beanie. His preferred makers are known for the durability of their offerings: they'll survive several seasons of wear and tear before they become so threadbare that even your Curmudgeon would hesitate to be seen in them. Accordingly, when he shops, one of the things he's "buying" is a respite from having to shop again soon, a consideration that would not occur to persons who like to shop.

Although it would occur to me, and I've made adjustments where appropriate: for instance, I tend to buy clothing in units of two or three or six, mostly so I need do it again only one-half or one-third or one-sixth as often.

On the larger question of "Is [such-and-such] worth it?" I found this to be dead accurate:

In the broadest sense, the "is it worth it?" question is answerable only subjectively, and will remain so for all time. But one's answer to the question is not guaranteed forever to remain what it was at the moment of purchase. Does it continue to give good service? Does it evoke good secondary consequences? Has it saved money in an extended sense? The answers can confirm or refute one's earlier evaluations, and provide important lessons applicable to future purchasing decisions.

I am no less subject to buyer's remorse than the next fellow, but I'm sure his criteria are different from mine. And those criteria are subject to change at the last minute:

As a practicing plebe, I've always felt that if you want a Camry, you should buy a Camry, and forgo the big L badge. But there's another side to this story: suppose, just suppose, that the guy who buys the Lexus, knowing he paid the big bucks, actually does a better job of taking care of his pricey little beastie?

Which is how I wound up driving an Infiniti when I probably could have saved a good chunk of change had I bought its Nissan-branded cousin instead. And the local Infiniti store, in my judgment, has worked harder to earn my future business than I had any reason to expect any of our Nissan dealerships to do. (The one Nissan dealership I did once buy a car from has since faded away for reasons apparently unrelated to their business practices.)

I remind myself, as I review the invoice for the plumbing work, that while each item is priced as a unit, each of those prices reflects three different elements: the actual cost of the item, the labor involved in installing that item, and the expertise of the installer. It's possible to price-shop for the the first two, though the range is small; it's insane to price-shop for the third. This firm had never done plumbing for me before, but they had done some HVAC work for me, which I deemed a tad pricey but solid and thorough, and I presumed that their plumbing division would perform similarly. I was not disappointed.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:15 AM)
27 October 2007
Eventually it might be May

But here in October, we have weightier issues:

Commenters [on grammar blogs] seem to be using "may" and "might" interchangeably. Maybe that's perfectly acceptable practice now, or is just more colloquial than I was taught. Every time I see one of the uses I go bonkers trying to decide if it's correct or not.

Perhaps I'm just a dinosaur, but I could swear that I was taught way back in the day that there is a specific difference in these usages. And I am certain that I have used the distinction in copy editing, but I CAN'T REMEMBER HOW! I thought "may" was present and "might" was past. But I can't find a good example of this, and I've looked it up in a dozen references and teaching textbooks, and no one mentions it at all.

I think there may be a reasonable chance that I might have misused one or the other of these words somewhere along the way (including all those decades before the 11½ years I've been toiling in this particular virtual vineyard), alongside my other grievous "offenses against the language," such as the use of overwrought, overused, and overstated adjectives. I also manage to occasionally interchange "that" and "which", and to blithely split infinitives. (You'd think Star Trek might — not "may" — have made life easier for those of us who grapple for adverbs to stick in the middle of our verbs, but no.) All of this mangling of the mother tongue might be forgivable had I something resembling style. (Maybe.)

"Might," by the way, is still considered the past tense of "may," which would make that particular matter moot if anyone still paid attention to tense. (I suspect that by the time I die I will not have used the future perfect more than once.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:50 AM)
2 November 2007
We got your neologisms right here

Mark Peters runs a blog called Wordlustitude, which he describes thusly:

This blog (recently featured in The Telegraph) is a growing dictionary of ephemeral words — also known as nonce or stunt words. All readers are strongly encouraged to use these terms in their blogs, poems, prophesies, and recipes.

Enough to get him onto the blogroll right there. Yesterday's word:

Assitudinousness, noun. A multitude of assitude heretofore unimagined by assologists, buttheads, or civilians. Related terms: crapitudinousness, funkitudinousness, skankitudinousness.

Actual citation:

"Lucky Charms, almost uniquely among cereals, possesses an irreducible assitudinousness: it will taste like that whether you immerse it in milk, water, V8, Pennzoil or Fletcher's Castoria."

Between that and Googlage, I think I've done more than my fair share of knackering the vernacular.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:27 AM)
4 November 2007
He gave his life for tourism

In an effort to protect the remains, archaeologists have removed King Tutankhamun's mummy from its sarcophagus and placed it in a climate-controlled container inside Luxor's Valley of the Kings.

Tutankhamun's tomb was opened in 1922 by British explorer Howard Carter; over the next four years researchers managed to remove the golden mask fused to the king's face and separate the various treasures buried with him, and in 1926 the body, somewhat the worse for wear, was returned to the sarcophagus.

In the intervening years, increasing tourism has brought heat and humidity into the tomb, prompting the move to the new sealed box. A CT scan of the remains in 2005 suggested that the king died of complications from a broken leg. He was all of 19 years old, and had reigned for nine years.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:06 PM)
Introducing the cooler

Not being much of a gambler, I never knew someone like this even existed:

A cooler is a person so unlucky that casinos hire them to sit at a hot table and shut the other players down.

You'll find one in Jana DeLeon's novel Unlucky. As the author explains:

My husband and I got married in Vegas in 2000. Before we left, I studied and studied blackjack combinations, determined to beat the house. Unfortunately, I have absolutely, positively NO LUCK. In fact, my luck is so bad that when I sit down at a table, not only don't I win, everyone else starts losing too. So I came up with Mallory Devereaux, the unluckiest woman in the world, who needs to make some money fast and decides to do it by "cooling" cards at a poker tournament of criminals.

And there was additional research involved:

While writing Unlucky, I contacted several casinos, both in Louisiana and Las Vegas. None of them would confirm or deny the existence of coolers.

That figures.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:38 PM)
5 November 2007
The uses of history

A couple years ago, I tracked down a copy of Born Grown, a history of Oklahoma City written in the middle 1970s by Roy P. Stewart. This was the immediate post-Pei Plan era, after extensive clearing of downtown had begun but before there was any noticeable uptick in actual rebuilding. (It would be two decades more before downtown was upgraded from "dead" to "breathing.")

Brian J. Noggle has happened upon a history of Webster Groves, Missouri, from the same period, and while he's fascinated by the actual, you know, historical stuff, he has more important things in mind:

[T]he conversational tone tells you what replaced the old blacksmith shop and early businesses downtown. However, 30 years later, the Farmers Home and Trust Bank is gone as well as the IGA grocery store, and those things seem quaint now. But I didn't buy it for contemporary insight, I bought it for its discussion of the old times, and I got it. More trivia for the cranium, and things that I can tell the child as he grows up so he will think I'm very smart.

Which, after all, is the whole idea — almost:

Fooling the children, really, is the secondary use of all knowledge that comes to the fore after you've succeeded in the primary use of all knowledge, fooling women into thinking you're smart so they will mate with you. One, anyway.

I wish I'd known that thirty years ago.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:08 PM)
10 November 2007
The road more traveled

Late last year I happened upon a writeup of a new film from India, and the pitch went something like this:

I See You is the film in question that has a unique storyline of a man falling in love with a woman who can be seen only by him. While Arjun plays the male lead, Vipasha is the newcomer heroine who plays a beautiful young 'n' charming lady opposite him. A feel good popcorn entertainer that is going to get a smile on your lips and an occasional tear in the eye, I See You marks the directorial debut of Vivek Agrawal.

I filed this away for future reference, and then forgot about it.

Some months later, I was talking up doomed romances at work — that is, while at work I was talking up doomed romances, not some other way around — and Trini suggested Just Like Heaven, starring long-standing crush object Reese Witherspoon. I saw it and pronounced it good; what's more, I sought out, and eventually obtained, a copy of its source material, a novel by Marc Levy called If Only It Were True. (My kind of title, you have to admit.)

Earlier today, I spotted I See You on Amazon.com (no, not one of those damn downloads), and the first of two reviewers pointed out distinct similarities between this film and Just Like Heaven.

The second reviewer was a distinctly-unhappy Marc Levy:

Vivek Agrawal has completely stole the story from [my book]. Itís really amazing that not only he stole the story, dialogues of the book (even the name of the dog in the movie is the same than in the book) and still put his name in the credit as a writer!

Levy, at least, got paid for Just Like Heaven. I have no idea if he got paid for an earlier Bollywood film based on the same story, titled Vismayathumbathu.

(Adapted from this post at a sister site.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:03 PM)
13 November 2007
The return of Samantha Stephens

I don't know whether to cry, to laugh, or to cry again: the British entertainment site Digital Spy is reporting that the 1960s American sitcom Bewitched will be "reinvented" by the BBC.

Now if you were to rank all the women who influenced my formative years, Samantha Stephens comes in somewhere among the Top Ten, and the last time this story was remade it didn't quite jell, but I definitely want to catch a glimpse of how it works out as a Britcom — though I draw the line at Rowan Atkinson as Uncle Arthur.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:37 PM)
15 November 2007
Conformity at its corrosive best

In middle school, says the Ranting Kid, the "drug propaganda machine" goes into overdrive:

While I know it is important to be educated about such nasty things, it is NOT necessary to be given the exact same speech about cigarettes and beer several times a month, year after year after year. It is also not necessary to teach that cigarettes and alcohol are pure evil (my homeroom teacher once threatened to give a student sessions with a counselor for saying the word "drunk"), while avoiding teaching the kiddies about such truly dangerous things as, say, crack, heroin, or meth, a drug which is actually a problem in our area.

Another problem, apparently, is having friends:

The fact that people will mutually have no interest in one another because they have never met seemed to confuse [the] lecturers. If the children had particular friends, this must mean they were inhuman and cruel to the other students that did not socialize with them, and obviously had no regard for the feelings of others — social engineering must be put into place at once. We had two or three "Bring Down The Walls" days forced upon us a year at my middle school. During this silly thing, one was ordered to sit amongst people that one did not know during lunch. (Of course, none or very few of the students complied.)

Meanwhile, the important stuff is being neglected:

A wagon box is 2 ft. deep, 10 feet long, and 3 ft. wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?

(If you have neither wheat nor wagon box handy, the answer is forty-eight and a fraction.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:58 AM)
20 November 2007
Persistence of yearning

I am on record as being fond of Gabriel García Márquez' Love in the Time of Cholera, which means I might want to avoid the motion picture thereof:

Most readers of the novel will notice the marked differences in tone between the film and book. Gone are the subtle undercurrents of biting wit, and in their place is a campy humor that only the cigar and scenery-chomping [John] Leguizamo [as Lorenzo Daza, Fermina's father] appears to recognize. The rest of the actors portray their characters in a wholly serious manner, which in all fairness is probably what the screenplay tells them to do. In the case of Dr Urbino, his character is entirely misdrawn. Instead of the restrained and dignified bore of a doctor found in the book, Benjamin Bratt appears as a smooth, charming man whose confidence lies not only in his medical profession but also in the bedroom. On his wedding night, Urbino tells an apprehensive Fermina that he will give her, "a lesson in love." The line comes straight from the book, but it just sounds so fucking sleazy in the campy context of the film, though the added dose of humor does manage to keep the audience awake. This humor is contrasted with a cringeworthy tagline that asks, "How long would you wait for love?" The disharmonious blend of serious, campy, and melodramatic angst creates an unsettling mood resembling that of Univisionís long-running variety show, "Sábado Gigante."

I have just had an unsettling vision of Don Francisco as Dr Urbino.

And of course, that's the point. Dr Urbino is supposed to be square to the point of tesseractuality; were he a real person with genuine affection for his bride, Florentino would be left with no reason to continue to obsess over her — no good reason, anyway.

"The heart's memory," said García Márquez, "eliminates the bad and magnifies the good." I'd worry about a film that did the exact opposite.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:29 AM)
22 November 2007
Un paso a la vez

One regular advertiser on Spanish-language TV in the US is "Inglés sin Barreras" — "English without Barriers" — a home-study course. Most of their ads are fairly dry and institutional, though they're not above doing something funny. The potential market for this course is no doubt immense: nobody knows for sure how big, but I have to figure that time spent earning a living cuts into the time available for learning a second language.

One of the Mexican-owned TV networks with a US presence, Azteca América, is taking steps to tap into this market: beginning in January, AZA's affiliate stations will carry a Sunday-morning English class, supported by advertising. One hundred twenty half-hour classes are planned, produced by the National Autonomous University of Mexico. The pitch, as with the home-study course, is simple: speaking English will help open doors.

AZA's Oklahoma City affiliate is KOHC, channel 38, which, like most low-powered television stations, is not carried on local cable.

(Via Joanne Jacobs.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:53 PM)
24 November 2007
That whole Adam and Steve thing

Finally, some arguments against gay marriage that actually mean something, from T Town Tommy:

1) Being gay is not natural. Real Americans always reject unnatural things like eyeglasses, polyester, and air conditioning.

6) Straight marriages are valid because they produce children. Gay couples, infertile couples, and old people shouldn't be allowed to marry because our orphanages aren't full yet, and the world needs more children.

9) Children can never succeed without a male and a female role model at home. That's why we as a society expressly forbid single parents to raise children.

You might infer from the numbers that there are more, and you would be correct.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:27 PM)
25 November 2007
Off to the Betty Crocker Clinic

Been there, attacked that with a spoon:

As a member of the mental health profession, I probably shouldn't be telling you this, but the truth is that therapy can cost upward of $140 an hour, but the supermarket sells cans of frosting for just $1.99. Not that I don't believe in the powers of psychotherapy, but if you really need to talk, then splurge on 2 cans of frosting and invite a friend to share.

Carbs? What carbs? This is no time to bring up carbs.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:27 AM)
26 November 2007
So buy the farging book

William F. Buckley, Jr. tells it this way:

Halfway through my time as chairman [of the Yale Daily News] we published a letter from Professor Norman Holmes Pearson protesting my editorials and instructing us to cancel his subscription. When, ten years later, a subscriber to National Review wrote to say the same thing, I published the letter with the editorial note, "Cancel your own goddam subscription." I have to admit it, the license to make such responses brings absolute joy to an editor's heart, but of course publishers don't like it. For understandable reasons.

Apparently it didn't faze Basic Books, which has now issued a Buckley collection called Cancel Your Own Goddam Subscription: Notes and Asides from the National Review, and I'm tempted to get it just to compare its tone with that of today's rather bloodless NR.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:24 PM)
28 November 2007
Not including heels

At least once a week someone wanders in here trying to find out how tall Ann Coulter is. I've never had the opportunity to find out for myself, obviously; Andrea Harris, having spotted her in a bookstore, reported that Ms C isn't all that tall.

The police department of Palm Beach, however, has now assured us that she's five-ten and 115 lb, which supports my thesis that she might benefit from a visit to Krispy Kreme. (If she's in the area, I'll buy.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:39 AM)
How to threaten a book

Dorothy Parker once characterized a book as "not to be tossed lightly aside, but to be hurled with great force." I've read a few like that. But it takes a truly craptacular tome to be worthy of this torment:

"I will rip your pages out of your spine. One by one. I'm sure you will make some very delightful tearing noises."

Good gods, that's heinous. Al sounded appalled.

Septimus blanched at the sorcerer's remark.

"And then," Blackthorne continued in a lascivious tone, "I'm going to soak you in a nice vintage liqueur and slowly burn each page with one of those branding irons master chefs use to caramelize crème brûlée."

I get the impression that S. Y. Affolee, who created this scene for her 2007 NaNoWriMo work, Vellum and Green Vitriol, has read more of said craptacular tomes than anyone should have to — and this is payback well deserved. Certainly the tormentor seems to be enjoying himself.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:03 PM)
29 November 2007
Zero-click ordering

If this ever comes out, the speed with which I will order it will induce blindness, so do not look directly at my mouse.

I admit it: I watched a lot of Nickelodeon in those days. Besides Roundhouse, I was a major fan of Clarissa Explains It All and The Secret World of Alex Mack. What can I say?

This post, incidentally, could be the poster child for thought drift. It's here because La Shawn Barber put up a video of gospel singer Crystal Lewis, who, I remembered, was a regular during the first season of Roundhouse; this led to "Whatever happened to [fill in name of lesser-known cast member]?" which sent me here, which in turn led to Amazon.com, in the hope that the 52 episodes might have shown up on DVD.

They haven't. Yet.

Whenever my life gets me so down I know I can go down
To where the music and the fun never end.
As long as the music keeps playing, you know what I'm saying.
I know that I can find a friend down at the Roundhouse.

Yep. Still occupying memory cells.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:00 AM)
1 December 2007
On being seen

Last month I brought up the 2006 Bollywood feature I See You, noting that it was an adaptation of Marc Levy's novel If Only It Were True, albeit without actually crediting Levy. This was in fact the third time I'd mentioned this film, once on this site and twice elsewhere, so at the very least, I reasoned, I ought to see the darn thing.

The story starts with Raj Jaiswal (Arjun Rampal), your basic Charming Rogue who has a TV talk show in London with the cheeky title British Raj. He's done well for himself, with a lovely high-rise and a Porsche Cayenne, and he thinks himself prepared for anything, with the exception of the arrival of a young woman on his balcony who explains that it's really her balcony.

Dr Shivani Dutt (Vipasha Agarwal), the lady in question, is having an extended out-of-body experience, while her flesh-and-blood body is being kept on a ventilator in a West London hospital after an auto accident — except that it wasn't actually an accident: she discovered staffers engaged in a grisly organ-harvesting scheme, and as far as they're concerned, a comatose witness is the best kind. And while normally Raj would greatly enjoy the prospect of a beautiful female visitor, Shivani upsets all his plans. It doesn't help that apparently he's the only person who can see or hear her.

If you saw 2005's Just Like Heaven, with Reese Witherspoon, you've pretty much seen this story already, except that this being a Bollywood film, there are semi-spectacular production numbers at regular intervals. Despite their inclusion, I See You runs a mere two hours, fairly short by Bollywood standards. This being a romantic comedy, you expect a certain number of punchlines, and I See You does not disappoint. Agarwal is almost scarily beautiful in her screen debut — Rampal said in an interview on the DVD that they were looking specifically for a newcomer — and the supporting cast seems to be having a good time, especially Michael Maloney as Inspector John Smith, who's properly suspicious throughout and never once says "What's all this then?"

Is I See You as good as Just Like Heaven? I think so. But I have to dock it points for concealing its origins.

(Review copy acquired by me at retail.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:59 PM)
6 December 2007
Serpent chasing tail

The title of the paper: Diversity and Educational Benefits: Moving Beyond Self-Reported Questionnaire Data. Here's the abstract:

Effects of ethnic/racial diversity among students and faculty on cognitive growth of undergraduate students are estimated via a series of hierarchical linear and multinomial logistic regression models. Using objective measures of compositional, curricular, and interactional diversity based on actuarial course enrollment records of over 6,000 students at a public research university, the study finds no patterns of positive correlation with objective measures of cumulative academic achievement (i.e., final graduating GPA, GRE/GMAT test scores, graduate school enrollment) net of academic preparation at college entry and socio-demographic background, and with or without accounting for academic major, college curricular experience, and financial aid. Results are consistent with student self-assessed level of critical thinking skills after graduation, but not with self-assessed level of understanding of racial and cultural issues, both affective outcomes showing a positive correlation with curricular diversity. As the findings contradict most of the higher education literature on survey-based cognitive benefits of ethnic/racial diversity, the study calls for use of objective measures to advance the research in this area.

John Rosenberg translates:

If Iím not mistaken, this says that "diversity" does nothing to improve what students learn, as measured by objective criteria, except for their self-assessed "understanding of racial and cultural issues."

In other words, "diversity" helps students understand ... "diversity."

Now there's nothing wrong with "understanding of racial and cultural issues," so long as it's an actual understanding rather than the rote regurgitation of the talking points demanded by the Perpetually Aggrieved, but let's not pretend that its effect is extensible beyond its own little sphere: no amount of cultural sensitivity will make someone a better engineer.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:21 PM)
9 December 2007
O blessed booze

Megan McArdle unpacks her copy of Douglas Adams' The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, and finds this forgotten inscription by her college boyfriend:

Remember, every time you do something stupid, it will leave a memory with which you will have to live for fifty years. This is the great advantage of drinking to excess: memory loss.

Followed by this instruction:

[reword to snappy epigram]

For some reason, this reminded me of an interchange in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind:

Joel [Jim Carrey]: Is there any risk of brain damage?

Dr Mierzwiak [Tom Wilkinson]: Well, technically speaking, the operation is brain damage, but it's on a par with a night of heavy drinking. Nothing you'll miss.

Which, I think, makes a pretty snappy epigram all by itself.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:50 PM)
17 December 2007
Topologically speaking

Tam posts a mental note:

You know the little trick where you take your bra off without taking off your tee shirt? Don't do that again when you're wearing a long-sleeve tee over a short-sleeve tee or you'll wind up in a tangled mess of Escher-esque non-Euclidean geometry.

Just trying to do the calculations should keep me busy for hours on end.

(I should point out that this particular phenomenon, even when unhampered by that extra layer of tee, utterly mystifies me; I'd have better luck trying to unscramble Rubik's infamous cube. Blindfolded. With one hand. In the middle of a blizzard. While being nibbled to death by ducks.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:46 PM)
18 December 2007
Fair to middling

La Shawn Barber throws out the question:

Are you now or have you ever gone through a so-called mid-life crisis?

I have my doubts about the very existence of such things, if only because I question the timing.

And maybe so does La Shawn:

Or: Do you think "mid-life crisis" is a bunch of bunk, simply an excuse to justify doing crazy/wild/weird/immoral things?

Wait a minute. These things need justification?

People do things like that, yes. And sometimes they do things like that at the approximate mid-point of their lives, based on how long they (or we) expect those lives to be. But I think that the idea that there's a syndrome of sorts, something that compels us to act on things we might not have acted on otherwise, simply because we've reached X/2 number of years, is a bit dubious: it's a convenient shorthand, nothing more.

Or look at it this way: if you're too young to be having a mid-life crisis, you're just sowing some wild oats; if you're too old, you're doing the second-childhood thing. Same actions, different label.

And this being La Shawn, after all, it's not like she's doing something wicked: she's merely wondering if her sudden interest in music is a sign of the Dreaded Crisis. "Doesnít this typically happen to people in their 20s?" she asks. Well, what if it does? Life isn't Logan's Run; there's nothing that says "Okay, you've passed 29, you must put the following things behind you." (Well, there's Paul in 1st Corinthians, but an interest in music doesn't, or at least shouldn't, qualify as childish.)

Besides, I keep a copy of Hanson's "MMMbop" on iTunes up here, just to perplex people half my age. Because, you know, I can.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:02 AM)
19 December 2007
A man named Smith

We begin, inexplicably enough, with a recipe for chili:

Get three pounds of chuck, coarse ground. Brown it in an iron kettle. (If you don't have an iron kettle you are not civilized: go out and get one.) Chop two or three medium-sized onions and one bell pepper and add to the browned meat. Crush or mince one or two cloves of garlic and throw into the pot, then add about half a teaspoon of oregano and a quarter teaspoon of cumin seed. (You can get cumin seed in the supermarket nowadays.) Now add two small cans tomato paste; if you prefer canned tomatoes or fresh tomatoes, put them through a colander. Add about a quart of water. Salt liberally and grind in some black pepper and, for a starter, two or three tablespoons of chili powder. (Some of us use chile pods, but chili powder is just as good.) Simmer for an hour and a half or longer, then add your beans. Pinto beans are best, but if not available, canned kidney beans will do — two 15-17 oz. cans will be adequate. Simmer another half hour. Throughout the cooking, do some testing from time to time and, as the Gourmet Cookbook puts it, "correct seasoning." When you've got it right, let it set for several hours. Later you may heat it up as much as you want and put the remainder in the refrigerator. It will taste better the second day, still better the third, and absolutely superb the fourth. You can't even begin to imagine the delights in store for you one week later.

From the August 1967 issue of Holiday, this recipe is the cornerstone of a modest article called "Nobody Knows More About Chili Than I Do," which caused such consternation among Texans that its author was subsequently challenged to the first-ever Chili Cookoff, taking on Austin's famed Wick Fowler and his 2-Alarm Chili, in the heart of the Big Bend country.

This was not my introduction to H. Allen Smith, journalist, humorist and chili expert, who was born 100 years ago today; I'd been reading Smith for a couple of years already. The downtown library in Charleston, as it happens, had just about all of Smith's books, all the way back to Low Man on a Totem Pole, which came out in 1941, and inasmuch as I was going to school downtown and had already discovered the wonders of Mr Dewey's 817 classification, it wasn't long before I happened upon this highly-unusual man with the highly-usual name. And if my sense of comic timing, such as it is, was borrowed from Jack Benny, my early writing style — which, owing to lack of development, eventually became my late writing style — consisted of trying to sound like H. Allen Smith.

I didn't, however, start with Totem Pole. My actual first taste of Smith was the 1961 epic How to Write Without Knowing Nothing, subtitled "A book largely concerned with the use and misuse of language at home and abroad." A few of the items therein referred back to previous Smith lore, and being the sort of person who gets hopelessly bogged down following cross-references — in other words, I was a blogger before blogging was invented — I eventually embraced almost the entirety of Smith's oeuvre, though I'm still looking for his biography of Robert Gair, inventor of the corrugated cardboard box, and Mr. Klein's Kampf, a novel about Hitler's body double, both of which had appeared in 1939.

By this time, of course, Smith had run the gamut of the newspaper game; he'd been the editor of a tiny Florida paper, a staffer at the Tulsa Tribune — he took girlfriend Nelle Mae Simpson to Tulsa with him, and they were married in 1927 — and a rewrite man for United Press. Eventually he drifted into freelance work, doing feature columns and occasional radio bits, while his books paid the bills.

Smith also introduced me to other American humorists I might have missed, by way of 1945's Desert Island Decameron, a title which scared the faculty at my Catholic high school until they discovered that it had nothing whatever to do with Boccaccio. Smith's Decameron was simply a collection of uniquely-American short stories, some by writers I knew (Mark Twain, Dorothy Parker), and some by writers I would get to know (Ben Hecht, Thorne Smith).

Four things you need to know about that chili business:

  • That first cookoff was a draw;
  • Smith got a book out of it (The Great Chili Confrontation, 1969);
  • In said book, he describes going out into the countryside near Alpine, Texas and saying out loud, "I'm gonna build a house right here";
  • Which he did, and that's where he and Nelle lived for the rest of their days together.

H. Allen Smith died in 1976 during a visit to San Francisco. His autobiography, To Hell in a Handbasket, was written in 1962 and therefore misses the later stuff. Fortunately for me, I didn't.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:07 PM)
24 December 2007
The ghost is clear

After seeing the poster at Guanabee, I chased down the trailer for Over Her Dead Body (you can see it here), and I swear, it's a thinly-disguised rewrite of Blithe Spirit, with Eva Longoria filling the Elvira Condomine slot.

I suppose highly-diluted Noel Coward is better than no Noel Coward at all, but there's something a tad disquieting about this whole project. Maybe I'll wait a while and watch the DVD on one of those newfangled Ectoplasma TVs they're always talking about these days.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:12 AM)
28 December 2007
Not for burqa fans

Kim du Toit has turned up a photo of Benazir Bhutto as a Harvard undergraduate (class of 1973).

Maybe I should have tried harder to get into one of the Ivies.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:20 PM)
2 January 2008
Up from the skies

One of those stories almost too good to be true, as recounted in Wikipedia:

In the final stages of the album's production, a studio technician renamed the [Jimi Hendrix] album "Electric Landlady." The album was almost released under this title until Hendrix noticed it, which upset him considerably. Kirsty MacColl later used this alternate title for an album of her own.

I picked up Electric Landlady when it came out; it was not much of a hit — neither "Walking Down Madison" nor "My Affair," released as singles, charted in the States — but it spent a lot of time in my CD player, and still gets the occasional spin. Would I have bought it were it not for the Hendrix twist? I'm not really sure; I knew who she was, and I was familiar with Tracey Ullman's remakes of MacColl songs, but the title probably sealed the deal.

On the other hand, Kathy Shaidle would have sold me a copy of her e-book even if it hadn't been titled Acoustic Ladyland: Kathy Shaidle Unplugged. It's always fun watching the words go by when she's on a tear, and these "B-sides and rarities," as she describes them, were new to me; I wasn't reading the Toronto Star back then, and God knows I don't have any reason to read it now. She'll set you up with a sample chapter, even. The motivations here are clear:

Well, the chances of me ever publishing a "real" book again are pretty slim. E-book-ing lets me control everything and keep most of the revenue (instead of the 7% or so most "real" authors get in royalties).

Now I'll have to hunt down a copy of God Rides a Yamaha, a title worthy of a Highway Chile.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:30 AM)
3 January 2008
Trees saved, anyway

All that's left of the Cincinnati Post and its across-the-river sister Kentucky Post is this: kypost.com, billed as "life in the 859."

The Posts were put out to the online pasture after the Joint Operating Agreement under which the Post and the rival Enquirer expired at the end of 2007. It wasn't a surprise — Enquirer owner Gannett had advised that the JOA would not be renewed way back in 2004 — but fans of actual paper held out hope that Scripps could keep the Post going. (And Scripps is the weak sister in three other JOAs: in Birmingham, Albuquerque and Denver.)

Consultant Peter Krasilovsky assesses the prospects:

For kypost.com, it is a good idea to take advantage of existing brands and resources, possibly retaining cars.com. In particular, it can feed off of a promotional tie with WCPO-TV, which is Scripps' metro station. But its prospects, long term, probably donít approach what a "real" newspaper brings to the table. While online versions of newspapers claim margins in 50 percent range, far higher than 18-21 percent margins of many newspapers, most of the costs of online personnel and sales aren't included in the tally (technology usually is).

I took a look at the offerings, and while the overall package is reasonably attractive, I wonder why there's no RSS feed.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:02 PM)
9 January 2008
While the writers' strike goes on

New game shows, of course! Tickle the Angry Scorpion (doesn't that sound like a band name?) might be a hit, though I've got my doubts about Do Calculus While We Poke You.

Then again, what I really want to see is Estonian Idol.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:29 AM)
19 January 2008
The barter of Seville

David Seville, that is.

It seems that in 1968, Ross Bagdasarian, who had created the David Seville persona for his own recordings in 1956 and kept it when he came up with the Chipmunks, sold the rights to the Chipmunks catalog — one hundred twelve recorded tracks — to Liberty Records for a flat fee, whereupon he retired and became a vintner. Capitol Records, which now owns the Liberty label, has had no qualms about exploiting the little rodents, and Bagdasarian Productions, now administered by Ross Bagdasarian, Jr., understood that the rights to the recordings had been sold. In fact, Ross Jr., circa 1996, sold the characters themselves to Universal Pictures, which produced a bunch of direct-to-video stuff; four years later, he sued Universal for breach of contract and got the characters back.

Now it turns out that the deal with Liberty included only the rights to sell the original recordings at retail, not to license them to other media. Ross Jr. didn't know this; apparently he didn't discover the actual contract until last fall. And Bagdasarian Productions is now suing Capitol, claiming breach of contract. (Here's a copy of the complaint in PDF format.)

As David Seville himself once noted, "Oo ee, oo ah ah, ting tang, walla walla bing bang."

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:41 PM)
22 January 2008
Cry wolf, and let slip the dogs of news

After all, it's always bad news:

While looking through some old papers I was reading about the recession fears of 1948. There were ads in the paper telling people not to turn the thermostat up in January because there wasn't enough heating oil. There was also a steel crisis, which worried analysts. Imagine anyone worrying about a steel crisis today. In any case, The Republic struggled through and came out the other side. Now? We're not even in a recession, but you'd think the morning sun was about to be blotted out by the rain of money managers hurling themselves out windows. Of course the news is bad. The news is always bad. Even the good news is bad, eventually. If they cured cancer tomorrow it would take a day before analysts worried about the impact on Medicare, what with people living so damned long and all.

This is the inevitable result of decades of "We gotta do something." If the government insists on a "stimulus" package, I recommend this: peel off several billion dollars and give it to the purveyors of news, on the condition that they go away for the next decade. The effect on the national psyche, and by extension on its wallet, will be remarkably beneficial — and without remarks, even.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:24 PM)
Ur atenshun plz

Well, this seems innocuous enough:

Visual attention mechanisms are known to select information to process based on current goals, personal relevance, and lower-level features. Here we present evidence that human visual attention also includes a high-level category-specialized system that monitors animals in an ongoing manner. Exposed to alternations between complex natural scenes and duplicates with a single change (a change-detection paradigm), subjects are substantially faster and more accurate at detecting changes in animals relative to changes in all tested categories of inanimate objects, even vehicles, which they have been trained for years to monitor for sudden life-or-death changes in trajectory.

And that "single change" might be something as simple as a caption in Impact font:

If you're distracted by lolcats at work all day, new evidence from evolutionary biology suggests it's not your fault. Human visual attention evolved thousands of years ago to track the movements of animals, and even today people are far more distracted by images involving changes in animals than they are by images of inert Mac laptops or moving cars. This research, conducted by psychologists at Yale, goes a long way towards explaining the bizarrely mesmerizing effect of lolcats.

What's great about this research is that it inadvertently targeted exactly what's happening in lolcat images: the animal has been changed from being just a regular cute kitty, to being a cute kitty with special attributes created by the caption. So a lolcat is an animal image with "a single change."

It can even be a negative change: consider all the "invisible" images, or the walrus without his bukkit.

Evaluator cat is impressed.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:42 PM)
23 January 2008
What's the warranty on a freezer?

Yale first-year law student Aaron Zelinsky has perhaps a better idea than anything you might have seen in the Mitchell Report, but it takes a long time to play out:

[N]one of Mitchell's recommendations address the serious problem that some performance enhancing substances, such as human growth hormone, are difficult to detect, particularly with testing restrictions enforced by the players' union. Even with more frequent testing (and more widespread postering), players will still have a strong incentive to use these undetectable drugs. Otherwise clean players will also be hard pressed to refrain from undetectable substances because of the competitive disadvantage to staying clean.

I propose a three-part solution to this problem. First, an independent lab should store blood and urine samples from all major league players annually and test these samples (using the latest detection techniques) at 10-, 20- and 30-year intervals following each player's retirement. Second, all players should be paid over a 30-year period. Third, if any player's blood tests positive for performance enhancing drugs, that player will forfeit his remaining salary and pension and will be banned from baseball for life. In order to insert such a "bad boy" clause into pensions, Congress will need to exempt Major League Baseball from certain parts of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, but such exemption should be easy to obtain in the current environment. Baseball already enjoys congressionally recognized exemptions from certain antitrust provisions; ERISA could be similarly adapted.

I doubt you could get the 30-year salary provision approved, but I like the idea of keeping the samples on ice in case better diagnostics become available.

Steven D. Leavitt notes in the Freakonomics blog:

The state-of-the-art in performance enhancement is the best set of techniques that cannot be detected using current technology. So, by definition, the most sophisticated dopers will evade detection, unless they are unlucky or make a mistake.

The threat of future improvements in testing technology is the most potent weapon available in this fight, because the user can never know for certain that the doping he does today wonít be simple to detect a decade from now.

If baseball is serious about leveling the playing field, so to speak, they're going to have to do something drastic; something drastic that might actually work is certainly to be preferred.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:28 PM)
28 January 2008
Terror on Lincoln Avenue

Which isn't as good a title as the real one: The University of Illinois -vs- A Mummy.

This is obscure enough to have eluded the Internet Movie Database, but it still looks like it might be fun, though I don't know if I'd drive all the way to Urbana to save ten bucks in shipping. (And dammit, I was in Urbana on the evening of the 19th of July, which just proves that I'm out of sync with the Zeitgeist.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:07 PM)
30 January 2008
Next: Charlie Rose gets killer abs

A lot of us live by the old rule "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Much to our dismay, though, the Human Condition incorporates a tendency to tweak, and while PBS ain't exactly Tool Time, they're just as guilty:

Masterpiece Theatre. Oh, sorry, it's Masterpiece now, isn't it? What — the second word was too much to handle? We live in such an impatient blog-ridden society that no one can manage to wait around for a two-word title? Wait, I know — it was the use of "Theatre" and not the Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell, and E.M. Forster that made the series seem too intellectual for all those PBS-watching theatre-phobes. Like Masterpiece alone is so much better. It's just hanging out there all cold and unfinished. "Masterpiece" what? Society? Barbecue Sauce?

And it's not just the nomenclature, either:

And what is up with that new intro? Instead of a wending trip through library piles of gold-stamped, leather-bound books, you're giving me animation? A Reading Rainbow-esque book flipping leaves so bizarrely long and pliable they look like Kleenex? Growing up, I didn't WANT an animated book; I WANTED gold-stamped, leather-bound books! You made me want them! You made me read them!

And excuse me, please, but where are the Pallisers, the Bellamys, and the Poldarks? Because you've gotten rid of their familiar family portraits. I suppose you shoved them where you shoved Alistair Cooke and Russell Baker's leather chair and fireplace. Criminy, don't even get me started on the loss of the music that everyone knew as "The Masterpiece Theatre Song" but no one really knew as Mouret's "Rondeau" until they thought about choosing it as their wedding march.

In terms of sheer infidelity to one's purpose, this ranks with NPR's repeated offenses against Morning Edition, first turning B. J. Leiderman's theme music into gormless "smooth jazz," then sending Bob Edwards into radio limbo in favor of Whoever The Hell They Are, and now a desperate attempt to lure young folk. It's things like this which cause my checkbook to lock shut.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:43 PM)
2 February 2008
Avoiding contentment

Okay, "avoiding" is the wrong word. But there is one compelling reason to be apprehensive about it:

It just occurred to me why I've lost inspiration and passion for my art. It started in the mid-eighties when I started listening to all that New Age weebie-wobie crap about happiness being our birthright as human beings.

That may well be for regular people, but the Muse never kisses the completed, fulfilled artistic soul. I'm sorry, I didn't make the rules, that's just facts. No wonder the Arts are taking a beating. A recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Center shows that almost 85% of Americans believe that they are happy. And that's just sad.

I've never been able to get a Muse to return my calls, but it's always seemed to me that if everything seems to be going your way, it's at least possible that you're not actually going anywhere.

This does not mean, however, that we need to spend our lives on the bleeding edge:

I now realize that all that contentment came at a great price: my Muse no longer felt needed, so she left. I cast out a powerful force, that is, the impetus behind my art. In a word, I committed artistic suicide by eradicating melancholy from my life.

I'm not talking about clinical depression, mind you, which certainly needs to be treated. I'm talking about that bittersweet, aching sadness that demands artistic expression. If we erase that from our lives nothing needs to be expressed and we become banal, not only as individuals, but as a society. What will finally satisfy us Americans? Money? If so, how much money is enough? How many gadgets do we really need? How many pairs of shoes can we actually wear? How many TVs can we watch? How many pills can one take before one feels robbed of the fullness of life in all its grandeur and messiness?

The line between clinical depression and "bittersweet, aching sadness" is not always clearly delineated, I suspect; at various times in my life I've found myself switching sides, and I've never been particularly good at nailing down the exact crossover point. And it occurs to me that maybe I'm not supposed to.

Still, I duly pop my anti-anxiety tab every day, at least partly because I fear the consequences if I don't.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:13 PM)
7 February 2008
This scheme's just six words long

The Freakonomics blog is looking for a six-word motto for the United States, which prompted a longer-than-that observation from Lileks:

It was no doubt tendered in good faith, but reading the suggestions is like licking a corroded battery. The latter-day sub-Menckens will always get off the sharpest lines, of course; you can't draw a laugh with something Grandma might knit on a pillow, and drawing a laugh — or a mirthless snort of appreciation, which counts as a laugh nowadays — is the prime objective.

We are all sub-Menckens, I submit: some are just sub-er than others.

That said, I'd like to argue for the adoption of this, expanded to incorporate the standard Oedipus-via-Samuel L. Jackson adjectival twist — but that's only five words, dammit.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:04 AM)
15 February 2008
Evil as a career option

While evil always attracts enthusiastic amateurs, to do it right, so to speak, you really need the grounding of a proper education, to the postgraduate level if necessary. Worthy advice:

Rule 1: Have a passion for evil
So many pursue evil science for the superficial reasons: power, wealth, and infamy. But while those rewards are ignoble, to be a successful evil scientist, you have to follow your heart and find true heartlessness. Most evil graduate programs are in lonely, isolated places — old castles, uncharted islands, under water. Those near populated areas tend to attract the scorn of the local citizens and the attention of authorities. Even the most evil of graduate students can't help but feel a little bit alone and alienated. A true passion for evil will carry you through those rough spots until you can turn the tables on all those bastards who said you were mad.

And make sure that they haven't changed the definitions on you:

Rule 6: Always reevaluate your work for its evilness
This may seem simple, but what is considered evil can change over time. A horrifying Brave New World can become an enticing brave new biotech investment option on the Nasdaq. Make sure what you're doing inspires horror, not IPOs.

So much for Dr. Moreau's® Cosmetic Surgery Shacks.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:37 AM)
16 February 2008
Dot huh?

There used to be rules governing these things, but no more, and this is the result:

The original dots for individuals were com, net, and org, short for "commercial," "network," and "organization." It's interesting the way people's choices align with their ideology, when they are free to choose. (Yes, people do choose communism.) If you were a capitalist, you chose dot com without a qualm, even if you knew your site would never make a dime. If you were a lefty, you chose dot org, because you were not comfortable outside the collective. If you were uneasily between, but wanted to think of yourself as non-ideological, you chose dot net.

Which I suppose explains much about me, since I operate four domains, two .com — this one and another oneone .net and one .org.

(I have a fifth domain, currently parked. It's a .com.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:07 PM)
18 February 2008
Speaking of waterboarding

Craig wants to know:

When you envision a Muslim getting waterboarded, does it feel better or worse when you mentally replace him with a Medical Insurance Company employee?

I dunno. I've always envisioned breaking them on a wheel. The insurance guys, I mean.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:30 PM)
20 February 2008
They have schools for this

In Soviet Russia capitalist Singapore, fish eat you:

Experience a unique and revitalizing therapy, complete with a foot massage at Fish Reflexology, Underwater World. With soft lightings, calming sonance of a river stream and feet relaxed in a warm pool, witness a school of Turkish spa fish swim up and gently nibble on your feet. These adorable little fish consume only the dead skin areas, revealing your smoother and healthier skin — the perfect way to exfoliate and pamper your feet.

I presume other therapies are available as well. "Good morning, Mr Leech, have you had a busy day?"

(Via Popgadget.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:41 PM)
23 February 2008
Every year it gets tougher

The award of this year's Bookseller/Diagram Prize is fast approaching, and once again, it's going to be a tricky call. The prize goes to the book with the "oddest" title, though oddity, like so many other characteristics, is in the eye of the beholder, usually right next to a beam.

This year's finalists:

  • I Was Tortured By the Pygmy Love Queen, by Jasper McCutcheon
  • How to Write a How to Write Book, by Brian Piddock
  • Are Women Human? And Other International Dialogues, by Catharine A. McKinnon
  • Cheese Problems Solved, P. L. H. McSweeney, ed.
  • If You Want Closure in Your Relationship, Start With Your Legs, by Big Boom [pseud.]
  • People who Mattered in Southend and Beyond: From King Canute to Dr Feelgood, by Dee Gordon

You may cast a vote for your preference at theBookseller.com. I'm leaning toward People who Mattered in Southend and Beyond, though I admit to be wavering a bit: sometimes you feel like Canute, sometimes you don't.

Last year's winner: The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification, by Julian Montague.

(Courtesy of Emalyse.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:30 AM)
24 February 2008
Backstage at the Grendel Opry

Ken Tucker reviews the Director's Cut DVD of Beowulf in Entertainment Weekly (#980, 2/29/08), and finds himself lecturing a filmmaker:

[Director Robert] Zemeckis says in a making-of that this film has "nothing to do with the Beowulf you were forced to read in junior high — it's all about eating, drinking, killing, and fornicating." To which I can only respond, Oh, you poor deluded baby boomer: Bob, do you think young people in 2008 have an Old English epic poem on the syllabus? American literacy is lucky if junior high schoolers get a stray Hemingway short story into their diet of crappy young-adult novels.

Zemeckis is fifty-five, which is close to my age. I read Beowulf in eighth grade. To my knowledge, neither of my children have seen it. The poem, I mean.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:16 PM)
26 February 2008
Don't get cwt

Franz Kafka's Garage (back page of Car and Driver) fields a tricky question:

If a half-ton pickup neither weighs, carries, nor tows a half-ton, what exactly makes it a half-ton pickup?

Their response:

That's kind of like asking why you're reading the April issue of Car and Driver in March — we're not entirely sure. Sometime, long ago, half-ton pickups could haul half a ton, and magazines came out during the month written on the cover. The pressures of competition resulted in earlier newsstand dates and more capable pickups.

Inasmuch as I was reading the April issue of Car and Driver in February, I suspect Kafka's gotten himself out of sync again.

And it gives me an opportunity to bring up once again the old Mad publishing schedule — last detailed five years ago — which flew in the face of everything everybody claimed to know about periodicals.

Today Mad comes out once a month, but you know founder William M. Gaines would never have countenanced such a thing. Comics in general tended to be pulled before their issue date, and Mad indeed had begun its existence as a comic, but Gaines viewed by-the-book scheduling, insisted upon by the Postal Service if you expected to keep your second-class mailing permit, as he did everything else: something to be avoided if possible, and if not, to be screwed around with. In the Gaines era, Mad, officially, was published "monthly except February, May, August and November"; after Gaines' death, but before switching to mere "monthly," the statement was amended to "monthly except bi-monthly for January/February, March/April, July/August and October/November." Both of these phrases neatly obscured the truth of the matter: a new issue of Mad appeared every forty-five days, a period for which there is no standardized description. What's more, despite Kafka's raving above, Mad went to a lot of trouble to make sure that no issue was ever on sale during its official month of issue.

On the other hand, Kafka's next stupid question drew an answer almost snappy enough for Al Jaffee:

My mom's car is breaking down, it has no air conditioning, and my sister wrote on the ceiling and tore on it, too. What does she do?

Kafka's advice:

First off, no more wearing pants in the car. That should fix the air-conditioning problem. It will also help your mother feel liberated and free-spirited, which should take her mind off the damage to the ceiling. A lack of pants could prove troublesome in the event of a roadside breakdown, though, so for a long-term solution, she should probably pay for the needed repairs or buy a more reliable car.

Emphasis added, mostly because my spouse at the time once attempted to make that selfsame point to me.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:43 AM)
28 February 2008
Is it March yet?

I seldom have anything nice to say about February, given its position near the end of winter when you're pretty much fricking sick of the cold, the necessity of having to think about its pronunciation — there's an R in there you're not allowed to elide for some reason — and the fact that right in the middle of it is Unattached People Just Might As Well Kill Themselves Day (thanks to Fillyjonk for the nomenclature).

So I appreciated this so much more:

Everyone had that kid in high school. You know, the one that was teased for being geeky and really short. Of course he eventually grows up and his formerly geeky ways manifest into some sort of genius. And now he's a millionaire and ready to hand out personalized cans of whoop ass to those who teased him mercilessly for being short. He shows up each year for impromptu reunions, still short but now with his very own yacht and super enhanced ass-kicking mechanism.

February is like that kid. Always and forever short but now prepared to wreak havoc on every poor soul who once uttered how useless and possibly annoying the entire month seems to be. February obviously didn't stop to think that maybe people have been mean to it because it goes around being all violent and kicking people in the head once a year.

It is apparently not true, as we were once told, that February achieved its one distinction — shortness — due to the egos of a pair of Caesars who wanted their months, dammit, to have a full 31 days. My own thinking is that all the other months should have 32 days, 31 being a difficult number to work with, and eleven times thirty-two being 352, this would cut February down to a mere two weeks or less, a boon to everyone with the possible exception of the guy who has to sell ad space in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
4 March 2008
Teaching Mnemosyne to lie

Ray Davies, in his guise as a Muswell Hillbilly, came up with this gem: "Take me back to those black hills / That I have never seen."

The Kinks didn't sell a lot of records with this premise, but people have followed in Davies' footsteps just the same:

In Love and Consequences, a critically acclaimed memoir published last week, Margaret B. Jones wrote about her life as a half-white, half-Native American girl growing up in South-Central Los Angeles as a foster child among gang-bangers, running drugs for the Bloods.

The problem is that none of it is true.

Really? None of it?

Margaret B. Jones is a pseudonym for Margaret Seltzer, who is all white and grew up in the well-to-do Sherman Oaks section of Los Angeles, in the San Fernando Valley, with her biological family. She graduated from the Campbell Hall School, a private Episcopal day school in the North Hollywood neighborhood. She has never lived with a foster family, nor did she run drugs for any gang members. Nor did she graduate from the University of Oregon, as she had claimed.

This calls to mind Mary McCarthy's dismissal of Lillian Hellman: "Every word she writes is a lie, including a, an, and the."

Apparently Ms Seltzer was unclear on the concept:

You know, the rules of a memoir are pretty simple. If an event actually happened to you, you can use it in a memoir. If it didn't actually happen to you, you canít. Because then it's fiction, you see. Which is different from a memoir. No, really; you can look it up. I'm not sure why this has suddenly become so difficult for everyone to process.

So if I started such a thing, I'd have to leave the following out:

...my battlefield commission during my Army days; the actress (not yet a legend) who joined me for lunch one day in Hollywood and stayed for a week and a half; the work of fan fiction in which I play a minor operative of Karl Rove's; the incident that got my real-estate license suspended indefinitely; the time I caught (so to speak) a fly ball with the side of my head (only minor injuries); and, of course, meeting Morgan Fairchild.

Oh, wait. Not all of those are fake. Still, if you see something like this under the name of, oh, G. Pruitt, be suspicious.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:32 PM)
9 March 2008
Well, blow me down

I've been spending much of this weekend reacquainting myself with an old Navy friend, as it were: Popeye the Sailor, the squinty, pugnacious seaman created by E. C. Segar for his Thimble Theatre comic strip and transformed by Max and Dave Fleischer into one of the greatest of all the theatrical-cartoon series.

Getting old Popeye cartoons was usually a pain in the neck, since neither the Fleischers nor Paramount Pictures, which distributed the series until 1941 and then took over ownership of the Fleischer animation studio, bothered to keep track of copyright matters; it was left to King Features Syndicate, for whom Segar had worked, to sort all this mess out. (Apparently the original contract called for the films to be destroyed after ten years. Didn't happen.) Eventually things were sorted out, and Time Warner, owner of Turner Entertainment, owned the theatrical shorts, and Hearst, owner of King Features, owned the made-for-TV cartoons that went into production in 1960. After negotiations that bordered on byzantine, Warner Home Video announced that they would be releasing all the cartoons, theirs and Hearst's, on DVD in chronological order.

The first set was issued last summer: four discs containing the first sixty shorts done by the Fleischers, all in B&W, plus two of the three Technicolor two-reelers. For the most part, the restoration is very good, though there are fairly obvious edits in some of the early credit sequences, presumably due to the difficulty in finding really good negatives. Still, even the worst of the lot look pretty darn good, especially considering the miserable quality of the PD collections floating around, which tend to have ratty old TV prints and bad framing. About a quarter of the shorts have commentary tracks by film historians, one of which finally explained to me how it was that King of the Mardi Gras (1935) looked so much like Coney Island.

Still, what struck me most about these cartoons is how much Popeye reminds me of, well, me: he has no particular aspirations beyond doing his duty, he has no qualms about administering a thrashing to the Bad Guy, and even in his proudest moments there's something he missed. (Case in point: You Gotta Be a Football Hero, from 1935, in which he gets past the entirety of Bluto's team and heads for the goal line, but stops at the 5, thinking he's finished.) Obviously I absorbed a lot of this stuff when I was a kid. And having done so, I felt somewhat saddened by the obligatory disclaimers at the beginning of each disc, warning of the possibility — hell, it's an absolute certainty — of various nowadays-deemed-offensive stereotypes, inasmuch as I didn't grow up believing any of them and I know damned few people who did. (If anyone's stereotyped in these cartoons, clearly it's the White Guy with a Short Temper, which describes me better than it does any of the Chronically Offended.)

The other cartoon series of this era which I took to heart was the Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies output of Warner Bros. But to me, they were worlds apart: Bugs and Daffy gave me punchlines, but it was Popeye who actually packed the punch. Oddly, I never did care much for either carrot cake or spinach salad.

The next set is due out later this year: two DVDs wrapping up the 1930s.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:14 AM)
18 March 2008
I am not a prude

Or maybe I am, at least in some sense. I do wonder, though, exactly when "prude" became a term of opprobrium:

My last post on this blog discussed the on-line news and culture magazine, slate.com, and one piece published there where the writer declares that she is not a prude after admitting to being disturbed by an overly sexualized movie advertisement.

I could not help but post another "I am not a prude" citing on slate.com. In a recent piece published about the governor of New York being caught in a prostitution ring, the writer discusses the history of prostitution and the law. After listing the arguments that support the illegality of prostitution, she writes, "You don't have to be a moralist or a prude to buy the argument for banning prostitution."

Which syntax, at least to me anyway, suggests that "moralist" and "prude" are discrete, if not necessarily discreet, characterizations.

My trusty Webster's New Collegiate (8th edition) defines "prude" as "a person who is excessively or priggishly attentive to propriety or decorum," which doesn't seem too obsolete a definition, and traces it to the French prude-femme, "good woman." Hmmm....

Is it a coincidence that both [Slate] writers are women? Are women more afraid of being viewed as prudes than men?

That I couldn't tell you.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:05 PM)
22 March 2008
Waking up is hard to do

I have no idea what that little origami-snowflake toy is properly called; when I was growing up it was a "cootie-catcher," and after flexing it enough times, you'd pop it open, unfold a section of it, and somehow your fortune would be told.

So when the girl opens up the device in the early moments of Richard Linklater's Waking Life, I had to keep watching no matter how much I might have been put off by the premise. What it says is "Dream is destiny," and while I've always distrusted dreams — my dreams, anyway — I felt I could trust Linklater, if only because he'd given us Before Sunrise, a romance I dearly loved because, unlike the case with almost every other such story, I could identify with either lead.

Linklater didn't let me down. The structure is something like what I remembered from Slacker, with seemingly-random people coming by, speaking their piece, and then dissolving into the next scene. But the look is wholly different: the thirty or so scenes were shot in live action and then turned into animation, sometimes impressionistic, sometimes sort of realistic, sometimes hyper-unrealistic. If this seems a hodgepodge, well, so do my dreams, and dreams are at the very heart of Waking Life.

About ten minutes in, I was prepared to dismiss the whole thing: "Eye candy," I thought, "to compensate for the preposterousness of the words." But that, too, is characteristic of dreams: whether you can learn anything from them is independent of whether you can make sense of the narrative. "There's no story," asserts one character, a novelist. "Just people, gestures, moments, bits of rapture, fleeting emotions. In short, the greatest story ever told." Nothing at all in there about continuity.

So slowly, surely, I was drawn in, marveling at the look of the thing while trying to keep its seemingly-contradictory premises from overwriting my own programming. And I decided that Linklater wasn't trying to sell me a packaged philosophy: he did, after all, throw in an almost-perfectly serious scene in which a film class on Kurosawa is conducted by a monkey. If there is a philosophy, it's that of the salad bar: there are plenty of things you'll like, but if you go for all of them, you'll quickly discover that there's too much on your plate. You can call it a "neo-human evolutionary cycle" if you'd rather; for a moment I saw myself as Horatio, being informed by Hamlet that there are more things in heaven or earth than I'd suspected. And the ending, well, isn't.

Perhaps Waking Life was intended to recapitulate, then extend, Descartes: "I dream, therefore I am." Dreams and reality might even be somehow interchangeable. We already know that some of our "objective" measurements are affected by our perspectives: accelerate yourself towards the speed of light, and keep one eye on your watch, if you can. Was Linklater trying to anticipate what might be beyond Einstein? I don't know. I do know this, though: in 2001, when it was released, I couldn't have sat through Waking Life. My mindset of the moment wasn't prepared to accept anything that didn't fit into the structures I'd built for myself; I'd have dismissed it out of hand as Slacker Goes to Grad School. Today, it seems more like an artifact of a life I didn't know I'd had. Maybe it really was all just a dream.

(Review copy lent me by a friend — thank you, Aero.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:01 PM)
1 April 2008
"Grate Expectations"

On the other hand, they might actually have Ethel the Aardvark Goes Quantity Surveying.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:45 PM)
11 April 2008
Timelessness illustrated

I'm just as shocked as you are: G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936) has a Bacon number of 4.

"The comedy of man survives the tragedy of man," said Chesterton, though not about this.

(Via Dawn Eden, who, as an uncredited extra in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, presumably has a Bacon number of 2 1.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:12 AM)
14 April 2008
Taking on the metaquestions of our time

Every so often, I find I'm saying to myself, "Self, you know what? You really ought to get a life."

Then I brood for a while, wondering with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and Peggy Lee if that's all there is, and eventually deciding that I'm not doing so badly after all.

Sometimes this decision is assisted by obvious evidence from elsewhere that there are those in greater need of a life than I, some of whom I happened upon today at this thread, which seeks to resolve the question of who is better known outside the relatively-narrow realm of comics: Sue Storm, the Invisible Woman of Marvel's Fantastic Four, or Catwoman, occasional foil for DC's Batman.

Despite my early crush on Sue, I'm inclined to give Catwoman the nod, if only because she showed up on a semi-regular basis on the mid-1960s Batman television series, played by Eartha Kitt or Julie Newmar, individuals who tend to stick in one's mind. (I wonder if they drank TaB.) On the other hand, the fact that I'm giving serious attention to this question suggests that I really ought to get a life.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:02 AM)
15 April 2008
Resistance is, um, unlikely

Robert Farago, editor of The Truth About Cars, comes up with a metatruth of sorts:

A Brown University business professor once told me that one of America's greatest strengths is its ability to assimilate anything. While Bill O'Reilly rants on and on about our capitalistic society's moral degradation — like one of those nose-hair-infested codgers who starts every sentence with "Back in MY day" — our profit-driven culture is actually extremely healthy. It takes the worst possible elements, sanitizes them and sells them into the mainstream. White suburban teens listen to gangsta rap while studying for their SATs. The gangstas end up on Cribs, showing the world what's in their closet-sized Sub-Zero. SUVs are following a similar pattern. These planet-killas are gradually being domesticated into CUVs. The new Honda Pilot's obvious visual reference to its "no gallon of gas left unguzzled" SUV ancestors is just window dressing. I'm sure it's suitably frugal and considerably cleaner than Bill O'Reilly's phone calls.

Well, back in MY day, we had people a lot more interesting than Bill O'Reilly to rail about moral degradation. (Face it: Frederic Wertham got a lot more traction than O'Reilly and William Bennett combined.)

Perhaps this is merely restating the obvious; most of us, I suspect, would like to be thought of as more interesting than we actually are, and our various high-zoot accoutrements contribute to that desire — except when we think that perhaps that interest will be whetted by accoutrements of decidedly lower zoot. "Shabby chic" wasn't entirely an oxymoron. And as the Doobie Brothers once noted, what were once vices are now habits, a factor in O'Reilly's presumably-permanent dismay.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:26 PM)
18 April 2008
Gyna, class of '08

Or, never let your boyfriend take phone messages for you:

Refrigerator door

(Copied from Careful Thought.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:07 PM)
21 April 2008
Spring on the prairie

Even we city folk are humbled by the power of nature; but for us, the exercise of that power is usually no more than an inconvenience. Those who live on the land have a different sort of perspective:

Hail can pound crops into diced salad in minutes, and turn the hood on a car into a moonscape. Lightning can start fires, split trees and knock the power out. When I was working in the field with an implement in the ground, the tractor was often the highest point in the area. With that in mind, balancing on the knife edge of continuing work versus the safety of going home would percolate through my thoughts. That is all we had, just our own thoughts. The tractor I grew up with did not have a radio, so there was a lot of philosophizing during the day. I would work until I saw lighting on three sides. It was time to quit if you knew you could be hit. But, you hung on until the last possible second.

Tornadoes deserve real respect. As a child, my parents hustled my sister and I to the neighbor's house with a tornado shelter in the basement many plenty of "dark and stormy nights." Most of the time, if one even set down, it would be in the middle of a field. Irrigation pipe, fencing and trees might suffer. However, sometimes a farm would get in the path. The next day, the local Mennonites would be there to help clean up, along with other close friends and neighbors. People all own weather alert radios, but when a warning is on, everyone stands outside to watch.

Even the worst winds, though, eventually subside:

But in the evenings, when the air cools and the wind dies is the best. Breathing the air is like a cool drink of water, flavored with all the newly green things growing. Wheat has its own tang, distinct from the grasses of the pasture. You know you are alive and all is well with the universe, breathing in the chlorophyll. The fall crops are planted, and rain is always welcome.

Then, of course, comes the summer, but that's another dynamic entirely.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:12 AM)
23 April 2008
Chew on this a while

This month's wacky Men's Health survey looks at teeth. Oh, you might want to stow the Ozarks and/or Appalachian jokes before you dig in.

Oklahoma City comes in 82nd of 100, scoring a D: we floss more than you'd think, but don't try to drag us to the dentist. (Tulsa was 93rd with a D-minus, for pretty much the same reason.) Madison, Wisconsin sits atop the chart, followed by Nashville.

The author of the article weighs in:

[T]he CDC does a report on the percentage of people who visit the dentist at least once a year. It ranges from 81 percent to 57 percent, and the low number was Lubbock, Texas, which we found has the worst teeth in the nation. Some of the city's low rankings have to do with the socioeconomic climate, but that's not the only reason that people don't go to the dentist or take care of their teeth. It's hard to say why people don't take care of their teeth. Even in cities like Los Angeles, where the perception is that the population is fixated on appearance, L.A. ranked No. 90 in our survey.

I suspect L.A.'s uninspiring score is brought down further by massive dental reconstruction (which would count under "teeth pulled") for those who demand to be better-looking at any cost.

(Via Fark.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:36 PM)
26 April 2008
Second prize is a set of dress shields

Asked by Maxim if there were a classic film role she'd like to tackle, May cover babe Elisha Cuthbert replied:

There would be something really interesting about doing an all-female version of Glengarry Glen Ross. I think that would be a cool concept.

I'm generally in favor of anything that puts coins in David Mamet's purse, but is it just me, or does Mean Girls make this concept redundant?

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:52 AM)
27 April 2008
Equally yolked

Fillyjonk cracks an egg, and it's two, two, TWO eggs in one, kinda sorta:

What would happen to a double-yolked egg if it were fertilized?

Would it just fail to develop?

Would it try to twin (and, I'm guessing, that would be a FAIL as well, seeing as there's barely enough space within an eggshell for a single chick)

Or would it develop into some kind of Arnold Schwarzenegger super-chick, seeing as it has two yolks to draw nutrition from?

(I'm guessing the correct answer is either 1 or 2, but I'm kind of holding out a little hope for the Arnold super-chick.)

I took the question to these guys, and the answer, it appears, is closer to 2. [Link goes to PDF file.]

Double yolked eggs almost never hatch. Even though it is larger, the double yolked egg cannot support the development of two chicks.

Which tells me that it's trying to twin, both embryos are competing for the same resources, and ultimately neither of them make it.

Still, there's that little word "almost," which probably means that once in a blue moon a chick actually survives the dreaded Double Yolk — though it's unlikely to develop into the Birdinator.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:32 PM)
29 April 2008
Staggeringly popular obscurities

The Telegraph attempts a definition of "cult book":

In compiling our list, we were looking for the sort of book that people wear like a leather jacket or carry around like a totem. The book that rewires your head: that turns you on to psychedelics; makes you want to move to Greece; makes you a pacifist; gives you a way of thinking about yourself as a woman, or a voice in your head that makes it feel okay to be a teenager; conjures into being a character who becomes a permanent inhabitant of your mental flophouse.

This is all very nice, but it seems to miss one irreducible characteristic, as Syaffolee explains:

I think a definition for cult book should be that it is inherently not a bestseller, well-known, or well-regarded by critics. Cult books should be like cults — inspiring fanatical devotion by the few and derision from the mainstream. Take for instance Star Trek, the works of Joss Whedon, or Neil Gaiman. These nerdy and fannish topics might make them cult, but because so many people know of them, they aren't. Besides, the mere appearance on some list in a major publication immediately renders the listed books un-cult.

Admittedly, the Telegraph list includes some of my favorites, but being still in print after sixty years — as I Capture the Castle is — would seem to detract from a book's cult-ness.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:28 AM)
4 May 2008
Who killed the Kennedys?

Mick Jagger asked that about forty years ago, and neither he nor we did a very thorough job of it: they crawl out of the woodwork every time some character who imagines himself a man of wealth and taste decides he needs to relive his younger days one last time.

About three years ago, Emilio Estevez started work on a dramatization of RFK's life, which appeared the following year as Bobby. And the new Vanity Fair offers a brand-spanking-new hagiography this month. On the cover: Bobby Kennedy: The Hope, The Tragedy, And Why He Still Matters. Inside, an excerpt from Thurston Clarke's The Last Campaign: Robert F. Kennedy and 82 Days That Inspired America [New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2008]. Inasmuch as nothing really has changed on this front, I have no qualms about reprinting what I said about the Estevez project:

Christ on a crutch! The. Kennedys. Are. Dead. Get over it.

Yes, I know Ted's still there, looking and sounding more like Jabba the Hutt every day, still with his "My Other Car Is Underwater" bumper sticker, way past self-parody and long since descended into blithering irrelevance. Doesn't change a thing: The. Kennedys. Are. Dead. Estevez would have you believe that the killing of RFK was a watershed event in world history; it wasn't even the most important thing that happened in the summer of 1968. (Among other things, James Earl Ray, assassin of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was taken into custody, the French were trying to recover from general strikes that had turned violent, eventually returning Charles de Gaulle to power, and Pope Paul VI issued the encyclical Humanae Vitae.) "Culturally, we all unraveled after that tragic night on June 5." Yeah, right. Exactly one cultural phenomenon can be attributed to this event: it gave Eric Boucher one hell of a name for a band.

And, well, there's always room for Jello.

Meanwhile, how much does the Real World, the sort of people who couldn't get into Graydon Carter's restaurant, give a damn about this? Not much: they're busy fuming over Hannah Montana's shoulder blades. This was to be expected: when given a choice between two utter trivialities, it's fairly normal to select the newer one, and as Mr Jagger has already noted, all the sinners these days are saints.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:18 AM)
5 May 2008
Being given The Slip

Trini sent me a download link for the newest Nine Inch Nails project, The Slip, which was offered as a Zip file full of variable-rate MP3s or, if you do torrents, Apple Lossless, FLAC or actual .wav files. I don't do torrents, so I opted for the MP3s, which sounded decent enough.

Somewhere during the download, I found myself with a horrible thought: What if I actually met NIN's Trent Reznor and he turned out to be your genial, neighborly, 1432 Franklin Pike Circle Hero sort of guy? Surely he can't be this angst-y all the time, especially after having cleaned up 100 percent following some industrial-strength substance abuse.

Or maybe he can, and after some reflection (and listening to the tracks on The Slip), I figured out just what it was I've been responding to in NIN's music. Reznor isn't even close to monochromatic, tonally or emotionally; but his reaction to emotion, as I perceive it anyway, is binary: he confronts it, or he wallows in it. This is very like me, except that I do way more wallowing than confronting. I tossed this notion at Trini, who is more of a NIN fan than I am, and she said that it made sense to her. Then again, I suspect she's still a bit surprised that I, barely on the near side of fifty-five, pay the slightest bit of attention to Nine Inch Nails, especially given my affinity for the Dawn Eden dictum "I don't consider myself legally bound to know about any music past 1968."

Speaking of 1968, Kim du Toit has a nice overview of some choice albums of that year, not all of which have been played to death in the subsequent four decades. Trent Reznor, I note for no particular reason, was three that year.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:00 PM)
8 May 2008
Advice to the millions

It's a good question: "If you knew that in five years one million people would read what you have written, what would you do with that opportunity?"

Traffic has slowed here lately, but in the last five years I have had, yes, upward of one million page views, so I am tempted to say something like "Look upon my works, ye Readers, and despair!"

But that's too easy, and it's not fair to Lynn, who put some serious thought into the things she'd like to say to her visitors.

So instead I'm going to harp on her second piece of advice, which goes like this:

Get to know history and "high culture" .... English is full of cultural references. If someone spoke to you of a Sisyphean task would you really understand what that means or would you just make an assumption about its meaning based on the context? A lot of things make so much more sense if you know where they came from.

Not to mention that it's a lot easier to get through life if you don't have to have things constantly explained to you. And if you're anything like me, with a tendency to invoke cultural references a bit less ephemeral than the last installment of The Daily Show, it's a lot easier to get through life if you don't have to explain things constantly. (For an illustration of what I mean, see the first three comments to this bit of shoeblogging.) This is not, incidentally, intended as a knock on The Daily Show, which has a pretty high signal-to-noise ratio for a contemporary television series, but if Jon Stewart is over your head, I submit that you're keeping your head too low.

And here's another link to Lynn. Actually, it's the same link, but if I can get you to click twice, her page views go up twice as fast. It's the least I can do, considering that building traffic these days is like pushing a boulder uphill.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:13 AM)
11 May 2008
Montana out of her jersey

Up to now, I have to admit, I hadn't given this a whole lot of thought:

I can't help but wonder if some of the hubbub about the aesthetically-lovely (though taken in questionable taste) portrait of Miley Cyrus is because of grown men finding the picture (or rather, the picture's subject) sexually arousing.

Maybe it is, though I have to admit, the picture didn't do a thing for me. And it's not just because my brain is equipped with an Automatic Jailbait Filter to process incoming image material, either: it's because it appeared in Vanity Fair, a publication whose sole raison d'être these days is to remind people how utterly lovely it is to be rich. Besides, Cyrus is fifteen and a half, precisely the age at which I decided that pajamas were superfluous, so the idea of a teenager lacking same is not going to put ideas into my head.

At best, or at worst, the Cyrus incident is just one more manifestation of the wrongheaded cultural notion that our youngsters, especially our girls, ought to be sexed up, that they may be adequately prepared for the fiercely erotic Real World out there — although such preparation is intended, I submit, not for their benefit, but for the benefit of those who would use them. Like, for instance, Vanity Fair.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:52 PM)
17 May 2008
A plethora of loose ends

Wondrous Thing About Blogging Number 3,461: Sometimes you can have topic drift before you even have a topic.

Case in point: PBS is reviving The Electric Company, which I watched faithfully for as much of its six-year original run as time and Uncle Sam would permit. (My crush on Jennifer of the Jungle will not be discussed here.) Inevitably, this led to "Whatever happened to the cast?" Bill Cosby and Morgan Freeman and Rita Moreno I knew about, so it was the names farther down the credits I sought, and it was a matter of seconds before I ran into this brain-boggling fact: Skip Hinnant, the sweet, bewildered Fargo North, Decoder, was also the voice of Fritz the Cat.

Yeah, I know, but what about Naomi? Well, she had two children, Maggie and Jake.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:54 PM)
18 May 2008
You never see this at Kum & Go

A couple of QuikTrip employees are planning their wedding, to be held at a QT store.

Reportedly, management isn't even disturbed, but:

[They] have asked that those who are attending the wedding to please carpool because they still need the space for their paying customers.

Well, yeah.

(Via Fark.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:00 AM)
20 May 2008
Here comes the judge

Having discovered that TV Guide's Rochell D. Thomas, keeper of the "Is It Just Me?" column, has an occasional tendency to Google herself, so to speak, I'm taking this opportunity to give her some positive feedback on this item:

Must everyone cry "Don't you judge me?" Both Sam and her mother barked it on Samantha Who? A few days later Callie spit the phrase on Grey's Anatomy. The plea has also been hilariously uttered on My Name Is Earl, Scrubs and several other shows. But see, here's what people need just to accept: If you stalk your ex, gamble away your daughter's new car or sleep with slut puppy Dr. Mark Sloan, know that not only will you be judged, fingers will be pointed. Period. So deal.

No, I don't know what the D. stands for.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:05 AM)
You never see this at Kum & Go (2)

And I never, ever envisioned that there would be a (2) for this title. (Here's the original.)

Be that as it may, apparently text messaging isn't the only punishable distraction while driving. [Possibly not safe for work.]

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:54 PM)
25 May 2008
The wisdom of the last days

Mostly, I'm posting this as a reminder to myself as I approach infirmity, to be followed by infinity:

Someday I suppose I'll become like Ernie Bierwagen, the old man who owned the orchards outside town. He said to me once, "I know that God wants me to say something, because the only thing I have left that works is my mouth." But for now, I'm enjoying my life and can think of no good reason not to.

Words by U. Utah Phillips, the Golden Voice of the Great Southwest, who died this week at his home in the Sierra foothills.

From another Phillips letter:

The coronary damage can't be undone. In my risk category, 50% of the people who have this condition live past five years. 50% don't. The idea, then, is longevity — getting into the 50% who do.

He wrote that in 1995.

These words, however, are much older. [Link goes to MP3 file.]

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:39 AM)
Say goodnight, Dick

Dick Martin, the man to whom the news wouldn't be the news without the news, has died at the age of 86.

Geez, has it really been forty years since the first Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In? (I looked it up in my Funk and Wagnalls; Dan Rowan died in 1987.)

And found deep within the archives:


Permalink to this item (posted at 12:31 PM)
26 May 2008
Fiction. Why does it have to be fiction?

Indiana Jones is back, to the great displeasure of an archaeologist:

It's not just that the films are harmlessly caricatured visions of old-fashioned archaeology; they are filled with destructive and dangerous stereotypes that undermine American archaeology's changing identity and goals. At a time when our national political debates are centered on our relationships with other cultures, when the question of talking to rather than attacking perceived enemies has become a contentious presidential campaign issue and when claims for the repatriation of looted relics are being seriously addressed by courts and professional archaeological organizations, the thrill-a-minute adventures of Indiana Jones are potentially dangerous and dysfunctional models for both modern archaeology and American behavior in the world.

Dr. Robert Bruce Banner, contacted at his home, agreed. "The effects of gamma bombs in real life in no way resemble their effects in popular culture. And seriously, do I look even the slightest bit green? I mean, really."

(Via Peter Suderman.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:07 PM)
28 May 2008
Stupid minds think alike

"Why don't we remake some of our bad pictures," asked John Huston, "and make them good?"

I don't think he meant this:

Simply titled Plan 9, the remake will be a serious-minded retelling of the original story, paying homage to the spirit of Wood's film without resorting to camp or parody. The film will focus on the horror and science fiction aspects of the original, but will also be largely character-driven. [Director John] Johnson's goal for Plan 9 is to make a film that honors not only the original source material, but also Ed Wood's intentions when he made Plan 9 From Outer Space. Wood's plan was to make a very scary sci-fi/horror film, and Johnson wishes to do exactly that — create a film that Wood would have enjoyed, or perhaps even made himself, if not bound by the technological limitations placed on filmmakers 50 years ago.

Not to be outdone, Quentin Tarantino is reportedly updating a 1960s Disney caper flick, and will be asking original stars Hayley Mills and Dean Jones to do cameos. Working title is That F***ing Cat.

(Via io9.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:04 PM)
He lettered, but guess which letter

Having done a couple of half-assed papers in my day — in fact, I can recall one that was barely quarter-assed — I can appreciate this advice to the dishonest student:

Be sure that you change the font on your cut-and-paste job to match the rest of your paper, neglecting not the font size. If the paper starts off in 12-point Times New Roman, that whole section in 14-point, bolded Garamond is going to stick out.

Tell 'em you did it with an IBM Selectric. Everybody believes that one.

If there are any superscripts or footnote markers, get rid of them. Your little "1" at the end of that quote, in a paper that does not have endnotes or footnotes, is a giveaway. Likewise, get rid of any blue hyperlinks contained in your lifted quote.

Geez. I had my sloppy moments, but never quite this bad.

Whatever you do, don't grab your goodies from the very first link that pops up in Google.

But ... but ... I was feeling lucky!

Based on my own experience, I can add only this: "You are not clever enough to turn a paper about angular momentum into a send-up of Waiting for Godot."

Or at least I'm not.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:04 PM)
31 May 2008
Phoney-baloney job resigned

Mel Brooks might be getting out of the movie business: he's apparently closing down Brooksfilms, the production company he started in 1978. It's really just a formality, though: the last Brooksfilms production was Dracula: Dead and Loving It, way back in 1995, and Mel's been busy on Broadway.

And I suppose there's always the possibility that he was grief-stricken over the death of Hedley Lamarr.

(Via Defamer.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:26 AM)
5 June 2008
Valets will put your car on blocks

The Hotel Preston is a boutique inn, south of I-40 on Briley Parkway in Nashville, "5 minutes from most everything." As you might expect from a hotel with a bar called the Pink Slip, things are just slightly out of kilter, and, I'd bet, for the better of it.

For this weekend's CMA Music Festival, the Preston is offering a special Redneck Package: your room comes with a complimentary sack of pork rinds and a six-pack of PBR. In-room snacks include local favorites like Goo Goo Clusters, Moon Pies and RC Cola.

Can't make the CMA? The Redneck Package is available by reservation through October.

(Via Fark.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:59 PM)
8 June 2008
I think Wally counted the votes

The Oklahoman recently ran a Comics Survey, and while there weren't too many shocks to the system — everyone loves Blondie, and practically no one knew or cared that Rex Morgan, M.D. was still around — the big surprise was Dilbert, which placed third among Favorite Comics and second among Least Favorite Comics.

Half a dozen strips, including Rex Morgan, will be banished from the dead-tree version, though they'll still be on the paper's Web site. I am distressed to see Mary Worth go, since she's earned a niche in contemporary culture. To quote the estimable Philip J. Fry: "There are guys in the background of Mary Worth comics that are more important than me." Fry, I feel your pain.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:15 PM)
The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

These archives begin 6 September 2006. For items beginning in August 2002, click here and select the desired category.

Click the Permalink on an individual entry to read comments and TrackBacks if any.