Archive for Almost Yogurt

Protecting our native fabric

I mean, I guess that’s what all this is about, right?

There are three Lowndes Counties in the States: in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. All three are named for William Jones Lowndes (1782-1822), who represented a South Carolina district in Congress. The Alabama county has a particularly prickly history with regard to civil rights. Lowndes himself is perhaps best known for suggesting an alternate method of apportioning seats in the House of Representatives, which would have assigned more seats to smaller states; it did not catch on.

But perhaps this isn’t political at all. Maybe, just maybe, it’s the baneful influence of — dare we say it? — Satin?

(Via Dan Lovejoy.)

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I blame snakes

So apparently Medusa, Sony’s version of the tale of a woman with looks that would kill and hair that would infuriate Samuel L. Jackson, will go on without director Lauren Faust:

Last weekend at the CTN Animation Expo, Lauren Faust revealed publicly that she was no longer working at Sony Pictures Animation on the feature film project Medusa.

Announced in summer 2014, Medusa was to have been the theatrical directorial debut of Faust, a 20-year industry veteran who gained widespread acclaim for her 2010 reboot of the My Little Pony franchise.

The ever-unpopular creative differences were cited:

“I very much enjoyed my time at Sony Pictures Animation and was extremely excited about the progress our amazing team was making on Medusa,” Faust told Cartoon Brew [yesterday]. “But, as it happens at so many studios with so many projects, we ultimately ran into creative differences on the direction of the project. I do not know if Medusa has been shelved, but I am no longer working on it or at Sony.”

Sony, for its part, says only that Medusa is still on.

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Isolation play

There are times when you simply have to get away from it all:

[A] lot has been made of the whole “safe spaces” thing on college campuses. And yeah, I see the ridicule for people wanting the entire world to be a safe space, because there’s no way that that’s possible. And yet, at the same time: don’t we all have places or things we retreat to for a while, when the world gets to be too much? I mean, Camp David exists. There was a “Fortress of Solitude” for Superman (at least in the movies). One of my circles of friends jokes a lot about “blanket forts” even as we recognize we do have to go out into the world and be adults and do the hard things. I’m not sure there’s anything so awful about once in a while retreating to a blanket fort (or the equivalent). The problem comes when you want to be there all the time.

Yea, verily. You can’t hide from Possibly Upsetting Things all your life, though God knows some people try awfully hard.

Regarding the Fortress:

The concept and name “Fortress of Solitude” first appeared in the Doc Savage pulps in the 1930s and 1940s. Doc Savage built his Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic and retreated to it alone in order to make new scientific or medical breakthroughs, and to store dangerous technology and other secrets. Superman’s original Silver Age Fortress, as it appeared in 1958, was also located in the Arctic and served similar purposes. Built into the side of a steep cliff, the Fortress was accessible through a large gold-colored door with a giant keyhole, which required an enormous key to open it. The arrow-shaped key was so large that only Superman (or another Kryptonian such as Supergirl) could lift it; when not in use, the key sat on a perch outside of the Fortress, where it appeared to be an aircraft path marker. This was until a helicopter pilot followed the direction of the arrow straight to the entrance of the Fortress, forcing Superman to develop a cloak to camouflage the entrance and key (which now hung on brackets on its side beside the door) and to ensure the Fortress’s secrecy.

Perhaps not as nifty, or as photogenic, as the Fortress in the first Superman film, which rises from a single crystal carried by Clark Kent to an ice field for no reason he could comprehend at the time, but it’s a premise I have to respect.

Twilight Sparkle, of course, has a Book Fort.

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Latest snooze

I am not a morning person, in the sense that Death Valley is not a water park. Not that I’m claiming any of these characteristics, mind you:

When you’re getting up at 6 am, you’re usually passing out by nine, which means you’re already tired by five. You may start your day with a burst of energy, but by mid-afternoon you’re already checked out.

Early risers are, in fact, screwing themselves over for the second part of the day.

Researchers at the University of Liege in Belgium examined 15 “extreme early risers” and 15 “extreme night owls.” They measured the participants’ brain activity after they first woke up and then once again 10.5 hours later.

Both the night owls and the early birds had the same level of productivity when they first woke up. Ten hours later, however, early birds had “lower activity in brain regions linked to attention and the circadian master clock, compared to night owls.”

Weekdays, I get up a hair before six, and I can sustain pretty well until nine. By ten-thirty, though, I’m pretty much inert, and it takes lunch to revive me.

Weekends, I sleep as late as I dare, which is usually somewhere between 10:30 and noon. So the pattern is fixed, no matter how much I actually seem to deviate from it.

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You call this an ending?

It’s probably hopelessly uncool of me, but I’ve pretty much always been uncool to greater or lesser extent, and I admit to a certain amount of sympathy for this viewpoint:

I don’t like some of the modern novels that kind of trail off where everyone has kind of broken everything (people have cheated on devoted and good spouses, or been unkind to their children, or done something wrong that they haven’t atoned for). And while I get that “real life” is probably more like the second way (lots of brokenness) than the first, I want to believe that there will be that denouement where the real killer is found out and the innocent man goes free. And the people in the town who were shocked that the innocent man “could have” committed a murder, when he goes free, nod to themselves and say, “I was right; he was too good a man to have done that” instead of them suspecting him for the rest of his life … I want to believe that things can be made “right” again even in the absence of objective evidence that they can.

I don’t know. I admit it’s childish to want a world order where the guilty are punished and the good prosper, but there are some very specific ways in which I am childish.

Frankly, I’ve had enough scowling antiheroes to last a lifetime or three. Is it too much to ask to have an occasional happy ending?

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Quote of the week

James Lileks engages in a brief act of cultural appropriation, just long enough to put it under the microscope:

It is entirely likely that a properly attuned individual will cast his or her or xer or yis’s eyes across a party and see many people unaware of the context, subtext, overtext and textual textosity of their outfit, and the very sight of someone draped in an incorrect variety of fabrics can trigger deep emotional responses.

I think that last point needs to be repeated, lest the full impact of the problem eluded you: people may experience unpleasant emotional responses.

The point of life is to never have an unpleasant emotional response. To anything. Note I didn’t say that the point is to avoid them. That suggests personal responsibility, when the onus ought to be on everyone else: offense of any kind cannot be made. What’s more, the definition of offense is the sole possession of the offended. To take offense is to proclaim virtue, to show your highly developed sensibilities, and the point of having these sensibilities is to find a job, or career, or office, or blog, or Tumblr, or some other platform where you can ensure that offense is never given. (If one gets a job doing this, it will be by appointment, not election.) The person will pass from the bubble of college to the bubble of social enforcement, keen on perfecting the world. And for the rest of his or her or xer professional life, they’ll be shouting BE QUIET to a calm, rational adult who is too terrified to say “you’re a terrible child who understands nothing. Go to your room.”

These people will produce nothing. They will create no great art, write no symphonies, conjure no novels that speak across the decades, sculpt nothing of beauty. The world outside the bubble is irredeemable. It cannot, of course, be remade all at once, but tomorrow’s a new day. Rome wasn’t wrecked in a day.

Of late, virtue signaling seems to be several times more common than actual virtue.

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Quantum of smallish

Jack Baruth’s review of Spectre is worth your time no matter where you start reading it, but the paragraph I’m going to toss at you is the last one, simply because it makes more sense than I really wanted it to:

There is going to be a change in the future, however. No wonder Mr. Craig is eager to leave the role. He’s tired of doing these depressing, meaningless films where he has to frown the entire time. I’m ready for him to quit as well. But the Bond franchise has plenty of life left in it. Supposedly Idris Elba is the next Bond. That would please the mandatory-diversity crowd, to have a black Bond. But I think that Mr. Elba, with his sagging eyelids and morose disposition, is the wrong brother for the job. No, I think they need the other guy from The Wire: Wood Harris, who played Avon Barksdale. I’m ready for some Bond movies where Avon Barksdale kicks ass and drives cool cars and goes to casinos and whatnot. Those would be fun movies, and that’s what I want from the Bond franchise. After all, if I want to hear a story about a guy in his mid-forties coming to terms with his mortality and his sorrow and the consequences of his actions — shit, man, I can get that for free, you know?

Truth be told, most of us can’t help but get it, whether we want it or not.

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Downstairs thinking

The problem with not knowing everything, of course, is that you don’t know everything, and this puts you in a position of suffering the occasional bout of l’esprit de l’escalier: the perfect reply comes to you, yes, but not in a timely manner.

I’m pretty good at picking up on cultural references, perhaps a bit less adept at coming up with the best possible response. This often causes frustration, and not just for me:

I would like to believe that I’m one of the ones trying to carry forward that kind of knowledge, caring about that kind of stuff, and keep it alive, but honestly, I don’t really have anyone I’m passing it on to all that much. Often the allusions to historical things I make in class seem largely to be lost (do people, I mean people who aren’t history buffs, know much about the family of the last tsar and about familial transmission of hemophilia?) and I know from one of my classes last spring, I don’t DARE be too idiosyncratic because then people just giggle and pass notes.

There was a time, I believe, when having something zoom over your head at high speed would have been a catastrophic blow to your sense of self. [Facepalm, followed by “I knew that.”] As culture itself becomes fragmented, even atomized, it’s easier to excuse yourself with “I am not expected to know this,” which is the philosophical equivalent of “I was told there would be no math.” By the same token, actually catching something I am not expected to know carries a couple of nonrefundable, nondisposable egoboo points, perhaps enough to carry me through the next facepalm, and there’s always a next facepalm.

To a certain extent, we adjust ourselves to the audience we have; my own particular workplace is, well, not especially cerebral, and I have learned to confine my more challenging outbursts to these pages, or to Twitter. I do the spur-of-the-moment 140-character thing reasonably well, I think, though there are plenty of folks, many of whom I eagerly follow, who can type rings around me. But most of the time, the immediacy one might like is lacking, simply because none of the exchange is face-to-face; for all they know, I could be halfway down the stairs, or halfway across the county, already. Then again, if I’m slow coming up with a response, it’s probably just as well that I’m not there to be glared at.

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Local pony fan supported

From way back in the day:

The Brony Thank You Fund is now raising funds to start a permanent animation scholarship to Calarts, the school where such people as Lauren Faust, Craig McCracken, and Tim Burton got their start, among many, many others.

And we have, for the first time, a winner:

As folks may recall, the Brony Thank You Fund endowed a permanent scholarship at the California Institute of the Arts a year ago, the Derpy Hooves Scholarship in Character Animation. We have just been informed by CalArts that the first recipient is Thirla Alagala, a third-year student. She took the time to give a shout out in her Tumblr, complete with her own version of Derpy. She says that she’d love to hear from the brony community, and we look forward to seeing her in the credits of some great animation once she graduates!

Smiles? We got some. Pass the muffins.


Snow hours

As distinguished from snow days, thanks to a new Texas law:

Texas students who are used to marking 100 days of school as a sign they are on the downward slope to summer might be more technically correct celebrating 42,000 minutes this year.

Because of a change in state law, the Texas Education Code no longer defines 180 days of instruction as an acceptable school year. Instead, the requirement has been changed to at least 75,600 minutes of instruction, with one day defined as 420 minutes.

“The rationale was to give districts more flexibility for making up missed instructional days,” said DeEtta Culbertson, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency. “This is a way for the district to not have to add additional days unless they want to.”

Which means — what, longer school days? Possibly:

With the new law, a district could avoid adding days or requesting a waiver by instead tacking minutes onto the school day or extending half-days already in the schedule, Culbertson said. The new law, which was passed as House Bill 2610, counts recesses and other intermissions such as lunch as instructional time.

“Soon as three o’clock rolls around,” sang Chuck Berry, “you finally lay your burden down.” Boy, would he be surprised. (Then again, he’s 89 years old and probably not worried about the prospect.)


Amusing ourselves to undeath

Severian looks at Our Favorite Zombies:

I’m not as gushy over The Walking Dead as my hipster contemporaries, but it, and horror movies generally, are an interesting peek behind the Zeitgeist’s curtain (or, these days, up its skirt). In both TWD and its recent spinoff, Fear the Walking Dead, the government is either nonexistent, or a backstabbing group of cowardly sellouts. In Fear the Walking Dead, citizens who might otherwise be a social burden — the (non-zombie) sick, drug addicts, etc. — are rounded up for disposal, but before the liquidations can begin, the army prepares to pull out. And — this is important — they’re thwarted by a few civilians and a bunch of walking corpses before they can even do that. Think about the implications for a sec: The world’s premier fighting force, and they can’t handle an old man, a school counselor, and a bunch of literally brainless corpses.

The lesson of both Walking Dead series couldn’t be clearer — when the shit hits the fan, you’re on your own. Your government — whose #1 job is the protection of its citizens — will be useless at best, an active hindrance at worst. The first season of the original Walking Dead even has a scene where a scientist at the CDC in Atlanta mentions that the French were close to a cure for the zombie plague. The French! Meanwhile, every American scientist, with the sole exception of Exposition Man, has “opted out.” Even the hipsters who make up 99% of AMC’s viewing audience, in other words, expect zilch from their government (and note that TWD premiered in 2010, i.e. right in the middle of America’s slobbering honeymoon with Obama).

Zilch is by now the default expectation, and I suspect it would have been equally so had John Servile McCain somehow been wafted into the White House; the only conclusion I expect to be entertaining after 2016 is that we don’t get hit by enough asteroids.

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Before there were celebrities

The Z Man is back from the rodeo, and it wasn’t his first rodeo, either:

For most of human history, entertainments were relatively cheap. Entertainers lived on the fringes of society and made very modest livings. Maybe the showman who owned the circus or traveling act made a good living, but the performers did not. Running away to join the circus was not a move up, it was giving up. If you could not hack it in normal life you ended up as the bearded lady in the circus.

Contrast that to today where we venerate knuckleheads with the IQ of a goldfish and shower them with millions. In order to do that the cost of entertainment has skyrocketed. I was at the Dallas Cowboys game on Sunday and the prices are staggering. Cheap seats are $500 just to get in the door. The facility, which is incredible, is simply a massive platform from which to sell you stuff.

Well, yeah, those knuckleheads cost serious money:

Everything has a sponsor. “This hot dog concession stand brought to you by AT&T” is the sort of thing that makes me think the Catholics were right about cupidity being a mortal sin. Every square inch of the Cowboy facility has a sponsor attached to it and almost every square inch is for the purpose of moving product of some sort. You keep wondering, “Don’t they have enough?”

The economy has changed. We don’t make things anymore. Now we kill time and try to turn a profit on it.

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Sing along with ditch

The Z Man on “realism” as we know and hate it:

When artists, writers, singers, poets and so on were looking up, everyone looked up with them. When they started looking down, everyone’s eyes followed to the point where we search the gutter for the right metaphor to describe our existence.

On the other hand, art is a reflection of the culture that produces it so the decline of the West preceded the decline in the arts. 150 years ago there was no audience for talking about your bowel movements whilst smearing yourself with pudding. People had more dignity. They also had a reason to look up, at least they thought they did. Now all they see is nothing so I suppose it makes sense to look down. At least there’s something to look at, even if [it’s] just their reflection.

You can’t go around looking up these days. People will think you’re weird — or worse, praying, and we can’t have that sort of thing going on in public.

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Not even the chair

“L.A.’s fine, but it ain’t home,” sang Neil Diamond; “New York’s home, but it ain’t mine no more.” Francis W. Porretto will have none of that nonsense:

I’ve been advised to move out of New York, and I’ve contemplated it more than once. Other parts of the country are warmer, drier, less hagridden by welfare-state programs and their cost, and are friendlier to firearms and conservative convictions. All well and good. But they aren’t New York. They don’t have our conveniences, our facilities, our beauties, our up-and-at-’em work ethic, or our generally good humored “we’ll pick ourselves up by our own goddamn bootstraps” response to calamity. And they don’t — and won’t — have me.

The C.S.O. and I have been over this together. Yes, we agreed that this locale is expensive and has its trying aspects. But we have a saying around here: You get what you pay for. And we’ve decided that as long as our money holds out, so will we.

Uprooting yourself is something you do when you don’t really have that much of a connection. I tried that once. I won’t do that again.


Grow up already

There’s always been a lot of yammering about “separating the men from the boys,” but few ever get around to specifying the location of the line of demarcation. This is about as good a map as I’m likely to find:

I’ve never dealt with real gender-related ugliness (some women have gotten death threats online and such), but I’ve had a little frustration with it in real life. The stupid thing is, every MAN I’ve ever worked with has recognized I have a brain and know how to use it, and he has respected me for it. And I have worked with a lot of men in my life, both as colleagues and as students. I’m not quite sure how to approach — even if I need to — BOYS who can’t get that fact.

Perhaps it was just that simple, all along.


Totally unintellectual property

As are most such laws these days, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act is designed to give the Really Stupid an advantage in a court of law, to the extent we have courts of law anymore.

What do I mean by “Really Stupid”? Here’s a blatant — yet not particularly unusual — example:

In an attempt to make it harder for people to find pirated copies of its movies, Paramount Pictures has tried to remove several uTorrent forum posts from Google’s search results. However, it turns out that none of the threads that were called out as unlawful actually link to copyright infringing material.

Just mentioning a word that’s in the title is apparently enough to upset Paramount’s little digital militia:

[A] user pointed out that he was “clueless” about something. This apparently rang alarm bells at Paramount’s content protection company who assumed that this person was referring to a pirated copy [of] the film Clueless.

Google’s response? According to TorrentFreak, they whitelisted the entire uTorrent domain. Apparently there’s only so much stupidity Google is willing to tolerate.

(Via Consumerist.)

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Seems legit-ish

Spotted these guys on Twitter earlier this week:

Don’t even think about copying anything off their Web site, though: they have most of the usual methods trapped out. I did, however, screen-print this little announcement:

We are a legitimate business, incorporated in the State of Florida

To borrow a phrase: “When the first thing they tell you is ‘We are a legitimate business,’ run like hell.”

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Prepared for the worst

When I got home today, I found a standard #10 envelope by the front door, hand-inscribed “Dear Neighbor.” I figured it had to deal with one of two things that someone must have seen: my faceplant by the curb this morning, which didn’t seem too worrisome — someone offering to help in the future, maybe? — or my brief(less) stargazing experience from last night, which probably wasn’t so good.

(There is a nonzero probability that someone may have murmured “Thank God, we thought we were the only ones!” Still, nonzero does not mean a long way from zero.)

Of course, it turns out to be neither, but a flyer, a much-photocopied cover letter from one “Jennifer R.”, and a pair of tickets to this:

International Youth Fellowship (IYF) USA and Gracias Choir will be back on the road to present the 2015 Gracias Christmas Cantata US Tour across 25 cities from September 19th to October 16th. Christmas Cantata features 3 dynamic stages filled with cherished carols, gorgeous sets, and an eternal message of hope wrapped in one huge, breathtaking show.

Admission to Christmas Cantata is FREE but each performance is first-come, first-served and seating is limited. So find a Christmas Cantata tour stop near you, and request your tickets now. You can also make a donation to our US Tour and reserve your seats without waiting in line!

Come celebrate the true meaning of Christmas with Gracias Choir and IYF: the birth of love, hope, and happiness in each and every one of hearts. #BringTheJoy

Everybody has a hashtag these days. [sniff]

The local showing is Saturday night (10/10) at 7 pm at the Civic.


The lark at break of day

Fortune and Men's Eyes by Jennifer HallI’ve had this particular album since it came out; I played it a couple of times, forgot about it for several years, but now and again something will happen to remind me about it and spur me to dig it out of the stacks. Yesterday another of those somethings took place, and I decided to follow up, since so far as I knew she never made another album.

Fortune and Men’s Eyes, a title borrowed from a Shakespeare sonnet, came out in 1987, produced by the reliable Alan Tarney; two singles were issued, one of which, “Ice Cream Days,” showed up in the soundtrack to Bright Lights, Big City in 1988. It’s a period piece in the best sense of the word:

Jennifer Hall, it turns out, is the daughter of British film director Sir Peter Hall and French actress/dancer Leslie Caron; she’s 57 now, and goes by Jenny Caron Hall — at least, for her artistic ventures: she’s done a fair amount of freelance writing for various English publications under the name Jenny Wilhide, the surname she shares with TV writer/producer Glenn Wilhide.

Really tangential: Wilhide’s grandfather Glenn Calvin Wilhide was director of design for Black & Decker.

Note: There exists a 1989 Eurodance number called “Don’t Say Goodbye,” credited simply to “Jennifer,” which sounds enough like JCH to justify its mention here.

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Shallow deep inside

After Robert Stacy McCain posted this news item, Thread Drift set in, and somewhere in the midst of it RSM offered this observation:

We should be ashamed of things that are shameful. Our aversion to feelings of shame is part of what prevents us from engaging in shameful behaviors, in the same way that feelings of pride and honor encourage us to strive for achievement. We need to step back and examine objectively the popular notion that there is a “true self” whose needs and desires always trump whatever we owe to others. I’ve noticed that the “true self” usually turns out to be a very selfish self, with no sense of social obligation or duty. Whereas the guy holding down a humdrum job to pay the bills for his wife and kids is not celebrated by the therapeutic culture, if he ditches it all to go in search of his “true self” — which quite often involves kinky sexual adventure — then this is applauded as personal growth.

The “true self” is usually imagined as living a more exciting life than the normal, ordinary person. And the Internet encourages the imagination of such a “true self” by providing forums where these Walter Mitty types gather to share their sense of excitement over their fantasies.

They might well learn from the example of Walter Mitty himself, who was, shall we say, decidedly unsuccessful in achieving his own fantasies. Mitty, in fact, is perhaps second only to Horatio Alger in misunderstood cultural memes; often as not, Alger’s heroes reached their goals by the application of good old-fashioned Dumb Luck.

The idea that one’s True Self is someone remarkably special is just about as specious as the claim by various fans of reincarnation that they themselves are the current version of someone famous; simple math and/or history should tell them that the vast majority of them spent their previous lives among the serfs, if not lower. A very wise man with a pipe and ridiculously sized forearms set forth the truth of the matter: “I yam what I yam and that’s all what I yam.” So are we all.

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Angry birdbrains

The supply of outrage far exceeds the demand:

I think I’ve reached the point of outrage fatigue. Not my own, I’m not that often truly outraged about anything — other people’s outrage. There are also some things going on that I think truly ARE an outrage that seem not to get the attention that the sort of SWPL stuff that causes outrage. I suppose it’s easier to be outraged over where someone happens to shop than it is to be outraged over the treatment of the Syrian people by their government, or the truly shocking growth and spread of ISIS and what they are doing, or about what Putin is doing… Or for that matter, instead of a person being outraged over something like “food insecurity,” maybe they go work at a food bank or donate to programs that try to help raise people out of poverty to the point where they’re not “food insecure” any more. But it’s easier to froth and foam on Facebook or somewhere than to show up some place and go “I can help, what do you want me to do?” (And YES. I have seen my share of people who did hashtag activism and when they were asked about what they were actually DOING they kind of faded away…)

And you could ratchet up the standards a little higher. You’ll have no trouble finding kitchen help for a shelter on Thanksgiving Day. On a random afternoon in September? No offers, though the need is every bit as great.


Wrong sensors or something

I know exactly two things about gaydar: it does not seem unreasonable for such a phenomenon to exist — as I learned in low-level war games in the Army, being able to distinguish your partisans from potential enemies is a useful skill to possess — and I have essentially no capacity for making these judgment calls on the fly.

Bill Quick would agree on at least one of those points:

Gaydar doesn’t exist for straight people. But it is a fact of life for gay people. I’m not going to be 100% right, but over 55 years of experience, I’ve found I’m right about 95%+ of the time about guessing somebody’s sexuality. With other guys.

Not with the women, though. But they have their own version — galdar? — and I’ve been told it’s pretty damned accurate as well.

But straight people? They’re clueless. They might as well flip coins.

This is certainly consistent with my long-standing inability to read incoming signals, irrespective of sender and of sender’s motives if any.

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Blung forward

The best justification for bling I’m ever likely to see:

On a Facebook thread the other day, Straight Outta Compton (which I loved) was being discussed and a guy showed up and said he didn’t like hip hop, he said he had a “visceral reaction” to “the bling.”

But bling was (and always has been) a symbol of triumph/reveling in success/a signifier.

Nor is it a black thing, particularly:

Carl Perkins’ parents were sharecroppers. He sometimes worked from morning till night. He’d go to school, and would pick cotton before school and pick cotton after school. Poverty. And then — like with so many of these guys, then and now — he went from poverty to having money in a very VERY short period of time.

“Bling” is an upraised middle finger to the poverty in your past, a triumphant statement along the lines of “getta load-a what I just did, all by my damn SELF.” Of course you would want your wealth to be seen by all. What would be the point otherwise?

What, indeed? Just like there is no more fervent believer than the recent convert, there is no more willing spender than the recently poor. And it’s hard as hell to blame them for that, given society’s ongoing tendency to look down its nose at those on the bottom rungs:

All these guys — Carl Perkins, Sam Phillips — and all the blues artists who inspired them — dressed to the NINES the second they got a paycheck and would buy an entire head-to-toe pink suit and a bright red felt fedora, or an entire electric blue suit, or glittery rings and watches. Attention-getting. As Dave Marsh observed in his Elvis book (and it could apply to all these guys): what Elvis wanted, more than anything, was to be an “unignorable man.” This is what unremitting poverty does to a person, the shame it activates, and sometimes the determination. Bling is a message. Bling is a warning… It doesn’t just mean that you have “made it.” It means that you have made it OUT.

It’s not called Straight Outta Compton for nothing.

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Everything but existence

Karl Waldmann had it all: the talent, the drive, and the inspiration of purest Dada. What he may not have had was actual human life:

Kunsthaus Dresden, the city’s contemporary art gallery, has removed works by an artist named Karl Waldmann after the police announced it was investigating whether there ever was anyone with that name.

Waldmann, according to his biography [pdf] on the website of the virtual “Waldmann Museum,” was a German-born Dadaist who never exhibited any of his work and “disappeared” in 1958. A French journalist supposedly acquired all of his known oeuvre — more than 1,000 works — in a flea market in Berlin in 1989.

Doubts about Waldmann’s existence have flourished of late:

Late last month, the journalist Thomas Steinfeld wrote in the Süddeutsche Zeitung that Waldmann probably was an invention. No references to the artist can be found during his alleged lifetime, and none of the curators who have selected Waldmann’s works for their exhibitions have had any idea of the collages’ true provenance. Chemical analysis of the paper used in the collages has found chemicals that could only have been used since the 1940s, although the works’ style is firmly fixed in the first 30 years of the 20th century.

Steinfeld went so far as to say that the Waldmann portfolio ought to be locked up until its provenance can be determined. But it’s not like the works are causing any grief to their owners:

Indeed, this could be a victimless crime. Even if Waldmann never existed, the collages are not exactly fakes. They are anonymous creations that people buy because they like them — but more likely, because they are good conversation starters: a mysterious artist, echoes of Russian and German totalitarian pasts, Dadaism, Bauhaus.

And at €10,000 and up, they ought to be.

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Mount this, pal

You don’t see General Motors complaining about the name of that mountain in Alaska, do you?

[T]his most American of vehicles is named after a mountain in a park in a state that wasn’t even a state until after the Korean War. Nobody goes there, although it’s possible to be short-roped up the thing the same way the socialites are dragged up the side of Everest. I have no idea what the terrain around Denali looks like and neither do you. What matters is that it represents something beyond civilization:

“But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before.”

That’s what Denali is: the territory ahead that we will never reach. Instead, we’ll stay at the office for another evening of forcible civilization and Starbucks. It’s all the better for being essentially useless and inhospitable, because that helps it remain just an idea and not a place you’d use your NetJets share to visit on a long weekend.

And after all, this sort of naming scheme for automobiles has been around for a long time, though certainly the ill-fated Lincoln Versailles has been forgotten by now.

After the mountain was Denali, but before it became Denali again, it was something else entirely:

No wonder, then, that the mountain is being renamed. We don’t deserve a Mount McKinley. McKinley was a winner. He protected American jobs and saved the economy and won a war and picked up Hawaii while he was at it. And when he died, the man he agreed to take as vice-president did a pretty decent job, too. We couldn’t use a guy like that nowadays; wouldn’t know what to do with him. So it’s perfectly reasonable to change Mount McKinley back to Mount Denali. Maybe Rainier will change back to Tacoma before you know it. That’s been in the works since 1921 or so, and it makes more sense. And it would free the name of Rainier to find its natural home: on the side of upscale Enclaves. Enclave Rainier. You know it makes sense. What better way to celebrate a class of vehicles, and of owners, that never looks up from the quotidian to the mountain, or, indeed, anything at all?

Buick, home of the Enclave, was — briefly — home of the Rainier. So all this stuff fits together far better than it has any right to.

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Violet thoughts

I’ve often felt like this:

He typed like a ninja with no arms, and the text flowed like a drop of blood down a katana blade sharpened with one of those automatic kitchen things you can buy on late-night television when you’re drunk but not too drunk to read off your 16-digit credit card number and security code.

This paragraph — by Alex Dering of Brooklyn — won a Dishonorable Mention in the Purple Prose division of this year’s Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, dedicated, as always, to “bad opening sentences to imaginary novels.” The 2015 winners list is now up.

I probably could not have equaled this feat, compelled as I am to point out that American Express cards have only 15 digits. (Oh, and a longer security code.)

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Life is too short to laugh

There’s one in every crowd: the guy who is SO SRS that he takes it as a sign of his personal superiority, which enables him to, say, bash Terry Pratchett for being funny and popular, which inevitably conflicts with the aforementioned SRSness.

One should, of course, object to this sort of thing on general principle:

Life is short. But it’s also unpleasant sometimes and an escape is often a nice thing. I’ve read my share of “literary” novels (I read One Hundred Years of Solitude years ago as part of a book club. I tried reading Grass’ The Tin Drum but couldn’t get into it very far.) A lot of the modern literary novels — at least, the ones that seem to win awards — that I’ve tried have disappointed me; they seem mainly to be Cavalcades of Dysfunction where no one seems to be trying to be better. I get that they’re great art but in a lot of cases when I read, I am looking for diversion or entertainment.

The problem is that Great Art, according to our current gatekeepers, is supposed to Make You Think. Indoctrination, pure and simple. It is unthinkable that you should read something because you damned well want to read something. From my own distant past:

I encountered an example of this disjuncture myself, as a high-school student earnestly blabbing away about a Jack Finney novel — no, not the one you’re thinking — and then being shot down by a teacher who wondered why I was bothering with this comparatively “accessible” stuff while dust accumulated on The Vicar of Wakefield.

And besides, if I need a grounding in Goldsmith, I can always see a production of She Stoops to Conquer; it’s probably going on somewhere even as we speak.

With that in mind, I bring you the good work of Lindley Armstrong Jones, the last century’s most eccentric interpreter of Bizet:

But comedy, like Rodney Dangerfield, gets no respect in this You Must Be Edified universe.

See also Francis W. Porretto, a man of small-c catholic tastes:

I’ve often been sneered at by persons who pretend to “higher standards.” While I can’t argue for my tastes — who can? — it’s often seemed to me that the devotees of those “higher standards” are more interested in elevating themselves over others than in what they claim to enjoy.

We have a winner.

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Last seen on the streets of Toledo


A New York City artist’s RedBall art installation has popped up around the world.

Brooklyn-based Kurt Perschke created the piece, which weighs 113 kilograms and stands 4.5 metres tall, in 2001. The project debuted in St. Louis, Mo.

Up to now, the ball has traveled far and wide, and has behaved itself. But a sudden storm in Toledo, Ohio motivated it to move out:

For the remainder of its stay, the ball was tied down.

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Downvotes galore

Author Elyse Salpeter grumbles about one-star book reviews on Amazon and such:

Most of the time if you see someone post a one star review they are either a troll (a person out to simply be vindictive to that author, or they just want to make a nasty statement to hurt someone). Why do I say this? Because if you READ the review, you’ll realize the reader many times NEVER even read the book, didn’t go more than two pages, reviews another book and mixed them up, or is upset that they thought they bought a romance and got a thriller. I kid you not. I’ve seen people give one star reviews because they bought a book in the wrong genre and are blaming the author. I saw another person give a book a one star review because they bought Book #5 or #6 in an epic series and were upset they didn’t know the history of the series because they never purchased the other previous novels.

Now, I’m not saying people aren’t entitled to say they hated a book, but make sure the review is solid. Is it poorly written? Filled with grammatical errors? Did they not like the plot or heroine? If there is a solid reason for that one star, okay, if not move on.

Some of these people have never even seen the book; they’re simply following instructions from whatever hive mind assimilated them.

I tend to be relatively forgiving myself — I’ve never given out a single-star review — but I’m also not convinced that I’m the final authority on such matters.

And anyway, it’s not just books:

People giving reviews for medications. The big thing I noticed is that most people claiming one star reviews over-medicated themselves each and every time and were trashing the products for the side effects. One medication said take 1-3 pills with lots of water. (and to START with one) These people went right ahead and claimed they took three pills and were upset they got very bad side effects like their insides were about to explode. Even when the packaging said that you should start with one, but you CAN take up to three if your symptoms keep persisting. I saw one star after one star review, all of these people took too much medication and then blamed the product. Others already have problems where they shouldn’t even take this product in the first place, others didn’t drink enough water, milk, food, with the medications and blamed the product. It’s odd to me that people will feel this need to post in this fashion. Where is their own responsibility in this? People must be participatory in their own healthcare issues. Be smart.

Which is odd, since a lot of those book reviewers, to me at least, seem insufficiently medicated.

You can imagine what sort of contumely (not to be confused with cilantro) is heaped upon recipes.

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Papa’s got a brand new blind bag

The matter only came up once. The cashier rang up the other items, came upon a My Little Pony toy, and asked, “For the grandchild?”

“No, actually, it’s mine,” I replied. An eyebrow was raised to bangs level, maybe a smidgen higher; but nothing more was said, and nothing since has been said.

So I wasn’t too flabbergasted when Target announced they were moving away from “gender-based” signage:

Over the past year, guests have raised important questions about a handful of signs in our stores that offer product suggestions based on gender. In some cases, like apparel, where there are fit and sizing differences, it makes sense. In others, it may not. Historically, guests have told us that sometimes — for example, when shopping for someone they don’t know well — signs that sort by brand, age or gender help them get ideas and find things faster. But we know that shopping preferences and needs change and, as guests have pointed out, in some departments like Toys, Home or Entertainment, suggesting products by gender is unnecessary.

This may benefit the 13-year-old boy who shudders every time he enters the pink aisles full of Barbie and Dora. But that boy isn’t me, and I’m figuring Hasbro will take this in stride:

To stay alive in marketing is to stay ahead of the game. Target may not have shifted the game in any noticeable way, but it has definitely “planted the plunderseeds” for the future. It’s possible that Hasbro’s future toy designs will have a little less pink and white than today’s designs. It’s also possible that nothing is going to change, and Target might roll back their choice in the coming years if it makes shopping more confusing and unfavorable towards its customers. However I have faith that Target’s choice is the beginning of something huge. Whether it’s the discussion of the social stigmas surrounding children’s toys, or an outright challenge to those by one toy company at a time, I can’t wait for what happens next.

Trust me on this: if the kids are along for the shopping trip, they’ll find the toys they want, whether you want them to or not.

(If you’re not familiar with the concept of the blind bag, this will help.)

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