This is good news for PKD fans? Really? Really, really?

>> Saturday, May 31, 2008

SFFMedia says that a French production company has acquired the film rights to Philip K. Dick's Ubik. Sadly, this would mostly be good news if the company had no intention of making the film and merely meant to sit on the rights for an indefinite period of time. Perhaps until after Michael Bay passes away--I mean, not that I hope that anything happens to Michael Bay, I'd be fine if he dies of old age. I guess I'm saying I hope nobody ever makes this movie.

Which is sort of a shame, because Ubik is one of PKD's most cinematic novels. The writer himself had a treatment he'd been toying with throughout the 1970s when he died in '82. The novel has a barreling-forward chase plot, the fun, mindfucking twists are (for PKD) relatively straightforward, and the way in which the book handles some of PKD's favorite themes (particularly entropy) are well-suited for visuals. (One of the ideas in PKD's treatment, apparently, was that the film would use increasingly old stock as the movie progressed, to give everything a progressively distressed and faded look. I'm not sure that would have worked the way Dick meant it to, i.e. at all, but it's an interesting idea that conveys the kind of feel the film could have--and digital production means a similar effect to what PKD wanted could be achieved if the director of Ubik decides to go that particular route. Mostly, I throw this in as an illustration, not an endorsement of the concept.)

The problem, of course, is that nobody has ever done a good PKD movie. Don't start writing your comments yet. Blade Runner, the movie you were thinking of when you started to object to the first sentence of this paragraph, doesn't even keep the original title of the novel it's supposedly based on, preferring to steal a title from a William S. Burroughs treatment about organ thieves. It does keep some character names and a semblance of the plot, but little of Dick's basic themes. It also, I regret to say, isn't as good as you think it is. And now I duck.

Is it safe to come out? No? Yes? Maybe if I stay behind this couch?

Blade Runner is a phenomenal movie, one of the best bad movies ever made. It's a classic, a gorgeous vision of a dystopian future with a look that's permeated modern culture in a way few movies ever do. And it has an utterly shitty script. Seriously. Go watch it again, and this time close your eyes to Ridley Scott's utterly spectacular visuals. That is some of the worst dialogue penned for a science fiction movie; it makes parts of Attack Of The Clones sound like poetry, and I exaggerate not.

Tyrell: Is this to be an empathy test? Capillary dilation of the so-called blush response? Fluctuation of the pupil. Involuntary dilation of the iris...
Deckard: We call it Voight-Kampff for short.

Do you really? I mean, okay, technically "Voight-Kampff" is one syllable shorter than "empathy," but how is it easier to remember? And the movie is full of stilted dialogue like that.

Bryant: Christ, Deckard. You look almost as bad as that skin-job you left on the sidewalk.

Now you're going to say, "Yeah, but what about Roy Batty's monologue when he's dying? That's pretty good." You mean the one Rutger Hauer wrote himself, sort of the way Robert Shaw wrote his own "Indianapolis" speech in Jaws? Yeah, those are the best lines in the movie.

The dirty little secret about Blade Runner is that it would have been an absolutely terrible movie but for Ridley Scott and Syd Mead. What am I saying? Mead alone couldn't have saved Runner, genius though he is, if it had been directed by nearly anyone other than Scott.

The other two great PKD-movies-that-aren't-PKD movies are Total Recall, understandably despised by many PKD fans, and Minority Report. Recall is a fun movie, and captures a certain garishness that showed up in a lot of PKD stories (particularly the early ones), and a scene in which Arnold Schwarzenegger blows someone up with his detached head is even reminiscent of a scene in Ubik in which a character floats up to the ceiling and explodes. But Recall isn't really a PKD film any more than Runner is, Runner is only acknowledged by more PKD fans because Runner is an obvious piece of artistry. (And lacks subtlety. When we see the hovering police cars and flame-drenched industrial landscape during Runner's first several seconds, we know something special is happening. Paul Verhoeven, meanwhile, is easily one of the most misunderstood directors in Hollywood, possessing a fine subtlety that's frequently missed by viewers and critics.) Recall is ultimately the product of its star in much the same way Runner is a product of its director; they are a Schwarzenegger movie and a Ridley Scott movie, not Philip K. Dick movies.

As for Report--when I first started writing this, I had two movies listed. Then, when I was getting hyperlinks from IMDB I saw I'd overlooked Minority Report yet again. It's a very good movie, and actually quite faithful to the source material. And it's fairly forgettable for some reason. Who knows why. Spielberg is a genius, one of my favorite directors, and Tom Cruise is really a quite good leading man despite... despite... we all know, don't we? Can we call them "faults" and move on? Report is a pretty film, well made, interesting premise... ah, there's part of it. One problem with Report is it's a short story, shortish film premise stretched out to a two-and-a-half hour long chase. You could work the whole thing into a forty-seven minute long episode of the '90s version of Outer Limits if you really wanted to, easy.

All of which leaves me feeling a little queasy about a film version of Ubik.

Knowing my readership, some of you might be thinking about John Scalzi's recent piece about book-to-film adaptations. He's right and all, but it's sort of beside the point I'm trying to make here, assuming I have one. The piece I linked to originally, from SFFMedia, called this "good news for fans of quality science fiction," a matter that remains to be seen. And the other PKD adaptations I discussed above are all good, solid, enjoyable movies when divorced from their source material--one of them is even justly regarded as a classic despite some considerable flaws (incidentally, some of those flaws may be part of the reason Blade Runner was a flop when it was released--it took some time before audiences could look past the trees to see the entire forest, to tweak the cliché ).

Here's what I really think about the whole thing, though it took me a long time to get here: Ubik is a fantastic book, one of PKD's best and one of his most accessible (not always the same thing with PKD, I'm afraid). If you haven't read this book, go buy it. You'll be doing yourself a favor. Even if you're not a PKD fan: Ubik is as good a place to start with PKD as just about any. Read it, enjoy it, and we'll see if anyone even goes to this movie if it ever gets made.


I was going to leave the subject alone, feeling like I'd said enough--but I can't help it: this made me laugh...

>> Friday, May 30, 2008


The straight man who couldn't keep it straight

Checking the news before bed, I see that Harvey Korman has passed away from an aneurysm at age 81.

You live long enough, you start outliving people, that's the way it goes. The earlier generations slip away slowly but surely, and at 81 Korman's death is hardly a remarkable thing. He had a good, long run, longer than a lot of people get. And yet I can't help feeling a little sad. Okay, it's been a long time since Korman's best work graced us--maybe thirty years, even. But he was a part of the landscape, part of my backdrop even after he'd all but retired, only popping up for the occasional second-rate later Mel Brooks films almost as a favor to his old friend.

When I was growing up, reruns of the Carol Burnett Show were on every single weekday in the afternoon. I can remember watching them in the afternoons or early evenings, before or even during dinner. I haven't seen an episode since the early '80s and yet I probably remember nearly every sketch from that show, there are probably Carol Burnett sketches hardwired into my neurons now that I've long forgotten. The single best thing about the Carol Burnett show, though, wasn't so much the written comedy (which was frequently hysterical): it was that whenever Harvey Korman was partnered with Tim Conway, he was physically incapable of keeping a straight face even though he was always supposed to be the straight man in the classic Conway/Korman sketches. In this day and age, when Jimmy Fallon has mysteriously been able to retire from Saturday Night Live to pursue leading roles in movie comedies, the uninitiated might think Korman was an amateur and incompetent like Fallon, but the reality is that practically nobody could keep a straight face onstage with Conway in his prime. Korman was the perfect foil for Conway precisely because he sort of transcended the straight man's traditional role of proxy for the audience and helplessly became part of the audience.

The infamous dentist sketch, of course, may be the paradigmatic Conway/Korman sketch:

Any younger readers shouldn't mistake Korman's breakdown during the dentist sketch or my aside about "second-rate Brooks movies" the wrong way. Korman was a brilliant, professional comic who could carry a scene just fine, and in several of Mel Brooks's classics, Korman could dominate. Dracula, Dead And Loving It was a travesty, a sad sight to see Korman sleepwalking through poorly written and paced scenes as an obvious favor to Brooks, but Korman's work in Blazing Saddles, High Anxiety and History Of The World Part I, from Brooks's fecund genius period, is absolutely brilliant. Here's Korman trying to swear in a motley crew of evil henchmen in Saddles, and trying not to lose his cool and assault the moronic ruffians before they can rape, pillage, burn and rape (some of them like rape) the town of Rock Ridge, obstacle to his dreams of dominating big-voiced, gorgeous German hussies (note that Korman is also one of the few people in the world to pronounce the word "evil" correctly, enunciating both of the "e"s in the word):

And, also from Saddles, here's Korman making the word "shitkicker" much funnier than it ought to be (with an assist from Slim Pickens):

As I mentioned, Korman was a fixture when I was growing up. He was a villain in one of the "Herbie" sequels, had a cameo in the Star Wars Christmas Special, showed up a number of times on The Love Boat, played The Great Gazoo on The Flintstones, sold gadgets and disguises to Inspecter Clouseau. His IMDB page lists some ninety-four film and television appearances, a bulk of them from those years in the '70s and '80s when my pliant young mind was at its most impressionable, making him something of an icon for my generation. And if his death as an old man isn't a surprise, it's also a given that he will be missed, remembered fondly, and above all else: loved.


I got nothing, you get Smog

>> Thursday, May 29, 2008

Another one of those evenings I can't think of a damn thing to write, so let's do a video instead.

You might notice that I added a few lists to the sidebar for this, the second incarnation of Giant Midgets, and that one of the entries is a list of music I've picked up recently. And that one of the items in that list is Smog's 2005 A River Ain't Too Much To Love. I've been listening to it a good bit, not just because I recently bought it but also because I think I've been in a bit of a mellow mood of late and because River makes a nice pair with a few some other things I've been in the mood for lately, like Iron And Wine and Calixico's In The Reins (hey, by the way, if you didn't watch this video a couple of weeks ago, watch it now, eh?).

Anyway, like the title of the post says, I got nothing, you get Smog. Specifically, you get the video for "Rock Bottom Riser" from River.

We're going with this one because it's some lovely animation, and regular readers will know I'm a sucker for animation. But I have to tell you that this isn't the video I planned on embedding. The video I planned on embedding, before stumbling onto the official song video, was this live performance at SXSW, the year of which I was unable to determine. I'll spare you the embed of the same song twice, but if you liked the studio version used for the music video, then I strongly encourage you to take a look at the live version. It's an audience video, so the picture isn't much, but the sound is relatively good and it's a lovely live performance.

This is the part where I started to tell a boring story you don't care about for a second time. I'll spare you that, too. Enjoy the music.


St. Louis mom gives birth to quintuplets, and she still doesn't have enough kids!

>> Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Why? Because kittens are cute, even if they grow up into something that could rip your face clean off with a single paw swipe.

All together, now: Awwwwwww!

I believe this brings me up-to-date on my cat/blog ratio for a little while, anyway.


People are really saying this?

>> Tuesday, May 27, 2008

In today's Slate, the ever-brilliant and wonderful Dahlia Lithwick has a nice piece about the doomsayers who now claim that Hillary Clinton's all-but-certain defeat in the Democratic primaries means we won't ever have a woman president in our lifetimes. Or somebody's lifetime. Maybe all of these writers are planning mass suicide or something. I don't know. The thing I find most bewildering is that there are people saying this at all; of course, Ms. Lithwick takes them all to task and points out what fools they are and why their... their--does it deserve to be called analysis?--why these articles and commentaries are full of logical hoops and faults and flaws.

When did Hillary Clinton become the acme of political womanhood? I mean, good grief: even when I still respected her, I didn't necessarily assume she was the greatest woman in the United States Of America. I'm not sure who, if anyone, I might have picked for such deification, to be honest. And at this point, after repeatedly demonstrating that she has issues with honesty, integrity, fair play and reality itself, I have to wonder why anyone would think Senator Clinton is the best her gender has to offer, much less the only thing out there. Am I the only one who reads articles like the New York Times and Washington Post pieces Ms. Lithwick so elegantly fillets and thinks of the Futurama episode "A Leela Of Her Own"?

For those of you who missed the episode or (gasp!) aren't fans of one of the best science-fiction shows and one of the best television cartoons of the past twenty years-or-so, the episode runs something like this: Leela, the one-eyed starship captain and general badass of the Planet Express delivery service, gets the opportunity to be the first female blurnsball pitcher--blurnsball being a thirtieth-century sport that combines elements of baseball, pinball, tetherball, giant-spider rodeo riding and (possibly) Calvinball. The problem is, Leela's utter lack of depth perception (one-eyed starship captain, remember?) and general incompetence as a blurnsball player means that she's a fiasco. The team owner only keeps her on the team because her career becomes a lucrative circus show that salvages the team's falling attendance--people start coming to games to watch Leela bean the crap out of some poor batter.

The episode ends--and this is where I'm really feeling the parallels to what ought to happen to Senator Clinton--with an up-and-coming female blurnsball player confronting Leela to tell her how much Leela has inspired her to play: Leela has become such an embarrassment to her entire gender that she felt obligated to try even harder just to prove that it's not women who suck, just Leela.

There will be a woman President of the United States. She won't be a chimera of the sort Times writer Kate Zernike pointedly says "doesn't exist." She may not be anyone we've ever heard of. Maybe she'll focus on her own experience instead of trying to say that her experience as an elected office-holder's wife makes her especially qualified for office for some reason. Maybe she'll be relatively honest, at least as honest as politicians get or can be; maybe she won't come off as being as opportunistic as Senator Clinton sometimes seems (take, for instance, her newfound relationship with publisher Richard Mellon Scaife, who once accused Senator Clinton and her husband of murdering Vince Foster--please). I'd love it if the first woman President is a liberal, but writers who keep making that assumption seem to be oblivious to politicians like my own state's Senator Dole. (Did you realize, incidentally, that the first woman elected to the United States House of Representatives, Jeannette Rankin, was a Republican*? The first woman nominated to the United States Supreme Court? A Republican. The first woman to serve in the United States Senate, it turns out, was a Democrat--apparently she was appointed to serve and served one damn day; you know, I really, really, really hate to say it, but it may be that people who appear to be so desperate to get a woman elected to the Oval Office are looking at the wrong fucking party.)

Above and beyond anything else, the first woman President will be a leader. She won't be elected because she "deserves" it, or because she's paid her dues, or because it's just time now for a woman to be elected, already. She will be elected because she can persuade a majority of the public that they should follow her, she will be elected because we decide she's the right person to lead the American people.

*I josh at the expense of Republicans, but Congresswoman Rankin's Wikipedia entry makes her sound unbelievably awesome and is a reminder of the fact that Republicans used to Not Suck: Congresswoman Rankin was a social worker, a suffragette, voted against American entry into World War I, was the founding vice-president of the ACLU, studied pacifism in India, protested the Vietnam War, and when she died left her property to found a scholarship fund for women with low incomes. This woman

Ms. Rankin, I think I love you.


Insert post here

>> Monday, May 26, 2008

I haven't thought of anything to write about yet, so watch this old (Johnny Carson-era) Tonight Show clip of Bob (Elliott) and Ray (Goulding) discussing the thrilling hobby of photographing California Condors:

(Of course I looked for the komodo dragon sketch, but I couldn't find it on YouTube and the version on Google Video has atrociously bad sound. If you're not familiar with the sketch and have a chance to catch it, do so--it's a real classic; the funniest/worst thing about it being that I've seen real TV interviews and more than a few courtroom examinations that uncannily mimic the komodo dragon sketch.)

If I don't come back with anything else, have a nice day, 'kay?



>> Sunday, May 25, 2008

I have a friend who's a bit obsessed with high definition. I can't really blame him--he's an aspiring filmmaker, and I have to admit that there are some movies that truly look spectacular on Blu-Ray and a big TV.

And yet... I have reservations. Not that they matter; eventually I'll get a big TV with lots of lines and eventually I'll get a Blu-Ray player, and eventually I'll end up with whatever they come up with after that. My current TV isn't quite obsolete (not for my purposes, at least--if I watched broadcast TV or had cable, I'd need a converter box at some point in the near future), but it's already old, it takes an extra second to warm up and the colors aren't quite as bright as they used to be. I remember when televisions weren't disposable appliances: you could go in someone's house and there might well be a ten or twenty year old set doing service in a living room or bedroom. I remember dials and black-and-white sets and rabbit ears, and I remember wood veneer. But I digress.

High definition. Reservations.

The problem with the high definition formats is that they're high definition. I think we've all heard about the "hi-def porn problem." If you haven't--and please, this is an issue that's been discussed in geek media and even mainstream media like the New York Times (registration may be required), it's not just something dirty old men talk about--if you haven't, the basic issue is this: grainier formats like videotape and film tend to naturally obscure blemishes, scars, and other faults that become painfully visible at high resolutions where you can see everything. It's not just a problem for porn, either, though porn is getting attention for it because of porn's... intimacy: the Slate piece linked to, supra, mentions a reviewer being shocked at Cameron Diaz's skin after seeing a hi-def version of Charlie's Angels, and I've heard reports of makeup lines being visible in hi-def versions of mainstream Hollywood releases.

The reason it's on my mind at the moment is that I watched The Terminator again last night, first time I've watched it on DVD, and I found myself wondering if I'd ever want to see it on Blu-Ray. And I think the answer is "no," although it may be inevitable. It seems ungenerous to criticize Terminator's special effects: James Cameron and Stan Winston are obvious sfx geniuses, and Terminator is a wonderful harbinger of what would later come from them: Terminator's effects are impressive for a six million-dollar movie. And there are some moments in Terminator that make me hate CGI: the half-Terminator puppets used in the movie's final scenes have a physicality that is missing from a good 90% of contemporary CGI movie monsters; if Terminator were a low-budget movie being made today, they almost certainly would use computers and it would almost certainly look far worse than a movie made in 1984.

But the rear-projection scenes in Terminator didn't look good when I first saw the movie on VHS in the '80s (I've never seen Terminator in the theater, something we'll be coming back to), and they're worse on DVD. I have to give Cameron credit: it's far better than average rear-projection work. But it's got all the usual problems of the process, from the telltale faintness of the background relative to the foreground, to characters in the foreground being "immune" to activities in the background such as explosions or changes in lighting.

All of that is really noticeable on DVD and even on VHS. But the thing is, I'm not sure it has to be noticeable. What do I mean?

What I mean is this: I think I know the perfect environment for watching The Terminator. It's not an up-to-date home theater setup with surround and a hi-def media player and big-screen monitor. Nor is the ideal environment a contemporary, THX-certified multiplex cinema with auditorium seating. No, I suspect the ideal environment is, shockingly enough, the one the movie was actually made for, the kind of theater the movie was released to in '84: an old theater built in the '50s or '60s, with an underpowered bulb in the projector (a formerly common cost-cutting measure by theater owners that tended to darken and muddy images), with mono sound. And even, I think, with the secondary attributes of those old theaters: the sticky floor, the slightly-oppressive reek of mildew coming off the discolored red curtains serving as a crude sound-dampener over the brick or concrete walls.

It sounds sort of terrible, maybe, unless you happen to share my misplaced sense of nostalgia for those awful movie theaters of yore, but think about it: the problem with The Terminator in crystal-clear high definition is that the seams show. I mean, okay, it's great if you want to academically deconstruct the film's technique: "Notice how Linda Hamilton standing at the corner of the building doesn't quite react in time to the rear-projected exploding model truck, which fails to muss her hair." But that's not what the film was intended to do, it wasn't meant to make small talk for film students, it was meant to thrill and scare and amuse you while you're chowing down on buttered popcorn and enough soda to cause renal failure. I could be wrong--I never had the chance to see The Terminator in the theater (I was 12, and while I remember the posters quite well, there was no way my parents were taking me to an R-rated movie called The Terminator starring Arnold Schwarzenegger)--but I suspect the underpowered projectors muddied the movie up enough that everything looked good, which is ironic but there it is.

I'm not a Luddite by any stretch of the imagination--well, okay, I didn't get a cell phone until this year, but that's different. But I do wonder if the push towards higher-definition isn't doing a disservice to our classics (and yes, I'd consider The Terminator a kind of classic). Film is an illusion, the illusion of movement created from still images, the illusion of sound in space created by speakers. Darkness and silence in the theater causing sensory deprivation that sucks you into a world that's granular and fluttery so you don't even notice the roughness and blur. I'm sure at some point I'll own The Terminator and a lot of other older movies on some higher-definition format than DVD. I'm just not sure I'm looking forward to it.


The soul's pain

>> Saturday, May 24, 2008

Over on Slate, Ron Rosenbaum has a rather good piece on "liberal guilt" that's worth a read. Rosenbaum is a writer I have some ambivalence about--he writes well but is frequently a bit off substance-wise, sometimes getting a little loony or failing to back up his conclusions with his premises--but this piece is a reminder of why I still go back and read his columns.

The gist of it is sort of summed up in these two paragraphs:

Since when has guilt become shameful? Since when is shame shameful when it's shame about a four-centuries-long historical crime? Not one of us is a slave owner today, segregation is no longer enshrined in law, and there are fewer overt racists than before, but if we want to praise America's virtues, we have to concede—and feel guilty about—America's sins, else we praise a false god, a golden calf, a whited sepulcher, a Potemkin village of virtue. (I've run out of metaphors, but you get the picture.)

Guilt is good, people! The only people who don't suffer guilt are sociopaths and serial killers. Guilt means you have a conscience. You have self-awareness, you have—in the case of America's history of racism—historical awareness. Just because things have gotten better in the present doesn't mean we can erase racism from our past or ignore its enduring legacy.

He's right, of course. The reason we liberals feel guilty is something like the famous quote--I believe it was Mark Twain, but I'm too lazy to look it up right now--that man is the only animal that blushes, or needs to; liberals feel guilty because Americans actually have some things to feel guilty about, not as an end to itself but as a starting point towards atonement.

Because that's the function of guilt. That's what guilt is all about. The point of guilt is not so you can walk around wallowing in shame. And I suppose that's half the answer to Rosenbaum's rhetorical question right there: one reason so many conservatives have an issue with "liberal guilt" and the critique of American history that it entails may go back to that hideous Protestant tradition that says sin is something we're born in and there's not much you can do about it except let Jesus' unconditional love and forgiveness absolve you of it in Heaven. If sin just is, then there's not much you can do about it--notice how the similarity between this form of apathetic fatalism and the attitude you sometimes hear conservatives express about things like affirmative action: "all that bad stuff happened a long time ago and things are different; maybe people used to be racists, but I'm not a racist so why is this my problem?" Man is born in sin and dies in sin; Americans are born in a post-slaveowning culture and will die in one. What is past is past, and there's nothing you can do to rectify what began at Jamestown any more than you can throw up what was consumed in Eden.

The other half of it, and this seems self-evident to me but maybe it's not--is that all things "liberal" are tarnished in post-Reagan America. Part of the great Republican strategy after Nixon's disgrace was to exact a revenge on liberalism that would make the very word an anathema and exile the left in a way unseen in America since the McCarthy era. I don't think there's any debating that the right has succeeded in this: "liberal" has become such a dirty word in our political discourse that even leftists tend to seek refuge in their thesauruses (thesauri?). It's such a dirty word I've even had conservative friends correct me when I openly identified myself as a liberal--"No you're not!" in a tone of voice they'd used if I said I was stupid or ugly or unlovable. They clearly think highly enough of me that they hate hearing me disparage myself with that horrible epithet.

And then there's this, which I wish I'd written myself:

The question of liberal guilt and guilty liberals often comes up in discussions of reactions to "black anger," unfortunately expressed most loudly and bitterly in this campaign by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. But it's all too easy to dismiss the legitimacy of black anger merely on the basis of the Rev. Wright's sadly twisted version of it.

Do the people who dismiss black anger think there's nothing to be angry about? As a Jew, I think I have a right to be angry, still, about the Holocaust, even though it happened before I was born. It would be hard for me to understand an African-American not being angry about 400 years of murder, rape, and enslavement on the basis of race. Anger, like guilt, shouldn't be the endpoint, but anger at injustice is not illegitimate and can be a starting point, a spur to moral action. Where you end up is, alas, often a different matter.

But it seems to me that some people use the Rev. Wright's ugly expression of anger as a fig leaf to discredit Obama, who has clearly ended up at a different place from the Rev. Wright (largely due, one imagines, to the civil rights movement). Yes, Obama may well have an understanding of the Rev. Wright's anger, but if you can't see the difference between the two men historically, culturally, generationally, and temperamentally, then I'd say you just don't want to....

Months later, I still find myself a bit shocked and mystified that there are still people expressing anger about Reverend Wright's "god damn America" comments--as if one man saying it is enough to bring down an undeserved curse on our heads from on high. As if a man who watched the leaders of the civil rights movement gunned down in cold blood isn't justified in being, shall we say, a little irate at the sometimes slow pace and falling down we've had along the path to a more just society. As if it's not possible for a former marine and contemporary preacher of an often-oppressed community to have conflicting feelings about a country that he risked his neck for that has sometimes turned its collective back on members of his parish.

But Rosenbaum's best comment may be his last word in the piece:

What's so great about being "great" if it depends on historical ignorance or denial? Again, to love America truly, one has to love the America that is and was, not a fantasy America free from flaws.

To be a truly "great American," one doesn't have to be a guilty liberal, but one has to know guilt.

I don't want to say that we lefties have a monopoly on conscience--I don't really believe that, although there are admittedly a lot of conservatives in the public square trying to prove me wrong. (When you say Ann Coulter's name, horses whinny in panic.) To feel guilt is to feel the prickling of your conscience, to know that you bear responsibility. It follows, I think, that not feeling some sense of guilt is to be irresponsible, and how could that ever be a good thing? And, of course, guilt demands something of us--atonement, rectification; guilt requires something from us, and that, more than anything, might be why certain irresponsible Americans feel and express such obvious resentment over the subject. Liberals (and enlightened conservatives who may not publicly admit what their conscience forces them to) don't enjoy feeling bad, as is commonly and ludicrously alleged. Nobody enjoys feeling guilty, that's the whole damn point of the sentiment. To feel guilty is to know that something must be done, that there is a wrong to be corrected as best it can be and not to be repeated again. Guilt is the soul's pain: as the one informs the body it is in trouble, the other so informs the soul.

What's wrong with liberal guilt?

I agree with Rosenbaum. Not a damn thing. No wait: there is one thing wrong with it.

It should be more widespread.


So, yeah, I went to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull this evening...

...and that's all we'll say about that.

I mean, look: you and I both know you're going to go see this movie anyway. It doesn't matter what I say about it. And I don't fault you--I was going to go see it in the theater, regardless. It's just one of those things you have to do. Especially if you're of a certain age. Especially if you're a geek. Especially if you're a Harrison Ford fan. Especially if you're a Steven Spielberg fan.

Hell, you might even like it.


Not really a Friday night movie

>> Friday, May 23, 2008

I was going to post this Wednesday, but then I accidentally wrote an entry about something I didn't think I had anything much to say about other than "Hey, cool!" But the Wednesday comment turned into an entry, and I also remembered that I'm supposed to go to see the new Indiana Jones movie with friends Friday night. (Incidentally, I'm going to go ahead and 'fess up that I'm writing this entry Wednesday.)

It wasn't until I decided to advance post this that I recognized a total coincidence, by the way. On Tuesday I wrote about problems I was having with In Rainbows, and tonight I'm posting the video to "Hybrid Rainbow." Rainbows on the brain, maybe? Well, no. Actually this started to be a YouTube clip of a live Yoko Kanno performance, before it suddenly dawned on my that The Pillows are way too fucking cool and why hadn't I already shared something by them?

This is a gorgeous song. I hope you like it--no, I hope you love it as much as I do. The Pillows, "Hybrid Rainbow":


The oddest pairing of 2007

>> Thursday, May 22, 2008

In the comments for my post about an idiotic music critic, last year's Raising Sand by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant came up as an example of an old dog (Plant) showing he could learn some new tricks. Rebelcat mentioned that she might have to pick it up (might?!? might?!?); by way of offering another inducement to her (and anyone else) to pick up one of last year's best records, here's Plant and Krauss performing "Please Read The Letter" (an old Plant/Page cut) live:

It's a beautiful record. If you don't already own it, you should be buying it. And let's all be happy that Robert Plant lived long enough to show us this side of himself.


One brief flash

>> Wednesday, May 21, 2008

There was an announcement today that astronomers got lucky and were able to focus several of the world's ground-based and space-based telescope on a supernova in real time (or the 84,000,000-year time-delay equivalent; space, as Douglas Adams mentioned, is big, really, really big). This may not seem like a big deal, but it's actually a huge first: normally, we only notice a supernova after it's started, when there's a visible flare-up in the sky; what happened this time was an astronomer just happened by pure luck to notice an X-ray flash while she was looking at data from the orbiting Swift satellite. The process is better explained by Phil Plait ("The Bad Astronomer") at the above link--the skinny is that the core of a dying star collapses faster than the surface does, generating a shock wave of X-rays, you might think of it (by way of a crude analogy) as the chest pains or numb left arm preceding the actual heart attack. What are the odds of an astronomer happening to catch this event? Plait says the X-ray burst lasted five minutes--and, let's see, there are 1,440 minutes in a day... yeah, the odds are long.

As a result, astronomers were able to turn a number of eyes on the source of the flash, and were able to actually watch the star explode. For several millennia now, the classic "observation" of a supernova has pretty much been, "Hey, look, that star's brighter than it was last night." This time, it was essentially, "Wait for it... wait for it... boom! There it goes!" I mean, not exactly, but you get the idea.

By way of further perspective, Plait notes that atoms can't fuse past a certain mass--atoms like calcium, iron, zinc and iodine aren't pumped out by healthy stars, they're cranked out by the dying ones. Carl Sagan used to say we were made out of starstuff, but that's not quite complete--the fuller picture (and I'm not sure if it's less romantic or more) is that we're made of the corpses of stars, the dead ash of the ones that have blown apart or slammed into each other.

But then again, that thought itself is a little prosaic; I kinda hate it when people feel they have to justify science by explaining why something has some practical or banal application. One sometimes begins to think that curiosity has passed from the world, or maybe that's romanticizing the past, too, maybe a certain segment of people has always lacked imagination and a sense of wonder. The bottom line is that even if exploding stars weren't a part of our genesis, vast things blowing up eighty-four million years ago and being noticed just now by someone who happened to be looking at the right five minutes out of fifteen hundred, the light of a mind-blowingly ginormous cataclysm crossing such a vast stretch of time and space that nobody can stand in awe of it for an epoch--all of that is really fucking cool on its own terms.

Anyway, read the article and take a minute (or more) to sit in awe.


Out of Rainbows

>> Tuesday, May 20, 2008

In my office. Slow afternoon. Listening to the iPod while I work.

After the Radiohead show the other week, I re-ripped my physical media Radiohead albums to a higher bitrate (OK Computer has generally sounded like shit on MP3; it sounds vastly better now at a VBR), and put all of them on my iPod--along with the MP3 copy of In Rainbows residing with the Windows machine.

I think I alluded, in a previous post, to the fact that I hadn't listened to Rainbows all that much in part because it routinely caused my iPod to crash. I decided to give the album another chance, and a cursory test of the files in Winamp even suggested they'd decided to work.

Turns out I was wrong.

Fucked-up thing number one: In Rainbows persistently and repeatedly causes my iPod to reset itself. No other album appears to do this. It hits a track from that one album, and switches itself off and on again. Consistently.

Fucked-up thing number two: I have two copies of In Rainbows, downloaded seperately from Radiohead's website, and both copies suffer this glitch. I originally purchased (and downloaded) the album using the Linux machine, and originally copied the files to iPod with Amarok. When the problem showed up, I used the Windows machine (and my access code from the purchase) to download the album again, this time copying the files from Winamp. When that failed to solve the problem, I deleted the files from the iPod for many months before trying this latest copy from the Windows machine a second time. If there's file corruption, it's on two completely seperated and unconnected hard drives, one an 80-gig laptop drive and the other a 500-gig backup USB drive connected to the Windows machine. The logical inferrence would be that the corruption originates with the source, the Radiohead website, no?

And yet--fucked-up thing the third--I can't find anyone else via Google with this specific problem. There's a similar general problem cited with podcasts and the EQ menu, but neither fix applies to my iPod (I don't use podcast folders and my EQ is and has always been off).

The solution appears to be: delete In Rainbows from my iPod and only listen to it (when I listen to it) at home. This is less than satisfactory, since it sort of relegates that one album to a kind of digital ghetto (there are a helluva lot of other things to listen to on that hard drive).

The bigger issue--if you want to elevate it to that--is that it's frustrating to have a problem which doesn't seem to have a solution. (And yes, I did try to search the Apple forums--they kept crashing, too--if I was the superstitious sort, I'd blame ghosts or Satan or something.)

If you have any ideas, I'd love to hear them. If you somehow stumbled here from Google after having the same problem I've had--Apple, iPod, resets, nano, certain songs, Radiohead, In Rainbows (did that help the Google 'bots any?)--I don't have a solution, but no, you're not crazy. At least not insofar as your iPod is concerned.

POSTSCRIPT: Fucked-up thing the fourth: I hit "publish post" and immediately got a Blogspot error code. Happily, the post wasn't lost, it had saved (in its entirety) at some point prior to the error.

It's those kinds of fucked-up coincidences that cause people to think there was a second gunman.


Death and the music critic

Today I stumbled onto a ridiculous commentary piece I felt obliged to share: some asshole writing about "rock martyrs" in The Guardian. The piece isn't really worth reading, actually. So why did I include a link? Oh of course: because anything I might have to say about it will make more sense if you bother yourself with reading it. But I should warn you: there's not really a whole lot of substance there. Apparently professional writers share the experience we amateur bloggers have of needing to fill up an entry even when we have nothing to say.

The most interesting part of the piece is that he thinks Radiohead's Thom Yorke wants to kill him. No, it's not even that interesting: it really appears Yorke wants to kick the writer's ass because, back in 1995, the writer kinda sorta implied that maybe Radiohead would be more famous if Yorke killed himself. Not because of anything personal against Yorke, mind you, but simply because that would make Radiohead's "story" more tragic or interesting or whatever.

See, this is the hideous thing about Paul Lester's (the asshole's) bit of twaddle, the whole "rock martyrs" thing in the title of his fluffy bit of not-much: you may not have realized it, but the whole point of being a musician isn't to try to get paid for entertaining people with your musical or compositional abilities, oh-ho no! Your responsibility, if you're a musician, is to interest people by being a train wreck. If you're a train wreck, somebody will eventually make a movie about you, see, like Anton Corbijn's Joy Division flick, Control.

(Oddly enough, another high-profile music biopic last year was Todd Haynes's I'm Not There, also about a moody dead musician, the late Bob Dylan who tragically committed suicide when he was 27 is still alive, releasing albums, touring, and even hawking lingerie every now and then. Hm. That's strange--how on earth could Bob Dylan deserve biopic treatment when he's alive?)

Here's Mr. Lester's brilliant defense of his asstardery:

We were only saying what people have been saying for years: that dying young, even if it's not the result of living fast, can be a good thing, if you want to preserve the integrity of your art. Come on, we've just experienced two years of Joy Division mania during which Ian Curtis has been canonised as the patron saint of despair. Can we finally accept, now that he's dead and so worthy of consideration not condemnation, that Tony Wilson knew what he was talking about when he concluded that Curtis' suicide was the best career move he could have made? Not that it was the best thing for his wife and daughter, or for his friends. Instead, Curtis' decision to hang himself at the age of 23 was the ultimate confirmation of his commitment to his lyrics and music. Would Joy Division have been taken less seriously today had Curtis lived? Would there have been films and books about them?

"...[D]ying young... can be a good thing, if you want to preserve the integrity of your art"? Ah, yes, because older, living musicians are incapable of integrity, I suppose? Or artists who die young are inevitably geniuses in retrospect no matter how shitty they seemed when they were alive, because they... they have integrity, dude.

Give me a fucking break. I've never even met Paul Lester, I'm generally a pacifist, and I want to pin his fucking arms while Thom Yorke works over his ribs and rearranges his nose. How many things are wrong with Lester's sentiments? I've already pointed one out--there are plenty of books and films about people who have managed to not kill themselves over careers spanning half a century and counting. And if we want to talk about Joy Division specifically, I have to admit I was pretty underwhelmed by JD the first time I heard them--my own reappraisal had nothing to do with Ian Curtis directly (alive or dead) and a good bit to do with cover versions by Nine Inch Nails and If Thousands. (Indeed, my decision to get a copy of Permanent was made after listening to If Thousands's Yellowstone. And to date it's the only JD record I own, though it has stayed on my iPod for a while now and seems fairly safe from deletion for the foreseeable future.)

But the worst thing, the really absolute worst thing about Lester's vapid little piece is how it subscribes to the whole dead artists mythos and caters to the bread'n'circuses mentality the media seems to subscribe to. Which would you rather have, a nice documentary about Gram Parsons or thirty years of albums, most of which would have been good and some of which might have been brilliant? Would you rather have Townes Van Zandt still writing killer songs (his worst songs were better than anything on some people's "Best Of" collections) or a tribute album? Is it great that Syd Barrett retired with "integrity" or depressing that he sank into mental illness and never came back out, leaving us with two solo albums that are sometimes depressingly sleazy in the way they almost exploit Barrett's disintegration? You really want a Kurt Cobain film and Courtney Love spinning dangerously close to the event horizon or would you have rather had some adequate Nirvana albums and maybe (just maybe) Courtney keeping her shit together long enough to record another Live Through This? Or how are you liking all those Jimi Hendrix solos we can't hear because he's fucking dead, but hey, at least he lives on in Pepsi commercials and t-shirts and paisley-infected posters on the walls of college dorms, we'll always have that, right?

And hey, death gives us something to write about, eh? Which is why we have that critical reassessment of Milli Vanilli under way since Rob Pilatus OD'd, right? And that's why Britney Spears is well on her way to being regarded as the musical genius of the 21st century, because there's plenty of material there, and she'll be dead soon enough the way things are going. Don't feel sorry for her if that's the sad case, though: she'll have fucking integrity coming out her ass so fast it'll leave bullet holes in the cement.

Lester writes:

In rock'n'roll, the stakes are high. In no other art form do you see artists almost being willed by their audience to make the ultimate declaration of the sincerity of their intent.

Yep, that sums us fans up, don't it? Every concert I've been to, that's what I've been doing in the audience--willing the people who brought me great pleasures and small ones, the people who kept me alive in darkest times and sharpened the savor of the brightest, willing them to just die already, so I could know they really meant it. And I won't be sad or angry or depressed, oh no. When I heard some shit ran over Kirsty MacColl in a speedboat or that Mark Sandman died onstage at a Morphine show, I wasn't depressed or angry at all. Why would I be sad that I got robbed by a drunken boater or a bum ticker--hell, you know what I just realized? I just realized what the logical conclusion of this line of thought is: Mark David Chapman is fucking awesome for sinceritizing John Lennon in front of the Dakota. And here I thought he was some kind of psychotic douchebag. Thanks, Mark! Thanks bunches!

Yeah. Paul Lester. Asshole.


Oh By The Way: Obscured By Clouds

>> Monday, May 19, 2008

(Forgotten what the hell this is all about? Click here.)

I'm not sure why it's been a month since the last entry in this series. Maybe it's because while I listen to music constantly, the point of this series was to sit and listen seriously to all these old albums I love so much, and that actually takes time. This series isn't just me sitting around in the living room with a Pink Floyd album on in the background. This is me in the bedroom where I put the futon, TV and what passes for a home entertainment system in my place, sitting there and doing nothing much but typing these entries or researching them while I listen to these records all over again.

The irony in this case is that Obscured By Clouds is easily one of my favorite Floyd albums. Hell, it's possible it is my favorite Floyd album and I don't know it or fully admit it: I usually pick Wish You Were Here as my favorite Floyd album (sometimes as my favorite album, period), but if I imagine being on a crashing plane, standing by the plane door with my parachute strapped on and only able to carry one CD in my free hand--Wish You Were Here or Obscured By Clouds--in my mind, I hesitate. (Not that it matters--in reality, I'd probably have a choice between, I don't know, ABBA and Britney Spears or something like that. Or I'd be the audiophile version of Burgess Meredith, stumbling upon a cache of the Best Records Ever Made and no way to play them--"Time enough at last... to... stare at all these goddamn 8-track cassettes... fuck.")

Obscured isn't exactly the kind of record that leaps to mind as an "essential" Floyd album. On the other hand--I'm going to go ahead and say this now, why not?--The Wall is absolutely an essential Floyd album but it's still kind of a shitty record. Seriously: The Wall is kind of the musical equivalent of hate sex with someone you're trying to break up with, a hit rock'n'roll album about how much it sucks to be a successful rock'n'roller, and did we mention that our fans remind us of Hitler Youth, what with all the fucking clapping and yelling and carrying on even when we're trying to play a little song or two? The Dark Side Of The Moon's success kind of screwed The Floyd up, and the 1977 In The Flesh Tour kind of broke The Floyd up, but they needed money after their accountants got indicted so they went with Roger Waters's "Dear Fuck You Assholes" concept in 1979 because, well, you know, they were kind of sick of the whole Pink Floyd thing but they needed the fucking cash... and if the resulting record was kind of brilliant in a fucked-up way, well damn, funny how that happens sometimes.

But I get ahead of myself. Four albums ahead of myself, matter of fact. Let's talk about happier times.

The happier times in question were in 1972, when the band was touring a concept piece (sometimes called "Eclipse") that was becoming Dark Side Of The Moon whenever the boys could make it into Abbey Road to lay down a few tracks. They'd agreed to do another soundtrack for Barbet Schroeder (for whom they'd recorded More)--this time for a movie called La Vallée that I've never seen (it seems to be out on video; I need to rent it sometime). Obscured was therefore a distraction from the band's major project at the time, but it doesn't seem to have been an unwelcome one.

The sessions were quick and dirty, but that wasn't a bad thing. Obscured, while it might not be "essential," did capture the band at a special time--a fecund creative period during which they were working well together. With little time to work in, the guys didn't overthink things and they don't seem to have argued details. In short, Obscured is Pink Floyd during the exact period in which they were also writing and recording their masterpiece, writing and recording a toss-off record as something of a favor to an old friend. Boundaries are pushed even as the band settles into familiar grooves and exchanges--yes, I know how cheesy that sounds, what can I say?

So, as a direct result, Obscured is fun to listen to. Fun. More fun than any other Floyd record, even Floyd records that are better polished, more thought-through, better-written or better-produced. There are pretty songs and funny songs and loud songs and slow songs, weird instrumentals and straight-ahead rockers, sappy ballads and moody ruminations and tongue-in-cheek pop songs. Obscured is not only fun, but in some respect it's the band's Floydiest record.

Even as I type this, I find myself singing along with "Wot's... Uh the Deal," because it's just a fucking catchy as all hell song. (One of the treasures of David Gilmour's 2006 solo tour was that he revived the song as a recurring part of his setlist.)

It's also worth mentioning that it's one of the band's most collaborative records, with a good mix of the band's singers on vocals, nice trades on keyboard and guitar lines, some neat stuff going on in the rhythm section. After Obscured, Roger Waters would dominate the band's lyrics sheets (for better or worse) and David Gilmour and Richard Wright's credited writing contributions would increasingly diminish until reaching a nadir with The Final Cut--an album recorded after Wright was fired from the band and to which Gilmour would contribute nearly nothing, not even as an instrumentalist or vocalist (Cut would also mark the first time in the band's history in which a primary drum track would be laid down by someone other than Nick Mason).

I love this record. This record makes me smile.

Okay, maybe, maybe it really is my favorite Pink Floyd album. (I'm still going to say Wish You Were Here if you ask though. Okay?)

Side One
  • Obscured by Clouds (Waters, Gilmour)
  • When You're In (Waters, Gilmour, Mason, Wright)
  • Burning Bridges (Wright, Waters)
  • The Gold it's in the... (Waters, Gilmour)
  • Wot's... uh the deal (Waters, Gilmour)
  • Mudmen (Wright, Gilmour)

Side Two
  • Childhood's End (Gilmour)
  • Free Four (Waters)
  • Stay (Wright, Waters)
  • Absolutely Curtains (Waters, Gilmour, Wright, Mason)

BONUS: As much as I've generally wanted to avoid adding video in this series, how can I resist including this audience clip from David Gilmour's 2006 tour, a performance of "Wot's... uh the deal" from Hamburg, March 11, 2006? There's a slight break in the middle of the song, but it's still a cool video and the sound is surprisingly good. And Richard Wright's piano solo is intact.

Gilmour's touring band in 2006 not only featured Richard Wright, but it also included Jon Carin (who played keyboards on A Momentary Lapse Of Reason and The Division Bell and joined Pink Floyd on every tour after 1987--and toured as a part of Roger Waters's solo band), Guy Pratt (played on Lapse and Bell and every tour after 1987; also Rick Wright's son-in-law), Dick Parry (played sax on Dark Side Of The Moon and Wish You Were Here; member of every Floyd touring band from 1973-onward except 1981 and a brief part of the 1987-1988 tour) and Phil Manzanera (performed on Momentary Lapse). I.e. Gilmour's 2006 touring band was one Nick Mason short of an official Pink Floyd tour (his drummer, by the way, was some guy named Steve DiStanislao, in case you wondered).


The President is right!

>> Sunday, May 18, 2008

Courtesy of Slate:

"I'll be long gone before some smart person ever figures out what happened inside this Oval Office."
—President George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., May 12, 2008

Yeah. Yeah, I think he called it.


Maybe Hogwarts has an opening?

What's the point of trying to write fiction? I couldn't possibly duplicate this story: a substitute teacher in Florida says he was fired because he performed a magic trick in which he made a toothpick vanish and reappear. This, the teacher says, led to him being charged with wizardry.

No, seriously. Wizardry.

Of course there might be more to the story:

Tampa Bay's 10 talked to the assistant superintendent with the Pasco County School District who said it wasn't just the wizardry and that Piculas had other performance issues, including "not following lesson plans" and allowing students to play on unapproved computers. [emphasis added]

I'll admit that I suspect Tampa Bay's 10 is fudging the paraphrase--but I would really like to think it's a fair summarization: "Oh no, the consorting with the Devil and demonstration of Dark Powers over toothpicks granted to him by the Evil One was only a part of why we terminated Mr. Piculas, he also refused to follow lesson plans."

And, after all, we're talking about Florida here. I mean, they're not exactly the brightest state in the Union, are they? Butterfly ballot, et cetera, et cetera. I imagine we now know the truth about Katherine Harris's actions as Secretary Of State during the 2000 election--it wasn't partisan politics or some backroom quid pro quo to advance Ms. Harris's career after all: Jeb Bush had Ms. Harris's nose and refused to give it back.

It's something in the water. Possibly cocaine.


Sunday miscellany

I'm at the Smelly Cat, reading The Throat and maybe will do some writing. After a week off, it's time to start getting back into routine. Tomorrow, I'll be back at the courthouse. Three day weekend Memorial Day weekend, but the next five days will be an eternity.

Anyway, here's a hodgepodge of things for Sunday that I could turn into longer posts, but... meh. Time to clear out some Firefox tabs and sweep out some mental dust bunnies.

I was going to write a longer commentary about this idiotic notion of David Hughes from the RIAA about how the future of music is rentals and DRM (digital rights management). It might be sufficient to point out that Microsoft's decision to close their MSN Music store, leaving users who purchased music from the service stuck with their authenticated machine for the rest of their lives ought to serve as a cautionary tale to consumers: part of the problem with the kind of music subscription model Hughes seems to be advocating is that it makes it quite possible for a customer to lose all the music he's paid for if a company shuts down their music distribution channel. If I buy a CD, I acquire the opportunity to backup or time shift my hard media to other media (e.g. analog tape) or formats (e.g. MP3, FLAC, yet-to-be-invented-codec-v.6.71). (Of course, the position of the RIAA appears to be that my acquired opportunity is an illegal opportunity, since copying my CDs to, say, SHN for some nutty reason, is a violation of my license to listen to the CD holding the audio I've... what, leased?)

A friend sent me a link to this fascinating historic document: a copy of the letter to inform the legendary Dr. Henry Jones that his bid for tenure in the archeology department at Marshall College was again denied.

Permit me to list just a few of the more troubling accounts I was privy to during the committee's meeting. Far more times than I would care to mention, the name "Indiana Jones" (the adopted title Dr. Jones insists on being called) has appeared in governmental reports linking him to the Nazi Party, black-market antiquities dealers, underground cults, human sacrifice, Indian child slave labor, and the Chinese mafia. There are a plethora of international criminal charges against Dr. Jones, which include but are not limited to: bringing unregistered weapons into and out of the country; property damage; desecration of national and historical landmarks; impersonating officials; arson; grand theft (automobiles, motorcycles, aircraft, and watercraft in just a one week span last year); excavating without a permit; countless antiquities violations; public endangerment; voluntary and involuntary manslaughter; and, allegedly, murder.

Funny, and timely just before May 22.

Today's Astronomy Picture Of The Day suggests that gold may be formed by the collisions of neutron stars. The mind boggles. I'm not sure I'll be able to look at Flavor Flav the same way ever again, now that I know his mouth might be full of debris from strange stars.

Boing Boing recently featured this video from Manchester, England's The Get Out Clause, who apparently decided to let the government fund a video for them by performing in front of CCTV security cameras and then obtaining the footage through the British equivalent of the FOIA. I'm not really sure I really buy the whole story, but it turns out the song is really, really good, so if the "Big Brother shot our music video" gimmick works, good for them. We'll let the video... I don't know what this is. What is that? I can't read that! There's no words on it! "To play us out"--what does that mean? I don't know what that means! I can't do it! We'll do it live! Fuck it! Do it live! I'll write it and we'll do it live! Fucking blog sucks!

And that is it for us today. I'm Eric at Shoulders of Giant Midgets, and we'll leave you with The Get Out Clause and their new music video, "Paper":

Have a nice day.


Lazy Saturday

>> Saturday, May 17, 2008

You can tell where I slathered sunscreen yesterday and where I was half-assed about it. Take my right arm, for instance: up to about the line of the sleeve, it's an acceptable nut-brown and then the skin abruptly turns viciously red. Oops. And my face, regrettably, is kinda like a Cheronian's right now: half my face is noticeably redder than the other. Double oops.

Between that and an aversion to getting into the car right now, I don't see myself driving out to the trails to walk around. I'm not going to rule out walking up the street with a book for coffee, but there's also a good chance that, beautiful weather be damned, I might just sit inside all day. Maybe I'll watch DVDs, or maybe I'll read.

Because I don't have enough open books right now, I started Peter Straub's The Throat last night. In my defense, let me say that this one should read pretty quickly if Mystery was any kind of indicator. The Throat is the third book in Straub's so-called "Blue Rose" trilogy (the first book in the series was Koko).

I first read Koko in college, in '93 or '94--I can pin down the year because my copy is a used paperback I picked up (I'm quite sure I picked up) in a used bookstore that used to be on the main drag in Boone when I was at Appalachian State. I like Straub, but my memory is that I was underwhelmed by Koko; I suppose I'll have to re-read it now. The most I could probably tell you about plot at this point in time is that a series of murders tie back to an atrocity committed in Vietnam during the war, and that the major characters from Koko continue to crop up in various Straub novels and short stories--Koko's Tim Underhill is the narrator of The Throat and also Straub's recent Lost Boy Lost Girl and In The Night Room, and other Koko characters have shown up in various short stories (some of which are putatively stories by Underhill, who is a writer and even claims in The Throat to have collaborated with Straub on Koko and Mystery).

Mystery, on the other hand, was nearly impossible to put down in spite of its flirtation with some of Straub's vices--there's a certain amount of predictability in some of Straub's work when you get used to his literary sensibilities and lack of sentimentality when it comes to characters, e.g. it's often easy to tell who's going to die and who's going to be miserable by the end of the book because that's how Straub tends to write them.

Incidentally, Straub's vices as a writer are exactly why he and Stephen King were such brilliant partners on The Talisman. Straub tends to have--I don't know if this will make sense--Straub tends to have a sort of literary voice as a writer while King tends to have a kind of pulpish voice, and where Straub is horribly unsentimental about his creations (or perhaps merely overcompensates for being sentimental with a bit of callousness on the page), King tends to be so sentimental he sometimes sabotages himself. (A good example of the latter is King's Cell, in which the writer's reluctance to coldly take his premise to its logical conclusion in the last several pages turns everything that's preceded--the entire novel, basically--into a South Park episode.) Anyway, it's baffling that Straub and King managed to wreck the sequel to Talisman, Black House--The Talisman is one of the best fantasy novels of the 1980s, due in large part to Straub's and King's strengths reinforcing each other while their weaknesses cancel out.

The Throat is kind of the book that makes the three books (Koko, Mystery, The Throat) a trilogy: Tim Underhill begins the novel hinting to us about what drove him to write Koko and Mystery with his good friend Peter Straub, and even goes as far to tell us that the events of the second book didn't actually take place where he and Straub claimed: they set Mystery on a Caribbean island "Because we liked the idea...," but Tom Passmore, the protagonist of Mystery, was really a resident of Straub's fictional Tim Underhill's hometown of Millhaven all along. This is something else I will say to Peter Straub's credit: very few writers have the balls to begin a novel by pretty much saying their last novel was full of lies, lies, lies. (Yeah sure, it's fiction and it's all lies anyway, and yet most writers beginning a sequel will take it as a given that the events in prior books were more-or-less accurate except for the parts that have to be retconned because of an authorial screwup; Straub basically begins The Throat by undermining the reader's trust in the previous books in what is now revealed to be an unexpected arc--a few pages later, we're even told that the formative experience in Tom Passmore's early childhood, being run over by a car, never happened to Passmore at all, but allegedly happened to Tim Underhill, who incorporated his own experience into the novel Mystery. Unreliable narrator, indeed.)

(Another aside: Nick Cave fans who don't already know it, might like to learn that Straub's fictional Millhaven was "borrowed" by Cave for "The Curse Of Millhaven," a brilliant bit of serio-comic psychosis on Cave's Murder Ballads. Her name is Loretta, but she prefers Lottie.)

So anyway: I'm sunburned and prone to semi-obscure Star Trek references, I may not do much more than read today, go pick up some Peter Straub if you don't know him. Hope you're having/had a good Saturday, and I promise I'll fix this blog at some point. Cheers.


Conference: from the Latin phrase, "Welcome to Hell"

>> Friday, May 16, 2008

The last day of the conference. On the one hand, I really don't want to be here. This has been terrible. At least one of the speakers here actually made me more stupid as I listened to him. In an hour or so I will be subjected to mandatory sexual harassment... training. And no panda, either. Which is disappointing. I like pandas.

On the other hand, I'm already dreading work on Monday. I have a bad feeling I may well be dragged into a jury trial first thing Monday morning for a client I have not seen--no exaggeration, here--for a year. On Monday, assuming he shows up, he'll want a continuance for me to get witnesses subpoenaed who he might have told me about, oh, I don't know... eleven months ago, six months ago?

But enough shop talk. There are many, many, many good reasons I don't like to write about work, even though I suspect I could draw a loyal blog following as a "lawblogger," dishing about the Constitution and the inner workings of this great sausage grinder we like to call "the justice system." Nonlawyers are fascinated by this machine, I guess I understand why but when you're inside it the noise and grease and fumes tend to give you a bit of a headache.

This might be part of the problem with conferences, you know. I mean, here I am, at the beach, and the shadow of work, the shadow of the machine looms everywhere. Sort of takes away the thrill of being at the beach. It's sort of like a vacation, insofar as I get to wear a t-shirt and sandals and there are no judges frantically calling for me simultaneously from three courtrooms (so I can wait in their courtroom for the DA to get to around one of my cases) even though I'm standing in front of a judge in a fourth courtroom trying to work.

Today I will be driving back. Hopefully the weather will be fine enough to have the top down. I don't know if I'll be writing another entry today--I doubt it, but you never know. Anyway, I'll be driving back: it's kind of odd how being somewhere can be like being nowhere when you're between stations. Obviously, you're passing through places--people live there and work there, there are houses and stores and farms and things. But you're not in the place you ought to be, the place you set out from or the place you're due to arrive, and therefore you're nowhere. You're a mysterious quanta, knowable by trajectory or stopping point, but not by both. And then you arrive and trajectory changes again as you ricochet into the chaotic, indeterminate state of living.


Nobody knows what it's like to be blue like the Dark Lord Of The Sith knows what it's like to be blue...

>> Thursday, May 15, 2008

You may have already seen this over on Boing Boing. If not... very, very funny.


Under construction!

Right, so obviously I'm working on changing the template here at Giant Midgets, a process that may take hours or days or something. In the meantime, there will be broken links and widgets that are missing or don't work--all the usual shit that happens when blogs are under construction.

Feel free to comment re: things you're liking or not liking about the new look!


Blogging, time warps, travel, cruddy hotels, problems

So, here I am at the conference. The conference is at a Holiday Inn resort; I'm not staying at the hotel, I'm up the road a little bit in a cheaper, nicer hotel.

This post will be post-dated to appear Thursday, but I'm writing it on a Wednesday. The reason I'm doing it that way is partly because I don't know how much opportunity I'll have to post again this week. But the other part of it is that I'm not clear on whether or not Holiday Inn--specifically this Holiday Inn--is still offering free wireless. Getting onto the wireless network involved agreeing to conditions I didn't read (oh crap, I guess if I ever have kids, there goes the firstborn son) and clicking on something that said "one day free." That might mean that you have to go through their stupid log-in screen every time you try to get onto their network or it may mean that their stupid network infected my system with a cookie somewhere that will keep me from getting on for free tomorrow unless I go through and try to find the stinking cookie. Times like this, Cory Doctorow starts looking like the Moses for my people, the tribe of geek.

The Holiday Inn's goofy setup meant that I actually couldn't get on via Firefox--when I did, Firefox all but seized up. So I went onto Konqueror to see if I could get onto the wireless network that way, and lo! So then I tried to write this entry through Konqueror and Konqueror crashed. Then I went back to Firefox and suddenly could use the internet again. Presumably, if I used Internet Explorer, I would be using a crappy excuse for a browser this all would have worked perfectly, because IE is considered a default by people with their heads up their asses pretty reliable in this context.

The drive from Charlotte to Wrightsville Beach was awesome for a while and terribly tedious for a while. The only direct connection between the two places is I74, a route that was never designed for traffic between North Carolina's largest city and a major in-state tourist destination. They're working on expanding it and creating various bypasses, but there are plenty of spots where the speed limit drops to 35 as you pass through little podunk towns that may blow away if there's ever an alternate route around them. I couldn't help thinking of the politics of it, wondering if part of the reason 74 is such an awful corridor is that there are a number of state lawmakers who are painfully aware that expanding the corridor would force this or that Bojangles to close down, wiping out a third of the non-farm jobs in some of these towns.

The land itself is beautiful, but it gets monotonous after a little while. The trees you drive past start looking like the same trees, the scrabby farms in the sandy soil start looking like the same farms. I passed underneath some raptors circling the highway, and they were beautiful, elegant things looking for something small and vulnerable to rip apart with their vicious beaks and talons--gorgeous and terrible the way wild things really are--but when I passed under another ring of wings I had to wonder if they were circling me. Post a comment about them waiting for me to die if you must; if there's a hell it may involve driving back and forth along the last leg of I74 before you hit Wilmington.

So anyway, I'm at the beach and this is a Thursday blog entry posted Wednesday, and there may or may not be another one this week depending on my schedule and the network. Hope you're having a good week.

POSTSCRIPT: And in further insult added to injury, this entry may appear today instead of tomorrow despite the date in the headline, because Blogger's scheduling function may or may not be working right now. The entry is appearing when I go to blog, and not listing as "scheduled" when I manage posts, but when you look under the title, it clearly says it's "Thursday." Welcome to the world of tomorrow!


Another proud member of the UCF...

Another proud member of the UCF...
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...Frank Gorshin-obsessed bikers.

...Frank Gorshin-obsessed bikers.
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