Live fast, die young, have a beautiful respawn every time...

>> Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Your host, with his 2008 New Beetle convertible bug, at the Carmax on Independence Boulevard in Charlotte:

(Image ©2009 Scott Ryland Cates)



Here is a silly personal mission of mine: to make June 30th an internet holiday, just like "Talk Like A Pirate Day" or "Blog Like It's The End Of The World Day." This mission, I suspect, is doomed to failure--I'm one tiny blogger with a handful of loyal readers and no real sway--but I'll make my quixotic stand and all that. Happy Tunguska Day. (Again.)

On June 30th, 1908, at 7:14 a.m. local time (it was also June 17th local time, because the Julian calendar was still in use in Eastern Russia, but never mind that), something knocked the shit out of Eastern Asia. Probably a comet, maybe a meteor, could have been a UFO, probably wasn't a black hole or piece of string, but, you know, it's fun to talk about. Could have been Azathoth manifesting in the local space-time because some Siberian witch-man got his nuts in a tangle and decided to pull his old copy of the Pnakotic Manuscripts out of the hole in the floor, and anyone who tells you Azathoth was just made up by some cranky racist pulp-writing New Englander getting paid by the word is obviously just believing what The Man (or maybe the Mi-Go wearing The Man's skin and clothes) wants him to believe.

But there's a serious point to Tunnguska Day, aside from the fanciful "What went kerblooey?" conversations, which are just as much fun when you confine yourself to realistic discussions of stony-versus-metallic space rocks and the butterfly-shapes made on the ground by airbursts at what-altitude-and-angle. Tunguska Day, as I'd envision it, is a day for a collective sigh of relief that we're all still here, a humbling realization that we're ants on a spinning bit of rock that could be taken out at any moment without us even knowing we were all dead or why, combined with the joyous reveling in our still-hereness, the fact that as conditional as our existence is, the universe has still failed to destroy us.

This year, for me, there's a personal note to that: the universe, in the guise of an inexperienced sixteen-year-old with crappy reflexes, could have taken me out, personally, and/or three of my best and dearest friends in the world, and I am (and we are) still here, damaged and broken like the Siberian treescape in 1908 (okay, not so bad as that, though my wrist is bothering the fucking hell out of me today; I'm typing this without the splint on and the exercise is helping a little, though) but still around. I can't help thinking--because, yes, I'm that big a nerd, I admit freely it--of Kirk taunting Khan in Star Trek II; I feel like saying to the universe, "Still, old friend! You've managed to kill everyone else, but like a poor marksman, you keep missing the target!" Naturally, I realize that may be a poor response: the universe has more ways to kill me (and all of you--I'm writing of the personal, but keep in mind that Tunguska Day is a collective event) than it does ways to not-kill us. (Seriously. I mean, get a few miles off the ground and it's cart-your-own-air-or-die-in-seconds for billions of miles in every direction except down, and you go that way, the fall will kill ya'.) So, you know, tempting Fate and Hubris and Shakespeare and Sophocles and all that. But I'm still here, ha! And so are you, reader. So are you.

Happy Tunguska Day.


Days of future passed

>> Monday, June 29, 2009

Over at BBC News, a 13-year-old British teen, Scott Campbell, reviews a stunning piece of portable music technology: the Sony Walkman, which he carried around for a week for the article.

It's actually kind of awesome and worth checking out. Scott Campbell grew up in the digital age, cassette tapes becoming a thing of the past in much the same way as albums on wax cylinders, say. When I was his age, of course, cassette tapes were ubiquitous and I had a ton of 'em, mostly copied from LPs. Campbell discovers, among other things: that the tapes can be kind of warbly (he attributes it to battery life, but it's far more likely the problem is old and stretched-out tapes), that cassette tapes come with two sides, that "Metal/Normal" aren't EQ presets, that the thing has tons of metal moving parts. And of course it seems utterly huge to him--"It was the size of a small book," he writes with some evident surprise.

The piece, surprisingly, doesn't make me feel as old or sad or even as nostalgic as I might have expected. The kid really doesn't come off as a smartass or even terribly spoiled by his "future" tech. I found myself, upon reading young Mr. Campbell's piece, to be more impressed with the reminder that today's high tech is tomorrow's clunky relic-of-youth. And I found myself impressed with the reminder, too, that yesterday's trends aren't always dispositive, either: a few weeks ago I found myself in a local indie record store surrounded by 180-gram vinyl LPs (many of them new releases and not just reissues), today I'm reading an article by a kid who was given a portable cassette player as a relic--the point being that I'm not sure anyone would have expected, thirty years ago, for vinyl to outlast cassette tapes, and there you go. (Vinyl, whose demise has been imminent for twenty-something years now, has now also managed to outlast MiniDiscs and SACDs, and actually seems like it might be healthier than DVD-A, a format so troubled that it mainly seems to be released as bonus materials in conjunction with CD special editions. Again, go figure.)

More than anything, I suppose, I find myself humbled by Campbell's review, actually. There we were, with our miles of tightly-spooled iron-saturated plastic ribbon, and here we are now. And in thirty years more, assuming we still have improbably managed not to collectively off ourselves, there will be some kid, maybe, assigned the chore of carrying around an Apple iPod for a week: It's huge, and it has a big button in the middle of a sort of ring on it, which makes a satisfying "click" when you press it. For the first few days, I didn't realize that the ring was touch-sensitive (although it doesn't detect nerve-impulses, it's just some kind of electrostatic thing) and you could "scroll" through playlists and albums and even individual files, although it only holds 160 gig, about a tenth of what a music player holds now, and that's with lossy 128 kbps MP3 files instead of lossless 1440 kbps MP8s. The earbuds--which you actually have to stick in your ears--are huge and uncomfortable, although you get used to them after a while. The one I used was black--father said they used to come in all sorts of colors, but when you picked a color you were stuck with it and couldn't change it or set it to shuffle....

(H/T to Boing Boing!)


A take a breath and try not to thumb your own eyes out kind of post

>> Saturday, June 27, 2009

How bad is it? I try to do a writing exercise this afternoon and close the notebook thirty seconds in. I finally open up a document I'd been, you know, actually working on, and I look at the last sentence I write--and it's an innocuous enough sentence, mind you--and I close OpenOffice in disgust. Fuck.

Half of it, three-quarters of it is this fucking broken wing sucking the life out of me. Bitch, bitch, bitch--it could be so much worse.


I even had Sigur Rós and Amiina in the playlist, which is usually good writing music for me. Didn't help. So I'm going to listen to the rest of Kurr and go find dinner, and maybe that will make me less pissy. This made me a little less pissy--for this post, I managed to find Amiina (Sigur Rós' "sister band"--they've backed up and opened for Sigur Rós on various albums/tours) playing "Seoul" live, and it made me smile. So, here, and g'night:


The sound of a crescendo

>> Thursday, June 25, 2009

Look, I wasn't sure if this was something I'd do a post on or not. Because, on the one hand, there was a time when he was the most important musician on the planet (and that's not one bit hyperbole, don't even think it--as ludicrous as it sounds, he just simply was, whether you loved him or hated him), and then there was another era, more recent and easier to remember, when he was the punchline to his own joke.

Once upon a time there were two men named Michael Jackson. One was a prodigiously-talented musician and dancer who seemed to write pop hooks as effortlessly as he moved, and the other guy with the same name... well, he was never convicted of anything, let's just say that. And the first one, he died a long time ago, I'm afraid, and he will be missed, and the other died today, a passing that only reminds us of the first.

The one, the first one--if you were born in a certain timeframe, the timeframe when you remember MTV not merely when it still showed videos, but when it came into existence--the first Michael Jackson was someone whose new music videos were events, global and earthshaking. The premiere of "Thriller," directed by John Landis when his name and reputation as a director of feature films meant something (and note this--that this was a relatively big name film director who'd done a couple of hit films taking the time and trouble to direct a music video) was appointment TV. If you're thirty-something, Michael Jackson videos are cultural touchstones: "Beat It," "Thriller," "Billie Jean," "Bad," and more. Movie stars descended to make cameos, name-directors shot them. And, of course, there were those iconic parodies by "Weird Al" Yankovic that became just as iconic; another sign of Jackson's critical mass, that he was the guy that if you made fun of him, every single human being on the planet Earth got the joke. (And how often is that true?)

So in memory of the original Michael Jackson, the one that matters, a video from near the end; 1987's "Smooth Criminal." A brilliant musical hook, a showcase for dance moves that seemingly defy the laws of physics, and all the cinematic excess of a Michael Jackson video right before said excess became really oppressive (this is the ten-minute version, but it's worth watching; the man could sing, the man could move). Maybe we'll forget the man who died today and remember the original. Rest in peace.


Love and marriage

Over at Salon, Mary Elizabeth Williams has a somewhat sympathetic piece about Governor Mark Sanford's affair-of-the-heart. Ms. Williams writes:

There's no doubt that Mark Sanford, like Eliot Spitzer, John Ensign, John Edwards and a host of his political comrades before him, betrayed his vows to his wife and his duties to his people. What he did was stupid and selfish and hypocritical and weird and humiliating to his wife.

But somewhere in all of the schadenfreude, there's still a story of a man who fell into "impossible love" with another married person, a devout Christian who could awkwardly rhapsodize about his lover's "magnificently gentle kisses... the erotic beauty of you holding yourself (or two magnificent parts of yourself) in the faded glow of night’s light."

The thing of it is, there's a problem here, and it's not something motivated by schadenfreude: the problem is that you can't have it both ways; that is, you can't go around being a sanctimonious prig about things like love and marriage and then expect everybody to be forgiving when it turns out you were human after all and you weren't really any better than anybody else. The problem isn't that Mark Sanford fell in love with someone who wasn't his wife, the problem is that before he fell in love with another woman, he wasn't inclined to give anybody else any slack, and that he probably still doesn't really get that the simplistic, conservative family values he's spent his life espousing are really a pretty crappy guide to the complexities of human behavior.

I'm not convinced, myself, that human beings are wired for lifelong monogamy. Serial monogamy, maybe. But it really doesn't matter all that much what I think about that point: maybe lifelong same-sex monogamy works for one couple and a succession of short heterosexual marriages works for others and maybe an open polyamorous relationship works for yet another clutch of people and maybe some people are just better off alone. Polyandry, polygamy, promiscuity, fidelity, heterosexuality, homosexuality, formal, informal, legally registered, common law--it's generally not going to be my business if I'm not one of the participants.

So I don't have a problem with Mark Sanford being married and having a "traditional" family with one woman and a passionate, erotic relationship with another woman if everyone involved is okay with that. But clearly Jenny Sanford wasn't okay with it, and maybe more relevant to this post, Mark Sanford wasn't okay with it, either. I mean, it wasn't my rules and my standards that he violated, it was all his standards and rules and self-proclaimed truths, the same ones he condemned others for violating (e.g. calling on William Clinton to resign for--wait for it--having an affair and lying about it).

I wish we lived in a country where a politician could openly have an open marriage if he, his wife and his Argentinian mistress all consented. The reason we don't live in such a country is largely because of people like Sanford, people who judge others by standards they can't keep to themselves. I'm willing to cut Sanford slack for falling in love, I couldn't care less, actually. But I'm not willing to cut him slack for having to lie down in the proverbial bed he made: it would be bad enough that he lied to his aides and his aides passed the lie along to the state he was responsible for, but the even-worse fact is that Sanford had to lie because of a political and cultural climate he has spent much of his life helping create, a repressive, heartless, dysfunctional climate that chains human emotions to legal and religious relics from the Stone Age.

Maybe that's something Mr. Sanford should have thought about before he wrecked his own damn life and his wife's, left his state's citizens in jeopardy, and generally made a complete jackass of himself in front of his entire country.


I guess this means Governor Sanford's political career is officially over...

...seems he's been disowned by his former party's official news organ:

No word from the Dems yet about how they feel about their latest "acquisition."

(H/T to Vince! Image from wizbangBLUE.)


Don't cry for me Argentina

>> Wednesday, June 24, 2009

UPDATE (2009-06-25; 11:51 AM EST): Jim Wright for the win.

UPDATE (2009-06-24; 6:00 PM EST): I can't really be snarky about this part of the story: it seems Mrs. Jenny Sanford had a pretty good idea where her husband was, having kicked him out two weeks ago. So that part of the story isn't so much bizarre as it is simply sad.

Now back to the snark!

UPDATE (2009-06-24; 4:09 PM EST): Oh, Mark, Mark, Mark. Mr. Sanford. Tsk, tsk, tsk. Another politician tearfully apologizes for doing the horizontal rumba with someone other than his wife. No word on whether the woman of Governor Sanford's dreams is a pre-op or post-op tranny, as Nathan suggests she could be in the comments below.

What is it, by the way, with the party of traditional virtues, morals, blah blah blah always getting caught with their pants down (often in restrooms)? I mean, at least Bill Clinton and John Edwards belong to the party formerly associated with free love before it got a stick up its collective ass and disavowed the sixties (and even so, the Dems remain more supportive of reproductive rights, access to contraception, non-"traditional" marriages, et al.--so there you go).

At least Sanford's affair involves an exotic foreigner, making it somewhat less staid and sleazy than most American political affairs, which usually involve pages, interns or hookers. I mean, I long for a new America where a political sex scandal can involve lots of hot models, one of them eighteen, boozing and partying all weekend at someone's villa. We're prudes, we suck, and we must close this gap we have with Old Europe!

And now today's original blog post:

I have to hand it to South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford: many Republican politicians talk about reducing the size of government, but Mr. Sanford may be the first one to reduce the size of a state's government by eliminating the position of governor for several days. Why, the man is such a believer in small government, he didn't even want the elected Governor of the state of South Carolina to use up any of the Palmetto State's precious air!

I don't know how many of y'all have been following this story at all; the foibles of other state's governors can hardly be interesting to people elsewhere in the States, much less overseas. It's a lot like when Senator John McCain selected Alaskan Governor Sarah "Who the Hell is Sarah Palin?" Palin as a running mate--the only people who'd heard of her outside of Alaska were the handful of Repub wonks who floated her name to the people who suggested her to Senator McCain in the first place. Charlotte is close to the South Carolina border, so we hear about things happening down there all the time; I couldn't tell you who the governor of Georgia is off the top of my head, but maybe if I lived a hundred or two hundred miles west of here I'd be able to, I don't know. But Governor Sanford has received some national attention for his attempt to refuse Federal stimulus money (it took the combined might of the South Carolina legislature and a South Carolina judge to make him accept the funds) and I've heard his name floated as a possible presidential candidate for 2012.

The story is bizarre. His wife thought he was off writing a book somewhere. Some of his staff thought he was on the Appalachian trail. That his wife didn't know where he'd gone was plenty strange. That he might have been walking around somewhere where he could actually and truly fall off a cliff and nobody would have known about it... well, that has to be one of the weirdest Constitutional crises one can contemplate: who is in charge of state government when the chief executive is lying at the bottom of a ravine becoming a scavengers' buffet? But then a report emerged that somebody had seen Governor Sanford at the airport, which seemed improbable until it was officially confirmed this morning--yes, Governor Sanford went for a hike in the mountains and ended up in Argentina. Apparently maps aren't his strong suit.

Most people who have called the Governor of South Carolina "crazy" have been Democrats or liberals, and naturally one expects a certain amount of rhetorical excess or partisan prejudice to be in play in such cases. Now, one suspects even South Carolina Republicans have to be wondering about the Gov's sanity in a completely non-figurative sense. Is it reckless to leave the executive branch in the hands of staffers who can't find you if there's an emergency? What the hell is up with the man's homelife when he absconds from his wife and kids on Father's Day weekend and Mrs. Governor has to guess maybe he's writing that book? Who the Hell goes to Argentina on the spur of the moment? (Okay, other than Margaret Thatcher, har-har.) I worry about calling in sick one day, and things getting mucked up--how are you the governor for the whole state and you're surprised everybody's a wee mite bit concerned you're completely AWOL and your aides don't even know you've left the fucking Northern Hemisphere?

One boggles at the thought of a dark horse President Sanford vanishing overnight from the White House. "Well," the First Lady says, "he was thinking about finally writing that screenplay, last time I talked to him." The White House Press Secretary shrugs, "His Secret Service detail says he went for a short walk in the Rose Garden, so we're calling all the other countries to ask if they've seen the President." Sure, Sanford's candidacy was a long shot and it just got longer--it's still funny to think about.

Some say, "He who governs best, governs least". Evidently Governor Mark Sanford figured it was even better to govern lost.

POSTSCRIPT/UPDATE: For another, more credible explanation of the Governor's adventures, check out this press release.

Curiously enough, UCFer Jim Wright claims to be from Alaska, and now claims he's in the American South. Is there some strange connection? Jim was in the Navy: it would only make sense if he were captaining a ship on a quest to find the Seven Lost Lords of Alaska, sent away by an evil usurper....


The blue sky heir...

>> Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A number of folks on the blogosphere are making a big deal out of the St. Petersburg Times' three-part expose on the Church Of Scientology, or (more accurately) on COS big goomba David Miscavige. The piece is undeniably bold, considering COS' history of litigiousness and "Fair Game" tradition. But it's also basically irrelevant: regardless of whether or not the allegations that David Miscavige has engaged in a pattern of physically and psychologically abusing underlings are true or false, regardless of the role Miscavige did or didn't play in Lisa McPherson's death (and the COS officially denies the allegations of Miscavige abusing COS members and denies that Miscavige played a role in McPherson's demise), the question of whether or not Miscavige is or isn't a douchebag is ultimately irrelevant to the bottom-line fact that Scientology is an enormous, steaming pile of horseshit invented out of whole-cloth by a mediocre pulp SF writer, O.T.O. reject and distinguished WWII Naval veteran whose singular combat achievement appears to have been sinking a piece of driftwood that was threatening the Oregon coast (in all fairness, it's quite possible the driftwood was initially from a Japanese tree).

It's sort of like the scandals that have plagued the Roman Catholic church: some Catholic priests have obviously committed crimes and embarrassed themselves, their parishioners, and the Church-at-large while causing inconceivable and permanent harm to their victims, but that's hardly evidence of whether or not God exists or even relevant to the matter of whether the Roman Catholic church is the direct successor to the ministry of Jesus via Peterine apostolic succession. David Miscavige may be a horrible human being or the victim of slanders levied by disgruntled excommunicated church members--so what? Either way, it's not as important as the fact that Scientology is a crock of shit, and it's as much a crock of shit with Miscavige in charge as it was when L. Ron Hubbard was in charge, and would still be as much a crock of shit if somebody else were to take over from Miscavige tomorrow.

Still, the link to the Times article's main page is here, and here's their main video (maybe--it initially previewed as "unavailable," which may be a bandwidth issue if everybody's hitting it while it's hot; check back, or watch it from the article's main page) if you're interested:

But even better yet, here's an oldie but a goodie that's more worth your time: Jon Atack's thorough-and-devastating A Piece Of Blue Sky. If nothing else, it's a pretty funny read.



It's called an "operating system" for a reason...

>> Monday, June 22, 2009

I have a peeve. That's a lie. I have many peeves.

Here's one: people who refer to an applications suite as an operating system, which is basically what Chris Wilson did last week in Slate, writing a sort of fluffy piece about cloud computing (in which, ironically, he managed to not actually mention cloud computing; go figure).

The confusion is understandable: Microsoft and Apple have spent decades now marketing all of the extraneous, not-really-OS features of their products--things like the GUI and the web browser and the media player. One reason is because of trade dress--the need for Microsoft and Apple to retain distinctive appearances in order to preserve their intellectual property, specifically their trademarks. Another reason is that OSes aren't sexy; only a geek is interested in things like multithreading and the kernel's memory footprint, and an ad-campaign focusing on device drivers has "FAIL" written all over it compared to one that asks "Where Do You Want To Go Today?" or features a pair of actors roleplaying a "PC" and a Mac who spar in a friendly Odd Couple sort of way over who's sick and who's social and who's frumpy and boring.

So there's kind of a perception out there that an OS is its interface and accessories, and maybe even its applications. Well, no: the OS is the software that tells your computer how to be a computer. Windows isn't Word, it's a piece of software that interprets the mounds of code that make up Word and then communicates between that running application and the hardware--allocating random access memory for the program, telling the hard drive how to save files, telling the graphics card what to send to the monitor, and interpreting keyboard and mouse input. It's worth mentioning that in a sense the OS isn't there for the user at all: e.g. the OS translates keyboard input and sends the data to the application whether a user is typing or his cat has run across the keyboard, and sends messages from the application to the graphics card whether there's a monitor plugged in or not.

Wilson subscribes to this confusion when he writes:

In the last few years, scores of applications that your operating system used to manage have migrated to the browser: word processors, IM clients, e-mail, games, music players, personal finance tools, and on and on. Which leads inevitably to the question: If the primary function of computers these days is to run a browser and connect to the Internet, do we really need Windows and its 50 million lines of code?

This is a situation where I have to be fair to Microsoft: while Windows is bloated, one reason for that bloat is that Windows is expected to do too much: Windows is expected by end-users to handle an enormous number of legacy applications and a bewildering variety of hardware right out of the box. When one factors in the perception that an OS is more than the software running the machine--that the OS "includes" everything from applets like a calculator to a webbrowser--the bloat is nearly guaranteed. (Even naturally-lean Linux can start looking fatter when one factors in the size of an eyecandy-friendly GUI like GNOME or KDE, assorted applets, a Wine installation for legacy Windows apps, etc.)

Wilson sort of nods at the real role of an operating system when he writes:

It's worth remembering, too, that Windows is more than just an interface for running programs. It also manages your hardware—the hard drive and video card as well as peripherals like webcams and external memory devices. Even if Firefox or Chrome takes over application management someday soon, we'll still need something to handle all of that under-the-hood stuff. One intriguing option is a piece of software called HyperSpace that debuted in late 2007. HyperSpace is essentially a bare-bones OS that can fire up some of your computer's resources right when it boots, long before Windows has burped and sputtered awake from its coma. (The company that makes HyperSpace, Phoenix, is a major supplier of BIOS software, the code that runs immediately when you turn on your machine and takes attendance for all your hardware.) The current version of the product, which works on certain laptops—specifications here—loads in a few seconds and can get online, run Firefox, and boot a handful of other programs. These days, you can get a lot done with just that tiny amount of software. (If you're curious to try HyperSpace, you can demo it for free for 21 days. After that, running the software requires an annual fee.)

HyperSpace sounds interesting, but it's sort of cute, the way Mr. Wilson relegates what an operating system does to an "also," as if running the hard drive and allocating RAM to system processes are neato extras and not among the primary roles of an OS.

Wilson's article also raises the usual questions about whether cloud computing is a practical or sound idea. That could be another entire post (and might be), but suffice it to say that as spiffy as a browser-based word processor might be, one continues to marvel that those who promote the concept continue to ignore the fact that there are entire professions--law and medicine come to mind--where confidentiality and security of information are mandated by regulated, state-empowered ethics watchdogs (not to mention, in the case of medical information, Federal law). One wonders if any of these companies or writers have given any thought to whether they really want a confidential letter from an attorney or accountant or the results of a lab test to be written up on Google Chrome and kept on a Google server somewhere out there. But, again, that may be a post for another time.


Shame Tony Scott isn't directing it himself--he's the best director EVER!

SFFMedia has reported that a prequel to Alien is officially in the works. I don't know why anybody hasn't thought of doing something like this before; indeed, it seems like such an obvious idea in retrospect, I'm shocked there's not already some kind of franchise of Alien prequels.

But we're told of this radically original, never-before-attempted premise:

Scifiwire reports that producer Tony Scott (brother of Ridley Scott who directed the original) confirmed that an Alien prequel will be going ahead with Carl Rinsch directing. He was speaking at a promotional event for The Taking of Pelham 123.

"Carl Rinsch is going to do the prequel to Alien," he said. "He's one of our directors at our company."

Scott said he hoped to start filming the Alien prequel by the end of the year for a possible 2011 release.

Standing On The Shoulders Of Giant Midgets followed up on this story, and was provided with a tantalizing sneak preview. In spite of the non-disclosure agreement, I'm going to tell you all about it right now.

The prequel, which will combine familiar concepts from the Alien series with elements of Stanley Kubrick's classics 2001 and Dr. Strangelove, is set in the near future on board a malfunctioning spaceship sent out on a mission to find and destroy unstable star systems that might be a potential threat to new human colonies. After a disaster virtually kills the commanding officer (whose body is placed in hypersleep and his brain connected to a computer that allows limited communications with the surviving crew--a concept perhaps derived from Philip K. Dick's brilliant novel Ubik), the second-in-command is forced to take over, only to find his mission underfunded and unappreciated by bureaucrats back home, who are unresponsive to his distress calls and requests for assistance. Meanwhile, an incompetent-but-good-natured replacement crewmember (we find, late in the script, that he was an accidental substitute for a planned crewmember, and was never meant to be on the mission at all), has become obsessed with one of the aliens and brought it on board as a pet. The alien escapes, an obvious threat to the crew--and then a secondary threat emerges when one of the ship's AI-enabled solar-system-destroying weapons becomes jammed and refuses to discharge from the ship. The undertrained substitute commander must deal with his crew's eroding mental state, the presence of a dangerous, hungry extraterrestrial, and the obstinate artificially intelligent weapon capable of destroying everything within a several-million-mile radius; meanwhile, the crewmember responsible for bringing the alien aboard strikes out on a risky solo attempt to capture or kill the alien invader, crawling through the bowels of the ship in a harrowing, terrifying cat-and-mouse game in which it becomes increasingly unclear whether he's the hunter... or the prey.

I gotta say, the first look is pretty damn interesting. I look forward to seeing what they come up with!


Only half of the above post is true.

Also, do you think my congressman could keep it from happening if I wrote to him? The franchise just needs to be allowed to die a merciful death before Alien vs. Frankenstein comes out.

Hm. Actually... Alien v. Frankenstein sounds kinda cool....


The no-brainer* follow-up to yesterday's post

>> Sunday, June 21, 2009

*The lack of brains being because, as another old song puts it, they come rolling out your snout. Duh. Have a good Sunday, y'all.


"It was a dark and silly night"

>> Saturday, June 20, 2009

Catching up on Neil Gaiman's blog, I was appalled to discover I'd somehow missed an April post where he embedded an animated film by Steven-Charles Jaffe based on a short story written by Gaiman and illustrated by one of my all-time-favorite cartoonists, Mr. Gahan Wilson. That gets dangled in front of you and there's a brief moment of sweat--Gaiman + Wilson ought to = FUCKINGSWEET; what if, by some weird catastrophe, it isn't?

Oh frabjulous day! It is! It's absolutely wonderful!

Gaiman + Wilson in Steven-Charles Jaffe's adaptation of "It Was A Dark And Silly Night"; enjoy:


Unclear on the concept

>> Friday, June 19, 2009

See, here's an example of the kind of thing I dislike about Microsoft, from their new IE8 as campaign:

Myth #3: Firefox is a richer, more adaptable browser than Internet Explorer.

The Real Deal: Internet Explorer 8 has much more functionality than other browsers, built in from the minute you open it.

Internet Explorer 8 has much more functionality than other browsers, and its functionality is there from the moment you open the browser. Internet Explorer 8 offers almost all of the features the most popular add-ons in Firefox have, and you're able to personalize your browser in a way that saves you time and research.

Did you know that there are more than 1,700 Internet Explorer 8 add-ons available at the Add-ons Gallery, with more being added every day? Partners all over the world are building Accelerators, Web slices, and Visual Search plug-ins for your browser, including Facebook, Amazon, eBay, and much more.

And on a related page:

Sure, Firefox may win in sheer number of add-ons, but many of the customizations you'd want to download for Firefox are already a part of Internet Explorer 8 – right out of the box.

See, let me state the glaringly obvious: "adaptability" or the ability to customize has nothing to do with how something works out of the box. And it actually doesn't necessarily have anything to do with add-ons, for that matter: the ability to turn off things you don't like is as much a crucial aspect of customization as the ability to install add-ons.

That latter point is especially fatal to Microsoft's pretentiousness and posturing; Windows™ (and Internet Explorer as, essentially, a Windows™ component) is a commercial product, but it's a commercial product that has difficulty distinguishing itself from competitors by functionality (the "windowed" GUI invented by Xerox/PARC is pretty ubiquitous, and web browsers all basically do more-or-less the same thing). So Windows (I'm going to drop the appropriate-but-snarkily-used "™" because my wrist hurts) and IE8 have to be distinguishable by trade dress, appearance elements that may not be useful or may even retard usage but make Microsoft's intellectual property instantly recognizable. Were Microsoft to make trade dress elements customizable, they'd jeopardize their income, so they can't and won't do it. Which is one reason it's not unusual for unpopular "features" in Microsoft (or Apple) products to remain inviolate and untouchable.

Microsoft could play up IE8 by simply not mentioning Firefox's established lead in the add-ons department. It's a new browser, after all, and the number of add-ons (now that Microsoft has finally released a browser that can handle add-ons) will continue to grow. Instead, they choose to mention it and offer an explanation that manages to convey the impression they they (1) think their users are really stupid and (2) don't care what they really want (after all, why do you need add-ons at all, when IE8 already has everything you want, as long as everything you want is in IE8?).

It's irritating, is all.

As it happens, I've been using IE8 under Vista (I use Vista as a gaming OS so it's probably not worth installing Firefox; under Linux, my get-things-done OS, I use Firefox 3.x), and I haven't been much impressed. Some features that I'd want to install that come with, such as colored tabs, aren't all that useful or even attractive, but aside from the merely aesthetic, I've found IE8 frequently difficult to use, and when it crashes it crashes hard (if there's some kind of Session Manager plugin for IE8, 'twould be nice; it certainly doesn't seem to be one of those already-included things mentioned in the ad). And tabs that don't immediately load for whatever reason generally don't load and seem to be impossible to get to merely by F5ing or otherwise refreshing--you have to cut'n'paste the dead page's address to a new tab or close and reopen, which is just kludgey and annoying. But for whatever reason, I'd be happier if Microsoft didn't add insult to these minor injuries and vexations with an annoyingly disingenuous ad campaign, is all.


Two must-reads

>> Thursday, June 18, 2009

Now that the brilliant Ursula Vernon has made Digger freely available online, I've been catching up (previously she had the site hosted on a webcomics site that was part-free/part-subscription, and I never quite had it in the budget to subscribe for one comic, however awesome). I've possibly recommended Digger before: the epic and comic tale of a very secular wombat who finds herself emerging from a hole in a temple of Ganesh, pursued by the servants of a buried-and-chained living dead god, Digger is far better read than described; it truly is a rich, smart, funny beautiful piece of work, one that's a ready example of how comics in general and webcomics in particular are an art and not just some kind of funnybook for people who can't handle novels (most of which lack the sophistication and depth of something like Digger, I might add).

But heralding Digger is actually only a small part of the reason for this post; as it happens, a portion of Digger draws upon a really amazing six-page Miami New Times article from June, 1997. Lynda Edwards' "Myths Over Miami" describes how the homeless children of the Miami shelters were (and perhaps still are) crafting a complicated mythos to explain their history and future, succumbing to the basic human needs to tell stories and to impose order on chaos by cobbling together story-cycles based on pop-culture, half-understood fragments of mainstream religion, rumors, and their own imaginations.

One demon is feared even by Satan. In Miami shelters, children know her by two names: Bloody Mary and La Llorona (the Crying Woman). She weeps blood or black tears from ghoulish empty sockets and feeds on children's terror. When a child is killed accidentally in gang crossfire or is murdered, she croons with joy. "If you wake at night and see her," a ten-year-old says softly, "her clothes be blowing back, even in a room where there is no wind. And you know she's marked you for killing."

The homeless children's chief ally is a beautiful angel they have nicknamed the Blue Lady. She has pale blue skin and lives in the ocean, but she is hobbled by a spell. "The demons made it so she only has power if you know her secret name," says Andre, whose mother has been through three rehabilitation programs for crack addiction. "If you and your friends on a corner on a street when a car comes shooting bullets and only one child yells out her true name, all will be safe. Even if bullets tearing your skin, the Blue Lady makes them fall on the ground. She can talk to us, even without her name. She says: 'Hold on.'"

One can't help thinking of one of the more effective set-pieces in the mostly-mediocre 1985 Mad Max installment, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome--a tribe of orphaned children telling stories about creation and salvation in a post-apocalyptic outback. The whole bit in the movie is, on one level, a goofy plot twist wedged into an overstuffed movie to try to motivate the normally antiheroic title character, except that the sight of these kids actually telling stories about the how and the who and the what of themselves ends up being uncannily effective in spite of itself. More ironically, in light of the New Times piece, it ends up being surprisingly real; the urge to explain the hopelessly inexplicable begins early, it seems, and the homeless children of Dade County, with their mentally-ill and drug-addicted parents and complete lack of stability have many more inexplicable things to reckon with, live in a world that requires much more imposition of will to mold into something that makes any sense, and even so what sense it makes is terrible and tragic. The Blue Lady's true name, which will save the faithful from gangbangers' stray rounds, turns out to be unknown and held secret even from the believers.

Read the New Times piece, even if it's the only online article you read this weekend.

And if you have time left over, get yourself addicted to Digger.


God is dead

>> Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Looking for the classic Kids In The Hall "Hoopla" sketch (for a comment over at Nathan's), I stumbled across this bit, which I don't think I'd ever seen before tonight (oddly, as I'm a pretty big KITH fan; it must be in one of the two seasons I haven't bought yet). I am, in internet parlance, ROTFLMAO--or close to it, and had to share; God is dead... and his hands were tiny:

Well that sure explains... something.



It occurred to me as I was washing it: "Wait a sec... it's been exactly one month since I washed this arm myself." No lie, no exaggeration: between Saturday morning, May 16th of the year 2009, anno Domini or Common Era (take your pick, you reactionary/revolutionary/"what is he talking about?", you) and June 16th of the same possibly misbegotten year, the only time my right arm had been cleaned (presumably) was on the same day it was operated on and a screw set into a crescent-shaped bone in my wrist to keep it from flopping around in exactly the sort of unfortunate and tissue-destroying way that æons of evolution have programmed most-or-all vertebrate wrist bones not to.

And there was much rejoicing.

The occasion of the celebratory bathing was the fitting of a plastic, easily removed splint this afternoon at OrthoCarolina; this is a piece of thermoplastic, don't you know, that's softened in hot water and molded to my forearm, and fitted with velcro straps so I can easily undo it. I was specifically told not to leave it in the car on a sunny day (the heat would allow the thing to deform), and I asked if it was rated to withstand bears or sharks (it isn't; I shall have to ward off large predators with my good left arm, I'm afraid, though I suspect such an act will render me even less threatening than I am now--mostly 'armless, if you will). The previous splint, fitted last week by Dr. Perlik, was technically removable--held in place by an Ace bandage--but I really didn't trust myself to be able to rewrap myself so I left it in place. But this thing--zip, zip, zip and it's off, and 'alleluia! I can clean it and rub cocoa butter into it (I was told to do this by the doctor), and wonder at how much dead skin keeps coming off, like the whole arm is going to deglove1 at some point (at which, to paraphrase Sheriff Brody, I think we're going to need a bigger splint).

The arm itself is still more useless than not. I put the splint back on so I could type this with more than one hand, and I can hold a few things and sign my name (sadly, my signature looks much the same) and write a little (my handwriting, meanwhile, looks childish and uncertain). I still can't wipe my ass properly, which is something I thought about writing an entire blog entry about but it may be enough to simply say it here: wiping your ass with your off-hand turns out to be a laborious and unrewarding task, one which I distinctly don't remember Mr. Meriadoc Brandybuck grappling with during his stay in the Houses Of Healing in Gondor after his arm was paralyzed while he assisted Éowyn in slaying the Witch-King of Angmar.2 Dressing myself is still a challenge, and sometimes requires cheats like buttoning my left shirtsleeve before I put my arm into it or buttoning a loose pair of jeans before working them over my fat ass.

You never know what you have until it's gone, somebody once said (repeatedly, eventually making it a contemptible cliché, albeit true nonetheless). Who knew I'd taken my right arm for granted these long years since we'd been introduced? Once, it was so close it might have been attached to me! Now? Oh, alas, alack, poor miserable right arm! Whither hast thou gone, o withered limb? When shalt thou return?

When I was young, I remember being exposed to some terrible old ghost/revenge story about a woman with a golden arm who was killed by a paramour who desired the limb; in the nature of such tales, she of course returned from beyond the grave, demanding the arm be returned to her three times before the man was dealt his overdue justice.3 The impracticality of a gilded prosthesis4 or the obvious challenges in fencing a hot arm aside, I've come to sympathize with the monomaniacal ghost--it's hard enough (and cold at night!) wiping your ass with a metal arm. She needed that arm.

Anyway. I'm off to rub some cocoa butter into this thing and re-watch a few eps of Outlaw Star (I own the series, this past weekend something put me in the mood to watch the whole thing again). Welcome back, arm, at least partway, and let's never squabble again....

1This definition is so much nicer than the one used to introduce me to the term: at a CLE (Continuing Legal Education) one-hour seminar on forensic science featuring photographs of natural degloving occurring out in the woods somewhere--the term is also used to describe the point in decomposition when the skin begins to naturally separate from the body.

That particular session was well-attended and more attentively than most; one suspects that had less to do with the number of North Carolina Public Defenders handling murder cases and more to do with a shared fantasy of being the next Grisham.

I feel bad writing that, because you know I fancy myself a writer and all, and not a future Grisham, who I think is an utterly terrible writer. Not to mention I have no interest in ever writing a legal potboiler myself. (That is an understatement: I'm actually hostile to the idea and would rather not write at all than pen a "legal thriller." A horror novel with degloving corpses, on the other hand....) But there it is--most people want to write and few ever bother to get around to actually doing it, and probably a hundred-plus attorneys looked at those slides of purplish skin sloughing off stiff, cold limbs and contemplated some heroic investigator considering a corpse for clues.

2Considering Professor Tolkien's usual thoroughness in conveying the mundane details of Hobbits' lives, it's possible that the "omission" was intentional and Hobbits don't, in fact, shit, or if they do they don't wipe (which might explain Saruman The White's peculiar rage against the species--perhaps a Hobbit once borrowed one of his robes). I will leave the question for the more dedicated Tolkien scholars in the audience to resolve for once-and-all.

3A quick bit of internet research suggests the version I heard was based on something Mark Twain probably wrote as satire: the story, written in a ludicrously heavy "Negro" dialect, is ostensibly used as an example of how to tell a good story, but the hamminess of the whole thing suggests Twain was having a Spinal Tap moment at the expense of his readers. (The genius of Spinal Tap being that the members are actually fantastically talented musicians and the joke not being that Tap songs are bad in a technical sense--the songs have hooks and are well-played--but that they're so tasteless on every level, including aesthetically.)

4That said, Tycho Brahe famously had a golden prosthetic proboscis for special occasions, having lost his real nose, if I recall correctly, in a youthful fencing mishap.

The conventional story of Brahe's demise is that he hosted a lengthy dinner party and refused to leave to micturate, leading to some sort of catastrophic renal or bladder failure. Others have suggested more mundane causes of death, like kidney stones becoming infected or somesuch, although Joshua and Anne-Lee Gilder attempted to make an unconvincing case for Kepler's complicity in murdering Brahe, an account which is ironically less-interesting than the traditional tale that Tycho held his water 'til a gasket blew in the pipes. (The Gilders' case seems to rest largely on the claim that nobody liked Kepler; I came away from their book less convinced of Kepler's guilt than I was convinced that the poor guy sounded like a lot of the people I played D&D with in college--none of whom, so far as I know, have ever murdered a noseless astronomer to steal his notes, I might unnecessarily add.)

Anyway, I prefer the traditional account that Brahe died from a resolute refusal to drain the lizard while he told one more bawdy anecdote and sent for another ill-advised bottle from the cellar, just because it's a story that ought to be true. Because it's just another example of how Tycho Brahe was made out of awesome. (Dude had a gold nose--how many examples do you need?)


Pious Sunday

>> Sunday, June 14, 2009

What's most interesting to me about my result is that this really actually is my favorite kind of pie. Does that make me conceited in some roundabout kind of way?

(H/T to Jim "Apple" Wright over at Stonekettle Station!)


Separated at birth?

>> Thursday, June 11, 2009

You be the judge.

The titular antagonist of the 1953 "alternative classic" Robot Monster:

A bear cub from Wisconsin that somehow managed to get his entire head stuck in a bird feeder sometime around Memorial Day weekend:

Am I the only one seeing some uncanny prophecy-come-true at work? Like the brilliant psychic, Criswell, famously said, "Future events such as these will affect you in the future!" I, for one, hail our new ursine-space-helmeted-cyborg masters. (Sure, I'm kissing a little ass here--screw you, I want to be in on the ground floor for once!)

(Photo of hapless, pathetic-but-adorable baby bear ©2009 Department Of Natural Resources / AP)


Son Of Dracula

>> Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I have to confess a certain surprised giddiness, the kind of feeling you have when you're delighted to be wrong.

As has been mentioned in a comments thread around here somewhere (I think), last month I picked up the Universal "box sets" for the complete classic Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolf-Man (I put "box sets" in quotes because while each of these sets includes three to five films, there are only two discs in each set). These are the classic Universal films from the thirties and early forties, the ones that introduced the classic film monsters before they became complete clichés hanging out with Abbott and Costello for comedic effect. The sets are, inevitably, mixed bags: James Whale's Frankenstein and Bride Of Frankenstein and Tod Browning's Dracula are acknowledged classics while movies like Werewolf Of London are nearly forgotten (or would be, but for Warren Zevon, although I can tell you without spoilers that Werewolf Of London not only stars Henry Hull--and not Lon Chaney, Jr., nor his father--but Mr. Hull does not, in fact, consume a piña colada at Trader Vic's nor show up with a Chinese menu in his hand).

Anyway, I think the conventional wisdom is that Universal milked the franchises well past any expiration date, and that there was a precipitous decline in quality after the first offerings in each series. And it turns out this is a little true and a lot false. I'm giddy because I just watched Son Of Dracula (1943), and while there are a lot of terrible things about this movie, I have to admit that the balance is surprisingly positive.

Regrettably, the bad includes the aforementioned Lon Chaney, Jr. as Count Dracula a.k.a. "Count Alucard," an alias so thin that Son Of Dracula cheekily blows it during the first five minutes of the movie (a character sees "Alucard" on the Count's luggage and immediately starts spelling it backwards and talking about how interesting that is). Whatever Chaney's talents were--and he's consistently failed to impress me whether he's been playing Larry Talbot, Frankenstein's monster or Dracula (Chaney was the only actor in the original Universals to assay all three iconic characters)--he's about as Hungarian as my left testicle, that is to say not a detectable bit. Indeed, the entire cast of SOD appears to be miscast: the film apparently takes place in the American South, with only one small role actually attempting anything like a Southern accent (unfortunately, as a native North Carolinian, testicular comparisons now fail, since my left nut is indubitably from well below the Mason-Dixon in several senses, literal or otherwise).

But the good! Oh, my, my, my, the good! SOD's story was written by Curt "Donovan's Brain" Siodmak, and is something unexpected: smart, clever, devious. Okay, so there's a lot of the stilted dialogue you expect from a '40s film. But beneath that melodramatic exterior is a demented, throbbing, malevolent heart that's completely aware of itself and its audience. I'd rather not spoil any of the twists--and SOD has twists worthy of a film noir--but I can give at least this f'r'instance: remember how I mentioned that the film blows "Alucard's" cheesy cover during the first five minutes? Yeah. Basically the main characters all know or figure out that Dracula is a vampire from almost the beginning of the movie, which means the whole rest of it is various characters figuring out ways to fuck him over, while meanwhile he schemes to take over the whole joint. That's the kind of film it is: one that lays out all of the cards during the first fifteen minutes only to cheerily point out that you're really playing Fizzbin and sorry if you thought the game was Poker or something equally passé.

The special effects are also worth mentioning. So you can see wires on the bat; it's also the first time you see Dracula change form, and the effects (by John P. Fulton) are actually pretty impressive for the era. Vampires change to and from bats and mists, and the bat effect in particular is kind of fucking cool in its speed and simplicity. Kudos.

I suppose the title is worth addressing. Who knows? I guess they couldn't call it Dracula And Some Rich Southern Hicks Keep Trying To Fuck Each Other Over. There's a nod at the title when a character suggests the Count is maybe a descendant of the original Dracula, but come on. We all know it's the Dracula and who do they think they're kidding? Of course they also treat the Bram Stoker novel as kind of an in-movie sourcebook, and Dracula (this can hardly count as a spoiler after more than a century) doesn't come out of that too well; so if the Count is the Dracula, how he "got better" from his prior impalement and decapitation is something of a mystery, but no more of a mystery than how he'd have a kid with that accent. Anyway, you can ignore the title, you might as well.

So it's worth a rental if you can find it, or checking out if it happens to show up on TCM or something. I don't want to rave too much: it was the beginning of the end for the Universal monster franchises, and Lon Chaney's Count really is unfortunate. But there really is an interesting movie underneath the cheesy crust, and I couldn't help thinking while I was watching that this was a movie you could remake with a great deal of fidelity to the source material and have something really, really awesome. And, like I said, there's a giddiness in discovering that something you thought would be kind of crap turns out to be kind of awesome (a rare inversion of Pixies' classic formulation, "How could this so great/Turn so shitty," which, sadly, describes so much life experience and not just crashing your UFO). Anyway, it's loads of fun.


Your "Huh?" moment-of-the-day

But for those who claim that the post-American world is a fait accompli, there is one big problem: The English language is winning hearts and minds faster than politics ever can. With the June 10 addition of "noob" (a pejorative description of a newcomer to a particular task or group) to its lexicon, English will boast one million words - twice as many as Cantonese, four times as many as Spanish, and 10 times as many as French. Half the world's people are projected to be speaking English by 2015. And so long as English is on track to become the world's unofficial language, the United States will likely be center stage.

-Ali Wyne, "The language of empire"
Foreign Policy, June 8, 2009

Hence the undisputed dominance of Great Britain, where English was, if I recall correctly, invented (someone may want to fact-check me on that) in international affairs to this very day....

I have no idea whether or not the United States will remain the pre-eminent world power into the Twenty-First Century; historically it seems improbable insofar as world powers from the classical age to the modern have come and gone, and there was a time not-really-so-long-ago-as-we-tend-to-think when the notion that the United States and Russia might supplant and surpass Great Britain, France and Germany as Great Powers would have rightfully seemed absurd on its face. Then again, the United States has some rather rare attributes as a state. So I'm really not going to anticipate our imminent downfall or bet on our continuing dominance. The most I'll do is hedge the bet by pointing out that we should make a point of having as many close friends as possible just in case we're ever number two or five or eighteen. (This has always struck me as one of the biggest flaws, if not the biggest, in unilateral foreign policy thinking of the sort that characterized the last Bush Administration: one of the biggest reasons for working within the international community is the hope that you can bank goodwill in case you have to cash in on it down the road, as in really cash in because, like Great Britain or Spain, you're no longer top dog.)

If the United States defies the odds, however, I doubt it will be because everybody is speaking the tongue we borrowed from our English cousins 'cross the pond. That's not because English isn't becoming a dominant language of trade and diplomacy--that's a fifty-year old trend that can reasonably be expected to continue. But there was a time when French served that role in world affairs, and who looks to France as a world leader now?

Ali Wyne concludes, "while the unipolar moment may be over, the growing influence of English will ensure that the United States doesn't fade into the sunset anytime soon," which is a bit silly since I don't think even the most pessimistic Cassandras think America will vanish into the good night, not to mention yet again the silliness of pegging that to language. The United States, in debt to the gills or not, has an enormous economic mass shadow; it's the size and weight of the American economy and access to resources that is at the foundation of our military might and contributes greatly to our cultural influence, indeed it's the gravitational influence of the American economy that has pulled so many non-native English speakers to learn the language. Even if America does eventually take a step down to a second tier on the world stage, it will be a second-tier power that produces and consumes at a staggering level, and whoever is on the first tier (if anyone; it's quite conceivable that "superpower" and "Great Power" are outmoded concepts and everyone important will basically be tied for second place) will have to reckon with buying from and selling to Americans.



>> Monday, June 08, 2009

I've totally added Ross Horsley's awesome My First Dictionary to my RSS reader. Because knowledge is power.

(H/T to Laughing Squid!)


Things you stumble across...

Is it sad that one reason I like Radiohead is that sometimes life feels like a Radiohead song? Given that Radiohead is probably the best rock band to capture the sense of existential dread since Pink Floyd ca. 1972-1977, yeah, probably. But they're still grand.

Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood strip "There There (The Boney King Of Nowhere)" down to its bare boneyness:



It's taken a decade, but today I finally did it!

I now have $12.50!

(Hey, sometimes it's the little things that matter, okay?)



>> Sunday, June 07, 2009

On the one hand (never mind, poor choice of phrase)--

I'm sitting here, typing even though it hurts my wrist, instead of thinking about dinner. It's, oh, around 8:30 in the evening and I should eat something, but I have no desire to do anything right now, and that includes eating. I have tons of food, I should add; went to the supermarket yesterday and anyway before that I had a freezer full of stuff already.

And it's not precisely that I have no desire to do anything. I'd like to write, like to even play guitar. Would love to play a videogame other than Civilization IV, not that there's anything wrong with Civ IV. Matter of fact, it has the advantage of being playable with one hand which is probably why I'm sick of it at the moment. I'd love to work on some photos, which really requires the use of the mouse (or in my case, the trackball). Notice a theme here?

Here's what I was going to say in the first sentence: On the one hand, I don't want to whine; on the other hand, I need to vent. Alas, I only have the one hand, and this is what makes this perilously close to something which should be consumed with cheese and crackers. (Who am I kidding? It's not close, it's way over.) Speaking of which, do you know that one of the things I didn't pick up at the grocer was a bottle of wine? Because, you see, the thought of using a corkscrew intimidated me.


I went out to brunch today with every intention of staying up on the corner and drinking coffee all day and reading. Instead, I had brunch and came home and slept. This is something you don't quite appreciate, I think, in all those fantasy tales and such you grew up on and still love if you're me: Frodo slept so long after the whole saving-the-world-from-darkness thing because there actually wasn't much else he could do. I hate to think where I'd be if I was full of Shelob-venom and missing a finger; brunch would probably have been out of the question. It could be worse: I could be missing the whole hand and dealing with my daddy being the evil Emperor of the Galaxy's butt-boy, though I think having an R2 unit to send down to the liquor store would be a bigger compensation than you'd think, and having a robot hand would be pretty boss.

I think I'm sticking chicken nuggets and tater tots in the oven and watching a movie will be the plan, and then (almost regrettably, having slept half the day away) bed. Back to work in the morning, which may be a bad idea (based on how Thursday wiped me out, kept me at home Friday) or an okay one (Wednesday wasn't so bad, which is why Thursday was a shocker). Tuesday I go back to the doctor to see what the next step is. The movie will most likely be an old black and white Universal horror flick but could be something I've seen before if I'm not sick of my movie collection.

This whine probably hasn't helped you. It's helped me, however. Thank you. I'll try to come up with something better this week if I can. It's just this damn slump. (Oo, look! Title!)



Actually, they really do grow on crunchbushes, I have this uncle who owns a farm...

>> Thursday, June 04, 2009

Dammit. Can't type. But have to share. From Kevin Underhill's Lowering The Bar:

On May 21, a judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California dismissed a complaint filed by a woman who said she had purchased "Cap'n Crunch with Crunchberries" because she believed "crunchberries" were real fruit. The plaintiff, Janine Sugawara, alleged that she had only recently learned to her dismay that said "berries" were in fact simply brightly-colored cereal balls, and that although the product did contain some strawberry fruit concentrate, it was not otherwise redeemed by fruit. She sued, on behalf of herself and all similarly situated consumers who also apparently believed that there are fields somewhere in our land thronged by crunchberry bushes.

May be awhile before the next real entry. The last one kinda hurt. But how could I not pass this one along?

Who's going to break it to her that Cap'n Crunch isn't really an officer in any recognized naval force in the world?

H/T to Boing Boing!


Stealing genocide

Over at Salon, Tracy Clark-Flory discusses an anti-abortion activists' handbook recently unearthed by Amanda Marcotte. The brief guide, which can be read here, tells anti-choice folks how to model empathic language and suggests points at which the anti-choicer might concede a point (e.g. the legality and availability of birth control) before offering advice on how to rebut the same point (continuing with the example, several pages after advising anti-choicers to agree that birth control should be legal, the pamphlet presents a case for the alleged ineffectualness of the pill and a religious pro-abstinence argument).

I'll leave it to others to dissect the ethics, potential hypocrisy, and outright disinformation in the document; for me, personally, one of the most grating portions of the thing comes around the seventh page of the PDF version, with the commentary on genocide. I became a History major and Asian Studies minor in college largely out of horror at the Cambodian autogenocide and the Holocaust remains a problem in evil that continues to vex me. Regardless of the ultimate legality of abortion--and yes, I think it should be legal despite a certain queasiness--the "genocide" rhetoric is patently offensive, misleading, inflammatory and dishonest.

The roots of the effort to make genocide an international crime predate the Second World War, and the efforts of Raphael Lemkin to raise consciousness about the Simele Massacre of 1933 and Armenian Genocide during the second decade of the 20th Century. (An excellent account of Lemkin's crusade can be found in the first portion of Samantha Powers' requisite primer, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide.) Lemkin's efforts were mostly at a standstill prior to the horrors revealed to the world at the end of World War II: while questions remain about the depth of the Allies' awareness of the extent and nature of the Holocaust during the War, the liberation of the camps was public and devastating. Subsequently, Nazi leaders were tried and hanged, and the young United Nations adopted a definition of genocide inspired by Lemkin's definition and enacted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1951 (after approval by the body in 1948), eventually ratified by 140 countries.

The Convention defines "genocide" with reasonable explicitness:

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Defining the word with reference to a national, ethnic, racial or religious group comports with standard usage of the word, or at least the standard usage of all but anti-choice protesters. So how do the anti-choicers arrive at "genocide"? By changing the definition to suit their needs:

Genocide is a "systematic destruction of a people group."

(emph. in original)

Well, no, no it isn't. By omitting the character of the group (race, religion, ethnicity, nation), the authors of the document render all mass-killings "genocides" and make the term utterly meaningless--one might use their definition to speak of the "Dresden genocide" of 1945 or the "New York genocide" of 2001. If killing a group of people is genocide--and let's leave aside the question of whether fetuses are people--then everything from Death Row to the use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki count as genocides.

A pacifist might indeed embrace that absurdity rationally--one can construct a coherent position in which all life is sacred from conception to death and abortion is morally wrong for the same reasons as war. This position may or may not be desirable, mind you, and I am aware that many of my readers would find it violently (no pun intended) objectionable--that really isn't the point. The point is that you can construct the position rationally, with conclusions duly following premises, regardless of whether it's a sustainable, pragmatic or even smart idea to put the derived philosophy into practice. But it would still be unsound and dishonest to label such a broad pro-life ethos as "anti-genocidal," because "genocide" refers to a very specific kind of evil, a special category of crime that goes beyond mere mass killing. To splash the label on all killings is to remove that specialness, to make it equivalent to any non-natural death.

Amongst the limp justifications one finds in the anti-choicer playbook is that the Cambodian autogenocide--commonly referred to as "The Killing Fields" although it included a system of prisons, torture facilities and concentration camps in addition to the millions of deaths in the fields themselves--is frequently referred to as "the Cambodian genocide." But this, really, is the point and the reason for using the clumsy term "autogenocide" in the piece you're reading: the Cambodian "genocide," strictly speaking, isn't--the national and ethnic group slaughtered by the Khmer Rouge was their own.1 "Genocide" is, in many respects, a poor and inaccurate label for the slaughter that occurred under the Khmer Rouge, and the horror begs for a better descriptor. Semantics are important.

It doesn't help the anti-choicers that abortions are private acts (legalized or funded by the state or not), and genocide as a term of art refers to a state act.

What the anti-choicers want is to steal a word because of its shocking effect. Allowing them to do so--regardless of whether they're actually right on the morality of abortion--devalues the usefulness of the word. And devaluing the usefulness of the word has all sorts of nasty effects. Devaluing the utility of the word desensitizes people--and genocide is a crime we should all be vigilant against as a species. Devaluing the word provides safe harbors to those state actors who might wish to minimize actually-genocidal acts committed by their regimes. Devaluing the word makes it yet another abused term ("fascist" is another) that carries a specific, terrifying meaning that is no longer understood by those who use it the most.

Stealing the word is an intellectual crime, an appalling act of dishonesty that shouldn't be tolerated by anybody, regardless of how they feel about abortion.

1Well. Sort of. Actually, it's much more complicated than that, since the "homogeneous" Khmer population consists (unsurprisingly) of a fair number of ethnic subdivisions inevitably produced by geography, not to mention the Chinese-descended population living in-country at the time. And--this shouldn't be a huge surprise, either--although the conventional wisdom that the Khmer Rouge targeted city-dwellers and educated elites isn't wrong, there turn out (upon inspection) to be old ethnic rivalries involved, too. The whole thing is a mess to try to explain, actually.



>> Wednesday, June 03, 2009

It was one of the dumbest questions I'd ever been asked. I'm not faulting the woman who asked it--she was working from a script. And I understood why the question was being asked. They needed to know, though how the quantification would have helped, I don't know; it's not like they were setting a target number for a skill check.

"On a scale of zero-to-ten, with ten being the worst, how much pain are you in?"

Well, what the hell does that even mean, I ask (politely, in so many words, maybe I just said, "huh?"). We're sitting in what's basically a cubicle off to the side in the emergency room at Carolinas Medical Center. I'm in triage, which I consider a good sign since I'm clearly not dying, so I logically have to be in the "no immediate need" category. This woman--nurse or technician or administrator or whatever she is--is going through a script with me: allergies, prior conditions, why are you even here, and on a scale of zero-to-ten how much pain, etc.

"Well," she says, "if 'ten' is the worst pain you've ever been in...."

"Four or five?" I lie. Two weeks later, around three a.m. after surgery the previous day and the nerve block's worn off, I will have a much better idea of what eight-nine-ten feels like. But Saturday night in the E.R.? Well, okay, I'm in pain, yes, so it's obviously not a zero, but is it as bad as I've heard childbirth is? Not so much. So, you know, pick the mean result, right? I feel like I do at the eye doctor, being asked if "three" is better than "four" and is "four" better than "one". I'm going to flunk, aren't I, and it will be all screwed up and my fault.

This is my first time on this side of the E.R.; I've brought friends, shown up during a crisis, but never been wheeled around in a wheelchair and left hanging out to wait. Part of the time I'm sitting next to my buddy, Nate, who was one of the passengers in the Bug; he's looking morose and craggy, with what looks like blood on either side of the bridge of his nose. His mom and stepdad are with us, heroically phoning everyone they can get hold of. Sam is being checked out in the back, at this point we're hearing both her arms are broken, which proves to be mercifully false. (We're also hearing there were nine people in the wreck, which turns out to be off by two.) My Uncle Jess and Aunt Debbie show up, making unimaginably good time from Stanley.

Time passes. My right arm swells up all melon-ey-like, which is something it probably isn't supposed to do. This is the wrist they put the sticker-bracelet around. When they applied it, the wrist wasn't nearly as swollen; I said, "So, this means I can get back in the show, right?" when they put it on, and the nurse didn't laugh. This was my backup joke: my first was, "So this means I can buy beer, right?" which I didn't think would have gone over too well. Perhaps I should have gone with my instincts. Maybe not.

After awhile, I get my own little--what would you call it? Room? Observation area? There's a little examining table with a cushion and I get to put on one of those swank "robes" that leave your ass hanging out (or would've if I hadn't kept my underwear on). Occasionally, I see someone. This experience doesn't exactly horrify: it's Saturday night, which I hear (per Messrs. Taupin and John) is alright for fighting. But seriously, it is Saturday and "Race Weekend" to boot, with some grande hullabaloo going on out at the speedway all weekend (as a friend describes it, lots of people are getting drunk while watching a gaggle of people turn left for several hours; I don't get it, either). I'm not in nearly the shape of, say, the gentleman wandering around my vicinity with some sort of IV on a pole trying to negotiate over his meds (clearly some sort of pharmacist, the fellow continues to insist specifically on certain opiates and generally on more). No, my only problems, really, are that my right leg has started to hurt (like my left hand) and my right arm looks a bit like a balloon animal.

The Powers-That-Be decide I need X-Rays and a CT scan. A wonderful woman who's helping set me up for the CT asks me which part of me is getting the CT scan and when I say the right, she incredulously asks, "The one with the bracelet?" She tells someone to cut it off.

The CT scan makes me feel like David Banner. As in Bill Bixby, not the rapper. Okay, it's not really anything like the chair ol' Bixby irradiates himself with in The Incredible Hulk, still, it conjures it in my brain. I lay in the machine with my arm over my head so it can be scanned; I was under the impression these things were loud, but apparently they aren't any more.

They wheel you back and forth in a wheelchair even if you feel like strolling. I perfectly understand all of the reasons why, but understanding things like legal liability and stealthy traumas doesn't make it any less annoying to a stubborn idjit like yours truly who hates asking for things and clings to illusions of independence like a security blanket. I'll refrain from the self-psychoanalysis here, take it for what it is. They push you back and forth and then you wander around your little area for a few hours in between while doctors get around to your scans and charts.

Don, one of the survivors of the wreck who I've known since junior high, who was taken to a different hospital, shows up with his left hand in a splint to check on those of us who went to CMC. It's a good moment, knowing he's mostly alright.

When they decide something is broken in my wrist, they refer me to Dr. Perlik and send a pretty cool guy down to splint me. When I ask if they can just hack my arm off and fit me with a boss pirate hook, he actually laughs.

The wreck was around eight p.m.; I finally return home around 2:30 a.m.


"There is a storm coming: a storm of fur and fury."

>> Tuesday, June 02, 2009

It's probably safe to say that most Star Wars fans hate Ewoks. I don't think it's the cuteness that's so damn fatal, but the way the little bastards stripped the balls off the Empire: while it was always an old joke that Imperial Stormtroopers couldn't hit squat at close range, they were still an intimidating presence, and in The Empire Strikes Back they tore up a Rebel base in less than fifteen minutes. Maybe they couldn't hit a hero swinging across an absurdly-placed chasm inside a space station at fifteen feet, but they were a menace. Until Return Of The Jedi, when suddenly they're wiped out by teddy bears.

There were really two related problems at play. The first is that obviously the Ewoks aren't supposed to be Ewoks, they were supposed to be Wookies, and Wookies clearly kick ass. The second problem is that George Lucas was sort of obsessed by this kind of warped Vietnam parable, the idea that the greatest military in the world was brought to a screaming halt by people living in the woods; of course this concept is completely wrong, historically speaking--the greatest army in the world was halted by a combination of hubris, politics (domestic and foreign), and a reasonably well-supplied indigenous military motivated by nationalism with nothing to lose and a cadre of leaders with decades of experience fighting the Japanese and then the French. Books have been written about how we lost the Vietnam War--I lack the hands and energy right now to write another--but our adversaries certainly weren't plucky midgets in fur suits armed with slings and spears, they were hardened guerrillas armed with Soviet weapons. But anyway....

The original script for what became Star Wars had the heroes meeting up with Wookies on the Yavin moon and teaching them how to fly spaceships for the attack on the Death Star. When the project got scaled down, Lucas kept one of the Wookies and made him a co-pilot on the ship the heroes use to rescue the Princess. Then Lucas found himself reusing scrapped ideas from Star Wars for Jedi, but since he already had a Wookie--well, let's face it, all he really did was switch syllables. Wook-ie became E-wok. (Or, as a classic Modern Humorist piece put it, "Just bring me the script to the first movie and a fucking Sharpie.")

The thing is, I've always thought Ewoks could be salvaged. I mean, maybe they just look cute. If I were doing a remake of Jedi, I'd probably keep the little fuckers but really make 'em live up to the potential we see during their introduction, when it looks like Luke, Han, Chewie and R2D2 are dinner. Apparently I'm not the only person who's thought along these lines: today's McSweeney's features an xenothropological study on what Ewoks are really like, which informs us:

Ewoks are not the naïve companionable canopy dwellers initially reported by Alliance military sources, but rather a singularly violent, cunning species, driven by perpetual internecine combat and territory acquisition. illustrated, f'r'instance, by the following observation:

Our first exposure to unvarnished Ewok behavior occurred at the victory celebration following the Battle of Endor. We were surprised to discover that the gathering was not just simply a boisterous feast-activity fostering communal bonds and egalitarian resource distribution, but also a ritualistic devouring of 34 captured Imperial storm troopers, who were spit-roasted alive in their armor for seli beli ("to seal in the flavor") and tanga tiru ("divine tang of mortal fear"), a delicacy to the Ewok palate.

C3QP also relayed that the Ewok celebratory phraseology has been grossly misrepresented in Alliance literature: The famous victory chant yub nub/yub nub eee chop yub nub translates not as "freedom/we have freedom" but rather as "eat them/we shall eat them"; elu mali ooloo/emi watu gravo is not "honor the fallen/toast their memory" but "defile their remains/pass water upon their graves"; and the oft-heard salutation yub jub actually translates to "devour the weak."

Now that I'll buy. Teddy bears defeating the Empire, no. Vicious carnivorous warrior tribes that devour the fallen, on the other hand? Those Imperials were brave just to share a planet with them. Now think if the Rebels had shared blaster tech with them (actually, the McSweeney's piece does and reaches a chilling conclusion--read for yourself). In my imaginary remake, those furry buggers would be armed with artillery and blaster rifles by the Bothans, just saying.

Not that it matters: Endor no longer exists as such, all life on the forest moon having been destroyed by radioactive debris followed by a likely artificial winter when some kind of space station abruptly exploded in low orbit 'round the moon. So it's reasonable to say there are no Ewoks. But if there were...? Doubtlessly, they'd be pissing on their enemies right now. Before eating them.


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