There he could reflect on the horrors he's invented...

>> Saturday, October 31, 2009

And now to close this horrorful night
Before I turn upstairs and turn out the lights
And watch a movie dark and filled with grim scares
Something that raises my hackles and hairs;
But to you I will leave one last thing to view
An animated short from nineteen-eighty-and-two
One that you've seen, but see it again
(And if somehow you haven't, O where have you been?)--
From a famous director, when he was almost a kid
Named after his idol, who narrated, he did!
So sit back and enjoy, from Burton and Price
"Vincent," a film that's ever-so-nice:


Oh, and one other thing that's Halloween-ey

Oh, one more thing on this, the day of witches' Sabbaths and rampaging werewolves and thirsty vampires and see-through ghosties making themselves see-able. On this day, thirty-three years ago if I'm counting back correctly, my little sister totally ruined my trick-or-treating by doing this thing where she exploded (sort of) from my mother's guts, kinda like the title thing-from-space in Alien from John Hurt, if the thing in Alien turned into a cute redhead who recently ran the Chicago marathon. Anyway, I think she probably still owes me candy, but what the hell, I love her anyway.

Happy birthday, Bird.


The bats have left the belltower...

More Halloween stuff: the original Goths themselves with what's probably their best-known song (thanks to being featured prominently in a cult-classic lesbian vampire film), a tribute to one of the greatest actors in horror-film history.

Yep. It's Bauhaus and "Bela Lugosi's Dead":


I'm not like other people--I can't stand pain, it hurts me...

It's funny how something can be sort of scary because it's mysterious. Take, for instance, the yeti or mi-go or, in the parlance of the day, the Abominable Snowman. As far as I know, nobody's ever actually claimed the things are hostile or bloodthirsty, and even if they were (assuming for the moment they existed, and that yeti tracks weren't, say for instance, hare footprints that had melted in the sun and refrozen together, which is probable), the odds of anybody who isn't a Sherpa or a semi-suicidal mountain climber ever meeting one are, you know, Slim-to-none-and-Slim-just-left-town.

But I remember old episodes of In Search Of... and books about weird phenomena checked out from the library as a kid being spooky and even scary when they discussed the Abominable Snowman. And I wouldn't say I was unique in that: H.P. Lovecraft borrowed a Tibetan name for ol' Snowy, "mi-go," for a species of weird fungal monstrosities from Pluto who like to live in the thin air of Earth's mountains when they're visiting this planet, sightings of which lead to Tibetan myths, etc. I think I read somewhere that "mi-go" translates as "that thing," but Wikipedia says it translates as "wild man," which I find horribly disappointing: I love the idea of some Westerner asking about a half-seen shadow on the snow that seemed to pause and look back before vanishing behind a snowdrift, and his guide replying, "It's that thing."

Truth be told, while this is a Halloween entry and tendered in that spirit, I'm not sure how Halloweeny this classic bit'o'Chuck Jones is. There are certainly other Warner Bros. cartoons I could have picked with a more explicit Halloween vibe--witches or ghosts or whatever--but this one does have a classic monster, and (after all) who doesn't love that signature line: "I will name him George, and I will hug him and pet him and squeeze him..."?

Chuck Jones, "The Abominable Snow Rabbit," 1961:


Political Spamfail

>> Friday, October 30, 2009

Dear Ciry-Council-At-Large Candidate Rao,

Hi, can I call you Jay--or is it Jaye? Anyhoo, I got your spam today, the one where you're seeking my support in your bid for one of the at-large seats on Charlotte's Ciry Council. I have to be honest, Jay, or Jaye: although I am registered as an independent voter, and although I know there's a stereotype of independents as leaning conservative, I'm a bleeding-heart liberal who normally votes for Democrats because when you're starving you don't get too picky about scraps, if you know what I mean. It's not like Charlotte has all these Green Party or Social Democrat candidates I could pick from, ha-ha. But I have in fact voted for Republicans before, believe it or not. I'd like to think I'm a big enough guy (and I don't mean around the waist) to vote for a person and not a party and all that.

But I have to be honest about something else: although I consider myself a fairly well-informed citizen and even went to law school, I have never even heard of the Ciry Council. I didn't know Charlotte even had a Ciry Council, which maybe just goes to show how much Charlotte truly has become the world-class city our civic leaders have always aspired to rule own sponge off of live in. At least I hope that's what it means, and that this isn't one of those things where Charlotte started a Ciry Council because Atlanta has one or something, because, y'know, while there are some neat things about Atlanta, it really isn't all that. I think we can do better. I hope that our Ciry Council is part of that evolution. Anyway, maybe you could have someone on your staff send me a flier or something explaining the role and functions of a Ciry Council, because I checked Google and Wikipedia (I'm one of those Internetty guys), and I could not, for the life of me, find any kind of information about Ciry Councils.

The other thing I was wondering if you could help me with is your name. The flier says your name is "Jaye," but the subject line of the e-mail I received from you says your name is "Jay." I guess I shouldn't be particular--I go by my middle name, after all; but then "Jaye Jay Rowe" seems like a bit of an odd name (unlike "J.J. Rowe" would be, but maybe that's what your parents' sense of humor was like). Or maybe "Jaye" is short for "Jay"--well, I guess it would be vice-versa, wouldn't it, ha-ha?

I also noticed, Jay (Jaye?) that this latest e-mail is a "correction." Don't sweat it--I somehow missed your earlier missive, but I'm sure any mistakes it contained were minor.

In the event your e-mail was sent out by somebody who doesn't know how to spell your name and was too lazy to notice he'd misspelled the word "city" in a mass e-mail sent to thousands of registered voters that was intended to correct earlier errors in what I presume was another mass e-mail, I hope I'm not out of line to suggest maybe you fire that guy. Just saying.

R. Eric VanNewkirk
Standing On The Shoulders
Of Giant Midgets


Quote Of The Day (U.S. Armed Forced Edition)

This Court will not interfere in internal military affairs nor be used as a tool by military officers to avoid deployment. The Court has a word for such a refusal to follow the orders of the President of the United States, but it will leave the issue to the military to resolve.
-Judge David O. Carter, Order To Dismiss,
Barnett v. Obama, SACV 09-0082 DOC (ANx) (2009).

I figured some of the regulars might enjoy that comment from The Honorable Judge Carter, part of yesterday's order dismissing one of Orly Taitz's last remaining cases against the President Of The United States. I'm still reading the order, so there may (or may not) be some more choice excerpts to follow. (I'm not sure there will be any real commentary, since I frankly find Taitz's quixotic efforts to be so lame-brained that these dismissals seem inevitable for self-evident reasons.)

I will say this, though: I think I've wondered elsewhere (perhaps here or perhaps in the real world) what the Birthers were hoping to accomplish, since removing the President would, as every schoolchild knows, result in Vice-President Biden's succession. (And, I almost hate to say this, but who wants that? I mean, I actually like Joe, but, y'know, he's like your crazy goofy uncle who shows up at barbecues and tells awesome stories and sneaks you beers or lets you take his car for a spin around the gravel drive even though he thinks you're "sixteen, that's old enough," when really you're, like fifteen. Next week. Sure, he's a real kick in the pants, but you wouldn't actually want to spend the summer with him or something, because even though you're only fifteen--almost--even you know that the charms of having a parental unit whose idea of dinner is Cocoa Puffs and scrambled eggs would wear off in a day, day-and-a-half, tops.) Well, turns out Birther fantasies are a helluva lot scarier than that: seems that the injunctive relief they were seeking included a pretty-total shutdown of the Executive Branch while the President spent the next several years in court on a foolish crusade to prove his citizenship (I mean, at this point it's clear that the Birthers would continue to demand proof that the President was born on American soil even if somebody built a time machine that allowed them to teleport directly into Stanley Ann Dunham's uterus on August 4th, 1961), with new elections to be held if a judge found for the plaintiffs.

The idea is implausible, but it's also horrifying in its implications. Is that what The Birthers really wanted? Not just to subvert the democratic will of the people (after all, regardless of where the President was born--which, incidentally, was in the American state of Hawai'i--I don't think anyone is arguing that the President didn't enjoy a majority vote; on a related note, it's amusing to remember, as Judge Carter reminds us, that Birther plaintiffs Alan Keyes and Rev. Wiley Drake "received a total of four-hundredth of one percent of the popular vote for President"--dammit, if only people hadn't been tricked into voting for that Kenyan guy, maybe they would have voted for that other black guy, the one who got 1/4000th 4/10,000th of the popular vote!), but to ignore the actual text of the Constitution regarding succession and/or impeachment while effectively bringing all governmental functions, including the ability to effectively defend the country from attack, to a screaming halt? Really? Ye gods, it's beyond stupid and insane and well into Twilight Zone territory, get me Serling's ghost to narrate.

And it's the Birthers who are afraid Obama will destroy America? Really? I should be writing this post with interrobangs in every sentence.


ZEMA needs time!

As part of our ongoing "try to do more for Halloween" bit, here's one for Michelle: Joey Carrillo's 2006 short, "What To Do In A Zombie Attack". (The fourth weapon is what made this one a keeper, if you ask me.)


They were horribly thin

>> Thursday, October 29, 2009

My own view, and I suspect I'm not alone in it, is that nobody wrote ghost stories quite the way Montague Rhodes James did. Writing around the turn of the 20th Century, James' stories mix a quiet elegance with wry humor and a brilliant sense of the mundane that has become a staple of contemporary horror fiction. Frequently in an M.R. James tale, there's not much that happens and much of what does happen seems terribly ordinary--which makes the little macabre things all the darker and worse. Pre-James, horror fiction in general and ghost stories in particular tended to be Gothic, and Gothic fiction tended to be over-the-top (take Horace Walpole's The Castle Of Otranto, one of the seminal Gothic tales, which begins with a character being smashed to bits beneath a giant helmet "an hundred times more large than any casque ever made for human being, and shaded with a proportionable quantity of black feathers" that mysteriously fell from the sky like a 16-ton weight in a Python episode), taking place in desolate castles and upon infinite moors and involving various tragic royals; James' little tales, on the other hand, occur on trains and in college offices, and involve fairly dull and ordinary people--you know, like you and me.

"The Mezzotint," here recited by Robert Powell for the BBC in a 1986 rendition, is one of James' best, a story that slowly unpeels itself and is worse for what is implied than what is said. It's also the earliest example I'm aware of of a horror trope that's become especially popular in horror movies since The Ring: the image (painting, photograph or titular engraving of the James tale) that changes in horrible ways when nobody's looking at it. In classic James fashion, there's also a certain amount of dry humor interlaced with the whole thing (one of my favorite James lines: "But those who are familiar with University life can picture for themselves the wide and delightful range of subjects over which the conversation of two Fellows of Canterbury College is likely to extend during a Sunday morning breakfast. Hardly a topic was left unchallenged, from golf to lawn-tennis."). I feel it's my duty to say that notwithstanding some half-hearted attempts by the director to incorporate some dramatic scenes within Powell's performance, this is Powell reciting a ghost story; you might enjoy it as much or more if you simply play the videos in a tab and listen to them as you might an audiobook. If you enjoy the story at all, which I hope you do. James' stories may be firmly set and told in the style and manner of an earlier age, but he really was the best.

The original story may be read here.

"The Mezzotint," by M.R. James, as told by Robert Powell:



Johann Hari isn't my favorite bleeding heart, despite the fact he's clearly a fellow traveler on so many principles. However, this comment from a January editorial in The Independent (brought to my attention by a piece at OpenSalon, tip'o'the hat) resonated for sure:

All people deserve respect, but not all ideas do. I don't respect the idea that a man was born of a virgin, walked on water and rose from the dead. I don't respect the idea that we should follow a "Prophet" who at the age of 53 had sex with a nine-year old girl, and ordered the murder of whole villages of Jews because they wouldn't follow him.

I don't respect the idea that the West Bank was handed to Jews by God and the Palestinians should be bombed or bullied into surrendering it. I don't respect the idea that we may have lived before as goats, and could live again as woodlice. This is not because of "prejudice" or "ignorance", but because there is no evidence for these claims. They belong to the childhood of our species, and will in time look as preposterous as believing in Zeus or Thor or Baal.

When you demand "respect", you are demanding we lie to you. I have too much real respect for you as a human being to engage in that charade.
-Johann Hari, "Why should I respect these oppressive religions?"
The Independent, January 29th, 2009

I happen to agree with everything Mr. Hari writes in that piece (and in a related item written a week later after republication of the article in an Indian newspaper led to riots), which is, as I say, a little bit unusual insofar as I've mostly avoided reading things written by Mr. Hari after reading several articles and commentaries in which I found myself agreeing with some of his premises only to find myself saying, "Yes, but you're getting that wrong" when I got to his conclusions (occasionally it's even run the other way, where I violently disagree with Mr. Hari's premises only to find myself startled to find a perfectly reasonable conclusion somehow tacked onto the piece); I've also read at least one piece (on Somali piracy, I believe it was) where I'm reasonably certain he got his facts wrong, or at least I can't find any reliable source corroborating his statements. (This is why, by the way, we liberals tend to be pretty ineffectual; we even have violent arguments about things we agree on--conservative readers would have little to fear even if the President actually were a socialist, since we'd get into a knock-down brawl over seating arrangements and whether the word "and" was somehow derogatory to somebody.)

The context for dredging up the Hari piece on religion is some recent controversy over whether President Obama agreed in any way with Islamic countries seeking a global law or resolution against blasphemy. There's not really anything to the story: the United States joined with Egypt on a UN Human Rights Council resolution regarding freedom of speech, which tepidly included a clause stating:

...that incidents of racial and religious intolerance, discrimination and related violence, as well as of negative racial and religious stereotyping continue to rise around the world, and condemns, in this context, any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence, and urges States to take effective measures, consistent with their obligations under international human rights law, to address and combat such incidents.

Ironically, conservative organizations, many of which include members who have no problem stating that the ecumenically diverse United States is actually a "Christian nation" and members who might reach for their guns if you told them it's possible Jesus was a mythical or composite figure (as there's no firm evidence outside Christian texts that he ever existed at all, though there's no real evidence he didn't, either), have gotten riled over the fiction that this resolution means the Obama Administration is in favor of blasphemy laws that would prevent criticisms of Islam (or, more to the speed of some organizations like the Birchers, unfunny and potentially racist depictions of Muhammad--which, incidentally, ought to be any human being's right to create, even if nobody ought to laugh at them). In fact, however, the Obama Administration's position on anti-religious defamation resolutions or treaties is explicit in the Administration's support of free expression and opposition to any attempt to quash free speech through censorship of religious criticism or anti-religious sentiment. The signal-to-noise ratio has been abominable enough that it seems to be creeping into liberal fora, particularly those already worried about the present course of the Obama Administration.

I'm happy--actually, "relieved" might be the better word--to say that, as best I can tell, the Obama Administration hasn't screwed this one up yet.

On the occasions I've decided to write about religion, I've found myself second-guessing myself, and sometimes being a bit reluctant to be too explicit about some points. Some of my most-loved family members and friends are openly religious and it is something they define themselves by (a subject my online friend Janiece Murphy was grappling with a few weeks ago); many of these family members and friends are people I respect despite the fact they cling to ideas that I can't.

It's frequently awkward away from the Internet, too, because (as Hari rightly points out), there's something deeply and profoundly insulting and condescending in smiling noncommittally and agreeably at the expression of something that you find wrong or possibly even basically, fundamentally stupid. Part of this is a tension that Hari doesn't address: ideas don't inherently deserve respect, but people inherently do; however, ideas are held by people, they don't actually exist Platonically in some nether space waiting to be stumbled into, and so to fault an idea does, unfortunately, necessarily imply a fault with the brain holding it, whether that fault is simply an ordinary and correctable failure of observation, knowledge or logic or whether the fault is in fact a deeper, tragic, impossible-to-fix defect (for want of a better word).

I would like to think that it is nonetheless possible for people to get along regardless of their ideas, that where ideas clash people might, out of mutual respect, agree to disagree. I have no especial need to convert everybody to some sort of agnosticism or atheism; beyond the occasional skeptical materialist argument here or there, it seems like it would be a tiring and futile crusade. I worry, though, that there may be ideas that are simply incompatible and no means for a mutual human respect to be reached: if, for instance, adherents of a particular creed insist that their beliefs are beyond intellectual criticism or flat-out mockery and are willing to resort to force or oppression to carry the point across, I don't know that absolutism can be compromised with even to the extent of "let's agree to disagree." So long as somebody's religion--whatever it might be--doesn't affect me, I really could care less what they believe; as soon as they tell me, however, that their religion dictates what I can say or do, whether I like it or not, we're no longer on that same page, and I don't see how there can be any reconciliation without one of us surrendering our principles. Given that my principle says we can offend each other as much as we like by poking holes in each other's thoughts and notions, while their principle says anyone who disagrees with them ought to be in jail or worse, I have to find my principle superior not only out of self-interest (I'd rather not be locked up and/or shot for blasphemy, thank you), but out of the view that my principle has the utilitarian value of maximizing happiness for the most people, or at least spreading around any unhappiness caused by sentiments any of us find insulting.


His hideous heart

>> Wednesday, October 28, 2009

October 28th of my favorite month, and I haven't done anything for it. At least not on the blog. I've been watching horror movies throughout the month, and reading horror stories, too--but I haven't reviewed any on the blog or anything like I did last year.

So let's see if I can do better than that for the last few days of the month--some kind of commemoration of the best month of the year, the month of sweet-scented falling leaves and haunted evenings.

This evening: from 1953, Columbia Pictures/United Productions Of America presents Ted Parmelee's adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's 1843 classic "The Tell-Tale Heart." Although Parmelee's short was nominated for an Oscar, I personally find it a little bit literal and ordinary at times, and I think it loses some effect from the disclaimers on the front end--though it's possible they were the result of the movie bizarrely receiving a restricted Adults-Only rating in Britain. On the other hand, what makes this short beyond awesome can be summarized in two words:

James Mason.

Writers Bill Scott and Fred Grable wisely hew close to Poe's original words in their adaptation--the script is essentially Mason doing a near-reading of the short story (with a few minor alterations), and Mason's reading is pitch-perfect. "Lyrical intensity" seems like a bit of a cliché, but when people talk about prose having it, Poe's the writer they're talking about whether they're specifically talking about him or not, and "Heart" is a brilliant little example, with its cadences capturing the way the anonymous narrator's OCD devolves into homicide. Take those textual rhythms and channel them through James Mason's mellifluous voice... well, yes, it is wonderful to hear.

"The Tell Tale Heart":


Well, this looks like it'll be fun...

>> Tuesday, October 27, 2009

This, of course, being the view from my office circa 5:30 P.M. as I get ready to leave, as taken by my BlackBerry, which may or may not actually capture the sheer shittiness of this gloomy afternoon, or that it's a wee bit chilly at 55F° (yes, yes, I know: readers in godforsaken places like Alaska and Minnesota are currently enjoying the kinds of temperatures that harden Satan's nipples in the stygian depths of the Ninth Circle of Dante's Hell where he--Satan, I mean--is frozen up to his diabolical 'nads in bloody black ice; well it's not freezing here, but it is chilly enough to be unpleasant walking out to your car in the rain, thank you very much).

Can you tell that, as eager as I am to get the hell out of here and go home, I'm putting off getting out of here and going home? Yes, because this drive through the chilled grey rain is going to be bleary and drab, the tunes on the radio insufficient (however loud) to drown out the psychically grating squiiiiipe! of the windshield wipers rocking back and forth, a monotonous, repeating noise that is somehow audible to your eyes. After a shitty day at the office, a shitty drive home, hooray and all that.

Maybe if I wish hard enough, instead of me going home, home will come here. Eyes shut, concentrate... no, dammit, I failed. This has happened to me before, actually, or something like it. True story (he lied): I was in the audience for a performance of Peter Pan one time, and you know that part where everybody has to clap to bring Tinkerbell back? Yeah, well we didn't try hard enough, and she stayed dead. Worst part was that it was only the second show in the run, so all the audiences that came for the later shows were pissed at us. Little kids tugging at their parents' sleeves--"I want to see Tinkerbell. Where's Tinkerbell?" Parents telling their children about the "Fairies Farm" where fairies go to rest and chase rabbits, which is obviously complete horseshit. They're thinking of brownies, fairies hardly chase rabbits at all.

Awright. Can't put it off forever. Headed home. Wish me luck. Clap for me, even.


Getting Rogue

>> Monday, October 26, 2009

According to Newsweek, and Wal-Mart are now in a bidding war to lowball Sarah Palin's memoir, Going Rogue. Newsweek reports that Amazon originally listed the book at its cover price of $28.99; I actually doubt this is the case, since Amazon almost always shaves a bit off the price to start with--I suspect they probably were initially offering the book around the fifteen-dollar price point. Regardless, it seems Wal-Mart then offered the book for presale at ten bucks, leading Amazon to drop their price to $9.00, leading inevitably to Wal-Mart offering the book for $8.98. Will Amazon match the bid?

I'd like to think so; in fact, I'd like to see this followed to its inevitable conclusion. There's an old standard joke about some things looking like they'll be so awful "I wouldn't read/watch/listen to that if they paid me!" Let me say for the record, I'm not proud and I can always use beer money: I will happily accept a copy of Going Rogue if either Wal-Mart or Amazon pays me $28.99 to do so. (I have selected this amount based on the cover price for the book--it should go without saying if either retailer or any other bookseller wishes to pay me more than that to give me a copy of Going Rogue, I won't decline.)

Now, obviously, the purchase of a book doesn't obligate one to read it or even keep it. But I will even go a step further in my offer to book retailers. First, I will be willing to accept multiple copies of Going Rogue accompanied by cash or checks (I regret that I cannot reciprocate most retailers' willingness to accept major credit cards at this time, and Discover is completely out of the question). Second, I will keep these copies of Going Rogue for a reasonable amount of time before giving them away or exchanging them for credit at one of the used bookstores within a short distance of my home. And, third, yes, I will actually read a copy of the book (it would be redundant to read multiple copies, however). It shouldn't take more than an afternoon, right?

How proactive do you think I need to be? Should I wait until Wal-Mart and Amazon list the book at a negative dollar value, or should I wait until they contact me with their payment and delivery information? It's a novel situation, understand. Either way, I look forward to drinking beer. Oh, and the book. Also. Of course. Sure, why not?


Dumb quote of the day

>> Sunday, October 25, 2009

"The fact is there are so many unhappy, scary things in the world," [clothing executive Lori Liddle] said. "While Halloween has its roots in scary, it really is about dress-up and imagination. At the end of the day, kids really don't want to be scared.
-"Gore galore in young kids’ Halloween costumes"
Associated Press, October 22nd, 2009

Yep, kids hate being scared, which is why when I was a kid we'd spend much of the time around Halloween (or around the year generally, really) telling each other ghost stories and especially bloody and awful urban legends like the one about "Bloody Mary" who will come to your mirror if you stupidly say her name three times in front of it and hack you up (absolutely true, my cousin's friend's brother's uncle's neighbor when he was a kid was really ripped to shreds by the evil spirit) or the classic about the escaped loonie with the hook for a hand who creeps up on parking couples.

The AP article about too-gory Halloween costumers tells us that Ms. Liddle: a fright of her own at how the costume industry... when she started wandering trade shows to stock her Wishcraft Halloween line....


So she set out to "bring the magic back to Halloween" through more than 150 "kid-friendly" costumes that include dreamy little sultans and genies, smiling spider queens and playful bat capes, along with brave but blood-free medieval knights and gladiators.

Is it me, or is there something starkly disingenuous about a former executive from American Girl and Land's End who's currently trying to hawk her own line of (lame) kiddie costumes complaining that competitors' products are too icky and frightening? (Also, seeing as how Ridley Scott's Gladiator is one of the most-offensive examples of violence-as-porn I've ever seen, I'm a little weirded out by the offering of gladiator costumes; or maybe I'm simply remembering that classic line from Airplane, which maybe makes a gladiator costume even creepier.) And shouldn't AP or the Today show have some kind of caption explaining that the article is an advertisement for goods or services, even if it's an unpaid promo? Just sayin'.

Halloween is all about bringing on the scary, and that's nothing new. If there's anything to complain about with costumes like these, it may be the increasing commercialization of American culture, and a distressing lack of effort on the parts of parents (though I do understand--I remember years as a kid when I stupidly wanted a store-bought costume; in retrospect, I was dumb, but, y'know, I do get it). I'm not a parent, but if I were I think I'd have more of an issue with my kid wanting to buy a Michael Myers costume than I would about my kid making a Michael Myers costume. But regardless, I do think there's something awful about the "Boy's Axe Murderer" costume in the picture accompanying the AP article.

It's missing something.


Saturday music

>> Saturday, October 24, 2009

I don't think I've done 'em before, and why haven't I? Maybe the third greatest rock band in history: there's The Beatles, and you have The Stones...

...and then there's The Clash.

On second thought, I may have to bump The Stones. Sorry Mick, Keith.

"The Magnificent Seven," US Festival, 1983:

Happy Saturday.


Who the President talks to...

>> Friday, October 23, 2009

Reading Salon over here at Freeman's Pub while I eat lunch downtown, I came across yet another piece regarding the Obama Administration's "war" against Fox News. The Administration, if you've been sleeping under a rock, basically called Fox News out for being nakedly partisan--which is, of course, completely true--and announced they weren't going to treat Fox as a news organization anymore. Which, I have to admit, makes a certain amount of sense--I mean, isn't it some of the best-known faces at Fox News, Beck and O'Reilly, who like to insist they're entertainers, not journalists, whenever they get their fingers caught 'neath the lid. Anyway, it seems that some of the other media outlets have gotten their knickers twisted over this one, and are rushing to the defense of Fox News, refusing to agree to interviews themselves unless Fox is allowed to play, too, etc. Salon's general take has been that the purportedly-liberal MSM outlets are wrong and that the President's Fox boycott is justifiable, if perhaps ill-advised as a matter of policy. My take is who the fuck oughta care?

Seriously. One of my little peeves is the delusion the media is under that they're special, they're the Fourth Estate and all that rubbish. The First Amendment doesn't say anything about the press being special, it says that their freedom won't be abrogated by Federal legislation (a limit on Federal power that is expanded to State legislatures--who used to be able to censor the press as much as their individual State constitutions permitted--by the Fourteenth Amendment). Specifically:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Nowhere in the text does it say that the President of the United States has to give access to any journalist, pundit, camera crew, commentator, editorialist or anybody. The President can damn well deny access to Fox News--or to NBC, CBS, ABC, C-SPAN, Tommy Perkins from the Winnsleydale Junior High Informer, or to anyone else he damn well pleases. It might be stupid of him to do so as a matter of policy or public relations, but y'know, whatever.

The press does this kind of thing all the frickin' time and it frankly pisses me off. The press doesn't have privileges as a matter of law, rather it has the same exact rights as every other American citizen combined with a pseudo-special status that accidentally arose from the high bars to entry caused by the technological limitations of the actual media being used to communicate and their forms of distribution. That is, a printing press is a big heavy machine that costs lots and lots of money to feed and maintain and then you have to actually figure out how to get the resulting pages out to people. Similarly, a television camera used to be a big heavy thing that you had to have an entire truckload of gear to support unless it was anchored in a giant expensive building, and broadcasting the results to everyone in your vicinity a daunting technical process. So it was sort of inevitable, really, that there would come to be a professional class of reporters and their support system--e.g. editors, publishers, typesetters, circulation managers, deliverymen and so forth in print journalism. (It follows, at least somewhat, that the Internet, in removing barriers to entry, makes those in traditional journalism less special since they're no longer unique in their ability to deliver information; the major remaining exception being that news corporations are better suited to fund international travel for news reporting. Further, none of this says that there's no role for specialists or for those willing or able to pay specialists for their time; i.e. not every blogger, for instance, will have the time or resources to spend days and days gathering information and assembling it into a polished, informative communication. On the other hand, anyone who's willing to take the time can, theoretically, assemble a perfectly good news story, film it on an inexpensive-but-quality digital camera and, say, post it on YouTube for instant international distribution.)

Getting back on topic--I fear I've digressed a bit into something else I wanted to write sometime: I suspect the President would be a bit more "presidential" if the Administration sucked it up and pretended that Fox gave a crap about arcana like facts and truth, and shutting Fox News out may not be particularly sustainable or wise. But that really doesn't have anything to do with the wagon of donkey crap that is Fox News, or the other wagons of donkey crap in the caravan like NBC or CNN and all the rest of them. They aren't special and nobody has to talk to them, not even the President.


Ruminations and ramblings on juvenile justice

>> Thursday, October 22, 2009

I don't normally talk about work, and this isn't work, exactly. But it is the kind of thing I get leery of talking about for... well, I don't suppose in this case there's much reason to be leery, actually. Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I got a call from a local Superior Court judge who asked if I'd speak to a class he's teaching at an area community college; it's a criminal justice course, and they'd been talking about juvenile justice which is sort of a focus area for me, and he'd already invited up some other local players, would I mind giving the defense attorney's perspective, etc.? Honestly, I wouldn't have said "no" even if this was the kind of thing you could say "no" to.

I go in front of his students tomorrow. Not much idea what to say, despite the judge's reassurances; but I'm sort of pacing my office at lunch, thinking about things I could say and re-reading In re Gault, and it occurs to me maybe it would be helpful to babble at the internets a bit.

It's not like I had a blog post planned for today, anyway.

This isn't going to pretend to be organized. More of just a wandering rumination, the idea (from my end) being that I might write something here today that would be clever to say out loud tomorrow, and perhaps the idea from your end being that you can always scroll down the page to the music videos if you'd like.

I don't know how much thought you've given about why we have a juvenile court system. What we have is a sort of uneasy compromise. Some folks have suggested it's the worst of all possible worlds, and I would have to say there's some merit to that. Historically, if you don't know (the class I'm speaking to, by the way, should know this already), what happened was that around the turn of the 20th Century there was a sort of American Renaissance, parts of which took and much of which didn't. Aside from some dubious things like banning the sale of spirituous liquors, you got a forty-hour work week and meat safety inspections and licensing doctors, and a lot of other things; on the legal side of it, one of the things you got was that some folks up in Illinois decided to establish a kind of separate court system for kids.

I don't know if you've thought about what this meant, what this says about the legal system up to that point. Up to that point what you had was basically just William Blackstone, who said that people beneath a certain age had to be regarded as "infants" and therefore completely incapable of forming any kind of criminal intent (and were therefore incapable of being accused of or tried for crimes) or, well, not being infants as evinced by indicators of being able to form criminal intent at a precocious age, indicators such as lying about the act or trying to hide from punishment. Which meant, in application, that if you were a ten-year-old (let's say) and you did something naughty, there would be a kind of ad hoc process to determine whether you would be tried to the fullest ends of the law or not at all. "Well, he burned down the neighbor's house, but he seems a bit childish and foolish; I hope his parents ground him, there's nothing the law can do." Which, bleeding-heart liberal that I am, seems a bit off even to me. Conversely, you might have, "You may be ten, Mister Smith, but you'll die like a man for what you did!" Which I would hope would cause even the hardest-hearted guardian of law-and-order to lose sleep.

Incidentally, the youngest person ever tried and sentenced to death in these United States, at least as far as I can tell, was a ten-year-old, James Arcene, though it seems he got away for a bit and didn't get hanged until he was twenty-three. The youngest people ever executed, as far as I've been able to determine, were two twelve-year-olds, Hannah Ocuish in Connecticut in 1786 and James Guild in New Jersey in 1828. The youngest person executed in the United States in modern times is the little boy in the picture at the top of this piece: his name was George Stinney, Jr., and when he was fourteen he was tried and convicted by the state of South Carolina for the murders of two white girls, and put in the electric chair in 1944; according to at least one source, his feet couldn't reach the floor when they sat him down in it and strapped him in.

The idea they had in Illinois in 1899, which eventually caught on in most states (even, eventually, South Carolina), was that it didn't make much sense to either arbitrarily excuse children for some criminal acts while sending others to prison (or worse) for the same things, or even lesser things, just because a prosecutor, judge or jury decided at some point in the proceedings that one child was hapless and the other Rhoda Penmark's even eviler doppelgänger. So they set up a separate, less-formal courtroom where a judge might look at the child's circumstances, needs, and the behavior that landed the child in Dutch with the law, and craft appropriate disciplinary measures if needed or perhaps only give the child a lecture and a pat on the head before sending him or her off to behave. And in an ideal sort of world, that's not a terrible model, actually; if judges were all the way we want them to be, wise and perfect paternal or maternal figures full of abundant-but-matched measures of compassion and sternness, the traditional juvenile court would actually be perfect.

The problem, of course, is that not all judges are like that. Judges are human, our systems for choosing them are imperfect, and while there are judges who live up to something approaching the ideals of the previous paragraph (I've had the privilege of being in front of just a few of them in the course of my career thus far), there are also judges like the pair of embarrassments from Pennsylvania who pleaded guilty this past February to wire-fraud and tax evasion after it turned out they were taking kickbacks from privately-run detention centers. (If you somehow missed that scandal, I recommend reading the New York Times article linked-to in the previous sentence; it was a pretty awful scandal and whipping's too good for the judges in question.) Happily, there aren't that many criminal judges, either. But there are a lot of judges who fall somewhere in between the extremes of the Solomanic ideal and the squalid disgrace to judicial oaths.

In 1964, an fifteen-year-old Arizona kid named Gerald Gault apparently crank-called a neighbor and he or possibly his friend who was with him said some lewd things, which maybe would have seemed less of a big deal if young Gerald hadn't already been on juvenile probation for purse-stealing and had his name come up in a few other neighborhood incidents. As a result, Gerald's mom got a note from a police officer saying, basically, "come to court at such-and-such a time, bring your boy," and when she did they had a little sit-down with an Arizona Superior Court judge in chambers, at the end of which the judge ordered the kid to be locked up at the State Industrial School until he was twenty-one or someone decided to let him out, whichever came first. It's not even clear whether the Mrs. Gault knew why she was bringing her son up there. Hell, it's not completely clear the judge knew why he was locking the boy up, aside from the fact that he was on probation, and a cop said he'd been annoying the neighbors, and there was some kind of thing about a baseball glove a few years previous that the kid had never actually been charged with; at any rate, it seems like the judge, when he was subsequently questioned at a habeas corpus proceeding filed by Gerald Gault's parents, had some small trouble figuring out which statute he'd even sent the boy off for violating.

The Supreme Court Of The United States had some problems with the whole thing. That's where I come in.

That may seem a bit more melodramatic than it needs to be, but it actually is sort of true. Not that I was alive in 1967, when the Supreme Court decided In re Gault, but that the court decided, eight-one, that young Gerald's rights were violated; that if a juvenile proceeding wasn't exactly a criminal proceeding, it was still kind of like a criminal proceeding, and so a child charged with juvenile delinquency needed to be told of his rights, and what he was accused of, and have a fair hearing, and be able to confront witnesses against him (the lady who was allegedly on the receiving end of Gerald's calls never even came to court), and to have a lawyer (bing! that's where I come in, it being a big chunk of me job and all).

I mentioned earlier the prospect that we possibly have the worst of all systems. It's Gault's bright legacy or dark consequence, depending on how you judge decanted liquids. I also mentioned that Gault was an eight-one decision; well, it's one of those weird ones where the majority opinion reflects progressive ideas--children should get Due Process and all that--and the dissent, by centrist jurist Justice Potter Stewart, actually is founded on more progressive concerns. Justice Stewart wrote:

Juvenile proceedings are not criminal trials. They are not civil trials. They are simply not adversary proceedings. Whether treating with a delinquent child, a neglected child, a defective child, or a dependent child, a juvenile proceeding's whole purpose and mission is the very opposite of the mission and purpose of a prosecution in a criminal court. The object of the one is correction of a condition. The object of the other is conviction and punishment for a criminal act.

In the last 70 years many dedicated men and women have devoted their professional lives to the enlightened task of bringing us out of the dark world of Charles Dickens in meeting our responsibilities to the child in our society. The result has been the creation in this century of a system of juvenile and family courts in each of the 50 States. There can be no denying that in many areas the performance of these agencies has fallen disappointingly short of the hopes and dreams of the courageous pioneers who first conceived them. For a variety of reasons, the reality has sometimes not even approached the ideal, and much remains to be accomplished in the administration of public juvenile and family agencies--in personnel, in planning, in financing, perhaps in the formulation of wholly new approaches.

I possess neither the specialized experience nor the expert knowledge to predict with any certainty where may lie the brightest hope for progress in dealing with the serious problems of juvenile delinquency. But I am certain that the answer does not lie in the Court's opinion in this case, which serves to convert a juvenile proceeding into a criminal prosecution.

The inflexible restrictions that the Constitution so wisely made applicable to adversary criminal trials have no inevitable place in the proceedings of those public social agencies known as juvenile or family courts. And to impose the Court's long catalog of requirements upon juvenile proceedings in every area of the country is to invite a long step backwards into the nineteenth century. In that era there were no juvenile proceedings, and a child was tried in a conventional criminal court with all the trappings of a conventional criminal trial. So it was that a 12-year-old boy named James Guild was tried in New Jersey for killing Catharine Beakes. A jury found him guilty of murder, and he was sentenced to death by hanging. The sentence was executed. It was all very constitutional.

(cit. omit.)

The bitch of it is, Justice Stewart was right, at least up to a point. It's not good at all to put kids in the position Gerald Gault was in, having his freedom curtailed for an indefinite period, possibly several years, without anything like Due Process. On the other hand, giving children protections reserved for alleged criminals has inevitably lead to some degree of treating them like criminals. Justice Stewart's most grim prognostication--that we'd end up right back in the 19th Century with children being hanged with all their Constitutional rights scrupulously intact--hasn't come to pass, but here's where children end up with the worst of all worlds: children in juvenile court still have fewer rights than adults--a juvenile can easily be committed to a Youth Development Center for incarceration for an offense for which an an adult would be guaranteed probation, or for years where an adult would max out his time in months, because juvenile court isn't seen as primarily punitive and States are given a great deal of leeway as to how long it takes to "help" a child in juvenile detention. At the same time, the kind of profound help that might be offered at the expense of all rights is obstructed by... well, by people like me.

Let me see if I can explain that last bit: let's say that what a child needs, really, really needs, is to be pulled forcibly out of the home and placed in a therapeutic foster group home. If the child has no rights whatsoever, it's done as easily as it's said, regardless of what the kid wants. But if the kid has rights, well then, no: a therapeutic foster home deprives him of a liberty interest, even if his sphere of interests is circumscribed to what's reasonable; i.e. it might be facially unreasonable to argue that a thirteen-year-old ought to be allowed to rent an apartment for himself instead of living in a group home, but living with his mom might be at least superficially reasonable (okay, so she might be a crackhead or living in a cardboard box with her boyfriend who's a pedophile, but c'mon, she's his mom, kids oughta be with their moms). So if the kid is saying, no, he doesn't want to live in a group home, he wants to live with his mom, even if living with his mom isn't actually in his best interests, he has some sort of right to go to court and have his lawyer argue that it's in his legal best interests or that regardless of interests its his right to stay with his mom. And legally he might win, even if, as we've parenthetically suggested, living with his mom is an unmitigated disaster. But then the child isn't being given all the rights he might have as an adult; his rights are being doled out in a somewhat arbitrary measure. Where an adult charged with a crime might have a right to do his time and be done with it, a juvenile might well be subjected to years of supervision and guidance and placement and all the rest of it.

D'ya see what I'm getting at?

I started this during lunch, then--perhaps aptly enough--I went to court, including juvenile court, where I did my bit to try to stand up for truth and justice and that whole bit, then I came back and found myself trying to write a few more words. And I find that I sort of have some of my thoughts organized a little for tomorrow, and this has probably gotten unwieldy, and I'm not sure it makes that much sense, but there you are. Ruminations and rambles, and maybe something valuable glimpsed in the thicket that could be grabbed before it's lost to the eye and disappears into the brush. I don't know how much of this will be said tomorrow--perhaps none of it. I think what the judge probably wants is more personal and anecdotal, general impressions and perhaps a deeply-veiled war story if I have one that can be told. Hopefully it will go well; I've already informed the judge that the last two times I was invited to speak in a similar fashion or to similar crowds, I was not invited back in either case.

He thought that was funny. Hey, I tried to warn him....

We'll see how it goes.


"Hey Joe"

>> Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Struggling with my writing and all that, and not a lot to say--at least not here (seems like I've had some lengthy comments and conversations on assorted comment threads forums, but that's another thing).

Writing is coming along a little, if by "coming along" one counts little half hour drips and drabs that are semi-productive but don't result in anything great. There is, I suspect, something wrong with me, but I have no idea what it is. There's no doubt in my mind that I was far more productive up through May, and that since May I have been rather less useful. This is, I think, all in my mind at some level. So I count the drips and drabs as something.

Anyway, by way of offering up something today, here's one of my favorite jazz bands, Medeski, Martin & Wood, doing "Hey Joe" accompanied by Marc Ribot. It may seem heretical, but MMW's version, which also shows up on Tonic, is by far my favorite take on the song; while I appreciate Jimi Hendix's gifts as a guitar player, he's never really resonated with me and I'm not much of a fan. Of course, Hendrix's take on "Hey Joe" is the famous one that's overshadowed everybody else's, but it's worth mentioning that the song was a bit of a standard in the '60s. (The Wikipedia entry on the song is worth taking a gander at in my opinion; it's one of those songs where what most people think they know about it is wrong.) MMW's take is almost somnambulant, but in a good way--a sinuous, languid, shuffling meditation on violence that somehow suggests Joe's wayward woman is going to end up dumped in the swamp or buried beneath the magnolias.

It goes something like this:


Apologies to Robyn Hitchcock subsequently proved unnecessary

>> Monday, October 19, 2009

I started to try to come up with parody lyrics about the Heenes set to Robyn Hitchcock's "Balloon Man," but actually it proved more satisfying to just listen to the original song.

So, y'know, here's "Balloon Man" by Robyn Hitchcock:

ADDENDUM/POSTSCRIPT: At one point when digging up the above, I also did a search on YouTube to see if I could find David Rawlings doing his version of Hitchcock's "Balloon Man", something I saw him do when I saw Gillian Welch play live a couple of years ago and that he sometimes pulls out when he's feeling a little frisky. Alas, I failed to find it. But I did find something far more obvious and maybe apt. And after thinking about if for a little bit, what the hell....

This one's for you, Falcon:


Set on th' porch a spell

>> Sunday, October 18, 2009

This seems to happen every year around this season: somebody dies in public, and the neighbors leave him or her there, thinking the corpse is a Halloween decoration. This year, it's a 75-year-old man whose corpse sat on a balcony in Marina del Rey for a week.

I love it (I know, maybe I'm a bad person) when I read something like this:

Mostafa Mahmoud Zayed had apparently been dead since Monday with a single gunshot wound to one eye.

...followed just a few paragraphs later by:

Physicians will examine the body today to determine the cause of death.

I'm not a doctor, but I suspect the cause of death had something to do with being shot in the eye. Maybe. Maybe not:

"Jim," the coroner said hesitantly, "cause of death was forty-three knife wounds to the chest."

Falkner put his cup down. "I thought he was shot in the eye."

"That appears to have been a coincidence."

Of course, the news article is just poorly-written, is all. The author means that the coroner has to determine things like whether this was self-inflicted and (assuming there isn't something odd afoot) whether the actual cause of death was, for instance, brain trauma (from being shot in the eye) or hemorrhaging to death (from being shot in the eye) or somesuch. At least I assume that's what the coroner is up to.

"Well, Jim," the coroner said, "I think it's safe to assume we know what killed this man."

"Really?" Falkner said. The old doctor's methods never ceased to amaze him.

"Sure," the coroner said. There was a lengthy, awkward silence. Finally the coroner said, "He was shot in the eye."

"He was?" Falkner looked at the body again. This time he saw the subtle indicators the physician had seen with his trained eye almost instantly: the missing eye, the blood on the corpse's face, the missing eye. "My God," Falkner said, "I think you might be on to something. I thought he was just winking at somebody when he died"

"Jim, there's a hole in his face where his eyeball is supposed to be."

"I didn't go to medical school," Falkner snapped, "try explaining it to me in English."

This sort of thing gets reported often enough for one to suspect it's an urban legend kind of like the one about somebody dressed in a rented Santa outfit getting stuck in a chimney and everybody thinking Daddy must have run off with a floozy until the fireplace gets backed up the next time it's lit six weeks later or whatever. But the dead-guy-on-the-porch theme is, I imagine, a bit more credible. As I was driving over to a friend's just the other evening, I noticed an eerie figure sitting on a decorated porch rife with pumpkins and fake spider webs and such--I couldn't tell, in the moment I passed it, whether it was some homeowner or guest getting a bit of fresh air or maybe smoking a cig, or a zombie or skeleton wearing a coat, set out to amuse and frighten anybody coming up to the house. I guess, in light of the Marina del Rey story, that they're not actually exclusive possibilities (if you see what I mean). Anyway, there is a TV station photo of the porch, so I imagine there's something to the story aside from just the fact that I could see it really happening.

So. How cold was it in Marina del Rey this past week?


Saturday filler

>> Saturday, October 17, 2009

ABORTED INTRODUCTION #1: I've never dated a co-worker, but you have to wonder if it's that bad an idea when it leads to....

ABORTED INTRODUCTION #2: At the office yesterday, some of us were sitting around talking about great drummers, and the name....

ABORTED INTRODUCTION #3: You know who's a simply phenomenal guitarist who I don't think has been mentioned here...?

Enh, screw it. Just have the Fleetwood Mac already. "The Chain," live in Japan, 1977:


Fall Of The Python

>> Thursday, October 15, 2009

I hate to be a corporate shill for free, but those of you with satellite radio may be interested in knowing (if you don't already) that SiriusXM will be turning Sirius 105 into the All-Monty-Python-All-The-Time station for ten days starting October 16th at 10 a.m. EST. (The XM equivalent may vary; check the website.)

For those of you who aren't satellite subscribers, Sirius does offer a 7-day online trial, although I don't know if it requires you to sign a contract and cancel it or go through some other onerous process reminiscent of AOL in the '90s. (Back in the mid-'90s, I used AOL for ten minutes before deciding it couldn't offer me anything, and then spent the next two-and-a-half months trying to cancel it. True story, typical and banal though it may be.)

Alternatively, you may already own tons of Python on CD, MP3, tape or even vinyl, and may simply prefer to put that on in honor of the troupe's 40th anniversary. Hey, whatever floats your lifeboat full of cannibalistic Royal Navy shipwreck survivors, eh?

A DISCLAIMER FROM THE MANAGEMENT: Some people may mistake this post for an endorsement and attempt to listen to the Monty Python station warned-of above. The proprietor of Standing On The Shoulders Of Giant Midgets would hate for any ill-informed readers of this blog to suffer as the crew of the Nostromo does in the male-written/male-directed/womyn-starring science-fiction rape fantasy Alien, who discover to their chagrin that a "beacon" radio signal is in fact a warning to stay clear of a hostile planet.

Monty Python was a comedic troupe who performed live and recorded comedy in various formats. Said attempts at "comedy" frequently involved unflattering portrayals of:

religious groups
ethnic groups
persons with disabilities
the French
political parties
John Denver
the military
persons with eating disorders
organized criminals
the elderly
infants and children
talk-show hosts
comedy writers

Much of Python's "comedy" involved cross-dressing, and was therefore per se transparently transphobic or possibly homophobic. Regrettably, it also has to be pointed out that Python's membership consisted entirely of upper-class white XYs and therefore their alleged "humor" is only reflective of the ways in which their lives of privilege (or "priviledge," as the cognoscenti call it) allows them to make cruel, malicious, harmful, selfish, insensitive jokes at the expense of the underclass.

There is, quite simply, no other way to interpret any of Monty Python's material except to conclude that they are hateful, homophobic bigots, even the late Graham Chapman, who was clearly either a self-hating queer or possibly sleeping with men only in a vain, futile effort to conceal his oppressive heterosexuality and fill the empty void caused by his masculinity and whiteness.

Therefore, under no circumstances should any human being ever listen to the Monty Python station or attempt to view any of Monty Python's television shows or films, which should all be banned with the exception of The Life Of Brian, which should only be viewed for the scenes making fun of Jesus and the rest fast-forwarded through or skipped over.

Should you wish to know what horrors this travesty of an insult of an injury of a satellite radio channel is purveying, however, feel free to ask: the proprietor of this blog shall be listening to this station quite a bit on his way to and from work so as to know what kinds of filth passes through the minds of such unfunny and humorless cultural oppressors.

I assure you, however, I won't be laughing.

Not even a tiny little bit.


I am technologically useful!

>> Wednesday, October 14, 2009

No, really, I am! I took the quiz to prove it! The Universe As features this online quiz of ten questions: if you time-traveled back two thousand years, how far could you jump-start civilization? I got eight out of ten right, and therefore could advance civilization from "year 0" (I presume the author means Year One) to the Seventeenth or maybe even the Nineteenth Centuries. (Nothing much of technological import having happened, of course, during the 1700s, as everybody knows.)

But the way I see it, that's good enough. I mean, I figure when I show up in Rome at the head of a conquering legion of steam-powered tanks, the last thing Augustus Caesar is going to say is, "Yeah, well you obviously don't know how to build a diesel engine, so, like, you suck and stuff!" No, he will be too busy pissing his tunic when I come to bury him, not to praise him. Unless "Suck it, Augustus, your month doesn't even have any holidays!" is some kind of weird praise in Latin. I don't think it is. I may have to ask my friend who's pretty fluent in it.

Anyway, if you see some kind of temporal vortex or wormhole, let me know. If I'm as big a badass as the internet just said I am, I am totally selling out to the Han or somebody cooler than the fucking Romans. Fuck them. Nothing personal, Western Civilization could just use a kick in the ass or something.

(H/T to!)


Faster than a speeding...

>> Tuesday, October 13, 2009

If you haven't seen it over at Laughing Squid or elsewhere online, prepare to be stupefied by high-speed film (one million fps) of bullet impacts made by a German ballistics measurement company. And yes, it's worth watching all ten minutes.

I have to admit to a weird mixed reaction: on the one hand, as a nerd with testosterone, watching high-speed catastrophic physics like bullets shattering is super, super cool. On the other hand--maybe this is the touchy-feelie liberal speaking--there's something a little horrifying here: I can't help imagining what this would look like if the targets were made of bone, or flesh, or somebody's internal organs. (At the risk of sounding horribly insensitive--especially since it's quite the opposite, it's coming from a heightened sensitivity--I can't watch some of the samples without imagining Lee Harvey Oswald's third bullet and John Kennedy's head.) The net result is a kind of fascinated horror or horrified fascination or both.

There is frankly something beautiful in many of these impacts. Fearful symmetries of exploding shrapnel, elegant curves of crater and spheres of displaced mass. But they're also gruesome. Leaving aside legal issues and whatnot (let me add that I have no problem with hunting and love me some venison), there should be no objection to pointing out that a gun is a tool designed for the sole purpose of killing something, whether you're talking about an edible animal or an inedible enemy. (Well, I suppose we could start asking soldiers and/or self-defending homeowners to eat what they kill and use every part, but it hardly seems appropriate, now does it?) A very small mass has a very large acceleration applied to it, and when that force is imparted to whatever the small mass hits next, well, it isn't very nice, and that's what you're seeing in these images, slowed-down and up-close.

It's amazing, it's awful, it's mesmerizing.

(H/T to Laughing Squid!)



>> Monday, October 12, 2009

Having nothing much in particular today, all I can offer is some David Gilmour. This is "Marooned," an instrumental from the final Pink Floyd studio album (The Division Bell) performed live at the Fender Strat 50th anniversary shindig a few years ago (he's introduced and accompanied by his old friend Phil Manzanera from Roxy Music, for those of you who care about such things). Also for those who care about such things: aptly (for a guitar shindig) the director focuses quite a lot on Gilmour's hands, so it's a good chance to observe some of David's lovely and distinctive technique.

Hope you enjoy!


Sunday filler

>> Sunday, October 11, 2009

I bought several digital downloads from Amazon yesterday, one of them an ELO album I have on vinyl but haven't listened to in a while--Out Of The Blue. An album with so many hooks it just feels decadent somehow, like a guilty pleasure. I'd really forgotten just how damn smooth this sort of silly but unstoppable record is.

I'd also forgotten, until I dug up your YouTube clip for the day, that Electric Light Orchestra was the first, possibly only band in music history to be made up entirely of Ewoks.

Pure, silky, pop perfection: Electric Light Orchestra, "Sweet Talkin' Woman":


Dead space

>> Saturday, October 10, 2009

I've spent most of the afternoon surfing the internet, whining in a journal I'm keeping in Writer's Café, or opening and closing documents--blank ones or old ones where I started something or the other. And at this point, I have to just say I'm feeling downright depressed.

It hasn't been a total wasted day. A great lunch with my Dad and Karen, and when I got to the coffee shop I decided to buy some digital music from Amazon because I just sort of could, and I've been listening to that. Although, I hate to say it, but the album that's most-suited by mood so far has been the Melody Gardot. (I think this is someone Vince turned me on to on one of his WELY shows; if so, thank you, Vince. If not, I'm sure there's something else I should be thanking you for.) Mopey jazz standards--that's me, at the moment.

This intellectual constipation I've been inflicted with lately is sort of getting to me. I don't know what the root cause is, or if it's some wretched synchronicity of things. Maybe I need a retreat or something. Was it Hemingway who said if you wanted to write something, check into a hotel. It could have been Hemingway; he said a lot of things. He's probably said more things now than he actually ever said.

This is venting. I'm not really looking for a response or encouragement here. It's also a whiny sort of writing exercise in its own right, since the act of writing this and trying to put my frustrations into words (which, by the way, I'm failing to adequately do; just thought I'd mention that) is, you know, an act of writing and therefore isn't a matter of simply going through old unread Dark Roasted Blend entries in my RSS aggregator. It's a self-indulgent and boring act of writing, but whatever. It's something. Sort of.


Now that I've done that, I guess it's time to stare at a scree some more. Or I brought a book. Maybe I should sit here and read while my last new album plays out or until they kick me out, whichever comes first.

Hope your weekend is going better than mine has since lunch.


Suck it, conservative punditocracy

>> Friday, October 09, 2009

Deep breath. Okay, see, I thought about whether or not I should write about the big thing everybody will be talking about today: would I have anything useful to add? Could I offer perspective without seeming critical and could I avoid being critical without seeming blindly supportive? Are the people responsible really helping or have they just mussed things up with an empty gesture? Does it matter? Does it not matter? Is throwing in my two cents really meaningful in any way?

So I thought about it and thought about it on the way into work, when I wasn't thinking about how pissed I was that I managed to brew a carafe full of coffee and then didn't actually fix myself a travel mug much less bring it to work and when I wasn't trying to name the classic Duran Duran song that sounded suspiciously like an obscure '60s tune Andrew Loog Oldham was playing on Underground Garage. And I thought some more, and I decided that, yes, as much as I'm sure that too many pixels will have been expended on the subject before the end of the day, I would say my piece.

Google Wave is the latest offering from the folks at Mountain View, and I'll be honest: I just don't get it. I shouldn't be knocking something I haven't tried, and I want to keep it in perspective and all that like I said, but... what the fuck is the big deal, exactly? It's some sort of collaborative thing that seems to be a combination of a chat room with a forum board with a markup document. Or something.

I just don't understand what the big deal is. I like Google, in general, although I'm suspicious of things like their attempt to build a vast digital library. They're kind of a good company, though I've been critical in the past and probably will be again (see, for instance, the ambivalence here). But every now and then Google starts talking about how awesome their next awesome thing will be, and then the reveal is sort of a head-scratcher. Kinda like when a family member tells you how much you're going to love a gift and makes an excited production of giving it to you and then you open it and it's a completely unrecognizable novelty item or office toy that you will never possibly use and can't even regift, and you're trying to be gracious but the whole time you're wondering if your obvious confusion upon opening the box has registered and whether you're being gracious enough because you're not sure your level of feigned excitement is rising to the obvious level of expectation your relative (or it could be a friend) has invested in this what the fuck is it?

Okay, so it looks like Google Wave is sort of like an IRC chat room where you don't actually have to open attachments to edit them. I guess maybe I kind of sort of see where that could possibly be handy for some person somewhere. On the other hand, I can also see where it could cause all sorts of trouble in tracking edits and I'm not sure an ability to edit in real time is necessarily even desirable, since delays tend to improve the opportunities to think something through. But maybe I'm simply not the person Wave was designed for. Only problem there is that I'm having a hard time thinking of who the person it was designed for actually is.

Oh well.

So, anyway, that's that. I wasn't sure I was going to say anything and now I have. Probably a bad idea, since there's so much ink spilled and pixels lit over this already, but I figured people would be expecting me to say something, so there it is.


I have good news and bad news... you're going to die.

>> Thursday, October 08, 2009

How will I die?
Your Result: You will die in your sleep.

A peaceful departure into the next life. You are blessed with the good fortune of passing from sleep into eternity. Do not fear sleep. To dream into the next life is a rare gift.

You will die of boredom.
You will die while having sex.
You will be murdered.
You will die while saving someone's life.
You will die in a nuclear holocaust.
You will die from a terminal illness.
You will die in a car accident.
How will I die?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

It was Jim's idea, like so many things good or ill (and somehow, in my heart of hearts, I will have to say it's Nathan's fault; just because). How will I die? I must know! Well, tell the truth, I must not and I don't actually care so much how I die. As one of the random interviewees on Dark Side Of The Moon says, "Well, we all have to go sometime."

When I was young--not sure I should admit this, though I'm not shy about it, either--when I was young, I wanted to die. Not seriously enough to ever try to do anything about it, but fairly serious nonetheless. Fear of failure, long a presence in my neurotically-toned life, was perhaps as much a lifesaver as anything else. "What if I end up a vegetable? What if people think it was just one of those 'cries for help' you're always hearing about?" Failing a suicide attempt strikes me in so many ways as being much, much worse than succeeding. Aside from some embarrassing lifelong self-injury, there would be all the social and familial ramifications (assuming you were conscious enough to have to wade through them). And if you're seriously wanting to die, it's not like anyone's going to make it easy for you to get a do-over, now is it?

That was a long time ago. I am, for some hard to explain reason, sort of happy now. It seems like I've mentioned this before, actually. Forgive me if I repeat myself, it's a prerogative of being a blogger. I'm not especially eager to die, and would actually prefer not to, but I'm also a bit fatalistic about it. Wanting to miss my own death isn't going to keep the Grim Reaper from calling my number sooner or later, and he's more relentless than a telemarketer. There's an old canard that the two things in life that are unavoidable are death and taxes, but a really good accountant or willingness to engage in an extreme lifestyle choice (e.g. starting your own country up) can get you out of one of those.

Anyway, so I did the same quiz Jim did, and based on rigorous scientific factors like my eye color and my choice of The Magician for a tarot card, it has been prophesied that I shall die in my sleep. As good a way to die as any, I guess. I was a little disappointed by the process by which I learned this, tell the truth: in a Bradbury story, for instance, someone who wants to know how they'll die sticks a nickel into an arcade machine and the wax witch whirs and grinds and clicks a bit and you get a proper fortune. But this is the future, in which mechanical fortunetellers have been discarded along with books and people live along the Martian canals in houses with televisual walls and electrical old people--alright, only part of that is true.

I should clarify something: dying in your sleep is good, unless you die in your sleep being run over by a train or die in your sleep in a five car pileup on the interstate. Those are less-than-optimal scenarios. We assume--or at least I assumed--that "You will die in your sleep" is as peaceful as the description makes it out to be, but maybe not so much. Or is it? I guess it depends on whether the train or jack-knifing semi wakes you up, in which case I guess it isn't dying in your sleep, exactly. Oh, and as bad as dying in a fire in your sleep might be, I imagine it's preferable to dying in a fire while you're awake.

Surprisingly complicated, now that I ponder over it. Bears thinking about.

I'm not the least bit surprised that I'm more likely to die of boredom than to die while having sex. I only have to take issue with the label: we prefer to call it "dying of ennui," which is not only fancier conjures up images of pen-and-ink figures in absurdly-large fur coats lounging on divans with equally-bored-and-dying cocktail-holding flappers. I believe my recent beard and moustache will fit nicely, but I believe I will need a hat. And a friend with a crumbling gothic estate. On further thought, perhaps boredom is all I'm entitled to and calling it something French is just putting on airs. Drat. As for the long-odds on sex... well, the less said about that, the better.

As much as I'd prefer not dying, I think I wouldn't be too unhappy if I died from all of the above. It would go something like this: After the nuclear holocaust, Eric drove around the post-apocalyptic landscape until he found an attractive dying woman who he saved from mutant cannibals. While they were fleeing the hungry horde, she began to have sex with him. Unfortunately, the radiation-induced brain tumor in Eric's head constricted blood flow so that he fell asleep at the wheel, causing a car accident that killed him (if only his nymphomaniacal passenger had been less-grateful--she practically murdered him).

Dammit. I left out "boredom."

Also, the sex wasn't very good and went on waaaaay too long. The End.


Feeling a little less wretched, but still; have some awesome

>> Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Still out of it, so have some music. Tonight, in honor of the teabaggers, the birthers, the extortionist militias, the Becks and the Limbaughs and even the Taitzs, for the theologians at Conservapedia and for Texan historians and Czar warriors, for the goons, turds, lunatics, tools, ignoramuses, and assholes--more only-one-good-eyed awesomeness than they could ever deserve.

That's right. It's Bowie time. I'm afraid I can't help it.


Bible stories

>> Tuesday, October 06, 2009

It's no secret I'm an atheist. Have been most of my life now, since junior high school. I wouldn't be surprised if some people who know me think it's my interest in science that brought me here; it isn't, science speaks very little to religion at all. I'd even go so far as to say science speaks to religion not-at-all, but to the extent that specific creeds make specific factual claims, that isn't true: science can, for instance, speak to how old the Earth is or whether the sky is actually a firmament, to cite two classic examples from the Old Testament. Science simply can't say anything about a metaphysical claim--science can't prove or disprove the existence of some sort of animus motivating the universe, for example.

No, the reason I'm an atheist actually goes back to an interest in folklore and mythology that was triggered, I suppose, by fantasy literature (starting with C.S. Lewis, ironically, before graduating--less obviously ironically--to Tolkien) and, yes, Dungeons & Dragons. Of course, there was also that crude grounding in the classics you get around junior high--the Greek and Roman myths you'll later need to understand things like Dante and Shakespeare--mixed with the multicultural smorgasbord of mythologies that, sadly, contributed little to Western Literature for obvious geographical reasons but are taught to offset the heavy Dead-White-Men content that inevitably results from reading texts written in English or by Europeans. The scattershot exposure was, when I was in school, de-textualized to some extent by an explanation that these stories were allegedly more along the lines of folktales or fables; I think this was an effort to avoid presenting ancient myths as ancient religions in the Bible Belt. But at some point, of course, you realize that people don't drag tons of marble up a ginormous hill for a neato bedtime story--they do it because making the patron goddess Athena happy is vital to the well-being of the city-state of Athens and (conversely) pissing her off would bring down the divine wrath. And that's when you start thinking, "Whoa, people believed this horseshit?" And then you start maybe thinking that maybe it's only historical contingency that leads people to worship Jesus on Sunday instead of dropping a box of raisins or a banana or one's pocket change off at the shrine to Odin in the driveway every morning before work.

One of the other things you figure out is that the Bible is a historical book, by which I don't mean the Bible is a historical text, i.e. a "history book." What I mean is that the Bible is a product of its history: a collection of oral tales, scrolls, tablets and letters eventually selected and collected by committees and/or translated through various languages with varying degrees of reliability. This isn't meant to be a criticism of the Bible as religious text--whether the Gospel Of Judas belongs in there or not or whether "helpmeet" is the best choice of words in Genesis really doesn't have anything to do with whether there's a divinity and whether or not his friends call him Yahweh and he knocked up a virgin around 32 BCE because that's just how he rolls, etc. It is a point against those who argue for Biblical inerrancy , which is why there's not a respectable theologian in the world who subscribes to inerrancy (clearly, theologians who do subscribe to inerrancy aren't respectable, it should follow).

As if to prove the point, we have the inspiration for today's post, brought to my attention by Deus Ex Malcontent, who got the good word from HuffPo via Andrew Sullivan: it seems the fine, clinically insane folks at Conservipedia ("We're just like Wikipedia, only the trolls are actually in charge!") have decided that the Bible is too liberal, and are assembling ("Like Voltron, if Voltron also wanted to see the President's birth certificate!") to edit/translate their own version: The Conservative Bible Project.

From the CBP wiki page:

Here are possible approaches to creating a conservative Bible translation:

  • identify pro-liberal terms used in existing Bible translations, such as "government", and suggest more accurate substitutes

  • identify the omission of liberal terms for vices, such as "gambling", and identify where they should be used

  • identify conservative terms that are omitted from existing translations, and propose where they could improve the translation

  • identify terms that have lost their original meaning, such as "word" in the beginning of the Gospel of John, and suggest replacements, such as "truth"

  • An existing translation might license its version for improvement by the above approaches, much as several modern translations today are built on prior translations. Alternatively, a more ambitious approach would be to start anew from the best available ancient transcripts.

    In stage one, the translation could focus on word improvement and thereby be described as a "conservative word-for-word" translation. If greater freedom in interpretation is then desired, then a "conservative thought-for-thought" version could be generated as a second stage.

    The CBP also suggests that words like "comrade" be replaced by non-commie alternatives--no, seriously, not making this up--and that certain bleeding-heart Bible stories like the adulteress story (in which Jesus tells a crowd "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone") that aren't true be removed.

    Let me say right here that, aside from all of the previous stuff about being an atheist (and certainly not a Christian) and therefore not caring much about what book somebody prays over (so long as they're not hurting anyone else), let me add to that that editing the Bible to suit one's own agenda and preferences is a time-honored American activity. The deistically-inclined Thomas Jefferson famously assembled a "Jeffersonian Bible" consisting essentially of the Gospels with all the miracle stuff he didn't think plausible excised, leaving a collection of stories and sermons that he felt provided a good moral guide (I haven't read it myself, but presumably he left in the adulteress story as one offering a good example of charitable thought and forgiving deeds--no accounting for taste, I guess).

    But, you know, the people who get involved with Conservipedia and its allied modes of thought tend to be the ones who subscribe to that whole inerrancy thing, or so I thought. I mean, the very point of the CBP would appear to be that some of them have decided the Bible--the infallible text they've ordered their ideologies around--apparently isn't actually "Christian" enough when you start actually, you know, reading it. Apparently they find themselves a bit irritated, at long last, with the fact that "liberal Christians" (an oxymoron if there ever was one, so far as they're concerned) keep coming up with these disruptive quotations about love and sharing and forgiveness. Which I guess I understand, sort of: it must be hard to keep screaming "An eye for an eye" when some jackass keeps quoting Matthew right back at you. So, y'know, why not just get all Orwellian on the text and pluck out the eye that offends thee (along with the heys, hes, ohs, yous and odd whys)? Truly Orwellian: a hallmark of Oceanic texts and publications in Orwell's 1984 is that they're simultaneously inerrant and heavily revised ("We've always been at war with...")--just like the CBP's proposed Most-Holy-Book.

    I think it's funny as hell, is all.


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