"Moonshiner" -- Uncle Tupelo

>> Saturday, July 31, 2010

A post so nice I'm going to (sort of) do it twice--

Uncle Tupelo, "Moonshiner":


Because I'm sure Michelle would want to know...

>> Friday, July 30, 2010

The Zombie Bite Calculator

Created by Oatmeal



Good news: "Syd's Turn" has been accepted for Rigor Amortis!

>> Thursday, July 29, 2010

Well, looks like we've been cleared for an earlier public announcement than expected.

Some of you may recall that back in June I wrote a piece of flash fiction and submitted it for an anthology of zombie erotica that was being put together by Jaym Gates and Erika Holt.

Well, I'm pleased to announce that "Syd's Turn," by yours truly, was accepted for publication and should be appearing in Rigor Amortis, to be published by the Canadian imprint Absolute XPress.

A few of you already know about this. It's pretty fucking momentous for me, actually. This is the first thing I've ever written that I've grown the cojones to submit for professional publication. I am intent that it not be the last.

I'll be posting updates as I get further news. Those of you with Twitter accounts can also follow announcements about Rigor Amortis here. And my thanks to everybody who's been really supportive of my attempts to assemble words here and there--a number of you can blame yourselves for this, since you're the ones who gave me the confidence to send "Syd's Turn" off after I wrote it, instead of pulling a whole shy Kafka thing and instructing my heirs to burn the hard drive after I shuffled off the mortal coil, etc. Thank you. I am actually about to be a published author, somehow. Seems a bit surreal, truth be told.

And, as they say: squeee!


Fixing a minor oversight...

I haven't posted any Jane Siberry have I?

Well, I think we can fix that.

"In My Dream":


Your moment of batshit crazy for the day

>> Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Mr. Obama's refusal to live up to his own oath of office--which includes the duty to defend the United States against foreign invasion--requires senators and representatives to live up to their oaths. Members of Congress must defend our nation against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Today, that means bringing impeachment charges against Mr. Obama.

-Rep. Tom Tancredo, "The case for impeachment,"
The Washington Times, July 22nd, 2010

This one's sort of for my Dad. The other day I mentioned on the phone that some lunatics were already talking about trying to impeach the President if the Republicans took the House this November. He asked me who, and I mentioned Michelle Bachmann, although Bachmann's main thing lately has been saying there should be a nonstop House investigation of the White House while technically not disagreeing that the President should be impeached, as opposed to openly advocating it.

These are the kinds of shenanigans we can expect, I fear. A strong, vocal chunk of the Republican party is not interested in playing by the rules of a democracy and finding ways to promote a conservative agenda from the position of the loyal opposition. No, they're merely interested in fearmongering, infantile disruptive tactics and puerile obstructionism.

It's depressing.

I can give you a few ideas about where it comes from.

One, the noisemakers aren't actually educated or intelligent enough to have a coherent agenda, and being mere obstructionists saves them from the threat of actually having to lead. I'm not trying to be insulting here: popular whatever-she's-supposed-to-be-now Sarah Palin had a desultory education culminating in a Communications degree; right-wing spokesman and media entertainer Glenn Beck bypassed college altogether and possesses only a high school diploma; Representative Bachmann has a law degree--from Oral Roberts University. Representative Tancredo seems to have a firmer education, at least on paper, than the rest of this motley group--he's a PoliSci graduate of the University of Northern Colorado, but it doesn't seem to have done him much good. These are neither the best nor the brightest the American right has to proffer, but they are among the loudest and most powerful, and they wear their ignorance on their sleeves like badges of honor; a recent episode that sums up their attitude towards a worldly education would be Glenn Beck recently mocking Keith Olbermann for assuming his audience knows about an important and infamous episode in French history that was covered in my high school World History class and became an important factor in the international movement that eventually led to the formation of Israel after World War II. They are proud of being stupid, but more importantly, they have no actual ideas and by just saying no like a bunch of toddlers they can avoid being called out on it.

Two, there's a lack of actual leadership in the GOP. Being a leader is not reacting to what a mob wants. Mobs, by their very nature, behave in ways that would mortify many individual members of the mob itself; the mob gives license for misbehavior by removing personal accountability. What we are seeing right now, sadly enough, is that even people who ought to be Republican leaders are so afraid of the mob turning upon them, they're dancing to the mob's tune when they ought to be leading.

Leadership does not mean "do what your followers want'; the leader is an educator and inspiration, a guide who sets the tone and example. (It should be obvious we are not talking about compulsory leaders--that is, we're not talking, f'r'instance, about the leader who burns his ships on the beach so his followers are stuck with him.) In a democratic situation, the role of the leader is not to bow to whims of the masses so much as it is to show the masses what needs to be done, to persuade them.

A leader might be expected to do this honestly. As Media Matters has pointed out, one of the problems with Tancredo's Washington Times piece is that the anecdote that's a centerpiece to his argument, that Obama said he wouldn't secure the southern border, is simply and altogether false.

Thirdly, the prevailing sentiment in American politics, particularly among the post-Reagan Republican professional politics-and-punditry set is that winning is everything. Winning, of course, is nothing. Well--let us say that winning is everything in frivolous zero-sum exercises like football and checkers and other sports and games. To win at a good multiplayer deathmatch is as vitally important as whatever videogame you're playing. Winning in politics, on the other hand, is merely a stepping stone for (hopefully) giving something to your society and improving the world in some fashion.

I'm afraid that for a lot of the noisier people in American politics these days, politics has become something along the lines of that proverbial dog chasing cars--he wouldn't know what to do if he actually caught one. This seemed, for instance, to be a prime characteristic of the first nine months of George W. Bush's presidency. While Bush seems to have had some ideas (however bad) for fixing schools, prior to September 11th, 2001, the administration seemed to flounder for direction a good bit of the time, and even after September 11th became a defining moment, it frequently seemed that people like Karl Rove, having won the White House, weren't sure what to do with it beyond trying to parlay it into winning more elections, which of course is just stupid unless you have a reason for winning them.

Anyway, the real bottom line is this: that Republicans like Tancredo and those who are passively trying to appease the teabagger contingent are not serving their country well. I mentioned, earlier in this post, the idea of the loyal opposition; the loyal opposition is important in a democracy because it generates ideas and forces the majority to be on their best game even when the opposition is wrong. I don't expect to find a lot of ideological common ground with the right, myself, but I aspire to be rational enough that I could recognize a good idea no matter where it came from, even if it came from somebody I disagreed with ninety-nine-plus percent of the time. And at the very least, the loyal opposition ought to be offering me a foil so that I'm on my best game.

Instead, say for instance, having to face a never-ending river of horseshit coming down from the Colorado mountains.


The Final Cut, as in the 2004 science fiction movie, not the 1983 Pink Floyd album

>> Tuesday, July 27, 2010

So I'm trying to figure this out. This past weekend, I watched The Final Cut, a 2004 science fiction film starring Robin Williams, and I'm trying to figure out why I didn't like it even though it's objectively a fairly good film.

The movie sort of just jumps into the premise without a lot of chatter or exposition, which is something I like in a movie like this. Set in what should be taken as an alternate universe, Cut asks what would happen if every minute of our lives from birth onward could be recorded and then transferred to a playback device upon death to be processed and edited for viewing by the decedent's survivors. Alan Hakman (okay, so we wince at the name), played with unusual restraint by Robin Williams, is a top-notch "cutter" or memory-editor with a guilty childhood secret. Something of a MacGuffin shows up in the form of the sinister Fletcher, played by James Caviezel, a retired cutter who is now leading an anti-memories-reclamation radical group and wants the recorded memories of Hakman's latest project, the late chief counsel of the company that owns the memory-recording process, in the hope of finding dirty laundry that can be used to publicly humiliate and discredit the company. Complications ensue.

As I said, the movie doesn't waste a lot of time with exposition: we're basically dropped into the setting and asked to go along with the flow, with the occasional-but-spread-out reference to what has gone before, but writer-director Omar Naim happily spares us the frequently-used trope of beginning the movie with a couple of characters talking about things that are a common fact of life in their world. (Imagine, if you will, a movie set in our world that begins with a couple of people talking about how cars were invented and became popular and are now owned by many people and have altered the world, and you get an idea of just how stupid expository clichés are if you hadn't thought about it already.) And the movie smartly goes about presenting the setting as our world, only off in various little ways arising from the magic memory technology, which helps skillfully ease us into the premise.

One way the movie goes about presenting the world as familiar-only-different is by going with a very, very warm look: almost everything that isn't a memory has nice, earthy tones, slightly-golden lighting and plenty of earthtones. A lot of the props, in particular the "guillotines" (as the memory-editing consoles are called), are made of wood instead of the plastic and chrome one might expect in an SF movie; if you're not lusting for Hakman's hardwood laptop, there's something wrong with you. Naim was able to get Tak Fujimoto to shoot the picture and it looks gorgeous.

The movie is solidly-acted, too. Robin Williams can be a bitter pill to swallow--he has a tendency to overact and to treat a set and a character like he's still doing coked-up stand-up circa 1985; it's very easy to forget that when Williams is good, he's very, very good, and his performance as Hakman is wonderfully shy and introverted, showing a restraint that is anything but synonymous with his name these days. James Caviezel is effective as Cut's antagonist. The supporting cast, including Mira Sorvino is excellent.

And the script is smart, actually. It's not just that the movie handles the premise deftly enough, and that the twists mostly work even when they're expected. The movie also wants to be about big ideas... and this may be part of the problem with it, actually.

The Final Cut can be taken as a movie about movies, for a start. While we may think of film as being an objective perception fixed to a medium, in fact what we see when we watch a movie is not just how shots were subjectively framed and lit when the images were formed, but how those images were assembled into a storyline in an editing room. Hakman's job, like a film editor's, is to take hours and hours of recorded footage that may add up to nothing and transform them into a narrative--one that may not reflect what was actually recorded; indeed, what makes Hakman good at his job, we're told, is that he's able to peel out the awful things someone did in their lifetime and frame the remaining good parts as a gloss on the subject's life--he turns assholes and monsters into dearly-remembered saints. Driving the point home, the guillotines used to edit memories in Cut are consciously modeled on an Avid rig, a computer setup used for film editing.

Or Cut can be seen as a statement about the surveillance state, and the consensual and non-consensual loss of privacy in our current age. If all memories are recorded and can be accessed later, then everything anyone ever said or did is possibly subject to public exposure in much the same way that corner security cameras and Facebook walls have made privacy seem a bit so-last-century. This seems to be the main beef of the anti-memory-reclamation group led by Fletcher.

Cut also wants to say some things about memory and loss, and about how some things in life are best forgotten. In one of the movie's most powerful scenes, Hakman compares what he does to a sin-eater, claiming that his selective editing of a dead person's memories on behalf of the survivors is a form of absolution. Hakman himself is driven by a terrible and consuming regret.

So The Final Cut is a well-acted, well-made, well-written movie with some big ideas. And yet I find that while I don't dislike it, I also didn't like it very much. And it wasn't just the ending, which I won't spoil but which somehow felt like a little bit of a cop-out in the very, very final scene.

I mentioned that the several big ideas may be a part of the problem. I think that one of the thing that undercuts Cut's effectiveness is that there are too many interesting notions that never really seem to be developed or go very far. Maybe it's just me. It seems to me, though, that any one of the ideas I mentioned above--how editing shapes perception, the demise of privacy, memory and forgetfulness--might have made a really interesting movie but when you add two or more of those ideas together, they start stepping on each other's feet and none of the big concepts ever seem as important as they ought to be. I thought Cut came off as a movie that had all sorts of interesting stuff it wanted to say, but I'm not sure it actually said anything.

What's sort of interesting here, and part of the reason I'm writing a review-muddled-think-my-way-through piece about a movie that came out six years ago and I just finally watched on DVD, is that I think these exact same themes were all addressed by Inception, only Inception held together better, somehow, and seemed to be provocative in an effective way. Which, as I think through this, may contradict my last several paragraphs: Inception can be taken as a movie about filmmaking, about privacy, about memory and loss, and yet those themes all seem to work to the same end, so why do they seem to be at cross-purposes in The Final Cut?

Here's another part of the problem in The Final Cut, and I'm not sure if it's the key to anything or not: the MacGuffin in Cut, as I said, is that there's this radical protest group that wants this dead lawyer's memories in order to discredit the company that makes the memory-recording technology, because they hate the memory-recording technology and thinks it sucks. This serves a useful function in terms of plot, because it gives Hakman a reason to run away from people and run around looking for information and to do things that end up leading to plot twists or to nifty bits of onscreen business. But I also spent much of the movie trying to figure out exactly what the group's problem was; I mean, I get that they don't like the idea that their private moments will be on playback after somebody dies or they think people end up obsessing over memories instead of the present or they feel that editing the memories is a form of dishonesty (yes, at various points it's made clear that the protesters are against every single major theme of the movie), but it's not really clear that there's an actual point to any of their hostilities or much rhyme to their reasoning, whatever it is. I got their agenda without grokking it, in other words, and so they never just seemed that credible.

Maybe this is what Inception did better, actually. Inception doesn't bother presenting "for-or-against" arguments about any of the business at hand, it just sets it out there and lets you deal with it if you'd like (or to merely marvel at how cool that zero-gee hallway is if you wouldn't). I guess I would have been happier with The Final Cut if, instead of setting up a party of antis that is arguing with little credibility against the movie itself but not really anybody in it, Naim had just done a movie in which Robin Williams is having a hard time editing memories, or an easy time with the technical elements but is getting all angsty about it, or starts learning about himself while editing movies, or--maybe you get the idea. I think the protesters and dead lawyer in Cut are supposed to be a MacGuffin, but inadvertently end up becoming a Chekov's gun that does indeed fire in the last act, but only a blank, with much noise but unimpressive effect. Maybe this is what ultimately undermines the whole project for me.

Or something. I don't know. I feel like I should have loved The Final Cut, but I definitely didn't.

If you've seen it and can put your finger on why I didn't like it very much, please feel free to explain it to me. My only request is that you not include any spoilers: not many people saw Cut, and it probably is worth seeing (maybe), and I'd hate to ruin it for anyone. At the very least, the movie does have some interesting ideas, a nice look and solid performances, so there's that much.

Any thoughts?


Any zombie who'll pay your bar tab is a real pal...

>> Monday, July 26, 2010

Okay, I don't know anything about The Goon, but I'm a pretty big David Fincher fan, Paul Giamatti and Clancy Brown are made of pure awesome and this trailer plain rocks.

May need to get me some comic books while I wait....

(H/t Io9!)


If a particular reader ever feels like moving to the Lower East Side, a home awaits...

>> Sunday, July 25, 2010

Presented without comment:

Have a great Sunday, y'all!


Quote Of The Day

>> Saturday, July 24, 2010

When it was announced the other week that those laughable professional haters and funeral protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church were on their way to the San Diego Comic-Con, I really couldn't share the indignation that appeared on Twitter and elsewhere.

How could I? I knew WBC was doomed.

And here, for the quote of the day, Batocchio at Digby's Hullabaloo explains why:

The Phelps crowd might think they have God on their side, but do they really want to get into a stamina war with folks who can wait hours in line for a sneak peek at The Green Hornet or an autograph from Stan Lee or Ray Bradbury? Mess with fanboys and fangirls on Star Wars Day and the Force will not be with you.

I mean, seriously. Part of what makes the WBC so despicable when they picket a soldiers' funeral is that, no disrespect meant to anyone's family, but most mainstream people really aren't prepared to be confronted with that level of ignorance and hatred even under good circumstances, much less in the midst of profound grief.

A guy dressed as a Powerpuff Girl, on the other hand? He really doesn't care what you think of him.

I say this with all love and affection for my brothers and sisters in the Tribe Of Geek: we're used to people hating the stuff we love, to people making fun of the stuff we love, to people not getting it and expressing their profound ignorance in our general direction. Usually, of course, it's people who don't know how much time Aragorn spent in Gondor while he was still undercover as a Ranger decades prior to the War Of The Ring, or the diameter of the Second Death Star or not knowing what the weapons load-out is on a Starfury or who Spider-Man's first nemesis was. People showing up to tell us that we should stop worshiping Batman is, admittedly, a little novel. But it's still not as bad as the time someone came over to our table in the school cafeteria and grabbed our dice and wouldn't give them back, calling us a bunch of dorks, etc.

Those of us who get past the awkward pupal stage develop thick skins and sharp stings. The WBC was screwed as soon as they decided to show up. I mean, shit, kids, they decided to go get PWNED by a bunch of people dressed like cartoon characters. There was no doubt in my mind that my clan was going to acquit themselves well, and they did. Glory to the Hynotoad.

My favorite sign in in this image set, by the way, is the one that says "ODIN IS GOD: READ THE MIGHTY THOR #5." I fucking hate Thor, man, but that's pretty damn funny.


Wait... that's not so much funny as it is SAD

From SMBC:

Y'know, you have to wonder how the next generation of scientists is going to be impacted by the fact that modern science kits suck. I don't think you can still get anything like the boss electronics kit I had as a kid, with all its little moving parts and bits that required solder, nor the aeronautics kit I had where the final project was a model rocket I never got around to building. And the kits I had in the late '70s and early '80s had nothing on some of the used up kits I'd find bits and pieces of in my grandmother's attic in Western Maryland. And then you see ads for even earlier science kits--ones containing caustic chemicals and mild radioactives.

Those had to be the days, y'know?


"Another Night In" and "Rented Rooms"

>> Friday, July 23, 2010

Maybe it's a side-effect of listening to The National so much lately, but something put me in the mood to post some classic Tindersticks for y'all.

"Another Night In":

And why not a two-fer for Friday (and because I'm indecisive)? "Rented Rooms":


I really don't even care if I'm the only person who thinks this is funny, I'm willing to run it into the ground...

>> Thursday, July 22, 2010

(Original image of January, 1956 cover of Man's Life via
the always-awesome Pulp Of The Day.)
(If you're not sure what this is all about: go here.)


What she said

>> Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I couldn't say 45 years ago, I couldn't stand here and say what I'm saying--what I will say to you tonight. Like I told, God helped me to see that its not just about black people, it's about poor people. And I've come a long way. I knew that I couldn't live with hate, you know. As my mother has said to so many, if we had tried to live with hate in our hearts, we'd probably be dead now.

But I've come to realize that we have to work together and--you know, it's sad that we don't have a room full of white and blacks here tonight 'cause we have to overcome the divisions that we have. We have to get to the point as Tony Morrison said race exists but it doesn't matter. We have to work just as hard--I know it's--you know, that division is still here, but our communities are not going to thrive--you know, our children won't have the communities that they need to be able to stay in and live in and have a good life if we can't figure this out, you all. White people, black people, Hispanic people, we all have to do our part to make our communities a safe place, a healthy place, a good environment.

I find this whole thing depressing.

It seems to me that certain elements of the American right are desperate to find a racist narrative they can pin on the Obama administration (see also). This is something they were doing before the man was even sworn in, actually. And the question, I guess, is whether they're doing it because of their own racial insecurities or because they think it makes good theatre for racially paranoid potential voters or some other reason or all of the above? There are certainly those, I think, who are thinking in narcissistic terms: if they belonged to a minority class and were "suddenly" empowered, they'd make some heads roll--never mind that there's nothing "sudden" in a century's civil rights work culminating in somebody getting elected like any eligible candidate ought to be (if anything, it's late) or that not everybody is as small as some of these vicious, selfish pricks. Magnanimity in triumph, if that's even what we're talking about, is strange and incomprehensible to these awful people.

And yet, whether we're talking about small people or merely cynical ones, the bottom line remains that they are being allowed to lie and mislead, are being allowed to ruin lives and harm the country they profess to love despite the fact they are obviously ignorant of and hostile to its institutions, traditions, culture and history.

And at least part of the reason they're being allowed to fester and grow like a tumor that's necrotized at its core and metastasizing at its edges is that we remain at a precarious-enough point in our social development that the Obama administration is afraid a racist narrative will stick. Rather than tell the Breitbarts and their ilk that they are full of shit, the Administration bends and weaves like a character in The Matrix dodging bullets. (If you want to extend the geek metaphor, isn't it past time Obama stopped the hail of bullets midair with an outstretched hand and a dirty look?)

It is, as I said, sad. It leaves me worried we will end up stuck with the society we deserve instead of the one we need, and that isn't a good thing.

It's not a good thing at all.


"I'm Not Going To Be Ignored, Dan"

From the folks who brought you Conan The Barbarian--The Musical and Rambo: The Musical, it's... Fatal Attraction: The Musical!

The heart-rending signature song, "I'm Not Going to be Ignored, Dan":

Am I the only one who thinks this has just a touch of Rice/Ulvaeus/Andersson to it?


If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is...

>> Tuesday, July 20, 2010

From: Spencer Anthony (anthony.spencer@makshat-ventures.com)
Sent: Sun 7/18/10 6:59 AM



My name is Spencer Anthony,i know this is certainly an unconventional way to
start up a business relationship but i want you to know that it is done
out of a desperate desire to have a business representative in your
country to get my business moving again.

I Urgently need sincere representatives that will work from home and get
paid weekly without leaving or affecting your present job. My Company is
based in London, UK and we produce various clothing materials, batiks,
assorted fabrics and traditional costumes.We have customers we supply
weekly in Europe, North America, Australia and countries in the Middle
East.My customers make payments for our supplies every week or monthly, i
therefore need honest and sincere individuals to work as my
representatives and assist me in processing/collecting of the payments
from our Customers.


I look forward to your favourable response and accepting to be our
representative.I need the following information from you plus a scanned
passport photograph of yourself for identification.


Please these information are needed for easy payment from our customers
and for our own records as well.


Yours Truly

Spencer Anthony,
Ceo, Makshat Ventures Pvt.

pls reply to: anthony.spencer1@i12.com

I'm afraid this one isn't going to be a funny one. Regular readers know that sometimes I'll take a piece of junkmail and write a funny response. This isn't for the regular readers though, this is a post for people using Google.

For those of you who aren't regulars, let me tell you what I do for a living. I am an assistant public defender, meaning that I'm a lawyer who represents people who are accused of a crime who can't afford to hire a lawyer of their own. American law, you see, says that anybody accused of a crime has to be given a lawyer as part of making sure they get a fair trial.

So I represent people who are charged with a crime who don't have a lot of money.

So I've ended up representing a lot of people who got an e-mail like the one at the top of the post, and because they don't have a lot of money and the economy is bad and they can't find a job, they send an e-mail back. What they don't figure out is that it's a scam.

Here's how the scam works, usually. This person, "Spencer Anthony" (if that's his real name) isn't a London businessman. He or she, whoever it is, is probably in a café in Nigeria. For some reason, there are a lot of cafés in Nigeria with free wireless where someone can set up a laptop and send out lots of e-mails like this one. If "Spencer Anthony" isn't in Nigeria, then there are a lot of crooks running this scam out of Russia and out of Canada (don't ask me why Canada). But it doesn't really matter where the scammer is.

If you're lucky, then you answer the scammer's e-mail and give him or her your address and phone number and a copy of your passport or photo ID, and the scammer sells it to somebody who sells fake identification, and your name ends up being stuck on a fake ID.

But what usually happens is the scammer gets back in touch with you. He will send you a check and instructions on how to cash it. The scammer will tell you to keep 10% and send him the rest.

The check will be no good. It will be a forgery, or altered.

Now, the scammer is hoping one of two things will happen. First of all, a lot of people--we'll call them "suckers"--who get a bad check in the mail will say, "It doesn't really matter where I cash it, the money's the same," so they go into a check-cashing place or their local convenience store, or some place where the people who work there know them. The sucker gives the bad check to the cashier, the cashier gives the sucker money, the sucker keeps 10% and sends the rest to the scammer, then the check bounces. Or, the scammer hopes the sucker will follow the instructions and the place the check is taken to--Wal-Mart, a bank, wherever--doesn't look at it too closely.

Either way, the scammer spends a few pennies on ink, paper and postage, and the sucker mails back a nice wad of money out of it.

But what happens at the check-cashing place? They take the check to the bank, and the bank says, "This is a fake, we won't honor it." Or what if the check-cashing place realizes it's a fake as soon as they see it? Then the local police are called.

The local police don't go to Nigeria.

The local police don't go to Russia.

The local police don't go to Canada.

The local police go to the person who was passing the check.

The police arrest the sucker. The sucker gets charged with fraud. In a lot of places, it will be a felony fraud charge.

Let's say you're the sucker. The police department won't care that you were a sucker. They aren't going to fly around the world to try to find someone who might not even really be named "Spencer Anthony." They have somebody they've charged.

Your public defender (or private lawyer, if you have the money to hire one), will care. But your lawyer will be worried that if you have to go to trial, twelve people in a jury might not think you were a sucker at all. Especially if you decided to go to your local convenience store instead of following the exact directions the scammer gave you (the prosecutor might say to a jury, "If the defendant (that's you) believed this was a real deal, why didn't he-or-she follow the instructions?"). Your lawyer will be afraid for you.

Your lawyer will talk to the district attorney, or solicitor, or whatever they call the prosecutor in your state. We'll call him the "DA" because that's what they call him in my state. There will probably be several lawyers working in the DA's office on different kinds of cases, trying to punish people for crimes like fraud. Some DAs will be very compassionate and will say, "Okay, this person was a sucker, I'll throw the case out but he or she better be more careful next time." Some DAs will say, "Alright, all the people who cashed the check care about is the money, so if the sucker pays them back we'll let it go."

And some DAs won't give a damn. Some DAs will say, "The sucker was caught passing a forged check, and the law's the law."

Then your lawyer is going to be really worried for you. Should you take the case to trial? What if a jury thinks you're lying about how you got the check? What if the jury thinks you knew it was fake but tried passing it anyway? What if a perfectly nice person--and you're a nice person, I'm sure of it--gets a felony on their record because they did something dumb because they were broke and an e-mail promised a good deal?

Because you could get a felony conviction out of something like this. People do. Some get lucky. A lot don't.

So how do I know this e-mail from "Spencer Anthony" is a fake?

For one thing, it is exactly like lots of fake e-mails I've seen offering the same thing. I've been representing poor people accused of crimes for more than ten years and I've seen a lot of these.

For another thing, if it was real, then "Spencer Anthony" would be an idiot. He would be offering to send you a check without knowing if you'd really send him all of his money back. Why would he do that unless the check was no good and he was trying to take advantage of you?

Also, real businessmen don't work this way. Real businessmen go to banks to cash their checks. Real businessmen get small business loans and have investors and so on. Real businessmen have a staff that does job interviews and meet with people looking for jobs and don't hire people by sending out random e-mails. You might think, "Well I have a family member who has a small business and does everything himself," but look at what "Spencer Anthony" says: "Spencer Anthony" claims he has business contacts in Europe, America, Australia and the Middle East. That's three, possibly four continents (the Middle East includes part of North Africa and part of Asia). Why isn't he calling his employees directly instead of sending you an e-mail out of the blue, if he's so big? Anyway, your family member wouldn't run his business that way, either, I'll bet you--go ask him yourself.

Now, maybe you're thinking, "but I have a friend who's doing this and nobody has arrested them yet!"

That's because they haven't been caught. And that's really the worst luck of all. My lucky clients are the ones who get caught the first time they try this, because they only get charged for that time. I wish they weren't charged at all. I wish they didn't try to cash fake checks. But being charged once is better than being charged for all the other times. The police, when they start looking into something like this, start calling around to see if other places are complaining about somebody cashing lousy checks, or look to see if there are other charges that are already filed but the person hasn't been arrested yet for whatever reason.

So I'm asking you, I'm begging you: if you get an e-mail like the one from "Spencer Anthony," it's a scam. "Spencer Anthony" is trying to make you a sucker. If something sounds too good to be true, it usually isn't true. Remember that. Pass it along. Thank you.


The revenge of the house of the son of the bride of sometimes I'll take requests part 2 (Electric Boogaloo)

>> Monday, July 19, 2010


Sometimes I'll take requests

For Nathan, by general request:


"One day I am going to grow wings, a chemical reaction..."

Possibly my favorite Radiohead song ever, "Let Down" from 1997's O.K. Computer:

I may have said this before--I don't think any band has ever captured a sense of modern existential terror and angst since Pink Floyd circa 1977, and "Let Down" is such a fine example of how a song about despair over the seeming meaninglessness of it all can be aching and beautiful. When you say something like "existential terror and angst," it almost begs to imply some kind of emo whininess and self-pity, which of course is the farthest thing in the world from what the Floyd did in '77 (which was to lash out in rage) or what Radiohead did twenty years later, which was to reach out yearningly for something beautiful and better. "Let Down" may start with an observation of "Disappointed people clinging onto bottles" as they sit and wait for transportation that will take them nowhere, but then Thom Yorke's voice reaches out--"One day, I am going to grow wings, a chemical reaction, hysterical and useless." It's a transformation that won't change anything, but it's still change, something different from all the sameness.

Beautiful stuff. There's always hope amidst all the ugly; it was the last fucking thing in the box, remember?



>> Sunday, July 18, 2010

So I went to see Inception with a group of friends last night. This is the new Christopher Nolan movie--the guy who directed Memento and the Batman reboots, among other things, and there was a lot of buzz over the past year leading up to the movie and some awesome trailers, and then some mixed reviews over the past week now that the movie's out.

If you somehow missed any of the noise: Inception is a fantasy film about a guy named Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) who has a business going into the dreams of corporate bigwigs to steal trade secrets from their subconscious. But then one of these corporate bigwigs, a gentleman named Saito (Ken Watanabe) approaches Cobb with a proposal: he wants to break up a rival company that is about to be inherited by a gentleman named Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), and he wants Fischer to think its his own idea--hence the title of the movie; rather than steal an idea from somebody's dreams, Saito wants Cobb to implant one.

If this sounds a bit weird and ridiculous even on its own terms, you'd be right; a lot of critics have been razzing Inception's premise and Christopher Nolan's heavy-handed literal approach to dreaming, and I do dig what they're saying. As movies about dreams and dreaming go, this isn't La cité des enfants perdus or Eyes Wide Shut or Mulholland--ah, hell, pretty much any film by David Lynch, actually.1 There's nothing really, truly dreamlike in Nolan's movie, even when the laws of physics are purposely and deliberately suspended or M.C. Escher works consciously referenced. And don't even bother trying to tie Nolan's ideas about what goes on in a dream physically or psychologically to anything anybody's actually done in real-live-meatspace over the past twenty years with regards to sleep research, lucid dreaming, REM deprivation or any of the rest of it; while Nolan may be justly renowned for approaching fantasy with gritty realism (see also, Dark Knight, The), Inception has to be categorized as fantasy, not science fiction.

But as far as being the kind of movie The Matrix2 wanted to be--well, as far as that goes, Inception is sweet, sweet awesome and kicks the ass of The Matrix as well as (for that matter) Dreamscape or A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (yeah, yeah, I know) or any other movie where a virtual or dream reality is used as an excuse to just kind of go wild with the action and adventure.

First of all, Inception is the prettiest action movie made in, I don't know, ever? Seriously, this is a movie that's worth forking over the extra bucks for the IMAX version for the digital image clarity and kickass sound system and ginormous screen. Eschewing the usual blues and--ever since The Matrix--greens you always seem to see in this kind of movie these days, Nolan gives us real warmth on the screen, lots of golds and browns and rich, rich, rich colors. There's a sharpness to the images overall that I haven't seen in ages, or maybe since The Dark Knight, actually; this film could be a textbook definition for "crisp." And the sound design in an IMAX presentation is perfect: a shaking building or flood of water triggers a rumble that you can feel in your seat but without one detectable iota of distortion--it's loud but it's clean. I don't know how the experience will translate to DVD/BR when it gets released for home viewing, though I suspect it's still going to look pretty damn fine.

Secondly, the idea that everything happening in the movie is a dream may not work in terms of actual "dreamlike-ness," but as an excuse to create an entire alternative logic in which everyday physical rules can be discarded in favor of a surprisingly-consistent-and-somehow-credible alternate physics, the movie's dream states are something else. To give an example, there's a sequence around the middle of the film in which the characters' physical bodies are unconscious in a falling, tumbling van, which in the dream environment translates into a variable-gravity situation in which Joseph Gordon-Levitt ends up fighting bodyguards in a hotel corridor; sometimes (when the van is in freefall) there's no gravity at all, other times (as the van spins and bounces down a hillside) "down" becomes the ceiling or one end of the hallway or someplace else: Gordon-Levitt and his antagonists swoop and fly and climb around like spiders and bounce off the walls as they try to kick one another's asses, and it's fucking insane. This is a sequence that a lot has been made out of, and rightly so, because it really is just spectacular, the way it plays out. And this is where Inception's premise pays off: action-movie heroes may violate the laws of physics ten times in an automobile chase or gunfight, and it seems ridiculous if you can't suspend your disbelief fast enough, but you don't even have to worry about suspending disbelief when the whole idea is that the characters are asleep and the scene you're watching could be interrupted by a random freight train or abrupt Noachian flood at any second.

Third, and this is really interesting for what is essentially an action movie/fantasy: Inception is ambitious enough to actually have some heart, though Nolan may be too cerebral to completely go for the kind of romanticism you find in La cité des enfants perdus or Brazil.3 That probably sounds like cheese, but it isn't: to Nolan's credit, a love story emerges over the course of Inception that's romantic, plausible and even a little frightening. Meanwhile, Cobb's motivation in going into Fischer's dreams in the first place is that he wants to ultimately be with his kids--something that ultimately goes beyond being a bit of semi-relevant backstory and becomes a recurring theme/plot point, and one that, again, feels credible and earned.4

As for the cast: people love or hate Leonardo DiCaprio and Ellen Page, the film's star and an important player, respectively; I think they're perfectly cromulent in Inception. Ken Watanabe is always a blast when he shows up in a film and should get more roles than he does. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy are marvelous and steal several scenes they're in (especially Hardy), and Cillian Murphy is Cillian-fucking-Murphy, I shouldn't even need to say anything. The always-welcome Pete Postlethwaite and Michael Caine show up in bit parts and, as said, are always welcome. Tom Berenger, who isn't always welcome, has a significant minor part and is very good in it, acquitting himself well. So all is good, here.

In sum: I think it's good and it's definitely worth seeing on the big screen, or better yet on the biggest screen. How will it hold up over time? That, I don't know and have a harder time with. I will say that I'm not sure that Inception's weak spots stand against it as a movie, if that makes any sense. That is to say, I don't know that Inception is a movie that will haunt you like some of the other dream-movies I've mentioned in this post, even not-very-good-ones like Eyes Wide Shut, but taken as what-it-is, Inception is pretty goddamn perfect.

So go have a look for yourself.

POSTSCRIPT, 2010-07-27: If you haven't seen the business about Inception's soundtrack going around the web, you should check this out.

This actually gives me chills.


1Lest one misunderstand something or get the wrong idea: Eyes Wide Shut and Mulholland Dr. are pretty deeply flawed works, and quite possibly among my least-favorite works by their respective directors (I think The Shining and Dune are pretty awful films--yes, I just said The Shining was awful--so Eyes and Mulholland certainly aren't Lynch's and Kubrick's worst films, and both have moments of real visual lyricism, if you'll pardon the cliché. The point in name-dropping them here isn't that they're better films than Inception--actually, they're not--but rather that in some respects they're more interesting and certainly more dreamlike if you want to talk about films that are anything like a dream a real human being might have while sleeping.

City Of Lost Children, of course, is made of pure, beautiful awesome and is better than most films ever made by anyone.

2I sometimes suspect I have a reputation amongst my friends for hating The Matrix going back to when I walked out of the theatre after seeing it with friends--several of whom were seeing it at least a second time at that point--and basically said, "That was okay."

Matrix is a decent but terribly-overrated film. There, I said it. It looks nice, there are some cool setpieces, it was pretty cutting-edge with the SFX at the time and the soundtrack is kind of jamming. But you know what? It also isn't nearly as clever and interesting as the Wachowskis obviously thought it was. Aside from its knowing debt to various animes--which the Wachowskis apparently were going for, trying to make a "live action anime"--the entire premise is lifted more or less uncredited from Philip K. Dick's Valis except that Dick didn't come up with anything as stupid as humans being used as batteries, which is so dumb on so many levels it doesn't really even work as fantasy. (PKD apparently spent a good chunk of the end of his life flirting with the paranoid idea that history had ended in Roman times and everything since then was some kind of simulation--the exact idea the Wachowskis borrowed, except they wound the clock for the end of history up to the near future.)

But I don't mean to just knock The Matrix. It's a pretty good film, and fun and kind of interesting and has some great setpieces like subway fight between Neo and Smith or Trinity versus all those cops at the beginning of the movie. And I liked the first sequel, actually, though the third movie in the set was just godawful. But The Matrix was never as good as so many people said it was, was the thing. It was a good movie--it wasn't a great one.

While we're talking about The Matrix, here's something Inception does better: both movies occur in simulated realities where the heroes plow through bad guys by the gajillions. In Matrix, the cannon fodder consists, apparently, of all the people plugged into the simulation along with the Matrix's antivirus software (the agents), whereas in Inception the redshirts are all "projections" of a dreamer's subconscious. In The Matrix, dying in the dreamworld means dying for real, while in Inception dying means either waking up or submerging into a deeper and worse dream, depending on the kind of dream. Which means that in The Matrix the good guys are killing real actual schlubs by the score--all those people still plugged in and doing the "coppertop" thing--while in Inception, meh, those targets are all imaginary.

Point, of course, being that The Matrix is one of those movies where one of the conceptual problems is that the heroes are actually worse than the bad guys, because it's the heroes who are brutal, indifferent, thuggish murderers and even the innocents killed by the bad guys are only dying because the "good guys" are such assholes and are trying to wreck everything. Whereas, alternatively, Christopher Nolan nicely sidesteps the whole issue by making it clear, repeatedly, that all the people getting blown away in Inception are basically cartoon characters to start with. Kudos.

3Or, as with David Lynch, pretty much anything from Terry Gilliam's catalog, dream-reality-versus-waking-reality being a common theme throughout much of his work, particularly the early informal "trilogy" of Time Bandits, Brazil and The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen, or even in movies Gilliam directed but didn't write, like the oft-underrated The Fisher King, which has that famous Grand Central Station sequence that's frankly more dreamlike than anything in Inception.

4Sorry for all the endnotes in this one, but there are things that I'd like to say that don't necessarily fit into the body all that well, such as another problem with The Matrix (which this isn't really a review of) wherein that movie compares very unfavorably with Inception (the movie we're talking about), which is sort of relevant to what Inception does well but not wholly relevant in that this isn't meant to be a bunch of Matrix-bashing.

Anyway, the point is this: that one of the big problems with The Matrix is that while the stunts and SFX are cool and all, it's not exactly clear why I should care about any of it in the first place. I mean, look: the people plugged into the Matrix all think they have nice, ordinary lives, for better or for worse, with wives and kids and pets and stuff, while the heroes, who are trying to destroy the Matrix, all live in a shitty little flying submarine eating sludge and wearing itchy-looking rags and hiding out from scary squidbots, occasionally plugging themselves back in so that the Matrix's security protocols can try to extremely murderize them, which would kill them in the crappy real world although that seems like it might be a mercy. In short, the heroes are trying to destroy a world that, however gritty and grey-green it might be, is kind of liveable so they can liberate everybody into a post-apocalyptic hellhole, and we're supposed to be rooting for them to do it because they're the "good guys" and have "free will" (maybe--this notion is undercut in the sequels) and aren't creepy machine people, not because there's actually anything desirable about the lifestyle they live, if you want to call it living, scrabbling about in dried-out sewer pipes and keeping lint out of the computer ports in their necks. Okay, so it would be kind of cool to know kung-fu without having to practice or anything, except, you know, none of them really know kung-fu they just think they do after they install the plug-in.

In Inception, on the other hand, I can dig that Leonardo DiCaprio has family issues, etc., and that this is what's pushing him to do things. I don't have kids and I've never been married myself, of course, but if I did and/or had been, I can imagine being so in love with someone--wife, kids--that being in a situation where I could never see them again would drive me a little crazy and push me to do things even if they seemed like a bad idea to everybody else around me. I get that. More than I get why being in the Matrix would suck, especially if I didn't even know I was there in the first place.


"The Winner"

>> Saturday, July 17, 2010

Heard this on the way home last night and loved it: a new Kris Kristofferson rendition of a song by the late Shel Silverstein. And if you're not sold by that already, what the hell's wrong with you?

A fan video for "The Winner":

Have a great Saturday, folks.


The most half-assed lawyering in the history of half-assed lawyering

>> Friday, July 16, 2010

In closed-door testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on May 26, the former official, Judge Jay S. Bybee, said the Central Intelligence Agency never sought approval for some practices detainees later said had been used on them, including dousing them with cold water to keep them awake and forcing them to wear diapers or soil themselves.

"Those techniques were not authorized," he said, according to a transcript released Thursday by the committee.

But Judge Bybee strongly defended the legal advice he did provide to the C.I.A. in 2002 that waterboarding, wall slamming and other methods used by C.I.A. were lawful.

"We took a muscular view of presidential authority," Judge Bybee said, "We were offering a bottom line to a client who wanted to know what he could do and what he couldn't do. I wasn’t running a debating society, and I wasn't running a law school."

-Charlie Savage and Scott Shane,
"Bush Aide Says Some C.I.A. Methods Unauthorized"
New York Times, July 15th, 2010 (emphasis added)

No, see, Judge Bybee, that's exactly where you and Professor Yoo fucked it up. You were supposed to tell the President what he could and couldn't do. Your then-client asked you for legal advice, which he was especially needful of because he wasn't a lawyer and because it was a time of national crisis, and you were supposed to give him the complete picture. No, you weren't running a debating society, but you weren't supposed to be telling him what you thought he wanted to hear, either. And if there were statutes explicitly prohibiting what you thought he wanted to do (and there were) and case law (there was) and an international treaty ratified by the United States (ditto) and simply what was in fucking dictionaries of the English language (duh), you were supposed to lay that out. And then whatever informed decision he made was entirely on him because you're right, you're technically not supposed to be advocating in a legal memo. (Though there's a whole moral and ethical dimension of the attorney's responsibilities as a counselor of law that we're gliding by in saying that, isn't there?)

But your staff didn't do that. Your staff--producing work you signed off on--left out most of the law that didn't support your boss' "muscular view of presidential authority" and engaged in some linguistic finagling to sideline the rest. And this, pretty much by definition, is unprofessional and incompetent lawyering, whatever else it might be in terms of inducing your client to authorize the commission of felonies under Federal law or crimes against humanity.

If I was on the grievance committee in whatever state gave you a license to practice, I'm not sure you and John Yoo would still be lawyers, Judge. Sorry if that would be something that affected you personally and professionally and had an impact on your family. You made a bad call and your client didn't just fail to pay some taxes or fees or misconstrue a building contract as a result--no, your client authorized the CIA to abuse the shit out of human beings. Some of those human beings, whether they were terrorists or not, were injured and some of them allegedly died as a result; and if anyone died as a result of torture, Judge, that's a death-eligible offense for the torturer and a possible life sentence for any co-conspirators.

You know, not many attorneys have the singular opportunity to give a client advice that's so bad, a former President Of The United States could hypothetically receive a life sentence in Federal Prison as a consequence...

...you should be proud?


If only poor Sarah had known about the bear!

Perhaps an Internet meme can salvage Sarah Palin's poor interview skills:

(H/t for the bear to Boing Boing!
Kid's answer to test question via FAILBlog.
Palin screencap © CBS, borrowed from The Regator Blog.)


This old flag

>> Thursday, July 15, 2010

My friends Michelle and Jim were inspired by recent teabagger lunacy to put a couple of rants on their blogs Wednesday evening. Michelle's can be found here and Jim's can be found here. They're both worth a read; I don't have anything to add, except that Jim's comment that you might be a teabagger if--

...you can name all of America’s Founding Fathers by heart … lets see there was, uh, well, George Washington of course, and Abraham Lincoln and that guy what started the insurance company with the really big signature and Neil Armstrong and uh, um, don’t rush me, Sneezy, Grumpy, Doc, Curly, Moe, Larry and there was Jesus, he was there in the picture standing next to Ronald Reagan and Donner and Blitzen and the Nina, Pinta, and the Santa Maria and Lewis and Clark and Chuck Norris and well, look, if I ever need to know it I can always look it up in a Texas school textbook anyway so piss off you fucking hippies.

--reminded me of this absolutely, one-hundred-percent accurate re-enactment of one of the most important episodes in American history, namely the Founding Fathers' creation of an American flag that cannot be desecrated by performance artists wanting to shit on it. It's completely true: Abraham Lincoln used science to make it completely shitproof, and as a bonus the flag commemorates the fifty greatest achievements of his lifetime.

From Mr. Show With Bob And David, how the Founders designed the flag (completely true):


It's all about the guns...

>> Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Yet another example to add to the pile of examples of how diseased American political discourse has become: Politico tells us that some conservative talking heads are upset that the NRA is reaching out to Democrats to--gasp!--protect gun rights and advance their organization.

You might remember I had some things to say about NRA partisanship back in May, when the NRA was holding its national shindig in Charlotte. In particular, I'd point out this paragraph from my earlier post:

There's a very real sense in this country that certain issues are hyperpartisan, even ones that maybe shouldn't be. I mean, take gun control, and maybe this will be a better illustration of what I'm getting at: gun control and ownership isn't actually a left/right issue, it's a gun control and ownership issue. Would-be Marxist revolutionaries like their assault rifles as much as any gun fair regular, and a hard-right fascist might well want only the iron fist of the state defenders of private property and union-busters to have access to artillery. Left and right distinctions, at least in most of the world and through most of history, are about class, economics, the ownership of means of production and proper role of the state in protecting rights or property--stuff about guns is stuff about guns.

I have to give credit where credit's due, though. It may have been amusing/appalling that the NRA's Charlotte convention was a parade of conservative meatheads (and no, that's not redundant, that's an apt description of Beck, Gingrich and Palin), but it's perfectly appropriate for the NRA to support Democrats or even actual liberals who advance their agenda.

I'm not necessarily saying I support their agenda, mind you, and I certainly don't support all of the NRA's agenda--I happen to think there's a happy medium somewhere between people having a right to own dangerous machines and the public regulating that ownership--I'm just looking for consistency and pointing out yet again that gun ownership really isn't a partisan issue, it's a gun ownership issue.

And, after all, on paper the NRA is a nonpartisan organization concerned with gun ownership issues. Perhaps there's some sort of nexus of correlation in the American cultural landscape between people who like guns and people who are socially conservative, that's certainly what we're told, anyway, and that's certainly what a lot of people believe. But, in fact, what does owning a pistol have to do with abortion, or the availability of ammunition have to do with deregulating coal mines?

Indeed, one is hard-pressed to think of very many things that are particularly related to the ownership and use of firearms and are directly related to various American conservative (or liberal) issues, causes, talking points, whatever. There's no tension between a view that the Second Amendment should be repealed and Roe v. Wade overturned, nor is there any kind of conflict between believing the hunting season should be longer and environmental regulations strictly enforced against industrial interests. (Indeed, one might suspect that a preference for fewer limits on hunting is easier to reconcile with support for the EPA than opposition to it--one might prefer hunting and consuming wild game that isn't laced with pesticides, heavy metals and assorted polysyllabic compounds produced as a manufacturing byproduct.)

Too, reading the Politico piece, it's hard not to detect a certain whiff of cynicism from the whiners. The NRA has quite a lot of members and is rather well-funded; no doubt the Family Research Council and other socially conservative organizations and individuals like having the NRA's weight to throw around. The Republican Party itself no doubt would like to think of the NRA as being on tap, a reserve of campaign funding that can be called upon at will.

The Republicans, incidentally, aren't making a unique mistake: the Democrats have recently seemed just as shocked to discover that entities such as organized labor, gay rights groups and civil rights organizations might take their money elsewhere.

Which gets us back to the original point, actually, about American political discourse being a diseased animal. One might reasonably expect, for instance, that those advocating legal recognition for homosexual relationships and those advocating deregulation of firearms might have common cause under a civil libertarian banner instead of somehow being expected by political custom to take the sides of Democrats and Republicans. Instead, the groups' respective interests get divided across partisan lines that ultimately only involve the political parties' ability to perpetuate their own exclusive interests.

It's a damn shame, really. Our culture might be much healthier if we had a political system that required the formation of coalitions out of parties much-better-tailored to their constituents' actual interests: if passing or defeating a law depended, say, on the Gun Toting Lesbians forming a temporary alliance with the Earth First Pro-Lifers and Centralized Federal Bankers, let's say. I mean, okay, I'll concede it sounds like a recipe for anarchy, too, but let's face it, what we have now is two parties who represent themselves and whine about it whenever one of their biggest contributors decides to stand up for itself. Maybe I'm sick of bullshit and would be willing to give controlled chaos a spin for awhile, you know?


Flattered by a website I'd never heard of before today...

>> Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I follow Margaret Atwood on Twitter just because there's something awesome about Margaret Fucking Atwood being a tweeter. Mostly she tweets about public interest stuff going on in Canada, but today she had a couple of tweets like this one in reference to I Write Like, a website that purports to take a sample block of text and tell you who you write like (natch):

OK, so now I write like James Joyce... http://bit.ly/bBCMB3 What leads us to believe there aren't many choices? Jane Austen, anyone?

Which, of course, is funny because you might think Margaret Atwood would write like, oh, I don't know, Margaret Atwood. So I wouldn't say whatever engine or algorithm these folks use is all that. Particularly since Atwood has a distinctive style, y'know?

Well, anyway, of course I had to do it myself. Twice. I cut'n'pasted a 6,000 word short story several of you have read for me (thanks!) and yesterday's "Naderized" blog entry, and (oddly enough) I got the same result both times:

I write like
Kurt Vonnegut

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Well, hell yeah, I'll take it. Not sure I believe it. But, y'know, who would be offended to be told you were writing like one of the legendary writers of the 20th Century, right?

So, there it is. Feeling pretty good about that. Thanks, random anonymous website with a screwed up text comparison algorithm!

Anyone else want to give this one a try?

Postscript: It's a pretty crappy algorithm, however they're doing it. Running Neil Gaiman's "I Cthulhu" through it, the software gloms onto old Big C and reports back that the piece is written like H.P. Lovecraft. But "I Cthulhu" isn't really pastiche in spite of the title and the tone is pretty much typical Gaiman--whimsical British fantasy--despite the Lovecraftian subject matter.

Ah, well. I'll still take my results as flattering....


If Saw had been like this, it wouldn't have sucked...

SMBC demonstrates why the whole Saw "impossible choices lead to death, degradation and maiming" torture porn genre really doesn't work if you abduct total dickbags for your mad sociological experiments:

Oh yeah, and just in case it wasn't clear from the post title: Saw sucked ass. Just in case that wasn't clear.

Happy Tuesday, y'all.



>> Monday, July 12, 2010

Salon and Politico have pieces up now about the left's angst over the Obama Administration. Both pieces are essentially trying to gage how much impact left-wing dissatisfaction will have on the Obama Presidency. I'm guessing "not much," and for reasons a bit more immediate than either Steve Kornacki (Salon) or Abby Phillip (Politico) get at.

Let's say at the outset that I'm one of those angsty liberals who has some issues with the progress or lack-thereof of the Obama Presidency. I'm not happy that Gitmo is still open, that we're still in Iraq and Afghanistan, that Obama evidently didn't clean up the cesspool of corruption and incompetence that was the Bush-era Minerals Management Service, that healthcare reform didn't go far enough and seemed to be compromised from the get-go, and I'm sure there's something else that will be bothering me before the day's over; let's just say I'm not wholly satisfied with this presidency. And I don't seem to be alone.

In spite of this, however, it's still simultaneously frustrating and hysterical when conservative friends and colleagues make some comment about people being sorry they voted for Obama or asking how I like his presidency so far, because here's the thing: if I'm disappointed that Obama isn't as liberal or progressive or even (hate to say it) as effective as I'd hoped, was there any chance in hell that I was going to vote for a scandal-ridden old man who was so desperate to get himself elected President before he died that he tacked hard-right and nominated a brainless, vicious, vapid, ignorant, unqualified ditz as a running mate? I mean, I'm unhappy that healthcare reform doesn't go far enough, so my unhappiness with the Obama Administration translates into some kind of support for the guys who wanted no heathcare reform at all how, exactly? I'm unhappy that our wars are ongoing, so I should have voted for the party that was primarily responsible for starting and mismanaging them in the first place? Obama isn't liberal enough so I'm going to regret that the conservative lost?

Really? No. Please.

Kornacki digs through a lot of past Presidential elections to analyze how political parties dealt with dissatisfaction and dissent, but he misses an obvious example, perhaps deliberately because it didn't really follow the same narrative of party-core-versus-establishment that he's using as his model. In 2000, when all we knew about George Bush was that he was a friendly-but-not-too-bright-seeming American royal scion and all we could see in Al Gore was that he was a smug and stiff prick who'd been Vice-President under a guy who'd spent an awful lot of time embarrassing his office, it was real easy for a liberal to look at the two candidates, decide it didn't matter which one of them was elected, and vote for somebody who actually appeared to be a progressive candidate--Ralph Nader.

Now, keep in mind, we're talking 2000, not 2001 or 2004. This is what we knew or thought we knew then, those of us in the camp of the perpetually disaffected left wing. The economy was good, the World Trade Center in two pieces as designed, Iraq a misbehaving but manageable problem and things weren't terrible. The fact that the worst thing you could bitch about the President doing or not doing was his inability to keep the trouser snake in the yard was, frankly and if only we'd known it, pretty damn wonderful in hindsight. We didn't know that the future would be more than Bush could handle any more than we knew that Nader would prove to be a pretentious and vain turd willing to allow himself to be used as a Republican spoiler in 2004. In 2000, the idea that things would continue much as they had and that Bush would be an affable, barely-competent President seemed reasonable; sure, he'd make some lousy Supreme Court appointments given the opportunity and would try to dismantle some vital government programs, but, you know, all's fair in love and war and shit happens and our day would come 'round again and all of that.

Oops. Who knew? No, seriously, who knew? I don't think it was possible for even the people who correctly predicted that Bush would be a shitty President to correctly predict how shitty. Torture? A war in south Asia? Really? No--he's just going to screw up school lunches and stiff old people on their medicine, even he's not dumb enough to get us into two wars and a recession....

Famous last words.

So we learned. The hard way. Are we happy? No. Are some of us chewing on half a loaf and lying that we're okay with just the taste of bread while the rest of us fly into an incessant angry squawking panic about the latest heartbreak? Yep.

But are we voting for Republicans? Like hell. Are we staying home in November 2012 in an act of suicidal protest? I doubt it. Are we going to repeat 2000? No, I could be wrong, but I really don't think so.

I think the Democrats are wrong to take us for granted. And I seethe that we're forced to reward misbehavior and suffer being represented by people who, mostly, don't represent us or even respect our values.

But you bet your ass that I'll be voting for Obama in 2012. And I can't even add a hypothetical "unless" to that, you know--"He'd have to be a space alien posing as a human to conquer the Earth," or something like that: hell, I'll vote for a monstrous space alien before I vote for Romney, much less Huckabee or (shudder) Palin. Okay, wait, I did think of one: if the Republicans used dark necromancy to resurrect Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower... but what am I even saying? These days those guys would have to run as Democrats, so it doesn't even matter.

The bottom line, I guess, is that liberal disaffection with Obama may be bad for Democrats, but it's possibly worse for Republicans. We may be upset, but we ain't complacent. I'm reminded, of course, of something a famous Republican said, like they say in Texas and maybe in Tennessee, too: "Fool me once, shame on, shame on you; fool me... you can't get fooled again."

Or, if you'd like: Naderized once, never twice.


A mighty wind at his back

>> Sunday, July 11, 2010

I tell you what, just when you think you've heard it all. The other day, I'm online and trying to remember how to spell the name of Mel Brooks' (primary) character in Blazing Saddles, Governor William J. LePetomane, and I inevitably stumble across the fact--which you may already know--that the character was named after a real person.

"Le Pétomane," was the stage name of Joseph Pujol, France's premier fartist during the latter part of the 19th and early years of the 20th Centuries.

Yes, fartist. Le Pétomane, whose name Wikipedia informs us roughly translates from French to English as "The Fartaholic" (I'd prefer to translate it less faithfully as "The Farting Maniac," myself), became world-famous for a stage show in which he would take to the stage and fart loudly and tunefully. Well, sort of tunefully: Cecil at The Straight Dope tells us that Le Pétomane could hit four notes (one of them the octave of the first, so maybe we should count it as a half-note), and that he also did impersonations (e.g. a bride's fart) and stunts (like blowing out candles).

Apparently, according to Wikipedia and Straight Dope, Le Pétomane's shows were attended by the likes of Edward, Prince Of Wales and King Leopold II of Belgium, who evidently liked this sort of thing when he wasn't slaughtering Congolese by the millions. (Would it be completely distasteful to write a story about Leopold sneaking into Le Pétomane's performance and call it "Fart Of Darkness"? Yes. Yes, it would.)

I am really uncertain about what to do with this information; I mean, besides sharing it with you, dear readers. Should we take the fact that Le Pétomane was a popular entertainer as a sign that people were more easily amused a century-plus ago than they are today in our sophisticated era of Adam Sandler movies and YouTube nutshot videos, or as further proof of the axiom, "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose"? Should we use it as some sort of metaphor for Glenn Beck and his ilk, wittily observing that audiences continue to be enthralled by a man blowing it out his ass in front of a crowd, but at least in the old days they wanted him to be able to carry a tune?

Or perhaps all of you already knew about this and are wondering how I could go all these years without knowing of the legendary Le Pétomane and his magical ass? To which I can only reply: I'm sorry... I never caught wind of it.

Have a good Sunday, people.


We stand at the dawn of the future of beer...

>> Saturday, July 10, 2010

It's about fucking time someone came up with a practical application for robotics. Other than Robot Wars, I mean (robots messing each other up with drill attachments and saws and mechaical pickaxes and stuff is pretty boss).

Okay, I know what you're thinking. It's one of two things. One: you're thinking that is one badass robot and how can you get one, and can it be programmed to serve other beverages--like, can it mix margaritas and Long Island Iced Teas and maybe mojitos, or is it a specialized device designed exclusively for delivering beer? Or, two: "Hey, I can just get up and get my own beer a lot faster than that dumb robot."

If you thought number one, high five. But if you're in that second camp, well, number one, that robot isn't dumb. You're dumb. Screw you. And, number two, are you just sitting around and a cold beer just "appeared" next to you as if by magic but it isn't really magic and there's a really awesome robot standing next to you that just delivered this delicious, delicious beer and is waiting to bring more delectable beer at your command? No? Didn't think so, loser. The only thing more awesome than having a robot get you a beer would be Alyson Hannigan getting you a beer, and the only thing more awesome than Alyson Hannigan getting you a beer would be Alyson Hannigan sitting next to you while your robot brings you two beers, one for you and one for Alyson. (Aly, I know I haven't mentioned you here in a while, but why haven't you called?)

Now, there may be another subset of you who are thinking, "A robot that can learn to get a beer is also a robot that can learn to KILL ALL HUMANS." You, sir or madam, have an excellent point, and I would love to formulate a response; unfortunately, I cannot do so at this time because I have to get up and get my own goddamn beer.

(H/t Slashdot!)



>> Friday, July 09, 2010

The Internet's primary effect on how we think will only reveal itself when it affects the cultural milieu of thought, not just the behavior of individual users. The members of the Invisible College did not live to see the full flowering of the scientific method, and we will not live to see what use humanity makes of a medium for sharing that is cheap, instant, and global (both in the sense of 'comes from everyone' and 'goes everywhere.') We are, however, the people who are setting the earliest patterns for this medium. Our fate won't matter much, but the norms we set will.

Actually, I'm putting this up here as sort of a note to myself because I'm kind of interested in thinking about the implications of this and some of Shirky's other observations in the same essay. First, I started to text it to myself, then e-mail it instead, then I thought about making a Writer's Café journal note, then I thought this was a place I'd be likely to see it and hey, maybe some of you would find it interesting, too.

Feel free to comment on it, or not. Like I said, I'm kind of sticking it here where I'll see it through the week and not so much to make any particular observations about it myself. Sort of an online corkboard, kind of.


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