An open letter to Mr Mark Borris

>> Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Call Mr Mark Borris, If You Are Still Alive : +234-8024954272‏

From: MR MARK BORRIS (signsandstripes@bellnet.ca)
Sent: Sun 8/29/10 10:20 PM
To:

FROM THE DESK OF MR MARK BORRIS
INTERNATIONAL MONETARY FUND AGENCY
INTERNATIONAL OPERATION DEPT
GARIKI KAMOSO
ABUJA-NIGERIA.
Phone: +234-8024954272
markborris@administrativos.com

Hello Dear,

This is to inform you of your long overdue Payment outstanding with our Banking records. This is to inform you that your name came first from our Central Computer among the list of unpaid Inheritance claims individuals and have to update your information through this email contact for immediate confirmation. Your name appeared among the beneficiaries who will receive a part-payment of US$2,500,000 million (Two Million Five Hundred Thousand United State Dollars) and it has been approved already for payment months ago.

However, we received an email from one Mr. Morris Lint, who told us That you are dead and he is your next of kin and that you died in a car Accident four months back. To our findings we discover that this Morris Lint is a liar and imposer that is why we contact you before any release of funds can be paid to him. He has also submitted his Account information to the Accounting office department of our Bank for Immediate transfer of the fund to him as your inheritor.

Regarding our investigation from the Bank & the Nigerian Police Force (N.P.F) in conjunction with the Economic Financial Crime Commission (E.F.C.C) we are now verifying by contacting your email address as we have in our Bank records before we can Make the transfer into his account and for us to conclude with confirmation if you are dead or not.

Please, confirm response immediately through the e-mail as below with Proof, before our action release of the outstanding payment against your name listed out. Upon this, i request you send your full personal information as soon as possible to enable this department finalize The transfer of the fund release to your nominated foreign Bank Account.

This department needs the following information From you urgently to enable us verify with the Information we have in the Central computer of the Bank.

1. Full Names
2. Telephone
3. Contact Address.
4. Age..........
5. Occupation..........
6. Sex..........

CONFIDENTIALITY NOTICE: This E-Mail is intended only for the use of the individual or entity to which it is addressed and may contain information that is privileged, confidential and exempt from Disclosure under applicable law.

Once again, I apologize to you on behalf of International Monetary fund Agency towards this contact and proper confirmation required urgently from you if alive.

Make sure you reply back

Mr Mark Borris
International Monetary Fund Agency
Phone: +234-8024954272


My Darling,

I hope this greeting isn't too intimate. I feel I hardly know you, but since you addressed me as "Dear" I didn't really want to leave you feeling snubbed. So I shall call you "Darling" and you may continue to call me "Dear" or "Snookie-Wookums" or whatever is the fashion on Earth these days. I've heard from late arrivals that things are much more vulgar and immodest now, but I don't feel it's my place to criticize, so if this is how you folks do it, so be it.

I fear, Darling, that you are too hard on dear old Morris. First, as to the fact he is an imposer, I am afraid that this is only the result of being raised by gorillas in the Tanganyika Territory back when it was still owned by the Jerries. His father, you see, was the noted aeronaut Sir Thomas Lint, and you may recall that Sir Thomas always insisted on bringing his entire family along on his madcap adventures, including that final ill-fated attempt to cross the Dark Continent by dirigible; when the dirigible crashed, poor Morris' entire family was killed along with the servants, and the infant Morris himself surely would have been eaten by jackals had he not been found and immediately adopted by a gaggle of fierce-yet-noble gorillas who then raised Morris as one of their own until he turned eighteen. Anyway, Darling, while the gorillas did a surprisingly good job raising Morris and Morris did a lovely job of educating himself in most of the ways of Man once he found his father's traveling library amidst the airship's wreckage and Morris eventually attended Oxford and graduated top-honors, the one thing Morris never was able to understand was the idea of personal space. He offended many a hostess by jumping up on the table in the middle of a Bridge game and trying to remove (imaginary, I assure you) fleas from her coiffure, but it was never his intent in doing so to be an "imposer," it was merely good manners "back home" as it were.

As for Morris' honesty, I assure you it is impeccable and you surely have no cause for calling him a "liar." I think I know, however, how you came to this hasty and insulting conclusion. Morris has always had difficulty with the passage of time due to a head injury suffered in the air-crash that killed his family--he once showed up to a tennis game seven months late (needless to say, it had already been recorded as a forfeit). Further, I would imagine that he must be well over one hundred years old, Darling, and might be a touch senile. Hence, what surely must be an honest mistake in claiming that the automobile crash which tragically claimed my life was a mere four months ago, when it in fact happened in 1927. As for "next of kin" status: after The War, we frequently called each other "brother" and I did leave him the contents of my wine cellar along with a selection of books and the stuffed carcass of an ape I shot in Borneo that Morris always said reminded him of his uncle. At his age, at any rate, I can see it all blurring together a bit; also, I must state again, he did bump his head rather severely during his family's 2,833-foot plummet.

All of this brings us to the point of your missive, Darling, and a point of difficulty in your proposal. As noted in the previous paragraph, I am, in fact, quite dead and have been for eighty-three years. Now, as it happens, God has a bit of a poor opinion of people who shoot apes in Borneo (something I insist was not made clear in the Anglican Church I was raised in). Also, it seems God is not keen on a man who sleeps with his business partner's wife (when I objected to this, it was pointed out to me that there are, indeed, some Biblical passages which technically might be read as frowning on this) and dies drunkenly smashing his automobile into the side of a poorly-located orphanage while attempting to whisk said partner's wife home before his own wife returns from vacationing in the country and her husband returns from celebrating his mother's birthday at the London Zoo (I asked where any of this could be found in the Bible, and was not particularly satisfied with the passages that were pointed out to me, none of which seemed especially specific or on-point).

I did, however, contribute a fair amount to the Church Of England while I was alive, and in consideration of that generosity, God has agreed to let me muck around in Purgatory a bit rather than send me to Hell. (I was frankly surprised the place existed, but there you are.) It hasn't been made clear to me just how long I'll have to while away here, but I suppose anything is better than being set on fire and prodded by demons or whatever it is they do down there in that other place.

If being dead isn't actually an obstacle to receiving these funds, Darling, what I would ask you to do is donate the full sum to the Church in my name. I'm not certain it will give me any credit here, but I imagine it can't hurt any, and I'm awfully bored stuck where I am now. It's almost as grey as Limbo, which I hear is completely and absolutely totally grey. Or, perhaps, you could take the money and go about doing good deeds in my name--I'd ask you to shout out, as you're performing the act of kindness, that it is being done on my behalf and I would be there to do it myself if I wasn't dead. But with humility, please: I don't want it to seem self-aggrandizing. Perhaps you could shout, "Because he's very sorry!" in a generally God-ward direction or something like that.

If that's possible. If it isn't, I understand, and I would ask you to consider giving the money to Morris Lint after all, in the alternative. Because Morris really is like a brother to me, and he really does deserve any kindness that can be brought his way.

On that note, Darling, please also tell Morris when you contact him that Celeste didn't feel anything at all in the wreck. Unless he's still mad about the whole thing after all these decades, in which case she says you can tell him she suffered horribly. (I think that's very decent of her, all things considered, don't you?)


Sincerely,
R. Eric VanNewkirk
Standing On The Shoulders Of Giant Midgets




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Ten Reasons Zombies Are Better Than Teabaggers

>> Monday, August 30, 2010

(For Shawn and Jim.)



TEN REASONS ZOMBIES ARE BETTER THAN TEABAGGERS

  1. They don't treat me like my brain has already been eaten.

  2. Zombies treat everybody the same, regardless of race or creed.

  3. Inarticulate grunting is less irritating than incoherent string of "you betchas!," revisionist history and all the lies, lies, lies.

  4. Rotting tearducts mean fake crying for the cameras is impossible. If a zombie looks like he's crying, it's because his eyeball has caved in and the aqueous humor is running down his cheek, and it's completely sincere.

  5. Zombies are smart enough not to invest in Goldline.

  6. Dead economists do less damage than dead economic theories.

  7. A zombie wouldn't be caught dead toting a sign calling for Obama's "impeahment" or protesting "socilism."

  8. Zombies regurgitate partially-digested limbs and decomposing flesh, not the same old shit they saw on Fox the other day.

  9. I'd rather write an entire story about zombies having sex than imagine a fleshpile of wrinkled, dessicated, septuagenarian Objectivists. (Oh gods... that was just like the whole thing about telling someone not to imagine an elephant. My brain. My poor, poor brain. Bleach! I need bleach for my mind!)

  10. Zombie movies inevitably reveal that the real monsters are the living: the mindless mass of living dead merely wants full stomachs and the comfort of a familiar locale to stumble and groan in, while the human survivors are always unable to rise above their fear and bigotry, turning upon each other or recklessly endangering the community by acting selfishly and irrationally. In short, the human community isn't doomed by the mindless instincts of the throngs of undead, but by the weak and short-sighted acts of those with a teabagger mentality.






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Late to the party is better than never

I realize it's already been making the rounds of the Intertubes, but so what? Cee-Lo's "Fuck You" has the best awesomeness/minute ratio in years. They played it the other day on SiriusXMU, you bet your ass I cranked it.

Cee-Lo, "Fuck You" (didn't I say that already?):






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Charity begins at home

>> Sunday, August 29, 2010

My friend Janiece felt injury was added to insult when she found out that yesterday's Beckalapooza was structured so that donations to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation would cover Beck and Palin's speaker fees before the Foundation would see any money from the event. Hey, y'know, "Charity begins at home" and all that--gotta make sure Beck's number-one cause gets the financial support he it needs....

Inspired, I decided one of Beck's obnoxious little posters could use some tweaking. It's not great, but honestly, I got bored midway through trying to match the colors and ended up doing a pretty simple color sample remap instead of trying to posterize and repaint the whole thing... well, anyway, it's good enough for my purposes.

Janiece, this one's for you:







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"His dream is driving me insane..."

Yesterday, Mr. Beck had his little dream of... well... whatever the hell it is Glenn Beck dreams of. I think Jon Stewart recently suggested it was the kind of dream you have after four Hot Pockets before bed.

As an antidote, and by way of a quick Sunday post: Mr. Waters reminds us of what was perhaps dreamed by those murdered by war in the dark years between 1939 and 1945: "A place to stay, enough to eat; somewhere old heroes shuffle safely down the street." Somewhere you won't hear their "standard-issue, kicking in your door."

Pink Floyd, "The Gunner's Dream":






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"Ready To Start"

>> Saturday, August 28, 2010

I'll probably be picking up Arcade Fire's The Suburbs this weekend sometime--most likely by digital download. Every single song I've heard from it so far has kicked ass.

And the video for "Ready To Start" is fucking gorgeous--I really thought it might be Anton Corbijn, but the director is Charlie Lightening. Here:







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"Now excuse me, I have to go."

>> Friday, August 27, 2010

As mentioned earlier this week, animator Satoshi Kon passed away.

Makiko Itoh has posted a translation of Kon's last letter here, and if you're a fan of Kon it's absolutely worth reading. Hell, if you're unfamiliar with his work but want a sense of his character, it might be worth a look, too. I'm not necessarily sentimental about death, but it's a moving testament.

With my heart full of gratitude for everything good in the world, I'll put down my pen.

Now excuse me, I have to go.


I hope I can face my own demise, whenever it occurs, with the same simple dignity.




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Headzaplodin' Quote Of The Day

See, this is why bloggers have to sing the happy penguin song:


"The Reagan administration was for everything," [Reagan's first Secretary Of The Interior James G.] Watt says. "We wanted nuclear, we wanted solar, we wanted conservation, we wanted wind, we wanted coal. We were just doing everything we could to re-arm America, dig us out of a huge financial mess. That required energy at every level."

-quoted in Juliet Eilperin and Scott Higham,
"How the Minerals Management Service's
partnership with industry led to failure,"

Washington Post, August 24the, 2010


Hang on. I need to get a broom or ladder or something so I can get a piece of my scalp off the ceiling. One moment.

Okay, I'm back.

I guess this is another example of where I shouldn't be the least bit surprised. I mean, this is a guy who was indicted for perjury and subsequently convicted of a related misdemeanor count. Also, he thought the Beach Boys would unleash an epidemic of drugs-and-alcohol-fueled muggings on Washington if they were allowed to play the National Mall. So the guy has, shall we say, honesty issues and maybe a tenuous grasp on reality. Still, there's something breathtaking in the brazenness of historical revisionism. Andrew Leonard at Salon accuses Watt of lying; I'll give Watt the benefit of the doubt and say he might merely be suffering from some kind of dementia that has severed him from whatever loose grasp he might have had on reality at some earlier point in his life.

But whether Watt's a liar or is batshit crazy, I can't escape the sick feeling that this is one of those quotes that will take on a life of its own. I mean, look, we're already having to save reality from the ridiculous claim that Reagan destroyed the Soviet Union with a speech and (possibly) by embarking on a military spending spree that involved making misrepresentations to Congress and the American people and threatening an arms race (something that historically has been a triggering factor in wars), not to mention what it did to domestic spending on social programs (not that conservatives care about that to start with). Next thing you know, we're also going to have Grover Norquist or some other cranio-rectal jacktard claiming Reagan was the second coming of Teddy Roosevelt.

Part of what's so absurd about Watt's statement, of course, is that one of Reagan's most infamous acts in office was using a re-roofing of the White House as an opportunity, while the guys were up on top of the building anyway, to remove the solar panels that Jimmy Carter had installed up there to provide the White House with hot water. To quote David Biello in a Scientific American article that appeared online just three weeks ago:

By 1986, the Reagan administration had gutted the research and development budgets for renewable energy at the then-fledgling U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) and eliminated tax breaks for the deployment of wind turbines and solar technologies—recommitting the nation to reliance on cheap but polluting fossil fuels, often from foreign suppliers. "The Department of Energy has a multibillion-dollar budget, in excess of $10 billion," Reagan said during an election debate with Carter, justifying his opposition to the latter's energy policies. "It hasn't produced a quart of oil or a lump of coal or anything else in the line of energy."

And in 1986 the Reagan administration quietly dismantled the White House solar panel installation while resurfacing the roof. "Hey! That system is working. Why don't you keep it?" recalls mechanical engineer Fred Morse, now of Abengoa Solar, who helped install the original solar panels as director of the solar energy program during the Carter years and then watched as they were dismantled during his tenure in the same job under Reagan. "Hey! This whole [renewable] R&D program is working, why don't you keep it?"


That's Ronald Reagan being "for everything." The rest of the article is worth visiting at the link: the White House solar cells weren't even repurposed or at least sold off, they ended up in storage in a Federal warehouse "like the fictional one... in the first Indiana Jones movie, 'just bigger'" for five years, until a college, concerned the panels were just piled up somewhere, tracked them down and took possession for a $500 admin fee.

Again, nothing real surprising here: as Arthur Allen reminded us in a 2000 Mother Jones piece, we are talking about a President who pretty much launched his political career as a shill for General Electric, a company that virtually ignored non-nuclear alternative fuels until the collapse of Enron.

I'll admit that Reagan is one of my least favorite Presidents--his foreign policy frankly played a role in my conviction we were all going to die in a nuclear war before the end of the '80s, a conviction I'm happy to have been wrong about. I also frankly associate the man with families living out of their cars, a concerted effort to destroy organized labor (epitomized by firing the air traffic controllers when they went on strike), the support of criminal right-wing militias in the Third World, and presiding over an administration that reached nadirs of political corruption that looked untouchable until the Clinton Presidency. Speaking of which, it's somehow both amusing and terrifying that Reagan's claim he didn't remember anything about Iran-Contra was plausible; nobody believed Nixon didn't know what was going on in the White House because Nixon was smart and paranoid, but everybody kind of had Reagan pegged as being on the onset of senility well before his doctors publicly announced an Alzheimer's diagnosis. But, y'know, I'm also level-headed enough to give credit where it's due; I think I've said before, for instance, that Reagan deserves to be praised for his staunch advocacy for America's ratification of the Convention Against Torture. I'll also credit Reagan with having the courage of his convictions, however asinine most of them were. I profoundly dislike Reagan, have hated him at times, even, but it's not that so-called "derangement syndrome" that's become the popular dismissal of political disagreements about presidents these days; I'll do my best to objectively evaluate the bastard.

But the American right's effort to canonize him is just offensive, you know? Even if you want to argue that Reagan was a good president--and I just don't see a way I could get on board with that--you have to actively construct myths and lie outrageously to make him a saint. Saying, f'r'instance, the man was an environmentalist, that he was big on alternative power: I'm sorry, you can't have that. You're not stealing my fucking memory, if I have kids you're not teaching them that horseshit. I know damn well Oceania hasn't always been at war with Eastasia, so kiss my ass....

(Blogging, blogging. I'm a happy penguin, living my dream of blogging.)

Have a great Friday, kids.




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Happy little penguin, happy little penguin, deep breath, happy little penguin...

>> Thursday, August 26, 2010

I've often wondered if I should perhaps start offering up blogging tips to all of you out there who would possibly like to start blogging for yourselves or already blog and would like to improve your work. But where to begin? Where, where, where to begin?

Happily, Allison Kilkenny and Jamie Kilstein have provided this extraordinarily helpful film on how to be an effective political blogger:






Standing On The Shoulders Of Giant Midgets is not merely a political blog, covering pop culture and miscellaneous matters of interest to the proprietor, yours truly, in addition to what we veteran bloggers call the "political beat," but I can vouch for the fact that the writing techniques used by Ms. Kilkenny are also applicable to a number of other topics outside of politics and political culture. If, for instance, I wanted to review Katy Perry's new album or do a piece on Lucasfilm's announcement that the Special "Han Shot First And Here Are More Ewoks" Edition versions of the first Star Wars trilogy are coming to Blu-Ray, I would probably utilize several of the techniques so aptly demonstrated by Kilkenny. Similarly, I've made use of Kilkenny's research and writing strategy in approaching topics as varied as creation science and Dr. Laura Schlessinger. These techniques work, people, and you can make them work for you.

Remember, you're a happy little penguin. Happy little penguin.

Happy. Little. Penguin.

Following.

Your.

Dream.




(H/t Digby!)


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In memoriam: Satoshi Kon

>> Wednesday, August 25, 2010

When the news hit Twitter on Tuesday that Japanese animation director Satoshi Kon was dead at age 47 (I caught a post retweeted by SF legend William Gibson), I held off on saying anything because I really, really hoped it was just one of those crazy rumors. People die on the Internet all the time and it turns out, to paraphrase Mark Twain, that word of their deaths was greatly exaggerated. I regret to say, however, that Kon's death has been confirmed. (Properly, yes, his name should appear as Kon Satoshi, but he was always billed in the Western fashion over here.) Kon was one of my two favorite living animators alongside Nick Park, and it's terrible that we've lost him so soon.

As a writer, his primary field, he was very much in the vein of surrealists like Philip K. Dick; as a director of animation, on the other hand, he tended to go for what might be called a more realist style--while Japanese animation is somewhat infamous for presenting characters with an exaggeratedly Disneyfied Western look (the classic "big eyes, small mouth), Kon frequently tended to eschew this in favor of characters closer in appearance to real humans in photorealistic settings. It was a good combination, since the realism of the visual design clashed nicely with the more dreamlike plot elements; all of Kon's work, in varying degree, was concerned with reality versus fantasy and truth versus memory.

Kon's first film as a director, Perfect Blue is a Hitchcockian thriller about a singer-turned actress who may or may not be having psychotic breaks that would explain the increasingly bloody body count around her. What's most notable about the film aside from some really disturbing sex and violence (albeit nothing more than you'd get from an early Brian De Palma film), is that the movie exploits the ability of animators to do anything, seamlessly and to a degree challenging for a live-action director. Specifically--and I looked for a good clip on YouTube but was unlucky in my search--Blue features an utterly haunting hallucinatory sequence in which the protagonist's alter ego or hallucination dances from streetlamp to streetlamp. It's something you could do live, sure, but it would be expensive and it might not work.

After all, one of the things that animation does psychologically is to lower the viewer's resistance. You don't look for wires in an animated film, a talking animal looks completely natural. In films like Paprika and Millennium Actress Kon used this quality to bend viewers' brains in all sorts of wonderful ways; one might watch one of his films thinking that it would be a great live action-feature--until the utterly impossible happens with fluid ease on the screen and you don't even think about it that way until later.

Even Tokyo Godfathers, a movie that some have seen as a departure for Kon, has a freeflowing magic to it reminiscent of Jeunet or Gilliam. Which brings up something else, by the way: that although Kon's work takes full advantage of the special potential of animation, his movies compare far more readily to non-animated works than to Kon's apparent peers; Perfect Blue to De Palma, Tokyo Godfathers to Gilliam (in Fisher King mode), Millennium Actress to Jeunet, Paprika to Gilliam and Jeunet.

It is hard to find a good clip; Kon's work is best appreciated in full, and context matters. I'll leave you with a ten-minute segment from what is probably my favorite Kon work, Millennium Actress, a movie you should see even if you don't normally care for animated films in general or Japanese animation in particular. As much context as I can provide in brief for such a rich movie: a two-man television crew pays a visit on a reclusive elderly actress for one last interview and are treated to the full memories of her life--except memory, of course, is fluid and an audience alters a tale by hearing it as much as a storyteller shapes it in the telling. Not only do we find the interviewer and cameraman oddly present during the events of the actress' life, but interacting with it... and how much of it is her life and how much of the shared experience is drawn from her rich and varied film career? Actress is less biography than dream, a dream meditation on age, memory, art and love. It's a damn treat, is what it is, and this clip barely offers a taste.

Thank you, Mr. Kon, thank you.






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An open letter to Mr. Kelly, Dr. Gregg Matthew, and the Royal Schace Courier Service

>> Tuesday, August 24, 2010

YOUR TRUNK BOX‏

From: Malvin Kelly (malvinkellyjr@yahoo.com)
Sent: Tue 8/24/10 4:41 AM
To:


Customers Service Hours
Monday to Saturday
Office Hours Monday to Saturday:

Greetings!!!

I have been waiting for you to contact me for your Trunk Box worth 1,650,000.00 (One Million, Six Hundred and Fifty Thousand United States Dollars), being compensation fund for 150 scam victims, but I did not hear from you all this while. I have deposited the Trunk Box with royal shace courier service, West Africa, You will have to cantact Dr Gregg Matthew on his email address with your full shipment details and your full name also with your telephone number and note that you only have to pay the delivery fee of $170 and your trunk box will get to you within 48 hours. His email address is drgregg98@live.com Tel. number +2348067900087

Regards

Mr. Malvin Kelly


Dear Mr. Kelly, Dr. Gregg Matthew, Royal Schace Courier Service:

I can't say whether I'm grateful that you found my trunk box or whether I am sorry that this happened in my lifetime. I fear, too, that this reply will come to your eyes too late. I hope, I pray--no, I don't pray. Prayer might attract the roving eyes of the mad gods lurking just outside our sphere of awareness, just beyond the dimensions we self-congratulatory hairless apes flatter our limited senses by calling "space" and "time," mere words that cannot convey the incomprehensibility all that exists, of all that we are so mercifully oblivious to. I hope, as I started to say, that the locks on my trunk box remain fused, the tumblers melted and the keyholes themselves still soldered shut.

Do not attempt to open the box. And if it has already been opened... it it has already been opened, this letter goes into the world in vain, for there is nothing for you but my hope that your death was a brief experience for you.

The less you know, the better. For a start, let me be explicit: there is no money in the box, only pain and madness, eternities of torment and inconceivable tortures. I realize that some unscrupulous or ignorant fool may have said the box contains 1.6 million dollars. That figure comes from a joke made by Dr. Henrik Esperanza, my onetime friend and mentor, referring to the funding he received, some of it from a benefactor who will not be named and the balance from the Department Of Quantum Metaphysics of the Miskatonic University in ancient, eldritch Arkham on the banks of the Miskatonic River that runs sluggishly from those evil, lurking hills to empty into the sea beside haunted Kingsport. I was in the room with Esperanza, damned though he didn't know it, and poor, doomed Feldmann when Esperanza made the ill-advised joke. "This trunk," he said to us as he patted the top, "contains 1.6 million dollars." We knew what he meant.

Dr. Esperanza, you may recall, was one of the leading physicists in the country until his supposed retirement and sudden absence from the field. His seminal paper, "An Alternative Explanation For Certain Observed Variances From Expected Values Derived From Einsteinian Relativity" turned the scientific world on its head, but it was Esperanza's notorious article with the innocuous title "Wave-Function Collapse And Entanglement In The Non-Quantum Environment" that led to Esperanza losing a prestigious position at Berkley and near-exile to a small private college in the Massachusetts wilderness. It was not so much the "radical" nature of Esperanza's mathematics, which really did little more than add some interesting hypothetical restraints to a Riemannian manifold in order to demonstrate how gravity might be thought of less as a force and more of a manifestation of the universe as a non-Euclidean space--a variation on Einstein's work, really; what was shocking and unprecedented was Esperanza's lengthy "Section XVII," almost as long as the rest of the article together, which left the domains of theoretical physics and advanced math to suggest explanations for such mysteries as the disappearance of the Roanoke Colony and Amelia Earhart and the appearance of individuals like Kaspar Hauser.

This might have been treated as mere fancy, had Esperanza not concluded Section XVII's weird speculations with a mathematical proof of the existence of God.

Or gods, more accurately, and not of the relatively benign variety human ants worship on Sundays and certain holidays. Esperanza's proof, if you followed it to its logical conclusion, dictated the necessity of creative intelligences of unfathomable malignancy and hostility, beings whose nigh-incomprehensible motivations might be described as a passive-aggressive, hateful lusts, the desire to make something so that it might suffer; imagine, if you will, some scientist cloning a fly just to pull its legs off and you might have some idea.

These are oversimplifications, but such is all I can offer. Esperanza's work didn't give his creative cosmic forces a choice in the matter: by existing at all, they had to unwillingly create the universe in a sort of "observer effect," and conversely the universe itself required them to exist as creators. In Esperanza's tortured version of space and time, dimensions and extra-dimensional beings had to exist together at once, forever, or neither of them could, and "neither" was not only impossible by observation (we are here, after all), but Esperanza mathematically proved it with A3fxc23≠Q, a proposition Stephen Hawking attempted to disprove without success until Esperanza's article was withdrawn and banned.

Esperanza did not take his exile lightly.

Indeed, he had become crazier or more profound, depending on who you asked. Those of us who admired him thought he had grown wiser; he certainly looked wiser, or at least as one might expect a guru to look: his hair had turned grey and grown out, and he had cultivated a rather outré beard that dropped almost to his waist. Those who disregarded and disrespected his work suggested he belonged in a mental hospital or prison.

Esperanza's last project, the 1.6 million dollar project, was simple enough to describe. As non-dimensional entities beyond space and time, Esperanza's gods were infinite in size--that is, they were all sizes. Bigger than the universe, smaller that the quanta whose existence Esperanza was attempting to disprove.

Small enough and large enough, in other words, to fit into a box like the one you may have in your possession.

We stood in Esperanza's study when he made the joke about the money. Feldmann snapped that this was all very amusing, but why were we here. Esperanza smiled a knowing smile. "You are here to see what I plan to unveil before the world next week." He patted the heavy metal storage box, which stood up on one of its short ends so that the lid was facing us.

I said yes, but wouldn't he tell us what that was. And Esperanza said, "God. Well. One of them."

I think our laughter took him aback. Esperanza turned a furious crimson but after a moment joined in himself, and it was his slightly-crazed laughter that silenced us. I thought for a moment that, as much as I revered the man, wasn't it possible his critics were right about his mental state?

"Watch," said Esperanza, and he bent and pulled from beneath his spaghetti-sauce-flecked Hawaiian shirt a key on a chain looped around his neck and unlocked the first lock on the trunk box.

Then, the next.

It was when Esperanza put the key into the third keyhole that Feldmann abruptly said, "Is this safe?" Esperanza smiled and turned the key....

The box was empty.

I don't know what we expected to see. I may tell you that there was something of the professional magician in Esperanza's mad eyes. I'd thought of them as "passionate" before that day, thought of them as burning with a search for truth, but now I saw they were merely the sad, tired eyes of a lunatic. We would take Esperanza away, I thought, Feldmann and I, to some place where he could rest and take his mind off mathematics and such.

Esperanza looked at Feldmann and at me, then he turned and looked in the box. He'd stood aside triumphantly when he flung it open, a magnificent stage gesture, and now he seemed perplexed at our lack of awe, or of any real reaction other than pity, really. Esperanza came around and looked in the box and cursed. "It was just in here!" he shouted. I wasn't sure if he was shouting at us, or himself, or the empty box. Esperanza dropped to his knees and crawled partly inside it--it was, I would say, four feet by two feet by two, as you know if you indeed have it, roughly the size of a steamer trunk or chest. He patted the sides of the box and thumped the bottom with the palms of his hands. "It was in here!" he shouted again. "The seals and magnetic charms and the modified curvature of time--it has no way out!" he shouted. The sight was increasingly pathetic and my heart broke to watch my onetime hero's crazed despair at the dispelling of his treasured delusion. Esperanza spun around so he was sitting inside the empty box, looking right at us. "I tell you, gentlemen, it was in--"

And then the god smote Dr. Henrik Esperanza.

I don't know how else to describe what I saw happen inside the box. Esperanza was dismantled in space and in time, his atoms flung apart into tiny pieces while his history and future were picked over and discarded. The air turned cerulean around him, something like the Cherenkov radiation effect you see in a submerged nuclear reactor when a particle moves faster than the speed of light in the submerging medium, except the medium was reality itself and the particles were not merely quanta of matter or energy but quanta of time itself, all time, past, future--present, you could see discrete bits of the moment we were in being flung aside as Esperanza's entire existence was shredded. The glorious, hideous luminosity was perhaps not so much a physical manifestation as a psychic observance.

Esperanza finished his sentence and he never finished it. He'd been saying "it was in here" and he kept saying it to infinity, the last word stuttering like a digital file skipping.

I was paralyzed, I am ashamed to say. I could do nothing but stare and, I think, scream--my throat was sore and ragged for weeks after. Feldmann, though, poor, doomed, damned Feldmann, charged forward--I don't know if he meant to close the box over what was left of Esperanza or if he meant to pull Esperanza out of it, but he came close enough that the god was able to reach past whatever held it within the confines of the box and I saw it drag Feldmann in. I think he died more quickly than Esperanza, if either one of them are dead; I think his time and space were spaghettified like matter falling into a black hole, and surely the process killed him before the god had a full hold on him.

I pray--I hope he died quickly, anyway.

I fell to the floor and when I came to I was alone but for the box and its contents, and the trunk appeared empty. Appeared, but I knew the god was in there, waiting and watching as it watches all things, always. I crawled around to the backside, hoping that whatever process Esperanza used to confine the thing would hold, and I pushed the box over so it collapsed shut, closed lid on the floor. Then I went to Esperanza's garage and found the tools I needed to forever physically seal the box.

I took steps to hide it, and thought it was well hidden. But now and again I would hear of the damn thing's re-emergence somewhere in our awful, cursed world. I think that in the process of closing it and shutting it I must have damaged Esperanza's work and now the god seeps out a little; the box, anyway, no longer obeys our crude understanding of the rules of the game. Or misunderstanding. Of all of the miserable things in the universe, Esperanza probably came closer than anybody to understanding what the rules really are, and now he is dead and immortal, Prometheus chained to a metal chest to have his heart ripped out forever. And ever. And ever. And ever.....

I will not be coming to collect my trunk box, thank you.



Sincerely,
R. Eric VanNewkirk
Standing On The Shoulders Of Giant Midgets



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Blind hog with a truffle quote of the day

>> Monday, August 23, 2010

The debate should have provided the conservative defenders of property rights with a perfect example of how the right to own property also protects the 1st Amendment rights of assembly and religion by supporting the building of the mosque.

...

It is repeatedly said that 64% of the people, after listening to the political demagogues, don't want the mosque to be built. What would we do if 75% of the people insist that no more Catholic churches be built in New York City? The point being is that majorities can become oppressors of minority rights as well as individual dictators. Statistics of support is irrelevant when it comes to the purpose of government in a free society—protecting liberty.



Well, crap. Whatever I might have said about Rand Paul being a crazy chip off the old man's nut block, maybe I owe his wingnut papa some sort of apology. At the very least, I'm feeling a sort of grudging respect right now for the elder Paul's stubborn consistency. I mean, consistency shouldn't always be admired--I've long agreed with Emerson that a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds--and I don't find a whole lot worthwhile in Ron Paul's libertarian ethos in general. Still,a blind hog finds a truffle now and again, as the aphorism goes, and I'll give Old Ron due credit on this one.

Paul does take a shot at libs in the full piece (at the link above, and it is worth a read--there are several choice quotes in it, actually):

Conservatives are once again, unfortunately, failing to defend private property rights, a policy we claim to cherish. In addition conservatives missed a chance to challenge the hypocrisy of the left which now claims they defend property rights of Muslims, yet rarely if ever, the property rights of American private businesses.


Let me take the moment to respond that I don't think okay-with-the-Islamic-center libs are staking out an inconsistent position. I remain completely in favor of the proposition that society may regulate the use of property in an impartial and nondiscriminatory manner: if Park51 or Cordoba Center or whatever it's being called this week intended to use the former Burlington Coat Factory property two blocks from Ground Zero in a manner inconsistent with zoning restrictions, there would certainly be fair cause for concern until or unless a variance was properly granted. But legitimate zoning regulations take into account things like public safety and environmental concerns (actually, that's redundant in my view, but you get the idea) or, perhaps, urban planning, not that somebody's feelings might get hurt.

In other words, I don't agree with Ron Paul's extreme laissez-faire libertarianism that says that there can be no valid restrictions on private property usage. An oil refinery next to a school or a toxic waste dump in a housing development both seem like rather bad ideas, and I don't have a problem with a township worrying about whether local streets are up to the task of supporting a five-story mega-mall and restricting use of the property to something more modest and sensible even if the owner of a parcel of land has tenants lined up around the block to launch storefronts on opening day. But within those parameters, whatever the hell the owner wants, you know? If the parcel is zoned for toxic waste dump or mega-mall (actually, that's redundant in my view, but you get the idea), there you are, dump or mall away.

Anyway, what does it say about the protesters and demagogues like Palin and Gingrich that they have fringe right-wingers like Ron Paul and mixed-market socialists like myself agreeing about anything? One might expect that question to haunt their minds if they had any.



(H/t Salon.)







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"And let me just add, that Olsen kid should be especially grateful...'Pal'."

>> Sunday, August 22, 2010




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"The sun machine is coming down and we're gonna have a party..."

Kashmir covers Bowie's "Memory Of A Free Festival":








So how's your Sunday goin'?




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"Nobody loves me, it's true... not like you do...."

>> Saturday, August 21, 2010

Y'know, if MGM ever gets solvent enough to actually make that sequel to Quantum Of Solace, who do we lobby to get them to give the theme song to Portishead this time around? I mean, you wanna talk about mixing the old-school sultry sexiness of the Connery era with a PoMo pop-cultural vibe--exactly what the Daniel Craig Bond films seem to have gone for (especially in Casino Royale), nobody, as another Bond songstress once crooned, does it better.

From 1994's Dummy, "Sour Times":






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A Problem For Plotters (part two)

>> Friday, August 20, 2010

A while back (gosh, I guess it must be two years now), a friend was working on a zombie short and I was one of the people he spoke to during the early phases. I don't think he actually used any of my ideas, which is how it goes sometimes, but there was one idea I had that I knew he couldn't use but that I kept for my own: a zombie western (yes, I know it's been done--I don't care). This was my 2008 NaNoWriMo project, which I didn't finish but ended up with 50k words towards that year; since then it's been restarted, shelved, plotted, revised, sent to Limbo, rescued from Purgatory, researched, reinvented, jerked around, diligently worked on, deleted, backed-up--everything that you can do to a piece of writing, really, other than finish it.

Murrow's story--Murrow being my tale's protagonist, see--has gone back onto an imaginary shelf while I focus on short stories, in part because it has two problems, a major one that might be worked around and a small one that might be fatal.

Yes, I know, that doesn't sound right. But that's where it is.

The major problem isn't really relevant here, but I'll tell you what it is because I brought it up. In choosing a setting, I thought it would be interesting to set the story during the American Civil War. And this turns out to be a slightly bad idea.

Here's a digression that sort of illustrates why: Dan Simmons wrote a decent horror novel a few years ago called The Terror, a tight, page-turning read that offers a supernatural explanation for the disappearance of Sir John Franklin's ill-fated expedition to find the Northwest Passage. It's a fairly good book, but it has one really ironic and awful flaw: the supernatural bogeyman Simmons has plaguing Franklin and his men is actually a lot less awful than what almost certainly really happened to the expedition. That is, having your head ripped off by an unseen monster turns out to be a little less terrible than having your body literally disintegrate from malnutrition because you can't get the Vitamin C your body needs to maintain and repair its connective tissues. For that matter, all the other horrible things that can happen to a person stuck in the Arctic with insufficient supplies are all worse than anything I--or Simmons, as it turns out--can imagine. In the real world, the damned, doomed men accompanying Sir John faced the likely prospect of freezing to death or dying of malnutrition assuming they didn't fall into the water and get trapped beneath the ice and drown or get crushed when ice compromised their ship's hull or get shot or stabbed by a fellow crewmember driven crazy by the relentless environment--being ripped into pieces by a ginormous whatsit was the least of their worries, maybe would've even been a peculiar mercy.

So I'm facing the same problem if I keep my story set in the Civil War, right? Because as I do my research reading it's hard not to notice that battlefields full of dead and dying men were horrifying enough without the living dead getting up and doing whatever terrible things I can think of. I keep running into the prospect that I could, if I were inclined (and someday I might be), write a really horrifying Civil War story with no supernatural elements at all.

This is a major problem, but easily fixable: add twenty years to the date and it goes away without changing too much of anything else. Okay, I'd have to revise the way the story begins, but I don't think it would suffer if I tightened things up.

My minor problem is what has probably killed A Song Of Ice And Fire.

Let's back up a minute. Someone, somewhere, defined plot as a character's changes over time. This is a limited definition and I'm sure someone can find an exception or challenging case, but it does point you to some crucial things, particularly the fact that a plot is more than just a bunch of stuff that happens. Let's just say, rather, that if you're going to try to write a story where lots of stuff happens but none of it changes anybody or anything, you'd better be fast and smooth about it, else you risk your reader sitting there on the last page, wondering why he bothered or why he can't put his finger on just how meh his reading experience has been.

Now, to be fair, Martin's characters in ASOIAF change--a lot of them grow, some diminish, and every one of them turns out to be more complicated and multilayered than one might have suspected. This is one of the series' strengths, really, even when things seem to be bogged down with a character nobody wants to spend any time with (looking at you, Cersei Lannister).

But, as Hilliard points out, this is undercut by the fact that Martin's characters aren't really going anywhere. They may be growing, but there's not actually any point to that, there's not a sense that they're growing into something or that the changes should be especially affecting to the reader.

On one level, this creates a wonderful sense of realism. In real life, lots of things happen and people change and none of it amounts to very much--even the things that are a big deal at the time and affect lots of people get shuffled into the past somewhere and everything moves along. But it's problematic as fiction. At some point in a story, the reader has to feel that sense that there's been a reason for going through all this, that it has mattered in some sense, even if it's only the sense of, "Well, this was a lot of fun and killed an afternoon."

In that Civil War zombie western that's plagued me, I can tell you how the story begins (assuming I keep the Civil War setting), and where Murrow goes when he doesn't find his son and everything that's ever died begins rising en masse, and how he tries to get back to his family and what he does next. And I can tell you what happens to Murrow's future antagonist, Walker, in Nova Scotia and then in Wilmington, North Carolina. And how Murrow and Walker meet in Charleston, (West) Virginia and what happens there. And their travels westward and final confrontation in New Mexico. And I can tell you all sorts of things about Murrow's awful horse, Powder, who in some ways is the most important thing in the whole damn story. I've had all these things swirling around my fucking brain for two years and bits and pieces have frequently been committed to and de-committed from paper. I can tell you that some of those bits might even be kind of good.

But I can't tell you why you should care.

See, I have what could be GRRM's problem, albeit a different strain because he apparently just writes things down without much planning and I actually have this zombie apocalypse fairly-well-drawn in my head. But what he and I have in common is that there are a whole lot of events, and things happen, and then other things happen, and then more things happen--but that's not actually a story, it's just a lot of things that happened in some sort of sequence.

In Martin's case, his problem is that he apparently never planned anything and probably got sidetracked from his original plot and sucked into his backstory (I agree with Hilliard's assessment on this score, and think it's kind of supported by some of the points made in this blog post by Shawn Speakman. In my case, the problem's a little different in that Murrow was originally conceived of as a kind of cipher-esque Clint Eastwood "Man With No Name" type (remember, he was originally imagined as a movie character), and I'm starting to think he can't pull the weight of a long story written like that.

I have to gloat, somewhat perversely: I have the advantage of Murrow's continued residence in my brain--I haven't strung out an audience of readers millions of words into a possibly-unfinishable epic. If I decide to permanently shelve Murrow and Walker and Powder and the rest and I am the only person who'll ever really give a shit. Indeed, Murrow's going back on the shelf for a bit, probably not for good... but maybe.

Martin, on the other hand, has written himself into a terrible corner. (I think--I mean, I don't actually know the guy or anything and this is just guesswork.) Or, really, not so much a corner as out onto a limb suspended in infinite space without even the benefit of a gravity well to helplessly plummet into. He's stuck, the poor bastard, and I'll be shocked if he gets unstuck.

I hope you bore with me or forgive me if I lost you. This was a useful series for me in terms of putting together some of my thoughts on plot and Murrow, etc.--indeed, I was going to write some of this in a journal entry instead of out here. I hope it was also interesting to those of you who also write and to all of you who, I know, love to read. If it was all too wordy or rambling, we have a Portishead video on the menu tomorrow, looks like. Thanks.





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A Problem For Plotters (part one)

>> Thursday, August 19, 2010

So what prompted yesterday's digression on George R.R. Martin and his unfinished (unfinishable?) epic fantasy, A Song Of Ice And Fire (ASOIAF)?

Over at Yet There Are Statues, Matt Hilliard has posted a fairly masterful review of ASOIAF-thus-far; normally Hilliard waits for a series to be finished, but HBO's impending miniseries adaptation and the strong possibility the series may not get closed out prompted Hilliard to break his usual rules. His take? Mixed.

Some of the problems Hilliard has with the series are, he concedes, not GRRM's fault. That the rose has lost its bloom over time, for instance, or that things that seemed a bit innovative and clever have been superseded by people inspired by and building on Martin's work, for instance, isn't much Martin's fault. (It's also frankly hard to say it's a valid criticism, a point which Hilliard himself might concede: Kurosawa doesn't lose points just because subsequent directors copied his visual style to lesser and occasionally even greater effect--you judge a work by its own merits and the context of its time as much as anything.)

But most of Hilliard's critique is perceptive and a little devastating. In particular, he notes that A Song Of Ice And Fire doesn't actually have a plot.

I think most of the series' fans would point at the plot as being its strength. I can see why they might like it, but I'm going to call it a disaster. Oh, it's not an unmitigated failure, but a tragic one, for there's a good story somewhere in all this quicksand trying to claw its way out. It pulls the reader in, keeps them going through the four massive books that have been published so far, and amounts to nothing. To understand this, think about just what it is this series is about.

You see, in the prologue of A Game of Thrones, some throwaway characters venture past a great wall to patrol the wilderness of the far north. For millennia, we learn, the Night's Watch has manned this wall against evil, but for long centuries this threat has been dormant, the people shielded by the wall have become decadent, and the Watch is now too weak to reliably stand against bandits, much less a terrifying supernatural evil. But now there are signs that evil might be stirring! Kill the throwaways and bam, cut to chapter one. I think it's safe to call this an extremely conventional way to begin a fantasy novel.... [T]housands of fantasy books have begun this way, and I have read dozens of them, as have most of Martin’s audience. But I don’t think any of those books took Martin's approach to developing this story in the rest of the first book: never mention it again in any way.


Hilliard goes on to note that this results in a major misunderstanding on the part of GRRM's fans and detractors alike: Martin has a reputation for killing off major characters in ASOIAF, but all of these characters, in retrospect, were cannon fodder all along--the bulk of the first book, A Game Of Thrones, might appear to be about Eddard Stark, but it's increasingly clear later on that poor Eddard was never the point of anything at all, that his part of the story was merely to set up the real meat-and-potatoes of the whole thing, wherever that is.

Hilliard doesn't point to Frank Herbert's Dune by way of contrast, but he easily could since Eddard Stark is, in fact, ASOIAF's Duke Leto Atreides. The difference is that Herbert didn't write a whole novel about Leto and even goes so far as having characters discussing just how dead he's about to be well before the character himself is pulled onstage. Martin tries a similar trick--and that's why I'm not bothering to label any spoilers here, because there aren't any: early in A Game Of Thrones, Eddard and a hunting party encounter a dire omen--a dead or dying wolf (the Starks' heraldic insignia, natch) that has just given birth to a litter of pups whose number corresponds (what a coincidence!) to the number of Eddard's children. The overt symbolism continues to crop up again and again as the fates of the wolf pups parallels the fates of the children as House Stark disintegrates; indeed, the only reason there's any suspense, quite frankly, is the sheer length of unfolding events throws the reader off the trail--"After that dead wolf, I thought Eddard was doomed, but he's not dead yet so I must be wrong...."

Martin also suffers a catastrophic loss of momentum. Hilliard writes:

What was immediately noticeable to readers of the first book in 1996 was the way they had no idea what was coming next. Why should they? Long experience has taught us how plots work in almost all fiction, but here was a book that was resolute in ignoring these conventions. To be sure, the immediate result is a fairly refreshing feeling of suspense. But these narrative conventions exist for a reason. Although A Feast for Crows has other shortcomings, I think one of the biggest reasons it wasn't as well received as the first three books was that without a sense of where the narrative is going, the reader doesn’t feel any momentum. Since there's no plotline developing and advancing towards a climax, the reader realizes there’s no reason why the intrigue surrounding the throne of Westeros can’t go on indefinitely. And if the plot goes on indefinitely, then the individual events are completely deprived of meaning. In particular, one realizes that the characters can’t win any victory that won’t just be undone by further events two hundred pages later, so why bother rooting for them at all?


Now, I found this interesting for two reasons, actually. The first was that I think Hilliard nails a lot of things in his review, and this was one of them. But it also goes to a problem I've had with one of my own personal shuffled-around projects.

But we can talk about that tomorrow....




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Dumbass quote of the day

>> Wednesday, August 18, 2010

So Dr. Laura Schlessinger told CNN's Larry King Tuesday night that she's giving up her radio show, after being criticized for an on-air flameout in which she abused a black caller and used the word "nigger" 11 times. "I want to regain my First Amendment rights," she told King. "I want to be able to say what’s on my mind and in my heart and what I think is helpful and useful without somebody getting angry, some special interest group deciding this is the time to silence a voice of dissent and attack affiliates, attack sponsors. I’m sort of done with that."

-Joan Walsh, "Dr. Laura's pity party",
Salon, August 18th, 2010


Hrm. Hang on a sec....


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.



Hrm. Odd. I'm missing something here.


"I want to regain my First Amendment rights," [Schlessinger] told King. "I want to be able to say what’s on my mind and in my heart and what I think is helpful and useful without somebody getting angry, some special interest group deciding this is the time to silence a voice of dissent and attack affiliates, attack sponsors. I’m sort of done with that."

-Joan Walsh, "Dr. Laura's pity party",
Salon, August 18th, 2010


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.



Ehh... what the hell? Dammit....


"I want to be able to say what’s on my mind and in my heart and what I think is helpful and useful without somebody getting angry, some special interest group deciding this is the time to silence a voice of dissent and attack affiliates, attack sponsors. I’m sort of done with that."

-Laura Schlessinger, quoted in Joan Walsh, "Dr. Laura's pity party",
Salon, August 18th, 2010


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.



WAIT! I'VE GOT IT! YES!


Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or No private individual or organization shall abridginge the inalienable right to foam off at the mouth without consequences the freedom of speech by getting pissed off when some stupid git on the radio or television acts like an ignorant, insensitive bitch, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.


Fixed!

What the hell do you mean I need ratification by three-fourths of the states? Where'd you get that from?


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A Recollection For Readers

Here's how long I've loved George R.R. Martin's work: back in the 1980s, as a teenager, I had a treasured subscription to Analog, and I think it was the very first issue I received that had part two of a novella called "The Plague Star" by one Mr. Martin, concerning a cat-loving, morbidly obese interstellar trader named Haviland Tuf; a miscreant group of tomb-raiders who'd commissioned Tuf's freighter, and an enormously lethal mobile bioweapons factory parked in a long cometary orbit for generations since the last awful war.

It was fucking awesome. And while Analog's monthly contents, as with most anthology mags and pulps-in-particular, varied wildly, the periodic re-appearances of an increasingly-power-corrupted Tuf and his cats were treasures to be devoured until my subscription ended for whatever reason--it's possible I chose a subscription to the glossier, late and lamented Omni over Analog. (As much as I love pulps, the fact they sometimes are falling apart by the time they're in your mailbox is right there in the name, isn't it; Omni, with its slick glossy color pages seemed like the present/future and Analog, with its stinky newsprint seemed like a relic of the '30s, and yet Omni is gone and Analog remains proud and unbowed. Also--and I know this is a major digression, forgive me--the late '80s were when I was gravitating from SF towards Horror; one of Omni's virtues or flaws, depending on your point of view, was its willingness to engage wacky, fringe stuff--they even had a regular section, "Antimatter," dealing with things like ESP and cryptozoology: stuff that may have been horseshit but is still fun to think about.)

These were also the years Martin was a really noticeable presence on TV. In particular, he played a major part in the '80s Twilight Zone revival, especially during the show's golden first season.

Through college and law school, though, I didn't read a lot of GRRM. Then, I guess it must have been last decade, I came back to GRRM with A Song Of Ice And Fire. I was just getting into e-books at the time, and eReader.com had the first three books available in a bundle. An epic fantasy trilogy by an author I loved as a kid? Where do I click to download?

And they were great, or they seemed that way at the time.

The thing was, and nobody knew this at the time, disaster loomed near. At the time, every single plot twist, every new development, every coming cliffhanger had you at the edge of your seat, finger on the directional key or, if you were using a more traditional format, a finger on the corner of the page. These were the sorts of page-turners that had you warily eying the remaining pages in the volume, wondering how-or-if the latest stomach-lurching reversal would be resolved in the tome you held, would your favorite character of the moment last through the remaining 100, 50, 10 pages or suffer an abrupt-yet-completely-logical fate?

The third book ended on a cliffhanger, and everybody waited with bated breath for the fourth volume--the series had expanded from a trilogy to sextology (stop yer snickering). And then the fourth book came out--

Was it good news or bad news that the fourth book came with the announcement that it had really been broken into two parts and the series was now a septology? Martin promised that book five was coming soon--a preview chapter was included in book four along with an apologetic afterword. It was hard not to be disappointed in A Feast For Crows for all sorts of reasons, but the other half, A Dance With Dragons, was coming soon. In a year, maybe two.

This was five years ago. I don't know if anybody reasonably expects Martin to finish the series anymore. A Dance With Dragons has likely become a new generation's The Last Dangerous Visions, a book whose claim to fame will be that it was unfinished and unpublished, a stone around the author's neck and cause for anger and ire. (At least, in Martin's case, the only writer injured will be himself--part of the controversy swirling around Harlan Ellison over LDV are allegations that holds were placed on stories that in turn became unpublishable, freezing the original authors' rights... or, as time went on, the rights of their estates. In at least one case, there's an allegation that one LDV contributor's widow could have used the money and/or consolation from being able to include an unreturned LDV story in a complete anthology of her late husband's work.)

I suppose this requires me to say something about the anger of some fans towards Martin at this point. Various writers, including f'r'instance the glorious Neil Gaiman, have risen to Martin's defense--something that shouldn't have been required in the first place, since Martin's defenders are absolutely correct that GRRM doesn't owe anybody except his publisher anything. Fan anger and demands for a book or claims that GRRM shouldn't be working on various other projects is asinine. On the other hand, it also has to be said that some of Martin's defenders miss an equally vital point: Martin's readers, or perhaps former readers, don't owe Martin (nor his publisher) anything, either. If fan anger towards GRRM is undeserved, it also has to be said that if A Dance With Dragons is ever published and fails to sell as many copies as might otherwise be expected, GRRM should be unsurprised. (For myself: I'm not mad at Martin, but I'm also not enthused anymore. I suppose if he gets something on the shelf I might buy it eventually and read it, but, whatever, I have other things to do in the meantime, sorry, plus I don't even remember half of what happened last go-around and don't have the time to re-read the first four volumes. Maybe if/when all seven books are out, I'll buy and read the last three in a swell foop.)

But to tell you the truth, what brought all of this up was something else, and this wasn't exactly what I wanted to write about. But it's enough for today. I didn't want to write a piece about Martin so much as I wanted to write a piece about an interesting review of Martin, and some personal thoughts on writing. Ironically (considering the subject), I went off on a tangent that became the piece, or threatened to.

We'll get to the actual point tomorrow. Promise.




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"But I'll buy no more whiskey, I have to go home"

>> Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Okay, so a lot of video posts going up lately. What can I say, I've been a little busy and a lot of my writing efforts have been going towards, you know, writing. And also, honestly, politics is depressing me these days.

Anyway, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, 1996; "Brother My Cup Is Empty":






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Somebody is missing a head

>> Monday, August 16, 2010

Ben Dickinson's "Floating Head," a movie about... well... I mean, come on, like you can't read the title. The short is called "Floating Head." What do'ya think it's going to be about? Also, y'know, there's the still image that pops up in the player below, which, kind of, maybe confirms that it's a short about--what else?--a floating head.

And it's great.




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Sunday cynicism

>> Sunday, August 15, 2010

Over at Deus Ex Malcontent, Chez has a post featuring a video clip of U.S. Representative Louie Gohmert of Texas, going batshit crazy on Anderson Cooper's show. It's a sight to behold, much like a catastrophic plane crash or a mudslide destroying a village.

I used to think about how we would look in a hundred years, thanks to people like Gohmert. I used to imagine that a century hence, people would look back on this era and shake their heads in wonderment at the ridiculous spectacle we make of ourselves. Paranoia, ignorance, insanity.

But, increasingly, I worry that they won't shake their heads.

I don't mean that there's anything to Gohmert's nutball rantings and ravings. I mean that it's not clear to me that Americans, at least, are getting any smarter.

I mean, put it this way: in less than a generation, I've seen the biggest question about Ronald Reagan change from "Was Reagan telling the truth when he claimed he couldn't remember being briefed about a criminal enterprise involving the sale of weapons to a hostile power?" to "Which forms of currency should be emblazoned with the fine features of this great American patriot?" We've gone from wondering if Reagan whether Reagan was a crook or just senile in office (I have to say--"crook" actually seems the less frightening of those possibilities) to arguing over the naming of airports. Along the way, idiotic revisionisms like the contention that Reagan single-handedly ended the Cold War with a speech have seemingly been embraced as a sort of common knowledge (not that the Soviet Union was already flailing around in a slow, decades-long economic collapse exacerbated by years of mismanagement and what had become a tradition of corruption had anything to do with it). As I've said before, Americans don't have history, we have folklore.

What worries me far more than the idea that Gohmert will be vindicated by a baby with a bomb is the idea that he'll be vindicated by mass amnesia, that a future generation of Americans will be so wretchedly ignorant, historically illiterate and just plain stupid that Gohmert's-Great-Grandson will be spewing the same delusional, retarded rhetoric and some future jackass will think it sounds sensible; just as I must assume contemporary jackasses do, at least in Texas' 1st Congressional District (unless Gohmert's only recently started acting batshit crazy, in which case I hope his family drags him to get an MRI done--spontaneous aberrant behavior like this can be a sign of a brain tumor pressing against the nerves, I hear).

Someone once said history replays itself, first as tragedy, later as farce. I honestly don't know that that's right. Sometimes it's just a tragic farce coming and going.

Hey, happy Sunday though! Right, kids?



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Who's bad? The Chinese Red Army Orchestra, that's who!

>> Saturday, August 14, 2010

A brilliant and peculiar mash-up of a PRC propaganda film and a masterpiece by the late King Of Pop. Seeing is believing? Maybe. Or not.







(H/t Salon!)





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An open letter to MR. Martin Hudson

>> Friday, August 13, 2010

CAN I TRUST YOU??..?,,.,.,,‏

From: MARTIN HUDSON (m1mhudson@yahoo.co.nz)
Sent: Fri 8/13/10 5:29 AM
To:


Fund Manager: MR. Martin Hudson
The Mercantile Investment Trust plc.

I am MR. Martin Hudson one of The Portfolio manager of The Mercantile Investment Trust plc.a group of JP Morgan INVESTMENT INTERNATIONAL. I handle all Investor?? within my management portfolio Direct Capital Funds (there investment funds).


As a routine every investor gets the percentage profit or dividend from the total cash he or she invested into the company annually.. Last year it was announced that the profit margin was 18.9% after calculating carefully I found out that the profit margin was 20.1% that is an excess of 1.2% on each investor so I secretly extracted 1.2% Excess Maximum Return Capital Profit (EMRCP) per annum on each of the Investor's Marginal Capital Fund and created a separate account where the total sum of the extraction was kept As an expert, the account has a valued for 37,600,000.00.pounds (thirty seven million, six hundred thousand Pounds)


Now, I am looking for someone who I can trust to stand as an Investor to receive the fund as Annual Investment Proceeds from The Mercantile Investment Trust plc. All legal documents to back up the claims will be made available to you prior to your acceptance.


Meanwhile, I have worked out the modalities and technicalities whereby the funds can be claimed in any of our 6 Clearing Houses without any hitches. Our sharing ratio will be 50-50. If you are interested, you should send your direct phone number so we could discuss more on phone as regard the transaction.


Sincerely.
Martin Hudson



Dear Mr. Hudson,

I, too, was surprised that they allow you to handle investors, considering your criminal proclivities and ethical lapses. Whereas many scammers "Portfolio Managers" sending me scuzzy e-mails try to claim some sort of legitimacy, yours is possibly the first where the author openly described an embezzlement scheme. Not to mention the unusually blatant description of a breach of fiduciary duties.

I mean, if you were telling the truth in any way, shape or form, what you'd be inviting me to do is join in with your felonious enterprise. If we were caught, the best I could hope for would be to be charged with acting as an accessory-after-the-fact.

I'm not pointing this out because I believe anything you've written, Mr. Hudson. I don't even believe your name is Martin Hudson. I'm writing this in the hope that any poor dupe who gets your e-mail and thinks about it for even a second will maybe check Google, find this reply and realize that you're inviting people to commit a crime with you. Again, that's if there were anything to your silly story in the first place. Which there isn't. You're some mass-spammer in Nigeria or possibly Russia, maybe in Eastern Europe somewhere or, oddly, you could be in Canada. There are a few other places you might be, but those are the likeliest ones.

But the really important thing is this: if you were telling the truth, you'd be asking for co-conspirators in the commission of a felony. And for quite a lot of money. I mean, this isn't like you're asking somebody to help you embezzle a hundred bucks (still a crime, in some jurisdictions still a felony no matter how little cash is stolen), you're talking about the equivalent of $58,689,840.00 U.S. Dollars at today's exchange rate. (Which I mention, again, as further evidence to anybody tempted by your e-mail that you, Mr. Hudson or whomever you are, are full of shit.)

I will give you this much small credit, "Mr. Hudson": while most people running your scam try to get personal information like bank account numbers, driver's license details, and other bits of data that can be used to steal an identity, all you're asking for is a phone number. As I've done in the past, I'm happy to oblige: please call (202) 324-3000, and I am sure that whoever answers the phone will be more than happy to listen to your account of how you stole several million dollars and now want some poor sucker to help you launder it. Heck, Mr. Hudson, if you're actually somewhere in the United States, I'm sure they'll be happy to send somebody to your door for a face-to-face chat about your e-mail activities.

Have a great day!




Sincerely,
R. Eric VanNewkirk
Standing On The Shoulders Of Giant Midgets




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"Hey Ayatollah, Leave Those Kids Alone!"

>> Thursday, August 12, 2010

Blurred Vision, a Canadian band fronted by Iranian exiles, reimagine "Another Brick In The Wall (pt. 2)" as a protest song against the reactionary Iranian regime with excellent results and a music video directed by Babak Payami:






Roger Waters' response to the cover:

I think it's great that these guys are using the song to protest against the repressive and brutal regime in Iran. South African kids did during apartheid and Palestinian kids do to protest the Israeli occupation of their land. I am proud to be a small part of this resistance.


Music can matter.




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Quote Of The Day

And when you read about America in European newspapers, what you are likely to find is a tone bordering on pity. The U.S. is depicted as a fraying empire of obesity, ignorance, debt, gridlock, stagnation, and mindless war.

-Howard Fineman, "Post-Anti-Americanism,"
Newsweek, August 9th, 2010.


Yeah, well what that quote doesn't take into

Fineman's observation of European attitudes merely reflects the

Europeans have a long tradition of

Reading Fineman's observation, I can't help offering as a rejoinder

Putting this into context, it's probably worth remembering that

Oh yeah? Well guess what, Europe? You may think you're so fucking smart but

Nuh-uh! America is still


Sigh.


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HAHHAH--wait... that's not funny AT ALL!

>> Wednesday, August 11, 2010

From SMBC, offered with no need of further comment:






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Something to listen to while I'm away from the old blog a bit...

Medeski, Martin & Wood, "Think":







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No, no, no--you also have to take away everybody's guns and outlaw prayer, then we'll be satisfied...

>> Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A bit of furor today over Robert Gibbs' ill-considered decision to publicly vent about the President's left-wing critics:

The press secretary dismissed the "professional left" in terms very similar to those used by their opponents on the ideological right, saying, "They will be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon. That’s not reality."


He's wrong, of course. I mean, I'm not really part of the "professional left," i.e. I'm a professional and I'm left but I don't get paid to be a lefty, but, whatever--anyway, he's wrong, of course: those of us on the left who are unhappy with the President won't be happy until the United States has been turned into an atheistic communist utopia run by illegal immigrants and African-Americans who force whitey into mandatory abortions and the euthanasia of old people as part of a scheme to create a master race of Cubans who are perpetually indebted to the Chinese. Or something like that. Gibbs watches Fox News, right?

But seriously: these days, I find that I'm somewhere between the perpetual impotent indignation of Glenn Greenwald and the insufficient-but-still-impotent indignation of Bob Cesca. On the one hand, Cesca's right that the Administration gets insufficient credit for actual accomplishments and too much heat for being incapable of accomplishing the impossible, on the other hand Greenwald's right that there are a whole lot of broken promises in Obama's wake.

(Conservatives shouldn't be gleeful or ask how the "hopey-changey thing" is working out, because they would be gnashing their teeth in rage if Obama had kept more of those promises, and the infantile obstructionism and crazed propaganda of the American right are a major part of the reason those promises have remained only promises. If the Republican party were to act in good faith, it's possible that liberals would have less cause for frustration that the Obama Administration squandered momentum and majorities trying to meet conservatives halfway. So, Sarah, the answer to your question is: "Fuck you.")

I'm not offended by Gibbs' rant so much as I'm amused. I also would agree with Cesca that it's not the kind of thing Gibbs or anyone else in the Administration needs to be airing in public for all sorts of reasons. I can accept that the Obama Administration isn't and never was, contrary to what some of the talking pinheads on Fox have to say, particularly left-wing. Obama, probably like most Democrats, is in that peculiarly center-left position on the American political spectrum that would be considered the moderate, respectable right in any other civilized country on Earth.

The big thing I think we have with Gibbs' shooting from the hip is that it's a sign of the communications breakdown that we have here on the left. Which is typical, really, I mean, we do this all the time. I don't know if it would help if the Obama Administration openly acknowledged that they can't keep a lot of their promises, but it might: "Look, I really wanted to do x, y and z but the situation turned out to be a lot more fucked than anybody realized." I don't mean blame Bush, which is particularly pointless if you're not going to prosecute him for anything, but just acknowledge that things are deeper in the shitter than anyone dared fear.

There's been a little bit of that, but I think the Obama Administration has Carter Syndrome. It's sort of like Vietnam Syndrome, hence the name. What you may remember is that back in the 1970s Carter tried a few times to tell the American public that things were crappy and we might have to tighten our belts and be responsible and suck it up, etc., and what happened was everybody hated him for it and even otherwise responsible newspapers published headlines like "More Mush From The Wimp" (that one was retracted in the second edition, but it still never should have hit the streets) and after four years Americans, not being nearly as bright as we think we are, elected an aging B-movie actor who promised everything would be sunshine and unicorns if we thought happy thoughts. And ever since, Republicans have been the party of rose-colored glasses with thickheaded bluster and the Democrats have been afraid that delivering bad news would make them sound like sniveling wusses.

The thing is, Obama has charisma. Obama has the kind of charisma of a Franklin Roosevelt or Abraham Lincoln, two presidents whose greatness stems very much from the fact that they were willing and able to look the public in the eye and say, "It's going to get better, but it's going to hurt like a bitch in the meantime." I mean, it's not enough to just say, "We're fucked," you can give the hopeful speech, but you really have to combine that with the call to action and the frank admission that some of the blood on the floor will be our own.

This is the beginning of a great Presidential address:

I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impel. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.


Go read the whole speech. What is FDR saying there? He's saying, "I'm not gonna lie: it's bad, babe. It's gonna get worse. But it's gonna get better, too, if we go balls-out. And I'm gonna make it happen, I'm not fucking around, kids, if Congress won't help me I'll do it without 'em."

Now, I would have to say this: that here we run into a curious thing. Gibbs makes mention of progressives allegedly saying Obama is like Bush, which is something I don't think anyone worth listening to has said. But what's really funny when you look at FDR's First Inaugural is that Obama's not like Bush and Bush is a little like FDR. Bush didn't put up with a lot of shit from Congress, either. I guess what we have here is what a remarkable difference competence makes. And also that Obama clearly doesn't want to be as hellbent-with-or-without-the-legislature as Bush was. That's not wholly a bad thing, I mean, who wants a President trammeling over the Constitution? Still....

This brings us to the other thing I wanted to add, and then I'll try to wrap this up: I don't know if frank communications between the President and the public are possible or if Reagan really just ruined the intelligence and gutsiness of the American People to the point that we're just really useless and in denial, but I think a little more aggressiveness from the Obama administration would be productive. This has been said a lot by others and I don't want to belabor it, but I don't think anyone has seen any signs that Obama is willing to do what the other Roosevelt so famously advocated--the President has surely spoken softly, but where the hell is the stick?

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I don't think liberal discontent with the President helps the Republicans as much as they might like to think. The best they can hope for is that some libs will stay at home during the election cycles, and the GOP has its own problems dealing with its own discontented radicals in the teabagger movement. (The GOP has miraculously put the Kentucky and Nevada Senate races back in play by nominating bugfuck-crazy candidates. Who saw that coming?) So it's a bit early and ill-advised for the right to gloat.

Meanwhile, however grumpy liberal discontent may make the President and his advisors, they have options other than slamming their own base. One is to suck it up. Another is to do a better job talking to the public about what's really going on, what they've been able to accomplish and what they can't accomplish and to be frank about what is simply impossible and why and sorry it didn't work. And a third is to come out swinging--at the other side. These aren't incompatible, to be sure. I'd sort of like to see all-of-the-above.

And Gibbs? Don't forget the forced national conversion to Atheistic Islam--it's number 37 on the list of things that will satisfy us wacky liberal cranks. It'll be awesome, Sharia law without all that "God" stuff. Because, really, that's how much we hate America. Lots. Don't forget.





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