Dumb quote of the day--maybe you could have rephrased that edition

>> Wednesday, November 30, 2011

You go through life and you believe that you have some people that are friends. And when someone that appears to be a friend turns around and concocts this story, you've got to question, the hundreds of thousands of people that I have met in my life? A hundred thousand people could possibly come out.
-cratering Republican presidential candidate
Herman Cain explains allegations of sexual impropriety
to improbably-named talking head Wolf Blitzer,
as quoted by Libby Copeland, "Herman Cain Decides Which Questions May Be Asked of Herman Cain", Slate,
November 29th, 2011.

Wait, wait, wait. Hang on a second. Herman Cain expects a hundred thousand people to accuse him of sexual harassment and/or consensual extramarital affairs? Wait. Herman Cain expects a hundred thousand people to accuse him of sexual harassment and/or consensual extramarital affairs?

I'm... I'm kind of impressed, actually. Not entirely sure he ought to be running for office, but kind of impressed. Or the word I might be looking for could be "disturbed". I'm kind of disturbed, actually. Disturbed and impressed. Impressed and disturbed.

I mean, okay, maybe he's exaggerating. Maybe he hasn't met "hundred of thousands of people" like he claims. That seems improbable, sure. Maybe it's only tens of thousands of people, and only a few thousand of them are about to accuse him of impropriety. And it's not like he's saying the allegations are true, he's just saying thousands of people might accuse him. So, you know, maybe he just settled out of court with a few hundred of them and it's only a coupla dozen who allegedly have phone records corroborating their affairs.

So it's not like I care all that much what Cain is up to. He's a stunt candidate with zero chance of being nominated by the GOP and it's pretty much a matter of counting down the clock until he officially drops out--but quotes like the one above are pretty amazing, no? I mean, it makes you want to market a t-shirt that says, "I was sexually harassed by Herman Cain and all I got was this lousy t-shirt", not just because that would be sort of funny, but also because, according to Herman Cain, apparently you could sell a lot of them.

The implication is that if Herman Cain were a restaurant, it wouldn't be Godfather's Pizza (ironically enough), it would be McDonald's, what with the scoreboard showing how many customers have been served on the sign and all.

Herman Cain: he's like Disneyland, only gropier.

Anyone who has told you they went to a Herman Cain town hall and said they were touched by the experience... yeah, I guess I misunderstood what they meant, too.

We ought to elect Herman Cain for President just so Bill Clinton has someone to hang out with at Presidential funerals.

Okay, that's all I've got right now. Don't forget to tip your waitress.


It can get worse

>> Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The ScatterKat and some of her friends and I went to see a showing of Plan 9 From Outer Space last night. She hadn't seen it before, but was excited about it because she really loved Ed Wood. (Well, who doesn't love Ed Wood?) Me, it had been a while, a long while. Maybe twenty years or so since I'd seen Plan 9.

I saw Plan 9 way back in the day for the same reason most people have seen it now: Plan 9 has this almost-wholly-undeserved reputation for being the worst film of all time. It apparently originally got this moniker from Michael Medved, who used to be a pretty well-known film critic but these days spends lots and lots of time being wrong about stuff: he's a senior fellow at The Discovery Institute, which is a big Creationism shop, and he does a lot of right-wing talk radio and writes books about how shitty everything in Hollywood is except for Mel Gibson's movies. So, you know, chalk it up as another thing Michael Medved got wrong.

Don't get me wrong: Plan 9 is a pretty awful movie, poorly acted and badly shot, with some of the most hysterically ridiculous dialogue ever written and an incomprehensible plot that folds back on itself not just every few minutes but sometimes within a single character's dialogue (e.g. the aliens keep on complaining that the humans won't acknowledge their existence before immediately--in the very same lines of dialogue--talking about how they're going to kill the humans who have stumbled across their existence; Jeebus, star people, make up your freakin' minds, already). The Wikipedia entry for Plan 9 suggests that some of the film's most notorious "gaffes"--e.g. visible boom mic shadows--are the result of improper matting on contemporary prints (Plan 9 was shot in 4:3 and evidently intended to be matted in widescreen 1.85:1) or the result of incomplete post-production once the negatives were out of Woods' hands--e.g. shots that were filtered day-for-night were improperly processed, causing the appearance of continuity problems--but this doesn't do anything to explain away actors knocking down parts of the set. For starters. Or the mind-boggling dialogue, e.g. Criswell's infamous, rambling opening monologue:

Greetings, my friend. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future. You are interested in the unknown... the mysterious. The unexplainable. That is why you are here. And now, for the first time, we are bringing to you, the full story of what happened on that fateful day. We are bringing you all the evidence, based only on the secret testimony, of the miserable souls, who survived this terrifying ordeal. The incidents, the places. My friend, we cannot keep this a secret any longer. Let us punish the guilty. Let us reward the innocent. My friend, can your heart stand the shocking facts of grave robbers from outer space?

--Ah, yes, I am interested in the future, probably moreso at this point than Mr. Criswell, who died in 1982. Wonder if he saw that one coming?

And then there's Plan 9's most infamous... issue? Can you call it a gaffe when it was done completely on purpose and planned out? Director Ed Wood had a bit of unused and essentially unusable footage of his friend/star/muse Bela Lugosi, some of it intended for a Dracula picture Wood was never able to get the money for and some of it possibly intended as personal home movies. Anyway, Lugosi died before Wood could make another feature with him, but Wood wasn't one to waste any bit of film he had, and he wanted to include Lugosi posthumously in Plan 9 when he made it three years after the horror legend's death. Not having the sense, however, to make the dead Hungarian's role an incidental one, Wood padded the part out with an uncredited stand-in... a chiropractor who was, as you may know, younger, taller and hairier than Bela Lugosi, who indeed looked nothing like Bela Lugosi even with a cape pulled up in front of his face, which is how he appears throughout the whole thing except for the little bits here and again when he accidentally lets the cape slip a bit.

I suppose Plan 9's plot does deserve a small mention (even though I already said it was incomprehensible): it's delightfully nonsensical, bearing some resemblance to the Underpants Gnomes' nefarious scheme. Aliens have been trying to contact the Earth (in between the times they've been silencing witnesses, I mean), and their first eight plans have apparently failed so now they're stuck with Plan 9, explained by the aliens' leader:

Plan 9? Ah, yes. Plan 9 deals with the resurrection of the dead. Long distance electrodes shot into the pineal and pituitary gland of the recently dead.

Ah, yes. Plan 9. That Plan 9. And the point of raising the dead? Well, obviously, it's... you know... the dead rise from their graves... and... uhm... so they're dead, you know, and now they're sort of like zombie vampires that... you know... have risen, right, because they have electrodes that have been shot into their pineal and pituitary glands... which causes them to rise... if they're recently dead, okay, and the electrodes are... uh... well, they're long-distance electrodes... which were shot into the glands... which... raises... them....

No, I mean that's pretty much it. And the aliens raise three dead people, who just wander around a graveyard where they were buried, except for Bela Lugosi, who sometimes walks out of the woods wearing a version of his Dracula costume and then turns right around and walks back into the woods--when he isn't growing several inches, darkening his hair and becoming younger, that is.

And yet, for all of this, Plan 9 just absolutely isn't the worst film I've ever seen. For that matter, the Wikipedia entry for Plan 9 makes the still-completely-valid point that Plan 9 doesn't even rate on IMDb's bottom-100 movies as rated by users. Manos: The Hands Of Fate, a movie that makes Plan 9 look like Citizen Kane and that has sometimes been described as the worst movie ever shown on Mystery Science Theater 3000 (the cast and writers of MST3k have said that Child Bride was in fact a worse film--so bad they couldn't even use it)--Manos ranks third on the IMDb list, behind Daniel The Wizard and Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2, a pair of 2004 movies I haven't seen. But that's at least fair so far as Manos is concerned: it's a worse movie than Plan 9.

I might have to say the worst movie I've ever seen is actually Richard Kelly's Southland Tales, which is possibly a hugely polarizing statement for me to make, as there are people out there who still swear Kelly is a great director and that Tales is some kind of misunderstood masterpiece. I'd also have to concede that Tales has one saving grace that isn't found in Manos in the form of a single, surprisingly great performance from Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and a tolerable performance from Justin Timberlake, who manages to be charming despite also being visibly lost in a thankless, pointless, and pretty much completely nonsensical role; on the other hand, it's probably also fair to say that a cluelessly wooden performance from Sarah Michelle Gellar and simply bizarre appearances by Christopher Lambert, Kevin Smith and almost the entire nineties cast of Saturday Night Live more than offsets anything good Johnson and Timberlake (these two, of all people!) bring to the table. Plus, Tales is offensively pretentious with its whole allegory-for-Revelations shtick, with its freshman Philosophy 101 late-night-bull-session-at-the-dorm nonsense passed off as intellectual profundity which Kelly then believes he has to explain to everybody in the audience too stupid to get all the metaphorical crap (Kelly, indeed, seems to think this is everybody watching his stupid little epic, when it's nobody), with its attempts to "cleverly" cite indie pop music (which just come off as clumsy), and its ridiculous pseudo-scientific Macguffins (which are clearly meant to bowl the audience over with mind-bending, cutting edge quantum mechanical notions--but instead come off as demonstrating that Richard Kelly once skimmed a Discover magazine in a dentist's office while waiting for some anesthesia to wear off because he didn't think to get somebody else to drive him home). There's also the added post-Wachowskian sin Kelly commits of having too much material to fit into one movie and not enough money to make the three movies he envisioned, so he made one movie and then wrote a bunch of tie-in comic books that are supposed to explain or set up everything, meaning that the movie in and of itself is actually an incomplete experience that isn't supposed to be comprehensible standing alone even though it's paradoxically meant to be capable of being enjoyed by itself as a self-contained project, except (as if this wasn't actually already bad enough) the comics suck and the whole affair is more or less twaddle no matter what.

The thing is, Southland Tales isn't entirely incompetently made, despite the bad effects, despite a fair amount of wasted talent, despite the terrible script, despite the heavy ham-fistedness of all of it. We could go back to Manos, really, which is so technically incompetent there are better home movies made by little kids.

Or we could pick on the improbable Death Bed: The Bed That Eats. Nobody ever believes this movie really exists, despite the fact that you used to be able to watch the whole thing on YouTube (these days, you have to settle for clips). Patton Oswalt didn't actually make this thing up, folks. My Dad actually knows a guy who worked on it, even. Death Bed has a ridiculous premise: no, the title isn't poetic or anything, this is actually a movie about a bed that eats things and people, and since beds aren't exactly known for swimming around off the Massachusetts shoreline eating summer vacationers or, really, for any kind of mobility whatsoever, this means that victims must actively participate in their demise by lying down on the bed and waiting to be devoured (which consists of sinking into the bed and being skeletonized in some kind of deep, red digestive juice that is somehow inside the mattress). The ironic thing about this, and the really criminal thing about Death Bed, is that waiting for people to lie down on the bed and get dissolved in it turns out to somehow be even less interesting than you might imagine, and Death Bed isn't so much a silly, campy bad movie as it is a really horribly dull bad movie. You know, Plan 9 is at least a sprightly, short bad movie that springs along at a decent clip and is over before it stops being funny. Death Bed, meanwhile, is pretty much interminable. They're possibly showing it in Hell right now.

And speaking of boring: BloodRayne. So, here's a movie that has a kind of amazing bizarro cast: Ben Kingsley, Udo Kier, Billy Zane, Meat Loaf, Michael Paré, and Michael Madsen, any of whom can normally be expected to liven up and steal scenes from an awful, awful movie. Plus, there's Kristanna Loken in a skimpy, skintight outfit for much of the movie, which ought to be a good thing. Problem is, it's an Uwe Boll movie, and Boll is one of the worst directors in the history of cinema.

Let me explain Mr. Boll's entire career in a nutshell: see, for a long time, Germany had this crazy tax code that allowed investors to sink money into a movie production and write it off pretty much no matter what, but especially if the movie tanked. And so what Uwe Boll would do, is he'd buy up the rights to make film adaptations of video games, and then he'd get all these German investors to sink shit-tons (I mean shit-tons, really) of money into these productions and he'd hire some crazy-talented people to appear in these awful movies that usually had nearly nothing to do with whatever the source material happened to be and that generally (with one or two exceptions) have lost money at the box office. Which led to Boll gaining even more investors for his next project; the worse his last movie did, the more Germans lined up to invest in the next one... until, that is, Germany went and tightened up a bunch of their tax loopholes, at which point suddenly Uwe Boll couldn't even get a sandwich made, although he's had a string of straight-to-video releases the past few years. But the gist is this: Uwe Boll's entire film-making career is predicated on him being a shitty director and producer who could lose money for his investors.

BloodRayne, a movie about a half-naked vampire hunter and featuring some crazy-cool performers, is a long boring slog interrupted midway through by the single most tedious and un-erotic sex scene ever committed to film. Whereas some of Uwe Boll's movies are at least funny-bad, a special-edition DVD of BloodRayne ought to be released in a box with a melon-baller so you can scoop your own eyeballs out during the movie and somehow salvage the whole experience that way.

I think it's hard to write an already-too-long blog post about movies worse than Plan 9 without at least mentioning John Travolta's faith-based vanity project, Battlefield Earth. The only thing about that is, Battlefield Earth, as reviled as it is, isn't actually as bad as the last few movies I mentioned, and while it might be worse than Plan 9, I think I'd really have to put them on par with each other. Aside from the fact Earth had a lot more money dumped into it, and aside from the fact it actually made IMDb's worst-movies list, Earth and Plan 9 really have a lot in common: bad acting, awful dialogue, ludicrous scripts, campy aliens, bizarre plots, a great deal of presumably unintentional humor (Travolta probably didn't mean Battlefield Earth to be funny, but it's not impossible Ed Wood was winking at the audience to at least some degree with Plan 9). Contrary to what some people may have told you, Battlefield Earth is a thoroughly enjoyable film--if you're drunk and/or have a bunch of snarky friends to watch it with, and if you don't regret throwing away whatever money you spent on the rental or buying it from a bargain bin at Wal-Mart or Target or wherever. Any movie where the plot hinges on both the fact that the antagonistic aliens are basically allergic to the planet they invaded for whatever stupid reason and on the protagonist cavemen defeating the aliens by using the exact same technology and tactics that failed when deployed by their ancient ancestors can't be all bad: more like, it has to be so bad that it becomes good again, but not "good" in any of the usual senses of the word when it's used to mean, you know, "good".

I probably could go on. I never did get around to talking about Robot Monster, for instance. Assuming you're still with me, though: what's the best worst movie you've ever seen, and was it really that bad?


Pink Floyd, "Astronomy Domine"

>> Monday, November 28, 2011

From a 1968 Belgian television program, here's the Floyd doing an anarchic version of "Astronomy Domine". My favorite things about the clip, actually: (1) Nick Mason's hat, which isn't anything nobody's seen before (he wore it a lot back then) but is a really cool hat until it magically disappears during a bad splice around the middle of the song; and (2) a wonderfully candid assessment from Roger about whether Pink Floyd is a commercial band:

Interviewer: Are you commercial or are you not commercial?

Roger: Um, I don't know--you tell me. You live here. If our records are selling, we're commercial.

Interviewer: I think you are not, not commercial.

Roger: So our records aren't selling here.

It was a rough time for the band, and they weren't selling records, or at least nowhere close to as many as they'd have liked. The band's practically-sole-songwriter, Syd Barrett, had just been fired or was being fired and the remaining band members, along with Barrett's replacement, David Gilmour, were trying to figure out how to fill the void with the songs Barrett had finished before losing his mind and write their own new material in his stead. Roger Waters and Richard Wright, particularly, would attempt to write singles (something Barrett had an aptitude for), but none of those 45s sold especially well and after "Point Me At The Sky" failed to chart, the band would all-but abandon singles and focus on album tracks.

The bad news about that decision was that this was still, really, the heyday of the single and by foregoing singles releases, the band was seriously limiting their exposure. The good news was that the decision was made during the nascent days of what would become the album-oriented rock radio format, and singles were about to become a little less important for promoting an act. It was also a good choice insofar as the only member of the band who had any real aptitude for dropping single cuts on short notice was Waters, but focusing on albums instead of singles freed the band up to compose tracks out of stage and studio jam sessions, ultimately leading to the "spacier", whole-side-of-the-LP songs and suites the band would become famous for in the '70s. (Indeed, an early problem for the band even in their singles days was cutting some of their longer freak-outs down to single-length for studio release. Deciding they weren't going to release singles that weren't going to sell anyway freed the band from having to make the same kinds of cuts for length.)

Now, about that hat, though. I mean, it has a feather and everything. It's a seriously cool hat, though I have to wonder if a man can really rock a hat like that without the shaggy hair and 'stash. It probably sounds like mocking when I go on like this about it, but I truly dig that hat. I wonder what happened to it. Does he still have it? Why doesn't it have a Facebook page? Could I make a Facebook page for it? Etc.

Somehow, I fear it's a young man's hat. A young man's or Sam Elliott's, but only because Sam Elliott was born to rock a hat (he was also born with a moustache and looking like weathered granite, I'm reasonably sure). I may well be too old to rock a hat like Nick Mason's hat; rocking a hat requires a certain kind of youthful conviction that you magically lose around, oh, probably twenty-eight, twenty-nine, somewhere around there. Men who aren't Sam Elliott can wear hats after that age--sure, they do it all the time, I've seen them, I'm not oblivious, but I don't think they rock them, I don't think you look at their hats and say, "Holy shit, now that is an awesome hat, my friend," when you see an older guy wearing a hat. You see a guy who's past his twenties wearing a hat, you ask him if it's cold outside. Unless, of course, he's obviously Jewish or Amish or something like that, then you just figure it's one of those "God" things that some people have to do, because, you know, The Lord just digs yarmulkes, I guess.

I used to wear a hat in college a lot, actually. It was a pretty awesome hat, a suede fedora and it went with a great duster I owned. Twenty-somethings are such pretentious asses, right? But it was a boss hat; not Nick Mason's hat, by any stretch of the imagination, and I didn't have a cool 'stash or anything like that, but I felt kind of cool wearing the ensemble, y'know? I cannot for the life of me remember for certain if there were feathers in my cap, but I think there were. Pretty sure there were, anyway. So I had this hat and I had this duster, but I think the hat died a miserable death somewhere along the line--nothing dramatic or catastrophic or memorable, you know, just the sort of gradual death things die when they're used every single day for years on end, a bit worn out here and faded thin there; same kind of thing with the duster, but I think there were actual holes in it by the time I'd knocked around in it for years and years; a nice coat, but less practical than it might have seemed: waterproof, yeah, but a little too heavy for cool weather and really too light for cold. But I like to tell myself I looked pretty awesome in it. It's not wholly inconceivable to me I may have rocked the look a little now and again, though of course I'd say that and you might want to ask somebody else (though I'd rather you didn't).

But if Nick Mason has any similar self-doubts, he can go to sleep at night knowing he rocked the hat.


The Real Tuesday Weld, "Me And Mr. Wolf"

>> Sunday, November 27, 2011

io9 was right, this is awesome: The Real Tuesday Weld and animators George Fort and Monica Smith have come up with the cutest, bloodiest, most demented music video I've seen in a while. "Me And Mr. Wolf":

In the spirit of hosts like the Crypt Keeper and Cousin Eerie, let me just add that I hope this single goes gold... silver wouldn't be good for their health.


Pimping my girlfriend...

>> Saturday, November 26, 2011

...'s blog. Sheesh. You people have to let me finish.

ScatterKat actually started the blog a couple of weeks back, but wanted me to wait for her to post again before I did the traditional friendly pimping of the blog. And I didn't really want to put her on the spot; I mean, I don't have an enormously wide readership or anything, but didn't necessarily want to subject her to a dozen people descending upon her new blog like pigeons on Tippi Hedren.

Sadly, her latest entry as of this writing relates to the recent death of a friend of hers. But go drop by, pay her a visit, say hello if you want. You'll find her over here.

As for my latest posting, I may come up with something more today or I may just drop in again tomorrow with another embedded vid or something. Lazy Thanksgiving weekend here in the states and all that; staying away from the stores like they're skeezy roadside motels run by Anthony Perkins' mom. Cheers.


George Winston, "Thanksgiving"

>> Friday, November 25, 2011

Seems apt enough for the day after, still, no?


Thanksgiving 2011

>> Thursday, November 24, 2011

I've roasted ducks in Thanksgivings past, but this is the first year I've had company. I roasted a bird for ScatterKat; afterwards, we slow-danced to George Winston's version of Vince Guaraldi's "Christmas Time Is Here"; a little early, sure, but Guaraldi's Charlie Brown music is synonymous with the winter holidays (especially if you're a certain age), and that song was meant to be danced to.

This was the bird at various stages of its evolution prior to its eventual demolishment by nom. I was worried because, y'know, screwing up a bird for yourself is one thing, messing it up for the girlfriend is another. But I done good. It was a damn good eat.

It was a simple roast: the bird was stuffed with apple, pear and celery; the outside was rubbed with garlic, paprika, kosher salt and cracked pepper. I went for a slightly crispier skin this year (which was one of the things that made me nervous), and so poked some holes in the skin to let more of the fat run off. About a half hour cooking time per pound at 350 °F (oven preheated to 400 °F), so two-and-a-half hours; I was worried I'd overcooked it when the thermometer ran high when I pulled the bird out, but the meat was as moist as it ought to be.

None of which is important except insofar as I fed my woman, which is a biological imperative going back to when Thag One-Hand stuck a handful of fresh wildebeest into the tribe's open flame to impress Gah-Daughter-Of-Ug; about a week later, natch, Shkoo Under-Your-Nose won away Gah's heart by repeating Thag's one-time trick except with the radical innovation of using a pointy stick instead of his hand, but that's a different story (and has a tragic ending, as Thag One Hand shortly thereafter discovered The Heavy Rock That Causes Sleep-No-Wake, but I digress).

I have to confess, at the risk of disgusting my regulars, the best part of dinner was dancing to George Winston, a point I make only to say: love, as William Goldman once wrote, is the best thing in the world except for cough drops. Okay, I think I had some other thing I wanted to say that didn't involve cough drops and did involve dancing, but I'm having a bit of a hard time getting the words in the right order. Maybe you got the point already, or knew it before I tried to make it. Anyway, I'm thankful.


Ray Davies, "A Long Way From Home"

>> Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Nothing else coming to mind at the moment, here's a clip of Ray Davies rendering a tender performance of one of my all-time-favorite Kinks songs on Austin City Limits:


Uncle Miltie

>> Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Andrew Leonard has a piece up in Salon today announcing a new feature Salon will be running on corporate citizenship. The jumping-off point for Leonard's piece, though, is what actually caught my interest: Leonard starts with a response to a 1970 New York Times Magazine piece written by Milton Friedman, "The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits". Which I read. Because I felt like I should. I mean, I'm not really familiar with Friedman other than knowing his name gets thrown around by conservative-types a good bit.

Let's just say, we are not impressed.

This is one of those ironic things that happens, you know? You hear people talking about Ayn Rand, for instance, how smart and awesome and wonderful she was and how you really should read her stuff, and you start thinking maybe you ought to give her a try, that even if you don't come around to her way of thinking, at least she must be an engaging, talented and provocative authoress. She has to be, what with all the books she's sold and how all of her stuff tends to stay in print and prominently displayed in the serious fiction section of the bookstore. Right? You don't have to be some kind of liberal Catholic to dig Victor Hugo's stuff, for instance; it still works as melodrama and adventure fiction even if your eyes glaze over a little at some of the religious imagery and angst embedded between pages 239 and 748 or whatever. Or, to offer another gratuitous example, you don't have to be an ultra-libertarian polyamorous nudist military fanboy to appreciate Robert Heinlein as a guy who could write a fast, tight, rockin' little SF novel or two (but it helps). So you pick up a Rand and you discover that some people are batshit insane and have no literary (loosely speaking) taste whatsoever, that Ayn Rand isn't just shit as literary fiction, it would be shit as pulp fiction, that you don't even have to get into the moral dimensions of her philosophy to totally dismiss her petrified dialogue, absurd plots, and the utterly dimensionless generic archetypes she passes off as characters; that, in fact, there are better-written and worthier comic books you could have been reading instead, and I'm not talking about some kind of gargantuan Alan Moore tome where the entire secret history of Western Civilization is symbolically distilled into some kind of crazy careening rollercoaster ride built around pansexual Victorian children's book characters, I'm talking about circa 1965 Superman/Batman teamups written by jaded drunks who couldn't come up with anything better than "Jimmy Olsen and Robin are kidnapped by alien gorilla-men and Supes and Batman save them by preparing a five-course meal for the kidnappers" before deadline and so they ran with it because they hoped fucking nine-year-olds wouldn't notice this was the second time they'd run with that storyline in the last eight months.

I'm either dancing around or building up to the part where I say the Friedman essay is one of the dumbest things I've read in a while, and this during a Presidential season in which the Republicans' "smart" candidate just came out with a proposal to fire all the school janitors and replace them with students (because, aside from the Victorian workshop horrors the proposal recalls, we all know how much firing adults helps the economy and how eager teenagers are to do chores and spend more time at school; yeah, the man's a regular Einstein, is what he is). Actually, it is a little amazing insofar as the one thing that matches its cretinous stupidity is its utter presumption and pompousness. If Milton Friedman is one of the intellectual lights of modern conservatism and this is typical of his work... look, there's no nice and respectful way to say that a movement based on the kind of self-serving, self-righteous, mouth-breathing inanity exemplified in "The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits" has not only abandoned any hope of intellectual credibility, but it may have never held any to begin with.

Friedman expends a fair bit of ink on the proposition that a corporate executive's only business is satisfying the desires of shareholders, and that if he promotes any other moral scruples he might have, he's being "anti-democratic" and "imposing taxes" on shareholders and deciding how those "taxes" are to be spent. This is, he concludes, bad and "collectivist", and that's very bad for the same reason collectivism is very bad (because it is, you see). Understand, I'm just telling you what he said and I'm encouraging you to read it for yourself (well, not really "encouraging"; I imagine you have better things to do with your time, but if you don't want to take my word for what he says, please, have at it). If you're suspecting Friedman comes off sounding horribly confused and like he's mixing mental metaphors at some basic level, I think you've pretty much hit the nail on the head: I'm not sure how an executive making a business decision (for any reason, civic-minded or otherwise) that reduces dividends or stock value, constitutes a "tax" on shareholders, but I imagine if the shareholders aren't happy with his performance, they'll call for his firing or resignation. I mean, the whole thing sounds terribly hypothetical and speculative: "Well, our dividends could have been higher, maybe, if the CEO hadn't made such-and-such decision... or not. But the fact that there's some unknown difference between the dividend I actually received and the dividend I could have received in an infinite number of alternate universes where my dividend was higher by some sum between one cent and ten gabitrizillion dollars (Canadian), causes me to feel as if I have been unfairly taxed without any representation other than any votes the particular form of shares I hold entitle me to and no recourse other than selling this ownership interest I voluntarily purchased (or inherited or received as a gift) that nobody is forcing me to retain."

So I'm not a brilliant economist, which is why I guess I always understood a tax was where the government collects money from you when you engage in certain kinds of transactions, and had no idea it was also when you arbitrarily don't receive additional money you might have been entitled to from a voluntary investment under some completely different set of circumstances that didn't actually occur this time. Who knew? See, you learn something every day. I've gotta remember this if I ever go to Vegas.

But here's the thing that really strikes me as stupid about Friedman's argument: let's stipulate, for a moment, that his argument has some kind of logical cohesion and he's right. Hard to do, I know, but let's just pretend, shall we? Let's suppose a corporate executive has no moral duties beyond his duties to the shareholders in the corporation. Does this absolve the corporation (or, in a recursive way, the executive) of civic responsibility?

Only if you presume, as Friedman pompously does (following a quick gloss over his one shot at intellectual honesty), that the only raison d'être for business is in fact maximizing profitability. Otherwise, all Friedman has successfully managed is to shift the moral responsibility to shareholders.

Here's the big deal Friedman glosses in a single paragraph before missing his own point:

In a free-enterprise, private-property sys­tem, a corporate executive is an employee of the owners of the business. He has direct re­sponsibility to his employers. That responsi­bility is to conduct the business in accordance with their desires, which generally will be to make as much money as possible while con­forming to the basic rules of the society, both those embodied in law and those embodied in ethical custom. Of course, in some cases his employers may have a different objective. A group of persons might establish a corporation for an eleemosynary purpose–for exam­ple, a hospital or a school. The manager of such a corporation will not have money profit as his objective but the rendering of certain services. [emphasis added]

Let's suppose that Megacorp, as an artificial person, is not to be held morally culpable for cutting costs by dumping millions of gallons of known carcinogens into the river that supplies Sunnytown with most of its drinking water, instead of disposing of the poisons in an expensive-but-approved-of manner. And let's suppose the CEO of Megacorp isn't to be held morally responsible since he made the rational, ethical Friedman-approved decision not to "tax" Megacorp's shareholders by making a decision that would have reduced their dividends in pursuit of a social agenda they didn't endorse (a much more dubious proposition, but bear with me). Okay, then why aren't the shareholders in Megacorp, who put their own financial betterment above the health and safety of the citizens of Sunnytown, to be condemned and held responsible for making a choice that caused (or risked) avoidable and unnecessary injury to their fellow human beings?

This is the easy case: profit prioritized over harm. One could certainly broaden the topic to include profit prioritized over helping/contributing/giving back, though one recognizes that this gets into dodgier territory. I hope we'd all agree shareholders in a business have an obligation to not hurt anyone even if there's not necessarily a clear-cut obligation for shareholders to help. That is, I think not shitting your nest (or even somebody else's) is an ethical no-brainer, I'm not trying to say you need to go a few steps further and build a group home for mentally disabled economists or anything like that.

I don't think Friedman meant to argue that corporate shareholders are evil or irresponsible, but that seems like a fair conclusion you can draw from his argument; certainly, I think it's a fairer conclusion than the one he actually draws, since he apparently means that nobody is responsible to anybody except it's important that businessmen generate profits, profits and more profits for investors. That this could be a quick-and-easy recipe for a tragedy of the commons scenario seems to entirely evade the man. The CEO shouldn't think of anyone but the investors, and if all the investors think about is their bottom line, well, it's nobody's fault if civilization collapses in the meantime. It isn't like the shareholders could have been expected to deal with the day-to-day running of the company--that's the executive's job. It isn't like the executive could have been expected to tell the shareholders that hiring locals, installing air filters in the smokestacks, replacing that one machine everybody called "The Mangler" for mysterious reasons and donating old computers to the local elementary school would have been expensive, yes, and would have impacted profits, yes, but they not only would have been nice things to do that all the shareholders could have felt good about, but also would have avoided this whole business where an illiterate, unemployed mob of cancer-riddled amputees stormed the investors' houses, dragged them screaming into the streets and lynched them within sight of their own burning mansions. It's nobodies fault, unless it's the mob's; anyway, shit happens.

It's only fair to note that I engaged in one bit of stereotyping just to make a point in the previous paragraph: specifically, not every corporate shareholder owns a mansion or possesses any great wealth at all. Not really the point, of course. I don't see how anybody owning stock in a corporation is off the hook when it comes to making sure they hold shares in a company that exercises civic responsibility, or how those who hold voting shares don't have a responsibility to delegate their moral duties to the CEO along with the responsibility for running the company, with the explicit understanding that what is right isn't always the most-profitable thing to do in the short term, though it may keep the goose alive to lay more (albeit smaller) golden eggs in the future. (You know, even if the residents of Sunnytown don't hang you and burn your house down, maybe all of them dying of cancer could have, you know, a small effect on your profit margins if they happen to be your consumers in some direct or indirect way. Just thought I'd point that out.)

But hey, what does Milton Friedman care? He's dead.

It occurs to me that it might be just a tiny bit unfair of me to judge a ninety-four year human life from one magazine article written when Friedman was fifty-eight. He did win a Nobel prize, though so did Henry Kissinger, so, y'know, whatever that's worth. (President Obama won one basically for just showing up to work, though he did have a lot of shit on his desk left there by the screw-off he replaced, so maybe he deserved some kind of award for not taking one look at the portfolio and saying, "Fuck this, I'm outta here, Joe can tackle this if he wants, but I'm done.") But the piece in question is really fucking stupid, and could only be credited to a first-calibre-mind if the mind in question were jet-lagged and hung over, or possibly exposed to a finely-crafted beating with a good, solid Craftsman hammer bought the same morning from Sears. I've had off days, but fucking hell, I flatter myself I've never been that off. And considering that a perusal of Friedman's Wikipedia entry to see if I'm missing anything reminds me that he was an adviser to a really terrible President and that he originated or promoted a whole slate of ideas that were really just terrible and disastrous. (My favorite: Friedman apparently wanted to abolish medical licenses. Because, let me just tell you, the days before medical licensure? Those were the golden days of medicine. Talk about your free market driving innovation, there were people prescribing medicines for everything, everywhere, all over the United States, and some of them weren't even dangerous, a lot of them were completely harmless. Yep, I don't know about you, but I'm totally nostalgic for the glory days when I could go to the corner drugstore and purchase a health tonic of colored sugar water and cocaine knowing it would cure my lassitude and heal my pep just like the poster above the counter diagnoses, yessir. Daddy needs his medicine.)

But this is an article that doesn't even survive its own premises. Gods know: I wish I'd read a World's Finest instead; it would've been more intellectually rigorous.


Hearing the drumming

>> Monday, November 21, 2011

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.
U.S. Constitution, Amendment I

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
U.S. Constitution, Amendment XIV, Section 1

I don't want to write this post. What I want, what I really want, is to crawl under a rock and curl up.

I want to curl up because I'm not even sure I recognize my country anymore. Or I recognize it, and what I recognize turns out to be even worse than I thought it was. Or it's as bad as I thought it was, but I've become morally compromised by age, by investment in the system, by my career.

While the obligatory four-year-farce is ramping up in the political news, police officers are assaulting kids who are, as far as I can tell, doing no more than exercising their basic Constitutional rights as defined in the First Amendment and made applicable to the states by the Fourteenth. I've watched the video of a police officer in California, Lt. John Pike, assaulting a group of students at the University Of California, Davis. I made myself watch the whole video, something that ultimately took an act of will on my part. I didn't think things like this happened anymore, yet I'm completely unsurprised.

After all, the truth is that I'm professionally aware that police officers all over the country make use of non-lethal force in inappropriate circumstances all the time. I have this deep and profound ambivalence over arming our cops with Tasers and chemical agents because leaving aside the fact there's no "non-lethal" weapon that can't be deadly when abused, I can't help thinking if cops had no choice but that between possibly killing somebody and finding an alternative means of handling the situation, most would choose the alternative means; giving them a "non-lethal" out of a dilemma leaves a lot of these guys with the psychological safe place of thinking they're "not really hurting" anybody. I mean, look at the video clip embedded at the Joan Walsh piece I linked to in the last paragraph, if you can handle it: look at how casually Lt. Pike sprays the students, as if he's spraying Pam nonstick spray on a cookie sheet, as if he's spraying bugs at a cookout.

Working in a public defender's office, we get people coming in all the time who have pretty clearly been Tased or maced for little or no good reason. And what's in their best interests when this happens? I mean, we could take a lot of these to trial and see if an elected politician will publicly call out a law enforcement officer for misconduct or we can see if the ADA working the courtroom is willing to let our folks do a little community service or something for a dismissal; if we run with it, maybe our people get a criminal conviction on their record that's going to screw with their chances of getting a job down the road, but if we roll over, hey, it sucks to have to pay for being the real victim, but at least your record's clean, right?

And this is part of the way I'm morally compromised, you know? I'd love to say I'm this guy who's standing up for truth, justice and the American way, but the grotesque reality is that I'm this sniveling backroom dealer who is trying to help individuals who need to be able to put food on their kids' plates avoid having one more stone tied to their ankles, pulling them under.

So in trying to help people, maybe I end up being part of the public problem. Maybe if the last guy John Pike pepper sprayed had taken a case to trial, maybe Lt. Pike would have been been chucked under the chin just hard enough to think twice before he attacked a bunch of college students. Or, y'know, maybe I'm not being fair to Lt. Pike, and maybe this is the first time he's drawn cannisters on anybody (I kind of doubt it), but maybe if someone had made a few examples out of his coworkers, maybe then he would've hesitated a little longer. But we let them get away with this all the time, and I have no good way of making them stop; I could, I guess, start trying to make a better omelet, but all the eggs that would get broken along the way have names and families and a shitty enough hand they've drawn from the deck already.

At this point, I can't say I agree with the Occupy movement, to the extent it represents anything but a sustained plaintive wail against how bad everything has gotten here; that is, I should say, I agree completely with the sustained plaintive wail itself, it's just that the bulk of the alternatives and solutions Occupy members have proffered tend to be facile and naïve. We've talked about this before (specifically, see the comments thread). To pick just one example off the top: Citizens United is an appalling decision, but the clamor for a legislative repeal of the decision are simplistic; Citizens United is the direct, inevitable and logical product of two premises, (first) that corporations are "persons" and (second) that money is speech. Both of these premises are problematic, but they're also both much deeper and more complicated and (much like icebergs) ninety percent of their mass is beneath the surface; e.g. while it seems a bit absurd to say that "money is speech", by the same token it is equally absurd to try to come up with some arbitrary distinction between paying $100 to print posters favoring a candidate and giving the candidate himself $100 for the implied purpose of printing his own posters to his own liking; along similar lines, many of us surely have misgivings about Bank Of America lobbying Congress, but do we feel the same way about, oh, let's just semi-randomly pick The Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation, a non-profit corporation (I know next to nothing about the IBCRF: I Googled "non-profit corporation cancer research" to pick a victim to make my point with; you can switch-out any non-profit corporation promoting any cause, if you'd like, the point is what it is). Of course, we might try to distinguish between for-profits and non-profits, but only a moment's thought leads to the realization that all such a distinction would accomplish is creating fancier bookkeeping: for-profits would simply launder their money through sympathetic non-profits, is all. I don't know what the answer is, I just know I haven't seen any Occupiers who have one that wouldn't ultimately undermine their own (presumed) agendas by crippling charities and public-interest groups in what would most likely be a futile attempt to keep billionaires from further corrupting political processes they're already well-rehearsed at circumventing.

But all of that has little to do with the awfulness of assaulting protesters, regardless of what they're standing for. There's something seriously damaged in the public political consciousness when the right of "the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances" is being met with pepper spray at less than five feet.

And if it isn't clear from the video clip of what just happened at UC Davis, here's an interview with one of Lt. Pike's victims, along with quite a lot of photographs by Bryan Nguyen, taken for the UC-Davis campus paper, The Aggie. One photograph shows arm-locked protesters smiling and talking; the student protester says the Occupiers had offered Lt. Pike food and coffee the evening prior to the assault: clearly, this is not your Weatherman mother's riot going on.

We should be glad, Chez Pazienza suggests, that this isn't Mary Ann Vecchio crying over the body of Jeffrey Miller at Kent State; he's right about that. There's some good from arming officers with "non-lethal" weapons as far as that goes. Nobody's dead yet. And it may be that some good can come of this if it leads to somebody stepping back; the problem is that I don't know where we step back to.

The students have a legitimate grievance: California is dramatically hiking tuition because, I presume, the legislature is unwilling or politically unable to raise taxes and make other budget adjustments that might make the hike unnecessary or at least less drastic. And, as it turns out, many of the people California doesn't want to raise taxes on are in a position to make quite a bit of money off of increases in student loan interest, so raising tuition ends up being twice the benefit. The students, on the other hand, end up screwed one way or another. Some would no doubt suggest that the real problem is the contemporary expectation or pressure placed on high-school grads to go to college at all, that the UC-Davis protesters could save themselves quite a lot of money by not going to college, but at this point such suggestions are simply delusional unless the suggester has some clever way of magically restructuring modern America's culture and economy so that there's a sudden guarantee of good jobs for people without any college education; let's start with the fact you'd have to recreate a pension structure that allows people to retire in their fifties or early sixties (making way for the next generation) and increase wages and benefits for young people so that blue-collar jobs are as attractive as white-collar professions used to be--none of this is happening, if you haven't figured it out; what's almost certainly going to happen is that corporate stakeholders are going to continue to look for ways to keep bleeding a stuck pig for profit until the beast is completely exsanguinated, at which point we all ought to be praying the boar doesn't rise, vampire-like, from its shallow grave to gore the bastards.

And there I go missing my own point, actually: you know, it doesn't really matter if they have a legitimate grievance. I mean, yes, it does help their case, but the First Amendment right to assemble and petition pretty explicitly doesn't try to make a distinction between what's a proper beef about governance and what isn't, because it shouldn't. (Let's face it: the major beef of the Founding Fathers can be characterized as an unwillingness to pay for their lawful government's efforts in keeping their farms from being overrun by the French--i.e. not really all that legitimate.) People who think that public school classrooms ought to have access to "more accurate" cubical globes (if "globe" is the right word for such an object) and people who think farm animals should have their shame hidden beneath suitable clothing (trousers for stallions, long skirts for hens, etc.) have as much right to gather and protest as people who think their taxes are too high or the government shouldn't provide anyone with healthcare (okay, so those two may be poor examples of "legitimate grievances"); the bottom line is that the students at UC-Davis had a right to assemble and protest without being assaulted by police officers even if what had them riled was a new brand of chicken nuggets and a switch to an off-brand breakfast cereals in the student cafeterias.

I don't know where I'm going with this. I don't have any solutions, I've got nothing but problems. I couldn't in good conscience not put up a post, but all I can come up with right now are tears and regrets. I don't feel like we're getting off the track; I feel like we've gone through the guardrail and there's nothing but darkness between our freespinning tires and the oncoming treetops.

UPDATE November 21st, 2011, 9:16 a.m.: Or maybe there's a lot more hope than I could see when I wrote this. I'm feeling proud of those kids.


Kate Bush, "Wild Man"

>> Sunday, November 20, 2011

Holy shit? Kate has a new album coming out in tomorrow? How did I not hear about this? I'm astonished and shocked: she just released a best-of collection and she's releasing a new studio album and it hasn't been more than a decade since Aerial? And the first single is pretty fucking awesome?

Well, damn. I don't know what else to say. Really don't. Just. Wow.

This is the radio edit of "Wild Man":


The House Of Love, "Beatles And The Stones"

>> Saturday, November 19, 2011

So, a coupla weeks ago, I finally decided that what I needed to do was: I went out to Best Buy and bought a decent set of gaming speakers, and when I brought them home I took a dying-ish netbook that wasn't usable for much else and plugged it into the big-ass Western Digital hard drives holding all the MP3s I hadn't listened to forever and set the whole thing up in the living room so I could finally listen to all that music.

I mean, most of it is stuff I own, in the sense it's bought and paid for. There are, yes, some bootlegs, especially a horde of classic Pink Floyd concerts, that only exist for me as digital files. But a big thing here is that I have a lot of files ripped from my CD collection that I haven't listened to for a while because I didn't have anything to plug the hard drives into, and I hadn't listened to the CDs, either, because the DVD player I play CDs on is upstairs in the media/guest room and I end up spending most of my time downstairs. Seems stupid, I know, but it's the kind of thing that would start making sense once you hung out here for a few days.

But this is all a long way of getting around to the fact I was listening to some 2 Meter Sessies collections I have... I have as files, okay, and let's leave it at that. Okay, possibly I'm a bad person.

Anyway, I'd forgotten how much I liked The House Of Love's "Beatles And The Stones", featured by 2 Meter Sessies as a live acoustic take, and here in a studio version uploaded to the Internet by a fan. Dig.



>> Friday, November 18, 2011

Should you have ever believed that there couldn’t possibly be any more entertainment barrel yet to be scraped, remember this: NBC has just approved a pilot for a remake of "The Munsters." Yes, the sitcom about a wacky monster family, a show that has been off the air since 1966, is returning at last. Naturally, this new version will "have a darker and less campy feel" than the Vietnam War-era original. Well, that makes it sound awesome. And NBC is the network that put "Community" on ice while giving "Whitney" a pickup — so I, the viewer, trust their taste implicitly!

It might be a hopeful sign that the show will be overseen by Bryan Fuller, who created the imaginative, not completely awful "Pushing Daises." Less hopeful: Fuller is also developing a show based on "Silence of the Lambs." This undoubtedly essential "Munsters" update comes in the midst of an unprecedented glut of reboots and reimaginings, all thick with the promise that No, really, this will be very different. It will creepy and full of action and with a feminist theme. You know what’s really different? A stinkin’ original idea.
-Mary Elizabeth Williams
"Stop the remakes!",
Salon, November 18th, 2011
(formatting in original, links removed)

I think I'm going to have to go back on something I've said in the past: I know I've griped about remakes before, but I really think Salon's Ms. Williams has really missed the boat this time, possibly (probably) because she hasn't seen some of the top secret internal documents that have been leaked to Standing On The Shoulders Of Giant Midgets concerning these really promising re-imaginings. I want you to know that I'm risking getting sued, here, and this post may result in this blog being removed from the Internet, but I'm willing to run the risk simply because I think the few hours this post is allowed to remain up before the lawyers at Comcast and GE come after me ought to build up fan appeal to the point that people aren't just excited by what Mr. Fuller has in store for us, but are demanding it.

What Ms. Williams especially doesn't know is how far along these projects really are, especially Mr. Fuller's bold new take on The Silence Of The Lambs. As I'm sure many people will recall, Jonathan Demme's 1992 film was a tense, dark, horrific thriller focusing on FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), who is given the daunting task of using a caged serial killer (Anthony Hopkins) to catch a loose serial killer (Ted Levine) who is abducting and skinning young women. While edgy and innovative by the cinema standards of two decades ago, the film is long in the tooth and could use a major polishing.

While most sequels and reboots fail, it's worth noting that some of the most successful ones are those which take the basic concept of the original and transform it by changing the basic style or context. E.g. James Cameron's sequel to Ridley Scott's Alien retains the idea of parasitic extraterrestrials with extensible jaws, but instead of trying to merely imitate the isolated "haunted house in space" conceit worked by Scott, Cameron modeled his film after classic war movies, resulting in a highly-effective and engaging film that both follows the original while enhancing and expanding its universe; indeed, many folks prefer Cameron's retooling to the original. In a similar vein, director Irvin Kershner and screenwriters Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan took the basic ideas and settings laid out by writer/director George Lucas in the movie Star Wars--there's a war going on, and it's happening in space--and asked what that scenario might be like if it had characters and dialogue. Their answer remains many folks' favorite film in what would eventually become a trilogy, indeed providing such a definitive response that George Lucas would find it unnecessary to ever make another movie again in his entire life other than the two "Indiana Jones" films he co-created with his old friend, Steven Spielberg.

The original Silence Of The Lambs was a stark, largely humorless thriller built around the relationship between Starling and Hannibal Lecter (a breakout character who would go on to appear in hundreds of sequels of his own); where do you go with that? The answer might be obvious, but that doesn't make it any less winning.

Silence Of The Lambs, the TV series, hearkens back to classic Silver Age sitcoms like The Odd Couple, mining the still viable vein of "mismatched buddies" humor, throwing in a twist reminiscent of such "roomies with a secret" comedies as Three's Company and Bosom Buddies. Clarice Starling (Dakota Fanning) is a young FBI secretary fresh out of college who has just arrived in The Big City full of hopes and dreams. But with rents being what they are in this economy, she finds herself looking for a roommate; happily, Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Sean Hayes) has an extra room to sublet in his strangely-huge Brooklyn apartment! But he also has a big secret he's keeping from the landlord, Mr. Crawford (Matthew Perry). What on Earth could it be?

Clarice, naturally, assumes that Hannibal's secret is that he's gay, but of course anybody familiar with the original movie will probably guess that Hannibal's secret is that he's a psychopathic cannibal who lures young men into his home and eats them. Mr. Crawford, meanwhile, can't figure out what's constantly wrong with the drains and is frequently popping in to announce his latest hypothesis to explain the piles of strangely-stained and torn clothing that keep appearing in the basement furnace room ("Squirrels," he theorizes in the pilot episode. "They've chosen my building to hide their human disguises when they go back to the park to panhandle in the morning." Perry's brilliant delivery is what sells the line.)

Anyone wondering if cannibalism is a suitable basis for humor may be unacquainted with Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd or Monty Python's lifeboat sketch. A better question is whether Fanning, a movie actress largely known as a child star, can carry a television sitcom (even with the help of TV vets Perry, Hayes and special guest appearances by Ted Danson as Hannibal's cross-dressing friend, Bill). The answer, happily, is yes. Fanning's spit-take when she notices that Hannibal has roasted a leg of "lamb" that's still capped with a tennis shoe at one end is priceless, and she manages a wonderful bit of physical comedy in which she and Hayes try to keep the shoe from being noticed by an oblivious Perry with a flair recalling the brilliance of Lucille Ball. (Although it also has to be confessed that a subsequent setup, in which Fanning tries to explain away a bloody spatula by claiming Hannibal was making red velvet cake--thereby forcing Ted Danson to climb out of a fire escape wearing high heels and a party dress made from a missing girls volleyball team to find a red velvet cake at nine p.m.--falls flat, largely due to some excessive mugging by Hayes.)

The bottom line, though, is that Silence hits its marks seven or maybe six times out of ten. There's also a fine self-referential self-awareness that hasn't really been seen on television since the cancellation of Arrested Development. (After finally getting Mr. Crawford to leave, Hayes and Danson sit down to cold cuts and Hayes asks Danson why he came back. "Sometimes," he replies, "you want to go where every meal knows your name." "Cheers," Hayes tosses back, pouring Danson a glass of fine Chianti.)

If the solution to making Silence viable is to go from dark to light, the logical thing for Fuller to do with The Munsters is to go light to dark. Details remain sketchy, and the pilot wasn't made available to Giant Midgets, but we were given a copy of the show bible, and it looks like Fuller means to go full-Whedonesque with The Munsters. Where the original series strove to answer the question that has bothered fans of speculative fiction since the publication of Dracula in 1897--What would happen if a Dracula married a Frankenstein?1--the rebooted Munsters wonders how a struggling blue collar family of Frankenstein/Draculas can survive in a world that challenges not only their basic values but their very existence.

The original series, some may recall, tended to give short shrift to the show's least-interesting, blandest character, Marilyn Munster, who apparently, somehow, in some inexplicable and implausible fashion, appeared to be a normal human in spite of the only logical conclusion possible, that the intermarriage of a Dracula and a Frankenstein should produce a Wolf Man like the young Eddie Munster (the possibility that Marilyn was the product of some extramarital affair or prior marriage was never, so far as I know, explored by the original series). The emphasis in the new series' bible on Masonic conspiracies and a Jesuit order of monster-hunting nuns, however (whiffs of Buffy The Vampire Slayer's Slayer order) seem to confirm that Marilyn will have a larger role in the reboot, a role that may put her at odds with her family on a frequent basis.

More controversial to Munster devotees will be the apparent decision to make little brother Eddie into a new kind of creature, "a Drakenstein" [sic], who sometimes transforms into "a hair-covered, bloodthirsty, half-mindless beast in the presence of electronic [sic] activity like lightening [sic] and high-voltage towers". What I would say before any angry fans "storm the castle" with torches and pitchforks, so to speak, is that the "female Starbuck and Boomer" decision in the rebooted Battlestar Galactica was similarly controversial, but undeniably worked and ultimately improved upon the original characterizations.

Another potentially controversial alteration, although it has some interesting ramifications, is the provocative decision to change Herman Munster's origin so that he is no longer a creation of the original Dr. Frankenstein, but the creation of the enigmatic Grandpa Munster, who may have manufactured a grandson-in-law as part of a complex and ancient plot in which his own descendants are elements of a twisted breeding program. (Considering that the idea of a vampire "turning" his own granddaughter is rife with all sorts of incestuous and Electral implications already, we're in some pretty heady psychosexual territory.)

The series bible suggests that Herman will return, for better or worse, to the wordless/monosyllabic roots portrayed in the old Universal Studios films starting with 1931's Frankenstein and 1935's Bride Of Frankenstein. Quite a departure from Fred Gwynne's characterization, to be sure. The writers are instructed to leave some ambiguity as to whether Herman's speech defects are the product of the massive infusions of electricity required to periodically recharge his heart, the use of a deranged criminal's brain in his creation, damage during the installation of the brain, or some other cause. It is possible, the writers are told, that Herman is smarter than he appears and more observant and aware of how he's being used than his inarticulateness lets on. The bible also calls attention to something attentive readers may have noticed just now: yes, Herman's electrical nature and reliance on routine high-voltage recharges to remain animate complicates his relationship with his son, Eddie, who becomes a blood-famished wolflike beast whenever he's in the presence of electrical activity.

We know little about Lily Munster, except that it's clear that the new Munsters picks up on the idea suggested largely in the Hammer Studios' Dracula films that it takes more than a simple staking to kill a vampire, and removal of a stake allows a vampire to regenerate. Lily, we're told, has been staked several times in the past and her own grandfather routinely stakes her and de-stakes her as punishment when she complains about being forced to marry "that grunting creep with his sewn on... part...s"(!!). The Freudian symbolism and possible misogyny run amuck, methinks. It's also strongly implied--answering that old unanswered question from the original show--that Marilyn isn't Herman's daughter at all, and most likely will be revealed to be half-Mummy(!!), though writers are cautioned "the showrunner may select a different classic universal [sic] monster by the end of Season One i.e. [sic] a Creature From The Black Lagoon or maybe a Hunchback."

I am frankly less-optimistic about the Munsters reboot than I am about Silence Of The Lambs, but I've been wrong before and am trying to retain a cautious optimism notwithstanding the fact that some of The Munsters' tropes are wearing a little thin these days (Whedonian supergirls, for instance) while other ideas simply don't appear to be fully thought-out (Lily Munster selects her victims from a tanning salon she works at part time, despite the fact this seems like a singularly stupid occupation for a vampire to hold, for what I hope are all sorts of obvious reasons; hopefully, someone will notice the problems and the script will have been changed by the time the pilot went into production).

1Much as certain biological questions could be raised but not answered in the years between the rediscovery of Gregor Mendel's work on inheritance and the revelation of the physical structure of DNA by Watson and Crick in 1953, questions about the interbreeding of Draculas and Frankensteins couldn't be definitively answered until Curt Siodmak's screenplay for The Wolf Man went to theatre screens in 1941.


(In lieu of something really tasteless) Nick Cave, "Deanna"

>> Thursday, November 17, 2011

I was so going to write a post about lousy ad campaigns, dead babies, real and fictional serial killers and discredited Freudian ideas about mother-son relations, and then I decided the prospective post was potentially tasteless even by my horrifically low standards and went no further with it than I already nearly had.

Regrettably, this left me with nothing else to write about today. So. Okay, then here's some reimagined Charles Starkweather by way of Nick Cave, "Deanna" (not "Caril", though it could be with one more syllable). Not sure if ol' Chuck spent too much time in mother's bed or not, but how much do we care where he's been?


Travels with Ziggy

>> Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I don't get the newspaper. I mean, I don't receive the newspaper; I grok it just fine. It's just that The Charlotte Observer isn't a particularly good newspaper, and even if it was a better newspaper, there just doesn't seem much point in filling my home with wood pulp when I can get most of the news I care about via free pixels on the computer screen. And, sure, you're supposed to clear out all those piles of paper by dumping them in the recycling bin, but that's a pain in the ass. Plus, you get newsprint all over your hands reading the paper, which doesn't happen when you're getting your news from the Internet (basically, if you're getting electricity all over your hands from your computer, you have worse things to worry about than getting ink all over everything, though you might not have to worry about it very long).

But someone brings the newspaper to the office and leaves it out when they're done with it for anyone else to look at it, and sometimes when I'm walking by I'll stop and pick it up to look at the most important section in the thing: the funny pages.

I've always looked at the funnies first. Even when I was a kid, and I mean not just a little kid but even when I'd come home in junior high or high school and sit down at the dining room table before my parents came home and go through the whole newspaper front-to-back (skipping or skimming the sports section, because I pretty much have never cared). I don't know that this is unusual; I mean, the history of the funnies section in newspapers is that publishers started including them because they were the most consistently popular pages in their newspapers, and the Sunday funnies have long been the selling point for quite a lot of newspapers.

All of this is a long way of getting around to what I saw when I picked up the paper today on my way back from the restroom, turned to the back of the Living section, and saw this:

Huh. So they're still publishing Ziggy.

I think it was this past weekend I was talking to The ScatterKat about humor, specifically about a Halloween costume she'd seen that was one of those things where you laugh and then feel awful about laughing--I won't describe it to you, but let's just say it referenced a major world religion and rampant accusations of horrific behavior made against certain members of this faith's clergy--and it led to a conversation about humor and cruelty. Someone The ScatterKat had talked to thought it was unspeakably awful anybody would ever laugh at the costume in question, but humor is inherently cruel. It's Mel Brooks' old line about how tragedy is I prick my little finger and comedy is you falling down an open manhole and dying, it's Moe Howard hitting Curly in the head with a hammer. There's not really anything funny about falling ten or twenty feet, breaking your legs and drowning in a stream of human shit, or about actual traumatic brain damage. And yet horror and humor are inextricably bound; I don't mean that everything horrific is humorous or everything funny is awful, just that there's this long stretch where these two threads are wound tightly together. Which is why, if you'll forgive a quick tangent, you have things like the Crypt Keeper or Freddy Krueger on the one hand and jokes like The Aristocrats on the other.

But gods, that Ziggy strip is horrific and stupid.

Let's get this out of the way: I don't really find the strip offensive; I think if you're going to get offended by a scrawled, bald, pantsless zombie refugee from the 1970s, you really need to consider getting a hobby. Visit an art supply store on your way home, you might get some ideas there.

Indeed, while we're here, let's point out that the lack of offensiveness is part of the panel's essential stupidity: "very poor Third-World country" is hopelessly generic and could describe dozens of countries on several continents and various hemispheres. If the Ziggy had been more specific--"a very poor Third-World country in South America", for example--it would at least rise to the level of racist trolling instead of being nothing less than a cheap hip-shot fired randomly at nothing particular. Perhaps, if you were a racist, you could laugh at some specific bigoted inner caricature instead of projecting onto the panel whatever stereotype of a "Third-World country" leaps into your head when you read the panel. (Thinking about this, actually, it occurs to me the strip may exhibit a kind of crude genius, setting itself up as a sort of racist Rorschach test that immunizes itself from being called out for racism by merely being a blank slate upon which the audience projects their own prejudices: did you think Ziggy's luggage went to Africa? To Asia? To Latin America? Micronesia? The Caribbean? He didn't say, and shame on you for guessing. But I think this gives the panel to much credit, frankly; I don't think that much thought or effort went into it.)

But let's move on, shall we? Let's take it as far as, "Ziggy's luggage ended up in some benighted place where people of whatever sort--it doesn't matter who they are, because the panel didn't care enough to let us know who they might be--are so hungry, hopeless and/or ignorant that when they saw a suitcase they ate it." This really isn't funny, it's just awful. And I don't mean offensively awful, I just mean how desperate would someone have to be to eat a suitcase? Good grief, I hope it wasn't a hardshell Samsonite. And note, please, this is another element of the panel's essential and inherent dumbness: I mean, what kind of luggage does Ziggy carry, anyway? I don't think he's ever been presented as being the kind of guy who'd be carrying Zero Halliburton, that shit's kind of pricey and calls for a certain kind of sensibility (and let's be honest, it may also call for a certain level of douchiness unless you're a professional photographer, though they really are pretty nice suitcases). I imagine we're supposed to picture Ziggy carrying a bunch of fabric or soft-side bags, but who really knows?

(Oh, and if you were wondering: yes, I did work in a luggage store at one point. Back in high school. Why do you ask?)

It's just a horrible mental picture in context, really: somebody, somewhere, trying to chew on a plastic or perhaps even metal suitcase. The look of desperation and panic in their eyes as they realize what they're trying to consume isn't actually edible and yet they're somehow compelled to eat it anyway.

Looking back at the panel, it's hard to take in just how much vagueness permeates the entire gag. Okay, so Ziggy's mysterious luggage (whatever it might have been) was accidentally transported to some unknown and unspecified country that might have been anywhere in the world by "Airlines". This is what the front desk has emblazoned on it. Not "Airline", not a fictitious company, perhaps jokingly named, like "Earhart Air", say--no, Ziggy's unspecified baggage was evidently lost by all of them, by every company in the air-transit industry. (Does he have to sue all of them, or can he pick one out of a hat?) It's as if there's some kind of Heisenberg principle at work, or it would be if Ziggy knew where his luggage ended up (just not how it got there or where it was going to).

At some point in the preceding paragraphs, I suspect, you may have asked an obvious question: "Eric," you might have wondered aloud or in your head, "why are you wasting any time on this?"

It's actually not a very good question. Sorry. I'm not trying to be rude with that. It's just that this is important, not for any sort of sociological reason or cause for indignation or whatever, but because if you're anything like me and you care about writing or creating, and care at all about how a creative artifact works, this Ziggy actually does provide some food for thought. That thought might merely be, "How is it possible Tom Wilson gets paid shit-tons of money for so little effort on his part?" Which is a better question; well, no, actually it's a good question, not because it's unfair for Wilson to be paid so much for so little, but because the lack of effort evident in that strip perhaps tells us something about humor (and horror, and perhaps any artist-audience interaction).

Let's go back to that Rorschach thing for a moment: this Ziggy panel is stupid in large part because of its vagueness: what airline, what luggage, what country, what people, etc.? And what that vagueness does is put everything onto the audience. It happens to be quick and lazy, and if you're trying to write six comic panels and one Sunday strip a week, fifty-two weeks a year for forty years-and-counting, tossing off a panel like that may be a coping mechanism. The labor, anyway, gets shifted to the viewer: in the unlikely event you laughed at that panel (and I really hope you didn't laugh), you laughed because you projected everything into the panel--you imagined the time you or someone you knew lost a suitcase and imagined that suitcase winding up in some location your mind consciously or unconsciously picked, you even made a mental leap from "airlines" to whatever prejudices or experiences you've had while traveling by air and/or your impressions of the industry through the media or word-of-mouth or whatever. "Ah yes, those crooks in the aviation industry," you said to yourself, perhaps so quickly you might not have even known you were saying it, "always losing luggage and mine probably would end up getting eaten by starving Bongolians, ha-ha-ha", and then you finished your doughnut or turned the page to see how your team was doing or what happened in the Market yesterday.

It seems to me that that's a lot of work to shift onto an audience. Any kind of art (and I'm using the word broadly, not because there's anything particularly arty about Ziggy, for cryin' out loud) is a collaboration between the artist and the audience. But what we're talking about goes beyond leaving things to be interpreted; this is a comic panel that is, at its essence, completely abstract. Abstract or absent: there's nothing there and everything perceived there comes wholly from the viewer with little or no effort from the artist.

I put a lot of work into my creative efforts, sometimes more successfully than other times. Even a tossed-off, posted-without-much-editing blog piece is a project where I've tried to choose the right words in the right order. It seems to me that this is the kind of thing a creative person does. In that light, the above Ziggy panel is notably uncreative, isn't it? The creative part of the project comes down to Tom Wilson saying to himself, "Ziggy's luggage is lost and poor people ate it", then drawing that with the few loops and lines that are the hallmark of the Ziggy aesthetic. If art is a collaboration between audience and artist, he's fallen down on the job, he hasn't held up his end of the bargain; I put the effort in because I want this thing to somehow be an interaction between what I put on the screen and what your brain perceives there. Wilson evidently doesn't care all that much (perhaps he's just cashing checks at this point), and that seems terribly delinquent from my perspective.

His lack of effort is also inviting audience missteps (such as a lengthy digression on what kind of luggage a creature like Ziggy might own). When I go to the trouble of putting all these words together about an awful comic panel that otherwise wouldn't be worth the seconds it takes for the eyes to bounce off it, I'm hoping those words will trigger some kind of mental process in your head regarding art or creativity or meaning or somesuch, regardless of whether or not you comment on it below; if the only thing that happens in your head as you read this is something like, "Wow, he didn't care for that Ziggy cartoon," I've failed. The response I'm trying to elicit isn't necessarily predictable or pre-defined, but "Eric didn't like the cartoon" isn't what I was hoping for at all. Put another way, I'm not necessarily trying to guide you to a particular place in this piece, but I am trying to channel your thoughts in some directions more than others. You might think of the whole thing as a sort of verbal pachinko machine, wherein all the balls end up at the bottom eventually but their paths can vary in all sorts of ways. Well--that's at one level, at the widest zoom. At another level, I'm trying very specifically to choose words and phrases in a way that takes you to specific places at specific points within the piece: e.g. two sentences ago, I compared the bouncing around of thoughts to a specific kind of arcade game, including a helpful link to a Wikipedia article on the chance you didn't get the specific mental association I was trying to get you to, and I did this very deliberately with a very specific mental image in my brain that I was trying to create in yours. This is what writers try to do. If I wrote "pachinko machine" and you thought of Al Pacino or palomino horses or Palo Alto, the sentence was a failure; if you imagined a pachinko machine but didn't make the connection between your caroming thoughts as you read this and the metal ball rebounding down the machine's guts, I also failed.

Note that that much effort might go into a quickie gag designed to make you snort your coffee before you move on. I mean, the fact there's not really any difference, creatively speaking, between me trying to elicit a belly laugh and me trying to elicit a profound appreciation for the musical artistry of Pink Floyd and me trying to convince you the death penalty is wrong. The stakes are different: I'd rather persuade you about a serious topic than just get a cheap laugh; but in all those instances I'm trying to evoke something in your mind or heart. I might misfire in one or all cases, but that's something else.

Where is Tom Wilson trying to take you? Does he care whether you get there?

I think that's worth analyzing a Ziggy comic over. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe you don't agree or don't even care enough to agree or disagree. But I hope you saw it when I pointed.


An open letter to Mrs. Katherine Marlow

>> Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Dear Winner‏

Katherine Marlow

From: Katherine Marlow (backup@server.panservers.com)
Sent: Mon 11/14/11 9:45 PM

Microsoft Award Team
20 Craven Park, Harlesden London NW10 United Kingdom
Ref: BTD/968/05
Batch: 409978E

Dear Winner,


The prestigious Microsoft and Aol has set out and successfully organized a Sweepstakes marking the year 2011 anniversary we rolled out over US$4,418,864 for our end of year Anniversary Draws. Participants for the draws were randomly selected and drawn from a wide range of web hosts which we enjoy their patronage.

The selection was made through a computer draw system attaching personalized email addresses to ticket numbers. If you ignore this, you will regret it later. Microsoft and AOL are now the largest Internet companies and in an effort to make sure that Internet Explorer remains the most widely used program, Microsoft and AOL are running an e-mail beta test.

Your email address as indicated was drawn and attached to ticket number 008795727498 with serial numbers BTD/9080648302/06 and drew the lucky numbers 14-21-25-39-40-47(20) which subsequently won you ?1,350,000.00 (One Million Three Hundred and Fifty Thousand Great Britain Pounds) as one of the 5 jackpot winners in this draw. You have therefore won the entire winning sum of ?1,350,000.00 (One Million Three Hundred and Fifty Thousand Great Britain Pounds) The draws registered as Draw number one was conducted in Brockley, London United Kingdom These Draws are commemorative and as such special.

Please be informed by this winning notification, to file your claims, you are to make contact with your designated agent who shall by duty guide you through the process to facilitate the release of your prize. To file for your claim Please Contact your delivery agency in the contact information below:

Contact Person's:MR HENRY LANDER
Emails: henry.lander70@live.com

You are advised to contact your fiduciary agent with the following details to avoid unnecessary delays and complications:

1)Full name:
3)Ticket Numbers:
4)Batch Number:
5)Serial Number:
6)Lucky Numbers: (as indicated in this winning Notification)
7)Phone numbers:
8)Amount won:

Our special thanks and gratitude to Bill Gates and his associates. We wish you the best of luck as you spend your good fortune in this season.

Note: You have One week from the date of this publication to claim your prize or you may forefeet your winnings. In compliance with the sponsoring bodies’, you are to make a remittance of a part of your won fund, not lower than 10- percent, after receiving your allocation to a charity organization.

Thank you for being part of our commemorative end of year Anniversary Draws.


Mrs. Katherine Marlow

Microsoft Promotion Team
Vice President

**********************************Aviso de Confidencialidad**********************************
La información contenida en este e-mail es confidencial, privilegiada y está dirigida
exclusivamente a su destinatario. Su revisión, difusión, distribución o copiado está
prohibido. Si ha recibido este e-mail por error por favor bórrelo y envíe un mensaje al

The information contained in this e-mail is privileged and confidential and is intended
only for its addressee. Any review, dissemination, distribution or copying of this is
prohibited. If you have received this mail in error please delete the original message
and e-mail us.

Dear Mrs. Marlow,

Well, you know, I have to respond. I know you say not to. I can't help myself. And I know you demand confidentiality and in multiple languages, too. But I find the temptation to respond irresistible.

You see, I'm afraid if I don't respond publicly, I might end up inadvertently ignoring your message. And what if I do that and regret it later? You say I'll regret it later; dear gods, I can only imagine you showing up at my home in the middle of night with baseball bats, a black hood and those plastic twist-ties the police sometimes use to restrain people these days in lieu of handcuffs. Or slashing my tires in the parking lot. Publishing humiliating junior high school photographs. Spreading scurrilous rumors. Ordering pizzas to be delivered to my home. Hiring professional hecklers to yell at me in restaurants. Putting my address on dozens of magazine subscription forms and dropping them all in the mail. Breaking into my home and moving all the furniture around. Kneecapping me right before I compete in an Olympic figure-skating practice--I just don't know, but the possibilities are endless.

And I try to live a life without regrets, insofar as it's humanly possible.

I imagine I'm disqualified, anyway. I use Firefox for my Internet browsing. Firefox and then I use Dolphin on my phone and tablet, in spite of recent data mining concerns with the software; yes, there are limits to my 21st-Century privacy abandonment, but it really is the best browser I've tried on the tablet and it just makes sense to use the same software on the phone. Besides which, I harbor sneaking suspicions any data Dolphin is harvesting is probably already being gathered by my phone company, or could be or will be when they feel they can get away with it. Yeah, it's already a tracking device, they might as well know when I'm looking at naughty pictures or something.

But, anyway. I have to confess something. It's one word. I really was going to ignore your e-mail (regrets be damned!), except there was one word that made me giggle as I was reading your missive, madam.


I might "forefeet" my winnings you say. And I wonder if your e-mail was typed out by Speedy Gonzales, the culturally insensitive and fast-moving rodent nemesis of Sylvester Cat. That, I regret to say, is the first thought that crosses my mind: "Meester, you will forefeet your weenings eef you do not claim them." I'm probably supposed to take some kind of diversity classes now or something.

The second thing I thought when I read that line was that, unlike Sylvester, I only have hindfeet, my ancient ancestors' "forefeet" having evolved into hands ages ago. This is a remarkable adaptation that I like to think makes me a higher animal indeed; first, I mean, there's a literal sense in which my head is farther from the ground than that of many quadrupeds, even technically larger animals whose carriages bear them closer to the ground so long as they're not standing on their hindquarters (to maul me, say for instance). And then there's also the greater sophistication this advance gives me, which allows me to do things my cat is physically incapable of doing, such as opening a can of cat food when he demands it before I go and scoop his feces and urine-soaked lumps of clay from his litterbox, thereby demonstrating my precedence over him in the great chain of being, proving yet again my status of being further up the food chain than my cat so long as I manage not to fall down the stairs and break my neck (some time following which I assume the cat will eat me since I'm no longer able to show off my superiority by opening cans at his whim).

After you've opened the door to such an amusing digression on bipedalism versus quadruped-ism, it almost seems gauche to call attention to all your other spelling and grammar errors, Mrs. Marlow, except I will say this much: their presence is the most authentic-seeming thing about your message, as I've never been much impressed by Microsoft's spell-checking software (though I'll admit its slowly improved over the decades). You might want to get Speedy to hit the "F7" key on his keyboard before he sends out another e-mail for you, anyway. He may be the fastest mouse in Mexico, yes, but I think this is an instance of haste making waste. Just saying.

R. Eric VanNewkirk
Standing On The Shoulders Of Giant Midgets


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