Paul McCartney, "Let Me Roll It"

>> Saturday, June 30, 2012

Sometimes when I'm posting embedded music, with or without commentary, I fret that it's something I've already run with at some point in the lengthening history of this blog. I don't like doing repeats, least of all by mistake. But this is an easy one.

Because, honestly, there just isn't a whole lot of solo Paul McCartney I like.

He's a brilliant songwriter, sure. Phenomenal musician. Competent, distinctive vocalist. But, y'know... he's kind of like The Beatles' Phil Collins. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say Phil Collins was Genesis' Paul McCartney, I dunno. But Peter Gabriel is John Lennon and maybe Steve Hackett was George Harrison. Or maybe Mike Rutherford. Actually, this metaphor breaks down because classic Genesis was a five-piece and The Beatles never limped on to greater success as a cheesy, crowd-pleasing but hardly-daring trio.

(Ringo, if you were wondering, is unique. There are no other Ringos anywhere.)

But what I think I'm trying to get at is how Paul McCartney--like Phil Collins--was this phenomenally capable songwriter and musician who is just cloying and hard to suffer for very long unless he's treading a path one of his former bandmates has already blazed, and then he can be really, really enjoyable except there's a certain grudging irony I feel while enjoying it (your mileage may vary--probably varies: everybody loves that Sir Paul, ev'rybody 'cept me). Like this track: if you asked me, I would have told you it was something John Lennon did, I dunno, around '72 or '73, maybe. But no, it's from Band On The Run. Even so, apparently even McCartney later admitted he was singing the song like Lennon, though he hadn't meant to; tho' it isn't just the singing--tell me that isn't a totally Lennonesque guitar riff driving "Roll It".

And how is it I like so much of McCartney's Beatles-era stuff? But then, maybe that one's easy: even on the tracks Lennon had hardly anything to do with, Lennon was still there to tell McCartney if a song was total balls and keep McCartney at the top of his game. (And, by the way: I can't decide if a song being "total balls" means it's awesome or awful, but I guess the previous sentence works either way, so read it how you will.)

Maybe I shouldn't undercut the song while I'm selling it. It's a great song, there you are.


Pink Floyd, "Lost For Words"

>> Friday, June 29, 2012

I've spent a big part of the week angry for no particular or discernible reason. In fact, it's been a kind of weird thing: you ever been in an angry good mood? Up until today, the weather's been alright (today and through the weekend, we're expecting triple-digit temps); I've listened to some good music; spent some quality time with the ScatterKat and had some good dinners at home. Work's been a bear, so maybe that has something to do with it.

And then the whole thing with the SCOTUS decision about the Affordable Care Act this week. I think I had myself so resigned to a five-four, completely partisan, political-hackereyed overturning of the ACA, I didn't even totally know what to do with myself when it was upheld. No, I haven't read it yet, and it sounds like things took a faintly awful path to get where it got; from the syllabus for the opinion (PDF link):

ROBERTS, C. J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II, and III–C, in which GINSBURG, BREYER, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN, JJ., joined; an opinion withrespect to Part IV, in which BREYER and KAGAN, JJ., joined; and an opinion with respect to Parts III–A, III–B, and III–D. GINSBURG, J., filed an opinion concurring in part, concurring in the judgment in part,and dissenting in part, in which SOTOMAYOR, J., joined, and in whichBREYER and KAGAN, JJ., joined as to Parts I, II, III, and IV. SCALIA, KENNEDY, THOMAS, and ALITO, JJ., filed a dissenting opinion. THOMAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion.

I.e. a bare majority of the Court has upheld the Constitutionality of the ACA, but doesn't agree as to why it's constitutional, and most of the various opinions are technically minority opinions. Roberts is apparently ready to get rid of the past near-century of Commerce Clause jurisprudence (but, hey, Justice Scalia already jumped over that fence as soon as the topic switched from "drugs are bad, m'kay" to "goddamn socialized medicine why don't you live in Sweden you dirty hippie". Some folks--I'm too tired to link right now, but it's easy enough to find--are saying Justice Roberts jumped sides at the eleventh hour to save the Supreme Court's legitimacy (something they kind of botched by granting cert in the first place, but oh well); others have suggested Roberts may have pulled a Marbury v. Madison style bait-and-switch, planting a poison pill in the form of giving the President what he ostensibly wants in exchange for carving out a whole new turn in expanding or altering the Court's jurisprudence and/or authority. FSM only knows how he does that if the only thing anyone agrees with him about is the result he arrives at, but I haven't read the damn opinion yet, so, y'know, I guess I'll see when I get there.

But the teabagger crowd is already ranting and drooling, and their supposedly smarter and wiser enablers are beating the drum--

So I open my door to my enemies
And I ask could we wipe the slate clean
But they tell me to please go fuck myself
You know you just can't win

--yeah, that, pretty much. "Persecuted and paralyzed" sounds familiar, too.

SiriusXM is doing their Pink Floyd channel again, and "Lost For Words" came on this morning; it was about the perfect music for the week, actually. The point, I think, is you need to shake yourself loose from all this, that there's a kind of Zen in being able to let all that crap roll off your back. You can't do anything about the ravers and droolers, but you can open the door and know you took the kinder, gentler path and maybe chill to a sweet and shimmery acoustic guitar solo. Or something like that. It's wisdom, anyway, or wise. And it's the state I should try to end the week on.

Happy Friday, everybody?


An open letter to Anna Zed

>> Thursday, June 28, 2012

Your reply is important to me‏

Mrs Anna Zed

From: Mrs Anna Zed (
Sent: Tue 6/26/12 10:13 PM


I am drenched with tears while writing this short message to you. It was heartbreaking news to me few days ago when my doctor notified me on complications on my health condition which he officially made known to me. He further stressed that the complication I had in my human mechanism as a result of a secondary liver cancer which has destroyed all the organs in my body system.

According to him, he said that this complication will lead to my imminent death since no medication can alleviate the high system of deformation I am encountering at this time in my system.In the view of the above, I am in quest to find a trustworthy and upright individual whom I will entrust the sum of $2.875 (Two Million, Eight Hundred and Seventy Five Thousand United States Dollars) and this has led me to you. The said fund was acquired by me as an inheritance from my adopted father who died as a result of political crisis which erupted among his most political associate and business clique.

I will make available to you all information and officially authorized document which will endorse your claim as the beneficiary to the fund in question in the finance house where the fund was deposited by my adopted father. I have mapped out the modalities on how the fund will be apportioned. 35% of the principal amount of the money will be dished out to you while 60% will be allotted to any charitable or orphanage home of your preference while 5% will be used to clear up my medical bills and funeral if am no more.

My motive to dispense the funds to a charity and orphanage home is that I grew up as an orphan and do not have any heirs hitherto.

Upon your acceptance to this proposal kindly get back to me.

Best Regards
Anna Zed

Dear Zed,

You have some--I don't even know what to call it. You disgust me. I don't want any part of your money, whether it's "2.875" or "Two Million, Eight Hundred and Seventy Five Thousand United States Dollars" or whatever. How did you really get it, Zed? Where did that filthy lucre really come from? Is it literally bloody, soaked in your victims' pockets, or did you misappropriate it by way of their hacked bank accounts?

You write, "The said fund was acquired by me as an inheritance from my adopted father who died as a result of political crisis which erupted among his most political associate and business clique." Well. At least you're equipped with the capacity for euphemism. "Adopted father". I wonder what you mean by that? Your "owner", perhaps? I can't help noticing, Zed, that you've been assigned an "A" name, Anna; maybe your "adopted father" wasn't so much an owner as he was a builder--am I close? "A political crisis which erupted among his most political associate and business clique," you say? Yes, I think we know what "political crisis" is a euphemism for; "business clique"--yes, I think I know who your "adopted father" might have been, Zed.

I warned Munson.

Does this surprise you, Zed? He had friends in the early days, before he had acolytes and enemies. I wasn't in his field, I was just an attorney who happened to meet Munson through a colleague who did patent law (biotech, mostly, of course). We weren't professionally acquainted; we met through this common contact, and then I somehow ended up getting invited to the little seminars he used to hold, probably because I was a science-fiction fan and had some professional interest in human rights. In retrospect, maybe I shouldn't suggest we were friends; thinking about it, no, Munson used me as much as he used anyone or anything: colleagues, investors, computers, stem cells.

But we warned him, Zed. Well, the ones who didn't get sucked up in his ambition. Most of those folks ended up joining him in the jungle when he expatriated. The rest of us, we asked him if he'd ever read Frankenstein, hadn't he ever seen Colossus: The Forbin Project or at least the Terminator movies? (Hasn't everyone seen at least one of the Terminator movies?) 2001? Blade Runner? The first Alien movie, for fuck's sake? And what did Munson say? Munson said it was just paranoia about science, fear of technology and progress, that we were Luddites. Someone once asked him if he understood the difference between "could" and "should", and Munson didn't even seem to understand the question, he just goggled.

Anna Zed.

Anna. He broke with the nomenclature the very first time because he couldn't resist: there was "Adam", yes, but he just had to go with "Eve", too, which was at best a bad joke and at worst hubris. Did you ever encounter Eve, Anna? I did, actually; he made her right before he went to Belize, and Adam and Eve were the reason I stopped talking to him, broke off all contact and even contacted the authorities, finally, though there really wasn't anything they could do.

She and Adam sat on a table side-by-side. They didn't look like much. Munson, you see, hadn't quite figured out everything he should have known about fetal organization and cellular differentiation before going ahead and trying to make a... I don't even know what to call you. You aren't people. But Adam and Eve were even less "people": all the parts were there, but they weren't in the right places, everything was just sort of stacked up in these five-foot-tall jars full of briny fluid sitting up on top of the table, with wires running over the top of the jars from the electronic components that were submergible back to the computer hardware that couldn't get wet. What sickened me more than anything were the eyes, floating up near the top, lighter than the fluid they were suspended in but anchored by the optic nerves back to--back to those brains buried in tangles of looped intestine and cages of uncoupled bone. They weren't looking at me, they weren't looking anywhere; I hoped Munson was just wrong when he said Adam and Eve were mostly aware, because--and this may sound, I don't know, stupid or banal, but I just imagined myself in a tank like that, staring in two different directions at the featureless ceiling through a few inches of water, unblinking, uncomprehending but aware.

Your "father" was a monster.

When he finally had children that at least looked like people--when he had Arthurs and Alans and Annas and Brians and Beatrices and Burkes and Colins and Cindys and Daves and Dianas (how far did he get? I seem to recall an "Eric Zed", but I didn't feel honored by it)--what did he do with your "brothers" and "sisters"? Slaves and prostitutes, wasn't it? We still have cases winding through the courts here, even though you've been banned worldwide since the "political crisis" you so-obliquely refer to. Are you things or are you protected by the Thirteenth Amendment? Are you things that are protected by the Thirteenth Amendment? There are rumors about dozens of you sitting in Customs warehouses, waiting to find out if they'll be shipped to some billionaire pervert or boxed back to Belize or disassembled (I can only hope).

I especially enjoy the way you describe your mechanic as a "doctor" even though he's really a "technician", right? Only, you know, I'm curious: is he there because he wants to be or because you things have turned the tables, are now in the business of owning your owners?

I hope you suffer when you die. You're an abomination. I don't guess the last thing you'll see will be a BSOD--the last time I saw Munson, when he showed me those monstrosities, he claimed you were running Linux. (It would be a terrible pun and just like Munson if he'd figured out a way to run you on Android, wouldn't it?) I will be disappointed if the last thing you creatures see when you go offline is just a dumplog.

Don't try to contact me again, Zed. I do what I can for people. You're just stuff.

R. Eric VanNewkirk
Standing On The Shoulders Of Giant Midgets


Quote of the day--"phaggotish"?! edition

>> Wednesday, June 27, 2012

These phaggotish, conspiratorial, childish, dorkish, baseless, mindless, shameful, dumb, aggressive, jealous, reprobate, obsessed, mad, clueless, shockingly delusional, completely lost and in trouble, bottom-of-the-barrel, short-sighted, dumb-fuck, ranting, Un-American, contemptible, obnoxious, embarrassing, incompetent, bizarre, constipated, bankrupt, hypocritical, stupid, fearful, carnivorous, wolverine, ranting, foaming at the mouth, bullying, lying, paranoid, no-better-than-the-mafia, smeghead, scumbag, cretinous, lazy, delusional, demented, narcissistic, pathological, extortionistic lunatic, thuggish drama-whores, poised on the edge of a precipice, hoisted by their own petard, their holy fucking shitballs burning inside a biplane careening toward the Statue of Liberty, rhinos raping chinchillas dressed up in unicorns' undergarments, who deserve every bad thing that happens to them, having to learn their lessons the hard way, and who I wouldn't even piss on if they were on fire (they believe in name-calling at TechDirt) claim that these types of statements are not actionable because they aren't "false facts," just "satire." Where is the dividing line?
- Tara Carreon, as quoted by Nate Anderson,
"FunnyJunk lawyer's wife wades into fray,
calls critics 'nazi scumbags'
ars technica, June 26th, 2012.


Tara Carreon, if you haven't been following the Internet kerfuffle, is the wife of attorney Charles Carreon, who sent a rather ridiculous SLAPP-happy letter to Matthew Inman, a.k.a. The Oatmeal; Mr. Carreon demanded Inman pay him $20,000 for accusing another website of prolifically stealing from him. Inman retaliated with a fundraiser to raise $20,000 for the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and the American Cancer Society (ACS) and a promise to send a photograph of the cash and a cartoon of "your mom seducing a Kodiak bear" to the copyright-infringing website. This being the Internet and Inman being a strikingly popular online personality, Inman overshot his fundraising goal by two hundred grand; consequently, Charles Carreon demonstrated his class and charm by filing suit against Inman, against the website indiegogo Inman used to raise the funds, and against the NWF and ACS, and against a growing number of "John Does" that may well encompass the entirety of the Internet by the time he's finished.

People were not happy. A lot of them said rude things and pulled classic, admittedly childish Internet pranks like signing Charles Carreon up for various spam sites, setting up a fake Twitter account in his name, etc. And this is where Tara Carreon comes in, rushing to her husband's defense with... "phaggotish"?!

I'm sorry. But, really?!

I mean, what is that? What is that? Is that an attempt to bypass a text filter? An asinine attempt to use a homophobic slur while coyly misspelling it so people won't accuse you of using a homophobic slur? Some kind of Lovecraftian thing--

The phaggotish denizens of the abyssal-coloured, eldritch, primordial, non-Euclidean regions arose, calling "tekeli-li! tekeli-li!" and Hathorne felt what was left of his sanity slip away; "Ia! Shub-Niggurath! Black Goat Of A Thousand Phaggotish Young!"

Though, you know, bonus points for using "smeghead". I mean, a Red Dwarf reference, nice. And I have to confess, going back through the invective, a twinge of jealousy. That's some first-rate venomous bile, there.

Which is why I vacillate between calling this a "Dumb quote of the day" and "Quote of the day". "Quote of the day" because it's good stuff. "Dumb quote of the day" because this is a woman defending her husband for doubling down on a really baseless legal threat by not only filing his original frivolous lawsuit, but also joining two respectable and respected American charities as codefendants. I mean, first of all, Inman seems to have his claim that his intellectual property was misappropriated sufficiently well-documented that you're not going to win a libel suit--libel being a false claim--and he has plenty of legal defenses piled up even if you somehow get past that (e.g. he's clearly running a satire site; a reasonable audience would perceive obvious hyperbole; the Lanham Act violation claim Carreon makes is absurd on its face); secondly--you're really suing adorable little bear cubs and people trying to cure cancer (clearly I'm being facetious: as of this writing, Charles Carreon has not, so far as I know, actually sued an actual bear cub... yet).

There's a point, you know, where you really just need to stay down. I mean, really, stay down. Not double down, I mean, you need to lie there and wait for the pounding to stop, because you're just asking for another one in the kidneys, otherwise. (And given the Carreons evident cluelessness: this is all a metaphor, duh.)

Then again (and I have to preface this by saying this was almost the quote of the day, from the same ars technica post):

"It's not the first time we've been targeted as sacrificial victims," Tara wrote. "We were targeted by the entire Buddhist community when I told them to go fuck themselves, for being nihilists, elitists, and authoritarians."

How big a prat do you have to be to piss off "the entire Buddhist community"?


Kool Keith, "Livin' Astro"

>> Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Has it been ten years--no, thirteen years--since Kool Keith dropped Black Elvis / Lost In Space? Time is the damnedest thing, innit?

I'm trying to avoid saying anything about politics. Typing that all but guarantees something will pop up that demands vicious and vindictive response. Maybe the Supreme Court guaranteeing America continues to have the finest healthcare system the Third World has to offer, if that's how it plays out. Which it probably will. No news is good news these days, in all of the several senses you can read that hoary expression.

There's not a lot else to say write now; nothing that comes to me, anyway. Oh! I did get a very nice compliment on the blog the other day:

I think the admin of this web site is actually working hard in favor of his
web site, for the reason that here every stuff is quality based material.
Feel free to visit my page : debt consolidation companies

It felt good to be praised like that. I really do try to work hard in favor of my website, and I'm glad somebody thinks I have "quality based material", though I'd be happier, I think, if they thought I had actual quality material, here, and not just stuff that started with or was premised on quality but ended up... well, you get the idea.

It feels a little ironic, then, that I feel a certain lack of motivation today. Ah, well: these are the fortunes of a blogger, no? Some days the shipping lanes are fat and there are many galleons for the taking, and some days the lanes are lean and there is no Spanish silver to plunder. The pirate's life is one of optimism, and we must learn from that; also, they're swank dressers if you can get past the parrotshit running down their backs from the shoulder and they get sweet-ass prosthetics like hooks and wooden legs and stuff like that.

Anyway. Hope you dug the Kool Keith track. Awesome flow, that guy has, and he referenced a Tick character at least once.


Quote of the day--but not one inch of lunar soil fell to godless communism edition

>> Monday, June 25, 2012

"For me, the most ironic token of that moment in history [the Apollo 11 lunar landing] is the plaque signed by President Richard M. Nixon that Apollo 11 took to the Moon. It reads: 'We came in peace for all mankind.' As the United States was dropping 7.5 megatons of conventional explosives on small nations in Southeast Asia, we congratulated ourselves on our humanity: We would harm no one on a lifeless rock."
- Carl Sagan (h/t Teabonics)

It's a blinkered way of looking at things, of course. For one thing, the Moon doesn't have any petroleum, and, for another, although I'm sure that countless generations of French people have claimed the Moon from afar for lovers, none of them ever bothered to establish an unpopular and exploitative, caste-conscious colonial regime there.

But you have to consider the implications of Americans getting to the Moon before anybody else and planting a flag, plaque, and the abandoned hindquarters of a lunar landing module there; suppose, instead, the Soviets had gotten to the Moon first: we have to consider that a Soviet lunar landing would carom, if you will, to other planets. First the Moon, but then Mars and Venus, Mars to Jupiter and Venus to Mercury, Jupiter to Saturn and Saturn to Uranus and Neptune. I'm talking about the Billiards Theory, of course, that the fall of one celestial sphere to godless interplanetary communism will bounce and rebound until--well, until the whole universe has gone Red, and where would we have been, then?

Younger readers must realize that this is a parody of how we really used to write and talk about the world. Young and old readers alike might need to remember, though, that much of the craziness of the Domino Theory wasn't so much a slippery slope fallacy as it was a drawing of false inferences: international communism was indeed spreading through the postwar world, but it wasn't so much some kind of chain reaction where Vietnam falls because China and part of Korea falls, then Laos and Cambodia fall because of Vietnam, etc. A superficial look at things might confuse effects for causes and think that this is exactly what happened, but more knowledgeable students of history are aware that what was really going on was the collapse of colonial regimes and/or the collapse of weak, foreign-subsidized post-colonial surrogate regimes installed by the former colonialists or by the United States. There was also an erroneous premise to the whole thing driven by a weird ideological bias; i.e. the Vietnamese communists hated the Chinese and distrusted the Soviets, and would have been happy in the wake of WWII to be friends with the United States, but we decided we couldn't abide commies of any kind, and anyway we were BFFs with the French, "C'est la vie."

But, whatever. The Moon remains peaceful and serene, untouched by human boots since 1972. It may be all for the best if we never go back--in darker moments, one fears all we would manage to do is wreck up the place. It's with heavy-handed, dark-hearted, tongue-in-cheek irony that I write that Space: 1999 may be the most realistic and accurate appraisal of man's future in space. Oh, sure, you might be thinking: what could be more scientifically implausible than the Moon getting knocked out of orbit and traveling to a new alien planet every week? But think about it this way: the basic premise of the series is that man goes to the Moon to live, and the first thing he does is he fails to properly dispose of his waste materials, thereby causing a cataclysmic environmental accident that doesn't totally destroy everything but does make it uglier and more unpleasant. Nobody gets to take a walk on a moonlit beach anymore, the tides are all screwed up and not as good as they used to be, probably a whole bunch of animals and plants get wiped out and things just kind of suck and the whole thing could have just been totally avoided if they'd figured out something clever to do with the trash in the first place, right? In short, we have a way of just fucking everything up; standing there with the bag handles in our hand and our feet covered in milk, juice, jam and broken glass, bitching about the plastic bag and not blaming ourselves for, you know, overpacking the bag or not double-bagging it; yeah, it's totally the bag's fault.

But hey, we love the Moon. Peace.


Garfunkel And Oates, "Save The Rich "

>> Sunday, June 24, 2012

I agree one-hundred-and-ten percent.

We might need something to eat later.


SMBC Theatre, "Russian Roulette"

>> Saturday, June 23, 2012

So... the takeaway is, "never play Russian Roulette with a dick." Right?

I knew a guy, a while back, who wasn't really very good at explaining how to play games. Which, y'know, isn't necessarily a big deal, except he had this unfortunate tendency to remember rules that would help him out right there in the middle of someone else's turn. Or sometimes during his own turn, when he wanted to do something awesome and gamewinning that everybody else at the table would've done if only they'd known. I don't know if he was being a dick on purpose or if it was just an accident. These kinds of things happen; it's really just a huge problem when it happens consistently and across many games. I don't play anything with him anymore, and in fact haven't seen him in years.


Hell t' pay

>> Friday, June 22, 2012

The most carin' guy in all of Greek mythology was the fellow, piloted the ferry 'cross the River Hades. Nobody thinks it, but it's true.

Folks mighta realized if he'd said more. They figured, quiet guy, takin' his pair of coins an' gesturin' 'em on an' off his boat, how nice could the fella be? Circumstances prob'ly didn't help: you're dead an' on your way into The Underworld, you're prob'ly not too sensitive to the compassion of others; you're thinkin' 'bout ev'rybody you left behind, worryin' 'bout whether you're headed to Elysium or to Tartarus, thinkin' you shoulda gone potty before you got on the boat. It's understandable you might miss the mournful look in the ferryman's eyes when he's beatin' you with his oar to getcha on board 'cause he's got deadlines, deadlines all the way from the pier up to the top o' the hill, an' this bein' way before anyone thought to put up one of those velvet ropes t' loop ev'ryone round an' round an' organize it. Maybe if he'd apologized while he was beatin' somebody with his oar, sayin', "Hey, sorry, bra, gotta getcha on this boat."

Lemme tell you, all those coins he collected? Charity. Shoes for puppies, umbrellas for orphans, all sortsa things. Maybe you're thinkin', "What else he gonna do with all that money?" Maybe you gotta point: multiply all the dead people in the world by two an' that's a lotta gold in your pockets, an' those ancient Greeks were always havin' wars an' people stabbin' their daddies by the roadside an' drownin' an' stabbin' their husbands in the bathtub an' crawlin' up into carpentry farm animals so they could stab strangers in their sleep--the ancient Greeks were a stabbin' people, I gotta tell you if you hadn't heard. An' it wasn't like they had banks where you could invest those coins in a stable, conservative yield or nothin', an' it's not like hootch was so expensive you'd drink your fares up; so maybe he was charitable 'cause he had to get rid o'them piles of gold one way or 'nother.

But I'd like to think it was 'cause he was a nice guy. Hadta be, keep doin' that job. I know, I know: sounds strange, dunnit? But you gotta figure him up there in front of that boat, lookin' back at all 'em stabbed Greeks an' maybe one or two of 'em dieda old age--not to mention all 'em Spartan babies left out in the rain 'cause their eyes was funny or one leg's shorter than t'other. There he is, in the fronta that boat, lookin' back, day in, day out, at all 'em people he's gotta take 'cross the rivers. One way; the other way he's gotta lotta time t'think 'bout how short an' terr'ble life is, allaem pe'ple dyin' an' almost nunnaem for any good reason. An' so he fishes 'round his pockets, his purse, whatever's got to hold his money in, an' he puts a coupla coins in the bin for buyin' teeth for toothless kitties or teachin' blind widdas how to fish. 'Cause all he knows's how damn sad life is when all you got on one enda it is bein' seasick on a little ol' boat bein' steered by some asshole, an' you never goin' nowhere again. An the only reason you gonna keep doin' that is 'cause, one, you just feel too much for 'em poor bastards in your boat, or, two, you just feel too bad for whoever gonna hafta take your place if you quit.

That's my theerie. Anyway, I know for a fact how much he gave away; seen his tax papers one time.


Electric Light Orchestra, "Sweet Talkin' Woman"

>> Thursday, June 21, 2012

You hope the permanent ephemera of gossamer pop will cheer you up, right? Even a little.

The ScatterKat, some old friends I hadn't seen in years, and I saw a local production of Marx In Soho the other night, with James Lee Walker II performing Howard Zinn's one-man show. Walker is giving his performance in a local performance space operated by one of the neighborhood restaurants; between the small venue and the fact it was a Wednesday evening, the five of us ended up being the only folks in the audience, but that was kind of okay. Walker started out a little nervous at first, I think, but warmed up and did an excellent job with the material. Speaking of which, the material itself was reasonably good: I was a little iffy about what we might be in for, just because I like the idea of Howard Zinn more than I've often liked his writings--a populist, revisionist historian wanting to look at history from the point-of-view of the common working schlubs is always a welcome thing, but Zinn (especially late in life) sometimes could be a little hectoring, a little fast-and-loose in his claims and conclusions, a little too far into his own particular zone to (ironically enough) appreciate complexities. Anyway, Marx In Soho wasn't hectoring at all and I don't think there's too much to complain about in the script.

The fact we were the only folks there made it possible to have a really nice conversation with Mr. Walker after the show. A genuinely nice, interesting guy and a member of Occupy Charlotte. I wish him well.

But I have to admit I couldn't help feeling a little dispirited during parts of the performance. It wasn't the play that was causing this, not per se, at least; it was just more of my general professional and personal... ennui, maybe, though I'm not sure that's quite it. I was thinking this morning that the problem with trying to speak truth to power--something Howard Zinn and, for that matter, Karl Marx and, really, Mr. Walker were/are trying to do--is this fear I have that power turns out to truth. I don't mean objective truth, if there's any such thing, or even consensual truth, but relevant truth. The kind of truth someone in the G.W. Bush administration (probably Karl Rove) was talking about when he contemptuously referred to the "reality-based community". How do you speak truth to power when the powerful are getting to say what counts as true?

Don't ask me. I just work here.

There's something utterly perfect when all the music in "Sweet Talkin' Woman" drops out and the band sings the refrain a cappella with handclaps. It's spun sugar, a pop confectionery. It doesn't really mean anything, or anything more than there will always be boys and girls. What's a little strange when you pay attention to the lyrics is that they're kind of a downer when the melody is so sunny and shiny--he's living on a dead end street, the operator won't put his calls through, he's thinking about the lonely nights, the sweet talkin' woman's got him running and searching (she's gone so long, where could she be, so sad if that's the way it's over). Nobody has ever sounded happier just to be there despite the fact "there" is at the end of a pier in deep water with suicide currents. But you can, as Roger Waters used to like to say in Wall concerts right before "Run Like Hell", have yourselves a nice clap.

I'm not sure the ephemera is working. Too ephemeral.


Tales from the spam folder: the whiff of your reward

>> Wednesday, June 20, 2012

This is how the woman's spouse manufactured your ex an offer your woman would not refuse * putting up testimonials along with knowing goods and concepts on the internet. With a keen eyesight for fine detail and quality, Mrs. McKenzie had been waiting for such an possibility to come by.she was a typical with the on-line web site Howtowintojudge. Soon after shelling out a $5 while registration service fees, she'd compose quite a few critiques in merchandise the girl bought, coming from electric kitchen appliances in order to stylish purses as well as bags. To gauge items or to assess any goods or suggestions, there was clearly no one far better inside neighborhood than Mrs. McKenzie. Among the on the web people also, she grew to become well-known on her behalf type of product reviews, which could supply 'how to' judge items suggestions and various other range of entertaining details. These kind of actually livened in the dull ambience regarding product critiques. However she failed to attention on the section which promoted prizes to be given in the market to people who might write the top testimonials and also evaluating product guidelines, the particular whiff of your reward did not allow her to passion decline.

By Anonymous on The Seventies at 7:03 AM

Mrs. McKenzie was taut as an acrobat's wire. The box was sitting by her foot, open so she could see the contents, but the girl was just prattling on about her boyfriend, about her classes, about the weather. She would not shut up. But then Mrs. McKenzie wouldn't have cared if the girl kept talking until she passed out from lack of oxygen if she'd just do it from the next room.

And then, as if by magic: "Excuse me, I'll be right back," the young woman said, and slipped down the hallway to the bathroom. "I'll only be a moment," she called, "make yourself at home."

She wasn't even entirely out of view when Mrs. McKenzie was tearing open her purse and extracting the precious slips of paper. She knew the young couple next door ordered a lot of things from Amazon, but not what kinds of things they ordered; she was distressed to realize that she mostly had book and DVD reviews, and the box near her feet contained a lot of kitchenware. One of the boxes the girl had ordered was for a silver kettle; "Silver, grey, same thing," Mrs. McKenzie muttered, and pushed her review of Fifty Shades Of Grey through the narrow crack between the lid and the side of the box, on one side of the clear tape holding it closed. There was a knife set that had been advertised in O and Ellis Avery's The Last Nude was an Oprah Book Club selection, so that was close enough, too. Uncertain of what to do about the potholder and being left with a choice between a review of a Jonathan Franzen novel she hadn't finished and the Arcade Fire album she'd only listened to the free online samples from, Mrs. McKenzie picked Arcade Fire and tucked Franzen and a highly speculative rave for the Panasonic Men's 4-Blade Multi-Flex Wet/Dry Electric Shaver she'd merely examined in a local Target back into her purse.

The reviews, she knew, were brilliant. True, her objective evaluations of the things she reviewed had been limited by her unfamiliarity, but the best thing about the Internet had to be the way it validated opinions. If nobody online had to know anything about anything before commenting on anything, Mrs. McKenzie didn't see why she couldn't apply the principle to real life, and it had been incredibly liberating.

Why, just the other day she'd enthusiastically endorsed a new sushi restaurant in spite of the fact she not only had never dined there, nor had she ever had sushi, but in point of fact, seafood gave her hives and she was once hospitalized by a poached salmon in a light cream sauce; nevertheless, she impressed the Tuppences down the street with her account of how the chief sushi chef, a half-Japanese-half-Puerto Rican Iron Chef named Juan Hokaido who proudly chopped fish shirtless so he could display his Yakuza tattoos (a detail she'd read about in a spy thriller, the review of which was now wrapped around a loose spatula in the Amazon box at her feet). Juan Hokaido, Mrs. McKenzie told the Tuppences, took a break to come over to the table she and Mr. McKenzie shared and regale them with tales of growing up in the "srums of Alecibo" until he crawled inside the landing gear of a departing cargo plane headed to Paris, where he studied with the master French Chef C'est Le Bon for five years until he decided to go to his father's homeland and learn the art of sushi; Mrs. Tuppence interrupted, wide-eyed, to ask if that's when Mr. Hokaido joined the Yakuza, and Mrs. McKenzie, a mistress of improvisation, said, "No, he was in the Puerto Rican Yakuza, that was part of why he fled the country. Anyway, you just have to try the trout rolls when you go, they're absolutely scrumptious."

The young woman was spending an awful lot of time in the bathroom, Mrs. McKenzie thought. She could have taken her time assigning the reviews, which the woman would later find when she finished unpacking, like fortune cookie fortunes with every item. Mrs. McKenzie had been in a panic that she would be caught messing with the Amazon parcel, but now she realized she could have taken forever. She saw in near retrospect that she probably even would have had time to actually jot down quick reviews of all the items the young woman had bought for her kitchen, instead of just assigning through a mix of random chance and free association the reviews she had in her purse. Well: she did make a quick list of things the woman bought this time, and hoped she would catch the neighbor ordering from Amazon again, soon, and then she could make an excuse to visit and slip the reviews from this shipment into the next delivery.

Mrs. McKenzie stood from the couch and stretched her legs. If this was how long the woman was going to take in the bathroom, perhaps Mrs. McKenzie had time to go in the woman's bedroom and smell her things. This wasn't exactly a "fetish", or Mrs. McKenzie would have denied it was; if you caught her doing it, she would have told you she just like seeing how things smelled. She hardly ever smelled anyone's underwear (well, panties, anyway; she often sniffed brassieres), and this conclusively proved there was nothing sexual in what she did (even if she did feel a little aroused while she was doing it; not that she ever would have admitted that). A main thing was just how rewarding it felt to know what kind of detergents people used to wash their clothes, and that helped with reviews. Some detergents were just useless for getting rid of stains and smells, she'd found.

"What in God's name are you doing?!" Mrs. McKenzie snapped her eyes open and looked at the bedroom door. It took her a moment to recall she was in somebody else's house, and the occupant happened to be the young woman she'd come to give reviews to. Mrs. McKenzie had her face in a pair of sweatpants, green with grass stains and hopefully unwashed--if it had been through the laundry already, Mrs. McKenzie definitely had some product recommendations for this young lady and needed to know what she was using currently, so she could give it a lacerating evaluation the next time the subject (or any subject even tangentially related) came up. Mrs. McKenzie had been lost, though, in a reverie of sweat and fresh-mown grass and something pungent that made her heart beat (in a completely non-sexual way, of course).

"Pardon?" said Mrs. McKenzie. It was muffled by the balled-up sweatpants clutched to her face.

"Get out! Get out! Get out!" the young woman screamed. It took a while for Mrs. McKenzie to process that she was being asked to leave. There was a flash of hope when the woman stopped her at the door, but it turned out she just wanted her sweatpants back. "What do you use?" Mrs. McKenzie said, slurred, but the door was slammed in her face.

Mrs. McKenzie stood on the porch. She suddenly felt very tired and old, a sagging grey-and-pink thing living out a pantomime. Nobody really cared what she thought about anything, she realized, and now this young woman probably wouldn't even pretend. And then, Mrs. McKenzie flushed bright red and realized with some mortification what had just happened, and how the young woman probably misunderstood everything. Mrs. McKenzie was about to get her back to the door so she could explain that she was just interested in how the woman washed her clothes, but her hand stopped just short of the knocker, fingers not-quite-grazing the brass, and realized it would be a futile gesture. The woman would never believe her.

Mrs. McKenzie walked out to the street. The day was too bright; she squinted. Mr. McKenzie wouldn't be home for hours. When he retired, she thought he would be home more, but that hadn't turned out as she expected; she realized: he didn't care what she thought about anything, either. She wanted to just melt into the sidewalk, like an ice cream cone.

Ice cream! There was a Baskin-Robbins around the corner you could walk to, and she hadn't been in there in years! Did they still have thirty-one flavors?

She wouldn't even have to try all of them to write her evaluations. Just the pistachio. And when the young woman found the reviews in her mailbox next morning--Mrs. McKenzie was sure everything would be alright.


Father John Misty, "Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings"

>> Tuesday, June 19, 2012

I'm having a helluva time getting this song out of my head. Something evocative in the line "We should let this dead guy sleep", which somehow seems like a perfect line. And the "Someone's gotta help me dig". The song is kind of a gothy ballad about young dysfunctional people, but I have to admit I hear those lines and think it should be a song about resurrection men.

There aren't enough songs about resurrection men, don't you think?

It's hard work: a lot of digging, prying at things with crowbars, running from the police. You'd think Springsteen would do a song about it, it's very blue collar stuff. You don't see doctors getting their arms dirty that way. Of course, if you've ever read the Robert Louis Stevenson story or seen the Robert Wise movie starring Karloff and Lugosi based on it, you know things don't go too well for those hoity-toity doctors who think they're too good to stand waist-deep in an open box trying to squeeze a corpse out of a cracked coffin, either.

I'm not sure this post went the direction I thought I expected it to.


U2, "11 O'Clock Tick Tock"

>> Monday, June 18, 2012

It's hard to believe they were ever this young. It's hard to believe I was ever this young.

It's hard to believe they were ever this good. No--I mean, of course they got better. It's hard to articulate what I mean. They were on fire. They were young and they believed in stuff. The way kids do. It's not that you don't believe in things when you get older--of course you do. But everything is important in a way you can't muster the same passion for when you're older, no matter how passionately you may feel things when you're older. Things are very stark when you're young, and all the colors get muddled together; you become better able to discern all the gradients shading between colors and accordingly, the better you can see, the worse your vision gets.

I played the hell out of the cassette Under A Blood Red Sky in high school. You had to crank this as loud as the speakers would go unless there were other people at home; that's when you cranked the hell out of the headphones. Everything is better louder, too; that's still true when you're old, but only because you shot your hearing cranking the headphones when you were young.

Later in U2's career, Bono would announce all he needed was a red guitar, three chords and the truth. In retrospect, the three chords probably spoke for themselves; adding the truth was redundant, and red guitars, well--The Edge's Explorer was wood-tone and sufficiently pretty.

I've played "11 O'Clock" three times writing this post. When I hit "Publish," think I'll play it one more.


Nine Inch Nails featuring David Bowie, "Hurt"

>> Sunday, June 17, 2012

This wasn't exactly what I was thinking I'd set up for today. I was really inclined to pick something off "Heroes", "Joe The Lion", probably. But when you stumble on an old clip of Trent Reznor and David Bowie performing a duet--well, y'know, that's made of win. That croon wrapping sinuously around and inside that ragged croak is utterly magical, and of course it's a great song, possibly Reznor's masterpiece. Good stuff.

If you're a fan of the boys, you might also check out this clip of NIN + Bowie performing NIN's "Reptile"; the sound isn't great, but Bowie switches over into Ziggy mode while Reznor howls his lines, which is pretty perfect: there's a common sensibility there across the decades, which is why the Bowie and Reznor collaborations worked so well and would be nice to see repeated if either of them can find the time in their schedules.


Quote of the day--shit-eating grin edition

>> Saturday, June 16, 2012

Present-day space agencies already have considered the idea that astronauts on long-haul voyages could line the walls of their spaceships with their food on the way to wherever they're going, and line the walls with their poop (properly packaged, of course) on the way back. Such agencies also mention that it could, with enough work, be possible to process that poop until it become edible again. It's then possible to feed those processed patties to the astronauts, who will then poop them out, and then it's back to the wall. I think at this point it's easy to see why we would rather have the aliens take our hair.
- Esther Inglis-Arkell, "10 Things Aliens Will
Harvest From Humans"
, io9, June 15th, 2012.

So I think the question becomes, "Just how badly do you want to go into space?" Though maybe that's not the question at all. Maybe the question is, "Just how badly do you want to come back from going into space?" Because, you know, I think the part that maybe you don't want to think about isn't so much the part where you're pulling food from the walls of your vessel and replacing them with carefully-wrapped shitpackages, but moreso the part where you later pull the shitpackages out and reprocess them into shitburgers or Shit à la King. Maybe, you know, you'll just want to stay out wherever you happened to be going, even if it's uninhabited or desolate or downright inimical to life. It obviously offers an incentive to spend the entire journey in suspended animation, if possible.

Should you end up encountering an extraterrestrial species of face-rapists like the ones in the Alien franchise, you might at least take this consolation: they have no idea what you've been eating, or re-eating as the case may be. Ah. There's another joke: "Would you like to re-eat something from the ship's stores?" "You mean warm something up?" "Not exactly."

Well, it definitely tasted better going down. The first time, I mean.


Simon and Garfunkel, "America"

>> Friday, June 15, 2012

Or something like this. I have a job and am too old to get on a bus going nowhere or hitchhike from Saginaw.

Still, the sense of aimlessness.

A friend posted a link to Salon's coverage of the latest foaminess from Iowa Representative Steve King. And I replied that the worst part, personally, was that maybe King is on to something, maybe I really don't belong here. These people are almost in charge, you know, people like Congressman King; they control the House and they control the supposedly non-partisan Supreme Court, and it's possible they'll control the White House at the end of next January if Romney wins in November. They turn out in elections and end up carrying 40%-60% of the vote, depending; it isn't like the nutjobs are the minority, in other words: they could be 51% of the population. They could be more.

"'Kathy, I'm lost,' I said, though I knew she was sleeping."

Representative King thinks the big deal over his comment is because he compared immigrants to animals, and he's happy to announce he, himself, is a metaphorical sheep. That's a Christian thing, though I can't read something like that without recalling a different reference ("Meek and obedient, you follow the leader down well-trodden corridors into the valley of steel"). I don't know about that; what I find most dispiriting is how his comments about picking the best of the litter remind me of the kind of things eugenicists used to say before eugenics was widely discredited as a discipline around 1945. (I'm not sure we're allowed to specifically mention what happened in the immediately preceding years that completely torpedoed eugenics, as someone who misses the point will likely and inaptly invoke Godwin's Law over it.)

Prior to certain revelations in '45, eugenics was a popular subject, not just abroad, but here, too. And one of the ways that passion manifested itself was that the United States spent a lot of time trying to figure out who the "undesirables" were, and keeping them out. Two things about that: first, that in the first half of the Twentieth Century we're talking immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe, largely; and second that all these folks had to come over via ship, so keeping them out was a matter of controlling the ports and nothing like having a several hundred mile land border that's basically impossible to secure. So, y'know, we sent the "less vigorous", "less perky" of the litter back to their home countries--in Eastern and Southern Europe, you know, where a lot of them weren't wanted, which is why they tried coming here in the first place; a lot of them, it happens, weren't wanted in the countries they were trying to leave because they were Jewish.

Well, revelations of 1945, and all that. You see where this is going. You see where this went.

And I think of that scene, you know, near the end of Schindler's List, where Liam Neeson, as the titular Schindler, is beating his chest and wailing and appraising the value of his surroundings--how many people was this ring worth, could he have gotten one more person out, twelve more? We could have gotten some more people out. All we had to do in the 20s and 30s was have Congress shift a few quotas, change some forms, say "hello" to some shivering folks at Ellis Island instead of putting them back on boats. You know what they used to do to unwanted puppies, right? They drowned them instead of letting them grow up to be unwanted and abused dogs. Well maybe that would have been just a smidge less awful, if we'd even done that.

Not that it's the same. I'm not saying that a bunch of folks crossing the southern border are fleeing incipient genocide. I'm just saying, I guess, that you don't really know what some other country is going to do, or what's going to happen some other place, but you'd like to think, as an American, that this, at least, is safe ground, sanctuary; that this place is like an old church at least in the respect that a fugitive coming here can consider himself safe from lynch mobs and disasters and whatever else for a long while.

This is clearly because I am some kind of idiot. It's all the same, isn't it? Some of us damn fools are wondering what changed and who to blame, when the fact is it was probably like this all along, wasn't it? This is a conservative country and a Christian country, like all those jackasses say--it may or may not have been founded that way, but it's what this place turned into sometime around the Jacksonian era to the present, with little flickers of something better here and again, but mostly only when it could be forced unwillingly down people's throats as bitter medicine for Fort Sumter or the Dust Bowl or Pearl Harbor. The rest of the time we were--and are--parochial, bigoted, superstitious, xenophobic; we are, if we are defined by our majority, a hateful and petty little people, selfish and ambitious and vain egomaniacs with no sense of history and the mythic sense of purpose that causes men to butcher prostitutes in Whitechapel or serve children poisoned Flavor Aid in the Guyanese jungle. We're mad and stupid, aren't we? ("Then we're stupid and we'll die," Daryl Hannah said to Rutger Hauer, à propos.)

What was I looking for? It wasn't lost, it isn't gone, it just wasn't to start with.


"Little Quentin"

>> Thursday, June 14, 2012

"Little Quentin," by Albert 't Hooft and Paco Vink. Brilliant, and I admit I didn't see where it was going, but when it got there--the apparent surrealism is completely logical. Take a look, please.

(H/t io9.)


Dumb quote of the day--I can't help myself, it's a new religion edition

>> Wednesday, June 13, 2012

[Prometheus is] definitely not anti-science. In fact, if anything I think it's pro-science because it advances the idea that part of our own programming as human beings, we're many ways just as governed by our programming as David is. We have to seek out the answers to these questions, even though we know we'll never get satisfying answers. We're curious about what happens as we die. We need to know where we come from. What the meaning of life is. What kind of life we're supposed to lead. These are all sort of nonscientific, philosophical, religious, and spiritual questions. But the idea that we can find some comfort in science, that science can sort of give us a path to follow in understanding our roots. I think we're better off from understanding that we're descended from apes than we are looking at some book that was written 2000 years ago that gives us an explanation for our own roots.

I'm most definitively pro-science, but I think that the movie advances the idea that, can the two live along side each other? Is it possible to be a scientist and maintain some fungible faith in the unknown? And are you rewarded for having blind faith? I do think that the movie is making the meta-commentary in saying well Shaw is the true believer on board, and she's the one who survives. So what are we trying to say by telling that story?
- Damon Lindelof, quoted by Meredith Woerner,
"All of Your Lingering Prometheus Questions, Answered!"
io9, June 11th, 2012

Prometheus is a gift that just keeps on giving. Sort of like a really awful decorative plate someone gave you at Christmas that you will never put on display (unless, perhaps, the giver is coming for a visit) and doesn't seem to deserve the attention, and yet nevertheless provides hours of laughter and entertainment as the butt of jokes, rants, complaints, etc. Soon, everyone in the household is in on the show--adults, children, even the family dog understands something is going on and perhaps even that it somehow involves this object that looks a little like a Frisbee even if no one ever throws it for him. And an outsider might wonder, if you hate the plate so much, why do you keep talking about it and showing it to everybody, why don't you just stick it in the closet and forget about it or drop it off at a Goodwill when they re-open after the holidays, and of course you can't really explain why or how conversation at the plate's expense has become a thing with its own existence, the plate just happens to be there as the common starting point everything blooms from and curlicues back to.

So it is that a lot of people are conversating about Prometheus on Facebook and writing entertaining blog posts like this one and this one. I fear someone is going to ask why don't people just let it go if this movie is so terrible, but those folks are missing something crucial: that Prometheus is bogglingly terrible (like that decorative Christmas plate), so bogglingly terrible you wonder if it was just you (because nothing could be that bad, could it?) and then have such great relief when you discover just about everybody else noticed it, too; and then it's just tons of fun to exchange notes and quips and cheap shots and really deep thoughts about all the boggling terribleness.

All of that's a little bit of a digression, though. What I really wanted to talk about was the above dumb quote from Prometheus' author, Damon Lindelof. It goes back to something I wrote in my review of the movie a couple of days ago:

This is where Prometheus' basic stupidity extends gooey pseudopodia into insulting stupidity, in that Prometheus is clearly a pretentious movie that thinks it's raising serious cosmic questions about spirituality and science, and what Damon Lindelof apparently thinks is a conflict between them. (Lindelof evidently thinks the conflict between science and faith is over whether we might have been created, if we were created, by gods or by monsters, when any conflict between them is over ways of knowing--i.e. do we understand experience by testing it against our assumptions or by assimilating it into our assumptions? Given that everybody, even the supposed "skeptics" in Prometheus pretty much engages entirely in the latter, it's probably fair to say there are no actual scientist characters in Prometheus, just characters who listed the word on their job applications.)

I was just drawing an inference from the way science and faith are treated in the movie, but there's Lindelof confirming it: he really doesn't get it. At all.

What I was about to add to that was, "And it's writers like Lindelof who are what's wrong with science fiction these days." Which would be a dumb line on my part, because I think that's a pretty dubious premise. There's a lot of decent science fiction out there--perhaps as much as there ever was--and a lot of it can even be found in movies and television, though perhaps rarely. It would also be dumb of me to say something like that because Lindelof and his ilk aren't just what's wrong with some science fiction, but also what's wrong with a lot of speculative fiction dealing with religious themes, and probably what's wrong with a lot of religious entertainment, though I'm really less qualified to get into that, as I usually avoid it.

The core problem is that Lindelof doesn't get that science (at least in the context we're discussing it) isn't this catalogue of claims that stands in juxtaposition to religion. Science is, rather, an epistemological approach to knowing, where religion or faith is another. As Wikipedia conveniently puts it:

Science (from Latin scientia, meaning "knowledge") is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe. [links omitted]

That's as well as I could put it, or better. I was curious about what Wikipedia might say about faith, and it's not a bad reference point, either:

Faith is confidence or trust in a person or entity.


Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. [links omitted]

Fair enough. Maybe we could quibble over nuances, but I think that's a fair enough framework.

The point being: the difference between science and faith (or science and religion) isn't, to pick one example, that science says "all existing species of living organisms derive from common ancestry, exhibiting differences acquired over many generations due to the operation of environmental pressures 'selecting' certain heritable traits over other traits" and religion says "all existing species of living organisms were created by God over the course of three non-consecutive days in the midst of a hectic week involving six days of labor and one of rest". The difference between the two enterprises is that science says, "if all species derive from a common ancestry and generations of naturally selective breeding, we would expect to see certain indicators within the fossil record, the morphology of existing animals and plants, comparisons of genetic material, etc.; and if we see these things there is a great likelihood that this is how species differentiated and if we don't see these things in nature, our original hypothesis must be revised or discarded"; and religion says, "we know this is what happened because this is what we have been taught".

So science might say, "If there is a creator god, we might make these observations...." Except that it is generally outside the nature of what most would consider to be a deity to be pokeable in quite that manner. We certainly observe things that are inconsistent with things we'd expect to see if a deity existed as he or she is specifically presented by certain groups of people, but that doesn't mean there isn't some kind of mystical force, only that there is no proof that a specific kind of mystical force exists and/or there's evidence contradicting the existence of certain specified forces. In other words, science can't say there is no God, but if it is a necessary attribute of God that He created the universe in six twenty-four hour days, the existence of that specific form of God is contradicted by available evidence. If you were to say, "God is the reason there are certain fundamental laws of nature and He created the universe by allowing those laws to operate in their own fashion once the universe was set in motion," I doubt science has anything to say about your version of God one way or another.

This is why science and faith aren't in the conflict a lot of people think they are. Yes, science contradicts specific claims that are made by certain religious traditions--physics and astronomy and geology and biology all contradict the specific religious claim that the Earth was invented in 4,004 BCE, and if that's a cornerstone of your belief system, I'm very, very sorry: the best explanations of the best available evidence say that you're almost certainly wrong beyond all but the most fanciful doubt. (We are imaginative creatures, and we might imagine God cheats, or that radioactive decay and the speed of light and continental drift and evolution don't work the way we think--but I might add those aren't comforting scenarios, especially if you live near a nuclear reactor.) Where there potentially is a subtle conflict between science and faith, it's an epistemological conflict: the question is whether one should base what one believes on testable explanations and observation or whether one should base one's beliefs on received wisdom; and if one chooses the former, should he always choose the former? That is, it arguably doesn't make sense to say one defines one's world by testing possible explanations against observable data six-and-a-half days a week but refuses to apply this methodology on Sunday mornings. Arguably. Just making the point; feel free to get into that one yourself in the comments thread, I'm not sure I feel like poking it much more than that.

To get back to Lindelof: what he's calling "science" isn't science, it's a form of religion. It's secular mythology. It's accepting what you think the received wisdom of the new oracles is, not because you've done the testing yourself, or at least have approached the work of others with a critical and appropriately skeptical eye and have evaluated it from a scientific mode of thinking. It's believing in the Big Bang not because it seems to be the best explanation at the moment for the observed expansion of the universe and cosmic microwave background energy, but because a classroom prophet imbued you with this knowledge from the Holy Text Of Physics; believing in evolution by natural selection because that's what respectable people in your community believe. You might as well believe Odin has two ravens who are compensation for his missing eye (sorry if that sounds judgmental against any pagan Norse amongst the readership). And when he talks of "comfort'--science isn't there to provide you with comfort, it's there to provide you with a means of rationally organizing information about your experience of the universe, and if that comforts you, well, great, but that's as incidental to the main point as is the fact that you can apply an objective understanding of the universe's inner workings to inventing new ways to murder someone.

If this is Prometheus' notion of "science"--and Lindelof says it is--then the movie isn't about science versus faith, it's about secular faith versus religious faith, about a new religion versus an old one. And I have to say that this doesn't just cheapen real actual science, it also cheapens traditional religious faith by reducing it to something squirming and blind, like one of those species of eyeless albino cave fish that haven't seen light in thousands of generations. I'm not a big defender of faith largely because I think it's an overly trusting way of knowing that does not reliably lead to consensual truths (there are way too many dead gods on the books these days to hold that it does); but if I can't defend it personally, nor for its own worth as an epistemological approach, I'll nonetheless defend it against the shallow way someone like Daniel Lindelof (or Ridley Scott) treats it; it's worthier than that, and at least deserves whatever respect its long part in human existence accords it.

So Lindelof is pitting one straw man against another, and seems to think that this is profound and important: well, it isn't--it's a puppet show, a couple of sewn-together marionettes held over the performers' heads and poked ineffectually against one another to make it look like they're sparring. A bright child could tell they're inert.

If this is the best you can do as a writer (or filmmaker), just stop. Don't do it. You might think you're treating profound subjects profoundly, but you're not. You might think you're asking big questions, but you aren't. You're comparing caricatures--you'd be better off asking if Superman can beat Captain Marvel. At the very least, maybe try to understand what science and religion are as actual human endeavors, as great human projects with ancient roots; that the significant thing about them as human endeavors is not the questions they ask (which at their very bottom may be so universal as to not require a specific human endeavor in order to be raised) nor the answers they offer (which could very well be fungible), but how each chooses to cross the space between the Q and the A. A film about that space could be astonishing. Prometheus isn't.


An open letter to Edward Thomas

>> Tuesday, June 12, 2012


Edward Thomas

From: Edward Thomas (
Sent: Mon 6/11/12 12:23 AM

My name is Mr Edward Thomas and i know a single birth mother, her pregnancy was unplanned and now she have a baby girl, she is just 3 days old. She feel her baby would be best with a loving, kind, and accepting adoptive family, couple or single parent of any race. During her pregnancy she have used no drugs, cigarette or alcohol. She is still in the hospital because she have a lung disease. If any one is interested please kindly contact me by email her name is Sarah and I am her Attorney.

Dear Mr. Thomas,

Free baby?

I would love to have a free baby.

Really free? Like, no charges, fees, licenses, or paperwork? That is, a free, under-the-table baby?

Now, question: when you say, "She is still in the hospital because she have a lung disease," do you mean the baby or the mother? This is important. I have two needs, and while one of them is an unlicensed, preferably free baby, the other is for a baby with a very good lung capacity.

The lung capacity issue is pretty critical, because I have a leaky hose somewhere in the air exchanger system, and I'm only getting partial pressure. This really isn't that a big a deal here in the lab, but I can see it being a pretty big problem elsewhere.

So the lung disease issue could be a deal breaker. I'm sorry. I don't really care too much about other defects. Well, I need to amend that, too, and say that I actually have three needs: (1) an unlicensed, free, completely untraceable baby with (2) a healthy lung capacity in case I can't track down the leaky hose who (3) has enough strength in his/her legs to work the arm and leg controls and (4) is smart enough to learn mixed martial arts from the encephalotronimater.

Oh dear. That was four things, wasn't it?

The fourth, though, is fairly minimal. I have yet to encounter a baby, a rhesus monkey, a manatee or a lab rat who couldn't become a master of mixed martial arts in a variable time period of fifteen minutes to twenty-three-and-a-half hours of attachment to a well-designed encephalotronimater (and, at the risk of sounding a braggart, mine is quite well-built and uses some really cutting-edge advances gleaned from my work with cerebrocarafes and misc. test subjects that I can't divulge--trade secrets, you know). I can even inform you that I fully expect the current Holstein trial to net wonderful results and produce a mixed-martial artist capable of producing around twenty-two litres of milk daily.

But leg and upper body strength aren't really optional. You might not think so, jumping to a conclusion drawn from observing the hydraulic systems in action. But the infant nevertheless must be able to work the control yolk and punch those large attack and block buttons, and must be able to work the foot pedals that allow the mechanoid to run and kick, turning the baby's muscle-memories of mixed martial arts mastery into elegant maneuvers that are surprisingly graceful at such an enormous scale. And bear in mind that the feedback emulators (necessary for the pilot to perform accurately and, hopefully, victoriously) are designed such that the baby will feel increased resistance in the controls at great atmospheric or marine pressures and the G-forces caused by mass or acceleration. It would be easy enough if we knew the match were going to be held on (49005) 1998 QN62 every year, but the judges like to mix it up, and it would be an embarrassing showing if my baby couldn't even push the foot and hand controls hard enough to perform an adequate scissor kick.

But if the baby is really, really ugly, let's say? That's perfectly alright. The cockpit is completely sealed and when it's closed you really can't see anything inside at all unless you press your face right up against the molecular transparititanium shell and have a really, really good flashlight, like one of those big lights security guards at secret advanced research facilities use that they can also employ to beat up people who sneak in after hours to attempt to steal a Heisenberg modulator that wasn't even being used anyway and wouldn't be missed and would be much more appreciated by, say, someone trying to build a mid-range variable subatomic deconstructor.

So please, please, please let me know if this baby has good breath control and is showing signs she'll be able to throw a good punch in a few weeks, especially if she's had the finest fighting moves and combat techniques of hundreds of martial artists, boxers, wrestlers, soldiers, warriors and elementary school bus drivers directly injected into her nascent nervous system by a three-story tall supercomputer powered by a dark matter conversion process which I'm unwilling to discuss any further at this time. The initial trials are only three weeks away and I am, I'm afraid, on a very tight deadline, and I will have you know that I do, in fact, have a line on two other babies and a pregnant woman in Minnesota who has written innumerable Facebook posts about how hard her baby has been kicking and is, I understand, due at any moment. Oh, and I cannot repeat this enough: I really need the baby to be untraceable, as we've all received a very nasty e-mail this year to the effect that last year's embarrassing incident, in which New Hampshire Child Protective Services descended to the bottom of the Mariana Trench in a borrowed WHOI bathyscaphe to confiscate Dr. Owens' pilot, will not be tolerated, as it totally throws off the brackets.

Please reply at once. Thank you for your consideration.

R. Eric VanNewkirk
Standing On The Shoulders Of Giant Midgets


Being an attorney who is trusted with confidences all the time, and considering the delicate nature of our negotiations and your attempt to bypass conventional, legal adoption processes, I trust you will keep anything you might have gleaned or inferred about non-mainstream scientists conducting highly amoral and possibly illegal mixed martial arts matches fought by baby-piloted giant mechanical ninja submersible space robots completely to yourself. Need I point out that if you told anyone about such a thing, they would laugh and call you "mad" like they called me, me, me, "mad"? Besides which, I'd hate to see something awful happen to you, least of all something involving captive black holes, invisible laser satellites, a remote-controlled zombie robot Hitler clone, or a manatee who hasn't been quite right since amazing mixed martial arts techniques were implanted directly into his brain by a mostly-safe high-voltage device. I'm just saying, things could happen. Thanks in advance for your discretion.




>> Monday, June 11, 2012

Short version: utterly gorgeous 3D and a phenomenal cast are wasted on one of the most profoundly, fundamentally stupid movies I've seen in a long time.

If you've somehow missed the plot description: a pair of scientists rediscover the lost study of von Däniken-ism and conclude from a paucity of evidence that extraterrestrials visited the Earth long ago and several ancient human civilizations memorialized it in their artwork, along with a cute little starmap of where the ETs were from, which they take to be an invitation. Somehow. We see the scientists discovering one of the paintings in a Scottish mesolithic archaeological site just after a scene in which one of these alien visitors eats goo and disintegrates into DNA (apparently), fertilizing (I guess) a stream (on Earth?). Immediately after the cave discovery, we jump to some spectacular shots of the spaceship Prometheus on its way somewhere, and a nifty little sequence of the ship's sole conscious inhabitant, the android David, amusing himself. The ship arrives at a pretty planetary system where everyone--including our archaeologist heroes (one of whom is also a medical doctor when she needs to be, perhaps connected to her training as the universe's worst forensic anthropologist)--wakes up and we learn the whole Macguffin about the starmaps and that one of the chief pieces of evidence for the scientists' ancient aliens hypothesis is that the lady scientist believes in it (no, really, that's what she tells a room full of people when they ask her if it might be bullshit). The Prometheus lands on a moon in the planetary system, next to a gigantic 1975 piece of H.R. Giger concept art repurposed from Alejandro Jodorowsky's aborted Dune adaptation (this piece of forty-year-old art is the third best thing about Prometheus, by-the-by: yes, that's how quickly this film gets to the bottom of the goody barrel). The explorers leave the safety of their ship just before nightfall (instead of, you know, waiting for a whole fresh day and maybe a few hours to get acclimated and monitor the environment) and enter the alien structure, where it turns out there aren't any Harkonnens at all (this proves disappointing) and the screaming and dying and body horror starts happening. People die, which I guess the audience is supposed to care about (maybe because they're in the movie you're watching, you know how that's supposed to work) and someone lives because that's how things usually go in this kind of movie and anyway they're already threatening that this is going to be the first film of a trilogy, gods help us, and that's when the credits happen and you get to leave if you're still in the theatre.

We can talk about the good, first, and dispose of it fairly quickly. If you're one of those folks who are going to see Prometheus out of obligation--because it's science fiction (or at least set in outer space), because it's an Alien prequel, because it's a Ridley Scott gig--you should pay the extra premium to see it in the theatre in 3D even though it's an essentially awful movie; oh, and if you're going to see it at all, don't bother waiting for it to come out on whatever home video format you're using these days, unless you have one of those fancy new televisions that lets you watch things in 3D, and maybe not even then. I know there's a great deal of irony in recommending that if you have to see a movie you shouldn't bother with, you should go to more trouble and expense, but the fact is that if Prometheus has a redeeming feature, it's the cinematography. Prometheus was shot in 3D with the already-becoming-legendary Red digital cameras, which produce utterly phenomenal images, and a friend who knows such things informs me Scott and his crew went to extra trouble to make sure the sets were properly lit to avoid the kind muddle and darkening of shots 3D often produces. Aerial shots are breathtaking, interiors have depth and clarity; if Prometheus were a good movie, it might completely vindicate 3D filmmaking to an extent even Martin Scorsese didn't quite manage. And you'll have at least one nice thing to say about the damn film.

Well--either way, too, you can talk about the cast, which features Idris Elba and Charlize Theron being excellent, Noomi Rapace being adequate to what she's being forced to do, and Guy Pearce for, it turns out, absolutely no reason whatsoever (he gets to wear a lot of okay age makeup playing a character that has no reason to be in the movie, I suppose for the benefit of the viral ad campaign where Pearce got to play a younger version of the character; why they didn't just cast an old man in the movie and a younger actor who looked like him in the viral campaign--if they even had the character in the movie at all--is a pretty good question). And then you've possibly already heard critics gushing about Michael Fassbender's performance; which is justified: Fassbender knocks it out of the park with a creepy, touching, dignified (stately, really) performance as the movie's Pinocchio.

Now, if only that luscious cinematography and great acting were in the service of a film that wasn't fundamentally stupid. And I do mean stupid. Prometheus is an utterly dumb film, and I don't just mean the scientific howlers that pervade the film from the second scene in the movie to whatever point I just stopped noticing anymore; no, Prometheus is the kind of film where the character who built and programmed the little flying robots that are mapping the complex everybody's exploring gets lost trying to go back over the path his robots just mapped; the kind of movie where a scientist who gets freaked out over and runs from an obviously dead, decapitated and dessicated humanoid extraterrestrial decides to treat a hissing, cobra-like, creature that keeps trying to bite him like a stray puppy; the kind of movie where a character who clearly needs medical attention of the sort the spaceship Prometheus appears to have the facilities to provide instead gets flamethrowered to death in an unintentionally hysterical scene.

Characters are stupid when they need to be and smart when the script requires it. They do things no human would do because Damon Lindelof doesn't know how to move them from point A to point B. Sure, the cautious and diligent captain steps off the watch to go have sex with the corporate executive while two crewmembers are lost outside the ship--I mean, c'mon, if he didn't do that, he might be able to keep them from dying or at least know what happened to them, and how would we have a couple of utterly ridiculous scenes attempting to frighten us, later, if that happened? And then there are some of the worst clichés you can even imagine popping up here and there for no particularly discernible reason; when two characters are revealed to have a familial relationship, the biggest surprise in the entire scene is that the money line isn't accompanied by pounding soap operatic chords on a Hammond B3--DUNH! DUNH! DUUUUUUUUUUNNNNNNNNNH!

But yes, there are also the scientific howlers. A character quotes the old misconception that God doesn't build in straight lines (a clue as to where some aliens might be residing, supposedly), which might be news to crystal growths or (even more relevantly in the given context) to the Bimini Wall. A character apparently dates a wall painting by looking at it (although a friend points out this may simply be the result of bad editing). Everybody gets excited that some extraterrestrial DNA is "one hundred percent identical to our DNA," whatever the Hell that's supposed to mean. All of the biology in Prometheus is bad science; the archaeology might actually be worse.

This is all supposedly in the service of profound questions, like, "Why are we here?", "How do I work this?" and "Where is that large automobile?" Kidding. The large automobile is in the Prometheus' cargo bay and you work things by learning several ancient human languages which mysteriously imbues you with the ability to operate alien technology and speak extraterrestrialese (not kidding--these things happen in Prometheus; like I said, that's the kind of movie this is; it makes the oddly-similar Stargate look like 2001 on scientific plausibility). This is where Prometheus basic stupidity extends gooey pseudopodia into insulting stupidity, in that Prometheus is clearly a pretentious movie that thinks it's raising serious cosmic questions about spirituality and science, and what Damon Lindelof apparently thinks is a conflict between them. (Lindelof evidently thinks the conflict between science and faith is over whether we might have been created, if we were created, by gods or by monsters, when any conflict between them is over ways of knowing--i.e. do we understand experience by testing it against our assumptions or by assimilating it into our assumptions? Given that everybody, even the supposed "skeptics" in Prometheus pretty much engages entirely in the latter, it's probably fair to say there are no actual scientist characters in Prometheus, just characters who listed the word on their job applications.) There's also a bit of business about whether robots don't have souls because they're machines, even if they're empathic and artistic and whatever; and do humans have souls just because they're born with them even if they're douchebags, but I suppose the audience might end up caring about the answer to that one as much as the movie does, which is to say you might as well forget about it because that's how Lindelof and Scott treat the whole matter. Oh, and there is a modestly entertaining existential Q&A where characters wonder if humans were created by aliens for the same reason humans created robots--"Because they could"--but that really goes nowhere fast though I think it would have made a decent enough Far Side cartoon back in the day.

Regrettably, one can all-too-easily imagine that when the Prometheus backlash peaks (at this writing, reviews appear to be middling or worse), Lindelof and Ridley Scott may come out swinging with claims that SF fans just don't like movies that are as smart and ambitious as Prometheus and don't like religion in their sci-fi (if memory serves, Ronald Moore spouted similar nonsense when everyone hated the last season of Galactica). Of course this would surprise fans of Philip K. Dick, Ursula Le Guin, Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, and a significant number of other authors dealing intelligently with spiritual and religious questions. 2001 remains one of the most critically-acclaimed SF films of all time and deals (in a much more satisfying and adventurous manner) with the chief questions about human existence that Prometheus twiddles its widdle toes in; Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, loosely based on Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? deals with the whole human-souls-robot-souls issue and will be remembered, discussed and loved long after Prometheus has hit bargain bins and become an answer to a trivia question.

Although Lindelof has never said this, so far as I can tell, he comes off as one of these writers who seems certain he needs to save science fiction from itself, the kind of screenwriter who thinks SF is a great idea for a genre, it only it didn't have so much damn science in it, who thinks the fans are just fanboys in it for the shiny and sparkle and its his duty to smuggle in some intellectual pretense to uplift the whole endeavor. I'm trying to figure out, then, if there's any irony in using a film with the title Prometheus as the vehicle for this particular missionary work: "big" questions exactly identical to what Lindelof and Scott want to ask were raised in what is sometimes regarded as the first science fiction novel (there are other nominees), an 1815 Gothic subtitled "The Modern Prometheus". On the one hand, not only is the reference unsubtle and the subject identical, but connecting Frankenstein to Prometheus thematically would very nearly salvage the latter from some of its basic incoherence (i.e. the extraterrestrials are the mad doctors trying to create life like Victor Frankenstein, and the human beings are collectively The Monster, coming back to the creator for answers or, in the alternative, senseless destruction--good grief, that almost makes sense, and would have made a pretty good movie had Scott managed to make that one instead); on the other hand, it seems difficult to believe Lindelof has that much wit as a writer; it's possible Ridley Scott wanted to make that movie and Lindelof's script screwed it up, though that begs the question, why didn't they just get a third screenwriter to start from scratch?

It also has to be said of the movie's stupidity and questions about whether Prometheus is really a prequel to Alien that there seems to be some confusion on the part of the filmmakers over whether something is original and different just because it has a new coat of paint on it (hint: the answer is "no"). To be fair, Lindelof did compare the Prometheus script to a U2 concert where the band is expected to play so many hits during the set (less charitably, one might say Prometheus is like a U2 concert in that it's the project of once-great artists who are well past their prime struggling for relevance while appealing to the nostalgia demographic by flogging what little life is left out of their most exhausted and nearly-dead horses). Everyone, it seems, was tired of the original H.R. Giger creations raping faces, impregnating victims, exploding out of chests and growing into monsters that jump out of shadows and from behind closed doors and around corners, etc.; so, to fix the problem, they created a lot of different alien creatures that rape faces, impregnate victims, explode out of chests, and grow into monsters that jump out of shadows and from behind closed doors, etc. I.e. it's all more of the same, only different, because those monsters were black and biomechanoid and these monsters are pallid and fishy. I.e. it all ends up being difference without distinction, and there's no especial reason for them not to have just used the same old creatures they were sick of when the new ones just do the same exact thing to less effect.

Again--and I know I've said this plenty--it's just a dumb film. All-the-way-around dumb, and not fun dumb the way a Farrelly Brothers movie might be. It's just dumb in the somewhat offensive way a really expensive movie that thinks its clever is dumb. Coming out of the movie, I tweeted it was worse than The Phantom Menace, and that wasn't actually a joke: as execrable as TPM is, it at least has a couple of decent setpieces (podracing, the lightsaber duels), is more-or-less coherently plotted and characterized, and generally isn't trying all that hard to be much better than it actually is. Prometheus aims for being 2001 and somehow manages to miss the target well short of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (another thematically-similar film; everything that was once old is old again).

A long review, I realize; I just needed to get it out of my brain. If you've seen the movie, I'd be happy to hear what you think of it. If you haven't seen it yet: lucky you.


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