Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Anthology

Michael Blowhard has collected his many great posts on the world of publishing and writing in a one-stop-shopping, handy-dandy blog entry: Me on Books, Redux.

If he'd put this stuff between some covers, you'd have to shell out at least $17 for the trade paperback (which would never appear on the best-sellers lists even if it were a runaway success according to M. Blowhard), yet here it is at your disposal, for free.

Brew up a pot, get the comfy chair, and dig in for a while.

Way way waaaay back in the day when the web was new and still covered in dew, there was a cute little site called "The Randomizer" (if I recall correctly), where you could click the one link it had and would be taken to a randomly chosen page on the web. It was a great way to discover stuff you wouldn't normally necessarily look for. But, that was when the web was relatively tiny, and geeks could actually make visual maps of the "shape" and extent of the web because of that fact. When the web mutated from a cute little puppy into an eternally swelling behemoth like that in Akira, sites like The Randomizer quietly went away.

Apparently, someone else missed The Randomizer as much as I and created a cool extension (translation of geek speak "extension": an addition to existing functionality, or "extending" functionality) that does what The Randomizer used to, but with some rather nifty upgrades. It's called StumbleUpon, and it requires an email address to activate it (the one obvious downside), but boy is it fun. Not only can you select categories of stuff you're interested in, but you can even vote on the sites, which affects their ranking in the randomizer, so - in theory - that which sucks will eventually flush out.

Two cool things I found right away are:

This pictorial of one family as they aged over the years. They took a photo of everyone on the same day from 1976 until now.

A timeline format used to display the current time. Those awash in ennui or passing through some minor crisis related to aging should give this one a pass for now. It really makes you feel the time passing away. Kind of a Kafkian "You Are Here".

I found this one via and not StumbleUpon, but it's still gnarly enough to point out: Flickr has a section that displays the most interesting photos of the last 24 hours (just in case you need some chrono-therapy after visiting the timeline above).

Besides making beautiful and striking pictures created by talented photographers available to us all, Flickr has also obviously turned out to be pressure valve for people who would normally be more dangerous if they had no means of distributing copious pictures of their cats.
In Darker News

The pandemic edges closer. I keep wondering what Stephen King thinks of this.

WHO Speeding Up Flu Pandemic Preparations

WHO warns flu pandemic to occur

At least it's not four dead in Ohio this time, but still...
SWAT team police uses excessive force at Utah rave party

Is Your Boss a Psychopath?

Interesting article about how many higher ups in companies like Enron may have gotten there because they're freakin' sociopaths, as some of us have always suspected.

My only quibble is it ends with praising dubious "antibullying" movements and unidentified Asian cultures that put community bonds above individual's rights (hmmmm, China?) as possible solutions, and accuses America's individuality streak as a primary cause of sociopathy. So oppressive institutions will help us with this issue, eh? Sometimes it's hard to tell if this is misguided neocon thinking or misguided socialist thinking.

I've got a rash idea: When we discover someone in a high (or any) position acting rashly and causing a lot of agony, why don't we just fire their asses rather than bringing in the Reds or the "red state" ideologues?

People's kids. Crikey.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Hatin' on sports, slight return

Joyfully survived the yearly guy's campout. (I was getting over some chest crud, so was pretty wiped out.) No women, no kids are the only rules. No one's dumb enough to believe that what happens at the guy's campout stays at the guy's campout, so even though those are the only two rules, it's a lot of good clean fun.

The primary conversation topic this year revolved around half of the guys being on a softball team together. Not giving a flying frick about sports, I mostly tuned out the blather on how to hit and catch and who sucks and who rocks and instead listened to the music, watched the fire, cooked my meal, etc.

But one tawdry little episode brought back all the nasty memories of gym class hell and the various sports my mom enrolled me in before I decided they weren't for me.

Granted, it brought a happy little memory tagging along, like the four-year-old little brother of someone who gets grudging permission to hang out with the big kids for a little bit. I recalled the exact moment I finally realized sports just weren't for me.

It was during basketball practice, and I had been placed on the loser's lay-up practice hoop with a couple other spazzes like myself while the other guys were in teams and playing a game already. I wasn't allowed to play because I didn't lift the correct leg when going in for a lay-up. I hit the basket as well and as often as the others, but there was this issue with the wrong leg rising. I now realize that the coach had figured out I'd never be anything but a middling player at best, and so had shunted me off to the side until I decided to quit for myself. The moment came as I was trying to get the right leg up during yet another lay-up attempt, and as I dribbled towards the basket, I thought, in big neon letters, "I just can't manage to give a damn about this." (I didn't have a lot of exposure to the f-bomb at the time, or would have thought that in place of "damn".) I aborted the lay-up, stepped off the court, and watched the guys over on the other court playing shirts against skins, and again I thought, "I just don't care and I never will." I just dribbled around for the remainder of the practice, and when it was over, never again voluntarily returned to a sports floor. It was a happy, watershed moment of my life that allowed me to avoid wasting any more time on something I found useless that I could now devote to things I actually enjoyed.

So it has been a while since I've seen that weird random cruelty that crops up in sports, apparently in the name of keeping everyone tough and to promote camaraderie. (If you need to be hard as nails to do something that's supposed to be fun, I'll pass, thanks.)

Some of the guys at the campout took out a softball and started tossing it around for practice. After a few throws, one of the guys sitting down said to one of the guys playing, "Hey, Stan [not his actual name], you throw like a girl!" Stan responded with an appropriate profane retort, but these guys kept pointing and giggling every time he gave the ball a toss, and then started to opine on what specifically they considered girlish about his throw. He just kept quiet, as there was nothing to be done but endure. I watched the other guys who were throwing and noted they did the exact same things that Stan was getting hell for.

From what I could tell, this wasn't good-natured ribbing. No, this was the old playground "let's see if he cries if we pick on him long enough" kinda shit. Later, I kicked myself for not speaking and suggesting they climb the hell off. Still later, I remembered that sticking up for someone during sports play often made the hell they were getting way worse, and then some came your way, too. Glad I just sat there like a church mouse after all.

Swear to God, I will go to my grave not understanding the mechanics or value behind this kind of shit.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Random Thoughts, IV

Don't Free Willie
Read in my local paper last weekend about how nudity, particularly male nudity, is becoming common in stage productions (or has been common for a while). This apparently tends to cluster in plays with gay characters in them. As can be expected, there is a portion of the audience - the larger portion according to the article - that doesn't really like having to endure penises thrust in their face just because the playwright thinks they're "shaking people up" or because they wanna fill seats with gratuitous nudity. And, of course, one playwright came back and said these people were just homophobic.

Before I go on, I'd like to point out that the article also mentioned how even female nudity will prevent many groups - children and senior citizens - from seeing a play, as well.

What's worst than a charlatan who thinks that naked people on stage is a bold artistic statement unto itself? The asshole who accuses folks of being homophobic merely because they don't wanna see 27 guys with their dicks hanging out, live, on stage.

Here's Your Fogey Sign
Tried Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson and grudgingly abandoned it after about 50 pages. This is a book I would have absolutely loved in my 20s, but in my 40s, it's just too centered on juvenile hipness. The hero (named Hiro, har har) is a pizza delivery guy because in the future the only things America does better than any other country are music, movies, computer programming, and pizza delivery. Getting a pizza to a customer on time is more important than wrecked cars, houses, and lives. Only someone in the blessed netherlands between childhood their first soul-crushing job would be able to suspend enough disbelief to enjoy that story.

I'm completely into old fogeyness here, for sure.

However, I loved Cryptonomicon, a later work by Stephenson. A much more fulfilling and - dare I say it? - adult read.

Saw The Hunting of the President which details the vast right wing conspiracy that tried to oust Clinton out of office. Clinton himself has a point that it wasn't a conspiracy because they pretty much did it out in the open.

It is a nice historical document about how rich guys who think they should run everything can affect and influence the government to the very top levels. It's pretty freakin' scary, but a good lesson in how fragile democracy really is.

The most outrageous story that I didn't know about was what happened to Susan McDougal in prison when she refused to lie about Clinton's involvement in Whitewater. The powerboys actually had the prison dress her in the garb that denoted she was a child molester (red or orange - the movie and web site contradict each other), which in prison society marks you as the lowest of the low and the target for the worst they can dish out. For instance, when they were being transported on the bus, she and the other red-suited inmates were placed in a cage in the center, and during the trip, male inmates would masturbate and throw their jism on them. (And that was just one of the many injustices visited upon her.) When a judge (who was not part of the get-Clinton network) got wind of this, he demanded they move her to another prison and to stop dressing her like a child molester. She went back and got ready for the transfer, but the guard came around and told her to unpack because she wasn't going anywhere, informing her that Starr's "Independent Counsel" called the shots around here, not some judge.

Now, I know a lot of evil stuff goes on in our world, but the fact that this shit happens in America just makes me sick. Cruel and unusual punishment anyone? And for bullshit good-ole-boy politics no less. I spit on the graves of everyone who was party to this travesty.

The New Propaganda

And speaking of travesties, did you see the national TV news the other night? Seems we as a nation are awash with METH! Even moms in Illinois are doing it! It helps them stay up for those late night diaper changes and it puts all those extra binkies to use. The report I watched at least telegraphed the fact that this warning came from "The White House" after it did the main report, which was pretty cool, I thought. I mean they can't come right out and say "Look, the Pres. and his boys want a new thing for ya'll to be scared about so ya just leave Turd Blossom alone."

Fade up on the scene:
"Meth! My God! It's everywhere!" screams the nut staggering through the dashing cars on the highway. Meanwhile, up in the nearest highrise, Rove looks on, almost hoping his lackey on the highway gets hit by a car so he'll have some more mental fodder for his next round of self-abuse in the Oval Office bathroom.

Oh, that may seem like the sick imaginings of a liberal mind, but I betcha it's closer to the truth than any of us would like it to be.


The best thing about the DVD of The Hunting of the President is in the "extras," there's a lengthy speech by Clinton that he did after the premiere of the film. It is wonderful, because he puts the events into a perspective that is largely missing elsewhere. He points out that he brought most of this on himself, because he formed the "Independent Counsel" not because he had to, or the law provided for it, but because the press (and guess which part of the press) was calling for it. He knew he hadn't done anything wrong and naively thought would be proven innocent, not knowing they would use the opening to do anything they could to discredit him. Then, of course, there's the blowjob, which cinched things.

Beyond that though, he then says that we should be optimistic about the future. He's quite the historian and walks us through all the times in history like we find ourselves in now where the bad guys appear to be winning, and he even says we shouldn't categorize them as bad guys at all on the premise that they have a viewpoint they consider is the best for the nation. We need to talk on the level of the issues and policy, and to not vilify those we disagree with (as I did directly above), because then we're owned by them. When these times have occurred in the past, as long as the issues of liberty, civil rights, and a social safety net have been kept in the forefront, the American public has eventually landed on the side of the same.

Of course, being Clinton, he says it much better. Check it out, by all means.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Nobody Does Smackdown Like Garrison Keillor

I'm beginning to realize that perhaps Denver radio is way more debased than it might be elsewhere. In a small jaunt to the mountains this weekend, I found a station that had a beautiful eclectic mix that would become a constant companion could I get it down here in the foothills. So, I'll just take it on faith that radio elsewhere might actually be flourishing.

According to Garrison Keillor in the charming "Confessions of a Listener," there is hope. (Again, via
Bummer. He's into the Koolaid.

Like many, I thoroughly enjoyed Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel which tries to answer the question: Why did (white) Europeans end up being the ones who spread out and dominated other societies? Why didn't China or Arabia, who were way ahead of the Europeans at one point? And just what's up with Africa, anyway? His conclusion, btw, is that the Fertile Crescent (remember that from history class?) contained the majority of the domesticatable animals and plants, and Europe's geography allowed the easy spread of the same, thus giving it a leg up. Good read.

But now there's this article from Mr. Diamond: The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race. (Via

Mr. Diamond thinks that agriculture was a bad, bad thing. See, it created inequality and disease. Well, sorry Jared, but inequality is simply part of the dance. Nothing humans did "caused" inequality. When I was a spindly teenager, the big jock my age would've still pushed me around whether we were in a high school hallway or out on the savanna hunting for dinner. Our finer instincts and societal agreements actually posit the idea that we treat everyone as equal in spite of the obvious, simply because it leads to a better quality of life for most of us.

Further, had we not stopped following the herds around, we wouldn't have built hospitals to deal with the diseases. And so on.

Part of the problem with shooting fish in a barrel is it ruins the barrel and wastes ammunition, so let's just stop there.

I hope that someday Mr. Diamond picks up Adam's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy where he posits that the original bad move was coming down from the trees in the first place. Maybe the much needed laugh will clear his head.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Mother, Jugs, and Speed

Netflix has got to be a moviemaker's dream because there's no downside to seeing risky, small, or old movies. I decided to revisit the first movie I assembled and projected when I became a projectionist: Mother, Jugs, and Speed. Because it marked my promotion to the lauded projectionists position (the highest achievable position in my little hometown theatre outside of manager), and because I liked the soundtrack at the time, it was a sentimental memory until now, and I wondered how it would hold up.

Well, my friends, it doth stinketh and the sands of time have been unkind, and not only to the print they used as the master for the DVD. I think this may be a quintessential 70s "B" comedy though.

The themesong is all about dancing up a sweat and about the gayest disco song I've ever heard. (There are those of the opinion that all disco is essentially a product of gay "culture." I do not share that blinkered, revisionist, yet oddly hopeful opinion.) There is absolutely no dancing in the movie whatsoever, so the inclusion of this song is inexplicable as the use of Glen Campbell's "Rhinestone Cowboy" is for the spaghetti western My Name is Nobody which contains nary a star-spangled rodeo or any proximity to Broadway. It also contains the ubiquitous-at-the-time "Show Me the Way" by Peter Frampton, and a creaky ballad by Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas called "No Love Today." The rest of the soundtrack, though, was probably compiled or deeply influenced by Bill Cosby because it contains a lot of the Quincy Jones funk he's always been a booster for. So, outside of the disco abomination, the soundtrack (which you can no longer get, btw) was eclectic and fun in a goopy sort of way.

The plot centers around the rivalry between two private ambulance companies in the middle 70s. Bill Cosby ("Mother") is the best driver in the fleet and tends to mother people (hence...), Raquel Welch ("Jugs") is the secretary who secretly pines to be one of the drivers (the boss don't want no wimmin drivers), and Harvey Keitel ("Speed") is a temporarily suspended cop due to a trumped-up accusation of selling cocaine to kids. It's in the loose mold of M*A*S*H, where camaraderie and funny hijinx are the order of the day, intermixed with melodramatic tragedy. Unlike M*A*S*H, this botches the transition from one tone to the other so completely it's almost a study in how to do it wrong.

For starters, Raquel Welch is a spectacularly bad actress. I mean wow. Pretty as hell, but her line deliveries are so wooden that Dick Butkus in the obligatory sports star cameo that was the rage in 70s movies came off as the superior Thespian.

This was Keitel's only go at "romantic leading man" outside of the Jane Campion's sick little trods through lovesongs for the truly sick and demented, and that's a good thing. He's great as an gangster or even the moral cop, but he just hasn't got the warmth or charm for the central love interest guy.

Bill Cosby was charming as usual, and the movie was clearly a star vehicle for him, but apparently they weren't brave enough in the day to make him a romantic lead, thus consigning that to Welch and Keitel.

This movie makes it obvious why audiences responded so strongly to Star Wars, released the very next year, and greats like Jaws. If I remember correctly, Mother, Jugs, and Speed was pretty representational of what Hollywood churned out at the time. Your average modern TV drama, say "CSI," or comedy, say "Scrubs," or even a mix, say "Desperate Housewives" is much, much better than anything this movie had to offer.

See, some things are better than they were in the olden days.