Friday, June 29, 2007

Out there, somewhere

Links and stuff to stuff and links. I've been collecting these for a bit, so I don't have credits for where I found them, most humble apologies. My sources are usually Digg,, or Stumbleupon.

- Interesting factoid

- Vibrator Found In Unconscious Hit And Run Victim. (And they mystery as to why she stepped out in front of a moving car is solved as well.)

- Mesmerizing morph of paintings of women.

- Terrible (or great) place names

- This says it all - The Royal Fart

- Which, by the way, allows me to plug one of the best kid's books ever: Good Families Don't by Robert Munsch. Btw, if you want to read this online right now, this is one of those that lets you search. Since "fart" appears on every page, searching for that word effectively lets you read the book.

- I'm not a Sopranos fan, so all the recent hoopola about the ending (or the non-ending) is lost on me. But, if you are a fan, the Hillary Clinton campaign spoofs the final scene in the unveiling of their campaign song. Even though I don't get the references, I think it's clever. (Don't consider this an endorsement. I think if Hillary gets the nomination, we'll have 4 more years of Republicans.)

- Something I've been looking for since the web started getting content other than vanity pages with garish backgrounds and animated GIFs: Book summaries!

- Heck, if you want to read the real thing, this guy lets you borrow some of his ebooks.

- This is a tad NSFW, but talk about PWNED!

- Finally, caption this:
Reviewage - June 2007

Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey by Chuck Palahniuk

Ah, Chuck. I have a like / dislike thing with Chuck (love / hate is too strong).

I like what he attempts as an author, but he loves to dwell on the grotesque. I know there's an audience for that kind of thing, but I just slog through it because I think he's got an interesting perspective when he's not trying to make me chunder.

"Rant" is the story of the guy who inadvertently triggers a plague that halves the population in the near future, 12 Monkeys style. Actually, it has a LOT in common with that story, and is almost a retelling of it, with a dash of The Man Who Folded Himself thrown in.

"Rant" is structured as an oral history, so it's all individual paragraphs of supposed quotes introduced by the person's name. It makes for a tough read and Palahniuk almost pulls it off, but I think the form itself is flawed.

I just skim-read The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon (read roughly 50% of it), which was in the same format, and was an actual oral history in the exact same format. And even though it was about an interesting rock star, the format made it dull.

Which points to the achievement (however dubious) of Palahniuk's, since he manages to still propel you through the narrative, and have it gel (though not without the work the format demands).

I would recommend this one for fans, and for folks who like to take whacks at experimental forms of fiction, but for those looking for a nice summer read, just get the boy with the lightening scar on his forehead.

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

Full disclosure, I skipped 90% of the description and 67.8% of the characters in this windy novel.

That in itself if probably enough of a review.

When I hit about the 4th lengthy character introduction in the 1st chapter, I flipped back to the author's info page. And there was one of the classic warning signs: it was all about the author's awards and Ivy League schools she attended. I just gotta remember to stick to my guidelines. (Which are: (1) read the jacket notes until it starts giving away the plot, then stop; 2) read the "about the author" section (the more awards listed, the more likely the book will suck), 3) read the first few paragraphs and see if it grabs; and 4) read a random page in the middle to see if it gets boring (on the premise that most authors hone the intro, but can get lazy later).)

What intrigued me about her in the first place was her web site, and the stuff she had on her career thus far and the interesting fact that she was huge in Australia before she took off here in the states. Usually an increasing fan base means something, and I am gonna give her My Sister's Keeper a try, because that's supposed to be her best.

The core of the novel is an attempt (largely a failed one, imvho) of trying to show how the kid who does the shooting became the way he is. I felt it was unconvincing because the kid's just picked on somewhat brutally, something I have first-hand experience in, and it would take something more than that for someone to become a lone gunman. There has to be some other kind of psychotic break or sociopathy.

Which made me remember Vonnegut's advice on writing bad guys, which in a nutshell says, "don't explain why the bad guy is bad." It dilutes the character, and it might make the audience identify with him, which they won't like.

The only novel that has tried this and succeeded in my opinion is Harris' The Red Dragon. And even it makes you feel icky, because you DO understand the killer's motivations all too well.

I have to brand myself as a bit of a hypocrite here, though, because the only part of the novel I read had to do with the bad guy. I also read the parts about the girl who was his childhood buddy, but only when it had to do with the shooter and not her cruel boyfriend. So, I read the part I said the author shouldn't have attempted - and then have the gall to say she shouldn't have.

If I ever run into her, she has all rights to accuse me of being full of shite, I think.

Arcade Fire - Neon Bible

Like Whisky Prajer, this album has me scratching my head.

Critics collectively had to go home and change their skivvies after a listen, but the sheer orgasmic strain in their voices made me skeptical, since the last time they acted this way was for The Strokes, who, imvho, are named appropriately.

Still, I had to have a listen, so off to the library.

The first thing I noticed was the abyssal monotony of the drumming. Dear God, from groove 1 (yes, CDs have grooves of a sort) all the way to the lead-out, it's the same freakin' beat. While I always prefer a real live drummer over a beat box, in this case they could've saved a salary and no one would have been the wiser.

Second, it sounds like crep. The production makes it sound as if they recorded in a muddy, windy field. Knowing that sometimes the artists produce for a specific sound environment (for instance, the Cars always listened to the final mix in a car to make sure it sounded good in there), I tried it in the car, on my good stereo, on my ancient backup basement stereo, through headphones and a boom box. Crep, crep, crep, and crep. Each environment actually brought forth another deficiency in the mix. Was their producer deaf?

If you want to hear an amazing production - outside of anything Alan Parsons touched as a producer - Radiohead's OK Computer is an achievement. On a good stereo, it sounds a thousand miles wide, yet you can hear the smallest sonic details, too. I hope they kick out a DVD version of this someday.

Arcade Fire, are you listening? (Pun intended.)

TLD: I'd like to address the summary on for Ok Computer, which says: "an album about the way machines dehumanize people". Uh, right. Y'know maybe that's the case, but the title, and even many of the musical themes are taken from Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, where "OK computer" was the typical sarcastic response the characters had to the ship's computer. The British TV series' theme music is laced throughout the album, too. So, I'd suggest that the album isn't as glum as Amazon suggests. It's got a nice sense of humor behind it.

Shut Up and Sing
A documentary on the Dixie Chicks and the infamous media shunning.

I've been avoiding most political stuff because when we're in the situation we're in (f'ed until the next election - assuming that one's not fixed, too), because there's no point in walking around pissed off all the time.

This documentary is worth the angst. It's a great snapshot of the group, and it's a phenomenal document of what it's like to be in the midst of a cultural perfect storm. I bet when the existing Beatles watch this, they'll be reminded of when Lennon made his famous "more popular than Jesus" remark (and pissed off the exact same bunch of rednecks).

The thing that still sticks in my craw is there is an entire industry (Rush, Faux News, and so on) built around bashing any Democratic president (any Democrat, really), and the same poltroons who got bent out of shape about Maines' mild "We're embarrassed that the president is from Texas" were the ones who typically said that Clinton was "not my president". Yes, pointing out this blatant hypocrisy is like pointing out that the wind is made of air, but apparently for these numbnuts, you gotta paint them a picture.


Anyway, even if you're not a fan, you'll enjoy Shut up and sing.

Especially gripping is the part where they're going on stage to do a show where they've received death threats. They fully expect to get shot at while performing. The looks on their faces, the hugs they give their husbands and kids -- it's chilling.

Get thee hence.

Btw, I tried to watch Jesus Camp, but since I have a lot of first-hand experience with these kinds of folks, I didn't need to subject myself to the horrors of this movie. If you don't know what goes on in right-wing, fundamentalist Christian churches, you should put yourself through this, maybe. But don't expect to enjoy the trip.

Fantastic Four, Rise of the Silver Surfer

I don't why critics and fanboys are so hard in the Fantastic Four films. They're a lot like the comics - light and somewhat clever.

I enjoyed the first one, and thought this one was a fine follow-up.

I have to give away one great line, so those of you who hate any spoilers, move along....

The Human Torch asks The Thing how he and his girlfriend have sex, to which The Thing barks, "None of your business!" To which THT says, "Ok, I just didn't want to discover that she'd died in a rockslide or something."

Music & Lyrics

A fun light romantic comedy about a 80s music has-been (not so subtle reference to Andrew Ridgeley of WHAM! fame) and a literary girl whose affair with her college prof. is the subject of a best-seller.

Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore are just about the best things we have going in the romantic comedy genre these days (both About a Boy and 50 First Dates should be on your must-see list if you haven't enjoyed them already). They are both willing to look silly, and manage to pull off believable characters in essentially goofy movies.

This is a perfect light entertainment on a night where you just want to chuckle a bit and not worry about shit. (Yes, I can be a poet.) Make sure you check out the blooper reel.

Ghost Rider

While I enjoyed this one, it was, to me, the second worst effort so far in the comic book character genre ("The Hulk" being the worst).

The problem is that there's a loooong leadup to the obligatory part where the hero morphs into whatever thing s/he's going to be. But then, without explanation, he suddenly begins screaming, and turns into a burning skeleton. WTF? essentially.

Another character later explains to him what's going on, so we're clued in too. But, if you're going to do an abrupt thing like that, you gotta telegraph it better. It's not effective in the same way as having Norman pop out of nowhere in a Sunday-go-tah-meetin' dress and stab the heroine in the shower. No, we want a little foreplay before we meet the bone-man, so to speak.

The rest of the movie is serviceable, though I wonder if the "three elements" demons were borrowed from Big Trouble in Little China or if BTILC borrowed them from the comic books (which I never read).

Oh, and this movie also trots out two of the hoariest cliches from the comic book world: 1) the Judeo/Christian religious view can't be adequately addressed unless the character is some incarnation of the devil (see Daredevil, Hellboy, and X-men), 2) girls are unattainable, but still remain virgins and wait around until the hero needs them, but then play hard to get anyway. Do you suppose Stan Lee ever got laid before the age of 30?

Hey, if you want to read better reviews than mine (not that finding them is all that difficult), but want to know who lines up with your tastes the best, try this site:
Which Movie Reviews Should I Believe?

It got me dead-on:
Rotten Tomatoes : 82%
James Bernadelli : 79%
Peter Travers : 74%
Roger Ebert : 72%

Don't give a rating to movies you haven't seen, btw. It throws it off.

Finally, I just love this jacket cover. I may have to get this framed for my cubie.

Monday, June 18, 2007


Originally uploaded by Smakk.
I have (only) two major phobias. One is puking, the other is these bastards.

As a kid, I found something in the yard once that I didn't recognize, and it was one of these that hadn't successfully emerged from the cocoon. When I picked it up, its legs grabbed me and those antenna whipped around. Were it a movie, the next shot would have been a distant aerial shot (helicopter or something) as a scream rings out across the valley.

If one of these were to land on me, my body would simply drop as my soul fled.

(Fro those of you who haven't encountered one, they are the size of a sparrow.)

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Teenage Trauma of Buying Birth Control

Bash #768409

<Scotty> Oh my fucking God. I just spent the best 20 dollars of my life. On a bet, anyway.
<Scotty> After school, me and my friends went to the drug store.
<Scotty> And my friend brought a box of condoms to the counter.
<Scotty> And she scanned them.
<Scotty> And he acted like he didn't have enough money.
<Scotty> He was like, "Shit, I'll be right back."
<Scotty> So he puts the condoms back, and comes back with a bag of rubber bands in one hand and a box of plastic wrap in the other.
<Scotty> Oh my fucking God
<Scotty> Until the day I die
<Scotty> I will never forget that lady's face.
<DanT> haha
<Scotty> Best bet I've ever lost.

True story:

My senior prom was neigh, and I had a really hot date. She was even from out of town, and looked like a brunette Farah Fawcett. To this day, I don't know how I managed to draw her attention, but there you are. Met her at church camp, which we guys attended only because the girl to guy ratio was a very favorable 3 to 1. The guys at my school were duly impressed, and I even had the upper crust of the jocks stopping me in the hall and asking where I had found such a hottie (insult clearly intended).

TLD: I have always been and will forever be a total geek when it comes to dating women (so thank God I'm married to a wonderful woman). I lack the knack so completely that somewhere in my late 20s (a year before I met my wife through a blind date, if I recall the timeline correctly) I had resigned myself to being single - which was quasi-OK, save for the one woman at work who became convinced I was gay and actively started introducing me to "nice guys." (Which had its own entertainment value as the guys could tell within seconds I was straight, and it was fun to watch their faces fall when the realization dawned. Not "fun" out of any mean-spirited thing, but just kinda like watching that guy at the meat market who can't get anyone to dance with him.) Ironically, at the time, I was having my formative "older woman" relationship with someone at the same company, so we kept it mum since she was an executive and I was a drone. For all young geeks out there, I do recommend Benjamin Franklin's advice on having "older woman" companions prior to marriage at some point.

The hottie had hinted around that we'd most likely have a fun time after the prom as well, so I decided it was time to procure myself some birth control.

I knew this was going to take some planning to limit potential for extreme embarrassment, like getting caught by one of the girls from school, a parent I knew, etc. So here it was: I was a senior, and our study-halls were "free," meaning we could leave campus. I had one in the early morning, and anyone else with the same would use it to sleep in, thereby limiting the potential for bumping into aforementioned female classmates. I would sweep the store and scope out any parental units I knew, and if none where in evidence, I would steal back to the drug dept. and get my booty. I would request a paper bag for opacity. Not foolproof, but still a strong plan.

At first it went smoothly, and so I sidled up to the counter. The ancient drug store clerk was shuffling around in the back, and I knew it would take a while before she pretended to notice me and come forward, so I held the package in my hand until she actually made it to the counter five minutes later.

The moment arrived, I placed it on the counter, and she began to peck at the keys to ring it up. A puzzled expression crossed her droopy face and she halted for about 20 seconds. "Oh dear, I've entered it incorrectly," she mumbled, and took out a page-long form she claimed had to fill out when she'd erred. She bent over painfully after a protracted search for a pen, and began filling it out.

By the time she completed it, a queue of about 5 octogenarians had formed behind me. Embarrassing, but I didn't know any of them, thank God.

This was the time I figured out one of the societal patterns of the gray panthers. They're up at the butt-crack of dawn since they can't sleep, and by this time they've had their coffee at the shop and caught up with who died in the night, so it was time to pick up the meds and think about whether they'd have ice cream or a donut for brunch. Not only was I making them field-test their support hose by making them stand there, I was cutting into ice cream time, and perhaps even risking someone missing the first of their stories (their nomenclature for the daytime soaps).

Prunella had completed the form and was back to pecking the keys, when the exact same puzzled expression crossed her face, complete with a pause of the exact same length, and she mumbled, "I did it again." She had kept the pen out this time, but had to extract another form.

At this point I asked, "Do you have to fill it out again? Can't you note on the last one that it happened twice?"

I was young, so you'll have to forgive me about not knowing better. Of course, this gave rise to a bubble of wrath from Prunella who explained that it could not be so, and why. At length. Then she bent to the form.

By now the line of white, pink, and blue heads was stacked up fifteen behind me, with everyone taking their turn to bend sideways and shoot me a look, some looking at the item I was purchasing, planting me with a grim sneer, since I was a teenager buying sex products. Shame, shame on me.

I reached out and slid the box in front of me so the gawkers couldn't see it, but this made Prunella stop and inform me in that cat-scratch voice some elder women can summon that she needs to see the numbers on the box so stop moving it, and she slid it even further out for clearer viewing behind me. The "tsk, tsk" chorus behind me sounded like chickens pecking for feed. People were even beginning to mumble opinions about me and my purchase to each other. And I heard the words "my stories" a couple times.

After all this, she finally rings it up right, and then bags it in a clear plastic bag, which she actually went out of her way to go back and get. I asked for a brown paper bag and she informed me she had already given me a bag, to which I responded I'd give it back when she gave me the paper one. She bestowed upon me one of those lingering, withering Jack Benny glares, fished out a paper bag and handed it to me.

The only way to escape the counter, the way the store was configured, was to turn and walk past the line that had formed. If the weight of frowns could actually cause physical damage, I would've been crushed like a grape at that moment.

In case you're wondering, the protection never made it out from under the seat of my car. Yes, some fun was had, but her hinting turned out not to be about a home run, but something a little more afield, if you get my drift.

BC purchase humiliation doesn't stop in old age either, I've found.

(I think I've already told this one, but am too lazy to check, so if you've read this one, surf on.)

On a trip to the grocery store once, my lovely wife dispatched me to go get some condoms. When I arrived at the aisle, three teenage girls were in the midst of it, presumably selecting feminine hygiene products, so even though my target was at the beginning of the aisle, to save us all a round of blushes, I blithely cruised past and continued on to the magazine rack which thankfully was a couple rows down.

The girls either were not in actual shopping mode and just talking, or they were indecisive, because some time passed, and my wife appeared at the end of the aisle, right by the condoms. Before I could do anything - and I saw it coming because my wife looked at the condoms, looked pointedly at me with that special look all wives cultivate to communicate to their husbands that they are questioning their ability to go around unsupervised - she points at the rack and yells, "Honey, the condoms are right here!"

The three teenage heads swivel to her, turn ever so slightly to look at the rack of rubbers, then they all spin to gaze aghast at me. Then they predictably do that thing we've all seen teenage girls do where they all huddled together leaning forward and do a group giggle.

Blushing to the roots of my hair, I plodded past them, plucked a package from the selection, said, "Thanks Hon." and continued on my way. About then it dawned on my wife what she'd done to me, and I had to endure her laughing her ass off all the way back to the car.

Love that woman.

It occurred to me this weekend that Scientology is essentially setting itself up to be even more of a religious pariah than Islam through its treatment of people who disagree with them. (Not that diving planes into buildings full of people is to be misconstrued as less toxic than putting up posters around town about a recent defector from Xenu to the effect that he has a tiny dick; there are some Moslems who are moderate and sane is what I mean.)

If the end of the conversion speech is: "DIE INFIDEL!" or "YOU ARE NOW FAIR GAME!" (or "GO TO HELL!", for that matter), then the potlucks are gonna be a little sparse, tiger.

If you can't discuss a religion openly, it kneecaps its ability to spread.

Yes, Islam has a firm hold on the Middle East, and will probably keep it, but that's about as far as it's going to go. Scientology is already limited to those with a lot of disposable income and time (and the fact that a whacked, drug-addled, D-list Sci-fi author is their prophet), but this "fair game" stuff is perhaps the very working definition of planned obsolescence.

While I view this as a profoundly positive thing, you kinda wonder if they've thought this through.

Btw, here's a fun article on the recent (un)holy war (via Digg). The report of Hitchen's parting shot at Falwell on "Hannity ∧ Colmes" is a gem: "If you gave Jerry Falwell an enema, you could bury him in a matchbox." I'm using that at the next party.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Out there, somewhere

Rolling Stone’s 25 Greatest Songs Off Bad Albums I agree with every selection in this article.

My Scottish blood asserts itself strongest during purchases of artistic products, and while I loved the song "Wild, Wild Life," a listen at a friend's house gave me the impression that the album itself did SUQ. For years, I'd find the album in remainder bins, making the song only about $3, but I was stubborn enough to wait for a hits package years later. When I did find it, it was used copy for $8, plus all the other great studio versions of Talking Heads songs. For the record, though, their only true opus is the live Stop Making Sense album - both the CD and DVD.

I got a $1 copy of the Queen album, and it was pressed really oddly. It sounded terrible. So I had to wait for an anthology later just to hear the song in a good version.

The trick, as noted, is to find a good compilation with these songs on them. Nearly all of them have been included on a superior set.

The Allmusic guide is particularly effective at locating songs on compilations.

This is a hoot. A Creationism museum.

It's located right next to the holocaust denial museum, which of course has one room and with a placard on the wall explaining that the holocaust never happened, which is lit by a Nazi lamp made of human skin, which itself has a placard saying that though DNA analysis appears to show that the lamp is made of human skin, and has genetic markers common to Jewish ancestry, the museum is of the opinion the sample was tainted by a clumsy Jewish lab technician and the shade is really just cowhide. Really. For honest and true.

15 Reasons Mister Rogers Was the Best Neighbor Ever. One of my favorite reasons: "He Saved Both Public Television and the VCR." Though I wonder why "He Watched His Figure to the Pound!" counts as being a good neighbor. Bob Keeshan aka. Captain Kangaroo was also a very good man, but a little portly. Is that really bad?

Here's a nice little article on Sgt. Pepper's

Yes, all we fanboys loves ourselves some brass slave bikini. I'm puzzled yet thrilled that so many women seem to find it fun to try one on (tortured grammar and all).

Originally uploaded by bonniegrrl.

Even Jennifer Aniston famously had a go at it.

Could this be the iconic image for my generation, in the same way that famous Marilyn Monroe shot of her dress poofing up was for another?

Oddly enough, in researching this post I've discovered one of the few holes in the internet. There does not exist one picture of Christina Pickles (Ross' mom) in the Leia costume, which is sad because it was a truly great moment. And she looked hot. (If anyone can provide a screen shot to me so I can amend this travesty, please send to my email or link to it in a comment.)

Catch 22 sucks. (Via 2Blowhards)

'Tis true. This is one of the few books I've abandoned. Like the guy in the post noted, it's funny at first, but then it starts retreading its own jokes pretty quickly.

Luckily, I had seen the much superior movie prior to attempting the book, so I knew I wasn't really missing anything by deciding to spend my time on something more worthwhile.

Though the whole movie is highly enjoyable, the one extended scene where the bombers take off is truly a cinematic highlight that all buffs should have committed to their gray matter. Also, this is NOT a movie for kids. Besides all the adult humor, it has one of the most graphic (but funny) death scenes ever shot - even considering the canon of Tarantino.

Make sure you check out the interesting Catch 22 trivia on Simon and Garfunkel.

The Coolest Picture Ever, says the label. I think it's pretty spectacular myself.

Finally, in the "Some days you're the bug, some days you're the windshield" Dept.: