Thursday, December 29, 2011

At the end of 2011

As we head into the final year of the Mayan calendar, I think we find the world somewhat adrift. Protests foam in many countries including the USA, dictators are being dispatched to the void with welcome regularity, the middle east looks like it might give representational government a try, media companies continue to implode because the market has shifted (again) to personal media-consumption devices with a 8 by 6 inch screen, and the killer app is a slingshot. (Oh, I got a Nook for Christmas. Love. It.)

We've faced probably the most evil group of elected officials in a century who actually want America's economy in the crapper because they think they can foster political gain from it. Let's go over that again: elected officials are actively working against the average American and making sure the government accomplishes nothing because they think it will help them on election day a year from now. On a tiny positive note, even the most thick-headed partisans seem to be grasping this, so the next election will be interesting.

On a side-note, politics-wise, I've been wondering why some pundits attack the first lady. The vitriol and nastiness directed at Michelle Obama, and Hillary Clinton back in the day, puzzles me. Heck, even when Nancy Regan got grief for updating the White House china I thought it was a bit much. What could possibly be the goal besides looking like an ass? I guess I'll leave it to wiser people.

Oh, and after years of joking that we'd see it someday (and always hoping it would remain a joke), I actually saw some poltroon with a "Jesus is a Republican" sticker on the back of his car. When I brought this up to a conservative I work with, he attempted to spin it as a joke the driver was in on, but all the other stickers were just as out there, so I think the guy means it. I got a look at him and his wife at the stoplight, and his whole demeanor was one of rage and bitterness. Methinks a lot of these assholes are gonna be surprised when they finally get to heaven (assuming) and Jesus straightens them out in the issue. (FWIW, as He did when on earth, He would likely eschew any political stance.)

Well, enough of that political shite.

I haven't seen all the 2011 movies I intend to, but of those I've seen, the ones I've dug (in no particular order) are:
- Paul
- Source Code
- Super 8 (my family's fave for the year)
- American: The Bill Hicks Story
- Bridesmaids
The Harry Potter saga ending, part II, we mean it this time, flick
- Crazy, Stupid, Love
- Rise of the Planet of the Apes
- Our Idiot Brother
- Contagion (scariest flick I've seen in a while)
- Red State
- The Thing (how could I not like a well-done prequel to my favorite movie?)
- A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas
- The Change-up

To my surprise, my wife loved Harold and Kumar as much as I did. You don't need to see the first two prior to seeing this one, but it does enhance some of the jokes.

I was thrilled that the folks behind The Thing prequel did such a fine job of making a nearly seamless prequel with nary a whiff of retcon, even preserving the look and feel of the movie even though they had to conform to the look of the special effects from 1982. And, my God, Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a babe. The silver screen certainly has a lot of new eye candy these days, what with Ms. Winstead and the almost-too-pretty Emma Stone. I can see why Jim Carrey lost his shit and posted a video confession that will haunt him for the rest of his days.

The other big surprise for me was The Change-up, which I watched as part of my ongoing Ryan Reynolds festival to see if he's one of those guys who picks enough interesting scripts to always check him out. (The current short list includes Jeff Bridges, the late M. Emmet Walsh, Kurt Russell, Sandra Bullock, and Meryl Streep. Though Emma Stone may join, it's too early to tell.) So far the verdict is yes, The Green Lantern notwithstanding.

Anyway, except for the epic misfire of of a set-piece where toddlers are put in major harm's way, The Change-up is funny, which was part of the surprise because the reviews were scathing, but other surprise for me was the nudity, meaning the actresses (save for one) weren't ones I would expect to expose their pink parts. (Which came with the realization that I have some murky categorization in my head of those who will get nekkid and those who won't.) This lead me to pause the flick and the actress to see what else she's been in (to test my "not the kind who gets nekkid" theory), which then lead me to the trivia that all of the nudity in the movie is CGI. Upon re-review of the scenes (a few times), I have to say the uncanny valley has been conquered, at least as far as breasts are concerned.

For a guy, can you imagine having the job of creating CGI nudity? Would it be the greatest job ever, or would you get to the point where you only surf the web for articles? I heard/read the actresses got to choose the appearance of their CGI parts. Imagine being the animator sitting there with some gorgeous actress, which would be intimidating (and fun) anyway, but then your task was to page through big screens full of animated boobs and discussing which ones she wanted as hers. At least my mind would boggle. (Conversely, for a woman, I can't imagine a more tedious assignment. I doubt CGI dicks will catch on, and if they did, the conversations would center around, "[Male star's name], I'm sorry, but if I make it that big, it will look fake.")

Two of my favorite albums - U2's Actung Baby and Nirvana's Nevermind - have finally gotten the deluxe remastered treatment, but alas the window of interest has closed for me. Both were released when CDs were well established, so they sounded good in the first place. All the reviews claim the upgrades in sound are minimal or a step backwards, to boot. And, like Stephen King has pointed out, you can only listen to a song so many times. I've spun both of those so many times that if they were vinyl I'd have the clicks and pops memorized, too.

Besides, a lot of rock dinosaurs put out decent albums this year. Really. There are at least three keepers on the latest from Blondie, Steve Miller (two albums worth!), Cheap Trick, Paul Simon, Stevie Nicks, and Lenny Kravitz. (One funny footnote to the year is Elvis Costello warned fans away from buying his latest box set because the label egregiously overpriced it.)

My favorite albums from new(er) bands are Foster the People - Torches (which is my eldest's favorite of the year), Givers - In Light, Foo Fighters - Wasting Light, and Maroon 5 - Hands All Over. My favorite singles are ColdPlay - "Hurts Like Heaven", Panic at the Disco - "The Ballad of Mona Lisa", and D. Gookin - "Stealing Sun Chips" which reminds me of The Go! Team but a bit more stoned and drunk (the song is FREE, btw).

I discovered an interesting trick which works most of the time (90% roughly) if you want to preview an album before buying it. Yes, this is immoral and probably illegal if you don't eventually pay for it, but if you want to download an album for free, you need a newer browser that allows you to enter search terms in the URL wherein you enter the name of the band, a dash, the name of the album, followed by "". Like this:
foo fighters - wasting light
steve miller band - bingo!

The books I've enjoyed are Stephen King's latest about time travel, the Dave Grohl bio This is a Call (wow, even though Courtney Love probably didn't pull the trigger, she couldn't be more implicated in Cobain's death, imho), and a wonderful installment in the 33 ⅓ series: Celine Dion's Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste (33 1/3) by Carl Wilson. It's definitely something readers of this blog should seek out. The premise is brilliant: Wilson admits he HATED HATED HATED Ms. Dion, especially at the time when you couldn't get away from that ubiquitous song that everyone eventually wished would hit an iceberg and sink out of sight, too; so he uses that to frame a discussion of musical taste. It is one of the most cogent breakdowns of what constitutes taste and how we can be more tolerant of other's horrible preferences. Especially since we appear to be headed for a time when the music market is more stratified than ever. (I mean, Judas Crispies, Doris Day even has a new album out.)

I've read a few articles recently that mourn for the day when most of the top 20 albums were bought by most music lovers, and we all had the same thing spinning on our turntables or in the tape decks of our cars. I think the last time I recall everyone embracing an album that we all had to have was Nirvana's Nevermind, with honorable mention to Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill (which sold more copies than Nirvana did, actually). According to this Wiki article, the chanteuse triumvirate (Britney, Shania, and Celine) and the boy bands of the 90s are the only other pretenders to the throne of celestial sales numbers, but I believe they are actually examples of when the market splintered.

So, see you in the new year. I trust there will be a few fine entertainments in store.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


So, I was looking for inspiration yesterday, something to break some thought blockage (like writer's block but slightly larger scale) and cycling through random images has almost always worked to jar things loose; then I come across this:

I was in my cube at work and had anyone seen me, they might have thought I was having convulsions. I couldn't contain some of my sniggers and tears were squirting horizontally out of my eyes. I realized it might look like I was crying. I had to dash to the copy room to try to recompose myself. For the rest of the day I had to avoid thinking about it or else I would laugh again, which I did in a couple subsequent meetings and had to come up with an excuse as to why. Haven't had anything come at me out of left field, particularly at work, in a while. But dammit a good laugh like that is wonderful.

I tend to stand up and call for the Lord when something really scares the hell out of me, but had I been scratching the boys, like this guy, I might also have nearly emasculated myself. I can just see the whole scenario. Gad, I'm snickering again just writing this.

If you're wondering, it's from the movie Insidious, which my daughter claims is muy scary. I don't really like scary movies anymore, so I may not see it. If I do, I'll let you know.

I also found this pile of extreme cuteness. Warning, if you're a cynic or a tea bagger, don't look:


I've told some people that my main cat, Fuzz, is a hugger. If he's up high enough on something when you walk by, he'll rear up and hug you. Really hug you, meaning he puts his paws around your neck and squeezes. People have always looked at me as though I should consider counselling, but now I have freakin' proof that cats hug.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veteran's Day

I want to send out a heartfelt thank you to all the men and women who have served our country, who are currently serving our country, and kept us safe.

I also want to offer condolences to those who have lost someone who gave the ultimate sacrifice and express my inexpressible gratitude that we have those brave and honorable souls who died in our place.

Thank you.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Bad Parenting at the Multiplex

I didn't realize that someone was revisiting the world of John Carpenter's The Thing until I saw the preview a few weeks ago. That was a good thing because like all fanboys who have a handful of sacred favorites, I don't like seeing my babies messed with.

But, they had the music, they had the look, and they had Mary Elizabeth Winstead, probably one of the most drop-dead gorgeous actresses of the day. (To recycle the Moms Mabley classic: She's so pretty it hurts my feelings.) I have to admit they topped the first movie twice: the first reveal when it pops out of a human, and when it all goes very badly near the end when they're trying to figure out who's human and who's not. Verdict: I liked it a lot and will purchase it when it comes out.

A couple weeks ago, we sat down with our daughter and her best friend and watched the original Thing (John Carpenter's, not the 50s version where the sheriff from Gunsmoke channels Frankenstein in the form of a giant carrot). They sorta dug it, but it had the taint of being an old movie, and one with a sad ambiguous ending as well.

Like all good Americans, my wife and I are letting our 15-year-old see the occasional R-rated film only as long as the R is due to language and hyper-violence. If it's sex, no mas. Though we are raising our daughters in a more European way regarding sex (in that it's not inherently bad and in fact is wonderful in the right context, but is something that belongs in the adult world), we think sexual imagery is too charged for younger viewers. However, kids experience violence from the age they are able to walk or crawl over to another kid. Granted, it's not blood-spraying horror violence (usually), but they tend to have an emotional handle on it, and viewing fictional stuff appears not to cause harm. In addition, most of us in the Midwest are either hunters or raised around them, so we've seen an animal processed, which is the definition of gory.

So even though I hadn't previewed it first (a usual step for us regarding R-rated flicks), my wife and I thought it'd be OK to take our daughter, who also liked it a lot.

But that night when she went to bed, I found her with her covers pulled to her chin. (Darn.) We talked about how the monster in the movie couldn't exist in our world; that it defied the general laws of basic physics and known biology, which seemed to help. It gave her nightmares anyway. So, FAIL on the thinking it would be OK thing. Alas.

My wife went and said it even scared her. That's a sum total of maybe three movies that have ever given her the willies. My daughter went again (the damage was done) with her mom, her best friend, and BF's mom. I guess her friend sat through most of the movie with her ears covered and her jaw hanging from shock. Her mom exclaimed out loud a few times, too.

So, if you've seen the other one, it's a great companion movie, and if you haven't, it might be one of the better horror flicks you've seen in a while. You might want to mind the R-rating though.

We also watched the wonderful Kristen Wiig's triumph: Bridesmaids. At least this time we were warned about what to hide from our daughter (the first 5 minutes). My wife and elder daughter loved it. I laughed a few times. I was thrilled to see Melissa McCarthy, who I thought was awesome in The Nines and hoped she could find her way to a long career; this is a pretty good start. Bridesmaids is worth a few minutes of your time, provided you like crude humor.

I caught Martin Scorsese's George Harrison: Living in the Material World on cable, when my family was out of the room. One of the ironies of my life is that I thought I would avoid driving my family nuts via the TV because I don't care for sports so don't watch them, but none of them have a tolerance for music documentaries, so my favorite thing to watch is the bane of their existence anyway.

I thought it was very average for the genre, but did learn some stuff about the quiet Beatle that I didn't know, and am now more impressed with his legacy regarding guitar craft and riffage. For fans only, I'm afraid.

Finally, I happed across this deleted scene from Will Smith's Hancock. If you didn't see it, the story explores the concept of a superhero who's become cynical and alcoholic because he realizes he can never do enough to fix the world.

In the deleted scene, we are finally able to witness the dramatization of the famous quandary that would face Superman should he ever try to have sex with Lois, as described by Larry Niven in his infamous essay, "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex" (some wiki goodness here). Ironically, the original script for Hancock was titled "Tonight, He Comes.", and dealt with his sexual frustration along with his cynicism. So, of course, the one scene that reflects the origin of the story was cut.

I had pretty significant asthma as a kid and have not suffered from it so much as an adult until recently. All the stuff the doctor threw at me has staved it off a bit, but I keep trying to find an off-the-shelf supplement to try to get complete relief because it's unpleasant and a bit scary to be on the edge of not being able to take a deep breath. Mucinex has proven to be a wonder drug for me, especially when I get some chest thing, and it has been a help now.

When I saw Bronkaid on the shelf, it seemed to promise exactly what I wanted: Mucinex plus a bronchial dilator.

There I was, the next sitting on the couch on a Saturday morning (after taking some), surfing the web until my family got up. I noticed that reading was a struggle, but when my wife sat down with her coffee and started shooting the breeze, I noticed I was really, well... fucked up.

I could barely track what she was saying, plus I kept getting distracted by the web page in front of me (which is rude when someone is talking directly to you, but kept finding myself attempting to read while my wife was in mid-sentence), and worst of all I seemed to be actively dreaming while sitting there which was inserting itself in the jumbled mix of my thoughts.

As we all know, dreams have their own logic that don't mesh well with actual reality, so being a bit confused as to what was occurring to me in the real world at the moment and what was seeping into my consciousness through a pin-prick between the wall of reality and dreams was outright alarming.

When I could sort out my thoughts enough to articulate a thought, I said to my wife, "I'm really messed up" (using polite language in deference to the kids in the room), and tried to explain what was going on. She responsibly asked if I needed to go to the emergency room, and I said probably not, but if I get out the body paints or start weeping at the mere sight of a rainbow, don't rule it out.

So for the next four hours as I waited for the stuff to wear off, I played mentally with the shiny ball of dream fragments floating through my active consciousness. It seemed the best way to manage the weirdness without freaking out.

As a young man, I took mushrooms once, smoked my share of doobage, and tried illegal speed once in my freshman year at college, which concluded with a woman flirting with me at a party while a tarantula undulated on her right breast. (I finally asked if there really was a tarantula where I was seeing one, and she said that it was the host's pet, thank God.)

My point is that I have at times experienced altered states of consciousness and none of them were as vivid and unpleasant as this experience was. As a rule, I don't like being altered - hence my one-time trial of a couple things and that's about it.

It has made me wonder about how and when our brains dream. Previously, I had assumed that what most scientists said was true: we dream when sleeping, probably to help the brain clear away and store the content of the previous day. My take-away from Saturday's trip was that we might be dreaming all the time, but don't have awareness of it unless we are in a different state, such as sleeping or whacked out on bronchial dilators.

I told you all that to tell you this, a couple nights later I had a really vivid dream about a baby that had a surreal birth defect in that it was born as only a head with mere nubbins of fingers under the sides of its chin. Such a sight would be horrific in real life, but in the land of dreams the baby was actually quite beautiful and it seemed as happy as most babies, and I loved it like parents love their babies, with a potency and yearning that often overwhelms. It was a sweet dream, actually.

Later that day at work, I stumble across this picture at work...

Holy cow on a sacred stick, I thought. That looks just like the baby in the dream, though of course the bundling wasn't there (or visible), but the proportion of the fingers that were showing was an exact match to the fingers of the dream baby.

So, I submit that I think I had a precognition of this picture prior to seeing it.

Does this imply an ability to see the future? Synchronicity? Something beyond the physical world (which constant readers will know I believe in)? That the military will run out and empty the shelves of Bronkaid? I leave it to you to decide.

As a footnote, or third level digression, I found this picture at the same time I found the dream baby pic, and thought to myself: who in the hell thinks a black and white picture of a rainbow is a good idea? It's kinda like asking a woman to pose nude for you then take a picture of just her big toe.
Wonder if there's a pot of silver at the end

(Apologies that I don't provide credit or references to the origin of the pictures. I checked the exif data, and haven't found clues. If these are your pictures, or if you know whose they are, please let me know in the comments.)

Alas, a student group in Ohio has launched a campaign that tries to make the argument that dressing up as a pimp/gangsta or terrorist or Mexican for Halloween is racist. Even anything that could possibly be construed as such, like this illegal alien costume, is suspect, they say.

Here's the CNN story that brought national attention to bear, the site itself, and the tumbler post of the president of the society on her reaction to the parodies that cropped up like mushrooms in a hot cowpie.

Y'know, if that kid dressed up as a pimp/gangsta (whichever it is) is in blackface, you could make an easy argument that it's racist to most reasonable people. (I can't tell from the small versions of the poster I've seen.) But if it is someone black all blinged out as a pimp or gansta, is it really racist? And why would a black college kid claim that was her "culture"? Wouldn't her academic aspirations automatically distance her from a dealer of drugs and whores? And does the Middle-Eastern kid really want to claim that terrorism is his culture? Really?

I wonder if they were aware of the similarly failed attempt by Wiccans to claim victimhood and unfair stereotypes of witches in the celebration of Halloween. Or of their failed attempt to claim that they originated the holiday, being pagan descendants of pagans and all that.

Anyway, if you can get past being offended (if it does offend you), the parodies are a hoot. Update: The Chive offers a bunch as well.

My favorite is this one:
Looks German to me...

I wonder if this means that laid-back, aged stoners with an affinity for bowling will come beating on my door, since I dressed as the Dude from The Big Lebowsky a couple years back.

FWIW, it was a tremendous failure because, of course, none of the kids had seen the movie and neither had most of their parents, so I just looked like some homeless guy shambling to the door to hand out candy. (I had a real beard and my own old bathrobe, not a fake ones like in this getup.) I got more looks of abject terror from that costume than any other I've donned.
The Latest Canary

So, among the top ten banned books this year is Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich, which reports the results of her experiments of trying to work for and live on minimum wage jobs. (Nother link.) Why would such a book be BANNED? (As pointed out elsewhere, the books aren't banned so much as someone challenged their appropriateness for a school bookshelf.)

Well, besides apparently containing some negative views on Christianity, it promotes '"economic fallacies" and "socialist ideas",' and a 'biased portrayal of capitalism.' Wade around in that for a while … banned because people don't like what it says about economic viewpoints and realities in America.

To me, this is the latest canary in a coal mine on how far out of whack our national "debate" about economic problems, "class warfare," and the right's propaganda about the poor are. (Note: no reason to qualify portions of the right as wingnuts and teabaggers, as it's the whole Republican base anymore, judging from the recent legislative sessions.)

To paint the basic facts and details about trying to live on minimum-wage as somehow controversial and political, something to be suppressed and hidden, is gobsmacking to me. It also strikes me as a rather dark if not evil purposeful ignorance. Disagreeing with what it might mean is another issue, but to try to suppress it?

Since I don't often subject myself to the Republican propaganda machine on purpose, if I'd heard the term "class warfare" before now, I really hadn't paid it much heed as the concept strikes me as eminently silly in America. But, it's getting such big play on the right that Jon Stewart dedicated a whole series of shows that hilariously subsumed the World of Warcraft logo: "World of Class Warfare." (If you follow only one link in this post, this is the one; the stuff you'll find is tres funny.)

The most absurd brainturd they tried to float was that if the poor have things like refrigerators and televisions, they're not poor! The blinkered depravity of someone who would have this viewpoint betrays such a vast lack of understanding of the larger world and humanity that it's nearly cartoonish in its banality. It's as if Thurston Howell from Gilligan's Island has become the primary pundit for these clowns.

As usual with the tighty righties, they employ the bullshit term "class warfare" to coin what they want to pretend is something they're victims of, but in fact is their effort to smear and marginalize those they disagree with (in the right's usual tactic of framing something as the opposite of what it is).

Their larger target is, of course, tearing down FDR's New Deal. FDR himself knew what bastards some of the people are: "Roosevelt again and again said the privileged classes are not your friends, they don't reflect your interests but we do." They're so rabid about the New Deal that they've produced their own cartoon version of history, where FDR didn't exist.

I've never understood this because the tangible results of the New Deal - a healthy middle class, a higher standing of living for everyone and the resultant general level of happiness and civility - appear so obviously valuable on their face that why would you want any else unless you were, well, fucking evil.

I've often wondered if the point to turn us into Mexico, because if it is, we're there!!!! (I've said for years, probably every party I've been to when I'm past 2 beers, that the real goal of the right was to turn us into Mexico in a cynical bid to halt illegal immigration from Mexico.)

Sometimes writing something out like this help me think it through, analogous to the weird effect when you articulate something out loud to someone else, it often crystallizes it for you. I now realize that what I've never heard from the right is their articulation of the world they DO want, other than lip service to freedom. So, I'm going to begin asking: "So, imagine we're living a world with no regulation on corporations and financial institutions, no labor unions, no minimum wage, no medicare, medicaid, no food stamps, no unemployment insurance, no government provided health care whatsoever, no food banks, no public safety net, nothing. What do you imagine that world would be like?"

While drafting this post, I ran some of these thoughts past my wife, and she pointed out the most obvious but wise thing I've heard: Congress doesn't eat its own dog food. It has no skin in the game. Every single person in the House or Senate is a millionaire, and they all have free healthcare and a pension they know will be there when they leave. Perhaps if they were in the same situation most Americans do, they'd listen.

Finally, I love this post by Lemony Snicket:
Thirteen Observations made by Lemony Snicket while watching Occupy Wall Street from a Discreet Distance

1. If you work hard, and become successful, it does not necessarily mean you are successful because you worked hard, just as if you are tall with long hair it doesn’t mean you would be a midget if you were bald.

2. “Fortune” is a word for having a lot of money and for having a lot of luck, but that does not mean the word has two definitions.

3. Money is like a child—rarely unaccompanied. When it disappears, look to those who were supposed to be keeping an eye on it while you were at the grocery store. You might also look for someone who has a lot of extra children sitting around, with long, suspicious explanations for how they got there.

4. People who say money doesn’t matter are like people who say cake doesn’t matter—it’s probably because they’ve already had a few slices.

5. There may not be a reason to share your cake. It is, after all, yours. You probably baked it yourself, in an oven of your own construction with ingredients you harvested yourself. It may be possible to keep your entire cake while explaining to any nearby hungry people just how reasonable you are.

6. Nobody wants to fall into a safety net, because it means the structure in which they’ve been living is in a state of collapse and they have no choice but to tumble downwards. However, it beats the alternative.

7. Someone feeling wronged is like someone feeling thirsty. Don’t tell them they aren’t. Sit with them and have a drink.

8. Don’t ask yourself if something is fair. Ask someone else—a stranger in the street, for example.

9. People gathering in the streets feeling wronged tend to be loud, as it is difficult to make oneself heard on the other side of an impressive edifice.

10. It is not always the job of people shouting outside impressive buildings to solve problems. It is often the job of the people inside, who have paper, pens, desks, and an impressive view.

11. Historically, a story about people inside impressive buildings ignoring or even taunting people standing outside shouting at them turns out to be a story with an unhappy ending.*

12. If you have a large crowd shouting outside your building, there might not be room for a safety net if you’re the one tumbling down when it collapses.

13. 99 percent is a very large percentage. For instance, easily 99 percent of people want a roof over their heads, food on their tables, and the occasional slice of cake for dessert. Surely an arrangement can be made with that niggling 1 percent who disagree.

*Btw, it has come out that those people inside the impressive buildings are sitting in observation bunkers (paid for by taxes) with the police, which answers the question I've read a few times in the news: How come they're tear-gassing and shooting the OWS movement when they left the Tea Baggers alone?

Here are some links on other elements of this general problem that I couldn't squeeze into this already lengthy screed:
- The Tea Party is really just the pissed-off white south rising again.
- Republicans actively work to destroy Democratic presidents, and even Obama says right out loud that their primary goal is to defeat him, the people be damned.
- Republicans even think they can threaten the Fed.
- A great tell-all from a Republican operative who has left the cult.
- How banks cause hunger.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Sleeping with Techo-Lust

It's been a LONG time since I've been really intrigued by a new techie device.

The last was this pocket PC thing called a Jornada which came out in about 2000 - yes over a decade ago.

It had this nifty fold-out keyboard you could dock it to, and boy did you look like a geek using it - which I considered a good thing. Its fatal flaw was when its battery drained, it lost anything you'd saved on it, and after losing a couple valuable documents unexpectedly, I ended up putting it away. (I still have it. It still works and holds a charge. If there are any collectors who might want it, ping me at the email address provided on the page here.)

Oh, iPads are very slick and shiny, and fingering around the OS makes you feel like you've finally caught up with the promises of scifi. Watching people use their iPads, you can see the visceral pleasure on their face as they zoom and slide and peck away on the screen keyboard, a little smile smudged on their smackers the whole time. Don't let them catch you watching, though, because you will end up getting a breathless demo, akin to the interminable slide-shows back in the 70s, when people would invite you over to show you the slides of their visit to the great hole in the ground or the place where boiling water erupts from the ground or the place where some guy carved big faces of former presidents on high ground.

A starting price of half a grand is just a bit dear for me, especially since it is yet another glorified Etch-A-Sketch (yes it is), even if it's in glorious color. Input on the device is not easy, and it is, in the end, a content delivery device, that doesn't deliver one of the most popular forms of media on the web, the youtube video. (Maybe youtube fixed this by now, but still, it's silly to leave a major media technology off of a media-centric device; kinda like having a screen door on a submarine.)

Like anyone who was plied with a Blackberry at the workplace as an essential tool for optimal organization and constant communication, I've become tethered to its notifications of upcoming meetings, vital emails, and text messages from mylovely wife asking where I put the scissors. I forgot the thing at home recently and missed a very important meeting and chided myself on becoming so dependant on the damn thing, which was why I resisted it in the first place. But, it's just too damn useful, so whattaya do? I hear the Blackberry market is suffering due to smart phones, but I suspect the sheer utility and rock-solid reliability will keep them around for a while...

Partially because smart phones are a pain in the ass. They're fun when you're dorking around with the little apps and become deeply addicted to a mere physics exercise involving dissolving pig heads with slungshot birds, but if you absolutely need to make a call right now and in a straightforward manner - say you're not seeing the kids you need to pick up for carpool - the contacts list will likely end up dialing someone you talk to twice a year, so by the time you've hung up that call, gotten the right contact, dialed it, etc., you're a good panicky couple minutes down the timeline, and while you are talking to the person you wanted to call, the person you mistakenly called has called you back to ask why you called, so your conversation is peppered with gaps and bleeps, causing both of you to ask to repeat what was just said, which makes you not notice the kids are standing patiently outside the car in winter weather. Then, when everyone's snug and buckled, you hear a tiny voice screaming at you, and you discover that when you put the phone down it butt-dialed yet someone else, who's been listening the whole time and now trying to get your attention, so you have to rack your brain to see if you said anything snarky while the kids were piling in - which often happens because they're bursting with news of the day, and many of your rejoinders are "yeah, so-and-so's mom can be a handful." But, as you you lift the phone to your ear to explain, the battery dies because another "feature" of smart phones is that many many of those little applications start up for no reason, or perhaps you started them but there's no intuitive way to close them, so the 39 little apps have been communicating and updating and sucking the electrons off the battery like so many bees in a field of clover in spring. Joy. Rapture.

Electronic book readers - the Kindle from Amazon and the Nook from Barnes and Noble - initially held zero appeal to me because I simply love the ease, utility, hardiness and physical presence of a printed book. Always will.

Plus, when anything is on a battery, there's this little meter running in the back of my head that says, "look at the battery level!" every minute or so, probably because of the trauma of the Jornada experience. I actually feel physical discomfort when I see my laptop or Blackberry power level down to a line, which augments the tension by displaying a lovely caution yellow color, because what if I need it but don't have an electric teat to draw sustenance from?!?! The horror! (Yes, I wax melodramatic, but it is a very real, if in reality less emotional thing I experience.)

And then there's DRM - Digital Rights Management, which prevents you from making a copy of a file and giving it to someone else. I have a very firm stance on DRM: Fuck to the hell to the damn no. Ever.

Yes, artists and the content companies who provide things should get paid, and they do when they're reasonable, like the MP3 store at I am a regular customer. I leeeerve my high-fidelity MP3 albums, especially since they've stepped up and now include a digital booklet of liner notes. I miss visiting the record store/head shop downtown, but instant gratification combined with the bonus of not having to rip the CD myself is just too wonderful.

And most DRM systems cripple your machine. I often record sounds from the web (say from youtube vids) for throwing on a mix CD by using Audacity and capturing it through the computer's built-in sound system. A month ago I installed's app on a PC so I could get the free version of Samuel Jackson reading the pretend children's book Go the F**k to Sleep, because how can one not have that in one's arsenal? Audible's app laced the PC with its DRM software, and disabled the ability to record any sounds whatsoever. On MY fuckin' machine. A cardinal sin of the highest order. How dare you disable part of my computer? Unless they back off of DRM, they've lost a customer forever. (I'll just mention Sony's disastrous rootkit fiasco with CDs in passing, which you can read about here.)

eBooks come loaded with DRM. Worse, each device has a proprietary format that only works with the company's eBooks, so you can't buy an eBook and read it on a Nook. Haven't these numbskulls paid any attention to Sony's attempts to corner a format market, or the music industry's idiocy and near demise because they just couldn't get their head around DRM-free music until the horse had left the barn, had ponies, and died?

Plus, publishers are making the exact same mistake made with CDs (even to this day - half of all CDs are still over $10), promising they would be much cheaper than the current market leader (vinyl back then). The majority of bad reviews on Amazon books come from customers losing their shit over the fact that the eBook, which takes a scintilla of the energy it takes to crap out a paper book, are typically a couple bucks more than the paper book. There is simply no logical or justifiable reason why an eBook isn't the same price or cheaper.

But then, signs of intelligent life in the universe started appearing. My library has eBooks you can borrow for free, just like a real book. They even have some I'd want to read.

The Nook has a real web browser that can actually play vids, an MP3 player, and it displays many formats besides their eBook format: Microsoft Office Docs, PDFs, and plain text. Wow. Way to go. I have a bunch of stuff from the Project Gutenberg, so if I felt like picking up a classic, I could. This makes the Color Nook (whose name makes me chuckle because it's vaguely naughty) essentially a low-rent iPad at $250. Plus, they now have "lend-able" versions of the books.

(And the hackers of the world have made converters so you can convert one company's format to your reading device, and strip of the DRM if you want. Yes, it's illegal for now. Hopefully the companies will get over themselves and actually serve their customers in an honest fashion. So, if you're one of those publisher folks, or Amazon / Barnes and Noble folk, here's a tip: you price the "paperback" eBook release at $4 - $2 for back catalogue - leave off the DRM, and money will fly into your accounts. I see the new releases are already typically under $10 - good for you!)

But, but ... you can get a whole freakin' laptop for $300! On which you can install a free application which makes it work like a Nook.

Still, Nooks (and Kindles) are a wonderful little size and optimized for reading. So, damn it, here I am in techo-lust, after all these years. I thought I'd hit the stage of life where I was past that, and could groove in my zen-like repose (not quite smug) holding my library book, plugged into my $20 DRM-free MP3 player, sucking on a Busch NA near beer (most of the taste, none of the drawbacks), and rock on with my bad self.

But I know I will find myself in a B&N, probably within the next few days, seeing if I can shake this feeling. I suspect I'll end up with a Nook, soon.

It doesn't stop there, though! God! Two objects of lust at once! It's just like high school all over again! Though, unlike the Lovin' Spoonful's wonderful song about having to make up your mind, my other object of lust would actually welcome a threesome.

I surfed across these headphones called Bedphones that are designed to be comfortable enough that you can fall asleep while wearing them. I liek to fall asleep to music about once a week, so these intrigue me. Plus, in a shocking display of market savvy, the company has priced them at $30 - a completely reasonable price for headphones. Plus, when we have family movie nights, my 6-year-old will often want to watch her own movie because she just can't seem to find a way to care about Katherine Heigl's hero's journey of collecting a closetfull of bridesmaid's dresses, so will plug into her portable DVD player (a grand bargain at $40), but we have yet to find a set of headphones that don't give her fits. Until now.

I'm having visions of reading in bed as I go to sleep without a booklight, and having the plaintive strains of Moby or Native American Flutes shimmering as the soundtrack on my new comfy headphones, as my wife dreams beside me, the dog sighing at the foot of the bed.

As there is often a cloud to be found within a silver lining, I read something about the Bedphones Android app that retroactively gave me the creeps. This app can tell when you've fallen asleep "determined by how much you move" and turn off your Android music player. At first blush, that seems really cool. MP3 players by default are designed to play way until you request they kindly stop.

But when you think it out, your smart phone will now have the ability to know when you're asleep.

People, your phone already knows too damn much about you, and now you want to let it know when you are unconscious and vulnerable? One of the "features" that smart phone makers and smart phone app developers keep on the down-low is that when you load an app, one of the steps is to grant it access to functions of the phone (like the built-in GPS thingy they all have, the mic, and other apps). This means that some of your apps are watching and listening to what you and other apps on the phone are doing, ostensibly so it can pipe up and offer something that you might find helpful or delightful - kind of a "would you like fries with that?" in digital form. Blackhat developers have also included sneaky little features to gather very private info (see?! ... see?!), like a note-taking app that requests access to your mic so that you can dictate into it, but behind the scenes it listens to the numbers you dial and sends them to China, right-wing media moguls, and Phil out in Schenectady.

So now your phone is going to know when you're asleep.

Perhaps you can render these apps useless by queueing up Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and since they're so smart, they'll appreciate the irony and decide to just leave you alone and go to sleep themselves.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Way to Spliff It, Aberdeen

Wow. Kurt Cobain's hometown of Aberdeen, Washington has decided to not name a bridge after him because "because many on the city council were afraid that the memorial would glorify Cobain's drug use and suicide."

As if his life is completely defined by that tragedy, forget that he changed the world.

Or that some kid would cross that bridge some day, look up and read the dedication and think, "Hey! I think I'll do some heroin them come back and jump off!"

Seriously, has anyone EVER thought this way? Can you name one single person who would make, or has made, this kind of connection, obviously besides the parks board of Aberdeen?


I resist and resist putting up political posts because I'm so bad at articulating things; I just tend to rant. Nearly invariably, when I re-read them weeks later, I tend to roll my eyes at myself.

One of my college roommates was a decent cartoonist with a one-of-a-kind sense of humor. My favorite of his was a picture of a Catholic priest awash in sweat with a thought balloon hovering near him in the shape of a croissant, with the caption: "Father Murphy resists a thought croissant." We never know what thought Father Murphy is resisting, which makes it all the funnier, of course, because whatever you chose to project at the moment was probably more horrible than anything my buddy could've thought up. In the recusion section here are descriptions of more of his creations.

In context, though, political posts are the thought croissants I must resist.

I lost the battle today.


So Boener (whom I call Boner out of sheer spite and malice and because he's a dick - see I lose all subtlety on these posts) openly admitted that the Republicans actually want the chaos that would result from not raising the debt ceiling - which means they are perfectly happy to let a vast number of Americans - the very people they are supposed to serve - suffer greatly, just to make political hay, to force their insane economic policies (about which I think they're particularly deluded; I think Americans will reject them like a gut full of botulism, and they certainly won't work in reality because they never have). Finally, they believe they can put the blame on Obama and will certainly try as the election nears, which will get traction in the wingnut echo chamber of the Fox/Rush/Hannity cult (the best word for it anymore), but the rest of us still remember who's the actual culprit.

Here's the quote I pulled this from:
On the Laura Ingraham radio show Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner acknowledged that "a lot" of Republican House members "believe that if we get past August the second and we have enough chaos, we could force the Senate and the White House to accept a balanced budget amendment."
Judas on a fucking Vespa, anyway.

I know you couldn't really pass an effective law regarding this, but it seems like it should be illegal to blatantly work against the public's interest, such as needlessly throwing America and the world into a depression for sheer cynical political reasons, and via a plan that simply fails if you run the math. (If you are of a like mind, most of Mario Piperni's posts are great fun.)

I have to say it again, it boggles my mind that these fucktards place winning elections (again I think they're assuming something that's just not true, but they believe it in their echo chamber) above the welfare of we the people. I mean, how fucking dare they?

And, if they had such a boner for a balanced budget amendment, why didn't they pursue it when they controlled things under Bush? The obvious answer is they really don't care about it in reality, they only pull it out as a cudgel whey they're not in power to stir things up.

I hope Obama takes the path Clinton suggested and just evoke the 14th amendment, which would set a nice precedent, and it would take away this particular shotgun that the wingnuts and teabaggers have pointed at America's head.


I'll leave you with a couple of cartoons to get the taste out of your mouth:

The inclusion of peas in this is just brilliant.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Harry Potter and other entertainments

Of course, saw the final Harry Potter movie, and it was nice to see the end.

Cathartic? No. The book was. Well, a couple of the iconic scenes were awesome to finally see, especially the final shot. It was a couple hours of fun and simple closure for someone who'd read the wondrous series.

Reports from fellow parents whose kids grew up with Potter are different, though. (Even those who read it first.) They report their kids talking back to the screen, physically reacting to some parts. It's very much a catharsis for them.

Cathartic for me lately was the Cohen brothers' update of True Grit. An impromptu movie party formed a couple weeks ago and someone had this from the Redbox. I was not enthused but it was on my to-watch list, so I settled in with a good brew and expected the tepid.

In my opinion, the Cohen brothers can be very hit-and-miss (Barton Fink anyone?), but when they're on, they're damned on. My wife really coined it, the script was Shakespearean in its scope and grandeur. As with Shakespeare, I laughed harder and much more often than I expected to, and in the end was unexpectedly moved. I'm reading the novel now to perform a mental diff (like most have with Harry Potter and LOTR). Stay tuned.

In my Ryan Reynolds movie fest, I've completed Chaos Theory. Thus far my theory is holding up, that Reynolds is one of those guys who is canny at picking good scripts. The movie was merely entertaining, but, as with The Nines, the premise was intriguing.

In most movies where things could be cleared up by allowing a character finish speaking (ala: "If you would just listen..!" "No! Be quiet! Not another word!"*), it feels like a cheat of too much of the plot hinges on the unrevealed information, but here it's actually part of the plot device, and the interruptions that stop the revelation are realistic. This is one of those movies that would have been a bit better with a defter director. Reynolds continues to impress me as an actor for all seasons. If you've got some time and get it from the library, this is a nice little flick. Stay tuned for the continuation of the Reynolds-fest.

*The Harry Potter movie has one of these, even. Thankfully, the character is allowed to speak, but just barely.

Recent articles about the new documentary Project Nim (which I can't freakin' wait to see) have all mentioned director James Marsh's Man on a Wire about French acrobat's Philippe Petit's walking on a high-wire between the Twin Towers during the 70s, so I fired that sucker up. It was eerie watching footage of the building of the towers because you see the iconic girder-esque outer shell being constructed, which evokes mental images of the same poking from the rubble on that fateful day.

While interesting, it wasn't as gripping as Errol Morris' docs are. Documentary fans will definitely want to see it, though.

Aside from the audacious task of stringing a wire between the two towers, the most jaw-dropping segment for me was Petit's reaction to his sudden international fame after he pulls the the feat off. It's not a spoiler that he makes it, because you see him as he looks now at the start of the show ("so he must've made it!"), but THIS IS A SPOILER:

[Select the blank area with your mouse to read it.]
Immediately after he is released from jail in New York, a random hottie from walks up to him and invites him back to her place for a celebratory fuck, which he jumps on. It's shocking because thus far we've seen much of the very tender relationship with Annie - his long-suffering, soul-mate girlfriend, who was there to watch the event, and was instrumental in pointing out to people on the street what was occurring a quarter of a mile up. He would not have been able to pull it off without her love and support. So his betrayal is shocking. Petit, in the current day, casually dismisses his transgression. Annie herself says that she, too, immediately realized that the event and his fame had changed everything, and says it was somewhat of a relief for her, too, that things were over, and what better way to mark a life change. Still, the heart has a way of repainting tragic events over with time using any hopeful colors it can find, but objective observers can still see the layers of hurt beneath.

Finally, my family tried to slog through the update of Arthur, the re-tread of the Dudley Moore classic. Meh. Not only is it crashingly boring, somehow, but the uber-wealth that Arthur takes for granted chafes in the current day. (The best line is in the preview: the lovely Jennifer Garner, while trying to chase Arthur down to hump him, becomes adhered to Arthur's floating magnetic bed due to metallic inserts in her sexy-time costume, and Arthur bends down to offer: "At least something in this room is attracted to you." Snirk snirk.)

Verdict: Potter fans should rejoice, and then sit down to a viewing of True Grit if they haven't already. Documentary fans should hit the high-wire while waiting for Nim.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Old Friends

Today my family went to the zoo whilst I sat at me desk and pondered how to describe the data relationships between people and the things they can be assigned in the system (oh, the glory of IT work). My wife and daughters send me pictures of their adventures throughout the day, letting me enjoy things vicariously.

Today, they sent me a particularly good one.

That's my lovely MPC1 on the far left, with her best buddy to her right. In the seat behind them is my wife's buddy, with her middle daughter on the left behind. In the seat behind them is my beautiful MPC2 in the hat, with wife's buddy's youngest daughter next to her.

As I was saving it off, I happened to open a folder with this picture of MPC1 and her best buddy as little daisy-pickers, as we called them when they were learning soccer as preschoolers, as they were more likely to sit down and pick flowers as go after the ball. They've been friends since they were both in diapers.

I just had to post these upon seeing the two pictures together and je refuse to have a facebook account, so here you are.
The Big TV

So, we have finally joined the modern age by getting a flat-screen, Hi-Def TV.

For way too long, they were way too expensive, and I just didn't see that much of an upgrade in picture quality. And certainly not thousands of dollars worth of picture quality. Recently they have dipped close to $500, which is more like it.

Plus, our old tube TV had developed this faint line that danced across the lower part of the screen. It wore on the soul.

It went down like this:
I was in Target, combing the clearance shelves, and happed upon a Blu-ray player with a built-in wireless connection for $75. When I called my wife to clear the purchase, as our family policy, she said she'd been to Walmart that day and had seen a big 47" TV (which she's been wanting for 3 years now) for $700. I was right by the TVs so wandered over and noticed they had the TV she was describing for about $500. She said, "I'll be right there." To which I responded, "We're buying a TV today?" She said, "Probably."

We get it home and the brackets they sold us to mount it on the wall were a foot too short. I call the bracket company because they implore you to call them in the instructions if you have any questions whatsoever. To my surprise, they answer, even though it's Friday night. I'm told I have a bracket that's been recalled, and I should return it and get the new one.

Off I go. I have to return it to Target, who doesn't have the new one, so I jet over to Walmart, who does. And it's cheaper. Yay.

Get home, and discover the mounting screws for the bracket are either too long or too short to work, including with the various spacers in the kit.

Off to Lowes where I spend at least a half hour deciding if I should get new screws, different spacers or whatnot. At home I discover the spacers I bought are one washer-width too short.

Off to a neighbor to sift through his can of loose screws and such, and he has only 3. Visit another neighbor, same drill, but now I have enough washers.

The bracket is mounted and now it's time to put the wall-mounting piece up. Much discussion and agonizing about correct height and getting it level. Everyone winces when we hear the boards in the wall creak and crack a little bit as I'm ratcheting in the monster screws. Hand becomes very tired.

The moment arrives, the wife and I hoist it up, and it clicks in beautifully. I spend about 20 minutes running cables, then sit with remote in hand (MPC1 was instructed to read the instructions and school us when the moment arrives), quivering slightly with anticipation and fatigue. It's 10:00 PM.


And this is what we see....

We sit there in silence at first. Then, for about 15 minutes, we explore the concept "how much does THIS suck?" Our daughter brings things to a close by remarking that we are now officially the Griswold family. Laughter breaks the spell, and we head off to bed.

We end up coming home with a bigger TV the next day.
I Like This

I'll admit that I've been a bit glum the last few months.

Contributing factors were a death in the family, friends with lots of troubles losing jobs and houses and spouses, acquaintances with terminal cancer, home town folks fighting floods and living in hotels, 'Merica's in a depression (let's just say it), and so on.* All that grey can tend to make the world seem darker than it is, kinda like the flip side of when you first fall in love or have a (healthy) baby when all the world seems technicolor and just right, also an illusion.

However, the clouds appear to be parting. I find I'm looking at the sunrise again on the way to work rather than just blasting to the office in a daze, and other of those "stop and smell the roses" kinds of things I've been neglecting.

It's a cliche, but it's often the little things that bring perspective.

Last week my wife and I spent the day at doctor's offices getting those little niggling things that add up in middle age diagnosed or (phew) dismissed. (Carpel tunnel for me! Whoo!) One of our fellow travelers in the afternoon waiting room was a sweet, ancient old lady who was so bent over her walker, at first glance your heart just broke for her. Observation proved there was still a very lively and happy person in that tiny weathered body. For example, when asked for her insurance cards, the flurry of activity to procure them showed no hesitation or confusion. It's amazing watching hands that gnarled pluck a 2" x 3" piece of plastic out of a tiny leather pocket.

As she was checking out (aided by her daughter I presume, who appeared to be in her 70s herself), she was delighted at the tissue dispenser which was a scrunched-up face with a huge irritated red nose, which was the point of dispensary. "Oh, I like this!" she said patting it on the head.

I don't know why, but her joy in that little thing made my whole day.

TLD: In a recent "Rolling Stone" issue Zach Galifianakis said that when he's blue, he hangs out at the park and talks to senior citizens, following advise from his parents. I flashed on that when the above happened. I think I might try it someday.

The next day, my wife and I finally decided spontaneously to join this century and get a new flat-screen TV (more on that in another post). As I waited for the girls to come back from some part of the store (buying something that big takes time and they went browsing to relieve the boredom), a pretty young mom who was about 7 months pregnant walked up to the drinking fountain with her darling little 2-year-old girl. She was just a shade too small to reach it, so mom picked her up and bent her over the taller fountain. "I like that one," she said in that little tiny angel voice they have at that age, pointing at the shorter fountain. Mom was slightly exasperated at that, but like everyone with those little little ones, it seems like a crime to not grant such a sweet and innocent request, and so mom bent her bulbous waist as much as she could and got the little moppet down to right level to take a drink. That made my whole day, again.

Those two simple statements of pleasure, the small joys, really resonated with me and reminded me how important it is to be open to those little glimpses of magic.

Then, last night I watched the documentary about the late, great Bill Hicks: American: The Bill Hicks Story. (So titled as it was produced by the BBC; Bill was huge in Britain.) It ended up being another entry in the "end of life" movie festival that my wife and I have unintentionally put together lately.** Like the others, it laced such a final and inherently tragic event in life with the renewal, hope, and release that is there. Hicks faced his end with grace and love. He didn't burden anyone unnecessarily, but made sure they got closure and felt loved.

Death has been weighing heavily on my wife and I, having dealt with it again recently in addition to facing the probable demise of elderly parents in the coming years (probably soon). The Bill Hicks story, along with the others, seemed to be a postcard from God, if you will, to remind us (at least me) that while life, and particularly death, sometimes seems out to get ya, there is much joy and fun to be had.

The trick is remembering to remember that, and to actively pursue joy. It's like marriage that way; it may seem like it should just naturally happen but in truth, you have to cultivate it if you want it to be good.

*Btw, in case you were wondering: happy to report my immediate family is doing great. God willing our good fortune will continue. Having a wonderful summer break. The teenager is turning heads (with me doing my best not to glare at the boys, was there myself once) and the little one got her first lessons in lighting fireworks this last 4th and was very good at lighting fuse and getting away.

**Our odd and unintentional little "end of life" movie festival:
The Suicide Tourist | Frontline - you can watch the whole thing online by following the link. Fair Warning: you see people really die.

You Don't Know Jack with Al Pacino channeling Jack Kevorkian

How to Die in Oregon.

American: The Bill Hicks Story

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

When Will It Ever End?

Saw the documentary Inside Job about the causes behind the economic collapse we find ourselves in the midst of.

This is what the documentary form is for. It lays out, clearly, what Wall Street and its enablers did to, well, fuck the global economy. It names names, is non-partisan, goes to the trouble of finding the news footage of the official hearings, and nails a few bastards to the wall on camera.

This is one of those documentaries that if I were a teacher in a high school, I'd show it to all of my classes. Twice. Once at the start of the year and once at the end. To say this is a "must-see" would be nothing but an understatement.

If something like this played out in a small town, the perpetrators would have that clammy moment of terror when the squeak of brakes is heard out front of the house, the view out the front window is several men with grim expressions climbing out of the back of a pickup bristling with guns, glancing up and down the street to see who might be watching, while two of them walk to the front door. Things are not going to go well for the person in the house.

The evil done by the men and women as outlined in Inside Job is the scandal of our age. The kicker is NONE of them has been brought to justice, and given the fact that they made sure no regulations existed around what they did with derivatives and then with executive bonuses, there may be no way to do anything about it in America. Europe has already moved to regulate this shit out of existence, which may be American's only hope, since about the only thing that can be done here is to hope those in power would shun them, but that's not what's happened.

Maybe enough outrage will come from those who've seen Inside Job, or read any of the books that outline the egregious evil visited upon the world, and our legislators will do something about it. Maybe it'll take the European courts and justice system to bring these people to justice.

It sickens me to even have to write that as an American.

What sickens me more, though, is we are in the middle of yet another fuck-over by Wall Street, and seemingly nothing's being done about that, either. The current price of gas prices is due to bullshit "speculation" by Wall Street, which directly parallels what Enron did back in the day that caused rolling brownouts on the West Coast. Why do we allow this immoral, evil shit to occur? Again, if America were a small town, Wall Street would suddenly show up dead on mainstreet, and everyone would be good with that. (Btw, I'm not advocating or suggesting vigilantism; my point is the sheer wrongness would not go unaddressed were it to happen on a smaller scale.)

According to this article, we have regulations that could be invoked to stop this. Right now. So why isn't it happening? (Yes, that's a rhetorical question.) Here and here are a couple more articles of interest.

My only quibble with the flick is they regularly display information as a block of text rather than have the narrator, Matt Damon, read it. It's in teeny tiny text, as well, which would be readable in a theatre, but even on a good-sized set, it is difficult to read.

(Re the title: I quote the line in the spirit of the lyric from the Monty Python song, "Here Comes Another One," resigned acknowledgement of the silliness and seriousness of the matter at hand.)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Catfish, plus other movies and ephemera

Note: Absolutely no spoilers in this post.

If this is the first thing you're reading about the documentary Catfish, make sure you read nothing else. See it cold. Do not have anything spoiled for you if you've manage to avoid any thus far. I didn't link to any other info about it for that reason. If you hunt for Catfish the documentary, chances are you'll get it. Here's what the box looks like:

The only thing I'll reveal - that is still not a spoiler - is it resonated with recent ruminations of mine around internet identity, particularly anonymity. Which appears to be a topic that's on other's minds as well: here and here.

This is one of the most touching, human documentaries I've seen in a while.

Oh, and speaking of documentaries, if you get a chance, make sure you catch How to Die in Oregon. Though, if you've lost someone to cancer recently, you may want to wait.

In other movie news, The Opinionated Homeschooler (she's back! yay!) asked why I didn't see Thor. After seeing The Green Lantern, I've re-discovered something I realized back when I read actual comic books: you like the ones you like and the rest are just lame. Or, the premise of the super hero clicks with you or not.

I didn't read many of the main superheroes as a kid because I found most of them silly, particularly Batman. A guy in a suit? With his little teenage orphan adoptee in another goofier suit? Hey, I'm here for the super powers. I read Superman, though I tired of all the alternate universes and stories that spanned two years worth of comic books, with an "Ed. note: See issue #425." every other panel to help you keep track of the story, a near impossibility. Spiderman was fun because the stories were usually self-contained and he was a smart-ass; and don't get me started about Mary Jane who probably launched her fair share of pre-pubescent boners. X-Men was and is laughable because all of their mutant powers are deus ex machina on crack. Need to walk through walls and freeze balls? We've got that mutant right here!

My favorites were: E-man (his girlfriend was a stripper!) along with Rog-2000 - a recurring co-feature, Fantastic Four (a babe, two smart-asses and a nice dad, what's not to like?), the She-Hulk (it was so soft-core, given the issues with ripping out of clothes), the Man-Thing (like Swamp Thing but uglier, scarier, and more existential - like Hamlet without the ability to soliloquy) , and the Harvey comics characters.

My brother and I benefited from the unique circumstance that my grandmother was best friends with another elderly lady who loved comic books, and she ordered so many the local drug store that stocked comics let her tack on the ones she wanted to their order, and she loved the Harvey characters. Casper was kinda interesting at times, and Hot Stuff the Little Devil was surreal, especially when some adults adopted his visage as the representation of a badass.

So, to circle around to The Opinionated Homeschooler's question, Thor never struck me, har har. I didn't like comics that had no levity whatsoever. The couple times I thumbed through a copy, it looked grim, dull, and (though I wouldn't have been able to articulate it at the time) somewhat homoerotic. Though having read "Little Dot" and "Wendy the Good Little Witch" I probably wouldn't have much of a defense of the machismo level of my reading at the time.

Iron Man? Another guy in a suit. Meh.

Now, I enjoyed the Green Lantern movie that's fresh out; his abilities have a similarity to E-man, my all-time fave. And I've loved the Iron Man and Batman movies. I even enjoyed the X-Men flicks, thought still rolled my eyes at the convenience of having a mutant who does just what's needed right when it's needed. I will see Thor when it's out on DVD, prolly.

None of those worked for me on the page, though.

I find myself synchronicitly in the midst of a Ryan Reynolds movie festival (he being the star of The Green Lantern).

I picked up The Nines simply because I've like most of his work so far, save for what was supposed to have been his vehicle to stardom, Van Wilder. His character in Blade III essentially is the movie. (In one of the most inexplicable take-downs ever published, Salon offers an extended snark on why Reynolds shouldn't even be a movie star, which skirts libel, imho.)

Anyway, The Nines was a pleasant surprise. Again, no spoilers, and this is one of those you should see totally cold if you're going to see it, but of all the unique twists in this flick, the actress Melissa McCarthy is the biggest (forgive me, Lord). You NEVER see a fat person as one of the major characters in a flick, outside of John Goodman. McCarthy is so damn funny and charming she outshines Reynolds, which is surprising since his main gift as an actor is the synergy of those two qualities. Her first line acknowledging that she's fat made me laugh so hard I had to rewind to catch the next few lines.

In researching The Nines, I came across several other Reynolds films I missed, and have them queued up at the library. I'll keep you posted.

Thus far my favorite, and my family's favorite movie this summer is Super 8. You've seen the plot before, but then again, you'd seen the plot of J.J. Abram's Star Trek reboot before, too, and that was a blast, right?

TLD: Again with the synchronicity: Elle Fanning is one of the stars of Super 8, and I had seen both it and The Green Lantern before I saw The Nines. It was weird seeing the two stars of the big summer movies together in an older one, particularly given the subject matter of The Nines.

One thing that's wonderful about Super 8 is the actors are given room to act. There are whole portions of the story that just play across someone's face without them having to spit dialogue back and forth. I hadn't seen that in a while and it was refreshing.

And, like Star Trek, Abram's writing throws the characters into situations where you are frightened, thrilled, and laughing all at the same time. That's a gift, my friend.

If it's still in a theatre near you, go now. At least put it on your Netflix queue.

I'll say it again (as it's the theme of this post) see it COLD! Don't let anyone tell you a single thing about it. Don't read anything. Btw, this movie is OK for kids 10 and over. Or even 8 and older if they're more mature, can handle some scares, and you don't mind them hearing some mild profanity that nearly every TV show drops anymore.

Which brings us to Drive Angry, apparently yet another bid by Nicolas Cage to find a super-hero franchise. And failing yet again.

Yeah, it's mildly fun, but it's such a hard R that is so obviously inappropriately directed at teenage boys, moral prudes like me will find it off-putting. One sex scene was go graphic, my wife and I both gasped, and she asked me what it was rated. This is not a spoiler, because screwing so often is not a plot point, and it ain't here.

But, here's what you see: he's sitting, clothed (which is a plot point), and she's lying on her back pistoning her hips up and down. I've surfed past the porn on the free premium channel of the month that showed less. It dawned on me later they must've digitally removed her vulva, because you see it clearly, but there's not the standard topography of the same, which would've been visible in an un-altered shot. Instead it's smooth like a Barbie doll. Still, the scene is so graphic, I wonder how they got away with an R rating.

I see on that it was originally in 3D, which explains some of the scenes, including the one above. While all 3D movies have the gratuitous 3D scenes, this one appears to have been created nearly completely out of scenes that would look cool in 3D, but are flat otherwise.

So, if you don't mind over-the-top sex and violence with your bubble gum, and can imagine how cool it would've looked in 3D, you might enjoy the time spent. Don't expect Tarantino though.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Fun Meme - Your First Album

1 - Go to wikipedia and hit random. The title of the first random wikipedia article you get is the name of your band.
2 - Go to and hit random. The last four or five words of the very last quote of the page is the title of your first album.
3 - Go to flickr and click on “explore the last seven days”. Third picture, no matter what it is, will be your album cover.
4 - Use photoshop, GIMP, or similar ( to put it all together.

Here's mine:

There is a band or two really named "The Now" and if you're in that band, feel free to use the above; though you'll want to get permission on the image from here.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Trivial Post on Pop Trivia

Came across some new rock/pop trivia - and being the Cliff Claven of the same, thought I'd share it with you:

- Paul Simon took the phrase of “Mother and Child Reunion” (for both song title and lyric) from a menu selection on a Chinatown restaurant where chicken and eggs were served together. [RS 1130, pp. 63.] Fitting for a happy-sounding song about a dark thing: "this sad and mournful day."

- Paul McCartney is a good friend of Simon's, and called him up on his 64th birthday and said, "I'm sorry, but this has to be done," and sang "When I'm Sixty-Four." [RS 1130, pp. 56.] Can you imagine one of The Beatles calling you on your 64th and singing to you?

- "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" was about breaking up with Shelley Duvall, and the lyrics were inspired by advice from Lorne Michaels (of SNL fame). [RS 1130, pp. 63.] And here I thought it was about Carrie Fisher. However, most of Hearts and Bones (one of me fave albums of all time) is about the Princess.

The name "The Beatles" was partially derived from their love of Buddy Holly and The Crickets – they are essentially named after The Crickets. (Don't recall where I read this.)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

More movies and less computer

Well, dammit, my favorite computer hauled off and died on my ass. I'd made a Xubuntu box from a decrepit laptop a while ago and came to love it. It was the best internet computer evar. I would follow links with impunity knowing that it wouldn't suddenly get all borked up from some damn script running, or some stupid hacker trap.

On a Windows box, half the time I will hold the mouse over the link to read the URL before clicking through, afraid some evil site will wipe out the computer, along with precious and un-backed-up pics of my wife and kids.

My sweet little Xubuntu box was fast. The multi-tasking was just awesome. I'm still taken aback when a Windows machine pauses to ram something through memory or swap crap on the disk. I miss the smoothness and speed of good 'ole Xubuntu.

The loss would've stung more if I relied on local software to get things done, but I've moved mostly to Google Office to write stuff I'm going to put on the web or notes for work and such. I'm still paranoid enough (because I know a LOT of system administrators) to not use anything but a local machine (nothing on the web or a network) for stuff I want kept private. It's just a simple fact that if your stuff resides on someone else's system, someone else can look at it. Fuck "the security of the cloud" stuff; that's a lie along the lines of "the check is in the mail" and "I'll pull out." I've heard actual IT professionals who claim to know what they're doing claim the cloud is secure due to the fact that everything is so distributed. I managed to withhold a snort of derision when that was uttered.

I'm talking to you, fiction writers. Seriously. Keep that novel local. Back it up religiously. Heck, print it out. I have a writer buddy who does that just to see the stack because it encourages him.

So, now I have to find a new place to put private stuff. (Note: before I completed this post, I was given an abandoned laptop that has no fan and no moving parts outside of the hard drive. It's cool, quiet, and lasts for hours on one charge. That more than makes up for the fact that it's not all that peppy, and the fact that it's Windows. I am in strong like with this baby.)

Enough whining. Here are some of my thoughts on movies I've seen lately.

You Again

Sigourney Weaver and Jamie Lee Curtis star as the mothers of competitive daughters and who have their own contentious past.

Kinda cute, but really aimed at the ladies - the way movies with lots of things that go boom or splatter are aimed at teenage boys. I think the ladies will like (not love) this movie, but if you are the SO, you might want to have a book lying around ready to go, which luckily I had. I was able to pay attention to both and easily catch the good parts.

The thing I enjoyed the most was an extra from the web, that you can view here.

Due Date

Practically a remake of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, but with some R-rated jokes tossed in. A little rote, at that.

Yeah, I laughed. Zach Galifianakis is always fun to watch.

Worth an hour and a half.

The Switch

Another Jennifer Aniston romcom. Even with Jason Bateman, who's a treasure, I found this one kind of a yawn. There really were no surprises left over from the preview.

Why in the hell can't Aniston find a good script?

Love and Other Drugs

My my. If you want to see Anne Hathaway quite nude and simulating lots of sex, this is the go-to flick for that.

I recall Hathaway, when hosting the Oscars, bemoaning the fact that most actresses who did a nude scene in a serious movie typically got an Oscar nod. I wondered what movie she meant until I saw this. You see, it's a serious movie because her character has Parkinson's. And screws a lot because it doesn't matter anymore.

Only worth it if you wanna see the aforementioned. And you can fast-forward to those parts to save precious minutes of your life, of course.

World's Greatest Dad

Bobcat Goldthwait directs Robin Williams as the father of Daryl Sabara ("Juni" of Spykids). Daryl's character is a high school lout who kills himself through autoerotic asphyxiation (what David Carradine died from IRL). Robin's character is a teacher who's a frustrated writer.

He doesn't want it to get out how his son actually died, so he unlatches the body from its yank station and hangs it in the closet, then writes a suicide note and fake journal, which finally launch him into the literary fame he's always wanted. Hilarity ensues.

Not that good. I recommend a pass on this one.

TLD: Between this movie and the Anne Hathaway movie, a lot of my sweet, innocent memories of much better movies I've watched with my kids (the Spy Kids series and Ella Enchanted) got kinda crumpled. I think I might begin avoiding latter movies from the stars of kid movies.


I freakin' hated hated hated this movie. It was like watching someone with a brain disorder wander down the street for a couple hours, then just turn a corner and disappear, leaving you to wonder only why you bothered to watch the whole thing.

Basically, Matt Damon is psychic since he got brain damage as a kid, so when he meets people who have died and come back, or people who've lost someone, he can see some vague details about each. The end. Really.

Life as We Know It

This is the movie I enjoyed the most of those in this post.

Katherine Heigl stars as a single woman who, as one of the Godparents, ends up with the child of her best friend when she and her husband die in a car accident. She has to share the duty with the best bud of the husband, whom she despises, of course. Wouldn't have a movie otherwise, right?

Well, to my surprise, this is one of the better movies about raising a kid I've seen. It balances the agony with the ecstasy, and gets it pretty much right. They even manage to give the baby a bit of a personality.

I think people who have kids will dig this more than those who don't; however, this is a primo date movie/chickflick, so if you're a single dude an not opposed, watch this with your sweetie and you just might have a good time, and see a decent movie.

Social Network

Ah, the much-lauded movie about the creation of Facebook and the intestinal explosion of lawsuits that followed.

My wife couldn't get through it, and I found it alternately boring and infuriating.

I don't know which kind of people I find more repugnant, uber-rich entitled brats or jerkwad IT creeps. (I've met my share of both.) Outside of the girl who dumps the guy who then creates an early version of Facebook to humiliate her, there's not one sympathetic character in the flick. That's especially distressing since the events and people are real. (Even this week there are still stories in the news about who's suing whom, still.)

So, I spent half the time repelled and the rest wondering why there's so much leeerve for the thing.

I think I'll recommend you decide for yourself, since I'm in the minority here. At least get it from the library or Redbox in case you think it sucks, too.

Fair Game

I really wanted this to be good, given that it, too, is based on real-life events when Dick and Bush illegally outed CIA agent Valerie Plame for petty political revenge, and to try to cover up the lie of the justification of the war in Iraq.

But, for some reason, it's a little dull even though there appears to be enough intrigue in the events that - had it been done right - would've made it pretty good.

I did wonder if my simmering anger ruined the movie for me, because as far as I'm concerned, all the officials who perpetrated the crimes should be getting an ass-pounding in prison at this very moment, and not one of them are. But, no, it's just too much of a spinach movie that sorta squandered a great story.

I used to say that the Republican's goal in America is to turn us into just another third-world backwater much like all of the continents south of us, but now I say, we're there! When the tippy-top of our govt. can do this and not one of them is punished, when income disparity is so large, and when more developed countries view our labor force the way we view China's, dude, WE'RE THERE!

If you want to know the events, however, this is the place to go.

Btw, I think this is the only time I've seen a flick where the real-life person is actually prettier than the actress who plays her, which is something since Naomi Watts is a cutie.

Foo Fighters: Back and Forth

This is a wonderful little documentary making the rounds on cable right now. It covers the entire career of the awesome Dave Grohl, and the journey of the Foo Fighters thus far.

I need to recuse myself a bit, because shows on rock history and minutia are like crack to me. When VH1's "Behind the Music" premired, I was unable to tear myself off the couch if one was on. Eventually, when my wife would hear the theme music, she would sigh heavily or mutter an obscenity under her breath. I'd offer, "Hey, at least I don't like sports," which was once met with a weary, "at this point, I almost wish you did." I am in music geek heaven when I watch one of the "Classic Album" docs.

Anyway, Foo Fighters: Back and Forth is full of great and sometimes trying moments. I've often wondered what it would be like to be the drummer in a band led by one of the best drummers ever. That question is addressed and answered by both of the guys who've had the privilege.

My family's favorite moment was when Grohl is trying to lay down a guitar part for the new album that's just been released, and his little daughter comes up and pecks him on the shoulder, admonishing him for not taking her swimming like he'd promised. Bless his heart, while one of his heroes, Husker Du's Bob Mould, lays down a vocal, he suits up and hits the pool with his girl.

This is a must if you're a music fan, or a fan of the Foo's. Check your local listing.

Sucker Punch

It'll have a dedicated following, but Sucker Punch pretty much sucks. Critical consensus concurs.

My buddy and I were all amped up to see it. I went into it cold, not even remembering the preview. I did see some production stills on the web accidentally and those only made me look forward to it. On top of it all, my buddy has very similar tastes in movies, so I expected at least something good, if not great.

When it was obvious that it sucked out loud (more on the audio in a bit), I gave up and just decided to go with it. About then my buddy leans over and says, "I guess this is 2011's
Heavy Metal
." Which was precisely what I was thinking at that very moment.

TLD: This generation not only has its Heavy Metal, it also has its
(or Run, Joey, Run, if you want to address sheer horribleness and not just universal hatred towards): Rebecca Black's

Stylistically, it's very rich. The visuals are solid, express a consistent vision, and are total eye candy. It strives to be pornographic without nudity or sex and violent without blood. (A young friend of mine thinks this is because they wanted to keep a PG-13 rating, though it really felt like a deliberate stylistic choice to me.) I think the only blood you ever see is in the "real" opening scenes, and even then it's just a smear on someone's hand when the character checks to see if another is hurt - you see more blood when you have a bloody nose.

The episodes of the movie are each set to a classic rock song that directly references the theme of that segment, most performed by someone other than the original artist, probably because they needed to be extended and matched to the action.

That would've been OK, if whomever equalized the songs wasn't completely DEAF. All of the songs blare at you in monochromatic mid-range; the entire bass spectrum is simply not there. When in-your-face music is a major aspect of the picture, you'd think you'd make is as lush as possible and take advantage of the sound systems theaters have. And I know it wasn't the theater's fault, because the explosions and such certainly make use of the bottom end of the dynamic range. I'd love to know the story behind who made that choice, because it was a very very bad one.

Finally, I don't know why the movie is called suckerpunch, because it telegraphs its "Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" ending within the first 10 minutes of the flick.

If you see it, see it on DVD so you can adjust the equalization for enjoyment.