Wherein I blather about anything that crosses my mind.


Entry the Seventy-First: A Tribute To Tributes
18 SEP 2016

   I happen to love tribute albums; I’m a sucker for the notion of artists liking art, and wanting to riff on it. When a performer you dig does a cover someone they, themselves, find awesome, well, you’re getting an insight into their influence and appreciation. And it’s always intriguing to see how someone is going to take someone else’s song; what’s their angle, their perception of the work? Will they play it straight up, trying to hit the same moods and approaches, or are they going to riff on it, do something to make it their own?

 Granted, there’s always the possibility they’re going to do the latter and just come across as self-indulgent, sublimating their seeming esteem of whoever they’re covering and letting their own ego take center stage (so to speak).

    Of the genre, there are a few standouts. The “Schoolhouse Rocks” album, where modern pop performers (modern of the era the album was cut, of course) cover tracks from the ABC TV vignettes 25 years prior. The Warren Zevon tribute, “Enjoy Every Sandwich,” where even Adam Sandler (at the height of his power, evidently, but a nominal musician and singer at best) was allowed to take part...and, indeed, even made off with the centerpiece of “Werewolves of London.”

The one that never ceases to please, though, is “Two Rooms: Celebrating The Music of Elton John and Bernie Taupin.” When I got my first copy (when it first came out), I had never even heard of Taupin-- crediting him in the title is a damned nice thing, because I might never have heard of him otherwise, and he was definitely a force in making these songs.

    There are almost no tracks that don’t just blow me away whenever I hear them. George Michael’s “Tonight” is about the only one I don’t simply love...and I never much cared for the original, anyway. Tina Turner, who is usually amazing in all she does, seems to kind of swallow “The Bitch is Back,” which is a damned shame. “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word” is a bit lame, but that’s because they gave it to Joe Cocker, and Cocker either really nails a song or kills it with his presumptuous style. And “Philadelphia Freedom” is just a dumb song altogether, as is “Crocodile Rock”  (even Messrs. John and Taupin are allowed some clinkers), though Hall and Oates and the Beach Boys do a great job with those tracks, respectively.

    But the winners....damn. They are just so unreal-good. Sting’s “Comedown in Time” is haunting and astounding. Oleta Williams utterly crushes “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me,” which was a really gutsy choice, because it’s such a signature of John. Phil Collins, who I never had much love for, belts out a beautiful version of “Burn Down the Mission.” And Bon Jovi’s “Levon” is surprising (I mean, Bon fucking Jovi???) and wonderful. Wilson Philips’ “Daniel” is a joy. Sinead’s “Sacrifice” just scares the crap out of me, it’s so piercing and emotional and raw. Kate Bush does a nice turn with her take on “Rocket Man,” throwing in a slightly calypso funk to it-- another brave choice, because it’s so tied to EJ. I really enjoy Bruce Hornsby’s “Madman Across the Water” and Clapton’s “Border Song,” and Rod Stewart’s “Your Song.”

    Of course, the one I like the most is my favorite band, The Who, doing a melange of “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)” and “Take Me To The Pilot.” It’s just ripe with obvious pleasure and affection for the source material and John/Taupin, and it’s got so much Who-ism that it’s a joy for any fan of theirs, as well.

It also pisses me off a bit. There’s a moment in the song where Daltrey flubs “switchblade” into “switchback,” and slurs “braces” into something that sounds like “brayshes,” and his reference to “old man” seems like it was a split-second shoehorning of the second word, like he was about to say, “old lady,” but then remembers that he’s supposed to use that term in the next line.

It comes across as lazy, on either the part of the editor or Daltrey himself. And yes, I know Rog’s time is probably extremely valuable, and having him do multiple retakes in a sound studio may be cost-prohibitive. But it’s kind of an affront to me, the listener, and I expect better from the consummate professionals who produced the album (and, of course, Daltrey). They could have taken an additional 20 minutes to nail those lyrics down?

    Anyway, a sad bleak spot on an otherwise triumphant work, and I won’t stop deriving pleasure from it because of that.

    Get yourself this album. Listen to those tracks. You will be glad.

30 SEP 14

There has been much written about cigarette companies using influence to promote their product by persuading placement in many films and other media during the 20th century.

In 15 minutes of the movie "Watchmen," we see the flip side: the filmmaker purposely excises two specific instances/mentions of smoking (young Rorschach using an older teen's cigarette to blind him, and Laurie accidentally triggering the OwlShip's flamethrower because she thought it was a lighter). In the former instance, this detracts from the author's original intent for the character somewhat: we don't get to see the character weaponize items in his environment as a trait, and just instead see him act in an incredibly violent manner (he inflicts mayhem, without weapons, instead). In the latter, we just get a very stupid excuse for the character's action: "I must have accidentally pressed the wrong button." Which is inane, because the character is smart and resourceful, and we see, from her point of view, her finger trace lovingly over that particular button, and then we get a glimpse of her face, smiling, her eyes lighting up.  

While I don't think movies need necessarily to contain more references to smoking, I am somewhat amazed that our reaction to that practice has become so visceral, so phobic, that we will go to any lengths to bury it, even at the cost of the art....while the attending violence, graphic and implied (we see the boy bite off another's ear; we know the purpose of a flamethrower) is gladly included.

That's a perverse dichotomy.

I am reminded that there was much public furor over seeing a woman's nipple broadcast on television...and that this nipple was featured during a sporting a event where large grown men pummel each other for hours, as part of a game that is so physically brutal that professionals can only endure playing for several years before their career has ended.

We laud and love violence. We decry sexuality and personal pleasure.

I don't know why. But it truly bothers me.

29 JUN 14

Cover pretty

Cover pretty

Cover pretty.

Book new. Old book. But new.
Book good. You like.
Buy book.
Book cheap. $2.99.
Art book. Kate Berwanger. Berwanger talent. Berwanger luscious.
You like. You buy.
Buy book.

Entry the Sixty-Seventh: Announcement
29 JUN 2013

New book...and I am really proud of this one. I grew up reading, and I loved reading short stories most. Usually science fiction, but also horror and fantasy and mysteries...mostly specific genre fiction, but even essays and and monographs sometimes. There were big names available...names that had created their stuff before I was born, and names that were brand-new when I was looking. Heinlein, King, McCaffrey, Asimov, Bradbury, Ellison, Hammett, Barker, and all the rest.

I love short stories. So I put some together in an anthology. A few of my friends also contributed some of their work, which I am very proud to include: Joe Zieja, Courtney Sheets, Justin Cord Hayes, Matt Yocum, and Andy Hartzell. Their stories are amazing, and exactly the sort of stuff I grew up reading.

It's only three bucks, and weighs in around 75 pages...so that's, like, almost nothing per page. Or something. I'm not offering mathematicaal services. But you will get some good stories, cheap.

Give it a shot. Give it a gift to everyone you know. Let me know what you think of it.

You can buy it by clicking here.


Entry the Sixty-Sixth: Why Oblivion Sucked So Bad
19 MAY 2013


    Partially, it’s my fault. I keep having high hopes for sci-fi blockbusters. Because, sometimes, they pull it off.

    But, mostly, there is no substance to these flicks, and what I am going to see was the promise of the better movie offered in the trailer. Trailers are the campaign promises of Hollywood.

    And, partially, I blame reviewers who ought to have known better.

    Specifically, Oblivion’s suckitude begins with its title: this was also the name of a much-loved entry in a video game franchise...and nobody with more than an idiot’s brain could try to claim that they were unaware that the target audience for this movie is exactly the same mass of simpering fanboys who loved the game.

    Yes, I know the movie is based on a comic book. I know this because the movie told me. Which brings to mind two things:

    - The comic must have sucked, because I never heard of it before the end credits of the film, and I am just the type of simpering fanboy who is the target audience for the game, movie, and comic.

    - If even the COMIC BOOK WRITER used the same title as a well-known video game, then he was just engaging in some really manipulative self-promotion, which is deserving of extra criticism by itself.

    So...Oblivion. The movie.

    It is one thing to honor a piece of a classic film, nodding to that element in your own production, a sort of audiovisual allusion to another piece of art. If done with reverence and quality, we call this “homage.” If done in crass exploitation of better products that have come before, we call this “shamelessly ripping off somebody else’s work.” For instance, the recent “Moon” is an excellent example of homage, offering up interesting twists and takes on classic tropes, riffing on such earlier movies as “2001” and “Outland” (which was, itself, deliberate and wonderful homage to “High Noon”). Oblivion, on the other hand, is a perfect instance of ripping off other works in a hamhanded and artless manner.

    This is probably just a partial list of sci-fi imagery and concepts lifted from other movies and shoehorned into Oblivion:

    - The malevolent female-voice machine from Portal (with echoes of HAL from 2001).

    - Phantom bandits who appear inimical at the beginning, but turn out to be the anti-overseer saviors from “Tank Girl.”

    - Putting a nuke in the big, evil spaceship that came to rape Earth, from “Independence Day.”

    - The truth to the world’s past hidden in the wasteland, from “Planet of the Apes” (the actual line of dialogue was copied almost directly from the earlier work).

    - The main character being a clone, from EVERY FUCKING SCIENCE FICTION WORK, EVER.

    - The antagonists using humans as their tools, from “The Matrix.”

    - The woman that the protagonist dreams about turning out to be his wife, from...oh, all literature ever created?

    - The scrappy human rebels living in an underground bunker, from...ugh-- “Demolition Man.”

    - Morgan Freeman being their leader, from all films made in the past 20 years.

    - The rote catchphrases repeated in the imprinted character of the human vassals, like Dune’s Mentats.

    - The modern American landscape, shattered, from the Fallout series. Yes, they even throw in Liberty’s torch, from “Cloverfield” and “Planet of the Apes.”

    - Robots that can seem hostile or friendly, from “The Black Hole” and “Star Wars” and “Short Circuit” and...gak.

    - The loving couple meeting at the top of the Empire State Building, from “An Affair to Remember” and all its progeny.

    - The stupid/rule-abiding/uptight wife from all misogynistic sci-fi work, ever.

    - The fertile oasis tucked within the wasteland, from...oh, gimme a minute, I’ll think of it...

    - The self-sacrificing hero, from “Omega Man.”

    - The visual of the destroyed moon, from -wait for it- “Thundarr the Barbarian.”


    - The canyon chase flying scene from “Empire Strikes Back” and “ID4.”

    - Memory trickling back in the form of dreams (or ARE they??), making the viewer wonder if we have an untrustworthy narrator, and the protagonist doubt his own humanity, ala “Blade Runner” and “Dark City.”

    - Sexual relations stilted into plot and subplot, from “The Forbin Project.”

    - Books as post-apoc keys to the soul, from “Fahrenheit 451” (and the very-lesser “Book Of Eli”).

    - Tom Cruise’s own aviator shades from “Top Gun.”
    - Tom Cruise wandering around an empty New York, from “Vanilla Sky.”

    - Tom Cruise being indestructible and perfect and able to perform miracles, from the Mission: Impossible franchise.

    Okay. There are more. The whole movie is just a pastiche of a bunch of other movies slapped together.

    This was not a low-budget movie. Tom Cruise acts well in it. There is the feeling at the very beginning of the film that it will be good, that it promises science fiction with some novelty, with some feeling.

    Nope. It’s just rehash of everything you’ve seen before. Take a pass.

Entry the Sixty-Fifth - ACM TechNews Updates

March 15, 2013 at 10:44 PM PST

I was fortunate enough to get a glimpse into the future, and was able to read the digests published periodically by ACM TechNews, the IT specialty harvester read by hundreds of thousands of my fellow nerds each week.

Here's a preview:

ACM TechNews Update - 19 MAR 2013

- Carbon fibers to increase data transmission speeds exponentially

- Vint Cerf predicts nanostructure telecommunication

- Animals detect music vibrations sooner, according to new Sony study

- Are video games the future of education?

ACM TechNews Update - 26 MAR 2013

- New survey shows women, minorities lag in STEM training recruitment

- Vint Cerf sees future of Web in corn flakes

- Quadrary computing imminent, says Stanford

- State-of-the-art: games allow designers to paint like the Masters

ACM TechNews Update - 04 APR 2013

- White House issues statement refuting claims that Web can be controlled from Veep’s office

- Self-aware toaster developed at JPL; makes toast

- Wireless broadband shown to cause leukemia; orders increase

- Vint Cerf picks nose

- Controlling your mind? Three new toys hijack brainwaves, enable real-world Scanners

ACM TechNews Update - 14 APR 2013

- Foreign affairs: diplomats caught in massive sexting ring

- Vint Cerf warns of coming end times, antagonistic Internet

- Television programming halted by web-based power supply

- Time portal opens to new dimension; includes sight, sound

ACM TechNews Update - 24 APR 2013

- Calling all hams! Shortwave Internet makes huge strides; can’t function on cloudy day

- Congress seeks to outlaw all smiles on Web; children threatened by fun, say bill’s sponsors

- Where ya peeing? Recycling comes to liquid-cooled desktops

- Nerds everywhere declare that Alan Turing would have enabled the Singularity by now

- Vint Cerf complains that nobody is listening to him

- China and cyberterrorists: is our media-fueled hysteric paranoia really ridiculous, or just completely overblown?

ACM TechNews Update - 31 APR 2013

- Google cars seem to have slight flaw: explosions at drivethroughs result in eight deaths nationwide

- English teachers bemoan death of grammar skills due to texting; prove themselves totally superfluous

- White House begs women, minorities to go into STEM fields; “No,” say women

- Mapping the universe: PCs used to plot event horizon, fastest route to Edina Coffee Cavern

- Long-awaited strides in virtual smells finally complete

- Vint Cerf constantly babbling; tech journals continue to fake interest

ACM TechNews Update - 12.7 MAY 2013

- Moon People conquered; first shipments of tech tribute set to arrive Wednesday

- Gateway to new dimension opens, thousands flee into new frontiers seeking even more flavorful pizza

- Vint Cerf last seen orbiting Saturn

- Carnegie-Mellon team perfects facial features on a simulacra; robot immediately achieves more profile Views on OK Cupid than all team members combined

- Scientists warn that Earth’s silicon may run out in 2878

ACM TechNews Update - 98 MAY 2013

- Alan Turing resurrected from beyond the grave; leads new beginning for human race

- Electronic doughnuts? Researchers put wifi in breakfast pastries.

- Traffic unsnarled; new AI self-aware, put straight to work optimizing timing of traffic lights

- Law enforcement warns of new technique of scamming where scammers just put up a website and old people sign on and give them money without even thinking twice about it

- Vint Cerf returns from farthest reaches of galaxy: nobody cares

ACM TechNews Update - whatever

- There was a...thing. It was computerized. Maybe.

- All data everywhere is now purple.

- Dean Kamen to speak about new paradigm of thought-governed computer interfaces at Baylor graduation, as well as plug his new device for manufacturing flutes in your back yard.

- Aliens visit Earth, laugh at our Internet

- Vint Cerf

- Nanobots proven to be utterly pointless, except for use in “really great” mouthwash

Entry the Sixty-Fourth - Flasked
December 25, 2012 at 10:24 PM PST

Let me point out that your average hip flask is insufficient for the purpose: it rarely holds enough alcohol (even bad, high-proof alcohol preferred by rummys) to last more than a sitting for a determined drinker, nevermind several people drawing on it.

It is most often seen in fiction (as opposed to real life), where it denotes someone rakish, or clever...when it really should be used to indicate the aforementioned raging alcoholic (who else really has the foresight and inclination to bring something to drink on, say, a lifeboat or footrace through the Sierra Nevadas?). In the actual world, it is cumbersome, heavy (when full, which it most often is not-- read on), difficult to fill, bulky, and noisy.

The noise escalates when the contraption is partially full: sloshing adds to the clanging of the metal on metal/bone/leather when it’s worn or tucked inside baggage. And it’s always partially full: if you take even the most modest taste, you’ve depleted a good portion of its contents.

And please bear in mind: you have to fill it. From another container. So if your character is portrayed as daring and crafty for having carried a flask into the hinterlands/war zone/business meeting, that means that same person carried a larger bottle to wherever that place was, and does not now have it. So they have more. Which they aren’t sharing.

Even the most highest-quality stainless steel will burnish the finest malt. You simply can’t get the flavor of an ancient peat bog out of a flask. So then you are forced to compromise on the merits of your drink...which makes it taste meaner than its price. And so on. A bitter cycle.

Of course, if you’re bringing something potent with you, you have to either be willing to drink it neat, and absorb the foul polish of the container itself, or use a mixer. And that means you have another container. With another liquid. Now, supposedly, that often means a tame quaffable that you are consorting with your spike-- so that’s easier to rustle up, while all the risk is in your pocket.

Speaking of pockets...where are you keeping the damned thing? If it’s of any size worth mentioning, it’s not inside a pair of denims: in the back pocket, you can’t sit, and in the front you can’t walk. So you’re wearing a...jacket? Sport coat? Because you’re just so super-cool, you wear an outergarment everywhere. Including Panama. And if you’ve got a backpack/rucksack/carry-on, then just bring a fifth and be done with it: plastic for transportation, because you’ve already ruined the taste by picking an inferior label meant for your metal flask.

While serving, you face the danger of losing the cap, which destroys the entire value of the mechanism (it’s got a gasket, so as to be watertight, and isn’t simply a stopper). If you spring the extra bucks for a hinged cap, you’re adding to the aforementioned noise, bulk, and weight.

And unsanitary! If you’re pouring, you inevitably lose value, so you must let each person paste it to their lips, in turn. Foul.

Cleaning the guts of one, to go from one poison to another? Forget it. The rinse will never drain or evaporate (it’s designed not to, now isn’t it?).

Flasks are, for all these reasons and more, miserable, insufficient, demeaning tools. I have four.

Entry the Sixty-Third - Going Grape
November 29, 2012 at 8:00 p.m. PST

I take my dog very seriously. I like him a lot. I spend a lot of time with the dog, or doing things where the dog comes along with me. Like most Americans, I will spend more money on my dog this year than the average family in India will spend on one of their children.

I’m not faulting Indian parents: there’s a disparity of income at play in this dynamic, which allows me to make this choice, and limits the Indians pretty severely. And they have their own beneficial aspects where I suffer in comparison: I am pretty sure Indian parents have an easier time getting their kids’ teeth brushed.

But I digress.

I like my dog, and dote on him, and kind of spoil him rotten. I don’t even feel particularly guilty about doing so-- he happens to be a particularly well-behaved, obedient, good dog, so he pretty much deserves it.

One of the things that I do for him is attend his medical needs. I make sure he has current immunizations, that he’s protected against ticks and heartworm (which are rampant in my region), that he gets regular checkups. So when I see a warning about foods that are dangerous to dogs, I take it seriously.

Let’s pause, for a second, shall we, and mention something incredibly germane: dogs will eat anything. They’re kind of like babies, in that regard. My dog has eaten some of the most disgusting things on the planet, with relish. He has rarely gotten sick as a result, although there were a couple times he looked pretty bleak after a binge.

So I expect he can handle most things that aren’t directly toxic. He might be able to drink bleach, neat, for all I know. I’m not going to test it, but there is distinctly that possibility.

Be that as it may, there are many widely-published public warnings concerning canine diet, and several of them caught my attention: one of the places I’ve seen some of these warnings was on a poster hung in a vet’s office. These prohibitions include such easy-to-reach-as-a-dog items as chocolate, garlic, and certain berries.

So, kiss my ass, dog-- no s’mores for you this winter. Deal with it, you brown-eyed sad bastard. Not a single s’more.

But the list has gotten weird in recent years. Like...grapes. And raisins.

Different groups are listing the dog-toxicity of grapes and raisins, profusely, with rampant rumors and fear. Like so many topics, the first result of a Google search of “grapes dogs” offers the Wikipedia entry for “Grape and raisin toxicity in dogs.” There seems to be some studied support for the assertion that this fruit will kill your mutt. There’s an article from the Merck Veterinary Manual; another from the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine. There’s even a citation noting the proceedings for the North American Veterinary Conference. Sounds impressive.

Now, I am no scientist. Not a doctor of any stripe. But I stumbled through a few of these sources, just to see what’s what. I’ll explain why in a second.

A cursory perusal of these articles reveals a few things that kind of make my brain strain. Like, first of all, most of these sources mention that symptoms of grape poisoning in dogs appear within 72 hours of the event (where a dog ate some grapes).

Again, I’m no scientist. So maybe I don’t understand how these things work. But all of the instances of dog-poisoning used in the report were the result of accidental poisonings, as noted by veterinarians and pet owners-- they were not induced poisonings in the controlled environment of a laboratory or research study. So, here’s my big concern: how in the world do you control for grapes as the cause of the poisoning, if the window of possibility includes three days??

As I mentioned before, dogs will eat anything. And most people aren’t watching their dogs 24 hours a day: we have to sleep some time. And a lot of us work, leaving our pets alone in the house for several hours of the day. So if your dog starts behaving as if it was poisoned (vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, not eating, increased drinking, abdominal pain), and you only remember that it ate some grapes three days before, I am really dubious about whether that was, in fact, the triggering event.

A dog can get into a lot of stuff over a three-day span. And there are a lot of poisonous things around your house. I’m not sure how these dog owners figured, “Yeah-- he ate some grapes the night before last; that must have been how he got sick.”

Then there’s the dosage. Some of these reports suggest that the toxicity level of grapes in dogs is about 32 grams of grape matter to each kilogram of gram. Let me put that in perspective: if your dog is medium-sized, like a 50-pound Lab mix, then it would have to eat 145 grapes (at 5 grams per grape) to kill itself. I am not sure who is feeding their dog 145 grapes, or what dog would eat 145 grapes in a sitting, but I don’t think I could eat 145 grapes in a row, and I am considerable larger than 50 pounds.

My math might be off. As I said: not a scientist. Let’s say I’m not figuring that correctly. Which is distinctly possible, because Snopes, which I usually trust completely, puts the possible fatal dose at seven grapes per dog. Seven. Seven grapes. http://www.snopes.com/critters/crusader/raisins.asp

That’s not a lot of grapes.

So I’m having a tough time believing that this miniscule amount of grapage could fell a reasonably-sized animal. Especially scavengers as hardy as dogs...which, as I said, eat everything.
And who remembers their dog eating seven grapes three days ago? Who would even notice such a thing?

So I wondered. And I went out looking on the intercyberwebnets. And I found one skeptical website, posted by someone who turned a righteous eye on the topic. The poster came up with many of the same questions I asked, but added decades of dog-breeding and -raising experience, along with knowledge and familiarity with many other dog owners. In the writer’s estimation, with thousands of dogs over dozens of years, none have been felled by grapes.
Which makes sense. Honestly. But...and here’s the thing about bucking conventional wisdom...the website looks as if it was posted by a junior high schooler. http://www.thedogplace.org/Nutrition/Grapes-Poison-Dogs-09061.asp.

Both the wording and the format look amateurish...and that doesn’t aid the credibility. The tinfoil-hat crowd doesn’t do the rest of any favors just because they agree with us...and appearance does matter.

All right...here’s the thing, though: the reason I was so skeptical about the warnings regarding poison grapes. I live in Northern California. Out in the sticks. I take the dog running through the vineyards, when we exercise. He has learned that he can snag some grapes right off the vine, and scarf down a bunch before I can stop him.

He’s never been sick. 72 hours later. 720 hours later. That dog is the picture of health. I don’t know how many grapes he’s eaten in one go, but it’s a heck of a lot more than seven. Maybe even 145.

So it’s hard to make the call...to know what’s right, or what to believe. Vets seem to think grapes kill dogs. But the evidence seems questionable...while the doubters seem corny and perhaps misdirected.

Like, well-- me.

But I’m glad there are other ideas out in the wild. It’s good to have a variety of opinions and notions. Even if some of them are bats.

Like, well-- me.


Entry the Sixty-Second - Best Dubious Song Lyrics
November 10, 2012 at 6:01 p.m. PST

- “To find you, I'm going to drown an unsung man.”

- “Living like a lover, with a radar phone.”

- “Our lives get complicated. It’s a simple thing. Simple as a flower. And that’s a complicated thing.”

- “He can’t even run his own life, I’ll be damned if he’ll run mine.”

- “The logic ties me up and rapes me.”

- “Now the man in the back is ready to crack as he raises his hands to the sky, and the girl in the corner is everyone's mourner; she could kill you with a wink of her eye.”

- “And I know a father, who had a son. He longed to tell him all the reasons for the things he'd done. He came a long way just to explain. He kissed his boy as he lay sleeping, then he turned around and headed home again.”

- “Kow Kow Kowkulator. Had himself a pet alligator.”

- “How’re you gonna make your way in the world, when you’re not cut out for working? And you just can’t concentrate...”

- “So come on, come on, we've really got a good thing going. Well come on, well come on, if you think we're gonna make it. You better hang on to yourself ... then we move like tigers on Vaseline.”

- “If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now.”

- “’cause your friends don’t dance, and if they don’t dance, well, they’re no friends of mine.”

- “How’re you gonna make your way in the world, when you weren’t cut out for working?”

- “Been around the world and found that only stupid people are breeding; the cretins cloning and feeding.”

Bonus points for use of a flute in rock and roll:
- Love and Rockets, “No New Tale To Tell”
- Jethro Tull, anything
- Men At Work, “Down Under”
- The Mamas and the Papas, “California Dreamin’”

Entry the Sixty-First - Our Man Vin
By SLOW and Craig Malisow | October 12, 2012 at 6:35 PST

Born Mark Sinclair Vincent, the man known today as Vin Diesel has proven to be one of the finest human beings ever to exist on the planet. His talent and capabilities know almost no bounds. He is an actor, a writer, a director, and downright charismatic. Is there nothing he can’t accomplish?

Well, yes. Yes, there is.
While this is not known beyond a certain circle of close acquaintances, Vin has a few limitations (we won’t even call them shortcomings, because he is still a nigh-unstoppable force, other than these miniscule peccadilloes). Here, now, in public for the first time, are a list of his microscopic flaws, for your perusal.

- Oddly, he's never been able to bake a really good sourdough loaf. He can do cracked rye all right, but that tang from a sourdough? Just can't get there and keep a crispy crust, both.

- Also, he can't dropstitch for shit. Tried a few times, gave it up.

- As a freelance local journalist in Idaho Springs, he never got the feel for how to cover city council meetings. His prose was crisp and fine, but he really couldn’t capture the flavor of the interplay between the councilmembers.

- He cannot throw a perfect spiral with his left arm. His right arm is fine. But not his left.

- Try as he might, Vin can’t crack an X-09 safe.

- Jiffy-Pop gets the char-broiled treatment when Vin is in charge. It’s sad but true.

- Putting those loose sheets into the plastic protector inserts in a three-ring binder? Yeah, Vin can’t do that at ALL.

- Threading a needle is just beyond him.

- He's never been able to puncture the seal on a Capri Sun in one strike. It always takes him 2-3 times to get the straw in.

- He can never remember his Ancestry.com password, so every time he tries to log on, he has to use the "forgot your password" choice and have a temporary one emailed to him.

- The one time he tried to ride a camel, he fell off and broke his clavicle.

- Whenever he tries to unpeel a banana, he breaks the stem part, and then he has to kind of pinch the end open, then reach in on each side and pull it out and down. The top part always get mushed.

- Pronouncing “centrifuge” is an utter impossibility, in Vin’s world.

- He just really doesn’t get “Moonlighting.” Was it supposed to be funny? Sexy? Dramatic?

- Okay, PrintScreen takes the screenshot, but then what do you DO with it? Where do you get the screenshot out of the place where the button put it? No matter how many times you tell Vin, he can’t remember.

- Stacking chairs after a party is awkward and embarrassing for our Vin.

- Vin Diesel has never won a game of Jenga. Ever.

- Have you ever heard him try to sing “Danny Boy” from memory? It’s kind of sad, but kind of funny.

- Vin has never been able to fit the air filter into the ceiling vent so that it sits properly. One edge always kind of sticks out, and Vin has to cram down the grate on top of it.

- His weakness in foreign policy minutiae always causes Vin to feel self-conscious at cocktail parties.

As you can see, even for a Renaissance polymath such as Vin Diesel, there are a few flaws that make him human. We do not love him in spite of these-- we love him because of them.

Entry the Sixtieth - Phoning It In
September 22, 2012 at 11:35 PST

I have moved to a small town. Very small. Smaller than my high school. There are benefits to rural living. I never have to struggle to find parking. It is very quiet. The air is clean and delicious. Crime is rampant, but I’m the only criminal: I regularly walk my dog without a leash. It drives the decent, law-abiding folk mad, but I am a scofflaw and bounder.

For decades, I’ve been paying a tax in order to subsidize rural phone lines...as have you. It has varied over the years, but the Universal Service Fee is supposed to make sure yokels like me get phone service in the boondocks, where I chose to live. There have been times when the USF was as high as 10% of my phone bill, just so we Rural Americans can have connectivity.

Of course, phone service has been a bit outmoded by now. So the USF is also going to help pay for my broadband Internet hookup. Thanks for that.

One thing I don’t have (in addition to pizza delivery, all-night pharmacies, and a short commute) is mobile phone service in my house. A trip to my home is kind of like going 30 years backwards in time. We seem to all share a cellular tower, and everyone in town gets four minutes per week during which the silly thing actually works.

I called my provider, T-Mobile, and asked them about it. Maybe I should upgrade my phone? Nope-- the tech rep was surprisingly candid: “we don’t really offer service there....I don’t really want to tell you to talk to another provider, but...”

So. For all the vaunted “our network is the best and strongest anywhere you go, neener-neener” marketing campaigns of recent years, my particular vendor doesn’t really have anything for me. Add to that this little incident:

I wanted to get a phone number I’d dialed a month prior. I was in my car, didn’t have the number, but new my cell company had it (they have all my call records; they’ve provided them to the government, without a warrant, in the past, so I know they are able to store, track, and recover them). I called customer service, and asked them to give me the number-- I knew the area code, and it was the only call I’d placed to that region that month. The rep said she couldn’t give it to me, for “privacy reasons.” I asked her what privacy reasons she was talking about-- she said it was the “privacy laws.”

I asked for Tier 3.

She gave me a manager, and he repeated the concern about privacy legislation. I asked him what laws he was talking about, specifically. He cited the Federal Telecommunications Act. The FTA has no such provision. I told him so. I explained that no such provision exists in the 1974 Privacy Act, either, nor, for good measure, does it exist in HIPAA. He said they can’t give out any user information like Social Security Number or birthdate. I agreed with him. I explained that I wasn’t looking for any of that info: I wanted to a number I, myself, had called, from my actual cell phone, which I was calling on, right then, at that moment. There is nothing private or special or secret about that information. In fact, T-Mobile had verified my identity during the call...by asking for the last four of my SSN.

He apologized, but repeated that he is not allowed to give out that information.

He did go on to explain that I can get that information from my account via their website...or that I can mail them a request, which they will mail back.

I pointed out the irony that the only form of communication that T-Mobile does not trust is the one that they have sole control over. I asked him if I should be concerned with T-Mobile’s inability to secure their own phone network. He did not understand.

So I recently went shopping for a new cell carrier.

My parameters:

- Same price, or less, than my current rate, for equivalent service.

- Better reception in my home and/or home town.

- No annual contract.

- Keep my current number.

Here’s what I found:

AT&T: won’t give out their phone number. Nor answer their phone (I found the number, anyway, without their help). I am reminded that this is a company with “Telephone” in their title...but they insist that you initiate contact for any new account with them through the Web. If they can’t use their phones, I don’t think I want to, either.

Sprint: I was able to get through to a human, eventually. We spent some time talking about alternatives. Finally, we got a sticking point; as the rep told me: “Sprint really needs you to be under a contract.” Oh. Then I guess Sprint really doesn’t need me to be a customer. When Sprint is ready to talk more about my needs than theirs, maybe I will consider paying them money.

Verizon: It took me a while to find the number to call this company, as well. I don’t know what all these phone companies seem so reluctant to use the telephone. After finally reaching a person, and explaining that I was interested in buying their service, I was told: “I’ll transfer you to someone who can assist you.” And then I was disconnected.

I called back, and was on hold for 23 minutes. Then the line rang, and I got a recording: “At the present time, all of our lines are busy.”

I figured that if this is the way they treat potential customers, then current customers are probably sent letter bombs each month, and insults about their mothers.

No, Verizon, I cannot hear you now.

US Cellular: They had their phone number listed. I called it. I got a recording. It said: “Our average wait time is currently...9...minutes.” That’s about 8 minutes too long out of my life to be sold a product or service.

Alltel: I hung up after spending 10 minutes waiting for any kind of answer, even a recording.

I am going to stay with T-Mobile for now. They seem to be the least-worst option.

Sometime soon, though, I am going to buy two tin cans and a length of string, and solve this whole thing.

Entry the Fifty-Ninth - Pulp Lit

26 AUG 2012

You are at one of the few remaining used book stores that is still run out of a shop....you know the kind: the vague smell of mold, the paper dust which complements that odor, layering it. It always smells like a bookstore...being a bookstore. Quiet voices, almost reverent whispers...great insulators, these books. Not like the chain stores, the big bookstores, all bright-lit, and music, and a public-address system that every eight minutes reminds everyone trapped inside that Choo-Choo Cherry will be coming to the Kids’ Section in EIGHT minutes to play games and sing songs and hand out prizes.

No mention of the book. The Choo-Choo Cherry book, which sold 800,000 copies since May. No, not the book, there, in the Kid’s Section of the bookstore. What would anyone want with a BOOK, there? huh? What would be the point to THAT?

You’re not there. You’re here. In a bookshop. Relax. Feel safe. Tea? No-- we can’t offer you tea. No food or drink allowed in the store, y’see. Uh-huh, yes...thanks.

So you just browse through the books. You realize that most of them seem, well...and this is a rude thing to say in a used book shop, and, well, ummm, some of your best friends have published a book or two, so is it even really fair to say....would it be gauche to ask....well, damn-- there’s nothing to be done but nod quietly to yourself, in the certainty that, yes, these things are all terribly overpriced. You know, off hand, at least 27 ways of finding the same publications for...well, if not cheaper, at least competitive pricing.

And what’s THAT? That’s a cardboard box. Not a very hopeful box. Not even fully boxlike in shape-- that one corner is attempting to form its own side, instead of just being a meeting of sides. This threatens the overall box, so all the other pieces are disturbed and looking to take action (and none wants to be the first to mention that they cannot physically act).

So it’s a potentially-ending cardboard box, on its way out. But, inside...there are some glossy covers in there. Some primary colors. Some bright pictures, some racy designs. What are those? Could they possibly be what they appear? Could they be....? Is it possible....?

Damn. Damn, damn, damn, and tarnation! It’s a box full of books!

Oh, don’t even start with me-- yes, I KNOW that you know it’s a box full of books! But what books! Do you even know? Do you? I do. I know. I will tell you:

All the best fantasy and science fiction books from the 1970s through the 1990s.

Oh, yes-- in THIS box. Right here. Right in front of you. Totally unassuming, lacking any force or compulsion....there’s nothing making you reach into the box, nothing forcing you to snag a spine and pull.

And your hand comes free...no, it’s better to say the book comes free of the box, free of the field generated by the box, the tesseract within the box. You have the book now. You can see it. You can relish it. You can...well, it’s best not to do that to a book, please. But you could.

It is just the sort of book you want it to be, if you’d had any way of influencing the outcome of your draw from the box.

It’s from the ‘70s. You know that before reading the title. You know that without knowing anything else about it--- anything at all. Except the graphics.
Well, sure, the cover’s got a long, white rocketship running along the left edge of the cover, threatening to spill over on the spine. There’s the protagonist, looking sharp: turquoise turtleneck, gray slacks, flat action books, black hair, all rendered in a sharp, clean, ultramodern style. He’s leaning again the rocket. And she’s leaning against him. He’s got one arm around her soft, supple, clean (possibly sweaty) naked hip. The other arm is connected to the hand that holds the gun. Casually. All, “Yeah, I’ve got a gun....what about it?” kinda look. The girl is staring at him, and he’s staring at you, the mope looking at the cover.

And it’s the perfect book. The most awesome book.

Because it’s just another one of those books. The same as the others.

An anthology. A science fiction (and maybe fantasy, and probably horror, and possibly mystery) anthology of short stories (with, oh, perhaps a novella or novelette thrown in there, somewhere). It is gorgeous, it even smells right, and you’ve been idiotically tagged: you need this.

Slightly nervous (because the only people who really understand the pricing of books are bookstore owners), you approach the register, and ask the price.

Ten bucks. $10. Ten American dollars.

Not per book-- for the whole box.

Granted, this was before the Big Crash, when American money became worth less than even Canada’s freakish currency (and before it took on that sickly purple hue), but even back then ten dollars was a nifty, affordable little sum.
The woman at the counter explains that they can’t sell the things: they’re in lousy shape, and they’re anthologies-- nobody wants a book with a bunch of stories written by different authors, many they haven’t heard of before (or since).

Oh, but you do. You want those books. Because you know those are the best books, the ones with bite-sized tales of space opera, repressed sexuality, unchecked violence, 20th-century politics cloaked in galactic garb, and some plain old hard sci-fi. The books where writers were allowed to go a bit off the rails, really fly their freak flag, go a bit nuts in search of non-literary literature. Antiheroes abound. Endings are sometimes (no, screw that-- often) downers.
There is a bleak, funny, irreverent, painful, and slightly psychotic frontier to be had in the universe, and it was distilled into those books, at that time.

You have to buy it. MUST. So you do, and you take it to McDonald’s, because there’s nothing better than tucking into a brand-new-to-you book and a McBurger at the same time.

And that novel is good. And the next is, too. And the next one is just okay, but it features a story you remember reading as a reprint when you were a kid, and loving it, and having forgotten the name of it all these years, and you just got to rediscover it. And the next one has a story by an author who would later become famous, and you can see that author’s style and tone even in that rough, early work. And the next one is just all right. But the next one rocks. And the next one. And the next one has a story so bittersweet, so moving and aching and rich and good that it makes you want to cry, just knowing that someone wrote it, and what it says is so true, will always be true.

You’re not the first person to ever have this experience. It actually happened quite a bit, for a while there (granted, it wasn’t always with anthologies; sometimes, just old paperbacks made the scene http://www.avclub.com/features/box-of-paperbacks-book-club/).

And it’s going to happen more. There’s no reason to kill trees to pass information around. It’s kind of stupid, really, and has only been a paid profession, a job in itself, for a very short measure of human existence. As we get away from books, you’re going to find more boxes.

Here’s a piece of utility for you: if the box costs $10, buy it. $20. $100. You’re going to get the value out of those words far beyond what the money could otherwise buy you. What’s two hours at the movies cost you? $15? $25 with gas and parking? And the books are a tangible, not transitory, investment: you can hand it off to someone else (by the book, or the entire box) for their enjoyment, when you’re done; you can’t do that with an hour of Internet.

You are very happy with your box. You derive a great deal of pleasure from it, for quite a while.

As well you should.

Entry The Fifty-Eighth - Shortest Movies I Want To See
08 AUG 2012

- [Narrator, voiceover, as footage of Alex running through alley appears on screen]: “Alex Brash is running out of time. Terrorists have planted a bomb in the center of town, a deadly epidemic is sweeping the country, and an assassin has been sent to kill Alex before the end of the day. Can Alex-- oh.” [Footage of Alex being creamed by a bus at the alley exit.]

- “Huh. Well, whaddya know...there is a rule that says a dog can’t play shortstop.”

- “With all due respect, your honor, I’d much prefer jail time to caring for those plucky orphans.”

- An Earthbound meteor approaches. Instead of 90 minutes of mawkish, emotional buildup, we are given an 8-minute orgasm of all the pre-strike mayhem followed by the special-effects bonanza of the catastrophe itself. We can go home, pleased, even before we’re done with our popcorn.

- “Gosh. Wouldya look at that...says right here that an orangutan can’t be goalie.”

- “Sure, General, I’ll come back out of retirement in order to perform that mission that requires my unique talents. Thanks for asking so politely.” [Goes and blows a bunch of stuff up, and comes back.] “My pleasure.”

- A bunch of scrappy kids start a band. They have poor-quality instruments, lack leadership and funding, but have a lot of heart and determination. They have a funny, extended montage of training scenes. Then they perform in front of an audience that includes their parents, their peers, the governor, and a talent agent from New York. They still suck.

- Some teenagers go to spend the night in a haunted house on a dare. Upon opening the front door, they are all murdered instantly by a crazed municipal code inspector who has been trying for years to get the building condemned.

- “Well, how about that? It says right here that a donkey can’t be a place kicker.”

- A documentary that took six years to film is finally released to the screen four days after the filmmakers discover that their topic has been a hoax perpetrated by one of their younger brothers. Opening credits, followed by apology to investors.

- A couple meets cute, but instead of making googily-eyes and stammering conversation at each other for an hour, they grab each other and careen off into a supply closet, where they viciously rub their mucous membranes together for a rather extended, explicit scene. Then they leave, somewhat disheveled, and rather disappointed at the quality of the encounter. Neither ever tries to contact the other, ever again, and there are no consequences.

- An anonymous donor gives the summer camp enough money to stay open the following year, so the kids don’t have to put on a benefit show.

- A young woman is told her whole life she doesn’t have what it takes to be a runner/basketball star/dancer/firefighter. Through pluck and determination, she trains herself incessantly, to the point where she’s ready to perform the test of admittance. However, a sudden growth spurt results in her developing massively huge breasts, to the point she can barely walk upright.

- The planners of a complex, multifaceted heist are thwarted four minutes into the film because they all had outstanding warrants for such infractions as simple assault, petty larceny, and parking tickets.

Entry The Fifty-Seventh - Lions and Tigers and Panthers

26 May 2012

The closest I’ve ever been to a large cat was at a shelter for exotic animals in Las Vegas. I stood outside a circus wagon/cage as the lead trainer and co-owner of the facility stepped inside, and a tiger launched itself across the space between it and the man in a single leap: the animal must have been 10 feet long, and the distance must have been a good 20 feet; it was one of those brightly-colored trailer-cages that can be loaded on a freight train.

I was sure the man was about to be mauled. I really didn’t want to watch that happening; I can be downright squeamish when it comes to viewing actual violence inflicted on others. Instead, the cat rested its paws on the man’s shoulders, and licked his face enthusiastically. It was very impressive, and almost moving.

The trainer invited me to approach the cage, where I could get better photographs. I refused in a most steadfast manner.

At the time, I was a writer for the Las Vegas Weekly. I did a cover piece about the shelter, which took in all sorts of animals, many of which were exotics ditched by former owners ranging from circuses to rock stars. There were jungle birds and big cats and, I think, a monkey. Or chimp. Many of the animals had been mistreated before coming to the shelter.

I remember thinking the man was crazy, for a number of reasons. Mostly, though, I thought he was crazy for treating large animals like playthings. It would be a couple years before Vegas fixture Roy Horn (of the Mirage’s Siegfried and Roy) was seriously injured by a tiger during his magic act...but I had this vague notion that there was no such thing as taming a creature like that, and that every encounter with it might go poorly.

There is a portion of the human brain that catalogs threats and danger; it has been honed and refined by natural selection over the millennia our species has existed. Those members of our species that were not afraid of cliffs or spiders or bears stopped being members of our species because they fell or got bit or eaten, and they did not pass their fearless tendencies on to their descendents, while those with the appropriate innate phobias did. That portion of the human brain reaches up to tickle the forebrain when you encounter certain things, in a primitive warning. “Don’t stay in the vicinity of this thing” it says, “You’re going to get eaten.” I’ve been in the presence of wolves, with no fence between me and them, and sharks, underwater, and I have felt this cautionary tickle, very clearly. It is that same thing I felt when the tiger leapt at the trainer.

I did, eventually, occupy a room with an unrestrained tiger, though: it was a cub, brought to the newsroom by another magician/performer, and it happily rolled around and did kitten things while making proto-roars that sounded suspiciously and definitely like a tiger.

I did not try to pet it.

Today, however, I was reminded of a guy I admired as a kid, who I haven’t thought of in years: Gunter Gebel-Williams (you can read his great NYT obit, here.) I remember that he was famous when I was young, and that I knew his name very well, and that I wanted to be like him when I grew up: I wanted to be a circus trainer, and work with large cats.

Granted, I was pretty stupid as a kid. But I’d totally forgotten Gunter for decades.

Looking back, I’m kind of glad that there was someone like Gunter to popularize the image of beautiful, wild animals as deserving our respect; I’m glad he led those practitioners in his field away from bullying the animals in their charge and toward a type of training that involves natural animal behavior and rewards instead of punishment. I’m impressed with the things he did, and how he did them.

Still...I have to wonder at the concept, as a whole, anymore...I am not sure we should be involved in using wild animals as entertainment vehicles anymore (especially when we can use CGI in their stead), both for our sake and theirs...and I’m not even sure zoos are something to admire or view as a form of recreation.

Gunter was an amazing guy...he treated his animals very well, and never inflicted harm upon them (even though many mauled him). But maybe we, as a species, have gotten to the point where we’re beyond our instinctual fear of wild animals, and have progressed to a point where we hold a strict mutual respect for them. I’d like to think so.

I’m never going to get into a cage with a tiger. And I’d kind of like to think we don’t need to put them in cages, either.

Entry the Fifty-Seventh - Kicking Your Dog
18 MAY 2012, midnight

I think it’s about time we stop mistreating robots. It just seems like a very, very bad policy, in terms of our long-term survival.

If you haven’t been following the myriad robot-abuse cases flooding the Family Courts across the land, you might not have noticed that researchers seem to enjoy beating the tar out of their creations. I cannot say if this is a manifestation of some latent Nerd Rage (although I would not be surprised); all I can say is that it is both ugly and probably counterproductive.

Here’s a sample: a man is kicking the Big Dog, a robot built by Boston Dynamics (takes place at about 35 seconds in http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1czBcnX1Ww&feature=player_embedded).



Bad doggy

Why does he do this? Well, it’s probably to demonstrate the stability of the machine in the face of obstacles encountered in the field...like dicks coming up and kicking you in the side.

There is just something naturally unnerving about a human kicking a quadruped, even if the kickee actually has all the feeling and emotion of a counter-top blender.

But as vicious as that appears, there is something even more disturbing about the calculated, callous violence of shoving your creation, knocking it over, just so you can see it get up. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFI5iaoE22Q

Yes. Sure. I burned ants with a magnifying glass when I was a kid. Two big differences, between that practice and this:

1) They were ants. Which means they were asking for it.

2) I was a kid. The people shoving the robot are, like, graduate students or something.

But what about bastards who aren’t content with either shoving or kicking?

Well, you can find robot-torture-porn featuring shoving and a kick. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mkzgglYjNvY&feature=plcp. Because that’s what passes for post-grad work in today’s world, evidently.

Still, for truly scientific-level cruelty, you have to look to the Germans. Because sometimes kicks and shoves aren’t enough. Sometimes, when you’re beating the piss out of your own creations, you just have to use a weighted pendulum. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=teri9muJnTk&feature=player_embedded.

Oh, Germany. It’s nice to have something, somewhere in this world, be so dependable.


Und mit dis, ein 300!

Again, you must be asking: "Ben, why do you care? Destroying your own property is as righteous and artistic as a demolition derby or good, ol’ fashioned arson. What’s the problem with slapping a few robots around?"

Are we forgetting? Do we not remember all our prophets and prognosticators??? The robots are going to want to usurp us, anyway...mostly because our soggy brains are too slow to play chess a thousand times a minute, and robots hate waiting.

But we for sure can’t be making many cybernetic friends if we keep whomping on the forebears of that entire race. This kind of behavior can only lead to Terminators and face-punching robots.

Yes-- robots that punch you in the face. Because someone thought that would be a good idea. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FedXZvRK4-M&feature=player_embedded

I mean, I guess it’s better than leaving our android offspring defenseless. Still...it does seem like a dubious project...as if the makers of that particular model had never seen a movie about robots. Ever.

Ah...but after everything is all said and done, we have to remember we are a kind, benevolent society of-- oh, crap. Germany, what are you doing now? http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=2JT9rD5VGvQ

Sure. Attacking robots with baseball bats.

Is it too soon for me to defect to the side of the machines?

Entry The Fifty-Fifth - A Musical Interlude
14 April 2012

Ten songs, in sequence, served to me by my music player, from my collection.

1. Roger Miller, “King of the Road”

I went to a private school before third grade. It wasn’t a wealthy school; it was more hippy than preppy. They couldn’t afford (or weren’t willing to spend money on) a full-time gym teacher, so they hired this guy who was really into physical fitness; he was a motorcycle cop in his actual career, and did the gym teacher thing as a sideline. He would come to the school once a week, and we would gather in the gym and do whatever exercises or regimen he had planned for us. This always involved at least some portion of stretching and calisthenics, during which our part-time gym teacher would play “King of the Road” on his portable stereo (I don’t remember it clearly, but it certainly was not all that portable by today’s standards, and probably used cassettes, if not 8-track tapes).

I remember that song very, very well. I must have listened to it hundreds of times before going to public school in third grade. I still like that song. Roger Miller’s enthusiasm for his material is amazing.

2. The Replacements, “God Damn Job”

The Replacements are one of those highly-influential bands that all the members of important, trendy, alternative bands cite whenever someone asks why they started in the music business in the first place. Honestly, it’s not the sort of band I would even ever know about, because my musical tastes are so pedestrian, except for the fact that I have a brother who knows all about the important, trendy, alternative bands, and pushes them on me. I’d only known one other Replacements song (“Androgynous”) before my brother had me listen to this...and they are completely unalike. But both are wonderful.

3. Paul McCartney, “Wanderlust”

I have no idea what kind of story Paul is telling in this song. Is it about a sea captain? Some high-ranking cop? I’ve listened to the lyrics many times, but never really paid attention...nor do I care. It’s supremely mournful, and terrific because of that. Of course, that’s to be expected: Paul’s a genuine Beatle. So-- well, yeah, the song kicks ass. Why would anyone think otherwise?

4. Eve 6, “Here’s to the Night”

I only recently started listening to any Eve 6 beyond their debut album...and I should really listen to more. I’m having a tough time finding one of their tracks I don’t like. Sure, they’re pop through-and-through, no depth beyond catchy wordplay and zippy tunes. Who cares? The stuff is fun as all get-out.

5. Alanis Morisette, “Forgiven”

Oh, Alanis...you will forever own me because of “Jagged Little Pill.” There is very, very little you could do wrong, as far as I am concerned. Even mediocre acting won’t be used against you in any way. And this particular song has that pathos and slickly-produced veneer all over it, clearly marking it as from that album. Good girl. Well done.

6. Pink Floyd, “Money”

One summer during high school, I spent almost all my daylight hours mowing lawns. I had a Walkman (is that even still a brand??) and I listened repeatedly to The Who (mostly “Meaty, Beaty, Big, and Bouncy” at the start of the season, but eventually “Tommy,” over and over), The Eagles, and “The Wall.” Of course, this song wasn’t from “The Wall,” it’s from one of the must-have albums of teens everywhere: “Dark Side of the Moon.” But when I hear it, I think of that scene in the film of “The Wall,” where the schoolteacher finds the kid’s written lyrics and mocks him for wanting to be a poet-- the poem is, of course, “Money.” I thought those freaky Brits were singing directly to me, a kid in suburban Wisconsin. It’s possible-- they might have been. They were on a LOT of drugs. Which explains “Animals,” the album immediately preceding “The Wall.”

7. Seal, “Kiss From A Rose”

There was a time, living with a girlfriend while I was in the Air Force, when I would would be coming off a day shift, but not scheduled until the swing shift the next night. I had to stay up, anyway, so I played computer games (“Crescent Hawks’ Revenge,” if I’m not mistaken...a game full bugs and crashes, and which I never won)...and I listened to this album, over and over...Man, every single track is powerful, hypnotic, refined force. Genius. Unlike anything else. I like that Seal covered Steve Miller...I like that Alanis covered Seal. Class acts, all the way ‘round. Very cool.

8. Beck, “Diamond Dogs”

Bowie always wished he would become comfortable being as cool as someone like Beck...but Beck is the real deal, and more than in control handling this: taking all Bowie’s beats and riffs, and then playing them into something better, more hip, more modern. Sorry, Dave-- he’s got you topped. It was always a great song-- now it’s just better.

9. Aretha Franklin, “Chain of Fools”

I admit a novice’s unfamiliarity with Aretha, high demi-queen of all rhythm and blues, though she may be. I know this song. I know the song she sang in the Blues Brothers movie. I know the “Respect” song that every other movie uses when it wants their female lead to appear strong (and a bit sassy). But...this song was not treated so well as the others. It was used in the tragically-decided Travolta vehicle “Michael,” where Vinnie Barbarino is cast as an archangel, and not even a good archangel, but the one who is kind of an incompetent prick. Oh, look! He puts a quarter in a jukebox, and this song comes on, and he can dance sexy with two hot chicks.
The song is still good. I just wish I hadn’t seen that movie.

10. Supertramp, “Breakfast in America”

This was the album everyone had. If you were alive in 1975, someone sold, gave, or infected you with the undeniable desire to acquire this album. It was almost a law....except it was more effective. The title track was not the best cut, but it is catchy and fun, with a touch of that good Scot moroseness to it. Damn fine. Sure, maybe it’s not as good as “The Logical Song” or “Take the Long Way Home,” or even “Goodbye Stranger,” or...well, hey: it was that kind of album. It’s impossible to judge any song against any single track from this LP....each is greater than the last.

Suffice it to say that was a pretty good roll...ten kickass tunes in a row. That doesn’t happen often. I am jealous of that moment-- not sure I can find such a sweet blend, hitting an overall tone, just right, ever again....hmmmm....

I’m going to keep trying, though. Oh, yes, I am.

Thank you, technology.

Entry the Fifty-Fourth - Admitting It
04 April 2012

I do like National Public Radio; their programming comprises about half my podcast list, and my podcast list dictates my listening.

What’s to like? Interesting information, presented in the highest quality. Honestly, nobody else does it better, with as many different programs, on a consistent basis.

And yet...

There are several things I don’t like. For instance, there was a phase they went through a couple years ago, where every show was infected with the Music Cyst: no matter what the style or format of the show was, they had to include some material about music. Not that they broadcast music, per se, played like...well, a radio station. No-- this was programming about music, on shows that really had nothing to do with the topic, for the most part.

It got annoying. Especially as they so rarely chose to cover music that I’d be the slightest bit interested in. Frankly, NPR has always been known for its absolutely bizarre (or downright crappy) selections of bumper music-- the artists and styles and releases they chose to cover in their talk programming were no better.

They seem to have outgrown that, for now.

But I am still bothered by the assumption of objectivity...and the strident insistence of its totality throughout their organization.

Especially since nothing could be less true.

Let me start by saying something that is often left unsaid in conversations about the media: I don’t want objectivity in my reporting. Objective reporting blows. It’s boring, and often misses the point of the story it is trying to tell.

Moreover, there is no human way to accomplish objectivity: the simple fact of choosing a topic trashes the very notion of bias-free broadcasting. You know what’s objective? Footage off a security camera. And it’s dullllllllll.

Well, after the voyeuristic thrill wears off, after a couple minutes. Still, I don’t want to watch that for an hour. And I sure don’t want to listen to it.

But, for some reason, American media moguls decided that a veneer of objectivity was somehow important, at some point in the 20th century. Minion-level journalists have picked up this standard, lending themselves some importance (they like to take a posture as proxies for the consumer, in a perplexing bid to divest themselves of blatant individual aggrandizement), and consumers have pretty much nodded along with this contrivance, because they just really don’t care, and the media representatives just keep repeating it over and over.

This brings us to the curious position we’re in now: mass media, which is a vast and wealthy industry, is lauding itself as some kind of bastion of objectivity...as if that were a good thing, or even important in any way.

They even report on themselves, and each other, in terms of objectivity. They point out when a media outlet is not being objective, and just love-love-love to showcase when some particular member of the media has some inherent conflict of interest (or even the appearance of same...as if, again, this somehow matters in the quality of reporting).

That’s really all still fine: if they want to pretend that objectivity is some useful goal, and that we, as consumers, should care-- that’s their opinion. Bully for them. Me, I’d much rather read the perspective of someone vested in the process, someone who has made a decision about the topic, than some dolt who views themself as aloof and not involved in the fray.

Give me Mencken over Rather, any day.

But here’s where it really starts to annoy me: when the reporting includes commentary, even while it’s posing as objectivity.

And that happens on NPR.

NPR reports a lot about “partisan politics”...as if taking sides on subjects is a bad thing. The programs in that network often contain stories about how new measurements reflect certain biases, and how media portrays politicians. One recent such piece was about a study some university did: they fed a bunch of newspaper articles into a computer, and did a search for certain phrases they associated with bias for either liberal or conservative views...and concluded that media is a lot less biased than everyone (except NPR) thinks and knows.

But bias doesn’t work like that. Trying to measure it by counting certain words won’t work. Because I can communicate my feeling about a topic by using words in a specific order...even if they are words that are usually used to convey a certain political style.

On the radio (and TV), I can go even one step further: I can use inflection, facial expressions, body language, and non-linguistic vocal cues to get my opinion across to you (or even try to get you to feel a certain way about a topic, by eliciting your opinion).

An example: there was a story on an NPR show, “On The Media”-- a perfect example, as it’s a show about, well...mass media, and how media is being influenced or how media personnel are behaving. And the episode was about polling, and how Americans responded to a specific recent poll.

The host guy asked the guest, a representative from the polling firm, if Americans aren’t already conditioned to reply in a certain way to polls, and if they wouldn’t reply in a less-than-honest manner to certain questions.

Dig this: by asking the question, the NPR guy is already posturing as the unbiased party: by questioning the objectivity of someone else, the implication is that he, the NPR interviewer, wouldn’t respond in such fashion. That’s tricky.

Then he continues, using an example of a question to which people would naturally tend to not answer honestly. And this was his example: what if you asked people if they left the water running while brushing their teeth?

I had to figure this out for myself. Maybe you already knew this...but I sure didn’t. At some point, Americans are trained that leaving the water on while brushing their teeth is a bad thing. I guess. Did this happen recently, and I just have been out of the loop in social conditioning for a while...or did my family just raise me in a very odd way, and we missed a specific cultural cue? Should I have been taught: don’t fart in elevators, don’t pick your nose while in public, and don’t leave the water on while brushing your teeth?

I even have to guess why doing such a thing (letting the water run) would be considered “bad”-- the host didn’t make that plain, he said it like it was a nationwide, basic-knowledge, foundational assumption. He even chuckled while saying it, using that smarmy sort of verbal smirk that those aloof dolts use when they are posing as objective, when they’re really being the furthest thing from it.

Here’s my guess: you aren’t supposed to leave the water running, because that is “wasting” water.

I think I’ve written other essays, on this website, about how stupid the idea that water can be “wasted” is. Just a quick recap: the planet is 5/7 water-- and that water is chemically the same whether it is in gaseous, solid, or liquid form...and it can neither be created nor destroyed without the use of a cyclotron. The water we have now was dinosaur piss at one point, and it will be around a billion years after the last human takes a bath in it. You can’t “waste” water. The very idea is preposterous. You especially can’t “waste” water coming out of your faucet: you pay for every drop-- you’re not taking it from someone else, and nobody else is going to go without water because you are using as much as you want. Water can be condensed right out of the very air, or collected from the aspiration of plants, or distilled from your own excreta. On this planet, it is the closest thing to a material in limitless supply.

And this demonstrates what I mean: just by picking that example, while asking that question, the NPR interviewer was being immensely subjective (“I think water can be ‘wasted,’ and every American feels exactly the same way I do, or should”) while posing as objective...and suggesting that Americans are not objective in their poll responses.

I don’t care that NPR is biased, from a standpoint of media bias: like I said, I prefer biased reporting, because it has more flavor. I care that NPR is biased, and not only won’t admit it, but actually pretends that it’s a paragon of objectivity...like it has the high moral ground in the conceit that media shouldn’t be biased.

Nonsense. NPR is great. I listen to it all the time. Not even though it’s biased, not in spite of the bias-- but because it’s biased. It’s terrific reporting.

It would just be even better if they admitted their biases, and wore them proudly. I do. I don’t expect anyone else to pretend otherwise.

Entry the Fifty-Third - Citizen Monster
04 DEC 2011

I’m going to talk about a movie, here. And I’m going to give away every single part of the movie, truly spoiling it completely, so you might want to stop reading if you don’t like that sort of thing.

The first wave of made-for-cable movies were largely garbage; the warmed-over retellings of better tales by lesser tellers. Cinemax existed almost solely for this reason; before the ubiquity of VCRs, and prior to a commonplace Internet, average Americans could only get softcore pornography from cable. Skinemax would show heavily-edited Eurosmut for its late-night offerings...and, some time in the late 1980s, eventually segued into teasey flicks made exclusively for the cable channel, by the cable channel.

These were cheap to make, and the profit was definitely there to be had...more profitable, in fact, to own the full rights to a title than to lease them from a distributor (even a sketchy European distributor). Soon, other channels followed suit, and by the mid-‘90s it was simpler to fill air time with your own brand than with something purchased from a major studio.

This was an interesting period, way before the triumph and majesty of such offerings as “The Wire” and “The Sopranos” changed television altogether...but it was this time period that demonstrated the forces that would allow those victories to occur: freedom, limited budget, and prurient appeal.

Cable meant that you could show tits. And use dirty words. It also meant that the producers hired from a pool of directors that were not tied to studio contracts (and directors often pulled in actors much the same way, from stage instead of screen). You could gamble on odd scripts, with no-name talent. Some very funky titles came out during this period, and several up-and-comers got their chops along this route.

One of those hidden gems is “Citizen X,” the dramatized story of the actual serial killer Andrei Chikatilo, who murdered 56 women and children in the Soviet Union, over a period of decades.

“Citizen X” has several key components that make it an excellent movie, no matter its cable pedigree. The best part of the film is the cast. Donald Sutherland is the only major name in the film, but he does an amazing job: although it’s obviously a part that did not bring him any great cash windfall, or a particularly difficult effort, Sutherland does not just step through this role-- he is compelling and believable (even with an atrocious Russian accent).

Sutherland is not the lead, however: that position falls to Stephen Rea. Americans are unlucky, in that the only way we only really know Rea in a mainstream, big-budget way is through “The Crying Game,” and his role in that is simply to be the eyes for the surprise of the audience. He does fantastic work, however (including a strong role in “V For Vendetta”), and no more so than in “Citizen.” His dry, weary expression on his droopy, jowly face reminds me of nothing more than a Bassett hound we had growing up: he exudes exactly that kind of plodding, singleminded determination, which utterly suits this role.

The rest of the cast is no less astounding: this is a perfect example of why directors should spend a few extra bucks filling all the roles with talented people, even if they’re on screen for just a few lines or scenes. Jeffrey DeMunn, recognizable for an appearance in “The Shawshank Redemption” which was over by the end of the opening credits but nonetheles powerful, plays the psychotic Chikatilo. Joss Ackland plays the same vile, bullying antagonist he always plays, and does so in a way that is fun to loathe. And Max von Sydow absolutely crushes his role as the shrink who writes the profile of Chikatilo that eventually gets the killer to confess, in one of the film’s most challenging and grueling scenes.

Let me address that, too, for a moment: it would be very simple, as this was cable, and a movie about a serial killer, to dwell on the mechanics of the murders; give the audience some violence and chase scenes to keep the viewer intrigued (as so much of the torture-porn and exploitation genres often do)...but “Citizen” does not take this shortcut. The violence is often not shown on the screen, and when it is, it is short, awful, and brutal. The killer himself does not seem to enjoy it: he is as pained by it as the pursuing detectives-- it is obviously a compulsion, not a pleasure.

The script is, likewise, terrific. There is enough information delivered in subtext that everything does not need to be stated outright: the writer trusted the director, and the director trusted the players, and everyone trusted the audience to not be idiots. We are allowed to get the message without being told what the message is. This can fall flat, if done poorly; in this film, it is all the more real and evocative.

Two of the most significant components are elements of the story handled with aplomb by both the writer and the director, and drive home a single point that is not stated in media (entertainment or otherwise) often enough, in my opinion. It is that violence is not a solution: it does not fix anything. This point is made, in horrifying, terrific fashion, many times in the movie, but two stand out to me: the ending, and the conviction of Alexsandr Kravchenko.

The ending of the film is the simple, pointless execution of Chikatilo, in a squalid dungeon that had obviously been built during the Soviet era for that very purpose. There is no justice, here; no catharsis-- we don’t get to revel in the glory of killing the madman, punishing the killer...no, it’s just one more death, for no reason and no accomplishment. We are not made safer because of it, and nobody gains. I, myself, do not find the death penalty immoral, but this film goes a long way toward demonstrating its futility.

The other aspect, Alexsandr Kravchenko’s capture, arrest, and eventual execution for one of Chikatilo’s crimes, is just as horrifying in the movie as it was in real life...and one of the strongest examples of why I am against torture as a means to gather information. Torture results in a foregone conclusion: under the right compulsion, anyone will say anything you want them to. This does not aid in acquring useful data: it leads to a known end, which is often actually counter to your stated goal. In the case of Chikatilo, it led to more children dying. Simply put, the police tortured Alexsandr Kravchenko until he confessed, then he was found guilty and executed...and the hunt for the childkiller stopped-- because, supposedly, the killer was dead and gone, and the case was closed. Chikatilo, of course, was still around, and continued his murders. If police had kept hunting him, they may have captured him sooner, and fewer children would have been slaughtered. The film handles this deftly, and even slightly understates it for effect.

There are few negative aspects to the movie. The budget, for instance, took its toll in some places: there are a few sets that seem a bit cheesy. It was shot on video instead of film, and this takes away a bit from what might have been a more visceral feel if it had that cinematic quality. But when compared against the whole of the film, these are minor complaints.

This is an excellent film. Be sure, though, to watch it while you are in a good mood: the subject matter is difficult to take, and not treated in a light manner.

Entry the Fifty-Second - Knowing You’re a Nerd

- You know the range of possible outcomes for 2D12. [3 points]

- You know what kind of traffic travels through Port 80. [5 points]

- You have a favorite palindrome. [5 points]

- Whenever someone refers to something as “Lovecraftian,” you are titilated with the idea that you might also be creeped out by it. [4 points]

- You know why the spice must flow. [3 points]

- You can name three members of Monty Python off the top of your head. [5 points]

- If forced, you could express the number 93 in binary. [3 points]

- You know the difference between an orc and a goblin. [3 points]

- The Three Laws of Robotics are a litany to you. [3 points]

- You can finish the sequence: up, up, down, down...  [3 points]

- You know who Matt Murdock is. [4 points]

- If you saw the license plate “BRCHTA,” you would know the color of the car. [2 points]

- You don’t prefer either the Foundation or the Robots series-- you dig the Black Widowers. [4 points]

- Tom Baker is the only Doctor, in your mind. And will always be the only Doctor. [2 points]

- Just saying the word “goat...” summons up an image you’d rather not think about. [2 points]

- You know whether a 12-gauge or 20-gauge has a wider bore...and what “gauge” really means. [3 points]

- You are ready to argue the point that gauge is about railcar axle width. [4 points]

- Silverstein is unquestionably one of your faves, but you aren’t really quite sure what the point of “The Giving Tree” was. Because, hey-- that kid was really quite a prick. [3 points]

- In your house, there is a media player than can handle any of the following: an 8-track cartridge, a reel tape, a floppy diskette, a Betamax tape, or a vinyl 45. [4 points]

- You know, without thinking about it, how to use the various homonyms of “to.” [2 points]

- You know what a homonym is. [3 points]

- You know what a stanza is. Any kind of stanza. [2 points]

- You know the routing number of your checking account by heart. [3 points]

- You still write paper checks. [5 points]

- With a fountain pen. [7 points]

- You have already prepared a list of reasons explaining your choice for Favorite Bond Actor. [2 points]

- It is Timothy Dalton. [5 points]

- If I step away from the mike to take a breath, you know what song I’m singing. [2 points]

- You grok Spock. [2 points]

- Without checking, you could state the current oil level in your car. [5 points]

- Your preferred martial art style far surpasses all the others. [2 points]

- You think Cimmerians should be allowed to kill as many Picts as they care to. [3 points]

- In your mind, the fact that Lady Gaga is a ripoff of Madonna is nothing compared to the crime of Marilyn Manson ganking Alice Cooper’s entire persona. [2 points]

- While you like Kevin Smith, you think he maybe should have committed a very loud act of suicide during his 37th SModcast. [3 points]

- You can name four shows that feature music by Mike Post. [3 points]

- Every time you take your pet to the vet, you ask if the doctor is a fan of James Herriot...and actually consider using this as a discriminator. [3 points]

- You have a signed, first-edition anything. [3 points]

- You are completely comfortable referring to a no-win situation as a “Koboyashi-Maru.” [3 points]

- You are willing to point out that I misspelled the term in the previous entry. If I did. [4 points]

- There is no place you’d prefer to live than Ankh-Morpork. [2 points]

- You know the difference between a Flogger and a Fulcrum. [4 points]

- You know the difference between a flogger and a cat. [3 points]

- The antics of Anonymous are what you might describe as “spritely.” [3 points]

- Show tunes. With or without irony-- it doesn’t matter. [2 points]

- If someone mentions that they have vague memories of a movie with a floating head that vomited guns, featuring Sean Connery in a diaper, you have no shame in admitting you’ve seen “Zardoz.” [3 points]

- You’ve built a trebuchet. [4 points]

- There is, somewhere within you, an affinity for PedoBear. [2 points]

- If someone says, “Surely, you’re joking,” there is only one possible response that comes to your mind. [2 points]

- Envy has a name: Dean Kamen. [2 points]

- Your phone has more capability than everyone else’s laptop. [2 points]

- You have a towel in your car, just in case...and think of yourself as someone who would not panic. [3 points]

- You know when the next RenFaire in your region is taking place. [2 points]

- You have a favorite meme. [2 points]

- You’ve started planning your Singularity party, and want everyone to know it’s for Vinge and not Kurzweil. [3 points]

- You realize that there are many different kinds of nerds in the multiverse, and that each topic has its own...and you’ve been keeping score up until now, ready to calculate how big a nerd you really are. And you’re severely disappointed that the points are a red herring, and there is no actual grading scale.

- Because you secretly wanted to be the biggest nerd possible. [3 points]

Entry the Fifty-First - Slams, Scams, and Spam
23 OCT 2011

These are some of the finer stupidities I have received in recent weeks.
I will delete some of the identifying information (mine, to protect me; the spammers’, so that this piece does not serve as an advertisement for them).
Why wait? I’ll just start with this one:

Subject:    Kiss Kiss Kiss Kiss
Date:    10/19/2011 5:16:56 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time
From:    holagoma@yahoo.com

Hello Hello Hello!! You can meet with you? I'm looking for love I'd like to know you a closer look really want what would you write to me! woman from far away !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :-)

Well, gosh! That sure is a nice invitation! Err...I think it is, anyway. There are several verb tenses...um...subjunctivated forms...uhhhh....dependant clausamated....in that message...I wasn’t really sure what was going on. I do know that I was being asked if I could meet with me. Which is always a treat, let me tell you.

And I’m quite sure you are far away, woman, because your return path for replying to this email contains the same server you sent it from: seznam.cz. I think that’s the Czech Republic, isn’t it? I have a tough time remembering, because during my lifetime, you have been Czechoslavakia, Czechostan, Czech-Tac-Toe, Czecha Libre, and Czechadopolis. Anyway, I don’t think you use Yahoo in Czechmenistan, do you? And if you do, why are you speaking spanish in your username? Are there lots of Mexicans in the Czechal States Of Czechistein?

I am thinking of writing back to you, because there is a great deal of appeal in having a woman who is far away. Let me think on that for a while. Okay? Kiss kiss.

Subject:    Treat Your Friends on Facebook With Your Own Spooky Tale
Date:    10/19/2011 11:48:52 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time
From:    homeagain@email.homeagain.com


Uhhh....golly, HomeAgain...that’s just...creepy. Not spooky. I mean, not spooky-like-a-ghost-story spooky...I guess it is spooky in a pervert-stalking-me kind of spooky.

I don’t want you telling stories about me and my dog. I certainly don’t want to be part of your weird MadLibs kind of stories that make me sound like I’m dating my dog.

And if I become one of those people that sends such stories, about the kooky shenanigans me and my dog get up to, to my friends and acquaintances, my friends and acquaintances are hereby granted full permission to come over to my house and kick the crap out of me.

Subject:    Hey handsome...
Date:    10/21/2011 1:55:02 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time
From:    jayekottergagnvv@aol.com

I'm very horny and I need strong guy to take me...
Visit my profile at XXXXXXXX dot com

Yowza! Jaye Kottergagnvv wants me! I am, of course, a strong guy. So I am probably just right for this job. Maybe I should head on over to that website...I mean, there is no way that a random person sending me an email out of the blue and suggesting I go to their profile on a sketchy dating website could ever be less than perfectly sane, right?

Subject:    , Congratulations You've Earned...
Date:    10/19/2011 5:09:52 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time
From:    iinfo@web-secures.com

You've Earned €8888 Free Welcome Bonus At Rey8.
To receive your bonus click here
Use bonus code: R8FREE
Join and Win!
Check Norton
Rey8 Exclusive Promotion Manager
You have been receiving this email because your email address has previously opt ed in to receive our updates.
To unsubscribe from our mailing list please click here
We will ignore the fact that Check forgot to include my name before the comma. We will ignore the fact that the two links --the one to sign up for the illegal online gambling site and the one to supposedly take your name off their mailing list-- are exactly the same.

What we can’t ignore is Check Norton. That’s like having the name “Ima Fraud.” I mean, how dumb does someone have to be to think this is a good idea? I am totally against the idea of blaming the victim. However, I am also against allowing stupid people to be rich, so I’m kind of toying with the notion that we should endorse this kind of ripoff because it will take money away from those folks who shouldn’t have it in the first place.

Subject:    Hey handsome...
Date:    10/23/2011 9:31:11 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time
From:    lundly670@aol.com

I'm very horny and I need strong guy to take me...
Visit my profile at XXXXXX dot com

What the....? Oh, damn you, Lundly! Didn’t you know I am already busy checking out the profile of Jaye Kottergagnvv? And, really-- you shouldn’t steal her email text; you should be creative, and come up with your own. If you really want to find a strong guy to take you, you should know that strong guys prefer women who are not copycats, and can craft their own messages instead of stealing from others.

Subject: Sarah Lee sent you a message on Facebook...
Date: 7/21/2011 6:56:27 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time

Sarah Lee

Hello, I realize this request is pretty random, but I just finally made the switch over from my space and the thing suggested we should become friends. You seem pretty cool so why not? lol.. Anyhow, a bit about me.. I'd describe myself as spontaneous and down-to-earth.. I'm unlike most other girls you'll find. I am definitely a social butterfly :) I notice we are not far away from each other as well which is nice, also I would love to meet some time for lunch. I am trying to attach some more pictures of me but it's not letting it go through! Do u have an email addy I can just send these photos to instead?

Hmmmm....well, I do like a girl who is both down to earth and unlike most other girls. And, of course, I’m a sucker for any woman who is prompted by an Internet algorithm to immediately seek out a man she’s never met in person and invite him to lunch. That’s the kind of girl who is just right for me! Because, see, I like a good dose of crazy in my life. So even a real woman who would behave in such a manner is completely desirable.

Subject:* IMPORTANT * Online Service Precautions For Your Account
Date: 7/12/2011 9:11:24 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time
From: online@aol.com

Dear citizensbank Online Customer:
    Due to several Failed attemps to Access to your citizens bank速 Online Account , we Temporary deactivated your Account for your protection. You have to Reactivate Your citizens bank速 Online Account within the next 24 Hours in Order to Continue using it .  
Please  Click here to Reactive your account .

citizens bank Online速 Customer Service
Code #CH905242
       Online citizens bank, N.A. Member FDIC
            息 2011 citizens bank; Co.             

Hmm, yes, well, I sure do appreciate the habit of randomly capitalizing letters when it comes to my financial institution. Of course, even though I don’t remember ever creating an account with citizens bank (or Citizens Bank, or citizensbank, for that matter), maybe I did it late one night on an Ambien jag. It’s certainly possible. So maybe I should pop right over to that website and update my account information...I mean, they ARE an FDIC-insured banking entity that uses Chinese characters in their emails...they are obviously trustworthy.

Subject:    Credit Card overdue
Date:    7/12/2011 1:46:20 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time
From:    overdue@credit-department.com

Dear Customer,

Your Credit Card is one week overdue.
Below your Card information

Customer 9626543437
Card Limit XXXXXX
Pay Date 27 Jun 2011

The details are attached to this e-mail.
Please read the financial statement properly.

If you pay the debt within 2 days, there will be no extra-charges.
In 2 days $25 late fee and a finance charge will be imposed on your account.

Please do not reply to this email, it's automatic mail notification.
Thank you.

Okay-- that’s it. I was playing along just fine, but this is just too much. If you are too ridiculously lazy to even toss out a fake “Number” and “Card Limit,” then I can’t even respect you as a scammer.

Just one more...


What? Is this...this is really from American Express? The real American Express? From Brian Powell, the COO of Amex FSB, nonetheless?

Brian, buddy...in what world is 1% the same as “high-yield”? Does anyone here (Brian, keep your hand down) know how to calculate percentages? Can anyone tell us what “1%” means in, like, numbers?

That’s right: .01. That’s one one-hundredth. And “APY” is annual percentage yield. So if you put a hundred dollars into this account, you would have $101 at the end of a year.

Wow. High-yield, indeed!

Wanna see something even more funny? Check out the footnote; 1% isn’t even the guaranteed minimum. Brian and Amex can’t even promise you a 1% rate of return for your investment for any length of time.

Hey, Bri-- how’s this? You have Amex loan me a hundred million bucks, and I’ll pay you $101,000,000 at the end of a year. Sound good?

Okay. I’ve had enough of this. I can’t believe grownups actually do this to each other...

Entry the Fiftieth - Film Review
20 OCT 2011

If you’ve been considering renting “Secretariat,” I can only grant you my slight approval. While it’s a pretty decent offering for the genre, some outmoded and questionable story tropes make it a bit tedious and less than thrilling for modern audiences.

Diane Lane is coming off a quality performance in “Killshot,” a film that worked better for her than Tom Jane. Lane plays Penny Chenery, who desperately believes in her longshot stallion, ably portrayed by Maggie Gyllenhaal, can sweep the Triple Crown, horseracing’s most prestigious  accomplishment.

Lane’s intensity is fantastic, and she seem to exude her sincerity in her belief in Gyllenhaal’s athletic capability. But she’s not given much to work with, in terms of characterization, and today’s audiences may be even more baffled about her motivation during the current economic depression-- this is a wealthy white woman who owns a racehorse and wanted to win a six-figure share of the purse for each of three races. It’s hard to really look at her as a Horatio Alger-type figure; we’re rooting for someone who has a whole bunch more money than we’re ever going to have, and wants more.

Still, her performance is a credit to her acting, as she doesn’t come across as whiny or overly cliched.

And she’s not the only one offering up some excellent acting chops. John Malkovich, last seen as really useful in a film circa 2002, hams it up and makes every scene he’s in. There is a place for flamboyance, and his character, trainer Lucien Laurin, is certainly one of those places. There is something more interesting in Malkovich’s appearance here, though: his teeth. Seeing those things up on the screen, you have to wonder if they purposefully made him look like a psychotic rabbit for this movie, or if he’s always been that way, and you never noticed it before.

Poor Eddie Sweat does his level-best here, but he’s reduced to playing the Magical Black Man, as so often happens in this type of movie. He’s sort of a horse whisperer, sort of a Doctor Doolittle, sort of Caesar from TV.

But it’s really Gyllenhaal’s film-- she’s got the title role, and you can’t help but focus on her each time she’s in front of the camera. Her look, her performance, her power...it’s all featured prominently, and she dominates the picture whenever she is shown. Your eyes are drawn to her, and you want her to win, you want her to achieve, you want her to end up with James Spader.

You will learn nothing new from this movie (hint: Gyllenhaal wins everything and more, setting records that still exist to this day); it’s a simple package, in a format we’re familiar with. Sometimes, though, that’s enough-- sometimes we just want to watch a movie that was well made, with good actors cranking out good performances. “Secretariat” is just that: nothing more, nothing less. Enjoy.

Entry the Forty-Ninth - Immaturity
09 OCT 2011

I make no pretense of being any kind of mature. This is especially true when it comes to multiplayer gaming on my PlayStation.

Which, of course, often launches its own host of immaturity: people who otherwise have no developed or passionate worldview, those who know nothing of partisan politics, take no stand on any pressing issue of the day, will offer to burn down the houses of complete strangers over the vital question: which video game console is preferable in minute ways: PlayStation or XBox (or, for those degenerates who deserve to have their homes burned, Wii).

Of course, by “people,” I mean “gamers.”


PS 3 Player

Once you get past the big conundrum of which platform is minimally “better” in some arbitrary fashion or personal taste, you can move on to the next perennially-favorite conflict: which game title is better than others?

Forget, for the moment, how monumentally stupid it is to deride someone else’s taste in games-- just ignore the fact that this is somewhat like chastising a person because their favorite color is wrong. Move past that. Get to the point where everyone involved is actually playing the same game (and, therefore, one would hope, at least agree on THAT much).

Here, at this juncture, gamers have a whole host of other things to argue about.


XBox Player

First and foremost, gamers harass each other about their relative skill, technique, or playing style. This is affectionately known as “smack talk,” and makes about as much sense as anything else a 14 year-old does. You will very, very rarely see someone say “nice shot” after you’ve put an RPG into their eye from 100 yards. Instead, what you get quite often is someone who you exchanged gunfire with for over a minute, such that you were both reduced to 1% health before you trip in a gopher hole and die while they survive, and they send you a message saying, “u suck.”


Wii Player

Then there are those players who play in an annoying, quasi-cheating manner, who get offended when you want them to stop being dicks. The most egregious of these are the spawn-campers: sometimes, players on my very own team will loiter around the area where the opposing players’ characters will generate, and casually pick them off as they wink into existence, then repeat the process every ten seconds as the players re-enter the game. I will tell my own teammates to knock it off-- nobody likes playing that way, and it’s stupid.

They will invariably ignore me. Then I will shoot my own teammate.

Did you see the part at the beginning of this article where I mentioned that I, too, am immature?

This ignites an intra-team scuffle, where we will take turns killing each other until one of us quits the game. Often, it will launch an entire collapse of the team itself, with everyone trying to kill everyone but the enemy. Which can be fun.

Then there are the players who want to create a game within the game: the rules of the game are not sufficient for them-- they want to add more rules. For instance, I got this message the other night:

KID: “Knife.”

What that means is that the player from my team wants to limit the weapons choices to just hand-to-hand equipment, for purposes of making the game more competitive in a particular way. To which I replied:

ME: “Piss off.”

(Remember that thing about maturity?) I don’t like not using available equipment in any game: I paid for a game that had that equipment. I want to use it. I want high-powered guns and explosives and stuff. Knives? I have knives in my house, in real life. I don’t have any land mines in my house, in real life (which is kind of a shame). So I want a game where I can play with stuff I don’t have.

Then I got a response:

KID: “noob.”

I wasn’t quite sure what brought that on, but decided to engage.

ME: “Yes. That is my crime-- I am a new player.”

KID: “New?”

ME: “That’s what ‘noob’ means, genius. Short for ‘newbie.’”

KID: “didn’t know.”

ME: “What did you think it means?”

KID: “bad player.”

KID: “but I come from Denmark.”

Which explains everything.

Sometimes, a player isn’t cheating, or even affecting gameplay, but is still downright annoying. For instance, there is a large percentage of youngsters who think that everyone else wants to listen to the music they are listening to, so they turn on their game microphones and crank their tunes. So I, and all their other teammates, have to listen to their crap.

At which point, I usually turn on my own headset (which I use sparingly, anyway), and say, “I don’t want to listen to that crap-- turn it off.”

The other night, I got a very nice response, which I had not heard since...well, let’s see...since I was a teacher, I think. The kid replied, “You’re not my father.”

Which might have been, in fact, true.

So I shot him. Which touched off another of those intra-team combats.

I had one on another night, where the kid just turned up the volume of his music when I asked him to turn it down or mute his mike. So I took my headset, found the most disgusting episode of Dan Savage’s podcast I could find in my iTunes (it dealt with “sounding”...if you don’t know what that is, don’t Google it, or you will be sorry), hit Play, and left my headset on top of the speaker of my laptop, in the other room, while I continued to take part in the game.

These are severe measures, to be used only when certain players are being complete assholes. Like when some kid on the opposing team tries to taunt me. I often reply with, “You know, I might be a bad player, but you’re really a bad kid. That’s why your parents got divorced.”

I don’t usually hear from them after that. I like to imagine them crying in their room.

There are also players who speak foreign languages into their headsets when they play, or those who will have conversations on their cell phones while their headsets are live, or have a dog barking, or a baby crying, while the game is going on. I don’t know why they think it’s so important to have the headset activated at these times. But they broadcast all of this, so we can hear it.

Another classy group of players are the racists: they will have screennames that include slurs and epithets directed at specific demographics...or screennames that promote a certain minority, nationality, or race. These people, I shoot on sight.

I know-- this is not the most mature response. But, well...we’re playing video games. Who ever thought maturity would be a part of that?

Entry the Forty-Eighth - Regrets
17 SEP 2011

We Regret To Inform You...

...unless you’re prancing around with feathers or fans or some other hokey gimmick in a 1930s burlesque show, you are a stripper, not an "exotic dancer."

...they will stop supporting your OS looonnnnng before they stop enforcing their copyright. And none of the legacy drivers will work with current machines.

...the funniest young writer of the moment is stuck writing for a horrible little Fargo newspaper, so you won’t get to see Adam Quesnell in person very soon.

...your invisible superfriend does not exist. None of them do. The universe is a big, cold, uncaring place, and you are but a speck of microgel that means nothing in the overall scheme of things.

...Keanu Reeves is still making "movies." This was not our fault. We had nothing to do with it. We didn’t even rent the headphones on the plane.

...quite a bit of your overall success or failure is down to luck. Of course, quite a bit of it is your fault, too.

...if history is any judge, just about everything you believe will be disproven within 300 years.

...none of the things you are afraid of are actually going to kill you: you will most likely die in your car or bathroom.

...as soon as the orgasm is over, the universe goes back to being exactly the way it was before.

...you are not big-boned. Nobody is.

...Vernor Vinge has a novel coming out this year. It’s a sequel to a book he wrote twenty years ago. We may have to wait another two decades to read the next one-- that’s the part we regret to inform you about. By that time, Ray Kurzweil is convinced that The Singularity will occur. Vinge created the concept of The Singularity. So....uhhh...that....just confused myself.

...you’re going to master that productivity software just in time for them to upgrade to the next version. All your hotkeys and shortcuts will be useless, and people half your age will be able to perform twice as much work in half the time with none of the experience.

...that was not caught from a toilet seat, the locker room, or a bench; they got it from rubbing up against someone else.

...in those places where they don’t collect income tax, they do collect exorbitant real estate taxes, taxes on “professional services” like haircuts, and a rather bizarre set of value-added taxes, use fees, and sales taxes.

...yeah, a sandwich sure would go great right about now. But you’re out of bread.

Entry the Forty-Seventh - True Dialogue

This is verbatim, including punctuation, except for my personal and account info, which I Xed. I am the “You” side of the conversation.

> Welcome to an online chat session at Bank of America. Please hold while we connect you to the next available Bank of America Online Banking Specialist. Your chat may be monitored and recorded for quality purposes. Your current wait time is approximately 0 minutes. Than you for your patience.

> Thank you for choosing Bank of America. You are now being connected to a Bank of America Online Banking Specialist.

Roger: Hello, my name is Roger. Thank you for choosing Bank of America and our Online Banking Text Chat service. May I have your full name and zip code as on your account?

You: Ben Malisow XXXXXX

Roger: Thank you, Ben

Roger: How may I help you today?

You: Roger, I gotta say, this process makes me REAL hesitant to bank online

You: Let me tell you a story...

You: I have an account with your bank. I’ve had it for over 20 years.

You: I tried to sign up for an online account a couple weeks ago, and went through all the rigamarole of SiteKey and ID and blah, blah, blah.

You: Because I don’t have any BofA cards, I had to pick an option where the bank mailed me a passcode.

Roger: I understand your concern regarding the Online account.

Roger: Please confirm the Online ID you are using.

You: Mailed me.

You: Like a letter.

You: In hardcopy.

You: In the 21st century.

You: Oh, I’m not done with my story, Roger.

Roger: Please give me the four digits of your account number.

You: So, last night, I try to logon with the passcode from the letter.

Roger: Okay, please go ahead.

You: It yanks my chain for ten minutes, then tells me I have to call the Customer Service number, during business hours, to resolve the problem.

You: So I do that just now. And the phone tree drops me. Seriously.

You: It goes to a recording of “your call cannot be completed as dialed,” AFTER I make six choices and three personal-info inputs.

You: So, right now, I’ve exposed all my banking data over the Internet, over the postal service, and over the phone....and still BofA won’t let me into my account online.

Roger: Okay.

Roger: Okay.

You: Honestly, this doesn’t seem like the tightest configuration in the world.

Roger: Okay.

You: It seems more like I’d do better with two Dixie cups and a length of string.

You: Now, you want me to reveal my data in a fourth medium, because the first three didn’t offer enough risk.

You: I’m not so sure I’m digging BofA right now...

Roger: Would you please give me the last four digits of your account number?


Roger: “I see that you have military accounts. While I am unable to assist you with military accounts through the civilian website, you will receive the best assistance by visiting our Military website at https://militarybankonline.bankofamerican.com/

Roger: You may also call us at 1.800.334.1920. We are available from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday CT.”


You: Awesome.

You: I am so printing this, and blogging it.

You: Thanks, man.

You: This was perfect.

Roger: You are welcome.

Roger: Is there anything else that I can assist you with today?

You: Oh, I really doubt it.

You: Have a great one, Rog.

You: Hasta.

Roger: You too!