Friday, September 30, 2005

The Intellectually Right May Still Be Luddites

Perhaps I disclose an editorial preference with this image from Picture Book, an "online resource for children's illustrators, publishers, and book lovers", a motto nervy enough to imply the dead-tree and digital spheres aren't inherently oppositional.

Here's a quickie round-up having to do with that anxiety-ridden first date between established content and new disseminating technology. Of course, a couple of these stories represent the hate-at-first sight phenomenon, but new technological capacities keep challenging how people think about the content accessed by them.

Google's Print Initiative has been scanning books into its databases to create an enormous online library. The Authors Guild's agin' it, saying authors won't be properly compensated and copyrights will be violated. Google disagrees. Emmett Tyrell wonders how we'll know if the content is intact, and the Grumpy Old Bookman thinks that we ought to let development flow and allow new markets to emerge.

I hope the print media is smarter than the record companies that fought the download trend for at least a decade, hauled 13-year olds into court, and assisted crippling their industry further while still managing at least to satisfyingly bilk the musical artists of their share, you'll be pleased to know. It seemed impossible for them to understand their young customers might like new ways of experiencing and receiving musical content, and the ones that could provide would make profits- hello iTunes.

I hope writers prove smarter, and push for more than protections from progress, and instead advance new thinking about how to be appropriately compensated in the digital realm. The key is solid, comprehensive access as much as trustworthy content, and that's the only hint I'll give.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

If I Close My Eyes Forever...

Gruesome but fake pic courtesy of Samurai Appliance Repair Man.

Most of today's posts are things that make me want to scratch my head at a minimum, but more likely bang it against something, not in the supercool rockin' way, but the self-inflicted concussion to allow me the sweet relief of unconsciousness kind of way.

First, however, Instapundit posted a round up of the reviews from the Serenity screening that I first mentioned here, and they were pretty positive. Now onto the crazy stuff.

2) Woman sitting on parkbench in NYC ticketed for not having children. Goal: reduction in creepy child-molesters targeting playgrounds, a terrifying possibility played up to support any sort of intrusion in gross denial of its actual probability. Effect: Another regulation, restriction, penalty and excuse for officers to harass someone about her personal life.

The Parks department explanation, which doesn't somehow comfort me, is that the cops aren't supposed to follow the letter of the law (oh no, why would we assume that?), but use their "common sense." In other words, this is another case for cops to become further habituated to ignoring laws or deciding unevenly to hammer the offenders. For the accused, however, once you're in the legal system, what's in black and white is what you can be held to by a thorny judge or prosecutor. Technicalities are the coursing splinters that pass for blood in the heart of the modern court. Is this really what we want? Regulations that aren't meant to be applied and restrictions on where you can sit in public? You know, I bet a clever criminal could find a way to put drugs or something into the playground water fountains to hurt a child or dummy their parent/caregiver so as to take advantage. We should probably segregate those as well.

3) David Cronenberg uses directing a racy scene as an excuse to make Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, and the film crew watch him have sex with his wife. Thanks, Defamer, I'll never sleep again without nighty-night head trauma.

4) Michelle Malkin pointed to this story from the always one-step-ahead Brussels Journal about the first trio civilly united in the Netherlands. Two of these people were already married before inviting a second woman around who abandoned her husband to cheat with the swinging crew. Apparently, eternal love ensued. The groom is reported to have said they want to take their marriage obligations seriously: “to be honest and open with each other and not philander.” Why yes, of course.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Peeping Tom, Religious Police, or Citizen Journalist?

This machine coos back. More here.

1) The British bellwethers, the cabbies, don't seem to know about blogging or podcasting in great numbers and confuse it with "dogging", calling up your friends to spy on people having sex in not-so private locations.

2) A British hospital bans "cooing" at babies as it offends their sacrosanct privacy.

3) The L.A. Times admits that the coverage during Katrina got overheated with unsupported rumors of deevolutionary descent into post-apocalyptic animalism. I hate the Times-Picayune's editor's defense that newsies were more likely to believe it because of the race of the people involved. What about the possibility that the media was willing to pimp the most outrageous stories (I grant the hapless PD Chief and Mayor pimped them, too) without video or on-site substantiation because it suited their salacious agenda? And what happens to Dan Rather's back pats about one of TV news' "finest moments" where they were "speaking truth to power" now? Other blogs I like have made this point, but I read theirs after I'd planned to make it, too, so I'm not crediting. This is simultaneous epiphany.

4) The fantastic Religious Policeman blog began in memory of 15 schoolgirls who died because the religious police wouldn't allow them to escape a burning building while the girls weren't wearing the correct abaya coverage to go outside. The firemen weren't allowed to help them because of their sinful state. Better they should burn in life than go to hell. In this post, the RP takes us on a tour of the real Saudi religious police website and their lists of forbidden items. You'd think it was the most wicked satire if you didn't know it was true.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Too Many Celebrities for My Liking, Yessiree

Image from here.

As numerous (and dare I suggest redundant) as the piercings in this man's face, so are the crowded constellations of stars demanding worship from the wage-slave just trying to get through a 33-hour week.

If you hadn't heard about the Oprah contretemp at the Hermes store in Paris, here's the scoop. The O felt snubbed by an employee who wouldn't let her and her companions (posse, entourage, minions, whatever) come in near closing time to begin shopping. This employee claimed not to know who the O was, and since we know that's not possible or permitted, the O knew her skin color was the most likely explanation.

After bullhorning the issue, she invited the president of Hermes America onto her show to prostrate himself and grovel for her forgiveness. She then extended her multimillion-dollar mitt of reconciliation, and consented to allow her hordes of hausfraus to continue patronizing the brand. The scene as recounted to me by someone who'd heard about it sounded distasteful. Even hardened media types who saw it seemed to sense it was an embarrassment Oprah inflicted upon herself topping anything one lowly store clerk or even assistant retail manager could achieve.

Here's the thing. In Europe, they don't like overtime, staying late, etc. They're famous for it. In France, they're also well-known for thinking they're "superior to everyone else". If you look or act less than French or have a less-than-native accent (quite apart from the obvious barbarism of speaking English in Paris), the inferior one is you. The couture and design houses require very wealthy and sadly brutish Yankee customers to maintain their etaliers, but they don't necessarily know (or want to know) every American who's made enough newly-risen dough to have an entourage. And neither do I. You could toss me in a shark tank of any-hued celebrities from television shows I don't watch or the band du microsecond, and I'd have no clue who they were as I repeatedly denied their outraged assertions of preference in my race to the surface. And I recognize even fewer foreign celebrities.

EDITORS NOTE: If Americans didn't lather the hindquarters of the heavily photographed and dubiously talented, perhaps U.S. celebrities wouldn't be so shocked by less than obsequious receptions in supposedly civilized foreign ports. Of course, if they'd really travel abroad, they'd find the kind of servitude and slavish devotion their little selves require easy and cheap to come by in the "developing world". For pennies and an ear of corn, you can have all the little people running at your beck and call you want. So many you won't be able to remember all their funny-sounding names. Enough to use as human ash trays and footstools All for you. So you may feel benevolent and important. END NOTE.

So Oprah the gazillionaire swings her considerable influence to castigate a company president, who is arguably beneath her, in vengeance for the activities of a peon, of course beneath her in every measure of personhood that matters. Grace is an antiquated discipline of consideration and generosity which can feel uncomfortable in practice, even painful. Its facility is enhanced through its exercise, but try to bestow it without training, and you're likely to cramp up. That's why modern celebrities avoid it, and hire stunt staff (assistants, reps, publicists) to be ingratiating for them. Sadly, many of these bright young things also fail, and now grace is less common than conversational Esperanto.

Though this O fiasco happened a couple of weeks ago, I was inspired to post on it belatedly by this new story with its whiff of familarity. Kanye West, who displayed his own selfish charmlessness during a telethon, was recently "snubbed" by a British club. Apparently, he will not be retaliating through lawsuit or as is more common (in every sense) by rapping them into submission for their misdeeds. But he's not as rich and famous as Oprah. Yet.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Maxwell Smart Agent Eighty-Sixed

The shamefully apt title fairly writes itself, no?
There were perhaps other things worth posting today, but none more important to me than this. I loved Get Smart in nontrivial amounts. Nice tribute article at MSNBC.

It is a credit to the man's professionalism as a trouper how many Don Adams with shoe phone pix there are to choose from. I liked this one posted at the Popular Culture Appreciation Society.

I am not making any predictions, and I am not smug in my sense of foreboding, but our recent bereavement of Gilligan and now Maxwell Smart must surely count as two of a kind. I deeply fear that Barney Fife may follow too closely for my liking. Oh, Heavenly Chorus of Comedy, take not Mr. Limpet and Mr. Chicken from us. Not yet, please.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Cherrypicking Better Blogs

Image from Japanese calendar here.

This'll be another mixed link dump, but big so it'll last you. Lately stories aren't gelling around any one topic for me, and I haven't been blazing blog trails. Is this a legit way to post? Scavenging other blogs for pre-chewed morsels? On with the clutter...

1) I, too, found it fascinating that the people on JetBlue flight 292 saw their peril on their seatback televisions where they watched coverage of what might have been their own dooms. McCannta calls it a post-postmodern moment. (hat tip: Michelle Malkin)

2) Mickey Kaus of Slate suspects the reason the NYT isn't bragging yet about the numbers of subscribers to its new premium service is that there aren't enough to impress, and the first week was supposed to be the strongest. Is MoDo hating the new strategy, and will she be the first over the wall that I mentioned here and here? (hat tip: Instapundit)

NOTE: I know it's lame for punified little me to credit gigundous blogs when they link stories. They don't need the extra traffic, and it makes me look like I read nothing else. However, I have this niggling honor thing in the base of my skull that makes me do it, so just ignore, please.

3) Vodkapundit highlights this article where France is doing something in favor of liberty (for a change) by helping foreign bloggers stay anonymous and dodge the censors. San Francisco's Electronic Frontier Foundation has apparently been publishing something similar, but not so much for avoiding physical oppression, but avoiding the pointy-haired one, Dilbertwise.

4) Althouse mentioned this NYT story about the huge strollers that obstruct and bulldoze the pedestrian throughways around here. The photos used are not good examples of prime offenders, as her commenters noticed. However, her comments section also shows how people go from zero to extreme hyperbole when they think their children or style of parenting are being questioned. This is a super touchy subject here on the island, especially during the day when the double-wide strollers roam in packs barely herded by mothers and nannies simultaneously yelling into their cell phones, lacing dog leashes onto their handles, throwing out offhand scraps of baby talk to placate the kids, and generally forming a menace either oblivious or confrontational to anyone around them. I didn't even find the article that negative, but Althouse's commenters who were parents felt differently. This is a real social divide with hard feelings on both sides, but I'm not sure there's any way around it. Non-parents just have to suck up the bad attitudes, frazzlement, and harsh judgment of the rest- no one will acknowledge your equal rights, so save your heat for other battles.

5) The irreplaceable Lileks riffs on modern art after reading a book about Michaelangelo and another about Grant Wood. The whole thing is worthwhile, and includes his hilarious visual examples of the points below. He notes:

Well, some styles deserved to be ranked over others. Perhaps Spanish isn’t superior to Italian, but a language that has 16 tenses and 2 million words is superior to one that has only the present tense and 1500 nouns, because it is capable of expressing more, and expressing it with greater detail and precision. This is why Shakespeare is superior to a knock-knock joke...In any case, Raphael could do Albers, but I am quite certain Albers could not do Raphael, anymore than John Lennon could score a symphony. Complexity and sophistication count for something; if they didn’t, you’d hire the man who designed the Port-A-Potty to design your dream house. Hey, it has walls and a hole.

These last two items I discovered on my lonesome, and I was so frightened by it that I nearly wet me-self. But I flap along unsteadily, a lone birdy kicked from the cozy nest to present my own trifling trophies of fool's gold to you.

6) People need to consider the consequences of taxing their ears at all times without the recovery of quietude. The little hairlike cilia inside the ear vibrate to translate sound, and if they're on the audio equivalent of triple espresso 24/7, they lose their ability to respond sensitively to highs and lows. This is a hot topic for me since I'm an auditory learner principally, but even after rocking the big amps of noise for many years, I still have unusually good hearing. I overhear way too many conversations, and I can hear a dog bite down on something the wrong texture for food from an adjoining room, but I also find much of the prevalent public wallpaper of music and media noise disturbing. I also find poor sound quality like nasty buzz and hiss almost painful. I credit the preservation of my post-rock hearing to the occasional earplug that cut the highest frequencies, and that I intermittently jam on the wall of silence and give the ears a rest. In Manhattan, even the silence is full of sound.

7) Does today's wacky kicker qualify me for a theme a la guinea-pig redux (item 9)? This Reuters article is about the lengths people will go to manfacture unique oddities for the Guinness World Book of Records. Sooty, the Welsh guinea pig received Valentines from 206 admirers.

Friday, September 23, 2005

coffee, Coffee, COFFEE!

Image from Ephemera Now

How do I love thee? So much that's it's a cruel joke that as I write this post, I'm drinking green tea, having run out of my fave beans (any beans) yesterday. Last year, I joined a coffee group which is supported by SCAA, the Specialty Coffee Association of America. I went to the first meeting, because I lova the java, but I learned so much about how it's grown and how to taste it and the amount of precision that the savvy apply to roasting and grinding and brewing. Are there gadgets and gauges and Felix Ungerlike levels of persnicketiness, you ask? Heck, yeah. As tweaky as you like it.

But as I began learning more about the vast international trade, I thought it would also be the perfect setting for a suspense novel. There have been recent historical novels like The Coffee Trader by David Liss and a mystery about a coffee shop owner called Uncommon Grounds by Sandra Balzo. (The world of coffee is much like the world of hair salons in which the puns get heavily recycled for ecological reasons.) However, there's nothing quite like what I'm plotting, so if you guess don't steal it, you lilylivered codswallow.

The volunteer consumer liaison (or some title like that) for the SCAA coffee group has her own coffeecentric blog named bread coffee chocolate yoga after her many enthusiasms. It was that blog that pointed to this great Guardian article that gives an overview of the trip from bush to cup. The article also shows why it's nicer to drink coffee when you know where it came from. Not only will it not be part of an ever-morphing blend that shifts varying levels of less pleasant beans into the mix as prices dictate, it will undoubtedly taste better and will help promote reasonable pricing to the farmers and pickers.

This isn't just a warm fuzzy thing, although I encourage you to feel good about yourself for drinking fine coffee. It's more like finding a wine or a cheese you like- anything where the region and consistency of ingredients make a difference to the outcome. Coffee's still a world where you can sell the silo-sized generic cans at the grocery without disclosing what's in them specifically. When each growing area's uniqueness of flavor isn't prized (or even acknowledged), prices fall, and the blenders swap in whatever's cheapest from wherever. This pits coffee farmers in a race to the bottom for prices. But what about the quality then, the taste?

Certified cuppers can verify where beans came from based on their complex taste and aroma signatures. I'm no expert, but I've now tasted enough different "single-origin" coffees to know they differ widely and that I enjoy some more than others. I know I could tell an Ethiopian Yrgacheffe (spelled right) from a Sumatran. A Stilton cheese has to be to be labeled that way, so does a Bordeaux, but for the biggest selling coffee blends, you don't get to know what's going to be inside.

Now, I purchase single- origin coffees and careful blends from a nice local roaster , but not just because I want to help profits get back to the source by creating a stronger market for coffee by origin. No, No- benevolence isn't usually enough of a reason large numbers of people to pay a little more, and it isn't necessary here. The free market can help people simply through a larger exposure to the divinely wonderful indulgence of drinking MAGNIFICENT COFFEE!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Raymond Carver, Shakespeare, and the Velveteen Rabbit

There are updates on several recent stories and new stuff. So much that if I don't crank it out thoughtlessly, I'll be too intimidated by the amount I've accumulated.

1) The NYT fights back. John Tabin reports they're asking their syndication partners to put the op-ed columnists behind their own pay walls, so there'll be no freebie peeks from other papers that carry them. The partners are complying. Congratulations, NYT, you've put your columnists in a tower, dug a moat, and erected spiky bits around that. Certainly, we'll all find it worth paying through the nose or running the gauntlet to get to them. Which columnist will start his/her own blog first to reconnect with lost readership?

2) Michael Fumento, who's all over the FDA/Big Pharma beat, is reporting the resumption of sales of the MS wonder drug, Tysabri. If I incur a life-threatening, life-altering degenerative condition, and there's something with a chance to help me and I'm willing to accept the risks, I don't care if you Black Box the label, put a skull and crossbones on it, make the pharmacist pinky-swear me not to sue, but LET ME HAVE IT!

(UPDATE: Michael Fumento is a discredited creep. Your humble author still agrees with the conclusions he draws because of my own experience as a human and from working in the field. However, I must alert you that this link may be dead, as this man was, quite unfortunately, a paid mouthpiece.)

3) In other news from Townhall, though this story is published across the blogosphere, bloggers who promise to write something (anything) about the new Joss Whedon film Serenity are being invited to advance screenings. If you're available (unfortunately I am pre-booked on NYC's screening date for something I'm actually paying to attend), you can use this form to register. I'm a Whedon fan, a scifi fan, and I love me some free movies. Plus, there's the balmy flattery of being approched as a legitimate opiner and not a freaky crank. There've been a lot of alternative marketing strategies attempted lately, like the free DVD previews of Stealth given away at Circuit City. My understanding is that Stealth wasn't much of a movie- I hope this one doesn't disappoint. I still think a good film with any kind of distribution sells itself. We'll see if this hop-skip over traditional media pays off with the good buzz they want. I look forward to the reviews.

4) Here's a WSJ freebie article reviewing hand-cranking radios and chargers if the last few weeks have you thinking about your own emergency kit. Besides, who doesn't love a new gadget?

5) In 1981, Raymond Carver wrote this essay on what attracted him to the short story form. It's good with lots of harvestable quotes from other authors. (hat tip: Arts & Letters Daily)

6) For years now, I've been scratching my own head at the unthinking, nodding agreement among many that all cultural manifestations are equally valuable and worthy. Here's a graphic reminder of how the stricter elements of the Muslim world under sharia treat gays on the days they don't stone or hang them. Women don't get it any better. Sweet, really, love it. Try to imagine the Berkeley, California or even the Backwater, America city council making a ruling like this and see if it ain't a misfit. And don't talk to me about occasional incidents which have regrettfully occurred, but which are criminal acts and widely condemened. To make an apt comparision, you'll have to find me a local municipality with endemic, institutionalized, and celebrated brutality without recourse. Why aren't the majority of prominent gay and women's advocacy voices speaking out night and day? I can't begin to explain that.

7) Was Shakespeare a dissident Catholic who infused biting political commentary into his work? Once the scholars hash over it for a bit, we'll see if they agree. Then again, do they ever?

8) 10 years from now, this titanic wool bunny, dubiously labeled (today) as art will be as smelly a monument to mildew, vermin, mold, and insect life as you're likely to see in all of Italy, including youth hostels. And there will still be a decade of pink pestilence to go...

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Puppy's in a Cona

I know, I know, it's serious.

I didn't go to the Gaiman signing, and will have to settle for reading a non-uniquely dedicated copy of his latest, because my very finely inbred Boston Terrier had another eye problem. No usual tomato redness, corneal dystrophy, ulcer, or cyst, this new irritation included a never before seen phenomenon: a rheumy blue cast over his whole right eye- the one with the most other troubles if you must know. In our attempts to keep him from blindness and maintain the cuteness standard to which we've become accustomed, I ran him to the vet's and spent the evening supervising his 6 different eyedrop administrations and looking for improvement.

E voila- today the red is gone. The rheum remains, and I have hope that this is another temporary and correctable, though expensive and surely uncomfortable, ailment caused by the chronic instability of the opticus bostonian.

People around the blogosphere are talking (typing) about the New York Times who this week put its op-ed columnists behind a premium subscription wall, thus guaranteeing- to most bloggy minds- that they will dwindle into insignificance. I dislike Krugman who distorts facts and Dowd who doesn't use them and to whose acclaimed wit I am sadly immune. I find Rich boringly predictable and unthoughtful in his opinions, too, though I often like Kristof and Brooks and sometimes Friedman and Tierney and very occasionally Herbert. But I will care for none of them when I can no longer read them or share them for less than 50 bucks per annum. Of course, John Tabin is doing what he can to help defray costs.

As I've said to friends and other unlucky listeners, I'd happily put serious cash on the barrelhead for a site where I could get trustworthy facts. Other online commenters echo the sentiment.

Vodkapundit on the newly announced (synchronous?) 500 job cuts from the NYT: Opinions are cheap. Everybody has one and, as the blogosphere has shown, it doesn't take any superhuman skill to express an opinion in a readable way. Reporting is expensive. Not everyone has the time to go out and find stories. Not everyone can afford a research staff. Not everyone has the skill to develop and maintain useful contacts... But is it really in their best interest to wring extra money out of Maureen Dowd, if they're going to cut back on the reporters who do the only work there worth paying for? Read the whole thing.

Instapundit Glenn Reynolds in a radio interview with Hugh Hewitt posted on RadioBlogger (how's that for new media confluence?) said: I think...the New York Times thinks it's going to make money selling op-eds, but hard news reporting is the killer at [app] for news media organizations. If they want to come up with opinion, they're competing with guys like me, and we can kick Paul Krugman's butt any day. If they do hard news gathering, and they actually report what's happening, and they report it straight and fast, they can go toe to toe with blogs pretty darn well.

The conversation began with discussion of Katrina and the preparations for Rita, not only in Louisiana but in Houston where evacuations are beginning. Hugh points out how the Houston Chronicle has tooled up its blog apparatus which combined with a round-up page of important information and links and its interactive forums will provide real time, on-the-scene usefulness rather than the canned videos we all weary of seeing and the fatuous talking heads providing traumatized commentary. The Chronicle will be my first stop for updates, but that's after my storm novena (no pun intended) that Rita be persuaded to amend her wickedness for a different course and a milder aspect.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Artsy, The Scary, The Corrupt

Scary Corrupt Clown mask available here

The NYT still does arts right.
1) Moscow Cat Theatre comes to Tribeca.
2) More metalheads that aren't meatheads.
3) Clarinetist accompanies bird songs, and the birds jam along.

Canadians are scaring me.
4) A silent tectonic event is shifting Vancouver island and seismologists think it may signal a massive earthquake, The Big One.

No matter how low you've fallen, some snake-bellied subterranean will try to steal from you.
5) There's tremendous fraud and waste in disaster payouts.
6) New Jersey arrested this Katrina scammer.
7) Mugabe says Zimbabweans aren't starving, they're just corn-loving finicky eaters.

I have so many stories I could link that contradict this, one about people reduced to eating whatever they find and the rates of starvation, about farmers enthusiastically using USAID programs to grow traditional, drought-resistant small grains like sorghum and millet, about hungry children with a life expectancy in their thirties, but why should I argue? The real Mugabe is as contemptible and ridiculous as any satirical dictator one could write. Sadly, it's not just two-dimensional squiggles this guy's killing.

Monday, September 19, 2005

I'm Up to Here with Gaiman!

I don't know Steve or Cheryl and didn't attend the 2003 nuptials in Missouri, but it's what I got when I typed "up to here" into Google images. I'd feel less conflicted about using you, my many-tentacled Googie darling, if you'd stop caving to The Party in Beijing. Anyway, this pic shows my frustration level with well-known writers that I'd jealously despise except for my admiration and enjoyment, dammit. Enough already, Gaiman. Coffee Break Time! Take Pratchett with you!

I hadn't intended to become merely a tout site (not to be confused with tout de suite) for authors who are arguably way better than I am and inarguably more successful.

But Fall is book season, and the new releases are thicker on the ground than lost leaves, at least here in Manhattan where bookstores' dead trees vastly outnumber the living variety. This provides much to desire and acquire, more to read over the winter, and many events to attend.

Today's news is Gaiman (again) who also has a busy and well-read blog that's way better than mine. His new book is Anansi Boys which follows up with the world created in American Gods that I so adored. Since I'm going to his signing tomorrow, I thought I'd highlight this auction he spearheaded to support free speech for writers and artists. His participation (in addition to other barely-known authors like Stephen King, Michael Chabon, Nora Roberts, Lemony Snicket, and John Grisham) have made this eBay character sell-off a success for the First Amendment Project.

On a side note, can you explain to me why the wired-up MSNBC posts this web story about an online auction without including links to either the auction or the organization? Even a rube like me can (and did) provide that service as part of the complete information package. Just asking.

UPDATE: Can you believe it's after 5pm, and I missed that today is Talk Like a Pirate Day?! Avast ye, seadogs, time's a wastin'.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Doonan and Gaiman, Static and Psychics. Nano!

1) Two days ago, I got the iPod nano as a surprise, bonus birthday gift. It is so very sleek and so very tiny. I'd been reading and watching promos about it, but I was actually shocked anew as I opened the smallish box and saw the much, much smaller device inside. I half-filled it with about 500 songs, and carried it with me yesterday. During my travels, I arrived at a place with painfully static-buzzed radio, and I could've (should've) used it. But I forgot I had it with me. Is it because it's so darn small, or because I'm not indoctrinated by the all pod- everyone pod culture yet? I'm trying to drink the Kool-Aid, but I haven't quite...Here's more on the nanostic greatness by the David Pogue of the NYT and the associated geeky video shows a few new ways to use it.

2) I wonder whether Doonan's contract is up for renegotiation, because he is everywhere. Here are his latest musings on the five fashion books one must own. His digs at today's glamour sadcats bring joy to my stone-cold heart.

3) Speaking of dressing, this Australian man paired the wrong fabrics and created a static charge of 40,000 volts that ignited a carpet fire.

4) Turns out that the Hollywood version of Beowulf I feared is being co-written by Neil Gaiman. Though I find that a more hopeful sign than the fact Robert Zemeckis is producing, perhaps not even Gaiman, interviewed here, can outmaneuver the Left Coast's inexorable lust for creating predictably insipid stories told poorly. (hat tip: Grumpy Old Bookman)

5) Reuters reports that an Italian psychic led authorites to a missing woman whose body was found in a lake. Did she merely persist in the most logical inference after others gave up, or was her inspiration something more? We don't yet have iron-clad corroboration of anyone solving these cases in modern times with any vision more specific than "she's near water", the kind of suggestion which is later interpreted to mean a lake, a pool, a rain gutter or damp basement as circumstances require. It interesting though. I hope she can find more missing people for the families now contacting her for help. Then we'd really have some proof to dig into.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Compared to Pratchett's, My Prose is Deathless

Here for more of Paul Kidby's Discworld Art.

but last night, I skipped it to see Terry Pratchett at Barnes and Noble on the West Side. What I'd expected to be a signing was in fact a "happening" where he spoke a bit, took questions, and then signed like a machine I'm sure he wished he were allowed to use.

I was early enough to get a seat, and the people around me were pleasant geeks of all ages, including the children who are fans of his Wee Free Men and Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents. If you're not a fan yet, it's not too late. You'll find satire of almost any large subject amid the wordplay and slapstick. In fact, there's a guide to the parodies at the website above diplaying topics for mockery within the various books.

The cat-loving Death is one of my favorite recurring characters, especially accompaied by the eyeball-lusting raven, his horse Binky, and Death of Rats. I also favor the sweeper and history monk Lu-Tze and Susan Sto Helit with special regard, but not one of Pratchett's 33 Discworld books (which have been transmuted into games, musical theatre, non-musical theatre, and collectible stamps and figurines) is without laughs and deep, stabby japes at something or other that deserves them.

Pratchett was wry and funny in person, which was pleasant given that I no longer expect writers to be good off paper. However, it was also depressing for those of us (me) who already feel hack-like by comparison. I don't know if he's truly happy, but he seemed content enough. Up close, he was tidy-looking and clean-smelling as he signed my book, nothing there to console myself with.

Thanks for continuing to write, Mr. Pratchett. But think about becoming less prolific and cultivating bad B.O. just to give the rest of us a break, okay?

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Berkeley Sues Applicant over Fat Cat's Urinalysis

A kitty picture's too easy here. See Doonan's creds. Wouldn't you hate to recognize yourself as one of these anonymous waistlines always used as stock footage when TV does obesity stories?

1) It's easier to back up electronic data than years of progressively treated urine samples, for example. Behind lives and livelihoods, ruined research is another serious loss from Katrina.

2) At "progressive" bookstore City Lights in Berkeley, still-professor Ward Churchill's plagiarism-whiffed, faux-Indian screeds are a-okay, but Orianna Fallacci's warnings about the violent, regressive, homophobia of Islamofascism is too heinous to stock. This is what mere "open-mindedness" has been reduced to, illogical and self-destructive political conformity.

3) Tort reform on the move in Mississippi, and so far, it's apparently helping.

4) A rather thoughtful article on the kneejerk, moralising hatred of fat Americans by ourselves and the rest of the world. Daniel Ben-Ami points out how the secular left claims to believe in no god and therefore no sin as such, but hold up gluttony as an immoral corruption. Forget freedom over your own body if you prefer to skip Pilates and Kabbalah water for an extra croissant. The overeater deserves the harshest judgment, and society must control your base appetites for food if you cannot and will not yourself.

Now I, too, admit to wondering what friends and family did as certain unfortunate people ballooned to 500+ pounds, requiring removal by industrial cranes to hospital facilities. When you can no longer move to get the food, a diet ought to be a logical certainty. Just because you've become accustomed to a pound of bacon a day doesn't mean I'll bring it to you if you've become incapacitated by your own size. But we could easily wonder the same kinds of things about drug addicts or gamblers within loving families, and we'd be called insensitive, unrealistic jerks. The coastal types who forgive endless addictions, betrayals, adulteries, and pederasty among their own would cry fascism over mandated birth control for the unmarried young and poor, though (the notion is also against my ideals of individual freedoms) it would likely reduce the future number of poor, as births to young women out of wedlock before marriage are chief predictors of lasting poverty. But be fat, and you're lucky to get even their pity much less their defense. Contempt and a call for national exercise boot camps is more like it.

Ben-Ami also reminds us that productivity isn't a zero-sum game- our plenty isn't stealing from anyone else's. We could easily (provided politics aligned) employ the methods that have made our food cheap and plentiful to help painfully malnourished waistlines around the world.

5) I always find Simon Doonan , Barney's creative director, refreshing in opinion, expression, and aesthetics. As to his Hello Kitty/Simpsons nativity: it is retail, darling, relax a bit. In a long piece for a fashion magazine whose name I can't recall, he wrote wittily but also with touching realism (though he may just be a splendid liar) about his mother, notably the evolution and later intractability of her signature, beehive-esque hairstyle. In this Post feature, he consults job seekers.

6) I do not own cats, but owning dogs hasn't ever made me hostile to them. But still, I assess myself as inordinately fascinated by catblogging. You tell me why. Thanks to Defamer, to the irreplaceable Daily Kitten, I now must add Stuff on My Cat and Cats In Sinks.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Sporty Weenies and Placebos

Russell Gordon lithograph from Lakeside Gallery

1) Although the article's authors take pains to make it seem otherwise, we all know that hot dogs are health food! See hot dog diet with dubious Chuck Norris participation here.
(hat tip: Instapundit, doesn't need the credit, but my honor obliges me.)

2) Extreme sports? Frilly lace-covered endeavors compared to horseback riding. Riding is great, but it's forever been risky. You'd know if you'd talked to Madonna or Christopher Reeve. Even our own Bummer Girl once took a hellacious spill from a future hot dog. (hat tip: Arts & Letters Daily)

3) Finally, there's proof that the placebo effect results from real chemical changes in our bodies, thanks to our own internal pharmacies. Now, how will we use it to treat pain and disease? (hat tip: ME, you ingrates! I do find some of this crap on my own.)

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

My God's Great Enough to Take a Joke

If you hadn't heard, Britain has pending a Racial & Religious Hatred Bill that will institutionalize thin-skinned, thoughtless, reactionism and penalize mere opinion and satire as "hate speech." Let me note that, as in the above linked article, politicians are facile with rationalizations of how such restrictive legislation will NOT be used, but if the language of the law doesn't specifically exclude it, the law will inevitably be used in exactly the way promised against. (See Item 6, Senator Akaka's use of official apology to institute Hawaiian apartheid as one recent example.) This PC swath of legislation against hate which besets America, too, is all about the nanny state now turning mind-reader. We will meddle in all your private behaviors for your own good, and our new improved version judges you for your thoughts as well.

If you kill someone, it isn't enough anymore that murder's against the law, we have to administer further punishment if you had an unacceptable loathing in your heart and mind. Once I'm killed, I doubt it will matter to me whether it was a crime of passion or hatred. The punishment for stealing my freedom and potential should be based on the damage to me and society at-large, not on the killer's intent. This trend of considering an individual emotion's over uniform mores of peace and civility, alleged intent over concrete actions, is pervasive, pernicious addle-brained nonsense that is a blight upon free-thinking individuals everywhere.

From comedians to church leaders and sensible non-hysterics everywhere, many people who believe healthy psyches and societies shouldn't perish under jokes or criticism oppose this nightmarish, intrusive legislation. One result was the following contest, The Laugh Judgement, where 4,000 people voted on 700 religious jokes to determine the funniest and most offensive for public performance.

Keep it up, ya'll. There is no freedom where thoughts and speech are abridged, and life's unbearable without laughter.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Little Slice of Heaven

I always love Ephemera Now, and this picture struck me as comprehensive bliss, if the man is pointing down the nectar-blossomed hill towards something flashing in the starlight, something eerie and sinister that is.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Earth's Tigers and The Inky Finger of Classic Art

Minature donkey named Tiger courtesy of K&K ranch

I finally feel back in the saddle with this potpourri of the topical, trivial, and artistic.

1) More than half a century after honing a cheap version of the ballpoint pen, Bic, the French firm which built an empire out of making things to be thrown away, said on Thursday it had sold its 100 billionth -- 100,000,000,000th --- disposable ballpoint. The Biro, as some call it, is an everyday marvel that remade the world. Hail and gratias to Baron Marcel Bich!

2) The postscript of an outrage never receives as much play as the initial accusations, so I will tell you that the lovely couple who tried to defraud Wendy's with an acquaintance's finger pled guilty to conspracy and grand theft.

3) In other fraudulent food news, a Chinese restaurant charging steeply for entrees containing endangered Siberian tigers is busted for actually serving donkey meat spiked with tiger urine. The urine's got all the mojo anyway.

4) For those offended by the mere suggestion that women and men differ, or for those who consider what used to be considered classic is simply overhyped irrelevance, it must be discouraging to see this report about a popular teacher successfully using classical literature to expose young men to historical ideals and the critical masculine virtue of self-mastery. (hat tip: Power Line)

5) We've just discovered that Earth's core rotates faster than its surface. Thinking of the planet with a solid core, fluid layers, and solid surface reminds me of luscious chocolate enrobing a gooey center suspending a delicious treat in the center. Geology is so scrumptious. What does it mean? Well, once again, the planet is different than we thought, and we'll have to adapt our theories to fit the new evidence. That's why I so disdain inflexible mindsets among people who claim to be scientists. Secondly and quite practically, the pattern of future earthquakes may become more predictable.

6) I know I've been grousing recently about the assumptive homogeneity of opinion among denizens of my new home town. But I do understand the lure of the warm bath of consensus. I guiltily felt it myself reading the following Times excerpt from Brit Clive Owens (hat tip: Roger L.Simon)

The melancholy truth is that 95 per cent of the arts “community” is so committed to its party line that the notion that others might hold a different view on the great issues of the day barely registers. I can’t think of a sweeter irony than the fact that people who devote so much energy to condemning the conformism and dogmatism of Middle America often turn out to be the most conformist and dogmatic folk of them all. There’s a school of thought that George W. Bush has been a blessing for artists, shaking them out of their inertia and forcing them to confront daily realities. Sadly, the opposite is the case. What looks like radicalism is actually the most tired form of complacency. If I didn’t know better, or if I were Sam Shepard, I’d say it’s all a CIA conspiracy to neuter the arts —and the Left in general.

Art always suffers under uniformity, don't let the kids wearing Soviet-bloc logos fool you. Art must represent a unique perspective to last beyond its era as anything but time capsule fodder. I promise to applaud beauty and wicked cleverness in whatever form it comes, but the last decade or two (even three) of ham-handed, message-anchored "art" has become far mustier and duller for me than the antiquities which now refresh with their lasting vigor and glorious grace.

P.S. It's my bday. Mark my words. It's going to be a great year.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Weeping for Love and Laughs Lost

(Man Ray's Tears from Portugese Back to the Future site here)

Blogger and my internet were gacked until now. This topic is a rip-off from Althouse, but it made a point I've been feelin' lately.

The Daily Show isn't so funny to me anymore, and it used to be my beloved favorite, though I still love Stephen Colbert and This Week in God is a treat. Nor as laughariffic as I seem to recall it is The Onion. Althouse's comments section has some suggestions as to why. Have they attached too much to an agenda and lost the relaxed detachment that makes for the funny?

I still think Jon Stewart is quick and witty, but as he gets higher profile guests. it's hard for him to berate people whose jobs he respects, and the softball interviews are dull. It's also tough to do less prominent topics and authors with an audience that doesn't give a rat's rump for John Irving, for example. I applaud that TDS tries, but it doesn't work as well with their crowd, and faced with crickets chirping, Stewart has a tendency to jump manically for the life preserver of a predictable drug/sex joke to reconnect.

As my disaffection grows, I weep evermore for the loss of the truly breathtakingly Tough Crowd . At first, I hated it and thought it was idiotic. Maybe it was, but it did really did stomp over the carcasses of the sacred cows, pounding stakes in them from every direction. Brutally, horrifyingly amusing.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

No Pirates Today, Just Big- Mouthed Cabbies

I had planned a festival of pirate-related entries, but today a cabbie irked me, and now I'm not in the mood. Such a trembling lily, you say? Screw you, too.

I've mentioned before that in NYC people routinely bring up the most divisive and heated topics as (un)pleasant small talk because of their downright European conviction that no one could possibly think elsewise.

So a cabbie I had today tried to continue his conversations from a previous passenger about Hurricane Katrina. I didn't volunteer word one, he kept talking, wouldn't drop it. I won't tell you what he wanted to have seen- it isn't my point- but it was actually from the times of FDR and I Like Ike. When I mentioned a contrary argument using examples of the 4 hurricanes in Florida last year and also the San Francisco earthquake, he said "that was a different time." He kept on and on with it though he was visibly disturbed by my opposition, and raised his voice repeatedly to interrupt me. On my part, I was annoyed by his lack of factual support for any of his points as well as his spitty elocution. Ah well. I shut the door still not believing that a non-disastrous, political situation from 60+ years ago was completely relevant to the events at hand. But it didn't matter, because his point was to apply blame at high volumes while achieving the head-nodding consensus people in NYC seem to assume as their right no matter how controversial or complex the topic.

In this catastrophe, I have decided the names of the sinkholes into which I pour my greatest personal scorn, but there's more than enough blame to spread around, as well as too much unsung bravery, strength, and generosity of spirit. First and most of all, I attribute this calamity to Katrina. Then, the nightmarish cataclysm was combined with what may be usual (though here they became lethal) quantities of bureauocratic paralysis, corruptions, and incompetencies across various levels. That some people failed and some people broke bad under incredible stress isn't surprising. That public monies assigned to protect against similar situations seems to have been misapplied is disappointing, too, but not unprecedented. That people avoided "crying wolf" until it was too late to cry for anything but salvation seems a poor economy now, but many such bullets have been dodged before. That Americans' typically sunny optimism often fails to take appropriately grim measures for horrible outcomes isn't surprising either. However, the response of other citizens, communities, organizations, charities, companies, and churches is more energetic and coordinated, self-sacrificing and utilitarian than I could've dreamed.

Let other people work on who's to blame and fix it if they can. I'm focusing on the first proposal for the future I've heard that I can support. Recently, Congress and the President signed a hideously porklicious highway bill after it was trimmed down slightly from a criminal obscenity to merely appalling gluttony. How's about we redirect some of that bacon sandwich to areas of the country that will surely need it?

UPDATE: Apparently it's not just me and the Heritage Foundation. The NYT's editorial staff chimed in today favoring ham donations, too.

I will get back to my beloved pirates soon, because I find them as refreshing as a tall glass of lemonade. Still, I wish New York in general would leave me alone, stop begging for my attention and intruding upon me, quit with so much of the non-stop noisy blah-blah and keep its big trap shut. Won't happen.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Moronic Opening of the Otherwise Excellent Closer

Since returning to increased leisure, I've been catching up on my TiVo backlog of TV crime. I hadn't been a huge Kyra Sedgwick fan previously, but I'm really enjoying her in TNT's The Closer. This series has a wonderful ensemble cast that finally includes pleasingly crusty, older cops that resemble the detectives I've met. It has interesting plots enlivened by tiers of political wrangling. Most importantly, Sedgwick's very good as the anchor character of Brenda Lee Johnson, a Georgia-born and CIA-trained interrogator transplanted from Atlanta PD under an ethical cloud to become Deputy Chief of a high profile crime squad in LaLa Land that reports to her former, married lover, the Chief of Police. Enough fish-out-of-water backstory complications for you?

Many "edgy" shows overuse the jarring device of canted camera angles and quick cuts to add action to a program type which needs development of mental conclusions and, therefore, can easily become a Dragnet-style narrative or stilted conversation between people who already ought to know the information they're querying from each other. Instead, in The Closer, there's a notable amount of physicalization in Sedgwick's role and in much of the rest of the cast's which is welcome and enriching. They could add more and I'd still love it. It's nice when the actors get to tell at least part of their stories without voices, otherwise we could listen to an audiobook instead. I don't believe I've ever heard BLJ confess or even discuss at length her weakness for sweets and battle with cravings, though any regular viewer knows about it. Actually, contrary to the common trend of cop-to-cop total disclosure, Brenda reflexively keeps secrets from her superiors and staff, and plays out her hypotheses in front of them and us. That's a real strength of the show, though there are, of course, weaknesses.

The show's premise collapses unless lots of people decline representation, so everyone must recieve his or her rights and decide to walk into the southern-fried woodchipper nonetheless. Apparently BLJ forgot her own CIA roots in a recent episode where she's blasting the FBI under an assumption that they will de facto torture her suspect whom they've coopted as a possible terrorist. I think the writers tried to be "balanced" with this hot topic, but having an American-raised Muslim man assault his mother in a crowd of police at the station while failing to notice BLJ saying "record this" isn't any more believable than Brenda's confidence that if her questioning failed, no one will bother confining him and asking again. Get out the truncheons! Let the Egyptian police beat it out of him! Still, I generally find the series believable, applying the TV standard of the term to a form that would be unentertaining if realistic in comprehensive detail or elapsed time.

The Closer remains surprising, quirky and human (not pompous or disaffected) despite being dark, a tone which always appeals in a crime series. However, for the entire season, I've winced during the warning that precedes the show:

The following program may have content that is sensitive to some viewers. Viewer discretion is advised.

Yikes. I think they mean to say that the content may be disturbing to sensitive viewers, and that's true of any program depending on where your hot buttons are located. The current, mushy definition of sensitive is less useful than the simple fact that the graphic consequences of violent crime will be shown. But based on how this statement actually reads, I've been trying to alter the program with my concentrated brain rays all season and I don't believe I've changed one syllable of dialogue or one post-it note on the cluttered set. Guess I'm not one of the "some viewers" to whom the show's content is sensitive. But, if they change this blatant malapropism for next season, I'll change my perception of my own incredible powers. Why start any smart show with stupidity?

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Gilligan Update- Requiescat In Pace

Yesterday, only one of these angels sang with the heavenly chorus. Today, our little buddy ineptly serves the Big Skipper in the sky.

No More Travelin' Promises, My Threat to the Nation

I was genuinely sorry to neglect you while finishing the ms, but still I posted intermittently. Then, I promised to post while traveling, and failed more miserably even than while traveling in June. I've learned that if the local situation isn't totally copacetic in terms of technology and time, I brush off blogging until later, and later doesn't always come. Here we are, almost a week later- and a big one it was- and I'm finally back.

The convention was good, immersive and tiring, but very useful and interesting.

I'll make this brief, just a toe back into the water, no pun intended. I may in the future have deep commentary about the hurricane et al, but at the moment, I'm satisfied that everything I'd say is being said elsewhere and better.

So here's an only tangentially related item: When I flew home, with the exact same bags and contents as on my departure, the X-rayer observed something verboten in my suitcase. A screener pulled my bag aside for examination, and asked me to guide her to where the pointy object was. I'd forgotten and put nail scissors inside my toiletry kit as I'd carried them on my last road trip. Between the options of checking my carry-on (impractical for my standby flight) or losing the scissors, the Tweezerman pair bit the dust.

Do I need to say that my nail scissors were buried so deeply within my bag and two different subpouches that there'd be no way to extricate them during flight unnoticed? Do I have to say that anyone facing otherwise certain death would not hesitate to face down a pair of two inch scissor blades with their fat seat cushion/flotation device? Of course, my pocket knife (which includes folding scissors) that I'd uncharacteristically left attached to my keyring before air travel went undetected on both trips.

The woman who searched my bag and confiscated my scissors was alert, courteous, and speedily efficient. What a waste of someone like that.