Sunday, April 30, 2006

Neal Stephenson: Zodiac

Wherein Boston sounds like a dirty place to live

1988. That's the first year I read Neal Stephenson. For some long forgotten reason--artwork on the cover, clever blurb on the back; the usual reasons for picking up a fiction novel from someone you've never heard of--I bought Zodiac: An Eco-Thriller. A straight forward thriller involving science, politics, heavy metal (chemical and musical), and conspiracies, I was instantly captivated. I'v always felt Sangamon Taylor was a great character and wouldn't mind if Stephenson would revisit him. It would be interesting to see what he's like twenty years later. I've also felt that Zodiac gives a great template for a TV show; much more so than any other Stephenson novel. You have a semigenius asshole who spends his days shutting down multimillion dollar corporations for toxic waste, rides around Boston Harbor in a zodiac, yet can't afford a car. Toxic Spiderman indeed. It would be like "Spenser For Hire," but not boring.

Is it great? No, it isn't, though it is very good. What it has is a solid story and flashes of genius. Reading it 1988 there was a sense that this author had some real talent and a way with the language. There are places in the story where this talent almost gets in the way and his rhetorical flourishes draw too much attention to themselves. For me, it was the recognition that if he ever got his talent under control, we could expect great things.

I've excerpted part of the opening chapter for a few reasons. One, it gets off to the typical Neal Stephenson quick start. He throws a lot of stuff out there and expects you to hang on while he fills in the blanks. Two, he quickly sets up the main character and his personality. Three, great first sentence. Four, it is just filled with Stephensonisms--the bon mots you either love or hate. Such as:
  • bacon was smoldering on the range, filling the house with gas-phase polycyclic aromatics-my favorite carcinogen by a long shot
  • Once again, my roommate was using nitrous oxide around an open flame
  • I'd already moved us way up into Deep Cable
  • Tess emerged from the part of the house where women lived and bathrooms were clean
  • Sangamon's Principle," I said. "The simpler the molecule, the better the drug. So the best drug is oxygen. Only two atoms. The second-best, nitrous oxide-a mere three atoms. The third-best, ethanol-nine. Past that, you're talking lots of atoms.
  • Toxic Spiderman. Because he's broke and he never gets laid.
  • So once I'd fueled myself up on coffee and Bart's baco-cinders-nothing beats an all-black breakfast-and read all the comics, I threw one leg over my battle-scarred all-terrain stump-jumper and rode several miles to work.
  • The approaching BMW made an abortive swerve toward the next lane, causing a ripple to spread across Charlesgate as everyone for ten cars back tried to head east. Then he throbbed to a halt (computerized antilock braking system) and slumped over on his horn button. The next lane was easy: some Camaro-driving freshman from Jersey made the mistake of slowing down and I seized his lane. The asshole in the BMW tried to cut behind me but half the bicyclists, and the biddy in the Benz, had the presence of mind to lurch out and block his path.
  • GEE International. They employ me as a professional asshole, an innate talent I've enjoyed ever since second grade, when I learned how to give my teacher migraine headaches with a penlight. I could cite other examples, give you a tour down the gallery of the broken and infuriated authority figures who have tried to teach, steer, counsel, reform, or suppress me over the years, but that would sound like boasting. I'm not that proud of being a congenital pain in the ass. But I will take money for it.
  • I've lost two girlfriends and a job by reading an ingredients label out loud, with annotations, at the wrong time.
  • Actually, the shit coming out of Basco's pipe was a hundred thousand times more concentrated than was legally allowed. The difference between pH 13 and pH 8 was five, which meant that pH 13 was ten to the fifth power-a hundred thousand times-more alkaline than pH 8. That kind of thing goes on all the time. But no matter how many diplomas are tacked to your wall, give people a figure like that and they'll pass you off as a flake. You can't get most people to believe how wildly the eco-laws get broken. But if I say "More than twice the legal limit," they get comfortably outraged.
  • Rebecca had picked the sunniest corner of the room and the light was making her green eyes glow like traffic lights and her perfume volatilize off the skin. She and I had been in the sack a few times. The fact that we weren't going to be there in the near future made her a hundred thousand time-oops-more than twice as beautiful.

Uh, maybe I should stop there. If I pulled every line and paragraph that made me smile, I'd quote half the damn book. Here's about one-third of chapter one.
Roscommon came and laid waste to the garden an hour after dawn, about the time I usually get out of bed and he usually passes out on the shoulder of some freeway. My landlord and I have an arrangement. He charges me and my housemates little rent-by Boston standards, none at all-and in return we let him play fast and loose with our ecosystem. Every year at about this time he destroys my garden. He's been known to send workmen into the house without warning, knock out walls in the middle of the night, shut off the water while we shower, fill the basement with unidentified fumes, cut down elms and maples for firewood, and redecorate our rooms. Then he claims he's showing the dump to prospective tenants and we'd better clean it up. Pronto.

This morning I woke to the sound of little green pumpkins exploding under the tires of his station wagon. Then Roscommon stumbled out and tore down our badminton net. After he left, I got up and went out to buy a Globe. Wade Boggs had just twisted his ankle and some PCB-contaminated waste oil was on fire in Southie.

When I got back, bacon was smoldering on the range, filling the house with gas-phase polycyclic aromatics-my favorite carcinogen by a long shot. Bartholomew was standing in front of the stove. With the level, cross-eyed stare of the involuntarily awake, he was watching a heavy-metal video on the TV. He was clenching an inflated Hefty bag that took up half the kitchen. Once again, my roommate was using nitrous oxide around an open flame; no wonder he didn't have any eyebrows. When I came in, he raised the bag invitingly. Normally I never do nitrous before breakfast, but I couldn't refuse Bart a thing in the world, so I took the bag and inhaled as deep as I could. My mouth tasted sweet and five seconds later about half of an orgasm backfired in the middle of my brain.

On the screen, poodle-headed rockers were strapping a cheerleader to a sheet of particle board decorated with a pentagram. Far away, Bartholomew was saying: "Poyzen Boyzen, man. Very hot."

It was too early for social criticism. I grabbed the channel selector.

"No Stooges on at this hour," Bart warned, "I checked." But I'd already moved us way up into Deep Cable, where a pair of chaw-munching geezers were floating on a nontoxic river in Dixie, demonstrating how to push-start a comatose fish.
Tess emerged from the part of the house where women lived and bathrooms were clean. She frowned against the light, scowling at our bubbling animal flesh, our cubic yard of nitrous. She rummaged in the fridge for some homemade yogurt.

"Don't you guys ever lay off that stuff?"
"Meat or gas?"

"You tell me. Which one's more toxic?"

"Sangamon's Principle," I said. "The simpler the molecule, the better the drug. So the best drug is oxygen. Only two atoms. The second-best, nitrous oxide-a mere three atoms. The third-best, ethanol-nine. Past that, you're talking lots of atoms." '


"Atoms are like people. Get lots of them together, never know what they'll do. It is my understanding, Tess, that you've been referring to me, about town, as a 'Granola James Bond'."

Tess didn't give a fuck. "Who told you about that?"

"You come up with a cute phrase, it gets around."

"I thought you'd enjoy it."

"Even a horse's ass like me can detect sarcasm."

"So what would you rather be called?"

"Toxic Spiderman. Because he's broke and he never gets laid."

Tess squinted at me, implying that there was a reason for both problems. Bart broke the. silence. "Shit, man, Spider-man's got his health. James Bond probably has AIDS."

I went outside and followed Roscommon's tire tracks through the backyard. All the pumpkins were destroyed, but I didn't care about these decoys. What could you do with a pumpkin? Get orange shit all over the house? The important stuff-corn and tomatoes-were planted up against fences or behind piles of rubble, where his station wagon couldn't reach.

We'd never asked Roscommon if we could plant a garden out here in the Largest Yard in Boston. Which, because it wasn't supposed to exist, gave him the right to drive over it. Gardens have to be watered, you see, and water bills are included in our nominal rent, so by having a garden we're actually ripping him off.

There was at least an acre back here, tucked away in kind of a space warp caused by Brighton's irrational street pattern. Not even weeds knew how to grow in this field of concrete and brick rubble. When we started the garden, Bartholomew and Ike and I spent two days sifting through it, putting the soil into our plot, piling the rest in cairns. Other piles were scattered randomly around the Largest Back Yard in Boston. Every so often Roscommon would dynamite another one of his holdings, show up with a rented dump truck, back across the garden, through the badminton net, and over some lawn furniture, and make a new pile.

I just hoped he didn't try to stash any toxic waste back there. I hoped that wasn't the reason for the low rent. Because if he did that, I would be forced to call down a plague upon his house. I would evacuate his bank accounts, bum his villages, rape his horses, sell his children into slavery. The whole Toxic Spiderman bit. And then I'd have to becomethe penniless alter ego, the Toxic Peter Parker. I'd have to pay real Boston rent, a thousand a month, with no space for badminton.

Peter Parker is the guy who got bit by the radioactive spider, the toxic bug if you will, and became Spiderman. Normally he's a nebbish. No money, no prestige, no future. But if you try to mug him in a dark alley, you're meat. The question he keeps asking himself is: "Do those moments of satisfaction I get as Spiderman make up for all the crap I have to take as Peter Parker?" In my case, the answer is yes.

In the dark ages of my life, when I worked at Massachusetts Analytical Chemical Systems, or Mass Anal for short, I owned your basic VW van. But a Peter Parker type can't afford car insurance in this town, so now I transport myself on a bicycle. So once I'd fueled myself up on coffee and Bart's baco-cinders-nothing beats an all-black breakfast-and read all the comics, I threw one leg over my battle-scarred all-terrain stump-jumper and rode several miles to work.

Hurricane Alison had blown through the day before yesterday, trailed by hellacious rainfall. Tree branches and lakes of rainwater were in the streets. We call it rainwater; actually it's raw sewage. The traffic signal at Comm Ave and Charlesgate West was fried. In Boston, this doesn't lead to heartwarming stories in the tabloids about ordinary citizens who get out of their cars to direct traffic. Instead, it gives us the excuse to drive like the Chadian army. Here we had two lanes of traffic crossing with four, and the two were losing out in a big way. Comm Ave was backed up all the way into B.U. So I rode between the lanes for half a mile to the head of the class.

The problem is, if the two drivers at the front of the line aren't sufficiently aggressive, it doesn't matter how tough the people behind them are. The whole avenue will just sit there until it collectively boils over. And horn honking wasn't helping, though a hundred or so motorists were giving it a try-When I got to Charlesgate West, where Comm Ave was cut off by the torrent pouring down that one-way four-Ianer, I found an underpowered station wagon from Maine at the head of one lane, driven by a mom who was trying to look after four children, and a vintage Mercedes in the other, driven by an old lady who looked like she'd just forgotten her own address. And half a dozen bicyclists, standing there waiting for a real asshole to take charge.

What you have to do is take it one lane at a time. I waited for a twenty-foot gap in traffic on the first lane of Charlesgate and just eased out into it.

The approaching BMW made an abortive swerve toward the next lane, causing a ripple to spread across Charlesgate as everyone for ten cars back tried to head east. Then he throbbed to a halt (computerized antilock braking system) and slumped over on his horn button. The next lane was easy: some Camaro-driving freshman from Jersey made the mistake of slowing down and I seized his lane. The asshole in the BMW tried to cut behind me but half the bicyclists, and the biddy in the Benz, had the presence of mind to lurch out and block his path.

Within ten seconds a huge gap showed up in the third lane, and I ate it up before Camaro could serve over. I ate it up so aggressively that some Clerk Typist II in a Civic slowed down in the fourth lane long enough for me to grab that one. And then the dam broke as the Chadian army mounted a charge and reamed out the intersection. I figured BMW, Camaro, and Civic could shut their engines off and go for a walk.

Pedestrians and winos applauded. A young six-digit lawyer, hardly old enough to shave, cruised up from ten cars back and shouted out his electric sunroof that I really had balls.

I said, "Tell me something I didn't know, you fucking android from Hell."

Friday, April 28, 2006


Wherein The Wife directs me to quote her

The Wife: So did anyone comment on the QVC thingy?

Me: No.

The Wife: What's up with that?

Soccer strategy

Wherein this advice is probably obvious

State tournament has started and we watched another girl's soccer game. Outcome was 7-0. This is a very good team: 15-0, Goals Scored: 73, Goals Allowed: 6. Plenty of extremely skilled players with only four seniors (one of whom will be playing for a major college program).

One of the more impressive ones is the 6'2" sophomore goalie who can easily clear midfield on a punt (60-70 yards is not an exaggeration). The first game we watched, another 7-0 victory, she played forward for the last 10 minutes and had an assist and a goal. She's easily the tallest, but there's a few more that stand a full head above the competition and are quite skilled with the header in front of the net. There's another sophomore, of more modest height, who had four goals last night, frequently takes 30-yard shots on a rope, can overkick on corners, and runs like a cheetah. You think an opposing player is running fast, then she flashes by.

Watching them play I am reminded of two facts: 1) women are generally shorter than men; 2) for whatever reason, women don't jump that high. Which leads to the generalization that a lot of women can't reach the 8-foot crossbar of a soccer goal.

Strategy: shoot high and shoot often.

Also factor in that when play is 30-40 yards out, the goalie is probably a few yards out on the edge of the goal area and not glued to the line. So moving backwards, trying to stop a ball at the edge of her jumping ability is difficult. Even tall, experienced keepers can be caught offguard with a quick, outside shot.

All you need are women comfortable and able to take shots from outside the penalty area. This team? Not a problem. I'm not talking big rainbow bloopers, here; I'm talking serious velocity, swerving shots that shred the back of the net. They even had a few rockets from 40 yards. Heck, even the left back is passing from midfield to the middle of the penalty area. Seriously, they can spread the field.

Knowing that not every team can have goalies over six feet, I would train everyone to launch a shot within sight of the net. I wouldn't make this the entire offense, but you should be able to pick up a fair number of goals without overtaxing the offense. They'll still need to run and dribble, but anyone who can blast from 30 yards should be given the green light. Even if the goalie can stop them, the defense, expecting a shot, will start to slack off marking making for more open passes and crosses. Having played goalie and been burned playing a step out of position, I can attest to how demoralizing this is. To know that, even in the best of instances, you are screwed on a high shot, must just suck.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

David Copperfield hides his stuff

Wherein his name is too long for Haikus so I'll just refer to him

Approached by gunmen
Quick hands confuse and muddle
His "girls" are still robbed
According to the police report, this is what happened next: The Malibu pulled up behind the group, and two of the four young men in the car came out holding handguns. One ordered Daly to "give me what you have." Daly handed over $400 from her pockets. Riley, meanwhile, allegedly stuck a gun in Volmut's face and asked for her purse, and she, too, gave it up. In it were 200 euros, $100, her passport, plane tickets and a Razr cellphone.

When Copperfield's turn came, Riley was bamboozled.

Copperfield told Page Two he pulled out all of his pockets for Riley to see he had nothing, even though he had a cellphone, passport and wallet stuffed in them.

"Call it reverse pickpocketing," Copperfield said.

Riley jumped behind the wheel, and the car took off.

An offer by email

Wherein a favorite pastime of mine: discussing modalities

Thanks for the email
Have you tried contacting Steve?
Are you in his book?
From: Partnership enquiry from Dr

Date: Apr 27, 2006 8:18 AM
Subject: Partnership enquiry from Dr

I'm Dr.Henry Zumba A Gambian by nationality working with a holding firm hear in dakar senegal, I am the Oparetional Director of the company and will be due to retirement withing some months know due to my illness,But before my retirement i want to invest the fund that i have made during my time in service into a well profitable business for the future of my only son who is 19 years old know, and i want to invest this fund outside this country for safety reason because i don’t want the government of senegal to question me of how i get this large amount of money after my retirement.

In a nut shell i have in my position Three million one hundred and fifity thousand united state dollars(US$3.150m) in a financial institute and i want to invest this fund in a well lucrative business. I will be needing your assisitance as my foreign partner to invest this fund in your country, you are to guide this money and invest it for me over there in your country . I will be waiting for your compitency and capability of handling this big project. Please do not hesitate to contact me upon your acceptance of my proposal.Upon
your acceptance of this proposal we shall discuss the modality of the success of this
Yours faithfully,
Dr. Zumba..

Blah blah blah

Wherein reporters sitting in a room being told what to write: sad

Tony Snow

Why should I care? Really?
About the new press spokesman -
Lazy reporters

Maybe I would care,
If like CJ Cregg once did
He sang The Jackal

Tony Snow is white.
Why did I think he was black?
I really don't know.

I heart animals

Wherein I try to explore the boundaries of humor with dead pets

At Beg to Differ
I riff off an Althouse post;
I said "Ninja pets!"

Haiku question day

Wherein this wherein has seventeen syllables, just like a haiku

For today only
Answers will be given for
Any question asked

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Please be advised of the changes

Wherein otherwise Samuel L. Jackson will make you say 'what'

Tomorrow is Thursday. Just a reminder that Thursday Rules apply:
Every Thursdays all questions would have to be posed as 5-7-5 syllable haiku, no exceptions.

The 5-7-5 form is the most simplified version of the Japanese Haiku. Feel free to use it, or any other form of legitimate Haiku. Beware, though, that other sites may be more strict about the 5-7-5 structure or require a specific Haiku style.

Update: any posts made here will be in Haiku form (excluding quoted material) and all comments must be in Haiku.

A few more words

Wherein can someone hook us up with Oprah? Because that would be cool.

Previous mentions have verged on the cryptic. This might not be much better, though I think it is an interesting look into a part of the QVC business process.

The Wife is a very creative person with a variety of creative outlets. This has manifested itself in numerous ways, including some commercial. More recently, she has taken it upon herself to design a new product (let's just say it's some form of accessory). The short term has been working towards art shops and boutiques, along with a few high-end arts and crafts shows. A website and store are planned and manufacturing is being lined up. Long term is global domination.

A number of people have told The Wife this would be perfect for QVC. So, in March, when she found out QVC was holding a product search for women entrepreneurs, she submitted a product description. The purpose of the search being that QVC will select a number of creators and their products, and give them each 4 minutes of air time during a special show later in the year. QVC accepted the description and an appointment was scheduled. All that was guaranteed was a 10 minute presentation with a QVC representative and a number of free business seminars were also offered. Consider this a cattle call for new products. We had enough frequent flier points for a free trip, so, why not? Off she flew.

At the appointed time The Wife queued up with the other hopefuls and waited to be directed to one of sixteen tables in the middle of a warehouse. She estimated that QVC reviewed a minimum of 300 products over two days. The Wife met with two buyers who seemed interested and feedback was positive. Well, that was fun, what now?. After The Wife's presentation she went off to the side and chatted with some other presenters. Her buyers stepped away from the demo table and continued to talk and make notes. Soon they were joined by two more QVC persons. More talking, more notes. Then one of the new women approached The Wife and asked for a product demo. Such was given and, again, feedback seemed positive. The Wife was then asked if she could come back later in the day to meet with some product developers. Oh, if you insist.

Product developer meeting also went well. Ideas were tossed about, objections were met and answered. Overall impression is that QVC likes both the product and The Wife. A few wrinkles to be worked on—and most of those were already in the plan to be dealt with—but it seems the product is maybe 80% of the way there for QVC's purposes and the wrinkles are easy to overcome.

What's the next step? Later in May, QVC emails all participants with the "level of interest." Either "thanks for coming, good luck" or "come on back and let's discuss this some more." Even if QVC is interested, there are a number of steps involved before getting to the studio and either QVC or the product person may bail. We were told that a number of people get further along before declining as QVC requires that you give them $20,000-$25,000 (wholesale) worth of product by air time and QVC only pays for items sold. If you make $20,000 worth of doohickies and only sell $50 during your time, QVC ships back all $19,950 worth of doohickies. Very small risk to QVC. They obviously work very hard to air products they think will sell, but they're not the ones holding the bag if you and they have overestimated the public interest. That's a you problem.

We feel pretty good about The Wife's chances for another discussion. Better than even. And if it turns out we were overconfident (it is a bit like a lottery), the feedback has been very helpful. We'll continue as planned and appreciate the experience.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Three World Cup links

Wherein I have to start looking for the best bar to watch the games from

  • US Roster announced on ESPN: U.S. Men’s National Team Manager Bruce Arena will announce his 23-man roster for the 2006 FIFA World Cup on May 2 live on ESPN’s SportsCenter at 6 p.m. ET.
  • World Cup TV schedule on ESPN: ESPN2 and ESPN will combine to present 52 matches - 31 on ESPN2 and 21 on ESPN. ABC Sports will broadcast 12 matches including the title match Sunday, July 9 at 1:30 p.m. ET from Berlin's Olympiastadion (preceded by a 30-minute pre-game show at 1 p.m.).
  • Brothels kick off World Cup sex campaign: "We're thinking of staying open around the clock," said the manager, Egbert Krumeich. "I think we will have a lot more clients coming here, maybe as many as 500."

She has her finger on the pulse of bad New Orleans dining

Wherein this is horror writing as far as I'm concerned

Poppy Z. Brite has authored two books I've quite enjoyed:

Soul Kitchen, the third in the series, will be published in July. Centered around two chefs trying to run a restaurant in New Orleans, Brite covers what goes on in the kitchen with a dash of murder and mayhem, and plenty of humor. Good stuff. She's married to a chef and spends a lot of time hanging out in restaurants and all the chef scenes feel authentic. She was finishing Soul Kitchen as Katrina hit and the next book will deal with the aftermath of the storm. For a day to day account of living in New Orleans, her journal is an entertaining read. Example:
I am not dead. However, my Internet connection at home appears to be. Cox has been "working on it" since Wednesday. As they've also been "working on" getting us an expanded channel package for more than a month now, but have only managed to increase our plan from basic to digital basic, I am not optimistic. They were incompetent before the storm, but their incompetence has now taken on a life of its own, bought a house in the suburbs, and started raising a family.

Earlier in her writing career she made a name for herself writing horror. I've never read those books and not being much of a fan of that genre, I'll probably stay away. But I am sorely tempted when her current writing about horrific food is often mirrored by the New Orleans chefs.

Shrimp, brie, and fruit
From a local Internet dining board, describing a dish from a North Shore restaurant called Juniper:
POSTER A: Can someoone describe what this appetizer is?
3 grilled U-12 shrimp and blackened aged soft brie served with a blueberry compote and spicy creole remoulade

From chapter 5 of Soul Kitchen:
"Look, if you don't want the job, I guess I'll put an ad in the paper. Hire some twenty-two-year-old hotshot with a culinary degree from Delgado. Next thing you know we'll be serving coconut shrimp with Brie and blueberry sauce."

Goddammit. It seems I cannot invent a single silly, incoherent dish that isn't promptly produced by some local chef before the novel has even been published.

Crawfish boil aspic
Dish reportedly made by one of New Orleans' three most overrated chefs, John Besh, on Iron Chef America, as described by posters on a local dining forum:
POSTER A: I believe it had crawfish boil elements to it - potatoes, corn, and andouille boiled in crab boil and suspended in gelatin.

Dish made by an insufferable chef at an insufferable restaurant in Soul Kitchen, description written six months before the episode of Iron Chef America aired:
... "Crawfish Boil," a single crawfish, a potato cube, and a few dehydrated corn kernels encased in crab-boil-flavored gelee.

Hell, now I can even predict what these clowns are going to do. I AM TEH KING OF CRAP FOOD MOCKERY.

He's a rambling man

Wherein I can feel the power of Jack Sparks' convictions and even though I'm not much of a country fan I know he speaks the truth

Jack is back with a vengeance. Sad thing is, what Jack writes about the country music industry and radio play could probably be written about all types of music on the radio. It's a dirty, corrupt business.

The Little Willies sound interesting, I'll have to check them out.

Do that clicky thing:

Drive By Truckers, "A Blessing and A Curse"
A few minutes into the second song ("Gravity's Gone") of the Drive By Truckers' latest record, A Blessing and A Curse, we get this:
Between the champagne, hand jobs and the kissing ass by everyone involved
Cocaine rich comes quick and that's why the small dicks have it all.

"Cocaine rich comes quick..." Members of the Teimon school in the 16th Century used to furtively self-flaggelate hoping for 5 syllables like that.

The Little Willies
When you add the 4 short bars of ringing piano following these words, Lee Alexander and the buttery voice of Norah Jones, through their side project The Little Willies, have done in 50 seconds what DC and BFW would probably argue that Lange and Twain have been attempting for roughly 11 years. Compared to this, the latter have been abject failures. If you want pop infusion and influence with some meat in it, you need to start with a base of talent that has room to grow inside the music it chooses where it can find its way and maybe leave a few marks here and there. Whereas Twain's music is chosen for its pop sensibilities and whether it fits her image and is sellable on shithouses like K102, the members of the Little Willies chose the music they recorded for its depth and feel, then tailored their talents around bringing a pop sensibility to the obviously twang underbelly. Because Twain's talents are purely showmanship and looks, the interpretation that the Willie's bring to bear on the non-originals they recorded for this album, will never be a part of her repertoire.

Hank III, "Straight to Hell"
I like Hank III more than I like Shooter Jennings. I can't put my finger on it, but I've not only seen, I've also observed them both, and Hank just has a leaner, more desperate, slant to what he's doing. Both are derivative (Jesus, how could they not be?), but Hank has more of an edge; at the end of a Shooter show, I find myself wondering who the lazy stoner is.

I like that this 2-disc set was put out by Bruc records. He used to record for Curb Records in Nashville, the same fat shit heels who brought you Tim McGraw. I can't tell you what Bruc is; I can't tell you if it's just a play on words and he's still on Curb. But, if he's not, this is certainly a clever way to tell a major label to shove their whole program up their asses.

I like that most of this album couldn't be played on K102 by whole-milk and Wonder Bread Travis Moon and his army of robots, without heavy use of Cool Edit and the bleep.

I like that every other song is about drug abuse.

Why Jack did not watch the CMAs
I don't need a self-righteous man in his 70's wearing Prada shoes and Gucci sunglasses to tell me what these things mean. In my heart I know that Kenny Chesney is the biggest phoney fucking poser since Milli and/or Vanilli. But, just like the Church, millions of people still tune in for "the message," when it's written down plain as day for them to read at any local independent record store into which they may stumble.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Don't disrepect the pig

Wherein I redirect you

Have I mentioned I'm an occassional contributor at Begging To Differ? Well, I am. If it matters, most of them seem to be a bunch Dookies.

I just posted Pink is Good, a little rundown on barbeque in North Carolina and an idiot who doesn't understand cooking.

If I wasn't an idiot, I would've titled it "Pretty in Pink" because classic pop culture references always rock. out. man. Geez, I'm feeling particularly uninspired today. What this blog needs is more Neal Stephenson excerpts, because my TTLB ranking isn't plummeting fast enough.

Possible future topics that I probably won't get around to:
  • Demonstrating a product for QVC
  • The lumberjack workout; or, if if you still have all ten toes you're not trying hard enough
  • Why are people talking on cell phones when using the sh*tter in a public restroom? Could there be a more disgusting noise if you're on the other end?
  • Two doors, people—use them. Don't stand there like a lazy ass holding up traffic because you think I'll hold the door open for you. This ain't England, so enter on the right.
  • Do not use two spaces after a period. That's an artifact from the typewriter age, so just stop.
  • I prefer the serial comma before the conjunction. A series without one just looks wrong.
  • I've always been fond of Palatino.
  • What to do about another blog I've read for a long time, but find it increasingly tiresome because of one commenter who has achieved a level of popularity, with other commenters AND the blog owner, yet I've always found rude and shrill?

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Neal Stephenson interview

Wherein I'm thinking of changing the name of this blog to "bill has his head so far up Neal Stephenson's ass, he chews Neal's food"

Stumbled across an older interview with Neal Stephenson I had never seen. It takes place before The Cobweb is published and includes the information that someone else had written a script for Snow Crash. Neal though Roland Gift would be a perfect Hiro and Patrick Stewart for the Librarian. Obviously, nothing ever happened, but that's still a script I'd love to read.

I'll quote two questions and answers:
You obviously don’t see nanotech as being the solution to our every problem because otherwise you’d have to write about post-scarcity utopias where there aren't any problems left and it's terribly terribly boring...

Like Star Trek? Yeah! Well, there's a really fundamental split there, in one's attitudes about human nature. The Star Trek attitude is that the only reason we're nasty to each other is because sometimes we run out of stuff and that if we stopped running out of stuff we would all stop being nasty to each other and then our only problems would occur when our spaceship inadvertently ran into a tachyon storm out in the middle of nowhere! And I don't buy that view, I don't see any reason to buy that view of human nature.

I mean we're very close to a post-scarcity future right now - at least in my country. There's poverty but there's not starvation, except in really odd places, and there's disease but there’s not plague, there's not people dying in the streets and there's homelessness but most people can find a place, can find a roof over their heads if they need it - it may be in a homeless shelter or something nasty but anyway it’s something - and it certainly hasn't stopped people being nasty to each other. I mean look at OJ - he wasn't lacking for anything, nobody in that sick sub-culture in LA was lacking for anything but all it did was remove all the limit from how tawdry they could be to each other. That's all post-scarcity did for them, break down the barriers that kept them from being as grotesque as they could theoretically be. So I guess one of the points that's being made in The Diamond Age and it's kind of a sledgehammer point, is that you've got this group of people, the thetes, who have everything they need in the way of food, shelter and even information and they're still miserable wretches, just like Dickensian miserable wretches.

Moving on to Interface, the novel you wrote with your uncle, is the marketing of politicians in that book based on anything in particular?

It’s very simple straightforward observation of reality in the United States, slight exaggeration and out comes a novel. They came very close to doing this with Reagan in his last election campaign, they actually had a real-time polling system hooked up during one of his debates and the results were being telephoned to Ed Meese who was standing about six feet away from Reagan just off stage and the only thing that kept them from closing that feedback loop was the six-foot distance between Meese and Reagan so it’s hardly science fiction or even fiction to talk about closing that loop.

Friday, April 21, 2006

What if Samuel L. Jackson was the press secretary?

Wherein this is comedy gold

  1. XWL volunteers for the open position of press secretary and proposes five changes he'd make.
  2. In the comments, Icepick responds with a tour de force script of what a Samuel L. Jackson led press conference would be like.
  3. XWL elevates the Samuel L. Jackson passage and proposes Saturday Night Live move to distributed comedy writing.
  4. I suck all the energy out of those posts by creating a numbered list.

Amusing comment

Wherein I would prefer someone to wash them

Comment left at the Lost post Dude, I've figured out lost:
Wow, dude, you watch TOO much TV. You think like a writer better than a writer. They're probably reading your blog, so if you want to boost your ego, start making predictions further a season or two. If Desmond ends up being the Head Honcho, I'll worship your socks! BTW, I'm old enough, but I didn't get the Newhart/St Elsewhere thing. I was busy watching actually entertaining shows like A-Team :)

I think that's mostly good.

For those interested in spoilers, Kulturblog has a post claiming to reveal the season finale of Lost. I have not read it and do not intend to until the season is over. I'm linking to it for those interested in such things, but ask that you do not discuss them here or with me. I'm all for mindless speculation and will probably write up my mindless speculation for the season finale next week; however, I do not want to have inside information.

For the record, most of what I predicted earlier in the season hasn't happened and a lot of it was flat out wrong.

Still developing

Wherein according to Google search I've used the word "interesting" in 70 posts; interestingly, I thought it would be more.

March 18

April 21: "Can you come back later today and meet with the product development team?"


You want culture, go eat a cup of yogurt

Wherein go and buy Rob's book

Partially Clips kicks the Internet's ass:

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Great musical moments in movies not involving musicians

Wherein I'm totally stealing the "5 For the Day" idea from Matt Zoller Seitz

My theme, more like an unformed idea at this exact moment, is that there are certain musical moments in movies that stand out. These are performances not by musicians, or by people pretending to be musicians, or a particularly apt soundtrack moment. Instead, it's a moment where the actor becomes the music and creates an unforgettable scene. Basically, musicals don't count. As I'm sure that's very unclear, how about a couple example of what I don't mean. Take the movie The Commitments; great movie, great music, but it's all about people in a band. I thought about John Cusack in Say Anything; but as iconic as Lloyd Dobler and his boom box is, he's not doing enough to raise it above a soundtrack moment, so not on the list. I also can't include Austin Powers singing "It's a Hard Knock Life' because it's a music video in the middle of the movie.

Maybe I should just get to the ones I did put on the list.
  1. John Cryer in Pretty in Pink. Duckie sliding into the record store and lip-synching to "Try a Little Tenderness" is a show-stopping, scene-stealing, stand ovation moment. I went right out and bought an Otis Redding compilation. That he didn't get the girl is a cinematic crime.
  2. Timothy Hutton in Iceman. An interesting movie, not a great one. A prehistoric man is found frozen and he's able to be unfrozen alive and studied. Hutton plays an anthropologist. The musical moment occurs when Hutton and the caveman are trying to communicate, First the caveman sings and Hutton tries to join in. Then Hutton begins singing Neil Young's "Heart of Gold" and the caveman starts vocalizing. Should be incredibly corny, but it works.
  3. Keith Coogan in Cousins. I can't stand the original French version of this movie, but this version with Ted Danson and Isabella Rosellini I have a soft spot for. Coogan helping his grandfather (Lloyd Bridges) get ready for a date to Otis Redding's "Love Man" is great enough to raise it above the soundtrack moment it is.
  4. Tim Robbins in Bull Durham. Another Otis Redding moment. Nuke Laloosh trying to sing "Try a Little tenderness" with the lyrics: young girls do get wooly and Crash yanking the guitar out of his hands.
  5. Robert Shaw in jaws. After the U.S.S. Indianapolis story, he breaks into "Show Me the Way to Go Home" and the others join in. Then the shark attacks.

There's five. I'm sure I'm missing a bunch.

Update Pooh adds three more. I haven't seen 1 and 3, so I'll assume they fit my vague criteria. Cadence is a definite keeper. Teaching Charlie Sheen to step is the only reason to watch that movie.
  1. Either the "Ayatollah of Rock-and-Rollah" or the "Bionic Marine" scenes in Heartbreak Ridge. My affection for that movie defies rationality.
  2. Larry Fishbourne et al doing Sam Cooke's "Chain Gang" in Cadence.
  3. Or and actual good movie, Almost Famous. No, not the "Tiny Dancer" scene, but the one right near the end when "Tangerine" kicks in while they're on the bus. Kills me every time.

"The hour of noon has passed," said Judge Fang. "Let us go and get some Kentucky Fried Chicken."

Wherein there's also quite a bit about armed conflict

Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age, or A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer is probably his most frustrating work for me. Some passages are his most beautiful and touching, but at its finale, I want to throw the book against the wall. Published after Snow Crash, it cemented his reputation as a cyberpunk author with its advanced societies, matter compilers, and emphasis on nanotechnology. It deftly balances a few parallel plots as it explores, among other things, cultural clashes—with Dr. Fang represent ing the Leased Territories and Confucionism and Hackworth the neo-Victorianism—and the use of technology in education. Anyone who has read Snow Crash will recognize the advanced states of the Franchise Nations as even an aged Y.T. makes an appearance.

The Diamond Age also has some amazingly deep passages that are almost a shock coming so soon after the hypercharged Snow Crash, and while they might get lost in all the technological wonders, presage his work in Cryptonomicona and The Baroque Cycle. The relationship between Nell and her brother Bud is probably his most fully realized emotional relationship (followed by Nell and the book).

But something happens at the end that I just don't get. I read this about once a year trying to figure out what happens; I've read numerous explanations, I've tried and just doesn't make any sense. So I've given up trying. I'll still read it for its many beautiful passages and humorous Stephenson touches, I just won't throw it against the wall when I close the back cover. I found a slashdot post that does valiantly tries to explain the ending, and while I don't disagree with it it still doesn't explain the drummers (caution: that link has many spoilers). Maybe it's time to try again.

The obvious excerpt would be a Nell passage or one of the nano passages alluding to the setting's technology. Instead, I think the chapter that introduces Miranda and explains the entertainment of ractives does a good job of revealing the flavor of the novel's science and societies without getting down and dirty in geeky tech.
Before the Europeans got their hooks into it, Shanghai had been a walled village on the Huang Pu River, a few miles south of its confluence with the estuary of the Yangtze. Much of the architecture was very sophisticated Ming Dynasty stuff, private gardens for rich families, a shopping street here and there concealing interior slums, a rickety, vertiginous teahouse rising from an island in the center of a pond. More recently the wall had been torn down and a sort of beltway built on its foundations. The old French concession wrapped around the north side, and in that neighborhood, on a corner looking across the ring road into the old city, the Theatre Parnasse had been constructed during the late 1800s. Miranda had been working there for five years, but the experience had been so intense that it often seemed more like five days.

The Parnasse had been built by Europeans back when they were serious and unapologetic about their Europeanness. The facade was classical: a three-quarter-round portico on the streetcorner, supported by Corinthian columns, all done in white limestone. The portico was belted by a white marquee, circa 1990, outlined by tubes of purple and pink neon. It would have been easy enough to tear it off and replace it with something mediatronic, but they enjoyed hauling the bamboo ladders out from the set shop and snapping the black plastic letters into place, advertising whatever they were doing tonight. Sometimes they would lower the big mediatronic screen and show movies, and Westerners would come from all over Greater Shanghai, dressed up in their tuxedos and evening gowns, and sit in the dark watching Casablanca or Dances With Wolves. And at least twice a month, the Parnasse Company would actually get out on stage and do it: become actors rather than ractors for a night, lights and greasepaint and costumes. The hard part was indoctrinating the audience; unless they were theatre buffs, they always wanted to run up on stage and interact, which upset the whole thing. Live theatre was an ancient and peculiar taste, roughly on par with listening to Gregorian chants, and it didn't pay the bills. They paid the bills with ractives.

The building was tall and narrow, making the most of precious Shanghai real estate, so the proscenium had a nearly square aspect ratio, like an old-fashioned television. Above it was the bust of some forgotten French actress, supported on gilt wings, flanked by angels brandishing trumpets and laurel wreaths. The ceiling was a circular fresco depicting Muses disporting themselves in flimsy robes. A chandelier hung from the center; its incandescent bulbs had been replaced by new things that didn't burn out, and now it cast light evenly onto the rows of tiny, creaking seats closely packed together on the main floor. There were three balconies and three stories of private boxes, two on the left side and two on the right side of each level. The fronts of the boxes and balconies were all painted with tableaux from classical mythology, the predominant color there as elsewhere being a highly French robin's-egg blue.

The theatre was crammed with plasterwork, so that the faces of cherubs, overwrought Roman gods, impassioned Trojans, and such were always poking out of columns and soffits and cornices, catching you by surprise. Much of this work was spalled from bullets fired by high-spirited Red Guards during Cultural Revolution times. Other than the bullet holes, the Parnasse was in decent shape, though sometime in the twentieth century great blackiron pipes had been anchored vertically alongside the boxes and horizontally before the balconies so that spotlights could be bolted on. Nowadays the spotlights were coin-size disks– phased-array devices that carried their own batteries– and could be stuck up anywhere and controlled by radio. But the pipes were still there and always required a lot of explaining when tourists came through.

Each of the twelve boxes had its own door, and a curtain rail curving around the front so that the occupants could get some privacy between acts. They'd mothballed the curtains and replaced them with removable soundproof screens, unbolted the seats, and stored them in the basement. Now each box was a private egg-shaped room just the right size to serve as a body stage. These twelve stages generated seventy-five percent of the cash flow of the Theatre Parnasse.

Miranda always checked into her stage half an hour early to run a diagnostic on her tat grid. The 'sites didn't last forever– static electricity or cosmic rays could knock them out, and if you let your instrument go to pot out of sheer laziness, you didn't deserve to call yourself a ractor.

Miranda had decorated the dead walls of her own stage with posters and photos of role models, largely actresses from twentieth-century passives. She had a chair in 'the corner for roles that involved sitting down. There was also a tiny coffee table where she set down her triple latte, a two-liter bottle of mineral water, and a box of throat lozenges. Then she peeled down to a black leotard and tights, hanging her street clothes on a tree by the door. Another ractor might have gone nude, worn street clothes, or tried to match her costume to the role she'd be playing, if she were lucky enough to know in advance. At the moment, though, Miranda never knew. She had standing bids on Kate in the ractive version of Taming of the Shrew (which was a butcherous kludge, but popular among a certain sort of male user); Scarlett O'Hara in the ractive Gone With the Wind; a double agent named Ilse in an espionage thriller set on a train passing through Nazi Germany; and Rhea, a neo-Victorian damsel in distress in Silk Road, an adventure-comedy-romance ractive set on the wrong side of contemporary Shanghai. She'd created that role. After the good review had come in ("a remarkably Rhea-listic portrayal by newcomer Miranda Redpath!") she had played little else for a couple of months, even though her bid was so steep that most users opted for one of the understudies or contented themselves with watching passively for one-tenth the price. But the distributor had botched the PR targeting when they tried to take it beyond the Shanghai market, and so now Silk Road was in limbo while various heads rolled.

Four leading roles was about as many as she could keep in her head at once. The prompter made it possible to play any role without having seen it before, if you didn't mind making an ass of yourself. But Miranda had a reputation now and couldn't get away with shoddy work. To fill in the blanks when things got slow, she also had standing bids, under another name, for easier work: mostly narration jobs, plus anything having to do with children's media.

She didn't have any kids of her own, but she still corresponded with the ones she'd taken care of during her governess days. She loved racting with children, and besides it was good exercise for the voice, saying those silly little rhymes just right. "Practice Kate from Shrew," she said, and the Miranda-shaped constellation was replaced by a dark-haired woman with green, feline eyes, dressed in some costume designer's concept of what a rich woman in the Italian Renaissance would be likely to wear. Miranda had large bunny eyes while Kate had cat eyes, and cat eyes were used differently from bunny eyes, especially when delivering a slashing witticism. Carl Hollywood, the company's founder and dramaturge, who'd been sitting in passively on her Shrews, had suggested that she needed more work in this area. Not many payers enjoyed Shakespeare or even knew who he was, but the ones who did tended to be very high on the income scale and worth catering to. Usually this kind of argument had no effect on Miranda, but she'd been finding that some of these (rich sexist snob asshole) gentlemen were remarkably good ractors. And any professional could tell you that it was a rare pleasure to ract with a payer who knew what he was doing.

. . .The Shift comprised the Prime Times for London, the East Coast, and the West Coast. In Greenwich Time, it started around nine P.M., when Londoners were finishing dinner and looking for entertainment, and wound up about seven A.M., when Californians were going to bed. No matter what time zones they actually lived in, all ractors tried to work during those hours. In Shanghai's time zone, The Shift ran from about five A.M. to midafternoon, and Miranda didn't mind doing overtime if some well-heeled Californian wanted to stretch a ractive late into the night. Some of the ractors in her company didn't come in until later in the day, but Miranda still had dreams of living in London and craved attention from that city's sophisticated payers. So she always came to work early.

When she finished her warmups and went on, she found a bid already waiting for her. The casting agent, which was a semiautonomous piece of software, had assembled a company of nine payers, enough to ract all the guest roles in First Class to Geneva, which was about intrigue among rich people on a train in Nazi-occupied France, and which was to ractives what The Mousetrap was to passive theatre. It was an ensemble piece: nine guest roles to be assumed by payers, three somewhat larger and more glamorous host roles to be assumed by payees like Miranda. One of the characters was, unbeknownst to the others, an Allied spy.

Another was a secret colonel in the SS, another was secretly Jewish, another was a Cheka agent. Sometimes there was a German trying to defect to the Allied side. But you never knew which was which when the ractive started up; the computer switched all the roles around at random.

It paid well because of the high payer/payee ratio. Miranda provisionally accepted the bid. One of the other host roles hadn't been filled yet, so while she waited, she bid and won a filler job. The computer morphed her into the face of an adorable young woman whose face and hair looked typical of what was current in London at the moment; she wore the uniform of a British Airways ticket agent. "Good evening, Mr. Oremland," she gushed, reading the prompter. The computer disped it into an even perkier voice and made subtle corrections in her accent.

"Good evening, er, Margaret," said the jowly Brit staring out of a pane on her mediatron. He was wearing half-glasses, had to squint to make out her nametag. His tie was loose on his chest, a gin and tonic in one hairy fist, and he liked the looks of this Margaret. Which was almost guaranteed, since Margaret had been morphed up by a marketing computer in London that knew more about this gentleman's taste in girlflesh than he would like to think.

"Six months without a vacation!? How boring," Miranda/Margaret said. "You must be doing something terribly important," she continued, facetious without being mean, the two of them sharing a little joke.

"Yes, I suppose even making lots of money does become boring after a while," the man returned, in much the same tone.

Miranda glanced over at the casting sheet for First Class to Geneva. She'd be pissed if this Mr. Oremland got overly talkative and forced her to pass on the bigger role. Though he did seem a reasonably clever sort. "You know, it's a fine time to visit Atlantan West Africa, and the airship Gold Coast is scheduled to depart in two weeks– shall I book a stateroom for you? And a companion perhaps?"

Mr. Oremland seemed iffy. "Call me old-fashioned," he said, "but when you say Africa, I think AIDS and parasites."

"Oh, not in West Africa, sir, not in the new colonies. Would you like a quick tour?"

Mr. Oremland gave Miranda/Margaret one long, searching, horny look, sighed, checked his watch, and seemed to remember that she was an imaginary being. "Thank you just the same," he said, and cut her off. Just in time too; the playbill for Geneva had just filled up. Miranda only had a few seconds to switch contexts and get herself into the character of Ilse before she found herself sitting in a first-class coach of a midtwentieth-century passenger train, staring into the mirror at a blond, blue-eyed, high-cheekboned ice queen.

Unfolded on her dressing-table was a letter written in Yiddish. So tonight she was the secret Jew. She tore the letter into tiny pieces and fed them out her window, then did the same with a couple of Stars of David that she rooted out of her jewelry case.

This thing was fully ractive, and there was nothing to prevent other characters from breaking into her coach and going through her possessions. Then she finished putting on her makeup and choosing her outfit, and went to the dining car for dinner. Most of the other characters were already in here. The nine amateurs were stiff and stilted as usual, the two other professionals were circulating among them, trying to loosen them up, break through that self-consciousness and get them into their characters.

Geneva ended up dragging on for a good three hours. It was nearly ruined by one of the payers, who had clearly signed up exclusively for the purpose of maneuvering Ilse into bed. He turned out to be the secret SS colonel too; but he was so hell-bent on fucking Ilse that he spent the whole evening out of character. Finally Miranda lured him into the kitchen in the back of the dining car, shoved a foot-long butcher knife into his chest, and left him in the fridge. She had played this role a couple of hundred times and knew the location of every potentially lethal object on the train.

After a ractive it was considered good form to go to the Green Room, a virtual pub where you could chat out-of-character with the other ractors. Miranda skipped it because she knew that the creep would be waiting for her there.

Next was a lull of an hour or so. Primetime in London was over, and New Yorkers were still eating dinner. Miranda went to the bathroom, ate a little snack, and picked up a few kiddy jobs. Kids on the West Coast were getting back from school and jumping right 'into the high-priced educational ractives that their parents made available to them. These things created a plethora of extremely short but fun roles; in quick succession, Miranda's face was morphed into a duck, a bunny, a talking tree, the eternally elusive Carmen Sandiego, and the repulsively cloying Doogie the Dinosaur. Each of them got a couple of lines at most:

"That's right! B stands for balloon! I like to play with balloons, don't you, Matthew?"

"Sound it out, Victoria! You can do it!"

"Soldier ants have larger and stronger jaws than their worker counterparts and play a key role in defending the nest from predators."

"Please don't throw me into that briar patch, Br'er Fox!"

"Hello, Roberta! I've been missing you all day. How was your field trip to Disneyland?"

"Twentieth-century airships were filled with flammable hydrogen, expensive helium, or inefficient hot air, but our modern versions are filled literally with nothing at all. High-strength nanostructures make it possible to pump all the air from an airship's envelope and fill it with a vacuum. Have you ever been on an airship, Thomas?"

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Soccer, not that popular

Wherein this might be as good as it gets

I'm a huge soccer fan. I've played for about 30 years, I'll be hanging out in bars watching the World Cup, and I probably spend more time on Fox Sports World watching soccer than I spend on any other network. However, last night has convinced me that soccer has probably grown as popular as it ever will.

Not that I ever expected it to reach the level of baseball/basketball/football; nor did I ever think it needed to, though a hockey-like level of acceptance would have been nice. As it is, as far as public acceptance goes, it's barely a third-rate sport. What's interesting about this is that the U.S. can still compete on an international level and talentwise is only going to get better. But I'm resigned to the fact that when the U.S. finally wins the World Cup no one will be watching.

I watched a couple of high school games last night, a girls/boys varsity doubleheader. Here's where it gets depressing. Soccer is very popular around here. Multiple leagues, youth camps starting at age 3, fields everywhere, traveling teams year round; a very competitive and nurturing environment. The three local high schools all draw from the same talent pool and all are competitive. In fact, for the school we watched last night both boy's and girl's teams have won their regional divisions, with the boys ranked number 2 in the state and the girls ranked number 1 in the state. And the girls are even ranked number 2 in the country. It also happened to be senior night. Take all that into account and I doubt the crowd numbered much more than 100.

One hundred people. If two phenomenally talented teams in a soccer friendly environment can't do much better than immediate family and a couple of friends, soccer has peaked. This makes me depressed.

Monday, April 17, 2006

It's called censorship, and you can call it what you like, but it still stinks

Wherein this is getting out of control

Alright, any number of place to go for the latest Mohammed cartoon "controversy." Here's two with comments:

...which doesn't even show Mohammed, so what's their freakin' problem? I have seriously lost my patience with a significant portion of the world's population causing me to say things like Did you know you can't spell Mohammed without ham? I don't even know what that means, it just seemed appropriate. See that? All you cartoon bigots jihadists are lowering the level of discourse.

Let's see what the problem may be. Here's the picture:

As has been pointed out, this is just Dante, Canto 28, from his Inferno (see Bruce Hayden's comment for some historical perspective). Here's two different translations of Canto 28, with the Mohammed bit excerpted:
  1. Sacred Texts:
    How is Mohammed mangled: before me
    Walks Ali[5] weeping, from the chin his face
    Cleft to the forelock

  2. World Wide Schools:
    How mutilated, see, is Mahomet; 31 
In front of me doth Ali weeping go, 
Cleft in the face from forelock unto chin;

Dante put Mohammed in hell; shouldn't be a big deal as he put a lot of people in hell. And it's not like the Divine Comedy is church doctrine...more like historical fiction.

Reading the Telegraph story points out a couple of other depictions based on Dante's work:
Dante placed Mohammed in Hell in Canto 28 of The Divine Comedy. His work inspired a painting by William Blake, depicting Mohammed with his entrails hanging out, and a fresco in Bologna Cathedral showing him being tortured by a devil.

From the Mohammed Image Archive we can see the Blake painting:

This is not the first time the Bologna Cathedral fresco has been in the news. Back in 2002 the Telegraph also carried a story about Islamic terrorists linked to al-Qa'eda plotted to destroy Bologna's 14th century cathedral because it contained a medieval fresco depicting the Prophet Mohammed in hell. Scroll down to the third picture for three images of the Bologna Cathedral image:

To recap, Muslims are upset by rude images of Mohammed. Now, they're upset by a cartoon that doesn't depict Mohammed at all, but just mentions him unfavorably. It might be a silly comparison, but this is beginning to remind me of a WKRP in Cincinnati episode. The station is under assault by fundamentalists upset with the rude language in the lyrics. Mr. Carlson is willing to appease them until he finds a line he cannot cross:
Mr Carlson: I had one of my disc jockeys, Dr Johnny Fever, give me the lyrics to a song. He wants to know if you'd let him play that song on the air.

Dr Bob, reading: "Imagine there's no heaven, it's easy if you try. No hell below us, above us only sky. Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too. Imagine no possessions? Imagine all the peple sharing all the world?" That sounds like communism to me, if there's no heaven, no religion and, I assume, no God.

Mr Carlson: There's not an obscene word in here.

Dr Bob: Not the way I see it.

Mr Carlson: Does it go on your list?

Dr Bob: Arthur, this is typical of the kind of secular, liberal humanist point of view that gluts our airwaves.

Mr Carlson: Yeah, but we're not talking obscenities here anymore, Bob, we're talking about ideas - political, philosophical ideas! First you censor a word, and then you censor the ideas.

Dr Bob: The idea is man-centered, not God-centered. Man is an animal. The Bible tells us to put our reliance in God, not in our fellow mortals. Arthur, this song says there's no heaven.

Mr Carlson: Ah. No, it says just imagine there's no heaven.

Dr Bob: That's blasphemy.

Mr Carlson: On the list or not?

Dr Bob: I have no choice but to say on.

Mr Carlson: That decision was made by one man.

Andy: It's called censorship, and you can call it what you like, but it still stinks.

Which is, quite frankly, why she screwed horses

Wherein I'm quoting a book not by Neal Stephenson...huzzah

I had promised an anticoffee rant from Mark Helprin's Memoir From Antproof Case. It is below.

I'm more of a tea drinker, myself (darjeeling), but I'm not against coffee and even have the occasional latte. Actually, coffee itself tastes like burnt water, while I don't have this issue with espresso drinks. But like Oscar in Memoir From Antproof Case, I am highly annoyed by coffee drinkers automatically assuming everyone else drinks coffee. Hey, freak, don't put your addictions off on me.

Memoir From Antproof Case is the one novel I've probably recommended the most over the last decade. It's a lyrical and moving, often times hilarious accounting of the life of Oscar Progresso. We meet him as an old man hiding out in Brazil and writing his life story - which he keeps in an antproof case. Why he is in hiding and why he hates coffee are eventually revealed, along with why he was in a Swiss asylum, a pilot in WWII, and married to a billionairess.

She affectionately said my name. And then she said, "You're insane."

"On the contrary" I stated. "People who drink coffee are insane. Insane and possessed and, what is worse, willing to be possessed. Most people in asylums drink coffee. If you let them stop drinking it, they would regain enough equanimity to leave. But, no, they don't stop. In fact, they drink more and more, and they get crazier and crazier. They're dehumanized with every single goddamned drop, and although they sense it, they're like lemmings, or buffalo who jump off cliffs. People drink coffee and it makes them insane.

"Must you drink coffee? Why not cocoa, tea, cola tea, mate, yoco infusion, or guarana? Why caffeine? Why not theobromine or theophylline? I have had an occasional square of chocolate. It is the cause of uncontrolled ecstasy, but, afterward, you sink into Promethean despair.

"Note," I demanded, "that caffeine was introduced to Europe in the seventeenth century, post-Renaissance. Why is it, do you think, that the art of the Renaissance and the classical period has never been surpassed? The great heights were reached on angels' wings, not via a filthy corruption brewed from a bean that poisons its own tree.

"Yes, coffee plants are self-poisoning. The beans drop on the ground and, after ten or twenty-five years...sayonara! Don't tell me that firtation with an addictive poison is salutary. I suppose you haven't heard of the coffee adulteration scandals of the early nineteenth century. You know what they put in ground coffee to bulk it up?"

"What?" Constance asked, her eyes wide.

"Roots, nuts, acorns, rocks, baked hirse liver, clays, ground peanut shells, copra, sisal, feathers, and pig shit. And no one knew. How would they have known? They were already zombies who professed allegiance what? To a king? To a messiah? To a belief? TO what? Not even to a false messiah or to a usurping pretender, not even to a wrong idea or a hypnotic creed. But to a bean, a bean, a bean, bean, bean!"

"What would you do, outlaw it?"

"Why not? De Valera tried to ban tea in Ireland. Why did he have to stop there?"

I went on, defending the light against the overwhelming darkness. "Caffeine, Constance, is similar to the gentic code."

"It is?"

"Yes, C8H10N4O2. 3,7-dihydro-1,3,7-trimethyl-1H-purine,6-dione. As you know, DNA duplicates itself, but caffeine interrupts this holy process like a typhoon blasing all the punts in the River Isis, and explodes the genetic system. Caffeine replaces adenosine at the receptor sites of the neurons, causing the neurons themselves to fire at untenable rates. This usurpation and its unbridled effects, its attack upon the balance of nature, its liberation of the fire and light that serve as the battering ram of the soul, is a sin of the highest order.

"It causes sterility in insects" I declared.

"What about humans"? Constance asked. "HUmans are not insects."

"That's correct," I told her. "In fact, to be honest, in making sperm more motile, it actually promotes human fertility. Is this fair?"

"Why not?"

"Only the dullard sperm, the caffeine-using sperm, the addiction -prone sperm, get to use outboard motors. The viral sperm that that won't accept the outboard motors don't get to the egg, and since the outboard motors, so to speak, are left outside the wall of the egg, what is it that gets in? A weakling, a dullard, a dunce, a non-swimmer, a tailless basket case a slovenly jerk that got upstream because it had an Evinrude strapped to its back. Spengler missed this point entirely in understanding what ails the West."

"My dear," she said, "my dearest one..."

"The greatest per capita consumption of coffee in the world is in Finland. True, they held back the Russians, but they're the most nervous people on earth, no one understands their language, and the beat themselves with branches. The average American drinks seven hundred and twenty gallons of liquid a years, of which approximately half is coffee. That is, one gallon, or sixteen cups, per day. Three percent of the population drink fifty cups a day, and fifteen percent drink forty. Sixty-seven percent of American adults and twenty-three percent of children are dependent on caffeine or various coffee acids."


"Catherine the Great used one pound of coffee to f our cups of waterm which is, quite frankly, why she screwed horses, and, look, five thousand milligrams of caffeine by mouth is fatal. Someone once committed suicide by means of a coffee enema. Don't you see? What if you lost count of your cups of coffee? You could die. And all this has been known for ages, ever since its introduction. Way back then, William Corbett called caffeine 'a destroyer of health, an enfeebler of the frame, an engenderer of effeminacy and laziness, a debaucher of youth, and a maker of misery for old age.'

"Constance, listen to me. Trust me. I know whereof I speak and, in this, I assure you, I am totally unbiased."

Friday, April 14, 2006

In France, it’s chocolate bells

Wherein, a short routine from the always funny and very dead Bill Hicks

I was over in Australia during Easter, which was interesting. Interesting to note they celebrate Easter the same way we do. Commemorating the death and resurrection of Jesus by telling our children a giant bunny rabbit left chocolate eggs in the night. Now…I wonder why we’re f*cked up as a race? Anybody? Anybody got any clues out there? Where do we get this sh*t from? Why those two things? Why not goldfish left Lincoln logs in your sock drawer? As long as we’re making sh*t up, go hog wild. At least a goldfish with a Lincoln log on its back going across the floor to your sock drawer has a miraculous connotation to it.

little kid’s voice: Mummy, I woke up today and there was a Lincoln log in me sock drawer.
Mummy: That’s the story of Jesus.

Who comes up with this sh*t? I’ve read the Bible and I can’t find the word chocolate or bunny anywhere in that book.

That’s no excuse for using bad metaphors

Wherein, YES! it's another extended quote from Cryptonomicon!

Maybe I'll start a Friday feature of long Neal Stephenson excerpts and work on some of his other books to give Cryptonomicon a rest. Feel free to nominate one of your favorite sections.

Pooh has an interesting post. Over at Done With Mirrors, Reader_IAM comments on it. I'm not commenting on it here. It just triggered another Neal Stephenson flashback about the term "information superhighway." That term had always bugged me as initially sounding cool, but ultimately meaning not a damn thing.

This excerpt, one of my favorites, has many things: the irrelevance of out of touch academics, Dwarves and Hobbits taxonomy, why Information Highway is a bad mataphor, and the politics of oppressed-person’s language. Regarding the Information Highway, it's important to remember this was published in 1999, so was written at the beginning of the Dotcom boom. The Web (as opposed to the internet; you can be on the internet without being on the Web and anyone who recognizes Archie, Jughead, Gopher knows what I'm talking about) didn't even exist until...well, that depends on how you want to define it. Hypertext was developed in the 1980s, the first webpage at CERN was 1991 (the official birth of WWW), and Mosaic was released in 1993 (when WWW really began to be used by the public). Internet Explorer wasn't the Windows default browser until 1996. AOL didn't even allow Internet access until 1994 or 1995. I went to my high school 25 year reunion in 1997 and was shocked by the number of people without email addresses. Things have changed quickly and it's hard to believe there was a time without the internet.
Randy was forever telling people, without rancor, that they were full of shit. That was the only way to get anything done in hacking. No one took it personally.

Charlene’s crowd most definitely did take it personally. It wasn’t being told that they were wrong that offended them, though—it was the underlying assumption that a person could be right or wrong about anything. So on the Night in Question—the night of Avi’s fateful call—Randy had done what he usually did, which was to withdraw from the conversation. In the Tolkien, not the endocrinological or Snow White sense, Randy is a Dwarf. Tolkien’s Dwarves were stout, taciturn, vaguely magical characters who spent a lot of time in the dark hammering out beautiful things, e.g. Rings of Power. Thinking of himself as a Dwarf who had hung up his war-ax for a while to go sojourning in the Shire, where he was surrounded by squabbling Hobbits (i.e., Charlene’s friends), had actually done a lot for Randy’s peace of mind over the years. He knew perfectly well that if he were stuck in academia, these people, and the things they said, would seem momentous to him. But where he came from, nobody had been taking these people seriously for years. So he just withdrew from the conversation and drank his wine and looked out over the Pacific surf and tried not to do anything really obvious like shaking his head and rolling his eyes.

Then the topic of the Information Superhighway came up, and Randy could feel faces turning in his direction like searchlights, casting almost palpable warmth on his skin.

Dr. G. E. B. Kivistik had a few things to say about the Information Superhighway. He was a fiftyish Yale professor who had just flown in from someplace that had sounded really cool and impressive when he had gone out of his way to mention it several times. His name was Finnish, but he was British as only a non-British Anglophile could be. Ostensibly he was here to attend War as Text. Really he was there to recruit Charlene, and really really (Randy suspected) to fuck her. This was probably not true at all, but just a symptom of how wacked out Randy was getting by this point. Dr. G. E. B. Kivistik had been showing up on television pretty frequently. Dr. G. E. B. Kivistik had a couple of books out. Dr. G. E. B. Kivistik was, in short, parlaying his strongly contrarian view of the Information Superhighway into more air time than anyone who hadn’t been accused of blowing up a day care center should get.

A Dwarf on sojourn in the Shire would probably go to a lot of dinner parties where pompous boring Hobbits would hold forth like this. This Dwarf would view the whole thing as entertainment. He would know that he could always go back out into the real world, so much vaster and more complex than these Hobbits imagined, and slay a few Trolls and remind himself of what really mattered.

That was what Randy always told himself, anyway. But on the Night in Question, it didn’t work. Partly because Kivistik was too big and real to be a Hobbit—probably more influential in the real world than Randy would ever be. Partly because another faculty spouse at the table—a likable, harmless computerphile named Jon—decided to take issue with some of Kivistik’s statements and was cheerfully shot down for his troubles. Blood was in the water.

Randy had ruined his relationship with Charlene by wanting to have kids. Kids raise issues. Charlene, like all of her friends, couldn’t handle issues. Issues meant disagreement. Voicing disagreement was a form of conflict. Conflict, acted out openly and publicly, was a male mode of social interaction—the foundation for patriarchal society which brought with it the usual litany of dreadful things. Regardless, Randy decided to get patriarchal with Dr. G. E. B. Kivistik.

"How many slums will we bulldoze to build the Information Superhighway?" Kivistik said. This profundity was received with thoughtful nodding around the table.

Jon shifted in his chair as if Kivistik had just dropped an ice cube down his collar. "What does that mean?" he asked. Jon was smiling, trying not to be a conflict-oriented patriarchal hegemonist. Kivistik in response, raised his eyebrows and looked around at everyone else, as if to say Who invited this poor lightweight? Jon tried to dig himself out from his tactical error, as Randy closed his eyes and tried not to wince visibly. Kivistik had spent more years sparring with really smart people over high table at Oxford than Jon had been alive. "You don’t have to bulldoze anything. There’s nothing there to bulldoze," Jon pleaded.

"Very well, let me put it this way," Kivistik said magnanimously—he was not above dumbing down his material for the likes of Jon. "How many on-ramps will connect the world’s ghettos to the Information Superhighway?"

Oh, that’s much clearer, everyone seemed to think. Point well taken, Geb! No one looked at Jon, that argumentative pariah. Jon looked helplessly over at Randy, signaling for help.

Jon was a Hobbit who’d actually been out of the Shire recently, so he knew Randy was a dwarf. Now he was fucking up Randy’s life by calling upon Randy to jump up on the table, throw off his homespun cloak, and whip out his two-handed ax.

The words came out of Randy’s mouth before he had time to think better of it. "The Information Superhighway is just a fucking metaphor! Give me a break!" he said.

There was a silence as everyone around the table winced in unison. Dinner had now, officially, crashed and burned. All they could do now was grab their ankles, put their heads between their knees, and wait for the wreckage to slide to a halt.

"That doesn’t tell me very much," Kivistik said. "Everything is a metaphor. The word ‘fork’ is a metaphor for this object." He held up a fork. "All discourse is built from metaphors."

"That’s no excuse for using bad metaphors," Randy said.

"Bad? Bad? Who decides what is bad?" Kivistik said, doing his killer impression of a heavy-lidded, mouth-breathing undergraduate. There was scattered tittering from people who were desperate to break the tension.

Randy could see where it was going. Kivistik had gone for the usual academician’s ace in the hole: everything is relative, it’s all just differing perspectives. People had already begun to resume their little side conversations, thinking that the conflict was over, when Randy gave them all a start with: "Who decides what’s bad? I do."

Even Dr. G. E. B. Kivistik was flustered. He wasn’t sure if Randy was joking. "Excuse me?"

Randy was in no great hurry to answer the question. He took the opportunity to sit back comfortably, stretch, and take a sip of his wine. He was feeling good. "It’s like this," he said. "I’ve read your book. I’ve seen you on TV. I’ve heard you tonight. I personally typed up a list of your credentials when I was preparing press materials for this conference. So I know that you’re not qualified to have an opinion about technical issues.’’

"Oh," Kivistik said in mock confusion, "I didn’t realize one had to have qualifications."

"I think it’s clear," Randy said, "that if you are ignorant of a particular subject, that your opinion is completely worthless. If I’m sick, I don’t ask a plumber for advice. I go to a doctor. Likewise, if I have questions about the Internet, I will seek opinions from people who know about it."

"Funny how all of the technocrats seem to be in favor of the Internet," Kivistik said cheerily, milking a few more laughs from the crowd.

"You have just made a statement that is demonstrably not true," Randy said, pleasantly enough. "A number of Internet experts have written well-reasoned books that are sharply critical of it."

Kivistik was finally getting pissed off. All the levity was gone.

"So," Randy continued, "to get back to where we started, the Information Superhighway is a bad metaphor for the Internet, because I say it is. There might be a thousand people on the planet who are as conversant with the Internet as I am. I know most of these people. None of them takes that metaphor seriously. Q.E.D."

"Oh. I see," Kivistik said, a little hotly. He had seen an opening. "So we should rely on the technocrats to tell us what to think, and how to think, about this technology."

The expressions of the others seemed to say that this was a telling blow, righteously struck.

"I’m not sure what a technocrat is," Randy said. "Am I a technocrat? I’m just a guy who went down to the bookstore and bought a couple of textbooks on TCP/IP, which is the underlying protocol of the Internet, and read them. And then I signed on to a computer, which anyone can do nowadays, and I messed around with it for a few years, and now I know all about it. Does that make me a technocrat?"

"You belonged to the technocratic elite even before you picked up that book," Kivistik said. "The ability to wade through a technical text, and to understand it, is a privilege. It is a privilege conferred by an education that is available only to members of an elite class. That’s what I mean by technocrat."

"I went to a public school," Randy said. "And then I went to a state university. From that point on, I was self-educated."

Charlene broke in. She had been giving Randy dirty looks ever since this started and he had been ignoring her. Now he was going to pay. "And your family?" Charlene asked frostily.

Randy took a deep breath, stifled the urge to sigh. "My father’s an engineer. He teaches at a state college."

"And his father?"

"A mathematician."

Charlene raised her eyebrows. So did nearly everyone else at the table. Case closed.

"I strenuously object to being labeled and pigeonholed and stereotyped as a technocrat," Randy said, deliberately using oppressed-person’s language, maybe in an attempt to turn their weapons against them but more likely (he thinks, lying in bed at three A.M. in the Manila Hotel) out of an uncontrollable urge to be a prick. Some of them, out of habit, looked at him soberly; etiquette dictated that you give all sympathy to the oppressed. Others gasped in outrage to hear these words coming from the lips of a known and convicted white male technocrat. "No one in my family has ever had much money or power," he said.

"I think that the point that Charlene’s making is like this," said Tomas, one of their houseguests who had flown in from Prague with his wife Nina. He had now appointed himself conciliator. He paused long enough to exchange a warm look with Charlene. "Just by virtue of coming from a scientific family, you are a member of a privileged elite. You’re not aware of it—but members of privileged elites are rarely aware of their privileges."

Randy finished the thought. "Until people like you come along to explain to us how stupid, to say nothing of morally bankrupt, we are."

"The false consciousness Tomas is speaking of is exactly what makes entrenched power elites so entrenched," Charlene said.

"Well, I don’t feel very entrenched," Randy said. "I’ve worked my ass off to get where I’ve gotten."

"A lot of people work hard all their lives and get nowhere," someone said accusingly. Look out! The sniping had begun.

"Well, I’m sorry I haven’t had the good grace to get nowhere," Randy said, now feeling just a bit surly for the first time, "but I have found that if you work hard, educate yourself and keep your wits about you, you can find your way in this society."

"But that’s straight out of some nineteenth-century Horatio Alger book," Tomas sputtered.

"So? Just because it’s an old idea doesn’t mean it’s wrong." Randy said.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Where's the Lost commentary

Wherein I'm branching

I've been invited to be a contributor at Begging to Differ. I've been slack and haven't gotten around to finishing yet. However, Greg is out this week so I'm covering for him and his Lost posts.

You can read me at Lost: SOS.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


Wherein repetitative tautology it is, but pointless

Pointless link because every other website in the known universe has already linked to it.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Time for another boycott

Wherein as long as I'm boycotting Burt's Bees

Gruber is correct. Walgreens has gone too far and must be dealt with.

Burt’s Bees doesn’t care about you

Wherein this is real outrage, not the usual faux outrage

Sunday was a beautiful day, so with most of the cleanup out of the way we headed to Midtown for the Atlanta Dogwood Festival. One of the nicer art shows in the country with many of the artists traveling the country. Fine artwork in all mediums.

We brought home a whimsical still life photography print from Jennifer Prince. We were very impressed with Karin Connolly's ethereal floral photographs printed on canvas. And the glass work at Tray Cool Glass reminds me that I need to start practicing my kiln work again. Interestingly the Tray Cool website has very few of the more interesting pieces they were exhibiting - check out the bowls and sconces for the best examples of their artistry.

Now that we have the pleasantries out of the way, let's turn our attention to Burt's Bees. They have a traveling exhibit extolling the virtues of their products, with lots of samples. Sounded interesting, but just before you enter the tent is one of the most obnoxious signs I've ever read:

Just in case that wasn't clear, here's the text:

This event and its activities participants will be photographed and/or recorded.

By your presence, you grant Burt's Bees and Alloy Marketing and Promotions, LLC (the "Companies") the right to use your name, biographical data, portrait, photograph, voice, or likeness in any form, in whole or in part, for advertising, promotional, or trade purposed related to the Companies products and services in any and all media, without territorial, time, use, or other limitation, and without compensation, notification or permission. You further release the Companies from all liabilities arising out of any distortion or faulty mechanical reproductions of your likeness, and agree that any and all material, storage mediums, and recordings, regardless of form, containing your likeness and or voice are and shall remain the property of the Companies.

Thank you.

I know I have a few lawyer types occasionally stopping by, so I'm hoping they can tell me if I'm overreacting. Because to me, this reads as Burt's Bees saying they can do the following and screw you for complaining:
  • Use your photograph in any way they like.
  • Use film of you in any way they like.
  • Use a recording of your voice in any way they like.
  • This is not limited to Burt's Bees; if Alloy Marketing wants to use your face to launch a nationwide campaign about the dangers of herpes, too bad.
  • Maybe you're allergic to honey and are just accompanying a friend. Next thing you know, you're on a billboard with the caption: "I love to rub honey all over my body." Sucker, you chose to enter the tent.
  • Don't forget that part about releasing them from liability arising from distortion of your likeness. If they want to digitize your likeness into a film where you looks like you're clubbing baby seals, so be it.

Burt's Bees is claiming the right to do anything with your likeness and voice, and say anything about you, good or bad. They claim this right forever and state that they own you. Since you are their property, they can sell you to anyone else and then that company can do anything they want with you.

Frankly, I find this behavior completely disgusting and insulting, however harmless their intentions may be. Needless to say, I did not enter the tent and I saw a few other people leave as well. Not that it necessarily matters as they had a cameraman filming people standing in line waiting to get in. We've purchased some Burt's Bees products in the past, but no more.

Anyone else bothered by this complete lack of respect for personal privacy? Burt's Bees - you are dead to me.