Columbine has finished up his treatise on demystifying Chinese menus. Definitely worth checking out if you're interested in food or the process of dabbling in foreign languages.
Defamer reports that the MPAA is preventing Michael Moore from advertising his movie with this quote from Richard Roeper: "Everyone should see this movie." Why?
F 9/11 lost a ratings appeal and carries an R rating, so the MPAA interprets that "everyone" as a call to violate the age restriction the rating carries.
But...isn't everyone allowed to see it? Just because people under 18 have to be accompanied by a guardian to see the movie doesn't mean it's illegal for them to view it. Presumably that "everyone" also includes their parents.
Of course, the R rating for the movie is kind of ridiculous anyway. And many theater owners agree, according to the Hollywood Reporter:
At Oakland, Calif.'s Grand Lake Theater, owner Allen Michaan decided not to enforce the R rating. He is following the same policy as the Park Theatre in Lafayette, Calif., and the Orinda Theatre in Orinda, Calif., where the movie will open Wednesday.
"I really felt that the R rating was totally uncalled for in this picture," Michaan said. "The language it's citing is what kids hear in their music all the time. The images can be seen on the evening news. My wife and I made a conscious decision to defy the R rating.
"Ironically, we are the toughest theater in the East Bay when it comes into getting into an R-rated movie. We actually enforce the ratings system vigorously, but I felt this was political censorship and I couldn't support it," Michaan said. "I don't know how much of an effect it's had on the film, but I think as the weeks go on and the crowds lessen, we'll see more young people coming in."
I still haven't seen it. Busy schedule this past week and all. Maybe Friday. (I can help bump up the often-overlooked-but-still-important second weekend take.)
Rose and I and some friends watched "The Thin Man" in Bryant Park tonight. It's a delightful (and very drinky) movie, of course, and one that I hadn't seen in a while. So that was all good, as was the pre-movie picnicking and cribbage. But I seemed to recall that there was something lame about the many sequels to "The Thin Man", and a little time with my beloved Uncle Google confirmed it.
As people who have not seen the movie or read the Dashiell Hammett book generally do not know, the title does not refer to the story's lead character, detective Nick Charles. It refers to another character involved in the mystery. Since this character doesn't appear in any future stories featuring Nick and Nora Charles, this would seem to be an obstacle to creating a cohesive series of titles for the subsequent films.
Hollywood was up to the task. The second Nick and Nora film was titled "After the Thin Man", a title which does indicate that it is a sequel to "The Thin Man"...but provides no information about the movie itself at all. The third film in the series was "Another Thin Man", implying that Nick had a soft spot for ectomorphic clients.
Subsequent installments give up entirely, with titles that seem about as well-thought-out as the Pink Panther movies. "Shadow of the Thin Man" was followed by "The Thin Man Goes Home", at which point in the series they apparently decided to just fall in line with the popular misconception that the Thin Man = Nick Charles, given that the set-up for the movie involves Nick returning home to visit his parents. The final film was "Song of the Thin Man". It involved jazz music and (I can only assume) a thin man of some sort. If they meant the title to refer to William Powell, it was wishful thinking of the highest order, as I gather he had gained a little weight between the first movie and the last, and he wasn't what you would have called thin to start out with.
I've been playing with a couple of online portrait toys this week. Portrait Illustration Maker produces a picture that's just the right size for a LiveJournal icon. The fact that this is a blog and not a livejournal did not dissuade me. This is what I came up with:
Good thing I shaved recently, because they didn't have any facial hair options that were close to my former beard at all.
Anyway, that was okay, but I had a much better time playing with Mr. Picasso Head.
I also made a portrait of Rose while I was at it.
Having shaved the beard, my half of the pair of cartoons I drew for our wedding program is now out of date. I may need to make a new one (since I still use it as clip art on my freelance invoices). Of course, it was a little lax to start out with, what with the hair being parted on the wrong side and all. Rose's is still pretty accurate, though.
What with the new Cure album coming out, perhaps it's time to do a little Goth roundup.
Achewood talks tough to teens about Goths.
Goth jokes. (Sample: "Say, who was that Goth I saw you with last night?" "That was no Goth! I'm a necrophiliac!")
Or just read the review of the new Cure album at Pitchfork. They give it a surprisingly good review, considering they agree with me that "even its best tracks are starved for a stellar riff".
Until I get my act together enough to go through the 300-something photos I took at the mermaid parade to pick my favorites (although Rose posted a few), here are two places you can see an early selection of other people's photos:
We had quite the busy weekend. Saturday was the Mermaid Parade (photos to follow soonish), followed by a walk up the Boardwalk to Brighton Beach to eat Russian food then back to where we started to decide that the "Mermaid Ball" seemed more like "people at a bar" and maybe we didn't want to pay a $10 cover charge for that. So we headed back for cocktails at a friend's nearby apartment, which led to four of us singing karaoke at a local bar till four in the morning. Naturally. I need to go back and get someone else to sing Elvis Costello's "Pump It Up" so I can try to transcribe all the incredibly incorrect lyrics. Fortunately, I have them memorized, so the fact that whoever was attempting to transcribe the lyrics for the karaoke company didn't know the word "tenterhooks" didn't throw me for too long. (I do remember -- or am pretty sure that I do -- that the line "Fall into submission" was rendered as "Fall into somethings".)
Sunday we went to the MOCCA (Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art) show at the Puck Building, where we showed a marked lack of puchasing restraint. Jeff Rowland showed us the aftermath of his brown recluse spider bite. It was scary. After that, we headed up to FIT for the tail end of the origami convention, where we folded two of the models that had been taught earlier in the weekend while we were frolicking in the sun.
Now back to the serious business of hiding in my cave and blogging.
The New York Times op-ed page has a humor piece up today about the upcoming spate of religious programming. Turns out all of us hack writers agree that "CSI: [something]" is comedy gold.
There is an absolutely fucking crazy campaign video currently running at the official Bush-Cheney website (click on the "New Web Video" captioned "This is not a time for pessimism and rage). I just have no idea what they are going for with this video. The ad is apparently attempting to convince people that voting for Democrats is bad because the Democrats like to yell. It consists of a series of video clips of Gore, Dean, Gephardt, Michael Moore, Kerry...and Hitler.
Okay. Already it's fucked up. Stick with me. The first thing that seems like it's working against the video is that all these people in it are criticizing the president. I mean, if you're the sort of knee-jerk Bush-booster that thinks criticizing the president is tantamount to treason, then this ad might successfully get you riled up...but you clearly don't need any convincing to vote for the evil candidates. For everyone else, the possibility exists that they might sympathize a tiny bit with the passionately expressed opposing viewpoints presented here.
And then there's Hitler. (Starring Bea Arthur as Hitler.)
At first, it seemed like the makers of the ad were trying to compare the speaking styles of the Democrats to Hitler's histrionics. Which they probably are, but there's more going on. A second viewing rang the bell; it turns out the Hitler appearance are excerpts from another ad that was submitted to a MoveOn contest, which would explain the confusing thing where the Hitler pictures were subtitled with the text "God told me to strike at al Qaida and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did."
There are so many levels of dubiousness here. Firstly, for this to work as "look how crazy the Democrats are" propaganda, it requires too much knowledge (but not too too much) on the part of the viewer: they need to know that the Hitler ads appeared on the MoveOn website and were controversial, but they need to not know that the ads weren't actually made by MoveOn and were soon repudiated by them. (MoveOn posted all anti-Bush ads submitted for the competition so people could vote on their favorites; I gather they didn't screen out any ads before posting them.) But even if you know about the Hitler ads, as I did, the excerpts from them go by so fast in the commercial that it's hard to parse them as anything other than just, well, clips of Hitler. So although they can claim they're just highlighting a previous (overblown) campaign scandal, a more likely reading of the ad is "the Democrats are as crazy as Hitler was" -- which is, of course, pretty disingenuous if you're going to complain about Hitler appearing in an opponent's ad.
And then there's that caption: "God told me to strike at al Qaida and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did." I mean...apparently Bush did actually say that. Is that a quote they really want to spread around?
So, anyway. Weird, yes? Yes. Weird.
If, like me, you mostly missed 2003's "365 Days" project -- a year's worth of strange and wonderful MP3s -- the full archives have now been posted. There are so many gems, I can't even begin to suggest where you should start. Just clear some space on your hard drive and get to it.
(Via Largehearted Boy.)
An Oklahoma judge has been accused of not exempting his penis from the "all rise" instruction.
In [his] petition, the attorney general charged Thompson used a penis pump, a device billed as providing sexual pleasure and promising better erections and larger penis size, during trials and exposed himself to a court reporter several times while masturbating on the bench.
"On one occasion, Ms. (Lisa) Foster (Thompson's court reporter for 15 years), saw Judge Thompson holding his penis up and shaving underneath it with a disposable razor while on the bench," the petition reads.
I just feel bad for any other judges who have been using the same chair.
Talking about INXS and their late lead singer reminds me of a dream I had a long time ago, back in college. I was at a dinner party and seated next to Michael Hutchence. He tried to put his hand on my knee and I said, "Get your hand off my knee, Michael Hutchence! INXS sucks!"
This is a truck that is frequently parked around the corner from us. Rarely does a slogan so evoke an image of a stocky man with a thick Brooklyn accent, perhaps holding a well chewed-on cigar.
Stereogum just saved me ten bucks by linking to an audio stream of the new Cure album. I was optimistic about it after hearing the opening track, "Lost", which actually sounds slightly different than your average Cure song (a little more driving, a little more rocking, a little more impassioned), and I liked the Arabic-tinged accompaniment to "Labyrinth"...but then it all turned into more hook-free Cure-by-the-numbers. Guess I'll just have to stick to the upcoming series of Cure reissues.
I had better get another shot at seeing the Pixies in concert, or I am going to be mightily cheesed off about this for a long, long time.
Daniel has an article in Salon today about "Wizard People, Dear Reader", the underground comedy hit of the year. Unless you subscribe to Salon, you'll need to sit through an ad (or more likely, let your computer sit through it while you're in another window) to get a free Salon day pass to read it. Don't worry, it's not too onerous. And while you're there, you can go through the Tom the Dancing Bug archives.
Earlier this month, Todd Seavey invited me to attend the debut of Lefty Leibowitz's roller derby league. (They don't have teams yet -- women competed as individuals at the races I attended -- but they're recruiting.)
As I arrived in the parking lot under the BQE where the races were being held, Lefty was delivering pre-game commentary with a megaphone (incomprehensible in the echoey, filled-with-the-noise-of-cars-driving-overhead space). Lefty is one of the founding members of the Jinx Society; his cohort, LB Deyo, was in town from Austin, and although he'd had no hand in planning the roller derby, he had been pressed into service as a referee. At least, he wore a referee shirt. (In practice, rather than refereeing, he and Todd ended up at the far end of the impromptu track, preventing cars from running into the racers.) Lefty wore the traditional Jinx uniform, a suit.
Before the races began, we received a program with various facts about the competitors, to help us with placing our bets. (I did not bet, as I prefer to lose my money by accruing late fees on my cable bill.) Margaret Thrasher's occupation was "Prime Minister of Your Demise". Rosie Knuckles claimed to be "faster than a teenage boy on prom night". The Little Red Terror's turn-ons included "lapses in judgment" and "anything sparkly". Sybil Disobedience listed her occupation as "coquette".
For a race-by-race recap of the action, check out the New York Press report here. However, note that when he refers to the "zebra-striped referee" overturning the result of the first race, he is making shit up, because LB was way on the other side of the track for all that drama. Or maybe there was another referee. Hell if I know; I was more interested in watching girls skate. For anyone else similarly interested in watching girls skate, here is a little Gotham Girls Roller Derby photo album for you.
A pre-race conference. I'd say the racers were threatening and insulting each other, but honestly they look a little too cheerful for that. I guess they save their anger for the track. Smarty Pants was not a racer; she helped officiate and clean off the track between races.
Scenes from the second qualifying race.
Margaret Thrasher, Little Red Terror, and Rosie Knuckles line up for the final race.
Little Red gets off to an early lead, but later trips and falls behind.
The last lap. Margaret Thrasher has the lead, and eventually wins comfortably. Little Red can be seen recovering from a fall in the background.
Margaret Thrasher in her winner's regalia.
The Gotham Girls pose, imagining that the camera is a man who did them wrong.
The store has everything a modern, well-equipped superhero might need: leotards, boots, tights, magnets, chain ladders, nets and other tools of the villain-fighting trade. "We don't sell comic books or figurines,'' Mr. Seeley said. "It's literally what a superhero would use.''
Awesome. Could be a good source of material for the next music club, if they sell CDs aimed at the superhero market.
Also in McSweeney's news, I just ordered the new Chris Ware-edited Issue 13. Will it outshine the They Might Be Giants issue? We shall see.
I enjoy the music of Daniel Johnston, but his solo recordings can be kind of difficult to listen to, so I've always preferred experiencing his songs as cover versions. Fortunately, lots of people are fans of his work. The Dead Milkmen covered "Rocketship" on "Bucky Fellini"; both Yo La Tengo and Mary Lou Lord have covered "Speeding Motorcycle"; and Kathy McCarty recorded an entire (brilliant) album of Johnston songs, "Dead Dog's Eyeball", which is currently out of print, so if you know me and want a copy, I am happy to oblige.
Anyway, even more listenable versions of Johnston songs are on the way, featuring covers by Beck, Tom Waits, Death Cab for Cutie, Guster, Mercury Rev, and scads more, plus a bonus CD of Johnston's original versions, so those who have never heard him before can compare and contrast. Alas, no cover version yet of my personal favorite, "I Remember Painfully" (which features the timeless line, "I remember how we looked at the embryo in the jar together"). I may have to record my own.
There's a new song of mine available for download today, "Compass Boy". Well, more like an old song that I recently re-recorded. It's the sad story of a boy who is a compass (the kind you use in geometry class, not the kind you wish you had brought with you when you are lost in the forest). Sometimes people ask me if it is a true story. Yes. Yes, it is.
It's been reported all over the place by now, but perhaps there are some readers here who don't yet know that Ray Bradbury, author of "Fahrenheit 451", is a big crank, threatening to sue Michael Moore over the title of his documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11", saying, "He didn't ask my permission," conveniently leaving out the fact that Moore didn't need to ask Bradbury's permission. The article goes on to say:
Bradbury, who is a registered political independent, said he would rather avoid litigation and is "hoping to settle this as two gentlemen, if he'll shake hands with me and give me back my book and title."
Yeah, I bet Ray Bradbury is pretty cheesed off about how Michael Moore stole the idea of doing a documentary about terrorism and the Bush administration from Bradbury's prescient book. I'm mostly amused that Bradbury says that he'd rather avoid litigation. I bet he would rather avoid litigation...considering he has no case.
Some people have argued that although Bush is not a perfect president, what with being the worst president America has ever had and all, we still need to re-elect him because he's doing such a bang-up job fighting the war on terrorism. This makes me want to stomp around and smash things. But apparently now I will have a book I can refer people to when they try to make this argument to me.
Excuse me while I pound my head against the wall. You can read these excerpts from the New York Times while you wait. First, from an article about the findings of the 9/11 commission:
[I]n 17 preliminary staff reports, that panel has called into question nearly every aspect of the administration's response to terror, including the idea that Iraq and Al Qaeda were somehow the same foe.
Bush, following the successful Republican strategy of ignoring facts that don't square with their beliefs, has contested that by...um...saying he's right and they're not, nyaah.
President Bush today told soldiers newly returned from distant battlefields that the 9/11 terror attacks and the war in Iraq were inextricably linked.
Bipartisan commissions be damned! This next article really calls for a longer excerpt:
President Bush and Vice President Cheney said yesterday that they remain convinced that Saddam Hussein's government had a long history of ties to Al Qaeda, a day after the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks reported that its review of classified intelligence found no evidence of a "collaborative relationship" that linked Iraq to the terrorist organization.
Mr. Bush, responding to a reporter's question about the report after a White House cabinet meeting yesterday morning, said: "The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and Al Qaeda" is "because there was a relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda."
Holy tautology, Batman! Bush and Cheney harp on a decade-old meeting between an Iraq official and Al Qaeda as if the fact that they were once in the same room at the same time justifies invading another country. But to return to the first article:
The sole example [Bush] cited of "numerous contacts" between Mr. Hussein and Al Qaeda was a meeting between a senior Iraq intelligence agent and Mr. bin Laden in Sudan in 1994, one that the commission said appeared to have gone nowhere.
I mean, if you're going to invade someone based on old associations with Osama bin Laden that didn't work out, then shouldn't we be sending troops to Reagan's grave?
He presumably means "tack", although it's possible he is making a joke (that is, normally he's rude to people, but something about the subject of the song made him feel tactful for a change). But it wouldn't be the first time someone had made that error.
You know, yes, Rooster ties are old, and they're not always easy to find, but when you get right down to it, they are still basically just skinny strips of fabric, and previously owned skinny strips of fabric, no matter how snazzy, should not cost $150.00.
Also on the Rooster tie forefront, I've noticed the number of hits I've been getting on the phrase "Rooster tie" has been increasing. Today I got three hits in a row (from three different domains, so, not the same person trying different searches) on it. Was there a recent article about them somewhere?
In my ongoing quest to impose my taste on everyone I know, here's another installment in the series of "books I'm fond of that are on sale used for hella low prices at Amazon": The Encyclopedia of Bad Taste. (One warning -- don't order from Bargain Books and More in Winter Garden, Florida. I and at least one other person attempted to buy Decade of the Year from them and ended up getting completely random books instead, necessitating refunds and reorders. Does anyone want a free copy of "New World Avenue and Vicinity" by Tadeusz Konwicki?)
The Encyclopedia of Bad Taste is great for indulging in short excursions into the arcana of the worst excesses of pop culture, including entries on Hamburger Helper, Fingernail Extremism, Cedar Souvenirs, Roller Derby (watch this space for more roller derby-related material soon), Enormous Breasts, Panty-Hose Crafts, and many more. Of course, I take exception to the inclusion of "Loud Ties" and "Hawaiian Shirts", and many of my readers may resent the presence of "Game Shows", but this is still a pretty entertaining book for a few bucks (34 cents plus shipping if you buy the softcover).
Boing Boing's Cory Doctorow gave a speech at Microsoft Research telling them why DRM (digital rights management) is bad for everybody, and what they could do about it to make tons of money and millions of consumers happy in the process. (Check out my zeugma.) Anyway, the full text of his presentation is online; definitely worth checking out if you've got a little time on your hands.
If you've never seen "Deep Throat", and your local video store doesn't have a copy...perhaps a silent ASCII animation of the movie will suffice instead? The opening credits are safe for work, but once that car parks, you're on your own, whereupon you may be amazed that cunnilingus is still rather sexy in a green-on-black text format, or just surprised at how well cigarette smoke can be rendered in ASCII. I haven't gotten any further than that (there's no ability to fast-forward), but feel free to point out any particular highlights in the comments.
(Via Collision Detection.)
The track listings for the next wave of Elvis Costello reissues have been announced. Most exciting is the release of the complete George Jones demos on the Kojak Variety bonus CD (Elvis recorded ten cover songs which he felt would make good choices for George Jones to record; the suggestions were, sadly, not taken).
Last night we saw Los Lobos (whose new album I can heartily recommend, although it's still not my favorite) for free in Prospect Park, and it was a terrific show, although we did notice a few things: Even if a band is exhorting an audience to dance, New Yorkers mostly don't want to obey. Even if the person sitting next to someone says, "Oh, come on, stand up and dance -- the people behind you are standing up," that person may just stand up for ten seconds and then sit back down, as we observed. And even if an audience is patently not rocking out, a polite band will compliment them on their ability to rock.
Any New York anecdote would be incomplete without at least one odd character making an appearance. We had two, one of which was Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz, who I had never seen in person before. That is one very hyper man. He reminds me a little of Harlan Ellison (in height and brassiness). The other was an audience member who Rose pointed out to me during the first song. He was standing in the center aisle, dancing...and playing maracas. He wandered off at some point and then came back again with the maracas, although this time he was clearly off the beat, which made him much more distracting. During the finale of that song, he broke out a whistle. Then he left again, and while I hoped that was the last of him, he returned...but this time with a tambourine. Apparently he had brought a whole array of percussion instruments. Once again, he left, but perhaps there were enough people dancing in the aisle at that point that it was too hard for him to work his way to the front with his full drum kit. I guess we'll never know.
Back in 1998, I spent a while answering questions for the Internet Oracle. The traditional method by which the Oracle works is this: You (aka the "supplicant") come up with a question. You e-mail that question to the Internet Oracle. While you're waiting for your question to be answered, you get someone else's question. Taking the identity of an incarnation of the Oracle, you answer that question in some humorous fashion (perhaps referring to one of any number of insular Oracle-related running gags), and then wrap up by saying what the supplicant owes the Oracle for this answer. Essentially, it was a way of practicing my humor writing in bite-size quantities (eventually supplanted by Slate's News Quiz.)
Anyway, in honor of Bloomsday, here are two short James Joyce pastiches I wrote in one of my various and sundry Oracle incarnations. (It's true they're based on Finnegans Wake, not Ulysses. I trust you will cope.)
Almighty Oracle, who has access to libraries past, present, and future, who knows the printer's art backwards...
What are the best books that were never written?
The best books that were never written were James Joyce's planned sequels to Finnegans Wake, Finnegan Gets the Shaft (a foray into the hard-boiled detective genre) and Finnegan in Wonderland (a light-hearted children's tale). It's a tragedy of indescribable proportions that the world of literature was robbed of these gems when James Joyce sobered up and decided not to write them. However, a brief snippet of each -- scrawled drunkenly on bar napkins -- survived, thankfully, and I've reprinted them here for you.
FINNEGAN GETS THE SHAFT
lugergun, past Spade and Archer's, from screech of street to barf of beer, picked up by a fedoratopped flatfoot of discernification back to Smoky Office and Environs. Mike Finnegan, private d'etective, fr'over the laundromat downthestairs, had powder-dust contrived from Precinct Serpentine on this side the crummy megapol down Canal Street to pinkyprint his evidentiary gat...[runs out of room on napkin]
FINNEGAN IN WONDERLAND
The fall (whopwhopthunkwhopwhopclinkmeowkersmashbiffbangboomdinaharrrgh!) down a once rabbitwide holecave is rapidstopped thumping to ground and spying on stopperbottle request to ingest all respondez silverplate. The great roll of the harehole enthirsted at such short notice the pftjthroat of Finnegan, erse solid man, that the parchedpersona of humself prumptly chugs a refrushing glug and wells up the walls away from his tumptytumtoes: and his headheightheftandsize are all the high rise in the sky where orioles have been flew from coops until a cake...[beer spill renders remainder of text unreadable]
You owe the Oracle a portrait of himself as a young soothsayer.
Lest you think I am giving Ulysses the cold shoulder, I will also mention that before my editor and I decided that focusing on poetry and plays was the way to go, I had considered including a parody of Ulysses in the forthcoming Holy Tango of Literature. That would have been "Aye, J.J. Comes" by James Joyce, which would have ended with the line "...and his heart was going like mad and yes he said yes I will Dyn-o-mite."
As for some other Bloomsday goodies, have you checked Google's logo out today?
The "Silver Android" and "Patriotic Gorilla" are out of stock, but the "Hollywood Hog" is available again. But if a welder's wearing one of these, doesn't that make it more likely that people are going to want to look at them (in admiration, confusion, or mild discombobulation) while they're welding? Isn't that dangerous for their eyes?
(Via Incoming Signals.)
Believe me, I think it's snazzy that Yahoo has upgraded my e-mail account from 6 MB of storage to 100 MB, but I wonder if their servers are prepared to handle the inevitable increase in traffic...which may already be happening, given that I've had a hard time accessing my e-mail all day long since they made the announcement. Right now I can get to www.yahoo.com, where my "Personal Assistant" tells me I have 27 unread e-mail messages, but whenever I try to go to my mailbox, it tells me "The page cannot be displayed." I hope this doesn't keep up. I'd rather expend the energy keeping my account below 6 MB and actually be able to read my messages.
I just spent over an hour at the post office picking up a package. Pull up a chair (you may have to get out of the chair you are already sitting in first) and let me tell you all about it.
First of all, I should mention that I did not have a slip indicating that this package was waiting for me. I merely inferred that it must be there, because Amazon sent it out a while ago, and it should have arrived sometime last week. (It actually arrived last Tuesday, it turns out.) This is the third time that a package has been waiting for us at the post office without the mail carrier ever leaving a package slip to alert us to its presence. The first time it happened, we were not aware that anything so lame could happen, and an set of books that Rose had ordered from Hamilton Books ended up being returned to sender. (They did reship it at no additional cost.) Since then, I've been vigilant.
So when I arrived at the post office, the line was, as it usually is, way too fucking long. But there seemed to be a shorter line at a separate window, and I asked the other people in the line if they were there to pick up packages; they were. This window is usually only open between 9:00 and 11:00 AM (and I am not usually awake between those hours to take advantage of this window), but I assumed they reopened the window to help deal with the large number of people waiting in line.
The package line moved not at all in the 15 minutes or so that I was waiting in it. I contemplated getting in the other line (which was actually moving, contrary to its usual behavior), but I didn't want to wait in it only to have someone tell me that I needed to go back and wait in the package line. Then, as the two women at the window finally completed their mysteriously complicated transactions, the rest of us in line were told by the woman at the window that, no, this window was not actually open. The people she was helping had asked to see a supervisor, so that's why they were at this window, and the rest of us were just going to have to get in the other line. She didn't apologize to us for not having said anything about this to us the entire time we were all waiting there, she didn't do anything to help us get served more quickly, and she generally acted as if we had all been trying to get away with something.
So we all got into the other line, which promptly slowed to a crawl. One man had a package which he had not finished taping shut; the clerk gave him some priority mail tape to wrap the package, which he did (clumsily), and didn't take the next person in line while he was taking forever about it. When he finally finished his transaction, she closed her window. So we were down to two windows, one of which was soon taken over by a woman with four rambunctious children who seemed to need new passports for all four of those children. The woman who had been stuck at the window next to that one for a ridiculously long time was then told that her clerk didn't have enough money to complete her transaction, and that there was only one clerk who could help her -- the one in the middle of dealing with the endless array of forms involved in sorting out the passports.
The next people in line (a man and daughter, it looked like) were also told that they'd have to wait for the passport clerk. So all these people -- mother, four children, irritated woman, irritated man and daughter -- are waiting in a clump in front of this harried clerk's window. Meanwhile, the line has just been getting longer and longer, and people who have not been waiting nearly as long as I have are started to get restless and demanding to see supervisors to complain.
There has been another window open all this time, but that window is the senior citizen window. If there are no senior citizens waiting, that window will take someone from the regular line. Naturally, every time it seemed like that window might become available to us, another senior citizen would meander in. It seems to me that when the line becomes so outrageously backed up, alternating senior citizens with people from the main line would be a good compromise, but given how little attention they seem to pay their customers, I'm not sure they would take my advice.
I have been to this post office before, so I knew to bring a book. Mind you, my ever increasing irritation made it difficult to focus (as did the SCREAMING BABY), but it did provide a distraction. As I got sloooooooowly within a few people of the one remaining window, my anticipation of actually perhaps escaping the post office -- possibly even with my package! -- made it too hard to read, so I gave up on it. Things sped up a bit once they reached the part of the line that consisted of nothing but those of us who were refugees from the imaginary package line. Sadly, the first of us did not even get his package. They couldn't find it. They took his number and told him they would call if it turned up. (This has also happened to me at this post office; in my case it was because a package had been addressed to both me and Rose, which apparently threw them into an utter tizzy. Packages addressed to two people go in a completely different place, apparently. And, naturally, my package slip -- yes, that one time they did manage to get me a package slip -- only had my name on it, so they didn't find it when they looked for it in the usual place.) A few minutes later I finally made it to a window and got my package.
Let's reflect on that for a moment. He had a package slip, and they couldn't find his package. I didn't have a package slip, and I am even now listening to the new Morrissey CD (which is helping calm me down somewhat) which was in my package -- which I had to infer was at the post office. Is this not seriously fucked up?
Oh, but wait. There is more. Even as I was waiting for the clerk to come back with my package, a new and heretofore unseen clerk emerged from the back of the post office, asking if anyone in line had packages to pick up, and would they give their slips to her so she could take care of it? This happened over a half hour after the freaking supervisor of the post office (sorry for the overuse of italics -- which isn't over yet -- but I feel it is the only recourse) told a line full of people waiting for packages to, basically, go to hell. I have never in my life seen such moronically bad customer relations.
What makes this even more irritating (and it is hard to believe that such a thing is possible) is that there's no reason my package should not have been delivered to my door in the first place. I work at home. I am home all day long. So it should not be hard to get packages to me. Perhaps sometimes the mailman arrives and rings the doorbell, and I am asleep, and the doorbell doesn't wake me up. I could see this happening. But then why would he not leave me a goddamn package slip? Why? Or why not just leave the box at the door...as they have done with practically every other package they bring me? (They invariably fail to ring the bell when they leave packages at the door, but at least the packages arrive without me having to deal with the post office.) Who the fuck do I have to slap the shit out of to get this all fixed?
I spend a while going on about music, offering songs for free on one's website, and file sharing over at Utopia With Cheese today (in the comments for this entry), so if any of those subjects interest you, you may want to go over and read that. The John Scalzi blog entry he links to is also worth reading.
After a slight CD buying lull, I went on a binge this weekend. The two I can already tell will be on heavy rotation this week are the two I almost didn't purchase, based on lukewarm reviews: the new Magnetic Fields and Beta Band CDs. The half-hearted concept behind the Magnetic Fields album -- all the song titles start with the same letter? What's next? An album where every song has no adverbs? -- put me off a bit, but despite what the reviews led me to believe, it's a much more consistent set of songs than "69 Love Songs", which contained lots of half-baked ideas among the brilliant ones. The lack of a shoestring budget also helps matters; lo-fi purists may complain about the "good production values" and "lush instrumentation" and "lack of tape hiss", but those people should go listen to a collection of Robert Pollard demos and stop bothering the rest of us. The Beta Band is still writing the same song, but these are some of the best versions of that song to date.
From the same batch of CDs, but on the other end of the scale, I'm not in love with "Louden Up Now" by !!!, despite lyrics designed to warm my heart (such as "You can tell the president to suck my fucking dick"). It might still grow on me, but it just feels a little wanting for ideas. It mines that aggressive-guitar-plus-dance-beats thing that's been going around lately pretty well, but after the kick-ass EP they released last year, I had higher hopes. Maybe if I give it a few days and try again I'll feel more generously towards it.
Damn you, Little Fluffy! Damn you! My obsession with Tontie had pretty much worn off, but now I'm all hooked on the extremely minimal but addictive Super Headers, a game in which an implausibly speedy little soccer prodigy attempts to keep way too many soccer balls in the air simultaneously. Amusing detail: when your characters jumps into the air to hit a soccer ball, his shadow stays perfectly still. My high score to date is 888 points, in case you'd like to start up a rivalry.
Speaking of Little Fluffy, I pointed them out a few weeks ago to my friend Charles, and this Thursday he mentioned them quite prominently in his computer game column in the New York Times, discussing the charms of simple, quick games. (Charles does have a blog, but he doesn't contribute to it nearly as regularly as he does the Times. Probably because his blog doesn't pay him.)
The New York Times comes up with the best editorial yet about the shameful lameness of electronic voting machines. (You can read it here instead if you object to the registration system at the Times website.)
Remember Kerry's rock band? You can read more about it (as well as download a medley of music from their album) here, and even buy the album -- the reissue of which proves that RCA apparently has a kick-ass filing system, that they could even find the original tapes -- here. ARE YOU READY TO ROCK???? No? Well, download away, then.
(Via Boing Boing.)
If you're wandering past one of the 10 skillion stores in the world that sell mobile phones, a brief foray inside will probably find you a copy of AT&T's mMode magazine, which features an easy crossword by me, as well as a short humor piece by Martha Keavney and a Harvey Pekar mini-comic. All on the subject of mobile phones. Certainly worth picking up if you like free things.
While shopping at one of our local corner stores, I was nonplussed to catch sight of this beverage on the bottom shelf of the bank of refrigerators:
I thought to myself, "It's a drink made out of trout? And it's sour? Is that a picture of a trout filet on the bottle? What the hell?" Upon closer inspection, it turned out to actually be ever so slightly more appetizing:
"Sour Sop" still doesn't really sound like something one wants to drink, but at least it's not trout. The ingredient list gives a few more clues:
"Well," I thought, "sorrel and ginger are both good. Perhaps I'll buy this for science." I had qualms, though. There are two kinds of sorrel that I know of -- both delicious -- but one is a leafy vegetable with a lemony taste, and one is a flower related to the hibiscus which is used to brew a red zinger-y tea. I couldn't really imagine either of those plants producing the big spiky fruit depicted on the label.
Turns out there's a good reason for that. The ingredient list on the bottle is completely unrelated to the drink inside. The fruit depicted is a soursop; mind you, I think that if most people, presented with the word "soursop", were asked to tender a guess as to what it might represent, "fruit" would not be on the top of their lists, but whatever. The fruit is also called a guanabana -- which would be why it tasted vaguely familiar, because I've had guanabana drinks before, though not often.
From that last comment you will have gathered that, yes, I did drink the mystery drink before figuring out what the heck it was exactly. Such is the daring lifestyle of a man with no known food allergies. Would I buy it again? No. It was too sweet, it didn't have a very distinctive flavor, the color was kind of oogy, and there was too much pulp in it (and the pulp didn't have such a pleasant texture). Perhaps the next thing I will explore in the world of things that most people I know would be happy never to drink but are nonetheless available at my corner store is kvass, which I believe is the drink that was described by a friend of mine as "bread soda".
Go Home Productions has a particularly good new mash-up available for download today, incorporating bits of songs by Elvis Costello, The Police, Lionel Richie, Peggy Lee, and Bob Marley. Ambitious! Not sure how long it'll be up, so hurry if you're interested.
Mash-up hater Daniel can suck it, of course.
Rose and I saw the new Harry Potter movie tonight -- you know, the one that Chris Columbus didn't hamstring with his twinkly literal-mindedness. Admittedly, Columbus did a much better job with the second film than the first, but it's nice to have someone with a better visual sense behind the helm. The casting continues to be peerless; if only there were more blockbuster films that could make such good use of David Thewlis and Gary Oldman. (I also must confess that I prefer Michael Gambon's Dumbledore to Richard Harris's, although of course I wish Richard Harris had lived and thus prevented me from ever discovering this preference.) I do wonder how people who've never read the book will fare, though, considering how pared down the story is. Mostly I approved of all the cuts (the movie didn't need any more time blown on Quidditch, for instance), but things did feel rushed in a few places.
Anyway, enough about the movie itself. What I really want to do is point out one idiotic critical trope about the Harry Potter movies that I see now and then. Here's a perfect example, from Roger Ebert:
The actors playing Harry, Ron and Hermione have outgrown their childhoods in this movie, and by the next film will have to be dealt with as teenagers, or replaced by younger actors.
Uh...what the fuck? The characters are supposed to outgrow their childhoods. I believe you'll find that when a student graduates from one year of school and enters the next year, that student generally tends to age a year in the process. Third-year Hogwarts students would be thirteen years old...which is, not coincidentally, the age of the actors playing those students. So this is a problem how?
Lapsed blogger Eric Berlin recently attended a licensing convention and received a free magnet promoting this DVD, the heartwarming tale of a piece of dog poop who feels sad until he finds a purpose in life. (See a larger picture of the cover art here.) Eric remarks, "They thought that third parties would be interested in licensing this character. Imagine the breakfast cereal." How about a Happy Meal? It could be a double tie-in with Super Size Me.
Regular readers (as well as people who actually attended the concert) may recall that I played a short gig about a month ago at Barbes, opening for Life in a Blender. That show went pretty well, although I did make the tactical error of trying to play a song I had only finished writing that afternoon. The song went fine until I got to the bridge, which was treacherous for two reasons: it had a sorta tricky chord change rhythm (and still does), and it was the freaking bridge, also known as "the part of the song that never gets repeated and thus doesn't get quite as imprinted on the brain as the verse and chorus". Especially if the bridge is the last part of the song to get written. So I didn't get through the bridge. But now you can just download the song with bridge fully intact.
Oh...did you want to know what the song is? It's called "Bluebeard", and I wrote it because of a mondegreen. In the Jeff Buckley song "Nightmares by the Sea", there is a lyric which goes "Your rube is young and handsome," which I had always heard as "Your Bluebeard's young and handsome." When I found out what the actual line was, I was sorely disappointed -- I much preferred my lyric. I liked the idea of the fabled abusive husband presented in a more realistic, seemingly charming guise. So...I wrote my own song on the subject. I didn't want to do a straight retelling of the fairy tale, so I decided to explore the question: what if Bluebeard tried to change? Is he allowed to be happy?
If you're interested in boring details of the songwriting process, feel free to read on.
This song was written in a very atypical fashion for me. I generally start with a chord progression and then add lyrics; in this case, the entire melody was written on its own and the chords added afterward. This worked out great, since the chord pattern I ended up with was one I probably never would have come up with otherwise, at least rhythmically. (The chords themselves are all pretty straightforward.) You can also get a sense of my need to make things difficult on myself from the dense packing of internal rhymes in the bridge, among other things.
Blame Trip for pointing out this website to me: The Stairway to Stardom Appreciation Page. It features painful, painful clips from a public access variety show. You can even punish yourself further with some MP3s (the MP3 page also features some backstory about the show).
I feel like I'm some sort of mysterious nexus for bad entertainment today after watching Pink Lady and Jeff on Trio earlier this evening. I actually remember seeing that show in 1980 while visiting my father; no idea whether watching it was my idea or his. I can only hope he was stoned at the time.
Briefly misunderstood search query of the day:
"someone on the radio" lyrics
My first reaction: Well, sir, I think you're going to have to be more specific about the artist's name than that.
(In fact, he was probably looking for lyrics to "Mass Romantic". And for good reason.)
So how was your weekend? Rose and I spent ours in Pennsylvania, reading Hamlet. This is a milestone for our Shakespeare reading group; we've now read every Shakespeare play (including -- shudder -- Pericles). I've been to every reading except one; I had to miss Henry VI, part 3 because of rehearsal obligations for We're All Dead. That's a pretty good record; I think the only member of the group to out-Ripken me is our founder, Randy.
In one highlight of the weekend, Daniel and Gina's twins opted to take the part of King Hamlet's ghost, gurgling and cooing throughout the first scene despite Horatio's exhortation, "By heaven I charge thee, speak!" It would certainly have been pretty impressive if they had obeyed. Later, one of their toys provided "sproing" sound effects during the big swordfight.
Now that we've been through the canon, we're going to start over, redoing our favorites, and throwing in the odd non-Shakespeare as it strikes us. Suggestions so far have included Tom Stoppard's Arcadia, Marlowe's Dr. Faustus, and excerpts from the Iliad, all of which I can get behind (especially Arcadia, a modern classic). We should probably also do the recently attributed (though still dubious) Cardenio at some point. Does anyone have any other suggestions? Ideal plays for our purposes have a lot of characters, and few if any long two-person scenes.
I was checking out another film trailer (Combover: The Movie, found via the inestimable Boing Boing), and to my surprise, the first featured interviewee was someone I knew: Gersh Kuntzman, presumably there because he is the author of Hair!: Mankind's Historic Quest to End Baldness. The trailer seems a little choppy, but does imply potential amusement to be had. I'll wait for the reviews (assuming Trump doesn't shut the movie down somehow).
I am pretty much as liberal as they come, and Michael Moore even gets under my skin. But I'm still looking forward to Fahrenheit 9/11. Check out the trailer here.
Since Eric Berlin has kind of thrown in the towel on updating his web page, I guess I'll blog about this article he found. Note the name of the lawyer: Guy Smiley.
Clearly, if you're going to be represented by a Muppet, he's the one.
Don't really know how seriously to take this article, but it certainly provides some entertaining mental images.
So I caught the last few rounds of the spelling bee yesterday, though I missed second-place finisher Akshay Buddiga's fainting spell. While I appreciate the whole boy-faints-onstage/fights-his-way-back-to-the-top thing -- I mean, that kind of arc is the basis for pretty much every sports movie ever made -- I was rooting for David Tidmarsh pretty much from the moment I tuned in. I just didn't like Akshay's game. He was a staller.
I mean, yes. The kids always ask for a definition, and for the word to be used in a sentence, and for the language of origin. Sure. Whatever. But.
Akshay had been given the word "scheherazadian". I think this is a pretty easy word, apart from trying to figure out whether it ends in -ian or -ean (at least, compared to other competition words like "sophrosyne", pronounced /suh-FROSS-uh-nee/). Anyway, "scheherazadian" had, like, four different pronunciations. The pronouncer read them all, and then Akshay asked him to read them all again. And then he asked, "Are there any alternate pronunciations?" I thought I detected the eternally neutral pronouncer letting a little bit of annoyance show through when he responded, "Apart from the four I have already given you, no." (All dialogue slightly paraphrased, of course.) He then went over his time limit spelling the word, getting stuck for ages on the second H -- which is clearly not the hard part of the word, since there aren't that many letters that English uses to make an H sound.
After that, it was announced that because he had now gone over his time limit twice while spelling words, he was going to be subject to a shorter, stricter time limit. (The article above implies that the shorter time limit was due to a between-round delay on Akshay's part, but that's wrong.) They then gave him the word "schwarmerei" (which, in my brain, I misspelled as "schwermerei"...because that first vowel sure as hell didn't sound like an A when they pronounced it!), and he spent a lot of time asking questions -- time that he didn't have anymore. He asked for a definition: "excessive enthusiasm or sentimentality", from German. Then he asked for the part of speech, and maybe I'm just projecting, but I feel like I could hear the pronouncer's thought, "If you had been listening to the definition, you would know this word is a noun. So either you're stalling now; or you weren't paying attention when I read the definition, which means you were stalling then as well; or you honestly couldn't figure out what part of speech it was from the definition, in which case you should probably be spending a little more time studying grammar and a little less time studying spelling."
Anyway, Akshay kept asking questions, and I didn't think this was a good idea, because he never gave himself any time to just stop and think about the word. Then they announced that he had 30 seconds left, and he must start spelling. At this point, I think he just gave up, guessing "svarmeri", leaving out the /sh/ sound at the beginning completely. And that's not even close to German-looking. I know nobody gets to second place in the national spelling bee without studying German roots, so -- clearly, he just threw up his hands and said to hell with it.
Sure, I feel for him. No one likes to choke. God knows it's happened to me. But I'm still glad he didn't win. Rock on, David Scott Tidmarsh. Rock on.
A Brooklyn artist (Cosimo Cavallaro) has just covered a bed with 300 pounds of sliced ham.
Sliced ham, Cavallaro said, is "a pure form of America: all kinds of parts, boiled and pressed together."
Despite his training in an Italian art school, he said he had rejected Prosciutto -- "It would have been pompous." He also shelved an idea to do ham and eggs as "too pretentious, too thought out."
Thank goodness he restrained himself from being pretentious. There's also a picture showing the craftsmanship.
Disturbing search query of the day:
what if I ate you?
Today, Making Light links to a whole mess of weird Christmas ornaments. I have a question about this one:
It's true that "internally grateful" isn't entirely meaningless, but isn't it more likely that they meant this frizzy-haired apple creature to say "eternally grateful" instead?
Rose found an article which is sure to make you stare confusedly at your computer screen, slowly shaking your head. It's a transcript of a presentation which recapped an experiment -- an experiment to study "laying on of hands".
Oh, and also on seeds. And salt water. Rose pointed out this section as one that simply filled her with confidence in the -- ahem -- scientists conducting the experiments:
The multiblind system was so extensive that one of my worries
was whether I could get all of the pieces of information together again
without having mixed the information up. When the information was decoded,
it was a source of relief that there was no mix-up at all.
Hey, congratulations! My favorite bit, though, is this:
This all started when a Hungarian gentleman (Mr. E.) came to me with the claim to be able to accelerate healing in people according to his experience in Hungary. I told him I was a biologist and therefore I couldn't bring any patients to him, but we could do experiments on animals and on plants.
When I asked him how he worked, he said that all he did was to lay his hands on the people. If they had a headache, he would put his hands on the head. He would hold his hands there for a while, 15 minutes, or 20 minutes, and repeat this as required, perhaps the next day or several times a week, generally not on the same day.
Several times a week? Can I just point out that is a long time to wait for your headache to be cured?
Another graphically swank adventure (if an easier one) from the people who brought you Samarost, The Quest for the Rest is also a promotional item for the Polyphonic Spree, the band that, by comparison, makes the Beach Boys sound insufficiently blissed-out and lacking appropriate worshipfulness toward the sun.
(Via Little Fluffy.)
Charles Mingus gives advice on toilet training your cat.
(Via Making Light.)
Today it dawned on me that I still don't own a copy of perhaps my favorite humor book (certainly it's right up there with Coyote v. Acme and the David Sedaris oeuvre): Ellis Weiner's Decade of the Year. It features, among your more standard humor essays, two complete tours de force. One is a story told entirely in errata, and the other tells a story in the format of a book index. Genius. Naturally, out of print. But therefore available cheap, in case any of you also wish to remedy the problem of lack-of-this-book.
Given my (limited) success popularizing "igry" (try the search window to the left to pull up more entries regarding "igry"), perhaps it's time to introduce people to a new word I've been finding useful lately: "friend-in-law". I coined this to describe those people who you sort of know because they're friends of friends (or spouses of friends), but while they haven't graduated to friend status on their own, neither are they strangers or mere acquaintances. I think this improves on "friend of a friend" partly because "friend-in-law" rolls more easily off the tongue, but also because "friend of a friend" -- for me, anyway -- carries more of a connotation of someone one barely knows or hasn't even met. Perhaps that's because of the phrase's association with urban legends. ("Yeah, a friend of a friend knew someone who tried to dry off her cat by rubbing it with a microwave oven instead of a towel...") So "friend-in-law" clearly implies a closer relationship than "friend of a friend", although context and tone of voice can imply whether or not the particular friendship-by-proxy is a positive or negative thing.
Please remember me when writing OED citations, lexicographers of the future.
I and many of my readers enjoy word puzzles, and hang out with lots of other people who enjoy word puzzles. So it's pretty rare for us to be exposed to people whose opinions on word puzzles are so diametrically opposed to ours.