24 September 2007

Leica

A friend points me to a recent article in The New Yorker about Leica, king of camera brands.

To non-photographers, Leica, more than any other manufacturer, is a legend with a hint of scam: suckers paying through the nose for a name, in a doomed attempt to crank up the credibility of a picture they were going to take anyway, just as weekend golfers splash out on a Callaway Big Bertha in a bid to convince themselves that, with a little more whippiness in their shaft, they will swell into Tiger Woods. To unrepentant aesthetes, on the other hand, there is something demeaning in the idea of Leica. Talent will out, they say, whatever the tools that lie to hand, and in a sense they are right: Woods would destroy us with a single rusty five-iron found at the back of a garage, and Cartier-Bresson could have picked up a Box Brownie and dmore with a roll of film—summoning his usual miracles of poise and surprise—than the rest of us would manage with a lifetime of Leicas. Yet the man himself was quite clear on the matter:
I have never abandoned the Leica, anything different that I have tried has always brought me back to it. I am not saying this is the case for others. But as far as I am concerned it is the camera. It literally constitutes the optical extension of my eye.
Asked how he thought of the Leica, Cartier-Bresson said that it felt like “a big warm kiss, like a shot from a revolver, and like the psychoanalyst’s couch.” At this point, five thousand dollars begins to look like a bargain.

There's something irresistably satisfying about the Crafty Little Lump of Metal: the Leica camera, the Curta calculator, the Zippo lighter, the M1911 pistol, the Leatherman tool ...

23 September 2007

Icons

I found these icons on a Christian propaganda website.




One might quibble with “New Age” as a stable category described as a “religion,” and with the capsule description of it. Otherwise, I think these are actually rather witty.

22 September 2007

Hoot

Yes, this release, to be signed by employees, is from the actual employee handbook.

I hereby acknowledge and affirm that I have read and understand The Company's Non-Harassment Policy, that Hooters forbids harassment of any kind, and that I agree to immediately notify company officials of any harassment complaints which I might have or of any discrimination or harassment by any employee that I become aware of.

I hereby acknowledge and affirm that

  1. my job duties require I wear the designated Hooters Girl uniform;
  2. my job duties require that I interact with and entertain the customers; and
  3. the Hooters concept is based on female sex appeal and the work environment is one in which joking and innuendo based on female sex appeal is commonplace.

I also expressly acknowledge and affirm I do not find my job duties, uniform requirements, or work environment to be offensive, intimidating, hostile, or unwelcome.

Could I make that up?

20 September 2007

The Cat Bus!

How many English-speaking people are there in the world who enjoyed both My Neighbor Totoro and Ringu (or at least The Ring)? Not so many, but I'm guessing that some of them are numbered among my readers, so I present My Neighbor Samara from Rebecca Sean Borgstrom's Hitherby Dragons.

“That’s very good, Mei,” her father says.

Mei giggles happily.

Mei’s father is a forensic archaeologist. He investigates mysterious and horrible deaths with the invaluable assistance of his two adorable daughters, Satsuki and Mei.

The three of them have moved to a fabulous new house that their father knew about because its previous owner died in a horrible mysterious way. It was an incredible bargain.

But it’s haunted by the evils of modern entertainment.

If you're not sure whether you want to go read it, I can promise you an excellent inside joke for William Gibson fans.

19 September 2007

Avast!

It be International Talk Like a Pirate Day today, me hearties!

Arrr!

Endorsement

Hillary Clinton asked the fake Steve Jobs for money, and he reports on the results.
I mean nobody makes fun of my John Lennon glasses. Nobody. I mean, seriously. So for a long time I just sit there, staring down at my hands, and I feel like my friggin head is gonna explode or something, and Doerr, who knows how I feel about my glasses, he says, Steve, whatever you're thinking, just let it go, okay? Just let it go. But I can't help myself. I go, Lady, let me tell you something. I grew up in this Valley, OK? And nobody comes into our Valley and talks to us like this, okay? You see the guys in this room? We built the friggin Internet with our bare hands, you understand? Me personally, I've been through hell and back. I got fired from my own company. I survived cancer. Then I invented the friggin iPod. Have you heard of it? You want our money, you want to be president, well you come and ask us, nice. You kiss the ring, like everybody else. You got that straight?
The rest is very funny and very vulgar.

16 September 2007

Shout out

An observation from TV Tropes.

Running The Asylum


A sufficiently established franchise is indistinguishable from Fanfic.
When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.

—Hunter S. Thompson

When a fictional franchise has lasted long enough to induct its fandom into the ranks of its professional creators, the distinction between Canon and Fan Fic erodes. The new wave of creators start sneaking Fanon into official sources. Ret Cons abound. Writers will revisit old stories, instilling far more self-indulgent detail into the retellings than ever appeared in the original.

In short, the Inmates are Running the Asylum.

Sometimes, this can bring fresh, new life to the franchise. Other times, the same kind of infighting that erupts in fannish circles will play out between creative teams—but now, the factions are all armed with Canon.

I note that Joss Whedon calls himself the luckiest fan in the world ...

15 September 2007

John Maynerd Keynes

Prof DeLong has a jazzy post about Keynes that actually make him sound kind of sexy.
John Maynard Keynes is the man who has the best claim to be the architect of our modern world—whether it is how our central banks think about economic policy, what our governments believe that they must try to do, the institutions through which they work, or the habit of thought that views the economy not as Adam Smith's “system of natural liberty” but as a complicated machine that needs adjustment and governance, all of these trace large parts of their roots to the words and deeds of John Maynard Keynes.
....
Keynes was one of a relatively small number of brilliant students thrust as a leaven into the mass of Britain's upper class at Eton, and thus became part of “an intellectual elite thrust into the heart of a social elite” (HB, page 77). An entire cohort of Britain's upper class thus learned before they were twenty that Keynes could be very smart, very witty, very entertaining—and very helpful if there was a hard problem to be thought through or something to be done.
These are notes for his Political Economy 101 class. I envy his students.

14 September 2007

Pretend to be a Time Traveller Day

Dresden Codek, Particle Man, has a proposal.
Guys, it's time for

Pretend to be a Time Traveler Day

You must spend the entire day in costume and character. The only rule is that you cannot actually tell anyone that you are a time traveler. Other than that, anything's game.

There are three possible options:

1) Utopian/cliché Future—“If the Future did a documentary of the last fifty years, this is how badly the reenactors would dress.” Think Star Trek: TNG or the Time Travelers from Hob. Ever see how the society in Futurama sees the 20th century? Run with it. Your job is to dress with moderately anachronistic clothing and speak in slang from varying decades. Here are some good starters:

  • Greet people by referring to things that don't yet exist or haven't existed for a long time. Example: “Have you penetrated the atmosphere lately?” “What spectrum will today's broadcast be in?” and “Your king must be a kindly soul!”
  • Show extreme ignorance in operating regular technology. Pay phones should be a complete mystery (try placing the receiver in odd places). Chuckle knowingly at cell phones.
2) Dystopian Future—This one offers a little more flexibility. It can be any kind of future from Terminator to Freejack. The important thing to remember is dress like a crazy person with armor. Black spray painted football pads, high tech visors, torn up trenchcoats and maybe even some dirt here or there. Remember, dystopian future travelers are very startled that they've gone back in time. Some starters:
  • If you go the “prisoner who's escaped the future” try shaving your head and putting a barcode on the back of your neck. Then stagger around and stare at the sky, as if you've never seen it before.
  • Walk up to random people and say “WHAT YEAR IS THIS?” and when they tell you, get quiet and then say “Then there's still time!” and run off.
  • Stand in front of a statue (any statue, really), fall to your knees, and yell “NOOOOOOOOO”
  • Stare at newspaper headlines and look astonished.
  • Take some trinket with you (it can be anything really), hand it to some stranger, along with a phone number and say “In thirty years dial this number. You'll know what to do after that.” Then slip away.
2) The Past—This one is more for beginners. Basically dress in period clothing (preferably Victorian era) and stagger around amazed at everything. Since the culture's set in place already, you have more of a template to work off of. Some pointers:
  • Airplanes are terrifying. Also, carry on conversations with televisions for a while.
  • Discover and become obsessed with one trivial aspect of technology, like automatic grocery doors. Stay there for hours playing with it.
  • Be generally terrified of people who are dressed immodestly compared to your era. Tattoos and shorts on women are especially scary.
And that's it. Remember, the only real rule is staying in character and try to fit in. Never directly admit you're a time traveler, and make really, really bad attempts at keeping a low profile. Naturally, the dystopian future has a little more leeway. And for the record, I've already tried out all of these in real life, in costume. It is so much fun you want to pee yourself.

I've set the tentative date for December 8th. Who's in?

Given that I follow the rules for utopian/cliché future most days, I guess I can't really opt out of this one.

If you follow the link, folks have some other good suggestions on this subject.

13 September 2007

If and only if you are geeky

Click this link. Doom vs. Darth

Any opinions on who would win?

Turing test

Eliezer Yudkowsky has a story for us.
Rilanya: “You're not like the others, are you?”

Darin: “What do you mean?”

Rilanya: “I ... do you know why I first fell in love with you?”

Darin: “For my good looks?”

Rilanya: “My whole life I've felt so alone. The people around me ... they just seemed to be going through the motions. Like they were asleep, or drugged, even when they worked, or played, or got drunk, or made love. They all think the same things in the same way. Each day the same. Repetitive. Like they're only shadows of people.”

Darin: “Everyone feels that way sometimes, Rilanya.”

Rilanya: “But you're not like them. You say new things. I don't always understand them, especially your jokes, but they're new, and that's the important thing. Darin, can I ask you a question?”

I looked at the screen for a few moments. Rilanya's rendered graphic was looking at my point-of-view with a pleading expression. Plot point, I thought to myself, and typed: “Anything, Rilanya.”

Rilanya's figure took a deep breath and leaned close to my point-of-view. Her animated lips moved and her voice issued from my headphones: “What's an NPC?”

“What?” I said, out loud. Then I started laughing.

Rilanya went on talking. “In the tower of Ashel, when you rescued me from the prison chamber ... the guards were dead outside my door. I'd never seen blood before. And you said ... I remember your exact words ... ‘Don't worry, babe, they were only NPCs.’ And then that time in the tavern, when that man only wanted to talk about the Plaited Road, you said ... ‘Guess the NPCs here aren't programmed for deep conversation, huh?’ You use that word ... the same times when I get that feeling, that all the people around me are only shadows.”

12 September 2007

Trench art

Carved shell casing

Heart's Desire points us to www.TrenchArt.org, a website devoted to art made by WWI soldiers while they were serving, often using materials like shell casings. She says:

I am incredibly moved by this art. I felt like weeping when I saw the first couple of pieces. It's something about how they speak of the long, deadly time these soldiers spent wasting away in the trenches, while at the same time they also show the irrepressible power of the human drive to create beauty.
Yeah.

11 September 2007

Anniversary

I find it hard to speak, so I'm just going to quote from my blogroll.

Ezra Klein

You know, I felt a bit conflicted about writing this post. What you want to do is remember an awful crime. What you end up doing is invoking a Republican talking point. As Gary Kamiya wrote,
President Bush used the attacks to justify his 2003 invasion of Iraq. And he has been using 9/11 ever since to scare Americans into supporting his “war on terror.” He has incessantly linked the words “al-Qaida” and “Iraq,” a Pavlovian device to make us whimper with fear at the mere idea of withdrawing. In a recent speech about Iraq, he mentioned al-Qaida 95 times. No matter that jihadists in Iraq are not the same group that attacked the U.S., or that their numbers and effectiveness have been greatly exaggerated. It's no surprise that Gen. David Petraeus' “anxiously awaited” evaluation of the war is to be given on the 10th and 11th of September.

9/11 has been robbed of its significance. It no longer lights up the neurons recalling an American tragedy, but those that understand political strategy. I hate them for that. So this isn't a 9/11 remembrance. We've never been allowed to forget 9/11. Not for an instant. What we have been allowed to forget is 2,974 individuals who perished in that attack,who didn't die because they wanted to invade Iraq, or because they thought Republicans were insufficiently competitive in elections, but because they were murdered. Remember them.

More from Kamiya
Sept. 11 is a totemic date for the Bush administration. It justifies everything, explains everything, ends all argument. It is the crime that must be eternally punished, the wound that can never heal, the moral high ground that can never be taken. Bush's reaction to 9/11 was to declare a “war on terror,” of which the Iraq adventure was said to be the “front line.” The American establishment signed off on this war because of 9/11. To oppose Bush's “war on terror” was to risk another terror attack and dishonor our dead. The establishment has now turned against the Iraq front, but it has not questioned the “war on terror” itself, or the assumptions on which it is based.

Bush's, and America's, response to 9/11 was fundamentally flawed for two reasons: It was atavistic and instinctive, and it was based on a distorted, ignorant and bigoted view of the Arab/Muslim world. These two founding errors are qualitatively different: The first involves emotions, the second ideas. But mixed together, they created a lethal cocktail. The grand justification of “spreading democracy in the Middle East” merely provided a palatable cover for vengeance and racism.

Bush's America responded to 9/11 by lashing out. We chose vigilantism over justice, instinct over reason. Bush demanded that America play the role of the angry, righteous avenger, and America followed him. But we were not taking vengeance on the guy who attacked us but on somebody standing on the corner.

Brad DeLong
If you had asked me six years ago what the odds were that Osama bin Laden would still be living out his alloted lifespan in the fall of 2007, I would have said that the odds were zero.

No matter how feckless, incompetent, and stupid George W. Bush and his administration are, I would have said, nobody would let an Osama bin Laden kill 3000 Americans in an act of terrorism and survive.

Silly me.

10 September 2007

Mind-body dualism

I love this snarky little passage from the story Ghosts: The Straight Dope about mind-body dualism.

The story is set in the world of the Unknown Armies dice-and-bad-acting game ... which I highly recommend, if you're into that sort of thing. If you want to read the whole story—which I warn you, is vulgar, disconcerting, and entertaining—you can find it as an RTF or I have it as HTML.


 

Ghosts: The Straight Dope


From the Poison Pen of Dirk Allen

©1999 Greg Stolze

I'm sitting back in my Texas poker shack, inhaling the pungent stink of black powder and thinking about ghosts. I tend to think about ghosts whenever I shoot at a man, that is, whenever my ex-wife gets it in her pretty little head to send a skip chaser after me. I thought I saw this clown following me around New York, so I decided to hop out to Texas. I love Texas. The gun laws are liberal, the girls are hearty and kind, the air is clear and so is my field of fire in every direction. I popped off a couple rounds at the slimy bastard when he was still 100 yards away. At least I think it was him: might have been the postman. If the local sheriff asks, I'll just tell him I thought it was an armadillo. Those trundling little beasts carry leprosy you know.

But you probably don't care about my marital woes and firearm fetishism, any more than you care about my thing for heavyset black girls. (Now there's a taste the wise man indulges but discretely in Texas—in fact, I was hoping to scratch that itch in New York, but Stella had moved, no forwarding address, leaving me to bay in the street like Stanley Kowalski. Stella, if you're reading this—hell, if you can read this—look me up Seattle, baby.) You don't care about my liquor spurred delusions, my sexual hangups, my need to rub ice cubes on my nipples before I can write—you don't care, and if you do care, you shouldn't. Get a job or a girlfriend for Christ's sake!

No, what you care about are the ghosts.

Okay. I'll tell you about ghosts. But first I'll tell you about Plato.

Now, what I'm about to say is going to piss off all my college English professors: Plato was wrong. You hear me, Dr. Eaton? Plato dropped the ball! Plato screwed the pooch! PLATO WAS WRONG!

Oh, that felt good. It also happens to be true, but what good is truth if you can't rub it in the noses of former authority figures?

Anyhow, Plato thought that the body and soul were separate, and okay, he was right about that. But he thought the body was nasty, icky, base and vile, while the soul was good, clean, pure and decent. This idea, put forth in the Phædo, asserted that it was your gross, dirty-tampon extruding body that made you want to do bad things like drink cheap liquor, pimp-slap your ex-wife for mouthing off, masturbate, fornicate, nurse your hate, procrastinate and stay out late. Your spirit, on the other hand, led you towards higher, purer, better, more spiritual things—near as I can tell, he was mainly talking about geometry there.

“Spirit good, body bad” was a popular doctrine among people who wanted you to keep your dirty fingers off yourself and other people, so it's no big surprise that Saint Augustine was a big, big fan. (Having gotten his ya-yas out early, I guess he figured it would be a good trick to blame his body for all the kinky things he'd done with it.)

Flash forward a couple hundred decades. Now in This Modern Age, we know that there's a chemical basis for a lot of our emotions and urges and drives. The brain chemical that makes you feel all hot and bothered when you're threatened? That's a bitch's brew of adrenaline and epinephrine, friend. The chemical that makes you feel relaxed, benevolent, and kindly towards your fellow man? That one's named “scotch.”

The “spirit good, four legs bad” shtick is still around, having been thoroughly ingrained in Catholicism and philosophy and art and a bunch of other stuff that most people never think about seriously, but that still control your thoughts whether you know it or not. Problem is, it's not true. It's not your spirit that makes you feel all gooshy and sweet around babies. You're biologically wired to feel sticky affection for anything that has a big head, big eyes and a small body. That's why E.T. and those damn Cabbage Patch dolls are so popular. It's your body that makes you empathize with other human beings.

Your mind, on the other hand, makes rationales. Sure, rage starts in the body, getting hopped up on chemicals with long names when some asshole cuts you off in traffic. But it's the mind that creates revenge fantasies, that puts a structure to the anger, that finds ways to make it seem okay, or even a good thing for you to hate people. It's your body that gets you mad at the bad driver, but it's your mind that says “Ain't it just like a prick in a BMW to cut me off. All bad drivers should be horsewhipped: it's for the good of society. In fact, let's just flog everyone who drives a German car...”

Not convinced? Okay, then name me an animal species, other than yours and mine, that indulges in intramural murder. Armadillos may be stinky little runts, but they don't kill each other. Lions fight for dominance, but they let the loser slink away in shame, like a one term president. Some smartass is probably going to bring up sharks in a feeding frenzy, but frankly I think that once there's blood in the water it's probably hard to tell if you're biting a chum or your chum. I'm chalking that one up to accident, poor visual conditions, over-evolved aggressive instincts, and having a brain the size of a young boy's fist.

So the spirit ain't so pure. The body provides the spark, but it's the brain that provides the fuel, the mind that nurses the flame, and the spirit that keeps it burning. Every enduring idea, from the vodka tonic to National Socialism, started out with an emotion but went the distance carried by the soul.

Which brings us to the ghosts.

Ghosts are just souls without bodies, right? According to our beard-stroking savant Plato, they should be pure, kindly creatures of goodwill and polygon contemplation. “Have no fear, my son, because heaven is nice. Did you know that the square of a right triangle's hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the two remaining sides? Blessings of peace be unto you and your family.”

Let's compare that with what ghost sightings are really like. I've studied over a hundred, usually on the scene, and not once did I see any interest in obtuse and acute angles. I saw blood run down walls, I saw a fifty-year-old grandma puking out ectoplasm, I saw a possessed man set himself on fire, giggling all the while, but no peace, no love, no opposite interior angles.

What happens to a mind, cut off from a body? I asked that question to my long time reprobate buddy, Doctor Ugly Mouth. (He's not really a doctor, but the rest of the name is completely accurate.) I met Dr. Ug at some point, I'm sure, but for the life of me I can't recall when. I woke up from a New Orleans Mardi Gras bender in a hotel. I was on one side of the bed, Dr. Ug was on the other and there was a fifty-two-year-old Filipino prostitute wedged between us. I guess we'd gotten pretty familiar.

I lost track of kind, toothless Maria after she made me a nigh-mystical hangover cure, but Dr. Ugly Mouth and I have stayed in touch. The next time I met him was when I was in town covering a possession case. I called Dr. Ug in to consult.

“Ghosts,” he said sententiously “Are nothin' but a pack of lyin' bitches. Remember that, Admiral.” (I guess at some point I told him to call me “Admiral.”) “They like pitchers in jail you know: they promise you shit, they try to get you to pick up the soap, an' the minute you do they're inside your body and there ain't nothin' much to do about it. If you an ignorant dope, anyway. A man with knowledge, now that's a different story.”

“What would you do with a spirit?”

“Me? I'd drink it!”

“Not with spirits, you mush mouthed antediluvian saucepot! A spirit, a ghost!”

“I heard you right first time, you trash talkin' catcher honky! I'd drink it right down! You take me to this ghost and I'll drink it `fore your very eyes!”

He said that to demonstrate this spell he'd need half a bottle of Crown Royal, but I'm wise to that old voodoo trick: I told him his ghost would get Boone's Farm, the same fortified hobo wine we were drinking.

We got to the haunting site around nightfall, since there was no reason to think the ghost wouldn't have a sense of melodrama. Like so many of these things, this was centered around a young boy, maybe eight or nine. When we got there, his mom and dad had him tied in a chair and he was swearing up a streak that would make a hung over marine blush with pride.

My first question was why the kid had on boxing gloves. His mother grimaced and pulled up her shirt. There were bright red scratches all over her stomach. “He did this trying to get at me,” she said. When I asked what she meant by “get at” her, it came out that this ghost-wracked little boy had attempted to rape his own mother.

I walked over and looked him in the eye. “Who's in there? Oedipus, is that you?”

The reply was a demand for some whores and sluts he could bang, though not so politely worded. Dr. Ugly Mouth just laughed. “We got us one hard up ghost, Admiral. You gimme that bottle and watch the juju man work it.”

He took a speculative swig, rinsing it around the blackened wrecks that he used for teeth. Then he seized the boy's nose in his left hand and kissed the child full on the mouth.

Now, Boone's Strawberry Hill isn't to everyone's taste, especially when it just came from a mouth that could serve as Club Med for halitosis germs. The kid reacted like you'd expect: he struggled against his bonds and tried to scream, but the good doctor had shifted his left hand around to clamp the kid's jaw shut. With his right hand he wedged the bottle between the boy's lips, wrenching the child's tiny head forward. When he let go of the jaw, the kid naturally opened it to spit out the noxious wine that was even then starting to come out his nose.

Myself, I haven't been able to drink Strawberry Hill since. Don't even like to hear the song.

The kid's dad and mom looked about ready to give Dr. Ugly a two-fisted talking-to as he stood up and brandished the bottle triumphantly. “Look, there the little bodysnatcher now!” Just then, the kid said “Mama?” in a voice completely different from the swearing grunts that had greeted us.

Inside the bottle, I could see... something. Not anything in particular. But a suggestion of features, a form... a person. Like when you see a shape in the clouds, or think the leaves on a tree look like a face, or the wood grain of a table looks like a woman's figure... It was there. Dr. Ugly Mouth shook the bottle, and then it looked scared.

“Grave dusty bastard bit my lip,” he said, and from the blood I saw he was right. He squinted into the bottle. “You goin' down, sucker. Down the hatch, that is.”

“Wait!” I said. “Let me talk to it first.”

He shrugged.

I put my ear close to the mouth of the bottle, and inside I could hear a faint, whispering voice.

“Please, don't let him do it. I won't come back again, I promise. I just wanted to feel something again, you can understand that right?”

The voice gave me the shivers, even on a hot Louisiana night. No matter how cruel, or misguided, or evil someone becomes, there's still something in each of us that recognizes the human in the other. We can ignore it or deny it or sedate it, but it's never really gone. But listening to the voice from the bottle, I didn't feel it at all. This wasn't a human being: it was the residue of an obsessed mind.

“What's so bad about the afterlife, buddy? Why'd you have to come back and bother this kid?”

“It's worse than hell,” it hissed. “Do you know what it's like to be alone with yourself, and no feeling at all? No way to tell if time is even passing, nothing but your own thoughts, and pretty soon nothing to think about? But you can't get away from you, you can't sleep, you can't feel, all you can do is think and there's nothing to think about. And that's not the worst of it. When company comes, it makes you wish you were alone again...”

“Company? What, other ghosts?”

“I should be so lucky. Please, just drop the bottle, let me go...”

“What happens when you die?”

“I can't tell you.”

“Pity. Doctor, your drink is ready...”

“No, I can't! The hurting ones will come! Don't give me to him, I still want to be!”

“Be what?”

“Be anything! If you let him drink me, I'll be nothing!”

Dr. Ugly Mouth cleared his throat. “Admiral, I'm starting to get me a powerful thirst.” I waved him back.

“Why'd you try to rape that boy's mother? That's not the kind of thing that makes me feel merciful.”

“Jesus, I couldn't help it! I've been dead. Imagine getting nothing for so long you can't remember anything, and then suddenly, it's like you can have everything. I went a little crazy, I'm sorry, it won't happen again! Just let me go, I've learned my lesson!”

I heard the boy crying behind me, saying that the ghost had put horrible things in its head and now they'd never leave. I handed the bottle to Dr. Ugly Mouth.

“Bottoms up,” he said with relish. I thought I could hear a tiny, hollow scream as the wine slid down his throat.

Next time I saw the doctor, he said that the ghost must have been a carpenter, because now he could fix things like he never could before. He also said he'd fixed the boy a trick to keep ghosts off him. “Boy's got more spirit sense than common sense,” he said. “He might make a juju man when he's grown some. If he gets his balls back: that runty-ass ghost scared him good.”

“Nice of you to protect him,” I said. He shrugged.

“Could have used me some ghost bait. You know—the boy catch `em, I drain `em and eat `em. Offered his folks some good things in trade, but they didn't want none of it. So we bargained for the trick.”

“They didn't look like they had much money.”

“Heh. Boy's mama was nice lookin', eh? We worked something out. Trick for a trick, like.”

I've spoken to a couple other ghosts since then. Same thing: bundles of sick drives, scared to exist, scared to stop existing. Most of all, scared of something on the Other Side. One talked about punishing angels, another said they were “the cruel ones” and a third just called them “the outsiders.”

Every time, I felt the same way, and I feel it now just thinking about it. It always makes me want to feel the good things about having a body. I want a hot shower on a cold winter's day, or a cold beer on a hot summer day. I want Johnny Lee's daughter, who can't weigh more than eighty pounds soaking wet, to walk on my back the way no one else ever has. I want to smell honeysuckle and desert sage, I want to see the stars and crack my knuckles and have a hot mouthful of bacon and eggs.

I want to live.

07 September 2007

Coincidence?

You be the judge!

Wow

Further evidence that Da Vinci was a genius.
Leonardo da Vinci did not mix colors on a palette, but directly on the canvas he was painting, Italian researchers have found.
Amazing.

06 September 2007

Aha!

I'm told by a friend that there's a guy who teaches traditional Zen koans who has a koan that is only one word long.

Cartoonist Jim Woodring has stumbled across an excellent version of it.



As I've mentioned before, Roger Corman once defined an “exploitation film” as a movie people will go see for the premise, whether or not the movie is actually any good. Key to that is picking a good title, like Snakes on a Plane or Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

So I do believe that the Quaker Oats people have succeeded in creating an exploitation snack.

05 September 2007

Will you?

I give you 1993’s vision of the future: You Will. (Bonus: one more.)

I vividly remember these ads, joking about a company selling ... uh ... The Future. They were jazzy and fun, and if you were the sort of person who was hanging around with tech people and reading Wired magazine—which was very seductive at the time, and often actually ahead of the curve—you were seeing this stuff brewing and it didn't seem like BS.

Well, not entirely, anyway. I was already thinking like an interaction designer in ’93, though I had no idea that this was where fortune would take me. Why did the guy paying the road toll via a radio transponder have to run his credit card through a machine in his car? (Because it showed the viewer what was happening; just driving down the road doesn't look like anything.) Who wants an onscreen display of a book that looks like a book? (Bad web designers, it turns out.) Who wants to be working while they're at the beach? (You know the answer to that one.)

It wasn't entirely BS. In the way of things, though a lot of the stuff in those ads looks further off now than it did in ’93, some of it looks embarrassingly unambitious.

But what gets me most is the stuff that folks are doing at telephone booths. Telephone booths!

Plus, of course, the identity of the sponsor who thinks that they are “the company who will bring it to you.” Chairman Bruce Sterling has a good comment on that subject.

04 September 2007

Steampunk

Via Savath, two blogs of cool steampunk art: Brass Goggles and Jake of All Trades.

Can I just say that I've been talking about wanting a computer with a wood case and brass fittings since the early '90s?

03 September 2007

Mary Worth

I mentioned once before Josh Ozersky at The Simpleton demonstrating that Mary Worth comic strips are actually in the Absurdist tradition.

An anonymous benefactor commented on that post, linking to the Comics Curmudgeon's commentaries on Mary Worth (and other strips as well).

Well, it turns out that the web is a-buzz with Mary Worth stuff.

The Curmudgeon isn't alone in commenting on strips. Bob Braughler at Subdivided We Stand Meets Marathon Man has the same act. So does Toonhead at A Perfect World.

A-List blogger Wonkette has a keen interest in keeping Mary Worth running in the pages of the Washington Post. She's a member of the Don't Cancel Mary Worth Coalition which of course has a website.

Mike Collins at 741.5 Comics is fascinated by its impenetrable storytelling continuity.

Miss a single episode of Mary Worth and the ongoing story makes no sense. Hell, read the strip for two months solid and it still makes no sense.

He apparently was using the strip in his own form of absurdist 5-Card Nancy. What's that? It's a game invented by Scott McCloud of Understanding Comics fame, in which you randomly arrange panels from a Nancy strip.

A Comic so simply drawn it can be reduced to the size of a postage stamp and still be legible; an approach so formulaic as to become the very definition of the “gag-strip”; a sense of humor so obscure, so mute, so without malice as to allow faithful readers to march through whole decades of art and story without ever once cracking a smile.

Nancy is Plato's playground. Ernie Bushmiller didn't draw A tree, A house, A car. Oh, no. Ernie Bushmiller drew THE tree, THE house, THE car. Much has been made of the “three rocks.” Art Spiegelman explains how a drawing of three rocks in a background scene was Ernie's way of showing us there were some rocks in the background. It was always three. Why? Because two rocks wouldn't be "some rocks.” Two rocks would be a pair of rocks. And four rocks was unacceptable because four rocks would indicate “some rocks” BUT IT WOULD BE ONE ROCK MORE THAN WAS NECESSARY TO CONVEY THE IDEA OF “SOME ROCKS.”

A Nancy panel is an irreduceable concept, an atom, and the comic strip is a molecule. With 5-Card Nancy we create new molecules out of Ernie's atoms.

But I digress. Because, you see, Mr Collins has commissioned software to create Worth cut-ups, which you can see if you follow the link.

Barry Alfonso at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette argues for the strip's charms.

The slightly doughy but innately elegant Mary embodies a civility that is fading out of real life. Moreover, the very pace of the strip conveys something profound .... Even by comic strip standards, Mary Worth moves at a leisurely pace—by comparison, the likes of Rex Morgan, M.D. hit the eyeballs with the velocity of a Jerry Bruckheimer action film. Like a Kabuki play, Mary Worth's stories unfold rather formally, marked by ritualized speech and poses.

It's the ritualized speech and poses that have me posting on this trivial subject. Because someone else has noticed the same thing, as used them as the focus of some disturbing dramatizations that have to be seen to be believed.


Update: The Post-Gazette’s Mr Alfonso writes in to comment.

01 September 2007

In case you missed it

Shaenon K. Garrity read the following in an old article from the Boston Globe.
Edward Gorey watched television for the first time last summer, or so he claims, and in the process became a “Star Trek” fan. He watched the science-fiction program reruns twice a day, five days a week and once on the sixth day, and despite his faithful viewing he has yet to see the TV show's most famous episode, “The Trouble With Tribbles,” which is about these furry little creatures in outer space, or so he says.
So he created his own little pastiche, The Trouble With Tribbles: A Television Adaptation by Edward Gorey. He doesn't quite capture Gorey's line style—who could?—but he gets the postures and compositions just right, and the juxtapositions between the illustrations and the captions are perfect Gorey.

Villain

Greg at Howling Curmudgeons tells a story over dinner.
One of my friends likes to hear me tell stories from comics. Yes, this confuses me, too. Last night, at dinner, I asked her what she wanted to hear. She told me she liked hearing about the bad guys.

“OK,” I said, “I'll tell you the story about where Darth Vader comes from.”

This is the story I told.

It starts, as so many things do, with a Jew.

[My friend is Jewish, and this was guaranteed to make her laugh.)

His name was Jacob Kurtzberg, and like a lot of first and second generation Jewish immigrants in the late 1930s, he went into the new industry of comic books, where he used the name “Jack Kirby”.

No, not Doctor Doom, True Believers. Greg has a different theory. And he's right.