29 May 2009

That's interesting

Seen today on the homepage for LiveJournal:

The network is hoping for fanfic and trying to promote it. A surprising twist.

By the way: I've seen Glee on Hulu, and it's a delight.

Copyright advocacy for the blind

Cory Doctrow has currently breaking copyfight news.

Right now, in Geneva, at the UN's World Intellectual Property Organization, history is being made. For the first time in WIPO history, the body that creates the world's copyright treaties is attempting to write a copyright treaty dedicated to protecting the interests of copyright users, not just copyright owners.

At issue is a treaty to protect the rights of blind people and people with other disabilities that affect reading (people with dyslexia, people who are paralyzed or lack arms or hands for turning pages), introduced by Brazil, Ecuador and Paraguay. This should be a slam dunk: who wouldn't want a harmonized system of copyright exceptions that ensure that it's possible for disabled people to get access to the written word?

The USA, that's who. The Obama administration's negotiators have joined with a rogue's gallery of rich country trade representatives to oppose protection for blind people. Other nations and regions opposing the rights of blind people include Canada and the EU.

He's trying to spread the word.

Here's where you come in: this has to get wide exposure, to get cast as broadly as possible, so that it will find its way into the ears of the obscure power-brokers who control national trade-negotiators.

I don't often ask readers to do things like this, but please, forward this post to people you know in the US, Canada and the EU, and ask them to reblog, tweet, and spread the word, especially to government officials and activists who work on disabled rights.

You heard the man.

28 May 2009

Etiquette

I am certain that several of my readers will enjoy The Recently Deflowered Girl: The Right Thing to Say On Every Dubious Occasion. You know who you are.

Deflowerment at Seance

At seance conducted by smooth-talking gypsy, you ask him to produce spirit of Rudolph Valentino. Spirit of Valentino appears and you are deflowered.

After deflowerment, you say, “Gee, Mr Valentino, may I have your autograph?”

He says, “To tell the truth, this whole seance is a fake.”

You say: “Personally, I don't believe in them either.”

Illustrations by Edward Gorey!

26 May 2009

Plausible premise

John Rodgers brings up an interesting idea while talking about whether iTunes' impact on the music industry suggests a good model for the TV industry.

Our favorite new-warfare guy Jon Robb writes about the “plausible premise” in new open-source insurgencies. I'm not going to get into his new warfare theory, but basically what you really need is a plausible premise. i.e. “You can kill US soldiers with IEDs.” and then the new Interconnected Marketplace Of Shitty Evil Ideas will solve the problem for anyone looking to kill US soldiers with IEDs.

Or, more succinctly, in order to get the marketplace off its ass to solve the impossible, you have to just pull off the highly improbable and make sure everybody knows about it. Show it can be done, show how you did it, and watch the “marketplace” attack because you've made the “premise” “plausible”.

Rodgers concludes that so far the TV biz hasn't learned the right lesson from iTunes, but that there is a lesson to be found.

But more importantly to my mind is the idea of the “plausible premise”. It seems to me that there are a lot of situations in which the arrival of a plausible premise is really powerful.

Oh, and while we're here, let me second the hat tip to Jon Robb, who does a lot to explain what is going on with terrorism, failed states, and the inability of the US military to do much about either. You'll notice his blog Global Guerrilas has been in my blogroll for quite some time. Fascinating, disturbing, very important stuff.

8

Prop 8 has been upheld in court.

I've been trying to remind myself that if you'd told me ten years ago that same-sex marriage would even be on the table, I'd have been amazed. That the bad guys had to spend a lot of money and tell a lot of lies in order to win. But I'm not finding that comforting today. Not at all. I remember Mark Morford's reaction to the weddings in San Francisco in 2004:

It would have required a serious amount of nasty, inbred ignorance and appalling nerve to march up to any of the passionate and committed couples waiting patiently in line for their marriage ceremony and say, you know, God hates you for this, you immoral disgusting sodomites, and it's intolerable and unacceptable that you wish to love and honor each other till death do you part.

Well, there you have it.

Solarbird notices just how horrific the legal decision really is.

with this initiative being upheld, minority groups of all sort — particularly small ones — should take away this: it's perfectly okay for the majority to fuck you up with one popular vote. If you think you're safe, if you think that can't happen to your little pocket of reality, wake the fuck up, because it can.
....
from the decision, in regards to the state's equal protection clause:

Nor does Proposition 8 fundamentally alter the meaning and substance of state constitutional equal protection principles as articulated in that opinion. Instead, the measure carves out a narrow and limited exception to these state constitutional rights ... Taking into consideration the actual limited effect of Proposition 8 upon the preexisting state constitutional right of privacy and due process and upon the guarantee of equal protection of the laws, we conclude Proposition 8 constitutes a constitutional amendment rather than a constitutional revision. ...

Neither the language of the relevant constitutional provisions, nor our past cases, support the proposition that any of these [constitutional] rights is totally exempt from modification by a constitutional amendment adopted by a majority of the voters through the initiative process.

That includes rights described as “inalienable” by the state constitution itself — quoting the decision again:

The state Constitution does not prohibit constitutional amendments qualifying or restricting rights that the state Constitution describes as “inalienable...”
So “narrow and limited exception[s]” to equal treatment under the law and other “inalienable” constitutional rights are purely a matter of popular vote in California.

Courage Campaign plans to bring it back to the ballot box for a fair fight. I'm not sure how strategically wise or likely to be effective that is, but today I don't care, so I've sent some money and crossed my fingers.

Turning data into information

As if we needed further evidence of Rachael Maddow's nerdiness / awesomeness: she maintains a web page of her favourite infographics, called The Map Room.

24 May 2009

Aviation

John Thile at Lunar Policy reveals that I've been skipping an ingredient all these years!
After many months of periodic searching, I've finally found the new Rothman & Winter Creme de Violette, here in San Diego. Creme de violette, another of those old, once-lost-now-found liqueurs, has been unavailable to American mixologists for over a decade. Unlike absinthe, it's even difficult to find a way to import it online, leaving serious mixologists with many old cocktails that simply couldn't be made authentically. At least one cocktail, however, maintained some popularity sans violette: the Aviation. Yet, according to the initiated, an Aviation without violette is a whole other, inferior cocktail. Even the name Aviation is surmised to come from the properly-mixed cocktail's subtle, cloudy-blue, sky-like coloring.

Just recently, Haus Alpenz has begun importing a reportedly-excellent creme de violette from Austria, made by Rothman & Winter. I've been searching for it in vain, in San Diego and online, for the past year. At last, I have my very own bottle. I can finally begin to explore the violette cocktails, and I can finally mix a true Aviation. However, Gabriel Szaszko, of cocktailnerd.com, has introduced a new controversy to the Aviation! He's challenged the commonly-accepted notion that Luxardo, rather than Stock, is the most suited maraschino liqueur to the cocktail. I think this is because he favors Gary Regan's recipe, with its 1:½:½ ratio, which is far heavier on the maraschino than the traditional recipe, below. This recipe is from the earliest known record of the Aviation, as reported by the Robert Hess.

The Aviation

Shake with ice, strain into cocktail glass, garnish with cherry.

Mmmm, but was it worth the hunt, really? Yes, yes, undoubtedly! I enjoyed the Aviation sans violette, but always felt it was a maraschino showcase — a little one-dimensional, a little funky. The violette adds the third dimension. This cocktail, the true Aviation, achieves that fine, thought-provoking balance of flavors that marks the culinary cocktail. I had stopped mixing Aviations sans violette once the novelty of the maraschino wore off. Now, the Aviation is back on the menu.

And I've been using Luxardo maraschino! This is a disaster!

22 May 2009

Galactica

Joss Whedon comments on his love of Battlestar Galactica.
I think obsessive is too light a word. I absolutely adore it. It's my favorite show ever. Come on, it's The West Wing with space battles. It covers all of my needs. I watch their storytelling and go, “Oh, so that's how it's done. Fuck.”

21 May 2009

These are operatic times

Via my mother, I give you a guide to the little-known opera L’Obama, ossia L’Avvento del Messia
La Piazza del Cattedrale di Washington.

It is the day after the election. Outside the Washington Cathedral, the People and La Media Elite celebrate the victory of Barracco Obama over his adversary, Giovanni Maccheno (Coro: “Esultate! Il Messia è venuto!”). The World enters and joins The People in their celebration, singing their own chorus rejoicing in the fact that Obama’s election will hasten the demise of American power and influence (“America è in debolezza, evviva!”) The two choruses swell and merge in a powerful contrapuntal choral episode. As the chorus reaches its climax, trumpets herald the arrival of Lord Obama the Most Merciful, who enters with his wife, Santa Micaela della Revoluzione and his retinue. The crowd becomes frenzied, with some falling in a swoon (“Obama! Obama! Redentore del Mondo! Io manco!”). Obama heals two lepers and resurrects the dead daughter of a Washington policeman. He then addresses the crowd (“Nel posar sul mio capo la corona”). At the sound of his voice, the crowd falls silent, gazing up at him with adoring, vacant expressions. In an eloquent aria, Obama promises that the dark days of the Tyrant, Giorgio Secondo, are over (“Dopo si lunga notte”) and a new Golden Age will dawn for the world under his rule (“Un siglo d’oro è venuto”): the economy shall heal, America’s enemies shall beat their bomb jackets into plowshares, the lame shall walk, there will be a chicken in every pot, the whole world shall have universal health care, all the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay will be released, and planes shall arrive and take off on schedule. Each stanza of this great aria is punctuated by the chorus (“Ohmmm! Salvatore!”) At its conclusion, Obama invites The People and The World to a celebration at which he will personally change the water into wine and feed the guests with seven croissants and five grande lattes ...

Lots more if you follow the link; it's worth reading for the character names alone. The arch-conservative freeper author reports in dialogue with a lefty dkossack:
“I doubt the freepi are all that well-versed in the conventions of opera seria... or Italian, for that matter.” I am the author of the Obama Opera, and I am — Orror! Orror! Orror! — a conservative (in Texas, BTW) who while not exactly thrilled that Obama won is nonetheless relieved that McCain/Palin lost. Hence, my Equal Opportunity Slams at both sides. Let's face it, that whole crowd is kind of funny, and Sarah Palin in particular just begs for parodistic treatment. And if one can't sense the inherent absurdity and laugh factor in Rush Limbaugh — well, you're a pretty dour specimen. So, you see, SOME “freepi” ARE well-versed in both the conventions of Opera Seria and Italian. We occasionally pick our dragging knuckles up off the floor to read a book or listen to some music. Cheers — James Calvert

20 May 2009

Juxtaposition

You may recall my earlier posts about faux motivational posters, and how part of my fascination with them is my usual overthinking about what makes a good one. Like a four-panel comic strip, you have very few moving parts, so they all have to reïnforce one another perfectly and efficiently: you need a joke in the relationship between the illustration and the big one- or two-word caption, and you need another joke in the sub-caption.

It's tempting to say that some kind of reference to outside information is required to fit a good joke into such a constrained format, which is why the examples I pointed to are geeky inside jokes. It certainly helps, but of course you can do completely self-contained picture-and-caption jokes, as lolcats, Far Side cartoons, and cheeky photo captions in the Economist demonstrate.

I bring all this up because I've recently discovered ObamaIcon.me, a clever little tool that helps you turn an ordinary picture into an image in the style of Shephard Fairey's famous “Hope” poster of Barack Obama.

The site lets you see other folks' poster designs, and many of them are very funny. It's a very constrained medium: you get one image—almost invariably someone's face—and a word of caption. Two words is pushing it. This turns out to pretty much require that you do an inside joke of some kind. Here are my favourites, listed by what you need to know to get 'em:

the best, but either you get it or you don't
high culture
politics
popkultur
popkultur
popkultur
The Wire
American lit
popkultur
TV
YouTube (which if you don't get it, merits an explanation)
popkultur
TV
TV
geekkultur
geekkultur
geekkultur
geekkultur
geekkultur
geekkultur
geekkultur (if you don't recognize this one I gotta provide an explanation)

19 May 2009

Commericals

I've been grumbling for a while now about having heard the Ramones' “Blitzkreig Bop” in a TV commercial. “Is nothing sacred?” But for this I blame the advertisers, not the Ramones: clearly some suit sold “Bop” to another suit. It is very, very strange to me that someone thought that the Ramones were an appropriate way to sell sugar water, but what do I know?

But counterculture celebrity pitchmen really freak me out. William S Burroughs selling running shoes. John Lyden selling butter. Dennis Hopper selling financial planning. Iggy Pop selling ... well, I'm not quite sure what he's selling. Something dot com.

It's not right.

I need Dan Le Sac to remind me what's important.

Thou shalt not put musicians and recording artists on ridiculous pedestals no matter how great they are or were.

The Beatles were just a band.
Led Zepplin: Just a band.
The Beach Boys: Just a band.
The Sex Pistols: Just a band.
The Clash: Just a band.

Sigh.

18 May 2009

Plagarism

Brad DeLong rounds up the details on the Maureen Dowd plagarism story.

In summary: Dowd cribbed a paragraph from Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo, got caught, offered a transparently bogus apologetic non-explanation, and the New York Times has had her back.

I didn't have any respect for Dowd, but I'd had a little left for the Times ...

The future

Charlie Stross goes all Bruce Sterling talking about computer games in the near future, with some very interesting stops along the way.
I don't think we're likely to get much more than a terabit per second of bandwidth out of any channel, be it wireless or a fibre-optic cable, because once you get into soft X-rays your network card becomes indistinguishable from a death ray.
....
For example: if you point your phone at a shop front tagged with an equivalent location in the information space, you can squint at it through the phone's screen and see ... whatever the cyberspace equivalent of the shop is. If the person you're pointing it at is another player in a live-action game you're in (that is: if their phone is logged in at the same time, so the game server knows you're both in proximity), you'll see their avatar. And so on.
....
Storage is basically so cheap it's nearly free. Why not record a constant compressed video stream of everything you look at with those glasses? Tag it by location and vocalization — do speech-to-text on your conversation — and by proximity to other people. Let your smartphone remember things and jog your memory: you'll be able to query it with things like, "who was that person sitting at the other side of the table from me in the Pike Brewery last Tuesday evening with the fancy jacket I commented on?" Or maybe "what did Professor Jones say fifteen minutes into their Data Structures lecture on Friday while I was asleep?" I don't know about you, but I could really do with a prosthetic memory like that — and as our populations age, as more people have to live with dementia, there'll be huge demand for it. In Japan today, the life expectancy of a girl baby is 102 years. Which sounds great, until you learn that in Japan today, 20% of over-85s have Alzheimers.
....
I'd like you to imagine a pair of such video glasses — but with an opaque screen, rather than an overlay. Between the camera on the outside of each "lens" and the eye behind it, we can perform any necessary image convolution or distortion needed to correct my visual problems. We can also give our glasses digital zoom, wider viewing angles, and low light sensitivity! Not to mention overlaying our surroundings with a moving map display if we're driving. All great stuff, except for the little problem of such glasses blocking eye contact, which means they're not going to catch on in social environments — except possibly among folks who habitually wear mirrorshades.
I do love that he squeezed in the mirrorshades.

17 May 2009

Adolescence

Shamus Young at Twenty Sided offers us the tale of Seven Springs: “Naked Girls, A Hotel-Sized Prank, The Terrors of Room 102, and Lessons Learned.”
We’re exactly the sort of oddball group that populate John Hughes movies. High-school pecking order and social norms would have prevented us from interacting under normal circumstances. We could look at each other and know that we are from different groups. Dennis would hang out with the other preps. Jay would hang out with the other kids clad in denim and heavy metal t-shirts permanently infused with cigarette smoke. Chip would look for the other honor students. I would look for a place to be alone on purpose so that it wasn’t obvious that I was alone by default.

But in this context we try to relate to each other. It’s Friday afternoon, and we’re going to be here until Sunday morning. Might as well pretend to be friends.

We complain about the cold and the rain and our fate of being dumped into this separate side-building away from everyone else, like lepers. After a while the last of the students check in, and we notice our room is lacking in something very obvious: We don’t have a chaperone. I can only extrapolate, but my guess is that while there were enough chaperones to go around, there weren’t enough male chaperones to cover all of the male-occupied rooms. Suddenly our room is a stroke of fortune. We are unsupervised, forgotten, in a nominal luxury room, and in a hotel full of girls. We suddenly feel invincible. Our social differences evaporate. We are four guys who have fallen into this good fortune together.

It's a true story, so their resulting adventures are not quite like a John Hughes movie, but not entirely unlike one either. And the Lessons Learned are good ones.

16 May 2009

Skateboard

If you're a Browncoat, check out The Race on XKCD.

If you're not a Browncoat, ask a geeky friend to lend you their Firefly DVDs. We're an evangelical hegemonizing swarm ...

15 May 2009

Frank Miller

If you're puzzled by why so many comics fans were unhappy about Frank Miller's film adaptation of The Spirit, I offer an explanation that anyone can understand, but which I promise will slay you if you're familiar with Miller's work.

14 May 2009

Spooked

Guest poster Tyler Durden at Zero Hedge describes “Why I'm Freaking Out.”

Sixteen months into this Millennial Depression, and less than a business quarter into Obama's administration, it is inescapably clear that Team Obama hasn't the slightest idea what it's doing. To pretend otherwise is self-deception. The louts and Constitutional traitors of the Bush administration didn't much know what they were doing either—but they were flat stupid. Team Obama doesn't have that excuse.

I'm a little more sanguine than Mr Durden is. I think that some of the bailout stuff has been Obama ju-jitsu: giving Captains of Industry enough rope to hang themselves, while enabling the administration to say that we tried giving corporate interests the assistance they asked for, and it didn't work, so we need to escalate to doing the Full Roosevelt.

But I am worried about the problems that he worries about, and that even if it is ju-jitsu, the Administration's current tack has delayed doing the right stuff for longer than we can afford. The two I worry about the most are effective economic stimulus and fighting unemployment.

Paul “Nobel Prize” Krugman has been ringing alarms about the stimulus all this last year: the situation is scary, the stimulus is too little and possibly too late) because it's crippled with “centrist” BS, and it will be hard to fix this later.

Infamous Brad speaks to unemployment in an awesome post about the WPA and the Great Depression: Yes We Can Put Americans Back to Work. We Probably Won't, Though.

Nor are today's Republican and Democratic leaders the first politicians to be faced with this question, it is the exact same question that was asked in 1933. And the political elites and the professional economists of our time agree 100% with the political elites and the professional economists of 1933. Our ruling class, just like the ruling class of 1933, believes that government by definition screws up everything it touches. That all government intervention in the economy is inherently bad, that the best it can possibly be is a short-term necessary evil. That the reason that big corporations are big is that they are lead by people who know how to make the best use of money and how to get the best work out of employees. Therefore the political elites and professional economists of our time 100% agree with Frank Roosevelt of early 1933 and with the American Liberty League of the 1930s that what we need is something like the Public Works Administration. What we need, they are 100% sure, is a public-private partnership: government identifies legitimate government needs that aren't currently being met, and bids that work out to private contractors, and audits those programs and those contractors to make sure that not one thin dime of taxpayer money is wasted on any project that's unnecessary or on any expense that can't be justified. And in a sign of bipartisanship, Franklin Roosevelt appointed left-wing Republican Harold Ickes to do just that.

As Timothy Noah pointed out yesterday in a lovely pair of articles on Slate.com, "Wrong Harry: Four million jobs in two years? FDR did it in two months" (with Charles Peters) and an almost immediate follow-up piece when a news item proved his point for him even better, "CBO, Meet CWA: More evidence that Obama's stimulus falls short," FDR, congressional Republicans lead by Harold Ickes, and right-wing Democrats lead by Al Smith were wrong in exactly the same way that Barack Obama, congressional Republicans, and the Democratic Leadership Council are wrong right now. The Public Works Administration did its job. It did it under budget. It wasted not a single dollar. It attracted not a single critic. And it created almost no jobs. In 1933, it turned out that there just plain weren't that many legitimate government jobs that weren't being funded already. As Ickes took his sweet time coming up with more, lest he be criticized for wasting taxpayer money, he found out that there also weren't a whole lot of companies out there begging for the chance to bid on PWA contracts. They weren't crazy about the contract stipulations, and they weren't all that interested in retooling and reorganizing their entire corporate structures to service contracts there were guaranteed to end as soon as the Great Depression ended. As an anti-poverty, anti-violent-revolution government program, the Public Works Administration was an unvarnished, absolute, indefensible disaster. Period. End of story. Nobody even tries to defend it any more; its supporters just pretend it never happened, so they can recommend the same thing the next time without anybody knowing it's been tried before, because by their politics, it's the right thing to do whether it works or not.

And along about the time that Roosevelt was about to lose his temper over this, the First Lady talked him into talking to a very successful social worker named Harry Hopkins, who only wanted a few minutes of the President's time so he could ask one question. He showed the President figures (that he later showed Congress) showing that there were about 3.5 million Americans in 1933 who were heads of households between the ages of 18 and 64 that no employer was going to hire, no way, no how, not for any amount of money, and he asked: “Can you give one legal reason why we can't just hire those people ourselves?”
....
Barack Obama ... somehow hasn't learned that it's public-private partnerships and tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, not government make-work programs or benefits for the unemployed, that are the real welfare cheats. Being a Harvard graduate who grew up under the steady drumbeat of pro-corporate propaganda about how evil the WPA was, he's still talking up the need for more public-private partnerships like Harold Ickes' old Public Works Administration.

Obama has pulled a rabbit out of his hat before, where it looked like he was running the wrong way but actually was working a political angle I hadn't thought of. I hope that's true here, too.

13 May 2009

David Edward Linn

I saw the work in David Linn's 2006 series at the Frey Norris Gallery in San Francisco. It's still on my mind. I need to scare up a bunch of money somehow because I've often wished for a bigger apartment to hold more books, but that was the only time I've ever thought seriously that I wanted a bigger apartment so it could hold more art.

If you're looking at the sample I put in this post and asking yourself is that really about what I think that's about? then a visit to the work samples on David Linn's website is definitely in order. The answer is a resounding yes.

Picasso's Guernica is the most moving painting I've ever seen in the flesh. Linn's The Archer is second.

Update: Sculptor Lorenzo Quinn seems to be working the same side of the street.

12 May 2009

Poetry does have a future

Doug LeMoine has been using the Kindle software on his iPhone, and has made an interesting discovery.
If I were a derivatives man, I’d go to the Chicago Board of Trade and buy up some poetry futures. Sell frozen orange juice and pork bellies; buy poetry. Why? Because it is the perfect product for small screen reading. People are reading more and more stuff on smaller and smaller screens, everyone knows this, duh.
Me, I've been reading The Three Musketeers using Stanza. You'd think that would make me disagree with Mr LeMoine, but actually it's the opposite: I'm enjoying Dumas because it's picaresque and I can nibble away at it. As I quoted Warren Ellis saying a while back, the form factor of your reading matters.

11 May 2009

Stranger danger?

The New York Times reports that the danger of online pædophiles is mostly BS.
A high-profile task force created by 49 state attorneys general to find a solution to the problem of sexual solicitation of children online has concluded that there really is not a significant problem, despite years of parental anxieties and media hype.
Why am I not surprised?

10 May 2009

Obsolescence

Momus at Click Opera has a cool idea about how pop culture reflects time. It turns out that it's not quite true that “pop culture has no memory.”
If you read an old email and find you were talking about Friendster in a way you'd now be talking about Facebook — and catch yourself struggling to remember what Friendster even was — then that email was probably not written in what we're calling “the present”. It was probably written in the next timezone on my diagram, and the most important one in this essay, the anxious interval.

The anxious interval is the recent past. It's long enough ago to feel not-contemporary, but not long enough ago to feel utterly removed. It's at an uncomfortable distance, which is why I call it “anxious”. You could think of the anxious interval as the temporal equivalent of the uncanny valley, that place where robots are similar enough to us to give us an uncomfortable shudder. You could also say the anxious interval is a place, a style, a set of references we avoid, repress, sublimate, have selective amnesia about, stow away, throw out, deliberately forget.

If there's a stock exchange of reputations, the people who made their names in the current “anxious interval” are on the skids. If they're artists, they're dropping on Artfacts.net and if they're pop musicians they're not charting as high as they once did ...

Mike at the Online Photographer has been reflecting on how this is true of physical things as well: he calls it the Trough of No Value.
One of the problems of historical preservation is that people only tend to preserve things that are valuable. And the problem with that is that value fluctuates over time.

The problem is that many kinds of objects go through a period in their potential lifespans when they don't “pencil out”—they're not worth keeping or preserving because they're not worth any money.
....
For some objects, what pertains would more accurately be called a trough of low value, not no value—remaindered photo books and certain old cameras come to mind—because they never actually quite reach zero value. But other objects might accurately be graphed considerably below the $0 line—those would be things that are worth nothing but that require maintenance, expense, or storage space to keep and preserve.

Momus calls the era a touch earlier than the Anxious Interval the Goldmine: the period that's Coming Back. Right now, that's the ’80s, and being of an age when I first encountered pop culture during that time, I'm experiencing a weird echo. I'm spooked by the realization that I was actually a bit hipper than I realized when I was young; a number of obscure things that I dug twenty years ago are making a comeback, stronger than ever. Plus, with the advantage of distance, I can enjoy a lot of things like '80s pop songs that I couldn't bring myself to enjoy the first time around. On reflection, this isn't really surprising, since people my age who went into the culture industries are now about at the point in their careers where they're empowered to act on their early obsessions.

Momus explains another part of why I'm spooked by this. He says that just before the Goldmine era is the Anxious Echo, stuff that has gotten stale and uncool the second time around. As time marches on, my youthful enthusiasms are going to hit that again. I'm kind of dreading another round of that.

At least the Beatles are forever.

08 May 2009

Trek

J. J. Abrams has decided that Star Trek is neither science fiction nor social commentary, but pulp sci-fi adventure and witty character interaction. It doesn't make a lick of sense, but every second of it is cracking good fun.

Plus it's awash in little gifts to true Trek fans: there's red alerts and distress calls and living long and prospering and the Vasquez rocks and the Vulcan nerve pinch and Scotty giving her all she's got and much more that I wouldn't dream of spoiling for anyone.

Joe Bob says check it out.

07 May 2009

Express lane

Via Infinite Perplexity, I learn that if you actually do the math, the rule should be “sixteen items or fewer.”

Sort of.

Odd Day

Oh! Hey! It's Odd Day! www.OddDay.net has the skinny.
Odd Day is coming Thursday, 5/7/9. Three consecutive odd numbers make up the date only six times in a century. This day marks the half-way point in this parade of Odd Days which began with 1/3/5. The previous stretch of six dates like this started with 1/3/1905---13 months after the Wright Brothers' flight.

We've established a contest and are offering the date in dollars ($579) to be shared by the winners. Prizes will be distributed to those who involve the most people in the Oddest Parade of Odd Characters, write the best Odd Ode, or create the best Odd Celebrations.

Gimme Shelter

Miss Ludmilla points us at a YouTube video of John Doe and Nels Cline jamming the hell out of the Rolling Stones' “Gimme Shelter.”

That was a while back, when I was fighting a cold, so I discovered that YouTube is full of versions of the song and surfed around listening to them for hours. I love the Internet.

You can get the Rolling Stones doing it every which way: with virtuouso inventiveness, loose, clean and simple, almost jazzy, too fast, tight and bold at the doomed Altamont concert, gorgeously overblown at a '90s arena show like the one I saw including Lisa Fischer's amazing vocals, remixed by DJs like Danny Howells or Streetlab, and even used to score a propaganda film about Congolese refugees that Ben Affleck made for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Or you can get Keith Richards finding the bluesy backbone of the song with the help of his other big noisy band, the X Pensive Winos. Or Meat Loaf taking a run at out-arena-ing the Stones with big guitars, spandex'd backup singers, and his mighty dissipated stage presence. Or Grand Funk Railroad doing another kind of big, with a perfect '70s overproduced studio track. Or Merry Clayton with an amazing 1970 soul rendition I can't believe I've gone this long without hearing. Or Merry Clayton again, working a crowd live just last year. Or, while we're at that, Ruth Copeland & Funkadelic turning it into a funk epic and throwing in a “get down.” Or Mitch Ryder demonstrating that while White guys may not deserve to sing the blues they can sometimes make solid American music trying. Or the Sisters of Mercy making it their own; that the goth toolbox of minor key trickery doesn't make the song any scarier isn't a failure by the Sisters but a testament to the source material. Or Angélique Kidjo transforming it into a World Pop confection. Or some little band called sQuire playing it tight and crisp. Or Kenny Greenberg, David Grissom, Paul Reed Smith, and Reese Wynans cooking up a guitar jam around Ashley Cleveland's smoky vocals. (If you like the way she does it, you can also get Ashley Cleveland singing it with a country arrangement that works better than you might expect.) Or Michael Hedges making it ethereal and intricate with just an acoustic guitar and his voice. Or even Sheryl Crow mixing it with her song “Gasoline” and managing to defang it.

That's all well and good, but if you ask me, the person who sings “Gimme Shelter” the way the Devil originally intended isn't Mick Jagger, it's Patti Smith, on her album of cover songs Twelve. I can't recommend that album highly enough, and “Gimme Shelter” is the high point. YouTube has a bunch of her live performances of “Gimme Shelter,” recorded with varying quality, but I recommend that you start by checking out the cuttingly arranged studio track.

06 May 2009

Geekout moment

Maybe I shouldn't post something so geeky the same week when I'm going to see Star Trek, but I've had this one burning a hole in my pocket for a while.

Wil Wheaton offers us this surprisingly charming photograph (yes, photograph):

Frikkin Hoth

... and then links to a discussion about it. I was charmed by this little exchange:

Harry321:
This is what action figures were intended for. Somewhere some guy is crying that these aren't in the original package. Fuck em. This is awesome and it makes me want to get out my old WWII models and reenact some tank battles.

Kilgore_Trout:
My Millennium Falcon, smashed to bits after a failed launch from the garage roof. My Han Solo - Frozen in a dixie cup of carbonite so many times he died of stress fractures.

No survivors, they went out like toys were intended too.

05 May 2009

Consequences of the internet

In case you missed it, Clay Shirky has an essay that's been getting a lot of play, about the crisis in the newspaper industry. In a recent post about the challenges of thinking about the problem he quotes newspaperman Gordy Thompson with a good observation about a lot of pre-internet businesses facing the current era.

When a 14 year old kid can blow up your business in his spare time, not because he hates you but because he loves you, then you got a problem.

He then goes on to some really good observations about the Guttenberg revolution, and says something that strikes at the heart of the matter.

Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism. For a century, the imperatives to strengthen journalism and to strengthen newspapers have been so tightly wound as to be indistinguishable. That’s been a fine accident to have, but when that accident stops, as it is stopping before our eyes, we’re going to need lots of other ways to strengthen journalism instead.

I find that observation very comforting, actually, since newspapers are doomed.

04 May 2009

Covers

That's one from an imaginary series of “I Can Read Movies” books, and they're all that witty.

Via Lore Sjöberg.

03 May 2009

Budget

I forgot to post this last month: Ezra Klein snarking well on a Republican “budget proposal” that quite deserves it.
It's reads like what would happen if The Onion put together a budget. “Area Man Releases Proposal for 2010 Federal Spending Priorities.”
My favourite bit is this ...
That said, the GOP does understand that some voters might be looking for specificity on their health plan. So they included this graphic:
....
It's like someone showed them a flowchart. Once. And only for a few seconds. And refused to explain it.
... which I happened to first encounter without benefit of the graphic itself. Click through; I assure you that the actual graphic delivers on the promise.

The Republican proposal, I note, has several variations on the graphic.

02 May 2009

Eschaton humour

I am bemused that the rollover of the Mayan calendar is being converted into yet another boneheaded Roland Emmerich disaster movie. And I am delighted that as part of the promotional campaign, Woody Harrelson as crackpot “Charlie Frost” is delivering us the hidden truth at ThisIsTheEnd.com

Maybe this is only fun if you have a taste for crackpot literature and can thus appreciate how well Mr Frost exemplifies the form, but I count myself in that category.

01 May 2009

May Day

Happy Have Sex With a Worker Day!

Listen to the words:

The Soloist

Stephanie Zacharek at Salon opens her positive review of The Soloist with a negative review of the trailer.
If you've seen the trailer for The Soloist -- in which Robert Downey Jr. plays a journalist who befriends, and tries to help, a schizophrenic and homeless man played by Jamie Foxx -- you probably think the movie is one of those uplifting friendship stories guaranteed to elicit one or two obligatory tears before sending everybody home feeling good. That's what the guys who edited that trailer want you to think: Movie advertising is never about nuance, but movies often are.

Actually, The Soloist is a triumphant movie about failure, and the best things about it can't be captured in a craftily edited trailer.

Exactly what I needed to know; I hated that trailer. But a triumphant movie about failure? If it's half as good as Little Miss Sunshine, count me in.