Friday, August 31, 2012

Riding off into the weekend: Copperfield's

Once upon a time, magic was big. Around the same time that half the kids in the country wanted to grow up to be standup comics, the other half wanted to grow up to be magicians. TV was filled with specials, and many performers reached superstar status, most especially David Copperfield. (Nice name. He changed it from his real name, Uriah Heep.)

Meanwhile, the Disney parks had been into magic since forever. There was a magic shop near the end of Main Street (in both WDW's MK and in California's DL if I'm not mistaken), where kids could ogle tricks they could purchase, and the staff performed/demonstrated their wares. This particular shop going extinct is one of the great losses of the parks.

Anyhow, put Disney and magical superstardom together, and what do you get? The World That Never Was: Copperfield’s Magic Underground.

The author of the article wonders if it would have worked. Maybe, but not unless there was a heavy dose of live performance. For a while Caesar's in Vegas had a setup where you had an evening of magic broken down into three parts: dinner with magic (hard to explain, but trust me, it was magical), close-up magic in a small venue, and major illusions on a big stage. You went from one to the other over the course of the evening. This was back when Vegas was in its family-friendly stage, and we loved it, but it has been replaced, like so many things, by Celine Dion. Magic, as it turns out, isn't what it used to be. Nowadays half the kids in the country want to grow up to be Steve Jobs, and the other half want to grow up to have any job, period. Times have changed.

Oh, well. Have a good long end-of-summer weekend!

Watch this on a large screen. Don't panic.

This comes from BoingBoing. It may:
  • Ruin your weekend
  • Steer you clear of opera for the rest of your life
  • Convince you that, in fact, you have a career as a member of the corps de ballet in your local opera company because, hey, you can dance just as well as they can
  • Make you swear off sniffing glue because you're obviously seeing things

And yes, I'm sorry, because once you see it, you can never erase the experience.

Coachean Feed: College admissions, prisons, Middle East policy, schools, human rights with a side of guns

More links of interest to the debate community.


AKB48 has 64 members, broken down into various teams. If I recall correctly, the Beatles had just 4 members and 1 team, but popular music has changed over time.

I have no idea what that is a video for. The YouTube site for the group is mostly in Japanese. There's links there to their website, also mostly in Japanese. There is something that strikes me as innately bizarre about Japanese pop music, and its closely related Korean cousin. They've taken their direction from Western performers whose music is secondary to their performances and virtually eliminated the music altogether. I can't imagine even if I understood what they were singing that I would want to listen to it on the radio, much like with Madonna, where although I do understand what she is singing, I still don't want to listen to it on the radio. It's not music, it's production. But put these people on stage, a couple of dozen cute girls all dancing in unison, or one Madonna doing her best to pretend she's not old enough to be Lady Gaga's grandmother, and you've got spectacle, and a lot of popular music today stands or falls on its spectacularness, or lack thereof. Give 'em the old razzle dazzle...

I spent a fruitless fifteen minutes bouncing around on AKB48 sites trying to figure them out, after reading an article explaining how they're not allowed to date. Now I've passed them along and you can do likewise.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Buster Keaton again

And also the famous 50...

The VCA is well aware by now that I rank Buster Keaton about as high as a filmmaker can be ranked. This little film essay, with commentary from the recently deceased Andrew Sarris, does a nice job of introducing what it is that Keaton is about, and it shows some good clips.

The article behind this, Video: Andrew Sarris on Buster Keaton, talks a bit about the S&S 50, which RM and I were debating here, and how Keaton and the closely related Chaplin have both fallen in the rankings, and perhaps why. There is no question that Keaton was championed in a great comeback late in his life, when people both rediscovered his original work and, at the same time, realized that he was not only still around but still incredible. But that was long ago, and the past does tend to fade into the past, even when it shouldn't.

I'll try to find some of my favorite later Keaton material and pass it on.

More articles we didn't finish reading

These headlines are all real, directly copied from our RSS feed to here without editing. When we say we didn't read them, we mean it. They didn't exactly pull us in, for some reason...

  • Eight things you didn’t know you could do with human sperm
  • Japanese TV game show sprays pepper up contestants’ asses
  • Slash Recalls Finding Mom Naked With David Bowie
  • And Here Is a Dude Going Skydiving with His Anime Pillow Girlfriend
  • He Wanted To Be A Football Ace And Ended Up A Ballet Star

Stephen Fry on a lot of things

Some great life advice from one of my favorite people.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Some thoughts on rights

Background first.

The preamble to the Constitution very clearly establishes its goal:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Primarily, the framers were trying to put together something better than the federation of states that had been formed after the Revolution, i.e., that “more perfect union.” They built a strong central government with certain responsibilities that were of a federal nature, leaving other areas of more local responsibility to the separate states. They were also clearly establishing what would be a nation of laws, and the guiding principles of those laws were the ideas of justice, tranquility, the general welfare and liberty, although there isn’t much in the body of the Constitution specifically about any of those things. The document is mostly about how best to set up a government that would, implicitly, assure that they would be achieved. They can, nonetheless, stand as the nation’s guiding principles, much as the Declaration had stated that equality, life, liberty and the pursuit of one’s goals (Jefferson’s happiness, Locke’s property) were natural or divine inalienable rights, an idea that also stands as part of the nation’s principles. In short, the country is based on equality and liberty and achieving one’s personal goals, the idea that everyone can do whatever they want freely. There is only one inherent limitation to personal freedom, to wit, that one person’s freedom cannot impinge on another person’s freedom. Many laws exist for no other reason than to determine and adjudicate harms. The best expression of this limitation is in Mill’s On Liberty, which used to be canonical in LD. Nowadays it’s simply canonical in the education of any intelligent citizen. But even if you don’t read it, you get the drift.

The Constitution did not include any specific rights protections as originally proposed. The first ten amendments, the Bill of Rights, were added as a compromise for those who would not ratify the document otherwise. By virtue of their being a part of a legal document, the rights protected by the Bill of Rights, or for that matter any other amendment, are civil rights. That is, they are rights protected by the polity behind the document. So the Constitution does not offer an amendment for, say, the protection of liberty, which is a natural right, and also a pretty difficult right to pin down. It does offer a protection for freedom of the press, on the other hand, which is not a natural right but a right granted by the government, and thus a civil right.

So that’s all background. Here’s what I’m thinking about.

The rights protected by the Constitution do not get their worthiness of protection from the document, but from an inherent worthiness that was deemed valuable enough to warrant a specific mention. In other words, we don’t value the right of free speech because it is in the Constitution; we value the right of free speech so much that we explicitly gave it constitutional protection. The right is valuable, therefore we protect it.

Curiously, both Sept-Oct LD and Sept PF deal with civil rights with constitutional protection. The former questions whether due process should be given to non-citizens in certain cases, and the latter deals with whether certain abridgments of gun rights ought to be enacted at the federal level. While one can make a legal positivist argument that because something is in the Constitution, it is correct to do that constitutional thing on that basis alone, I would look instead to the merit of the thing itself. Again, I don’t value free speech because it is in the Constitution; I constitutionally protect free speech because I value it.

With due process, I find it almost inconceivable that a country like the US, so based on legal process and individual protections, would somehow differentiate classes of people for whom due process would apply. It is not my citizenship that bestows on me an inherent right to due process from the government: it is my natural right to life and liberty. The only limitation in the fifth amendment is “except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger.” There is recognized, in other words, a difference between the law in peacetime and in wartime vis-à-vis the armed forces, and there is that something called “public danger.” This can be used to wrest information from terrorists who might be actively engaged in or aware of a plot, in other words. It’s Cheney’s rationale for water-boarding. But if a terrorist is not in fact causing public danger, then it doesn’t hold.

My question here is, do we honestly believe that the framers thought that due process, for all practical purposes the might and main of the processes of the law, applied willy nilly? That there was something entitled Americans to these rights but not Canadians? I wonder.

Note that I’m not proposing this as factual said-and-done, but an argument. I’d love to here a rebuttal.

As for the PF topic, I have a different take on the second amendment completely than I do on the fifth. Take away any of the militia aspects of it, and just look at it as the essential right to bear arms. Is this a right, like free speech, so valuable that it warrants constitutional protection? My answer is no, because I cannot for the life of me come up with any really good reason why owning guns is an inherent civil right worthy of such protection. The right to bear arms means the right to freely carry firearms around. It is not the right to hunt, for instance. Hunting is not a right, it’s a privilege granted by polities by all sorts of complicated licenses and seasons and whatnot; the guns are incidental to it, and could just as easily be controlled by all sorts of complicated licenses and seasons and whatnot. I’m fine with hunting, I’m just not fine with hunting as a warrant for freely carrying firearms around. Other than that, what is the argument that makes gun ownership so important in 2012? The British aren’t coming again, which means that my town isn’t throwing together a militia any time soon. As a matter of fact, no matter who comes, my owning a couple of rifles is pointless. Having guns because the bad guys might have guns is neither true (it just means more people get shot, if it comes to that) nor logically sound. The threat of my bearing guns isn’t strong enough to act as a deterrent to other gun bearers, so there’s no MAD argument where the outcome is, for lack of a better word, nuclear.

Guns do one thing: they shoot ammunition. They can shoot it at targets (lots of fun, and I’ve done it myself, but hardly so important that it needs constitutional protection, any more than playing checkers, which some people also find to be fun, is so important that it needs constitutional protection). They can shoot it at varmints or dinner. They can shoot it at people. At the point where it can be shot at people, doesn’t that bring into question the importance of those other places it can be shot?

So what I’m saying is that the right of due process is so important to the meaning of the American country that not only should it be constitutionally protected, but there should be no limits to its protection (except as already limited in the amendment itself, i.e., martial law). And the right to bear arms is so unimportant to the meaning of the American country that is simply does not warrant constitutional protection.

Does any of this suggest that I may be something of a liberal?

More articles we didn't finish reading

These headlines are all real, directly copied from our RSS feed to here without editing. When we say we didn't read them, we mean it. They didn't exactly pull us in, for some reason...

  • Rosie O’Donnell Had A Heart Attack After Helping A Fat Woman Out Of A Car, Her Words
  • The only time it pays to be stabbed repeatedly happens to be during sex
  • 7 Superpowers Available to Scientologists
  • The King’s Skidmarks: Elvis’ crappy underpants go up for auction
  • My Little Pony eBooks Exclusively On Nook

Coachean Feed: copyright, prisons, free speech, John Cage and Jonathan Haidt

More links of interest to the debate community.

Musical influence

Thanks to Dangerous Minds for digging this one up, a really sharp video of The Flying Burrito Brothers. As DM says, their album The Gilded Palace of Sin is one of the most influential in rock and country history. Gram Parsons, the singer here, is the key. Parsons, as a member of the Byrds, was a big part of the Sweetheart of the Rodeo album, which took the so-called folkrock group completely into country. Since the Byrds had previously been all over the map (in a good way), this distillation of their work into one genre was absolutely startling at the time (and it still holds up as one of the top albums ever, genre notwithstanding). After this, Parsons and fellow Bryd Chris Hillman formed the Flying BBs, and created a clear vision of electrified country that forever bridged the two genres, so that nowadays it's often hard to tell if a group is country or rock, and more to the point, it's hard to care, al long as the musicians just get down and do it. Credit Parsons for that. Readers of Keith Richards's Life know that Parsons was instrumental in inflecting country into the Stones's repertoire, although they had dabbled in it a bit previously, thanks to their abiding interest in rock roots music. Unfortunately, when Parsons was living with Richards, neither was exactly abstemious in their use of suicidal drugs, and a couple of years later GP had overdosed at the age of 26.

Students of music, rock and/or country, can do worse than acquiring Sweetheart and Gilded. Your iPod will be a much better place as a result.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Back in the saddle again

Last week we were out and about, in the Adirondacks for a while, then at Mohonk. I might get around to talking about these eventually, but to be honest, things have been a little hectic at the DJ catching up, not to mention the NJ (Night Job, i.e., debate) catching up. I'll be slow to get these posts cranking again. Some of you may not complain about that, I know, but there's no accounting for taste.

I have been working on the Bump invite, but got distracted with one thing or another. I'd like to get it online by next week. Almost there. Everything has to be shifted back to the old mode, plus there's changes in the novice schedule, etc., etc., etc. Also, I was having bizarre FTP access problems that now seem to be solved, but I sort of jump from rock to rock as quickly as possible to cross that particular creek, and never know exactly if I'm on firm footing. There's a million ways to update pages, fortunately, but when you want to post something over a megabyte, then FTP is it. What I had that was over a megabyte eludes me at the moment, but it must have been something...

I looked back at the Pups invite and realized that the changes I had proposed to JV hadn't gotten through, so I sent them again. For one (big) thing, it's six rounds, not seven. We learned that two years ago, when the idea of a seventh round started a palace revolution. And rightly so. 6 and a runoff is a much better idea, if possible. And at college tournaments, it's possible.

Also scaring up people for Tigger tab, although mostly we'll just go with last year's team. Might make a couple of changes though, here and there. For one thing, I'll do more hands on with LD; there was no reason for me not to, and I can just twiddle my thumbs for so long...

And finally, a meeting tonight at the chez to talk about assault weapons. This one is going to have to take, because school starts next week and the game is afoot, and research sort of gets lost in new classes and recruitment and whatever.

Sea monsters

This needs to be shared. After all, any list that includes Cthulhu, Globsters and the Land Shark is a list to be savored.

Sea Monsters From A to Z!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Feminism: Domestic goddesses

The passage of time from my college days, at which point feminism was a major political issue, to today, where we keep redefining the idea into post-feminism or third-wave feminism or whatever, has tended to keep one on one's intellectual toes. Unfortunately, though, things may not have changed much when all is said and done. Societies have given different roles to males and females pretty much since the dawn of creation. Birds do it, bees do it, even chimpanzees do it: gender differences, that is. Some are essentialist, some are cultural, but at the bottom, there is a scary realization that, in that passage of time from when feminism was up front and loud, to today, we still have things like the recent issue of the abuse of women in the videogame universe. Really? We haven't come even that far? It's depressing, really. You think that all the lessons have been learned, and it turns out that this might as well be the Eisenhower era, except now the goons are really good at WOW and resent it when "girls" are good at it too.


Anyhow, a fun article: A Brief History of Domestic Goddesses. It outlines the differences of women in the home from Colonial times to today. The thing is, change may happen, but we still do have homes. How we live in them may seem like something unworthy of study, but when you come down to it, it may be one of the most study-worthy things about us.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Riding off into the weekend

Actually, riding off into a whole week. Probably won't be blogging again until 8/27 at the earliest. So I thought I'd make this one last.

First, Boingboing posted this one:

That got me looking around...

So, you might use your time not reading this blog building a roller coaster in your backyard.

Then again, you might prefer to turn Detroit into a Zombie theme park:

Here's more info, if you want to hunt down the Motown undead.

And finally, an extinct attraction. The story of it is at TPE: Nature's Wonderland. And if that's not enough, some dude actually built the ride!

See y'all soon.

More articles we didn't finish reading

These headlines are all real, directly copied from our RSS feed to here without editing. When we say we didn't read them, we mean it. They didn't exactly pull us in, for some reason...

  • Further News in Animal Crime: Kangaroo on the Lam in Germany

  • Megadeth Singer: Obama Is Behind Aurora, Sikh Temple Shootings

  • Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day Commemorative Coin commercial

  • Menstruating Women Do Not Attract Bear Attacks

  • LBJ liked to piss on his bodyguards

Science: Just say Yo.

In space, no less.

More via MentalFloss.

More links with little comment

More good stuff that speaks for itself:

More articles we didn't finish reading

These headlines are all real, directly copied from our RSS feed to here without editing. When we say we didn't read them, we mean it. They didn't exactly pull us in, for some reason...

  • VH1 cancels ‘Ev and Ocho’ after Ocho arrested for allegedly attacking Ev

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  • Devo to Release Song About Mitt Romney's Dog

  • Man Shoots Self In Ass In Movie Theater

  • James Franco’s Making A Movie About Lindsay Lohan And James Franco

  • Bill Gates Hosts Fair to Reinvent the Toilet [PICS]

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Les temps perdu: My summer of shoes

I had no difficulty finding summer jobs during college, the couple of times I was in the market. Our local public high school acted as a clearing house. You dropped in, told them you wanted a summer job, and they handed you the top card off the pile. When I dropped in, the top card on the pile was a job at a shoe store downtown. I went to the store, demonstrated my nascent skills as a shoe salesman, and the job was mine.

It was the most boring job I ever had.

The store was owned by a guy named Sol, who had owned the store since the invention of feet. He was a fixture in the town of Port Chester, and his shop was filled with fancy feminine footware. He had a secondo who had worked for him for years, whose name I can’t remember, although I could easily pick him out of a police lineup. He and I spent a lot of time together. A whole summer. He taught me everything I know about shoes. My education could not have been complete without him.

To say that the store was quiet would be an exaggeration. It was deader than Jacob Marley, but without the chains. If there were two or three customers a day, and maybe one of them purchased the odd pump, it was front-page news in the Wall Street Journal. According to my mother, who did not shop there, the shoes they sold were fancy and expensive. (I wouldn’t have known the difference between a fancy shoe and a Buster Brown if you had held a gun to my head.) Apparently the margin was so high that you could support two fulltime staffers and a summer helper on the sale of two shoes a day, one per foot.

My job for ninety percent of the summer was to sweep the place up, and when a customer came in and went through a lot of potential shoes, to put the also-rans back on the shelves in the stockroom. (Can shoes be also-rans? Also-walks?) Sometimes I rearranged the stock room. And that was about it. The idea that I would actually sell a woman a shoe—and it was only women who came in for the most part—was ludicrous. Sol and his secondo wouldn’t let me anywhere near the paying customers, any more than a hospital chief of staff would let a first-year medical student perform brain surgery. Selling women shoes was an art, and I was not instructed into the ways of that art. Given the volume of customers, even if my mastering that art were a possibility, it would not have been necessary. There were already enough masters to go around.

So why did they hire me? I spent my entire day reading the newspaper. More specifically, I spent my entire day reading the Daily News, which was the secondo’s newspaper of choice. Reading a book would have been considered goofing off, for some reason. Reading every single word of the News—comics, sports, business, want ads, editorials, the stuff they made up that passed for news—was okay. At some point during the summer Sol had his annual sale, and all the shoes he was trying to get rid of were removed from their boxes and laid on the floor against the wall, and the women would come in—this time in serious numbers—and help themselves, and for a while I thought that my calling was to pitch in during these bargain days, but aside from keeping things straightened, I was mostly kept out of sight in the stockroom.

There is no job so boring as a job where you don’t do anything. I’ve had mind-numbing jobs where at least I did something, however repetitious, and I’ve had this one mind-numbing job where I did nothing at all except sit around and watch a shoe get sold occasionally. There’s no comparison.

So again, why did they hire me? The answer came toward the end of the summer. There were a handful of Catholic grammar schools in our town, and each school required uniforms. Including shoes. Sol’s store had the contract to sell all (as in literally all) the shoes for the Corpus Christi school. Toward the middle of summer the boxes started arriving, and then somehow the starting gun was fired, and the next thing you knew, the place was wall-to-wall grammar school kids, and their mothers, getting shod for the new season. Suddenly I was in demand. I went from expert Daily News reader to expert children’s shoe salesman in seconds flat. I measured their little feet and pretended to thoughtfully analyze the data, deciding not what shoe fitted but what shoe would still fit come the spring. Mothers depended on me to make sure those shoes lasted the entire year. I’d bring out the boxes and we’d slip Junior’s or Juniette’s feet into them, and they’d stand up, and I’d get down and press the toes and the sides, feeling for God only knows what, but then rubbing my chin and sagely pronouncing that it seemed pretty good to me. I’d like to say that while I was pronouncing them a fit made in heaven, the kid would be saying, “But they’re really tight,” and I’d give him a look and make as if to swat him, a la W. C. Fields, but I think that’s probably just in my imagination. What is not in my imagination is that I didn’t know the first thing about what I was doing, and with the exception of a couple of mothers who also pressed the toes and the sides, and probably knew no better than I did what they were feeling for, all the mothers accepted my expertise completely. I was working in the store, wasn’t I? Sol’s had been there forever. I must have known what I was doing.

If there is any great lesson to be learned from this, I didn’t learn it. I spent the rest of the year following the local news, to see if there was an epidemic of disfigured feet in the Corpus Christi school that could be linked back to me, but if there was one, I never saw it. I knew no more about shoes after this summer than I knew before it, and the minute I didn’t have to read the Daily News anymore, I made it a lifetime of not reading the Daily News. On the positive side, I did have a job for the summer, so I made a few bucks and kept off the streets and out of the penitentiary, thus getting from one school year to the next as well as could be expected.

Meanwhile, if you ever need shoe-buying advice, I’m your man.

The secret: good cheddar in the bechamel

Put this in your pipe and smoke it: the Panivore liked my macaroni and cheese. I can finally quit forensics. My work here is done.

We had a fine old time at the chez last night. My Pfffters are already thinking about the topic, and we chatted about it with the assembled brain trust of alums, and then we went on to due process. If you ask me, extradition is in fact part of due process. We need to provide legal support to our request to our international friends for the release of someone wanted for a crime from their sovereign soil into our custody. Others in the room saw it differently, but then again, no one had researched nothing. It's what happens after extradition that would matter. Of course, why this was limited to terrorists who were no longer on our soil was also beyond me. My mind went to people like Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman. Wasn't he arrested, tried and convicted in the normal fashion? Should it have been some other way? Of course, nowadays LD looks not for general moral or ethical guidelines, but some damned example where whatever the debater wants to run works. No wonder I'm a Pfffter in training.

Anyhow, it was a fun evening, as expected, catching up with everyone. And I liked having the sophomores there to represent the future alums with whom I'll be catching up four or five years from now. Everybody knows everybody, pretty much, which is nice. Small school. Small town. I wore my Pirates of the Caribbean Hawaiian shirt. I couldn't have enjoyed myself more.

Speaking of Disney, today DisAd13 is exactly one year away! I was thinking of watching a Disney film a month to get myself in training. Who's with me on this?

And from the jumping the gun school of speechification, I have three incoming freshmen wanting to sign up for the speech database. That's a new one on me. Usually it takes three or four years for them just to get email addresses. Maybe it really is the 21st Century.

Music: Another Gypsy

Stephane Wrembel lives in Brooklyn, even though he's French. Is there anyone who doesn't live in Brooklyn these days?

This is "Bistro Fada," theme music from Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris.

This next one is nice and lively:

And another one a little uptempo:

Wrembel has five albums. The first one I acquired was "Gypsy Rumble." I listen to it all the time (when I'm not listening to Sanseverino).

As a bonus, if you like this sort of thing, then this next guy is God:

More articles we didn't finish reading

These headlines are all real, directly copied from our RSS feed to here without editing. When we say we didn't read them, we mean it. They didn't exactly pull us in, for some reason...

  • When I Grow Up I Want to be a Porn Star!

  • The 5 Best (and 5 Worst) Collectible Candy Heads

  • What Will the Fashion World Do With Kim Kardashian?

  • Prepare for Fifty Shades of Grey, the official fashion line

  • King of Plop: Michael Jackson seen in car windshield bird poop

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Sept PF and Sept-Oct LD

I found a position piece from the NRA in a quick lookup for the September PF topic. I loved this: they used the phrase “assault weapons,” i.e., they enclosed the words in quotes, a sort of typographical sneer if you will, and certainly the kind of usage I love to see in political debate. It’s the same as calling an estate tax a death tax. If we want to ban assault weapons, no quotes, we want to ban dangerous weapons that have no reasonable purpose but to kill innocent people, preferably in great quantities. If we want to ban so-called “assault weapons,” on the other hand, we are abridging our constitutional right to protect ourselves and our families.

What a crock.

Anyhow, I love the idea of arguing gun rights. It is probably the most complex constitutional issue that people generally ever get their heads around these days, aside from the belief that somehow the Founders thought we should all be good Christians and that this is somehow written into the document, except that the latter is patently untrue while the former, i.e., the right to bear arms, is, if you’ll pardon the expression, debatable.

There are specifics that one needs to study. The Federal Assault Weapons Ban is specifically referenced, so first of all, what exactly is it and why was it enacted? Of course, from my LD background, I’m always first and foremost interested in the why should we or why shouldn’t we, the inherent moral and ethical issues. But of course there are also the real world analyses: what happens if we do, what happens if we don’t. Good stuff. I’m not sure how it will play out in rounds, but for most folks around here, it’s a one-shot at the Pups and then we move on.

On the LD side of things, I like the study of due process, but I’m not terribly convinced that there’s a good argument to follow due process in some crimes and not others, depending on either the crime or the accused. I mean, if the US stands for anything, it stands for justice, and there is no justice without due process, but what do I know? So for me, LD is an easy vote for the aff, but then again, I won’t judge a single round, so no one has to worry that I’m prejudiced. At the point where we can pick up any scary looking non-citizens off the street and toss them in the pokey and throw away the key without a warrant (literally and LDy), we might as well be some totalitarian hellhole like, oh, Canada for instance. But as I say, the study of this topic will be good for the brains of the assembled multitudes, especially novices. I like seeing an educational topic in that Sept-Oct slot. There’s nothing about this that would shake my faith in the Modest Novice, of course, but we’ve all seen worse. Plenty worse.

More links with little comment

More good stuff that speaks for itself:

Top books for teens

I remember going through this whole song and dance here about book recommendations, on the presumption that boys don’t read as much as girls, and we needed some good books for these poor also-rans. It’s disappeared in the wash of old ideas versus new ideas, but the issue probably hasn’t gone away. In the list of who reads what, the numbers are something like this:

Vast Majority - People who don’t read books at all
Six percent of the population – Females who read books regularly
Four percent of the population – Males who read books regularly

I got the idea of ten percent of the people as being readers from Isaac Asimov, who gave us a talk once in my previous DJ advising us not to bemoan that most people don’t read, because most people have never read. It takes under a hundred thousand copies to get a book on the bestseller lists, at least for a moment. The biggest bestsellers of all sell maybe a couple of million copies. There’s maybe 250 million people in the country who could read, if they wanted to. They really don’t want to.

One holds out hope, in any case, at least for the younger generation who may not have the habit of reading, that somehow they will acquire it. To get to that point, they need books they want to read. NPR recently did a poll of the top hundred books for teens, and I have to say, it’s a list of books that are pretty appealing, for the most part. There are some overlaps with the lists I’ve seen from schools of suggested summer reading, but not a lot. And certainly the emphasis is on modern stories, which is probably a good thing for less practiced readers. I mean, Dickens is a hard sell no matter how good he is, and we need to face that reality. (And we need to not worry; eventually the real readers in the group will also think that Bleak House is as good as it gets.)

Anyhow, if you’re looking for a good book, check out the Top 100 Teen Books. After all, Something Wicked This Way Comes is the other Bradbury book on the list. Nothing wrong with that.

Julia at 100

A tip of the hat to @ktmenick for this one.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

This and that

Today they came to my office and took away my ancient 17-inch MacBook Pro (I think it was running OS-negative-7) and replaced it with a shiny new 15-incher. OS 10.7.3, which is about as close to the bleeding edge as the DJ would ever get. Remarkably, everything works. It used to be that when you got a new machine, you spent weeks getting it to do half of what you used to do. Nowadays, things just work. I do not long for the olden days.

One nice thing is that for the first time I’m connected to the Cloud—and my iCal and Address Book—in the office. That’s the sort of thing IT used to block, out of fear that you might be able to look up somebody’s email, I guess. Once upon a time we didn’t even get iTunes. As my IT guy put it then, anything with an “i” in front of it, forget about it.

Speaking of music, I decided to go with the Amazon cloud service, which is the one I was getting for free. It works fine, I already have it, and it’s 25 bucks a year. What have I got to lose? It is nice listening to all my music in the office. Pavarotti is warbling away at the moment. I also now have a lot of Cloud storage, I think 50 gigs, in addition to the music. I don’t know about that. I don’t have a lot of stuff, if you know what I mean, aside from pictures. Well, maybe pictures it is. Might as well use it, you know?

Tomorrow night is the alum meeting with a side of JV. Coincidentally, the Speecho-Americans are gathering down the road for whatever it is they gather for. I guess Wednesday was just an irresistible night for such things. Somebody remind me to buy a loaf of Wonder bread for you-know-who.

La musique de Sanseverino

Somebody asked me about new music I was listening to, and I put on Sanseverino, and they were immediately 70 degrees happier than they had been previously. Try it yourself.

First, there's that soft, you-could-listen-to-it-all-night stuff that they invented the guitar for:

Then there's the stuff that makes your foot tap uncontrollably:

And then there's the music video that makes me wish I spoke French, and makes my hope nothing is being said that's NSFW:

The Capitol Theater in Port Chester, NY

Bob Dylan is opening there next month, marking a rebirth of the famous music venue.


Music venue? I was raised in Port Chester. It was a movie theater when I was a kid. And every Saturday, they had kids' matinees. The best of these included space/monster movies. Creature Features. Whatever you wanted to call them. Double features, plus cartoons and coming attractions. A movie theater virtually packed to the ceiling with an audience ranging in age from about 8 to 12, with one sole adult, the theater manager, doing his futile best to keep a lid on the proceedings.

These were the movies I would watch with gaping jaw, and then go home nonchalantly and not be able to get to sleep out of sheer cold terror. One of the best of these, if not the best, was Enemy from Space. I only ever saw it the once, 50 some odd years ago, and I still remember that this gook came from Jupiter attached to rocks, and it jumped off the rocks and took over humans and made them slaves, collecting the rest of the rocks and getting their passengers into giant tanks where they could breathe their native methane. The monsters, once assembled, were fairly blobbish and run of the mill, but that whole idea of a mind-controlled slave army... In a way it was another twist on Invasion of the Body Snatchers, of course, but when an idea is good, run with it.

By the time Five Million Years to Earth came around, I was too old to lose sleep over a movie, but let me tell you, this one with its primal satanic imagery still managed to shake me up a bit. The whole exercise was way more complex than simple invading extraterrestrials.

I don't know when I finally put it all together and realized that they were of a part, both being Quatermass stories. As explained in ‘QUATERMASS AND THE PIT’: THE ORIGINAL, CLASSIC TV SERIES BY NIGEL KNEALE, this all started as a British TV series. And my guess is, it is pretty well forgotten, as are the movies. I can't recall, until seeing this article, a mention of Quatermass in years.

There's a video of the TV version of Million in the posting. I wonder how it compares to the movie, and if it holds up on its own. As soon as I get a few hours... In any case, find the two movies, if you're a classic SF film buff. At the very least, you'll be amused.

Your science dollars at work

This is sort of amazing. On the one hand, it's a human interest story, but at the same time, it's a science/tech story.

I mean, they just whip up spare parts on the old 3D printer? And it's the same material as Legos? There's more to see at the WREX site, if you want.

It's an amazing world we live in.


Monday, August 13, 2012

Debate: In which familial aspersions are cast

Over the weekend the trouble-and-strife suggested that my blog was often longwinded and pedantic. To which I looked at her askance, wondering if she had just noticed this. It is curious that I make my DJ living in the business of cutting and simplifying, but when I put pen to paper myself, so to speak, I never think twice about quantity. It’s not that I don’t edit these pieces a little bit, but honestly, I just write them, read them, fix them when something doesn’t make sense, and post them. Anything beyond that would be inhibiting. I can write pretty polished if I want to, but the blog is more thoughts and ideas and general annoyances than any attempt at perfect prose. Which is why Flaubert never blogged. That and, well, a couple of other reasons.

CP finally got the email function back into, so I was able to send out a blast to the collected MHL membership about the workshop on the 29th. I’m using the same template for the agenda from 2010. 2011, you may remember, was the crazy collection of weekends where there were more Jewish holidays than ever before, and even Monticello had to move to new digs away from its traditional Columbus Day home. Things calm down this year, although the first-timers’ will precede rather than follow Fairly Largish Bronx, causing all sorts of confusion on the local front. We’ll cope.

I feel as if we’re really in business for the season, as today I put in the request for September buses. We’ll need one for the Speecho-Americans going to Yale, plus I’m hopeful of having a teeming multitude heading for the workshop, so there you are. I am at the edge of my seat waiting for the topic to be released Wednesday. Both of my Pups PFers say they will be coming over that night for a burger and a minimal brainstorm; that should get them started, anyhow.

Now see? That was neither pedantic nor longwinded. I can do it if I want to. I just seldom want to.

Music: This Nearly Was Mine

No reason for this, except it's one of the most beautiful, and saddest, songs ever.

To fly away as day flies from moonlight...

Helluva performance, too!

The AIDS quilt

Sometimes you see something that simply overwhelms you. This is one of those things.

You know about the AIDS quilt. Here's the story and all the details. 48,000 panels. Now Microsoft has digitized it. And here's the link.

Be warned. It may be the most amazing, and moving, thing you've ever seen on your computer screen.

[Via OpenCulture.]

Movies: Who left the pod bay doors open?

Well, after all, it is on the 50. If I recall, it's the only SF picture. Not surprising. As I said earlier, it is on the dull side, but then again, I saw it about 20 times, so it's not as if I didn't like it. I know I saw it in 70mm. I may have even seen it in Cinerama. I saw it sitting in the front, sitting in the back. I've watched it on television. I've watched it on a computer. I can honestly say that I've probably memorized all the dialogue. Then again, there's only about three lines of it, so my cat could probably memorize all the dialogue after way fewer viewings.

I was unaware of this documentary, though. Good stuff, via Mentalfloss.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Iron Baby

This is totally viral, but I just saw it for the first time and figured, why not?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Riding off into the weekend

This time out, a virtual waterslide, described at Makers' Faire. These guys actually built the thing, and you know you want to ride it.

More on the 50

If there’s any secondary theme to CL after debate life, it’s probably art. I’ve certainly written a lot about art that I’ve subsequently collected for permanent access, e.g. Caveman. I am intrigued by what art is, and what it does, for many reasons. Not least among these is the difficulty in actually establishing in many cases what, indeed, art is. From there, one takes on the issues of good art and bad art, of taste and fashion, of all sorts of things that would not necessarily be meaningful if we were talking about something else. The thing is, because of the importance of art to the human spirit, the subject of art warrants our deep analysis. Whatever it is, it is one of the things that makes us human. And as such it has been a subject for philosophers since the very beginning of philosophy. Given the audience for CL, it seems like a good subject for us.

When I wrote about the so-called best films of all time, I was talking off the top of my head, mostly. Not that I didn’t mean what I said, but I hadn’t dug too deeply. But the idea of movies and art is a rich one, worthy of more analysis. RM commented thus: Isn't film for trained critics the way debate is for trained critics? Clearly there's a place for popularization in both spheres, but there's also a place in both for the education of the audience into a realm where they do understand and benefit from the interconnections. I'm clearly not there in film, but in other areas like painting, theater, philosophy, and debate, I find myself riveted by a lot of performances that 'laypeople' would find terminally boring. So it's not that I value other things over engagement so much as I've been molded into the kind of viewer who finds more abstract material engaging.

I’m not terribly excited about discussing the idea of debate for trained critics at the moment, which I don’t think is a question of art. But I do think Ryan’s point about critics in general is a good one. Simply put, isn’t it true that the more we are trained to understand things, the more we understand them? And the more we understand things, the better able we are to appreciate them? The answer is obviously yes. And no. (I love when Ryan takes me to task!)

First of all, critical knowledge is no guarantee of taste. I don’t have to explain that.

Secondly, critical knowledge is no guarantee of understanding anything but what one has been taught to understand. The history of art is rife with examples of new people coming along and being dismissed by the critics, and later being recognized. The Impressionists, Van Gogh, Melville, Charles Ives, etc. This also connects to a narrowing of critical opinion, rather than a broadening, based on one’s belief that one’s education was definitive and correct, rather than merely one step on an endless journey.

Third, there is the “conspiracy of art” a la Baudrillard, where commerce in the arcane is masterminded by those with the most to gain, i.e., the galleries and critics “conspire” to call something good art because it is to their mutual benefit, not because the item in question is, in fact, good art. (Damien Hirst polka dots? Not even painted necessarily by Damien Hirst? Now that's a shark.)

Fourth, there is often a tendency of critics to show off their knowledge, in pure self-aggrandizement, a sort of Ellsworth Toohey haughtiness that I think does tend to demonstrate itself in areas where the average person may not have a lot of background (like architecture, and I can’t believe I used an example from Ayn Rand, and I should rot in hell for that).

And then there’s movies themselves. Of all the things we might want to call an art form, movies might be the least like art. First of all, it is a collaboration. Take The Godfather, which most people agree is a great movie. What makes it great? The script? Which parts of the script, those from Puzo or those from Coppola? Is it the direction? The acting? Would it have been as good if the studio had managed to keep Brando out? The photography? The music? Absolutely every single one of those things? Boy, that’s a tough one. Given that all those things except for Brando are repeated in The Godfather Part 2, which most people also agree is a great movie, and that all those things in Part 2 are also repeated The Godfather Part 3, which most people agree is pretty much just meh, you’ve got to wonder.

Maybe we can pin down what makes a movie great or not great, when we have the similar sets of pieces from something like the Godfather trilogy, if we have the time and energy. It should be the easiest case to do so, when you think about it, because of the similar sets of pieces. But I wonder…

One thing about movies that is different from every other form of entertainment, except, perhaps, video games, is their expense. Because they cost millions of dollars, they must also sell millions of dollars of tickets. But we wouldn’t equate popularity with quality. The Godfather was enormously successful, as a matter of fact, but that doesn’t make it better or worse than any other picture, it just makes it more popular. Still, at some point all movies must have it in their DNA to be seen. Even something like Warhol’s Empire has no point if no one sees it. That movie would have only been made as an example of some sort of artistic vision, though. I know a lot about movies, and a lot about Warhol, and I don’t care how many National Film Registry recognitions it gets, I don’t want to watch more than the two minutes I’ve already seen. After all, I know how it ends.

My point is that a movie, to be successful on its own DNA terms, must pay for itself, and therefore must sell tickets, and the only way it can do that is to entertain (unless the movie stars Adam Sandler). There must be an audience for a film, or the film won’t exist in the first place. Or at least, that’s the presumption of everyone along the way. The producers won’t produce it if they think it won’t pay; the studios won’t back it; the agents won’t put their people into it. (Except, again, for Adam Sandler. I don’t begin to understand Adam Sandler, and let’s face it, neither do you. No one does. Which may, in fact, completely explain the regular creation of Adam Sandler movies.)

So popularity does, in fact, play a part in filmmaking. Which means that filmmakers must, at some level, strive for success by connecting with paying audiences. This can be done, of course, with no pretense to creativity beyond craft. I recently say Moneyball and enjoyed it quite a bit, but I doubt if anyone involved in it saw it as anything but a piece of commerce. Good commerce, smart commerce, but commerce all the same. They set out to make an entertaining movie—nothing wrong with that—and they did. Good for them. It will never be on anyone’s top hundred list. But that’s true of every single movie ever made (except for a hundred of them).

So let’s look at Citizen Kane. To say that Orson Welles had artistic ambitions is to say that rice comes in little grains that are usually white. His theater history prior to heading out to Hollywood is nothing if not ambitious on a grandiose scale. He wanted to reinvent everything, to move the needle on everything, to change everything. (In a way, his biography is a tragedy of his ultimate failure to do so after his prodigious beginnings.) When he got his hands on “the biggest electric train set a boy ever had,” i.e., the RKO back lot, he made the most of it. Practically every scene in Kane, if not every shot, is an attempt to shake things up. It redefines a closeup or a a longshot, it reinvents depth of field, it does three things when most shots barely do one. Characters age, characters change. Imagery and allusions collect in an embarrassment of riches. Just the opening scene alone, fade after fade after fade, is amazing. For that matter, just watch the movie for scene changes: it wipes, it pans, it blacks out, whatever. If you’re knowledgeable about movies, it makes you dizzy to watch all of this, not used at random, but put in aid of a fascinating story. In other words, if you’re an educated audience, the more you know, the more you appreciate.

But here’s the thing. If you’re not an educated audience, if you’ve never seen a movie before in your life, you are still going to be blown away by this movie. You will be drawn in to the opening series of fades, and you won’t be let go of until you see the sled on the fire. This is a movie for everybody. The fact that you might be able to refine your tastes to make it even better is a plus, but the bottom line is already greatness.

My complaint against some of the movies on the list was not that some of them aren’t as exciting as Kane, first of all because some of them are, and second of all, a movie doesn’t have to be exciting to be great. My complaint was that some of them were there because of the Ellsworth Toohey factor: "I have learned a lot and gotten my tastes remarkably refined, and this is the sort of movie that appeals to tony taste buds that only those of my high quality can appreciate." The two movies that most reflect that for me have been for years Vertigo and The Searchers. I don’t dislike them—don’t get me wrong—but I see in them critic-bait (not deliberate on the directors’ parts) that makes them pets of people who don’t care as much about movies as an overall experience as much as a measure of their own ability to read into them intellectual themes that don’t necessarily make them good movies. My problem with Vertigo versus lots of other AH films is that it is so psychologically cerebral that it fails to connect to the visceral. The Searchers is just too damned long and needs twenty minutes cut from the second act. The thing about The Searchers is that practically every filmmaker cutting his teeth in the 70s was so influenced by it that they elevated it to ideal status that it didn’t deserve, and then alluded to it so much that you felt that every picture you saw was just another homage to John Ford.

Anyhow, I think Ryan has a valid point, but I don’t think it’s absolute. And it’s so much fun to write about this stuff!

Music: There's still a little summer left

Enjoy it.

This one is such a classic, and it's amazing to see a live performance.

Okay, this is synched, and Mungo Jerry never got around to a second hit, but like Beethoven's Ninth, this ditty will live forever.

I saw these guys live when I was in high school. Unlike me, they've gotten older.

If it is possible to put together a posting like this without these guys, I'm unaware of it. Not bad for live!

It's going to be a scorcher today in NY, with thunderstorms threatening. Stay in and listen to music.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Les Temps Perdu: Menick and the mountain of meatballs

I feel obligated to complete the great tales of employment that I’ve started.

At some point during my freshman year of college I decided that I needed a source of additional income, and got myself a job working nights at a cafeteria style restaurant on the main commercial drag of the campus. This was one of my most successful career stories. I started out as the dish washer and, by the time I retired, I was the head chef, with seniority over the entire rest of the staff. Curiously enough, I only worked there a week.

I don’t know by virtue of what idiocy I felt I could hold down what amounted to a regular job while going to school. I guess it was the need for money; even though I had been a hard worker in high school, everything that I had earned had gone toward my education. I was not raised poor by any means, but my parents were not aware of it. Like a lot of people whose formative years were during the Depression, my parents continued to think that Hoover was in the White House and that the bottom could fall out of everything any minute. And they applied the lessons of their youth to me: whenever we disagreed about something, their response was that they didn’t have that during the Depression, and that was the end of the argument. No wonder I enjoy debate. If your opponent makes an argument that the social contract entails rights protection, you can’t respond, “Rights protection? We didn’t have rights protection during the Depression! We didn’t even have Rights! For that matter, we didn’t even have the letter R. You kids are spoiled rotten these days.” Anyhow, the money I had earned as a high school student was earmarked for education, and out of my immediate reach. My expenses as a college student were greater than my resources. A job seemed like the right idea.

The first night I arrived for work, I was show the dishwashing machine. This was an object the size of a bus, but it operated fairly simply. You put a lot of dirty dishes into it on one end, and took out a lot of clean dishes from the other end. Various amounts of water, steam and soap were also entailed, making the immediate environs a little less pleasant than would otherwise be the case. And, of course, you had to get the dirty dishes from their previous resting spots, on the tables in the dining room, and put them in their new resting spots, in piles ready to go back to the kitchen. Provided there were people around eating, the dishwashing job was pretty steady. A great way to start in the culinary business, I’d say. That and my other responsibilities, which included sweeping up. And mopping. And wiping tables.

That was my first night.

My second night I moved on to meatballs. I am not quite sure of the number of meatballs eaten by the average college student in my day, but the evidence of my experience was that the number was pretty high. My task of making meatballs saw me with an ice cream scoop in hand, facing a pile of meatball muck roughly four sizes greater than my own height and weight. I had to take the meatball mountain, scoop by scoop, and remove it to roasting trays, then put the trays in the oven for a while until the red chopped meat was magically transformed into the humble polpettina, as my Italian grandmother might say. (I never knew my Italian grandmother, but I can’t imagine her not saying it, so there you are.) It is impossible to appreciate the numbness of mind that comes with eight or so hours of nonstop meatball production. Making a couple of dozen meatballs for Christmas Eve? Heaven. Making a couple of thousand meatballs for the hungry stomachs of the Syracuse University student body? Not quite so heavenly.

On my third night, while continuing odd tasks, especially clearing up, I began to work the counter and learn the grill. Not a lot of food was cooked to order aside from burgers and eggs, which didn’t require a lot of training. What does require perhaps training but I would suggest that it’s more innate talent, is timing things and keeping track of things. A short order cook is not a master of cuisine but a master of scheduling, knowing what’s due when, and delivering it on time. Orders never come occasionally. There is never one person wanting something to eat. Either the line is empty, or it’s the nightmare of Malthus. The only number of people ever ordering food was too many. And somehow you had to keep track of it all.

In the days that I worked in the cafeteria, the turnover of employees was both ridiculous and nonstop, and I do not exaggerate when I report that on day seven I had seniority, and I was no longer just filling in or helping out on the line, but I was the chief cook. No more dishwashing for me. No more mountains of meatball muck. No, for me it was hour after hour of burgers and fries and scrambled eggs and you name it, and I went home that night after I got paid and collapsed and never returned.

I just didn’t need the money that badly. There was no way to do this job even a couple of nights a week and still go to school. This wasn’t work. This was WORK. No wonder kids didn’t hold on to the jobs, which in my recollection were a commitment of all or nothing. The cafeteria wanted regular employees, but they could never dependably come from the ranks of fulltime students. It was one or the other. The other won out.

I wish I could say that this experience was traumatic, but it wasn’t until I was thinking about jobs and wracking my brain that I even remembered it. Repressed? I don’t think so. It was only one week, long ago, one mountain of meatballs, one never ending line of fries, fries, burger, fries—it's not the sort of thing that sticks with you. So that may be the moral of the story. No matter what you’re doing this week, if you don’t ever do it again, eventually you’ll forget about it. Sometimes that’s a good thing to know.

More articles we didn't finish reading

These headlines are all real, directly copied from our RSS feed to here without editing. When we say we didn't read them, we mean it. They didn't exactly pull us in, for some reason...

  • Do You Want to Dance With Justin Bieber?

  • Kanye West Unveils 'Perfect B*tch' Song About Kim Kardashian

  • Joan Rivers chains herself to Costco shopping cart; police respond

  • So What Is Neo-Nazi Hate Music?

  • The Penises of the Icelandic Handball Team

  • The Hidden Power of Whale Poop

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Nothing like an OS upgrade to get your mind computing

Come to think of it, I also back up iTunes to Little Elvis, which I use as the chez jukebox. So the safety argument falls. Unless the chez burns down…

My latest wonder is if I should get Word for the Mac. I use Pages at home, which is perfectly adequate, but I was doing some writing last night and realized that I do so much in Word at the DJ that, while Pages is okay, it’s mildly annoying to have multiple programs doing the same thing. I could work in the version of Word on XP on my virtual PC, but I could also etch my writing onto stone tablets. I think I’m making the argument in favor of it even as I type.

Meanwhile, I’ve been poking around things since the Mt Lion update. It turns out that if you want Reminders to work across all your devices via the cloud, you have to turn on all the parts (i.e., Google and Yahoo) that you don’t want to be a part of it. Then the part you do want works fine. It makes you remember why you love computers!

One sure sign of the coming season is my updating my various web pages. I’m dumping some of the stuff, perking up some of the other stuff. There are some gaps I’ve discovered in the documentation that I’ll try to fill over the year, e.g., a beginner’s guide to PF. I’ve updated the rules of the team to include things like my phone number that I’ve now had for two years. I’ve managed to promote my favorite piece of art, O’C in the Pipe, to an index page. At the bottom, nothing much has changed, but at least it looks a little better. More 2007 than 1997. The incoming novices will be absotively dazzled.

Next up, when all this housekeeping is done, will be to update Bump. [Sigh.] This year it’s back to Friday and Saturday, which means there’s lots of rewriting, and also the problems of damage at the grammar school need to be addressed. It turns out that Cousin Joe, AKA Joe Gazzola, is getting married that day. This means that O’C will be wondering off permanently at some point from his post running novice tab. I’m not going to tell Kaz. Let’s see if she can tell the difference on her own.

Art/books: Edward Gorey

Edward Gorey used to haunt the upper west side of Manhattan, and you would often see him sitting in a restaurant, looking like, well, Edward Gorey. He'd wear a big old coat and have a grim expression just like the one in the picture.

If you're unfamiliar with Gorey, maybe actually you're not. His artwork famously opens the PBS "Mystery" show, for one thing. And he did an awful lot of illustration work in his day; Maria Popova has a nice display at Edward Gorey Illustrates Little Red Riding Hood and Other Classic Children’s Stories if you want a refresher. Personally, I am eternally grateful to him for introducing the word chthonic into my everyday vocabulary. I am just waiting for a word game where I can use it to absolutely destroy my opponent. (The ch is silent, by the way, if you wish to casually toss this one off at your next cocktail party.)

I bring all this up because I came across the video below via Failblog, of all places. This is no fail, people. The Gashlycrumb Tinies didn't need any animation, but I have to admit, the animation is fun. Cute? Perhaps not. But chthonic? Absolutely.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

I can feel the tingle of the new season...

Professor Miller makes a rather preemptive argument in his comment to my ramblings about music. iTunes in the Cloud for $25 bucks a year is a pretty cheap backup. I hate the thought of my music being eaten alive, but in technology, if it has happened, it can happen. I do backup to Time Machine, but only everything excluding my music, for reasons too confused to explain. I guess I see the path before me.

One thing that's missing from the new is a way to do an email blast to a membership of a group, as in, the MHL. CP is working on it (or at least he says he knows it isn't there, which I'm interpreting as the same thing). I'm ready to remind people that the workshop is coming on September 29, and to point out that it should be really good because in addition to the usual suspects we'll also have Brother T with us. For those who don't know who that is, I do not mean that Mr. T's brother will be with us, but that Kevin Tidd will be with us. You may recognize the top of his head from the lectures he gives on PF topics for the NFL. (He's also going to be doing Yale with us, probably in LD. We have obviously found a way to lure this poor unfortunate soul over to the Dark Side.) Anyhow, I'll get everything ready, including the agenda and the signup on tabroom, and be ready when the time comes.

Speaking of Yale, that damned thing is chock full. I've already gotten people asking about the waitlist, but I'm figuring that that should be handled for all divisions by one person, viz., JV, to coordinate schools across events. Unfortunately, he and Mrs. Vaughan (a reference which will be familiar to those who follow him on Facebook) are traveling the West Coast at the moment, and he is wisely avoiding business for a while. Lucky #*&^@%$#! By the way, if you're looking to judge at Yale, the Pups are looking to hire. Diana Li is in charge of those proceedings.

With some nudging from the Panivore, I'm doing a little barbecue for the alums next Wednesday. If you are an alum and will be in town, let me know. I'll also have, as far as I can tell, one poor JV Pffffter. The topic comes out that day, 8/15, and we can spend three minutes telling him everything we collectively know about it. Oh, yeah. Despite the nudging, the Panivore isn't coming. She claims prior engagements. I claim that she's afraid that she'll actually like my macaroni and cheese and never be able to eat a KCD again.

Why the best films of all time are boring

The 70s were the Golden Age of film buffery. In NYC there seemed to be as many revival houses as there were first run theaters, and to some extent, these revival houses each had their own personalities. One might be dedicated to deep-cut Hollywood musicals, another might be mostly foreign films, another might be consciously arty, another more modern. At the same time, almost any movie might play at any of them, insofar as, say, Humphrey Bogart films seemed to fit into most categories, and if they didn’t, who cared, because Bogey brought in the audiences, and at some point one did have to pay the rent. Meanwhile, of course, there was a lot going on in the contemporary filmmaking of the time, and a lot of people consider the 70s not only a great time to see old movies but one of the best times to see new movies.

One of the things about a Golden Age is its contagion. It wasn’t just that there were a lot of old movies around for the viewing, or that Hollywood was redefining itself with a new more personal style of film in the mainstream, but there was an audience for all of this. A big audience. It seemed as if everyone and their uncle was a film buff. Every conversation was about the latest movie, or the meanings lurking within the old movies. Every date was a movie date. And nothing was out of bounds. The most mundane programmer samurai films and the equivalent oater serials of the Poverty Row studios and the latest incomprehensible Antonioni film or mumbly Jean-Luc Godard meditation on communism—they were all part of the mix. At the risk of glib analysis, what rock had been to the sixties, movies were to the seventies, the front line of popular culture.

In this heady cinematic atmosphere, a new kind of critic was born. As happens with any art form, sooner or later one stops connecting the art to life and begins to connect it with other examples of the art form. In movies, that means that you no longer respond to a film because it enlightens the human condition; you respond to a film because it quotes another film, or extends another film, or critiques another film. Film criticism became a self-feeding loop, its only referents being other films. Of course, this is not true of literally all film criticism, but it does sum up the mass. Now that there were film schools that could teach you to be a critic, by explaining all the machinery but perhaps none of the sense, critics were born who were a part of the machinery. The end result is, as with the art critics who rave most about art that is incomprehensible and ugly to the average individual who likes art, and as with the music critics who rave most about music that is unlistenable to the average individual who likes music, now there were film critics who raved most about movies that left the average individual cold. Because of the great expense of movies, unlike most art and music, there was never a sense that modern creators were working only for the critics. But the critics, as far as the average individual was concerned, weren’t watching the same movies, and weren’t responding in the same way. It’s not that the average individual is a schlub and the critic is a refined arbiter. It’s that the critic has virtually nothing in common anymore with the average individual when it comes to thinking about movies. So movie critics, and the rest of us who watch movies, have little or nothing in common.*

The best example of this distance between academic critics and the rest of us is the BFI list of The Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time. If you’ve followed the flap, the big news is that Vertigo supplanted Citizen Kane at the top. As far as I’m concerned, this means that the critics have finally taken over completely, and the rest of us are totally out. Vertigo, of all of Hitchcock’s pictures, is the one that most appeals to critics, for a variety of reasons, none of which are related to the movie being really a great viewing experience. It is to Hitchcock what The Searchers (which is also on the list) is to John Ford, the movie the critics all swoon over that the rest of us sort of greet with a giant “meh.” The critics see all sorts of things that we don’t see, or so one would imagine, without ever seeing what it is that we do see in movies, to wit, a transcendent experience of art. Or failing that, a transcendent experience of being in the picture and not in our seat. Citizen Kane is one of the few movies on the list that actually does the job of carrying us away. I hate to see it demoted, so to speak, because in the past you could recommend the so-called top film of all time to somebody who had never seen it, and they could watch it, and they’d be captivated and blown away. Show them Vertigo, and they’ll sort of shake their heads. It’s a film critic’s movie, as simple as that.

For the record, the top ten pix are 1: Vertigo; 2: Citizen Kane; 3: Tokyo Story (which I sort of like, but absolutely the dullest movie on the entire list); 4: La Regle du jeu (closest to Kane in some respects, but a little cold); 5: Sunrise (the most consciously arty in a very dated way); 6: 2001 (which is one of my favorite movies but, again, a little dull); 7: The Searchers; 8: Man With a Movie Camera (one of the few I haven’t seen); 9: The Passion of Joan of Arc (also haven’t seen); 10: (a personal favorite that is incomprehensible to the average filmgoer). The list goes on. The unifying factor seems to be a level of dullness, although a couple aren’t. Seven Samurai, which really is one of the best movies ever made without a single dull moment, does come in at 17. But then again, Apocalypse Now comes in at 14 while The Godfather comes in at 21? In what universe?

I’m not suggesting that we need a top 50 films judged by average schlubs, because if we did create that list, we’d have to account for Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead being number one and number two, but by the same token, there are some movies I have watched and enjoyed many times, but only a handful of these are on this list. Mostly these are movies I’ve seen, maybe liked, maybe not, but would never put in my top 50. Oh, well. At least Psycho is on there, at 35. If you and I were voting, it would be North by Northwest and Psycho, and Vertigo wouldn’t even make the list.

But then again, that’s what makes lists like this so much fun.


* We should point out that Pauline Kael came to prominence in this period, and she was anything but academic. She was a critic who reported on how a movie knocked her socks off, and she'd talk as much about her socks as about the movie. For years, she and the cartoons were the only reason I read The New Yorker.

70 years of Garrison Keillor

In other words, today is his 70th birthday; I don't mean to suggest that he's been on the radio for 70 years. This being a pretty hot time across the country, we should mark the day with a little Lake Wobegon cold weather.

Keillor is, of course, most famous for the Wobegon monologues, which for all practical purposes he extemporizes, but they're only a part of "A Prairie Home Companion," his weekly radio program. There's lots of music, for one thing, and Keillor is not shy about either his own songs or his pleasant singing voice, but he also brings on big guns to the show, like Shawn Colvin or Joe Ely or Steve Martin (in his banjo-playing persona). And there's plenty of comedy in addition to Wobegon, everything from the detective Guy Noir to the Lives of the Cowboys. Keillor is keeping alive classic old-timey radio, and while he regularly threatens to retire, fortunately he doesn't do so.

How could you better celebrate Keillor's birthday than to pop over to the PHC website and have a listen? The Ketchup Advisory Board will thank you for it.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Music, the cloud and everything

I am becoming progressively more confused about my music needs.

First of all, I have a lot of music on CDs. Much of that music has been turned into mp3s, in my iTunes library. Secondly, there's music I've bought as mp3s, which by now is not insubstantial. That too, of course, is in iTunes. But since Amazon is usually cheaper than iTunes, and often has remarkable sales making it crazy not to buy music you're even remotely interested in, most of the music I've bought is from Amazon. Because of this, Amazon not too long ago allowed me to store everything I have in iTunes on their cloud server, for free. And I recently got a classic iPod, which is now a little over half full, which holds my entire iTunes library as well. For the record, my iTunes library is on a remote disk attached to my MacBook Pro.

Here's the deal. Amazon says it's going to charge $25 a year for the formerly free service. iTunes Match is the same thing, also $25 a year, with no doubt better synchronization to my various Apple devices. Do I need either of these? After all, I do have all of it on the iPod already. I don't know.

Then there's the other apps. I listen to Pandora for maybe half an hour a day in my office when I first arrive. I don't pay for this. I looked into RDO, and really liked that vastness, but that cost money. It's not that I can't afford it, but that I wonder if I'd get the value out of it. Spotify is similar, I guess, but it annoys me to see what people are listening to via Facebook. No offense, but the number of people I care about what music they're listening to, if I'm not in the room, is Kelvin (i.e., absolute zero). Similarly, the number of people I want to know what music I'm listening to when they're not in the room is also K. I like finding new music, but I fail to see how the name of a song and the performer is somehow an aid in that quest, given that for all I know you're listening to the song and vomiting uncontrollably.

Modern life is tough. I'm bordering on getting iTunes Match, but not so much as to actually get it.

I wish someone could solve this for me.

More articles we didn't finish reading

It was a rich and fruitful weekend.

These headlines are all real, directly copied from our RSS feed to here without editing. When we say we didn't read them, we mean it. They didn't exactly pull us in, for some reason...

  • Ortega makes my taco pop

  • Mitt Romney accused of not actually reading book he mentioned

  • Toilet Bowl Brushes ARE the Enemy

  • TV critics suspicious about Animal Planet’s ‘Finding Bigfoot’

  • Arnold Schwarzenegger founds think tank at USC

  • Andrew Lloyd Webber sets score to new Nintendo Wii video game

When you care enough to send some damned thing or other

Sometimes I find something that I want to share as is. If I don’t have much to say about it, I’ll put it either into a general links post, or if it’s debate-oriented, a Coachean Feed post. Sometimes I’ll be inspired to write at length. After all, I like writing stuff, so why not? There are some people who like reading it, and that’s good enough for me.

Take this article on The Best-Selling Greeting Card of All Time. I don’t have a lot to say about the article per se, but I have to admit, it did start me thinking about greeting cards in general. Hence, an article on greeting cards. That is how the mind works, take it or leave it.

I went over to, just to grab an image, and found this one, apparently just the tip of the Bieber greeting card iceberg. I also found that their site seems to organize one's greeting card life completely, so you can keep track of all the holidays you celebrate, and the people you wish to celebrate with. In other words, greeting cards are, apparently, alive and well. Who knew?

I come from a serious greeting card family on my mother's side. I don't mean just Christmas and birthdays. I mean every holiday and event imaginable. Valentine's Day. St. Patrick's Day. Easter. Fourth of July. Halloween. Thanksgiving. Mother's Day. Father's Day. Grandparents' Day. First Communion. Confirmation. Anniversaries. Thank you. Get well. And something tells me that I'm just scratching the Hallmark surface here, as far as the phenomenon itself is concerned. They have cards for events and holidays most of us have never heard of. Which raises the primary question, why do people send cards in the first place? I mean, half the cards we sent were to people we saw all the time. If I'm going to have Thanksgiving dinner with you, why am I sending you a Thanksgiving card? For that matter, what's so special about St. Patrick's Day that we need to send a card to acknowledge it? I can understand why Hallmark is motivated to create cards for every event, but why are people motivated to buy and send them?

I wonder if the answer is a combination of things. First, yes, a card does allow us to remove ourselves from actually having personal contact with people, so it can be a nice long-distance but vague connection. My parents would send Christmas cards like crazy, mostly to people they hadn't seen in years. By the time my mother reached her Aged P status, Christmas cards were a barometer of whether or not people were still alive. If she didn't hear from my Aunt Mary, for instance—a woman who is not my aunt and who I would not recognize if I found her cleaning the litter box on a dark night—she would wonder aloud if Aunt Mary might be dead. On further inquiry, it would turn out that if Aunt Mary were alive, she'd be about 124, leading me to suggest to the Aged P that,indeed, Aunt Mary was probably no more.

Another value of cards, and here I think we're talking about the incidental cards, like the St. Patrick's Days, is to give voice to one's inner cuteness. Cute, which as far as I'm concerned is a clinical pathology, runs rampant through my family, and of course, they're not alone. Fly onto the wall of a Hallmark store any day of the week and I'll bet you you'll hear the words, "Oh, that's cute," within three minutes of your arrival, and every three minutes after that. Humans, of course, have a predilection to favor cuteness memes like big eyes and big heads and so forth, which is fine if it means adopting a puppy or not eating your firstborn, but gets a little old when it means you subscribe to every holiday on earth just to send a cute card for it. If my mother were a computer person (an idea in which she lives in the direst fear), she would no doubt spend all her days watching cat videos. Cute St. Patrick's Day cards and cat videos are symptoms of the same disease. Any one of us might, at any moment, be taken by a quick bout of the cutes (after all, I'm a Disney fan), but I keep my cute moments pure and separated from all my other moments. Come visit me in a tab room at a tournament some weekend and watch me for a couple days straight. You will not see one moment of cute lapse. I promise.

Obviously I did not inherit the strong cute gene that runs rampant through the rest of my family. As the years went by, I sent progressively fewer and fewer cards, until now I send my mother a Christmas card and a Mother's Day card, the former because she decorates her room with them (and, by the way, decorating for holidays is strongly connected to the cute disease, and my mother had maybe six or seven holidays with boxes of crap pulled out every year to celebrate them, in addition to the expected Christmas ornaments), and the latter because no doubt otherwise she would disown me. I've cut literally everyone else from my card list. I don't send greeting cards to my staff or my colleagues, I've taken my birthday off Facebook and don't acknowledge anyone else's birthdays (because acknowledge one, you've got to acknowledge them all, and seeing that I'm on fb about once a week, that's 6 our of 7 I'd miss), and if you get sick, I might visit you, but I won't send a card with a cartoon nurse sticking a thermometer up your butt. It's just not me.

And I wonder how many other people it is these days, the literal card bit, that is. There is no question that Facebook has taken over indifferent social interactions. People who don't give a crap about certain other people feel obligated to like their various life events and wish them a happy birthday, in numbers that would have made Hallmark in their heyday drool uncontrollably. It's interesting. The postal system originally allowed us to remove the human from human interactions, and the interwebs merely develop it to 21st century dimensions. Maybe all we want out of life is a handful of real friends and a lot of connections to unreal friends, and greeting cards used to do it, but fb does it even better. I know for a fact that I am friends with people on fb who I don't know, whose names mean nothing to me. Since they're all also friends of O'C, I assume when they petition me for my amity, it is because they are denizens of the forensics universe. I certainly hope that's the case. I'd hate to be friends with them just because, say, they wash dishes at Japonica.

Anyhow, here's thinking of you, you're my bestest friend, you're invited, get well soon, may the Lord have mercy on your heathen soul, my sympathies, congratulations, you don't look a day over eighty, have you lost weight, and have a happy August Civic Holiday.