July 31, 2008

.96 Tears (that's point niner six)

I laughed until I nearly wept at today's Comics Curmudgeon. I started chuckling at the Rex Morgan strip itself, then a little more at the commentary, but the commentary on Marmaduke, for some reason, had me laughing as if somebody farted in church. If you take no other piece of advice I dispense like moral Pez, at least give the Comics Curmudgeon blog a try.

And for the record, I think Mary Worth is about to be the victim of identity theft.

When Usenet was King

Okay, I don't know that Usenet was ever king, per se, but once upon a time it was a good place to carry on discussions with people with similar interests. Like everything else, it used to be better and more effective than it is. (Doesn't the Beowulf poet say something similar, about how back in "the day" people used to be more heroic? Similarly, my professors always complained about how we students were not as good as students of years past, and professors today say the same thing ... I think it's basically human nature, or the human condition, to dwell on how things ain't what they used to be. This is not--definitely not--to say that it's not true, however... just that it might not be a particularly interesting observation.)

So, uh, Usenet. A newsgroup in which I participated was loosely organized into a gang who performed various informational functions, and mine was to search the rest of Usenet (using Altavista ... is that what it was called? now it would be Google Groups) to find references to a particular musician in other newsgroups and share them with the readers of the group devoted to said musician. This occasionally earned me the ire of people who felt that I was doing something wrong ... but I never quoted without attribution, and after all, what you're posting on a newsgroup is public communication by definition. It didn't stop people from calling me names sometime, though; I think it was the snide commentary, mine and others, that rubbed them the wrong way. Eventually I quit reading that newsgroup, because I realized my admiration for said artist was not strong enough for me to continue in the conversation.

While I was the victim of vitriol from the occasional flamey, phlegmy fanboy, I also enjoyed brief exchanges with some moderately famous people who wrote politely to correct a misperception or to provide a helpful answer to a question I had posed as rhetorical. It shouldn't have surprised me to learn that people's life work actually matters to them, and that they might care what people say about them as much as I care about what people say about me (I don't say "more than," because that's frankly inconceivable). I respect that; people ought to care about their work.

That said, I still think Nicholas Cage is overrated. And Kevin Spacey too. Anthony Hopkins.

July 30, 2008

This sounds serious

Folks, I wanted to get the word out on this right away. The headline comes straight, verbatim, from Yahoo:

Exploding deer population causing billions in damage

The non-exploding ones are dangerous enough.

Breaking the silence

It's been a quiet week around here, I know, but that's mainly because nothing I can talk about in this blog (according to my secret rules) has pissed me off lately. Instead, why not check out something great that you might already know about: Medium Large.

And in a departure from the biting social commentary and cultural criticism you usually find here, I'll tell you about developments in my woodshop. A couple of weeks ago I visited Woodcraft and bought myself one of these, which after weighing in my hands I liked a lot better than its big brother, the #7. If price were no object, I'd have gone with this one. There really is a difference ... but not one I can readily afford.

So I took this thing down to the shop and spent some time messing with it ... sharpening it mostly. And then, since I'm not really in the middle of a major project right now, I turned my attention to my wavy-topped workbench. Ah HA.

A couple of hours later, exhausted and sweaty, my workbench was flatter.

Hey smartypantsed grammarians: yes, the bench was exhausted and sweaty. Lighten up already!

Today, I'll rub it down with oil (uh, yeah, still talking about the workbench, stay with me) and clean the rest of the shop in anticipation of the next project I intend to undertake: a morris chair. I'll be committing the sacrilege of using red oak rather than the traditional white oak, but the former is readily available hereabouts, and in fact I have a lot of it in my shed. Somehow that strikes me as being a little more eco-friendly.

So for the next few nights, since I don't like to start a big project on a weeknight, I'll be sweeping, sharpening, tinkering, puttering, and tuning. It's gonna be a blast! And hopefully I'll think of something more interesting to complain about next time ...

July 28, 2008

A short poem

Today I thought I'd present you with a poem of my own crafting. I don't write a lot of poetry, and when I do, it's kind of occasional, so I don't see myself putting it up in the blog too often. But here goes.
Charles Darwin in Eden

"Dude, pass the fish legs."


The more I think about it the less sense it makes, so it must be a good poem. Right?

July 24, 2008

The Ballad of Easy Reader

Okay, here's a harmonic convergence of the overrated thread and the Dark Knight musings that have been bobbing around in the tepid soup between my ears for the past couple of days (yes, job satisfaction is at an all time high ... can you tell?):

Morgan Freeman.

Sez Dan: "he's somehow turned adopting an air of knowing self-righteousness into thespianism." He goes on to suggest that Se7en may be one of the only times we've ever seen Mr. Freeman actually act. This may be true, but as I would put that stupidly spelled flick at about number 6ix in my overrated list, I can't comment.

!Ay, Carmela!

To be fair, I don't know much of his 80s work--prior to Driving Miss Daisy. A little after that came Robin Hood Prince of Thieves--a piece of shite that MF could neither sink nor save.

I'm not going through the rest of the list ... too many of them are irritating. I mean Deep Impact!

Now that I think about it, check out his IMDB page and count how many movie titles kind of sound like porn titles. Sorry, but it's like a secret code or something. I can't be the first person ever to notice this.

Can I?

Because I'm fairminded, I have to point out that MF places the James Cromwell role in Gone Baby Gone, which is a darned good movie.

July 23, 2008

Bright Ideas about Dark Knight

Many of you have written to me demanding to know my thoughts about Dark Knight, which according to IMDB is currently the #1 movie of all time. Huh. Well, it was pretty damned good, I thought. So here are my notes, sans serious spoilers.

Heath Ledger's Joker is very compelling: engaging as well as terrifying. The hype was largely warranted, and since he's dead, I won't gripe about it.

People with facial disfigurements are scary and evil.

Maggie Gyllenhaal is kinda quirky looking, but seriously hot as Rachel Dawes. There was actually chemistry.

Eric Roberts and Anthony Michael Hall together again ... has it really been twelve years since The Grave?

It's kind of stupid to hire a great actor and then hide his face and distort his voice. Why get Christian Bale for the role? Why not Christian Slater?

Two words: William Effing Fichtner.

The spirit of Fu Manchu--and/or the western spirit that feels comfortable with such representations of Asian evil--lives on.

The Watchmen trailer makes me nervous. How are they going to keep from messing it up?

Kids these days; or, unearned irony

Every time I see an eighth grader in a Led Zeppelin t shirt, I'm tempted to go up to him (generally it's a boy) and say, okay, hotshot, name two Led Zeppelin songs and one Led Zeppelin band member. Two things keep me from doing this: sloth and the fear of being mistaken for a pervert. Oh, and the fact that half of these kids were raised by Grand Theft Auto and are probably packing heat. So, three things. Kids these days!

My point is not about armed teens, however. I just want to raise the question of what that shirt means. At one time, wearing a Led Zeppelin shirt would have meant, "I like Led Zeppelin." Right? I don't think it means that any more. If I were wearing a t shirt with Marilyn Monroe on it (can you picture that? Because I can't) and somebody came up and asked me whether I preferred Monkey Business to Some Like It Hot, would I consider the question impertinent? I don't think so.

(The answer, of course, is yes to Monkey Business, but Niagara beats both. Mike, feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. And enjoy the Wordshed bump!)

ANYhow, this gripe is not about being Houses of the Holier than thou ... because I'm not. Yes, I consider "When the Levee Breaks" to be pretty much sublime, but mine is a limited appreciation, not idolatry by any means. My gripe is about how at some point pop culture references became witticisms in and of themselves, not necessarily because they're appropriate, but because "hey, I know what you're talking about." Maybe it's Dennis Miller's fault (sorry, I was going to link to a clip, but frankly I couldn't find one I can stomach). Everybody wants to be a cognoscente. But when I see a kid laughing at some Family Guy take on an old movie or historical event without having a clue about what the scene is referring to, I think it's kind of pathetic.

Once (hah! once!) I experimented on my first year composition students, who would always laugh with appreciation at my sarcastically witty asides, no matter how self-indulgent and obscure. I tried using my sarcastically witty aside voice--you know the one I mean--to say random "things" throughout my "oratory." They ... dammit, they laughed with appreciation. They were responding to the tone of my voice the way my dog does, and for the same reasons, probably: that intoxicating mixture of fear and an eager desire to please.

Hey, I'm not knocking that mixture ... I lived on the stuff! I'll take what I can get ... but in the course of a generation or so we've gone from, "That's an apt allusion" to "I recognize that allusion" to "The tone of your voice indicates to me that you may be making an allusion, which I shall now pretend to appreciate." Ample evidence of devolution, if you ask me. I mean, we used to take pleasure in knowing things, right? Like, when somebody says, "I really like Led Zeppelin's song 'Nobody's Fault But Mine,'" it's great to be able to say, "Well, I prefer Blind Willie Johnson."

If you live in a world in which Mad magazine is over the head of the average reader, you're going to get some stupid reactions to the occasional New Yorker cover. Is I guess what I'm saying.

July 21, 2008

On being overrated

For several reasons I've been thinking lately about stuff that's been overrated, and stuff that other people think is overrated that I don't. I won't even scratch the surface on this, but here are a few things:

Roddy Doyle says Ulysses is overrated, but it's not. It's that good. Roddy Doyle might be overrated, except for Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, which is good enough even if he writes twenty books of crap. And he doesn't write crap, but it's not all great either.

Some people think John Banville is overrated, but I don't, not after The Untouchable and The Sea.

I'm not sure it's entirely accurate to call Indiana Jones and the Crystal Travesty overrated, but damn, there are a lot of positive reviews out there--professional reviews--of that steaming pile of crap. It's a disaster of "nucular" (listen for it ... Dr. Jones, Cold War spook, prefers the Bush pronunciation of nuclear, as Dan recently reminded me) proportions. But don't worry ... a nucular blast can be survived by hiding in the family fridge (unlike a nuclear blast, which will kill you.

Also overrated: American Beauty. Nicholas Cage. Million Dollar Baby (did I see the same movie everybody else did?).

Wanna fight about it?

July 19, 2008

Now See Here!

Hey Snuffy Smith fans!!! For a much more thoughtful meditation on color in comics, check this out.

July 18, 2008

By imaginary popular demand

I mentioned this classic Elmers song a while back, and for the sake of closure I decided to float it here. I misspelled the name intentionally in order to slip it by the censors ... but if you say "Pawn Mime" in a good Chollllston accent it sounds almost like the real title.

Nothing pawnographic here, folks ... just some anti-mime sentiment. It's important that we don't necessarily hate mimes; this could be a kind of dramatic monologue. It really could be.

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July 16, 2008

First Snow

An odd subject for July, I guess ... well, I just saw this film, and it was pretty darned good.

It's better than the trailer. Look: Guy Pierce. What else do I need to say? Oh, that's not enough? William Fichtner, baby. You know who he is whether you know it or not. Go look him up. And oh yeah--my hero, and my second choice to play me if Delroy Lindo turns down the role: J. K. Simmons (I grant you, he'd need to wear a wig).

Check this one out ... it's a film that's trying to be good and largely succeeding.

Next year's catch phrase: "Ass and a half"

As a daily reader of this great blog, I know enough to leave the making fun of the comics to the professionals. But today's Snuffy Smith really irritates me. Not the narrative content, which is typically vapid, but the coloring. See, those little Ozark scamps are talkin' about eatin' green apples, but the apples that are gittin' eaten are clearly RED. That thar's a co-nundrum, Tater!

Aside: Do you think that the strip's pervasive representation of dialect is particularly irritating to me because I actually talk that way? I wonder.

The fact that the apple is any color at all is irritating enough. Why do the comics have to be in color? They are by nature ephemera, gloriously, tragically so; are "black and white" comics necessarily inferior? Would people not read them if they weren't in color? Who raised the bar by coloring the daily comics anyhow? Who succumbed to the temptation of the colorized apple?

Even Ted Turner now knows that colorizing movies is wrong. I remember seeing a colorized, televised version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers many years ago. I don't remember the exact lines, but in one scene, one body-snatched cop is telling another something like, "Be on the lookout for a white sedan," while the protagonists are blithely driving through town in a bright RED sedan courtesy of some color technician who paid no attention to the dialogue. The movie should have ended right there, with the good guys driving off into the night in their glowing red sedan. The colorizing not only ruins the visual art of motion picture photography, but it ruins the narrative as well.

As it came to pass in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, so it happens in Snuffy Smith. Of course, in the grand history of crass commercial transgressions against art (and yes, I'm keeping track), the faulty coloring of a Snuffy Smith strip is durn small spuds. But it's symptomatic of ... of ... oh, hell, I don't know what it's symptomatic of. I guess I can understand something being half-assed ... but why go to the effort of making something ass-and-a-halfed?

By this I mean, half-assedness--stupidity arising from laziness--makes sense to me. Some would say it's my M. O. But going to extra effort and expense to screw with something formerly innocuous or even good--the practice I hereby refer to as ass-and-a-halfedness--is a double affront. So there.

Finally, and digressively: perhaps it was Satan himself who made little green apples, but I like them much better than the ripe ones. They get a bad rap for causing gastric distress, but I think it's gluttony, not greenness, that is the problem. Moderation, my children, in most things.

July 14, 2008

Neutral Tones, apropos of nothing

You know I love the poem "Neutral Tones" by Thomas Hardy, and I loved teaching it in Brit Lit. I always told students they should write it by hand in a blank greeting card and give it to their boyfriend or girlfriend, because handwritten poems in greeting cards are very romantic. Heh heh heh.

I could have posted the poem here in its entirety, since it must be in the public domain, but it's a little dark, and it's not like I'm trying to send a message ... because I'm really not. I just think it's a tightly conceived poem.

Richard Brautigan has kind of been a guilty pleasure for me, but I started with his best (In Watermelon Sugar) and then read the rest. His poetry, though, is a little easy--not in terms of reading, which it is, because that's not necessarily a bad thing, but it seems to have been written too easily, which I think usually is a bad thing. It's the difference between dating easy and being easy, it seems to me. Contrast Thomas Hardy, above: he's great, but not because it came easily to him.

Still, every now and then Brautigan kind of gets at something. I like the way these two poems go together.

July 11, 2008

Superego to the stars

All jokes aside about wanting to turn a generation of college students into a horde of my own personal minions (uh, yeah, joking ... it was all just a joke), in an unrelated conversation yesterday I realized for the first time what my goal in teaching college students has always been: not (merely) to impose my politics (moderate, dressing left) on my students, nor to plant the seeds of my appreciation for great and/or Irish literature in them, nor to plant seeds of any kind(!) in them for that matter--but instead to supplant their superegos. (An unrelated goal in grad school was to see who could slip the longest sentence by our dissertation committees without getting slapped. The sentence above wouldn't even have been in contention at 96 words ... 150 would be more like it.)

In fact, my first name, according to some dictionary of first name meanings somewhere, means "supplanter" in Hebrew. Coincidence? (And how about that for a crappy name origin? Why not just name me Brown-headed Cowbird, for heck's sake? Oh well, everybody's name is his or her burden, and I guess there are worse names.

So I was briefly pleased several years ago when students all over campus started wearing "WWJD" bracelets and whatnot, and then disappointed to discover that the J was for Jesus. WTFWJD?

July 09, 2008

Sloth again

After a June of gluttony and dissipation, I have decided to try to get healthier. Gotta tellya: I f--ing HATE to exercise.

When I had a gym membership it was worse. I thought that when I was paying for it, my inherent cheapness would actually encourage me to go to the gym. Instead I just felt stupid about not going. And I don't generally seek out the company of sweaty people; nor do I enjoy long political discussions in the locker room with conservative old guys who seem to delight in the open air.

I don't mind exercise, exactly, but I hate "exercising." Look, I don't mind physical labor. I actually like it. Especially when there's a point to it. I also love to walk, if I'm walking to somewhere or away from somewhere. But walking in a circle or worse, back and forth in a line, I hate, unless there's going to be cake somewhere along the trip.

If exercise were purely about vanity, I wouldn't even think twice about it ... my appearance is not something I care to be seen worrying about (now that's real vanity, folks). But at this point, it's clearly about avoiding death and living long enough to recoup some of what I've paid into my retirement. Still, I'd rather be making something or doing something that has a product at the end of it: "Look, I built this shed," not "Look at me ... I'm marginally less flabby than I was before."

But I want to live forever, and healthily. So I've been running on a treadmill, which is even worse than running in a circle, obviously. And Bowflexing, if you can believe that, for more than the 20 minutes a day, 3 days a week they talk about on the infomercial.

I must be overdoing it because I don't look anything like that guy. Maybe I should back off a little!

In conclusion, I have experienced a high or two in my life, I have to admit, but it's never been a "runner's high." I think the runner's high is a lie perpetuated by fanatics, to be honest with you. Or maybe the high is actually just the smugness of being so fit and lean?

Either way, I figure I waste time one way or another every day, so I might as well waste some of it running in place on a literal treadmill for once, rather than the metaphorical one I've been trotting on for so long!

July 06, 2008

Dr. Frankenstein meets the Tivo

So yesterday the Tivo died. It just started rebooting every couple of minutes. When I tried to reformat it, it froze altogether. This will not stand, I said to myself.

Needless to say, it's way out of warranty ... a Series 2 without even the capability of recording two shows at once. Stone Age Tivo of the Tivozoic era. But dammit, three years isn't that much to ask from a piece of equipment, it seems to me.

So I did a little snooping around and wound up here. I bought their software for $20 and a new HD for I guess $79 or so. I could have had it for less if I hadn't been in such a hurry. After monkeying around for a little while using their software to format the new HD in my computer, I transplanted it and fired it up.

Lo and behold, the Tivo went from 80 gigs to 320 ... and more importantly, it went from boat anchor to best friend ... all in the space of a couple of hours. It LIIIVES!

July 05, 2008

Creation vs. Consumption

Today I created, minimally and within narrowly proscribed bounds: I made a couple pens on my lathe. One of them came out brilliantly ... but after all's said and done, it's just a pen. Maybe somebody rich will use it to sign a check to me someday. Possible, but not likely.

This, incidentally, is why I don't much like watching tennis (or bowling): the range of possible things that might happen is frankly very narrow. This is why I've proposed innovations in these sports:

For tennis: the "clown set." For bowling: the "clown frame." Sadly, the linked pages have nothing to do with my innovative suggestions, which basically involve the insinuation of clowns into play at random times throughout these matches. Just to provide the possibility of something interesting happening.

I'm basking right now in that use of the word "insinuation," and indeed in the phrase "the insinuation of clowns." That's got some serious title potential, but I don't know if the Elmers would go for it ... after "Porn Mime," there might be some concern about being typecast or something.

Anyhow, I was talking about creation. The pens. Okay, I'm back. The consumption was of movies. I was going to talk about them, but here I am near the bottom of my post. So, briefly:

Dead Ringers: interesting but ultimately overrated. Bonus points for conjoined twin content.

Dead Creatures: Very interesting movie. This movie will stick with me for a few days probably. Not everyone's cup of tea, but if you're looking for a thoughtful English indie zombie flick that isn't funny or particularly terrifying, this might be it.

Hancock: I don't know what I was expecting, exactly, so I don't know whether this film disappointed me or not. Smith, Theron, and Bateman were all good, as one might expect. But I don't think that the film was as funny as it wanted to be or as touching and dramatic as it wanted to be. I'm also not sure there was a scene in the film that was as good as or better than those in the trailers (no, it's not surprising that the best scenes are in the trailers--after all, they're trying to sell the movie. But save something for the movie!).

Scanners: Can't believe I never saw this essential Patrick McGoohan-Michael Ironside vehicle. Interesting sibling stuff here, not terribly different from what's going on in Dead Ringers.

Oh, and yesterday I watched Grindhouse, which I would have liked if it hadn't been so damned precious and clever. Lots of interesting sibling stuff here as well, especially in the first film, which featured among other siblings the Crazy Babysitter Twins. And that's all I'm going to say about that.

July 03, 2008

U.S. Blues

I found out about R. L. Burnside the wrong way around ... I'd read his name in articles about blues music but never listened to him.

Then I acquired some recordings by the North Mississippi Allstars after hearing a little piece by them on NPR. They did some songs on these recordings that are closely associated with Burnside. I'm dodging questions of authorship: did Burnside write these songs? I don't know. If I wanted to study something, I'd study a spreadsheet or a cookbook. I'm talking about music here.

So then I downloaded two Burnside recordings (more or less Burnside recordings) from a free trial of emusic a while back, and they were ... interesting. Not necessarily representative of his talent, I don't think ... A Ass Pocket of Whiskey was recorded with what one review calls a "punk-bred blues reconstructionist trio called the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion." It's more than listenable, but it's kind of idiosyncratic. A Bothered Mind is a similarly odd collection of collaborations (using the term generously I think), some of which are pretty engaging. Check out "Stole My Check" if you can, but not at work.

Anyhow, you can find him all over Youtube, but start with this one below. The look on his face is great, and I love the guitar at about a minute and half, when he lets it ring out a little.

July 01, 2008

Britney Spears in a Beret???

I guess if I talk enough about BRITNEY SPEARS, NAKED ambition on my part to attract random Google hits will be realized. Oh, hell ... I don't have the energy to keep this going. But I was giddy as a SCHOOLGIRL to find this cover of her big hit.

Anyhow, if you don't know Richard Thompson, this is probably not the best introduction to his work, which is generally pretty great. But in his hands, it's a good song. Kinda creepy.

What went wrong with me

The first time I saw this, it blew my mind.

I mean, it's a capital "I." It's the human condition. This may be the most profound thirty seconds of music there is. What the HELL were they trying to do to us?

My concept of identity has never been the same.

And do you love the folksy harmony on "busy afternoon"?