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Tue, Feb. 2nd, 2010, 09:23 am
Hourly Comic Day: The Dregs

Yesterday, I decided to participate in John Campbell's Hourly Comic Day, where participants draw a brief journal comic for each hour they are awake. I was awake a mighty 13 hours yesterday, thanks to getting sick. So here are 13 comics!

I continue to be displeased with how I draw people--in this case, me and Bev--and as the day goes on, the project just sort of becomes a visual glossary of various types of drawing ineptitude. Nevertheless, here they are. I hope you find them interesting.

Click for hourly comicsCollapse )

CURRENT MUSIC: Aaltopiiri by Pan Sonic.
CURRENT MOOD: Sore-throatified.
CURRENT COFFEE MUG: Bev's mug that features The Count saying, "One cup! Two cups! Three cups! Ah! Ah! Ah!"

Thu, Jan. 28th, 2010, 02:00 pm
Rare cel from original Klasky-Csupo version of Simpsons episode 7G01: "Some Enchanted Evening"

Last night I started a portraiture class through the local adult ed program, since I have grown fed up with my inability to draw people. Ideally, I'd like to be able to come close to the way Kate Beaton can coax a limitless range of subtle expressions from just a few lines. Or even Jeph Jacques's command of body language, though with perhaps less attention lavished on my characters' breasts. But in the short term, I just want to see if I can't improve my perspective and proportion skills so my cartoon humans don't look like their arms are six feet long with three elbows.

One of the exercises was to do a blind contour drawing of a classmate. This involved staring disconcertingly at someone and following the lines and contours of her face with your eye while letting your hand follow your eye's path; drawing her without looking down at the paper. The point isn't what the drawing itself looks like--since it is almost certainly going to be weird--but to develop hand-eye coordination and to get used to really looking at the details of things. (From what I gather, and what I remember doing in Miss Petrov's art class in high school, a true blind contour drawing requires that you not lift your pen from the page as you draw, but my portraiture teacher said not to worry about that. So I didn't.)

Anyway, I thought my resulting sketch was amusingly disturbing enough to share. Just for reference, my subject looks sort of like Kathy Griffin, but without the air of abrasive witlessness.

CURRENT MUSIC: The inaccurately titled Ramones compilation All the Stuff (and More)--Vol. 1. (Inaccurate because "Carbona Not Glue" remained scrubbed until the 2001 reissue of Leave Home. Trivia!)
CURRENT MOOD: Impatient.
CURRENT SUBSTITUTE FOR PAYING ATTENTION TO POLITICS: The Shiba Inu puppy cam! They put me in a far happier headspace than asscracks like Scott Brown and Evan Bayh. Go figure!

Fri, Jan. 22nd, 2010, 10:52 am
An open letter to 55.55555555556% of the Supreme Court.

Dear Justices Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia, Alito, and Thomas,

I was all set to fire off a furious missive to your underlings (at Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, DC 20543) regarding your majority decision in the case Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, in which you declared it unconstitutional for the government to set limits on the amount of money a corporation may spend on elections, effectively overturning several decades of campaign finance legislation. I was ready to decry a twisted constitutional interpretation that equates corporations with individual human beings (thus, I suppose, entitling corporations to a divinely granted "pursuit of happiness" even though some scholars argue that corporations themselves are legal entities that cannot feel emotion) and equates money with free speech (the inescapable conclusion being that the more money you have, the more speech to which you are entitled). However, in the throes of utter, helpless despair that accompany the onset of letters to government officials, it suddenly occurred to me that you have given me the greatest gift a civic-minded young man can receive: The gift of total disillusionment.

By declaring that the government may not set limits on the amount of money a corporation can spend on ensuring candidates friendly to its interests get elected, you have made certain once and for all that American political discourse and debate will operate solely within a framework set by the rich and powerful. After all, if a candidate for office is running on a platform that fails to attract absurdly large donations from, say, Humana and Citigroup, she will be operating at a severe resource deficit when compared with those candidates who have Corporate America's stamp of approval. It's pretty tough to get the electorate to hear and process your message when the other team can outspend you many times over for that all-important airtime... and especially so when your opponent is able to batter you with unceasing attack ads that you then have to spend a substantial chunk of your already-paltry funds countering!

Why, our electoral process will fancifully mutate into that great Mr. Show sketch featuring a mom-and-pop grocery struggling against a soulless, Wal-Mart-style chain!

And here's where it gets good for me personally: You have ensured that an unstoppable glut of misinformation will poison every election cycle, which will result in uncountable scads of votes cast by well-meaning people who have been hoodwinked (or at least confused) by fearmongering attack ads. Thus, my single vote--which admittedly may not be cast based on completely accurate information and which generally buoys the tally of a candidate who will only dash my hopes anyway, but which historically has never been decided on the say-so of a commercial--is guaranteed to be negated thousands of times over based on the agenda of corporations too big for a true populist candidate to fight!

Heck, even if I take great pains to stay as informed on current events and our nation's governance as possible, allowing me to participate in informed discussion with people I know about the issues of the day, and even perhaps prevailing upon them to see things my way and satisfying them that their vote would be best cast for the candidate I championed... there is still no possible way my influence or participation in the electoral process could ever approach even a hundredth of a percent of the influence wielded by a corporation who has a dog in the fight! That disparity is pretty interesting when you consider that I am an individual American and a behemoth corporation is also considered to be an individual American, eh? Guess when we were issued tickets in the genetic lottery, I must've just been given a tattered Burger King Kids' Club card by mistake! It's just my lousy luck that I wasn't born the Altria Group!

I always suspected that my single vote never mattered much. After all, the first presidential election in which I was able to cast a vote occurred in 2000, when the ultimate victor was chosen by your judicial branch in a way that had nothing to do with the actual vote count, so it was hard for me to particularly believe in the efficacy of our electoral process. In each successive election of any sort, I've seen dirty tricks ranging from the grand "Swift Boat" slander of John Kerry to subtler nastiness like the deceptive flyers distributed in African-American neighborhoods of Milwaukee blasting the lie that "IF YOU [OR ANYBODY IN YOUR FAMILY] HAVE EVER BEEN FOUND GUILTY OF ANYTHING, EVEN A TRAFFIC VIOLATION, YOU CAN'T VOTE IN THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION." And even when my candidate won, the result was inevitably bungling, corruption, or inaction that may have paled in comparison to the evils that would've been perpetrated by a Republican electee, but which still left me skeptical of the potential for real change.

Through it all, I've still voted in the naive, almost spiritual belief that it somehow mattered. I've devoted hours upon hours to reading news articles and commentary, volunteering my time with local party outposts, attending peaceful gatherings of like-minded people who believed that we could make our collective voice heard despite scant evidence that our elected officials were open to listening, even contributing the relative pittance I could afford to candidates and groups that I believed would make a positive difference in this country. Despite being a white, middle-class, heterosexual, basically Christian adult male--and thus a member of America's least-discriminated-against demographic in a walk--I've taken very personally each governmental decision over the past decade that has adversely affected my fellow creatures of any stripe, and I have honestly tried my best to contribute productively, in my small but very sincere way, not just to redressing wrongs that have been made but to simply helping us move forward as Americans and as human beings. That's a patriotic duty that I was taught to honor time and again when I was growing up, both in my family and in school, and even though my 12 years of being a proud American voter always left me feeling more stressed and disappointed than satisfied, I also wanted desperately to believe that the worst problems were with the candidates themselves, and that any problems with the process would somehow be fixable or surmountable. They just had to be.

But no. They're not. They perhaps never were, but you've wholly cured my misguided optimism by smashing the American electoral process to flinders; breaking it to a degree that no reasonable glimmer of hope for its salvageability can remain. In boldly underlining the pointlessness of our political system, you have freed me from my obligation to ever vote again! I'm done, and let me tell you, it is a relief!

So it is with great gratitude that I direct my final substantive words about our government to you, the men who have, finally and forever, shattered my childish illusions that I myself have any meaningful part to play in the ever-decomposing parody of democracy that we are encouraged to pretend has anything to do with the day-to-day operation of this nation. Henceforth, the only voting I'll be doing is for the Sprint Survivor Player of the Week. (I can evidently win $10,000!) I may continue reading the news, but only out of dispassionate curiosity; kind of like how I watch Ghost Hunters even though I don't believe in ghosts. I have friends who'll call my choice irresponsible or defeatist, who'll say that by not fighting for what I believe in I am essentially handing this nation over to the Republicans and their corporate overlords. But you and I know better, don't we, my Supremies? You've handed the nation over for me. It's a done deal. I was never part of the equation at all and it was foolish to think I was. At least I can now save myself the heartache of personal investment in this farce.

Goliath squishes David.

Lay back and enjoy.


Chris Willie Williams

CURRENT MUSIC: Transnormal Skiperoo by Jim White.
CURRENT MOOD: Psyched for apathy!
CURRENT FAILURE: The coffee filter somehow capsized itself in the coffeemaker this morning, clogging the spout with grounds.

Thu, Dec. 31st, 2009, 01:14 pm
Drink me.

I'm trying to be less monotonous with the cynicism and the self-pity and the inadvisable emotional investment in our nation's irreparable political system and the sophomoric cultural analysis and the railing against the injustice of my numerous traffic citations and the plugs for my series of real estate seminars and the parroting of conspiracy theories as fact and the... well, the nonstop Simpsons references would most likely need to be removed surgically. BY CALLING 1-600-DOCTORB!

The point is, rather than the diminishing-returns grumbling with which I'd ordinarily eulogize the passing annum, I thought I'd close 2009 by being upbeat and sharing a brief, silly exchange that comprised my favorite conversation of the year.

Back in August, I was riding around with my parents after they helped me hastily vacate my Ann Arbor apartment. (I had incorrectly noted the end date of my lease and the property management firm was none too enthusiastic about me drifting across the line separating "tenant" from "squatter.") We drove past a tanker truck bearing a warning that it contained non-potable water, which led to the following discussion:

DAD: "Non-portable water"? What does that mean? It's just for this spot?
MOM: No, it says "non-potable." It means it's not for consumption.
DAD: "Potable"?
ME: "Potable" means you can drink it.
[DAD considers this for a moment.]
DAD: "I'm feeling very portable." [sic]
ME: ... No.

As a bonus, this also reminded me of my favorite exchange from the great, defunct reality show Beauty and the Geek. The nominal beauties had been made to study primers on home repair and tool use in preparation for an upcoming challenge, which was introduced thusly:

BLAND HOST: This is a tool chest, and inside--shocker!--are tools.
BEAUTY ONE: What are "tools"?
BEAUTY TWO: What's "shocker"?

Bev and I quote Beauty and the Geek to each other an awful lot. Also every other reality show.

I hope you all have a perfectly lovely new decade. Unless you're a Common Era ordinal number holdout, Cole, in which case I hope you enjoy the final year of the current decade.

CURRENT MUSIC: The contents of my hard drive on shuffle. (Current song: "Shabby Doll" by Elvis Costello.)
CURRENT MOOD: Headachey.
BEST SURPRISE I RECENTLY RECEIVED: Bev got mentioned in The A.V. Club! Or alluded to, anyway. One week's AVQ&A was about suggestions for wedding songs or readings, and Tasha Robinson wrote, "Personally, I'm not married, nor am I the type of gal who sits around fantasizing about her wedding ceremony, so I don't have a playlist worked out for it yet. And if I were to be totally honest, having to make decisions like that is probably one reason I'm not married. But I'll tell you this: One of the best ideas for a wedding song I've heard this decade came from an AVC reader who talked about playing 'How Very Special Are We' from the original animated Charlotte's Web at his wedding, and that strikes me as just about the perfect blend of sentimental, sweet, and non-cloying." I was that reader! But it was Bev's idea, so she gets the credit. (Attentive readers will recall that Tasha was also kind enough to send me an MP3 of that song for us to play at the reception and include on the mix CD we gave out as a wedding favor.)

Tue, Dec. 22nd, 2009, 02:27 pm
The Incontinent Ouroboros: The Best Songs I've Heard of 2009

As always, I am glad this year is over. I'm going to preemptively call 2010 a wash as well. (Especially since they're already airing campaign spots for Maine's gubernatorial election in November, which all but ensures I will completely lose my mind with politics-related stress two months into the new year.) However, at least this year wasn't so thoroughly miserable that I don't feel up to assembling my annual "best songs I've heard of the year" mix, which I bailed on last year! Grudgingly indulge me, won't you?

There are still plenty of promising 2009 albums I haven't heard (e.g., LANDy, The xx) or properly absorbed (e.g., Dalek, Antlers), but these are the best tracks that stuck with me. Runners up for this tracklist included "Birds" by Telefon Tel Aviv, "So Slowly" by Early Day Miners, "Dett" by Plaid, "Hurry for the Sky" by Robyn Hitchcock, and "Stiff Me" by Robert Pollard. As always, if you have a rebuttal or would like to contribute your own best-of mix to this page, please e-mail me at disclaimerwill@aol.com.

With that, I give you The Incontinent Ouroboros: The Best I've Heard of 2009.Collapse )

CURRENT MUSIC: Time Pie by Yamo.

Wed, Sep. 2nd, 2009, 06:05 pm
"Collectable" is an acceptable variant spelling.

I'm back living in Maine with Bev and Cora. I'll write about it sometime. But I've decided to also start occasionally posting garbage from my sketchbook because it's easy. This one made me laugh a little.

I'm thinking about drawing a whole series of poorly-conceived and incompetently-executed craft projects like this.

CURRENT MUSIC: Puking and Crying by S.
USEFUL MONEYSAVING TIP THAT CAME TO ME IN A DREAM LAST NIGHT: Save money on postage by purchasing stamps from eight-year-olds who are smart enough to raid their parents' desk but not smart enough to charge you the full value printed on the stamp!

Tue, Jul. 7th, 2009, 09:45 pm
How to steal fancy clothes.

I've had a nice week or so. You are going to sit there and hear about it.

Thanks to Juli's generosity, Jess and I got free tickets to see Dean & Britta at The Power Center last Thursday, performing songs to accompany 13 of Andy Warhol's "Screen Tests." I'll copy the summary from the evening's program: "Andy Warhol's Screen Tests, which number approximately 500, are revealing portraits of hundreds of different individuals, shot between 1964 and 1966. The subjects--both famous and anonymous--were visitors to his studio, The Factory. They were asked to pose, lit with a strong keylight, and filmed by Warhol with his stationary 16mm Bolex camera on silent, black and white, 100-foot rolls of film. Each screen test lasted only as long as the roll of film. The resulting 2 3/4-minute films were projected in slow motion so that each lasted four minutes."

The films themselves were interesting studies of the human face, projected huge and flat on a screen, with a tone that varied according to the subjects' attitude. Ann Buchanan defiantly refused to blink for the entire 2:45 film, even as tears rolled down cheeks pulled taut over a determinedly clenched jaw. Only half of 17-year-old model International Velvet's face was lit, with an additional quarter of it hidden behind a daunting curtain of dark bangs beneath which one eye stared transfixingly forward. Dennis Hopper, on the other hand, had clearly never attempted to sit still for as long as the length of 100 feet of film in his entire life, and was jittery even at 16 frames per second. I wasn't always entirely sure what Warhol would have me take from the individual films--am I seeing proto-punk antiestablishment playfulness from Ingrid Superstar or merely the effects of cocaine?--but I also suspect that I wasn't supposed to quite put my finger on it in the first place. Sometimes it's a deep criticism of the superficiality of celebrity, and sometimes it's just fun to watch a young Lou Reed being a mannered smartass by swigging from a bottle that he takes pains to display is labeled "COKE."

The four-minute songs Dean & Britta (accompanied by Matt Sumrow, of the Comas' touring band, and Lee Waters, who's toured with Camera Obscura and The Essex Green) performed on the stage below these films were pretty thoroughly gorgeous. They ran the gamut from minimal electronic drones to firebrand Velvet Underground noise to, as Jess suggested, pop that could have easily segued (but mercifully did not) into "Walking on Sunshine," but they all sustained a vibe of heady, contemplative cool. As far as I can tell, the studio versions of their songs are available only on the DVD of the Warhol Screen Tests and haven't been released in CD or MP3 form. It's kind of a bummer, because some of those songs beg to be on night-driving mixes in cars zipping all across the land. It was a fantastic show.

On some songs, Britta Phillips was playing a MicroKorg of the sort I'd been attempting to win on eBay for the past month. Luckily, I finally procured one on Friday, so it's probably for the best that I didn't bum-rush the stage and take hers.

On Friday, Sarah Palin gave me the best early birthday gift a boy could ask for: a public meltdown that has all the indications of stretching on for quite some time. Now, during election season, I naturally found Palin completely infuriating because of the very real possibility that this dangerously stupid hypocrite and liar could be what some commentator (probably Ken Layne, though I can't find the quote) described as "one Ambien overdose away from the presidency." Ever since this nation sidestepped that landmine, though, I've found Ms. Palin's public antics increasingly hilarious, as a personification of the GOP's sorely deserved implosion. I can't get enough of her nonsense. So her babbly resignation speech--clearly hastily slapped together, in a manner that even hardline Republicans like Ed Rollins described as weird, and with even her sympathetically deranged attack dog Meg Stapleton thousands of miles away--put a spring in my step that will last through winter.

The past few days have seen plenty of commentary (or, you know, the journalistic equivalent of Dana Carvey's John McLaughlin impression) attempting to unravel what the hell happened there, with sporadic interjections from Palin herself that serve only to dig her hole deeper, so I'm not going to try to rehash what others have more astutely said. However, there was one bit of her dazed rambling that struck me as such a weird leap of logic that it made my head spin, and yet I haven't seen anyone mention it in their analyses. Check out the following paragraph from her speech (copied verbatim from the official Alaska Governor's Office transcript, so all creative punctuation is hers):

And so as I thought about this announcement that I wouldn't run for re-election and what it means for Alaska, I thought about how much fun some governors have as lame ducks... travel around the state, to the Lower 48 (maybe), overseas on international trade - as so many politicians do. And then I thought - that's what's wrong - many just accept that lame duck status, hit the road, draw the paycheck, and "milk it". I'm not putting Alaska through that - I promised efficiencies and effectiveness! ? That's not how I am wired.

Maybe no one has specifically pointed this out because it's so obvious and there are plenty of other monkeyfuck crazy things in that speech to discuss at length, but... it sounds to me like she has never considered that "milking it" is not the only road that's available to a lame duck official. Myself, I'd think it would be a blessing for a dedicated elected official with nearly half a term ahead of her to be free from the distractions and worries of a reelection campaign, as she could then use that time to focus exclusively on racking up those "efficiencies and effectiveness!?" that she'd promised. But that's not how she's wired.

Let's look at it this way. First off, I think everyone agrees that she is certainly within her rights not to seek reelection if she chooses not to for any reason whatsoever. Now, if, as she asks us to do, we take her at her word--or those bits of her word that are intelligible and not demonstrably false--for argument's sake, and assume that she's not bailing (a) as part of some truly incomprehensible strategy that she thinks will better position her for a 2012 presidential run, (b) in the hopes of landing a FOX News gig that will feed her addiction to the spotlight and let her run her mouth unfettered by cumbersome requirements of "knowledge" or backing her words up with action, or (c) in preemptory anticipation of some imminent scandal (or as a condition for someone keeping mum on said scandal) that she would have us think she could legally gag us from speculating upon, I think that leaves one conclusion: her resignation is a tacit admission that popularity--and attendant electoral victory--is her only motivation for attempting to accomplish anything.

Whatever else you'd care to say about her--and you could say lots of mean things and I would cackle along with you--she is a fighter. There was nary a point made against her during the 2008 campaign that did not prompt her to come out swinging and claiming those points were invalid, whether she was claiming media sexism, condescension on the part of Katie Couric, below-the-belt attacks on the children she was toting along as props, whatever. She's not brainy, but she's a scrapper. And she's continued to evince that ill-considered lust for battle long after the "real America" that she claimed to represent issued her a resounding "NO" last November. For instance, she recently won something of a Pyrrhic victory against David Letterman in that she got an apology out of him even though it only ratcheted up her reputation as someone who is either an embarrassing, shrill opportunist or a genuinely dense lunatic. (Or both.) She loves the feeling that she's conquered something, even if that means something as unsportsmanlike--not to mention pathologically cruel--as shooting wolves from planes.

So if the pull of another 18 months in office, during which she could push whatever agenda or effect whatever change she believed in her ostensibly divinely-guided heart was right, without fear of reprisal from a potentially disillusioned electorate who may not Get It, wasn't enough to convince her to finish the term of office she'd committed to when she ran for it without a gun to her head... clearly her motivation for action lies solely in the thought that it might lead to some personal victory. Some check mark for the "W" column, that doesn't signify accomplishments, but says, "I defeated Thus-and-So." Absent that chance to raise her arms triumphantly above her head [tasteless McCain joke redacted] as they slip a medal 'round her neck as the 2010 gubernatorial champion, she couldn't care less about what she does or doesn't accomplish in the remainder of her term. Lame duck status holds no trophy in it for her, regardless of what other opportunities it may present. So may as well opt out of it.

Personally, I'm holding out hope for a scandal because my schadenfreude knows no bounds, but if she's breaking with tradition and telling the truth, that's my reading. You?

Anyway, my actual birthday was Sunday, and my dad took me to see Moon, starring Sam Rockwell and directed by Duncan Jones (David Bowie's kid!), at the Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak. Rockwell plays Sam Bell, the sole worker on a lunar mining base who, coming up on the end of his three-year contract, starts hallucinating in a way that causes himself injury, which in turn causes far bigger problems of identity for him. I really liked it a lot. (THE VAGUEST OF SPOILER-ISH MATERIAL AHEAD) I agree with some of the criticism I've read that says the third act would've benefitted from some sort of a tense setpiece as opposed to the existing linear wrap-up that, though emotionally satisfying and well earned, feels somewhat anticlimactic. But part of what impressed me most about Moon was that it didn't overreach. It's a small film with a very small and talented cast (the only notable non-Sam Bell character in the film is Gerty, a computer voiced by Kevin Spacey whose smiley-face palliatives suggest a Malibu Stacey take on HAL 9000), confined mostly to a small set, with small narrative ambitions that Jones knows he can knock out of the park. I'd much rather watch a film like Moon, which is certainly not stingy with clever revelations but which wisely limits its scope to twists it knows it can sustain, than something like, say, Arlington Road, which throws in implausible left turns in the hopes that the audience's adrenaline rush will cover the plot holes. I suppose it's ultimately a little safer than it could've been, but it still feels like a complete film, and there's a certain backward audaciousness in an indie film like this refusing to go off the rails in a way that would negate the world it spent 90 minutes building. I definitely recommend it.

On the ride home, Dad and I discussed the movie and filled in holes in each other's theories about what we were supposed to infer from certain scenes. I was actually very proud of Dad, because there are moments in the film that are fairly jarring--not in a shock-cut way, but in a disorienting way where you're clearly missing vital pieces of the puzzle. And Dad has, over the years, developed a deserved reputation for interrupting movies with questions about what's happening, in the Homer Simpson style of "Who's that guy? What'd that guy say when I said, 'Who's that guy?'" I vividly remember having to pause The Brady Bunch Movie as Mom, T-Bone, and I attempted to explain the plot intricacies to Dad.

So the fact that Dad not only followed along with Moon, patiently awaiting answers that he realized would be forthcoming but not immediately, but spent chunks of the film angrily muttering, "Just be patient!" under his breath at the women sitting behind us who were asking each other about each successive shot, made me feel very pleased that I'd finally prevailed upon the old man not to demand instant, straightforward gratification from his movies. That was also a fine birthday present.

So basically, this most recent checkpoint on my inexorable march towards the grave was pretty boss. Thanks to all who participated.

CURRENT MUSIC: Ambivalence Avenue by Bibio.
CURRENT MOOD: Pretty okay!
CURRENT FAVORITE PUBLISHER'S DESCRIPTION OF A BOOK: Zone Press, on Arvin Short's Reckoning: "For three young boys, an innocent campout at some caves is disrupted by an escaped murderer hiding out in their favorite summer getaway!." (Hat tip to Kerri.)

Mon, Jun. 22nd, 2009, 06:39 pm
Let us speak of things.

Progressive just mailed Bev a new insurance card for me to keep in my car. So Bev, in turn, mailed it to me, buried amid a package of other goodies. The rest of the contents were as follows:

·One (1) blue baseball shirt that she and I both like, so we take turns wearing it. Guess it's my turn!

·One (1) Biscoff brand cookie-style food treat which is emblazoned with the Delta Airlines logo. [UPDATE: I asked Bev about this, and she giggled and triumphantly exclaimed, "Isn't it disappointing?!"]

·One (1) Ziploc bag containing a Mr. Potato Head-style SpongeBob SquarePants osteology and assorted whimsical ornaments that can be crammed into his various holes.

·A length of wallpaper border depicting adorable cartoon ducklings, frogs, and fish that apparently is no longer tacked up to serve as a decorative dado rail in our house's hallway.

·Two (2) pairs of socks with penguins on them.

·One (1) toy ice cream cone with a release lever built into the side that will, when pressed, send the foam scoop rocketing off into someone's nose.

·An article clipped from the May issue of the Working Waterfront entitled "Maine granite graces Yankee Stadium." At first I thought she sent this to me because the article is written by Kris Osgood, and she thought it was funny to imagine the Red Wings' homophonically named goalie as a journalist for a tiny Maine paper. Then I realized that the article focuses on events taking place on Maine's tiny (tee hee) Crotch Island, and it was just my delicate bride's sophisticated sense of humor at play.

·One (1) quasi-educational pamphlet entitled "Always Changing: Puberty and Stuff" published by Proctor & Gamble as part of their "About You Fifth Grade School Program" for irresponsibly lazy school districts. The pamphlet is overflowing (tee hee) with Always and Tampax branding, along with questionable definitions like "Puberty means when you get older and you start finding out more about your body and how it's changing."

·One (1) package of Shock-a-Lots brand chocolate-covered coffee beans, which will be consumed in a single mouthful tomorrow morning.

·Five (5) photos taken on our recent trip to Florida: two (2) of a chair in our Homosassa Springs hotel room, one (1) of me convalescing in that same hotel room, and two (2) that appear to be of our rental car's window.

·One (1) wallet-sized booklet of 146 Easter-themed stickers.

·One (1) "original Du-Rag with long-tie" hair kerchief, distributed by Nu Golden Products, whose website is still under construction. The particular style Bev sent me is dubbed "The Challenger," which put me in mind of the hilarious model names from the old Cock Ring Warehouse commercial.

·One (1) piece of looseleaf paper on which is written (in pen), "Hey Michelle, guess who sat at your desk?? I think you need to sharpen your pencil pretty soon! Have a great Tuesday--Pay attention! Love you, Mom." On the reverse is a drawing of a spider and some math problems.

·One (1) awesome Burger King kid's meal toy. It's Gary from SpongeBob! And if you roll him backwards to rev him up, he will quickly scuttle across your desk or floor!

·The May 2009 issue of Bev's employee newsletter. I haven't a clue why Bev sent me this, but it's amusing. The banner headline reads, "Board of directors holds April meeting," and is underlaid with ominous clip art of a suit-clad Reservoir Dogs silhouette using a pen to point at an outlying spike in an otherwise downtrending line graph. There's also a random fact box that purports to be full of lawnmower safety tips but which hews closer to rhetorical, Oblique Strategies-style questions like, "Do you want to vary the cutting height of the grass during the growing season? Consider the ease with which you can adjust the height."

·One (1) large plastic egg full of tiny woodcarvings of cheerful woodland pals.

CURRENT MUSIC: Happy Birthday! by Modeselektor.
CURRENT MOOD: In love with my weird, weird wife.
CURRENT FAVORITE ABSURD FACTOID FROM IRAN: The Guardian notes, "Kamran Daneshjou, the head of the ministry's election commission, has attributed the reported 141% [voter] participation in the town of Taft to the good weather in Yazd province, where the town is situated."

Wed, Jun. 17th, 2009, 08:31 am
Ugh, a superficial and ignorant parroting of articles I halfway understand.

(I wrote this last night but was too tired to post it. Some parts may already be out of date, for all I know, but I hardly think anyone is relying on me for hot-off-the-presses Middle Eastern news. Also, I wrote most of it while watching the synapse-numbing reality show Hitched or Ditched, so I do not warrant the accuracy of anything that follows.)

I have quickly become a bloodshot-eyed obsessive over the popular uprising in Iran following the questionable (to say the least) official results of last Friday's election, which declared controversial Holocaust-denier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the winner by a large margin, and which were suspiciously certified by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei far in advance of when election rules dictated they could/should be. What's particularly noteworthy is that the hundreds of thousands of Iranian people who have taken to the streets in defiance of the regime's commands are doing so not because they're mad that their candidate lost or that a candidate they dislike had won, but because they want the election to be won or lost democratically, with a simple counting of the votes, and that was denied them in favor of what has been described essentially as a coup. One which the people are rightly and fervently rejecting, instead demanding a new election. Khamenei's forces have been attempting to quell the protests via propaganda, force, and a flimsy attempt at mollification which held out the unappetizing pledge of a partial recount (to be performed by Khamenei's own far-from-neutral Guardian Council, no less), and all thus far have failed, as a groundswell of support for the democratic rights of the Iranians has poured in seemingly from all corners of the globe and, here in America, across the political spectrum.

The big story-within-the-story, and one on which I feel marginally less thoroughly unqualified to offer my thoughts than I am on international politics themselves (since, in the absence of any firsthand geopolitical expertise, my reactions tend to be as much to news stories as to events themselves, and as such aren't going to be particularly nuanced or original), is the way the online community--and soundbite mechanism Twitter in particular--has become the clearinghouse for information within the Iranian people's ranks. Simultaneously, Twitter has become many Americans' primary source of information on this topic following a period of irresponsible silence or understatement from traditional media outlets, television news bureaus being the worst offenders. (While obviously, no one expected or indeed ever expects anything substantial from FOX News, CNN has, by all accounts, been largely ignoring the uprising in favor of lavishing more attention on Sarah Palin and her pretend revulsion with David Letterman. Though Larry King, via his predictably lunatic Twitter account, pledges "tonight we'll talk Iran," he has spent the last few days largely concerned with the Jonas Brothers.)

When, on the day before the election, the Khamenei regime brought the hammer down on all non-official methods of communication in Iran--jamming non-state-run news stations like BBC Persia, shutting down mobile phone services, and blocking access to websites through which it was thought opponents might try to coordinate or disseminate information--determined and tech-savvy protesters turned to Twitter. Their access has been spotty over the last few days, but due to clever exploitation of whatever blessed loophole there seems to be in the Iranian government's control of the networks, firsthand messages from opposition supporters have been getting through. To one another and to us. Many of the Ayatollah's opponents used Twitter to spread the word amongst themselves about imminent marches and demonstrations, as well as to issue warnings about potential danger spots. Some uploaded photos and videos of what they were seeing, events both inspirational and harrowing, for the world to see. Some dissidents asked the world to form a united front and help them crash the Iranian government's propaganda websites through widespread denial-of-service attacks.

{Remarks on the latter: Some have expressed concern about the perceived hypocrisy of decrying the Iranian government's media blackout while working to silence its communications, which is a point of view I understand and respect. While I'm generally not an "eye for an eye" or "two wrongs make a right" type of guy, I personally feel, however, that it's a legitimate form of nonviolent protest to retaliate in kind against those who stifle the voices of those who disagree with them, until the oppressing party relents. I admittedly couldn't make a cogent logical case for it, but I feel in my gut that it's okay for individuals worldwide to peacefully yet forcefully give a corrupt government a taste of its own medicine as far as freedom of speech is concerned. This isn't a great analogy, but if you had a son who hid his younger sibling's favorite toy just to be a dick, you'd be well within your rights as the caretaker for both of them to forbid the older kid from playing with his favorite toy until the hidden item is returned. I guess you could accuse such a parent of hypocrisy, but in my view, that parent would be bringing pressure to bear not just to pragmatically right a wrong, but to make this a teaching moment and both instill in the older child that there are consequences for being a crappy kid and maybe a bit to show him how it feels to have something he likes taken away. Not for revenge, but to help develop empathy. And to overextend that metaphor, we should all be each other's caretakers on this ridiculous planet, and even though we should always act from a place of love and compassion, sometimes it's necessary to use our collective might to push back against someone who is behaving as they shouldn't.

{That's just my opinion, and furthermore, it's a moot point because you shouldn't participate in the denial-of-service attacks anyway due to the danger that they might further limit what little bandwidth the Iranian people have available to them. And if you do participate in the attacks before you realize that you could be harming those you intend to help, you run the risk of singlehandedly disrupting Internet access for the entire Math Reviews building and you will arrive at work the following morning to discover an irritated e-mail from the systems guy telling you not to do that again. I AM SPEAKING ENTIRELY HYPOTHETICALLY.}

At any rate, the flurry of information on Twitter has prompted more than one observer to declare that the Web 2.0 model has finally transcended not only the need for the mainstream/traditional media, but for any sort of journalist middlemen selectively framing information for us. ("The revolution will be Tweeted" is an unfortunate phrase I've seen quite a few times, which is a single rung up on the Headline Wit Ladder from "Iran, Iran so far away.") This strikes me as kind of dumb. Twitter's accessibility and ease of use have certainly revealed an unexpected utility in the midst of a crisis, but once proper channels of communication are restored in Iran, Twitter will resume being an amusingly silly social networking site and a delivery service for Meghan McCain's bellicose sense of entitlement. (As I write this, three of the top ten discussion topics on Twitter are indeed about the Iran situation, but two others are about the iPhone, one is a meme entitled "#haveyouever," and much discussion is apparently being devoted to Weird Al and "SOulja Boy" [sic].) As it stands, Twitter's vaunted and briefly indispensable #IranElection feed has, in the space of a day, become all but unreadable not because of Iranian government intervention but due to the white noise of well-meaning individuals who crowd out important new information with reposts of stories that broke hours ago and pointless pleas for Google to change its homepage colors to green in solidarity. There's no quality control.

Thankfully, some actual reporters who know how to do actual reporting and savvily synthesize information caught onto the story early, were thus able to identify the credible Tweesters, and have broadcast these eyewitness accounts far and wide while supplementing the 140-character missives with original research to make sense of it all. Both The Guardian and The New York Times have been doing an excellent job pulling together new facts and analysis as each becomes available. For those who are understandably more desperate for quantity of information than for pieces that can necessarily be assembled into a logical whole, but who still understand the necessity for some sort of contextual filter, Andrew Sullivan has been mightily impressive (even if his clear personal concern with these events has led him to be overly credulous) with the sheer volume of work he's done over the last couple days. I've also been very interested in Spencer Ackerman's posts, which focus largely on well-thought-out explanations of the line America--Obama, in particular--has had to walk in official reaction to the uprising (and why outright condemning the election results would be disastrous for those we'd ostensibly be supporting).

Of course the important thing right now is that peaceful stability returns to Iran in a way that is dictated by the will of its people. What the larger ramifications of a new elected (or even re-elected, unsavory as the thought might be to us) leadership might be, for Iran and the world, can be figured out, debated, and dealt with in time. The sustainability of social networking sites as tools for news distribution and political organization is of zero significance. At the moment, all that matters is that there is a nation full of people hungry for the democracy they were promised and, increasingly, for the reform of a system whose pretense to their common good is rapidly disintegrating. I don't feel like there's any meaningful way I can offer my support to them--this entire post may as well read, "Boy, Persepolis really made me think," for all the practical good it does--but I hope the fact that this information was able to get to me at all, in spite of the Ayatollah's best efforts, is somehow indicative of a tide that is turning in favor of human rights.

CURRENT MOOD: Populist and most likely naive.

Sun, Jun. 14th, 2009, 04:34 pm
There is Nothing Wrong with Hating Rock Critics

Once again I have failed to update for ludicrous amounts of time, so it's another accursed catch-all post that covers a month and a half.

Bev, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Indigo childrenCollapse )

Amanda, Sean, The Tragically Hip, sparkly vampires!Collapse )

Let's play video clipsCollapse )

My preposterous website celebrates 10 years of shameCollapse )

CURRENT MUSIC: Dark Night of the Soul, the mysteriously unreleasable Danger Mouse/Sparklehorse collaboration. It sort of lives or dies on the talents of the individual guest singers, but The Flaming Lips, Vic Chesnutt, and Gruff Rhys in particular make it worth a download.
CURRENT MOOD: Completely through with humans, far more concerned with animals, thank you very much.
FAVORITE ENTRY IN A BOOK OF FUNNY NEWS TYPOS THAT BEV GAVE ME: "To Mr. and Mrs. Ben Mendez, a son, 7 lbs. 12 oz. more t com more more more mor."

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