Sunday, April 30, 2006
God Bless Stephen Colbert

... forever and ever and ever. His show has attracted a wider array of wingnuts than the Daily Show, I think mostly because the typical Republican doesn't "get" irony sufficiently to realize that they're being mocked. But I bet they won't make that mistake anymore. Colbert eviscerated Bush with surgical accuracy while standing a few feet away, looking the man straight in the eye, completely unthrown by the frosty reception -- hands-down the best performance of this entire administration by anyone, anywhere.

This was no good-natured ribbing. This was a comedy hitjob. It's about damn time.

Update: It would be better to ignore the video link above -- turns out, that video is grossly truncated. You can read the complete transcript here -- reading the entire speech lifts this from merely "brazen" to simply phenomenal. I can only hope it hurt Bush's feelings as much as Bush has hurt my country.

Update 2: The entire speech is available on YouTube: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

PS: Don't miss this: Thank You Stephen Colbert
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Friday, April 28, 2006
Friday Class-War Blogging

Just a couple of links today -- but I'll probably post again later. (I know you'll all be waiting anxiously.)

Find out how long it takes a Fortune 500 CEO to earn your pay.

And then, have yourself painted into Communist propaganda, suitable for framing. It's the hip, ironic way to foment revolution without any of that messy "proletarian uprising" business.




(Thanks Doug)
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Thursday, April 27, 2006
Blindingly-Fast 32-bit MC68000 Microprocessor, Indeed!

Sorry for the quiet week -- I've just been a little distracted. But in a happy way. Happy enough that I don't want to jinx it by talking about it here. (These things are so easily jinxed, you know.)

But, uh... here, look at this full scan of the original 1984 Newsweek insert heralding the birth of the Macintosh. I feel like Scotty in that Star Trek movie where they have to find humpback whales to take back to the future... "a mouse, how quaint!"

PS: Holy crap, I have so got to get a handle on my bookmarks. I file 'em every other week, and file most of them as I go, but it still seems like every time I pull that menu down I've gotta scroll for thirty seconds to get to the most recent ones. And it's not just my bookmarks, it's my RSS reader, too -- I've been off my computer for no more than 36 hours, and it says it's got 478 blog posts waiting to be read... I mean, Jeebus H.!
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Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Ice Cream Day

Free ice cream day at Ben & Jerry's! Yay!
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Poor Turtle

I'm a turtle rescuer; I rescue turtles.* You know, like how they move out onto the road to bask in the sun? Well, I generally pull over and move them to a safe spot if there's one nearby, or if there's not I've been known to take small ones back to the property here and find 'em a nice sunny rock to sit on. It's a mild superstition I picked up years ago after I just barely avoided what could've been a bad car accident about an hour after having rescued my first turtle (for no reason other than it seemed to be the right thing to do.) It's a simple way to earn myself a little extra karma, and I've met quite a few turtles this way.

Today, just now, I saw my first road-bound turtle of the year. I whizzed by him too fast to pull over on the first pass, so I pulled into a driveway and, after waiting for a few slow-moving cars to pass, turned around and went back. The closest place to pull over was a church parking lot about a hundred feet away -- I stopped and headed over to him, and I was within ten feet when... can you guess what happened next?

A minivan came over the hill and ran my turtle over; he burst with a sickening crunch. Right there in front of me. I was so close.

That's the first one I've ever lost. The worst part is, the turtle was in the middle of the lane, and there weren't any other obstacles or cars around -- in order to run him over, the minivan would've had to aim for him, and there was really no other reason to have hit him. Cruel bastards.

A similar thing happened a few years ago in an incident that still makes me clench my jaw if I think about it for long. I was driving the same road, although further up, when a duck waddled into the road from a nearby pond. There wasn't anyone immediately behind me or around me, so I slowed down and edged around him. Then, fifty feet or so back, a red pickup truck aimed straight for him and ran the front, passenger-side wheel right across his back. I can still see the image of his head and neck sticking up from his crushed body in my rear-view mirror. But here's the part that infuriates me: the driver of the truck sped up and pulled alongside me, leaned across, and gave me this evil fucking grin -- he'd done it on purpose, just to piss me off. He'd killed that duck maliciously for my benefit. There was a little boy sitting in the passenger seat looking bewildered. I was so angry I had to pull over.

I know that animals aren't valued very highly around here, and I can't profess to be much better than these assholes -- I eat meat, I eat battery-farmed chicken, and I know that what goes into it is no better (probably even worse) than this. It was just a turtle, and just a duck. And animals that wander into roads stand a strong chance of getting hit, maliciously or otherwise.

But some people are just fucking evil.




* I know they're really tortoises -- don't be so pedantic.
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Sunday, April 23, 2006
Housekeeping

I finally got around to restocking the index over to the left there -- as you can see, I've added quite a bit. It's not necessarily the "best" stuff, just the stuff for which I feel the greatest fondness, and the stuff that stands on its own reasonably well. I included almost everthing pertaining to specific films, for instance, but very little of the dated, topical political stuff. As I expected, more of it is drawn from this last year than the previous one.

I also had to tend to the blog's template; I'm not sure what the fuck happened, but a big chunk of code got chopped off the end sometime during the last week. Something seems to be going wrong in Blogger -- even while I was trying to patch it up, it kept reloading with the last third of the template code missing. In the end I had to edit it in WordPad and then copy-paste the entire code in as one big piece. I also had to recontruct some of the code -- obviously, if Blogger was going to chew up my code, it would be the part with all the fiddly Javascript stuff. I had some old backup copies of the code, and I could piece the rest together from recent pre-chew posts, but it was still a pain in the ass.

But if any of you happen to notice something out of place or something not working normally, drop me a line. It's entirely possible that I might've missed something along the way.
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Saturday, April 22, 2006
Big Australian Balls

It's a shame we have to turn to another country's "liberal media" to get a reality check, but here we are. At least somebody's found the testicular fortitude to speak plainly:

SYDNEY, NSW, is a long way from Washington DC but, even at this distance, it is clear that the Bush Administration is falling to pieces.

In recent weeks, scanning the political coverage in the mainstream US media and sampling the blogs has been to watch a flood tide ebbing to reveal a rotting, skeletal hulk. It is the George W. Bush ship of fools, stuck in the mud for the world to see in all its mendacity, its incompetence, its faith-based stupidity.

(...)

It is arrogant, Nixonian trampling of the law to order the wiretapping of American citizens and the leaking of national security secrets. It is the rape of the environment to enrich big business, especially big oil. And resonating with ordinary Americans most of all, it is the loss of the city of New Orleans - not by Hurricane Katrina but by the bottomless incompetence of the feds' post-apocalypse response.

This is a trash presidency, founded on lies and knavery, fraud and ignorant ideological crackpottery.

Read the whole thing; it's a hum-dinger.
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Friday Saturday Blogging

(Ha! Admit it... I so fooled you into thinking I would post this yesterday. Suckers!)




I have decided to take my computer and establish some office hours in Midtown. ("Ooooh," I hear you say, "office hours! Well la-de-da!") The thing is, I'm continually stuck down here in Crackerstan, and it's doing my head in -- apart from going into the city (where I rarely have much excuse for hanging around) there's little opportunity for escape. My full-scale transition north is taking rather longer to pan out than I'd hoped, and this room and I -- we just don't work well together. I need to be able to take a walk sometimes, pick up my notebooks and go scrounge a soy mocha and watch people from time to time. It's hard to create an excuse for that when I'm down here, and even walking isn't much of an option. There's nowhere to go, and I don't feel comfortable walking on the road now that the traffic blows through here so fast on the way to the casinos.

But as it happens, I have access to some quiet, shared office space in the Memphis hipster ghetto, within easy reach of everything I want. I figure the additional structure of regular hours might put a little extra heat under my kettle, and with some luck I'll be able to see more of all those people I so much want to see. I only know that my current arrangement is sucking all the life out of me -- if I'm stuck with all this excess leisure time (and I do mean "excess") I should at least be able to get some serious work of my own done, right? And when I can get up to the city, I wail on that shit; but down here, for some reason I don't fully understand, the well runs dry and I can never get into the right headspace. The environment just doesn't work. You know what I mean.

So, there's only one thing for it: office hours. And even if it doesn't help in the end, it won't hurt anything either. My plan for now is to be in Midtown four or five afternoons/evenings per week, so you'll know where to find me (as if anybody ever comes looking for me.)

Anyway, here's some assorted stuff to to add to your morning browse or RSS reader -- they'll all dump one or two interesting things in your lap every day.

The 1902 Sears, Roebuck Catalog


Proceedings of the Athanasius Kircher Society

WFMU's Beware of the Blog

The Stranger: Slog
(This one's very Seattle-centric, but still pulls in some neat-o junk.)

Flickr photos tag: Memphis (Mostly tourist photos of Beale and Graceland, but occasionally there are some genuinely beautiful local photographs in the mix. Today there are a lot of great pics of this morning's Kate's Antiques destructo-rama -- the graffiti kids went apeshit on the place last night, and right before they pulled it down it looked as good as it has since I moved here in '94.)

PS: Oh, and, uh, here's Asperger's Ian's website detailing Sixteen Different Ways to Tie Your Shoelaces. (Sorry, G., I didn't realize anyone had actually seen this post before I pulled it down and reworked it.)
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Thursday, April 20, 2006
This Is My Rifle, This Is My Gun

I have an official position on guns, and one that seems to surprise a lot of conservatives when the subject comes up (though why it should I have no idea.) In a nutshell: I don't give a shit if you have guns or not. I don't have one, I don't ever intend to have one, and I prefer if people don't bring them around me any more than necessary. But that said, what you do in the privacy of your own home is up to you.

Now, I don't think it's at all unreasonable to insist that we as a society know where our widely-dispersed collective armory is housed, and to require that guns be kept in a secure, orderly fashion (according to the 2nd amendment, after all, it's a well-ordered militia, not a loaded handgun under every pillow.) But I have no interest in taking your guns away, contrary to what the conservative ilk would tell you. I could not possibly care less.

But this is still funny:

If Republicans taught gun safety like they do sex education, they would:

* allow everyone to own a gun (even more, they'd require it: gunlessness is an abomination), but they'd insist that kids could never, ever take them out of their holster, sheath or gun rack
* it would be illegal to expose your weapon or even talk about it
* exposing a gun on TV would outrage viewers, who would deluge the network with complaining phone calls
* blanks, trigger locks, and even safeties would be forbidden
* there would be accidental discharges every night in every teenager's home, but no one would ever talk about it
* it would be a shameful sin to go off by yourself and practice shooting at targets
* the only acceptable use would be to kill something, although it would be OK to miss if you were sincerely trying to kill something
* most hunters would be desperately hoping to miss every time they went hunting, and would try to contrive situations in which they could fire their guns without actually hitting anything
* no one would ever be taught how to handle a gun safely. Dad would say "son, don't shoot that gun except to kill something", but he wouldn't explain how to load it, unload it, safe it, carry it, aim it.


(Pharyngula)

When I lived in Arkansas as a teenager, we had to take a gun safety class every year (in "health" class) so that we would be adequately trained in the judicious use of firearms -- the argument was that it would encourage us to use our firearms responsibly. We were not, however, required to take a sex education class (and even what class there was was badly compromised by misinformation.) In fact, there was discussion as to whether sex education should be offered at all - the argument being that it would encourage us to use our genitalia irresponsibly.

All I know is, I knew a lot more teenagers who got knocked up than shot. But I bet the net effect of the former isn't much less traumatic than that of the latter.
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An Uncharacteristic Outburst of Bitterness

Holy crap... I just realized that today is the seventh anniversary of my very, very first trip to the UK. And that means it's also my most evil ex's birthday. That's right, he had the same birthday as... HITLER!

He was always so afraid of turning 40. And today, he's 41! To which I shall only say, AHHHAHAHAHAHAHA! I hope your vast collection of illicit pornography and your Shania Twain CDs are keeping you company in your reclusive old age. Asshole.
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Open Invitation

I don't suppose anybody wants to come with me to see Doug Stanhope do his "pussy like a dockworker's heel" schtick at the Hi-Tone on May 5, do they? I'm not really expecting much, y'know, but it seems fair to give him a shot live before I declare him officially nothing special. And while I'm getting better at going to stuff like this alone, stand-up is a bridge too far.

Anyway... yeah. What good is having a blog if you can't issue plaintive requests now and then?
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Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Tassel Hassle

I got my official College Graduation Super Fun Pak yesterday -- it contained five anonymous commencement invitations, a schedule for the event, a couple of random scraps of paper, and a two-page "guide" to being an alumna. Short version: "Give us money. No, more."

This is funny, y'see, because this year tuition and fees at my alma mater come to $37,840 -- students who are graduating on time have sunk the best part of $150K into their edumacation. (I haven't put in nearly that kind of cash, since A) tuition and fees were high when I originally went, but still a good $10-12K cheaper than now; and B) back in the day, my college was genuinely "need-blind" and poor students like me got a hell of a hand out. The school is still nominally need-blind, but that doesn't seem to happen anymore.) It's frankly amazing that this college of 350 students and 50-some-odd professors (none of whom make anything like a typical professor's salary) can keep hoovering up cash at such a phenomenal rate and still spend two decades on the very edge of the financial abyss. What the fuck are they doing with it all, anyway? Nobody gets paid well enough, the campus is still in crappy shape, and nobody has what they need. Last term, the music students had to go begging in the community for money to buy two new piano benches -- I mean, you'd think that would be covered by $37,840 per student, but apparently not.

I'm not as inclined as some to put the place down -- if I had it to do all over again, I'd just take the free ride at the University of Texas, but I don't regret having gone. It was a good school, basically, even if I do maintain something of a love-and-hate relationship with it (as does every other alum I know.) The only thing that annoys me is that next month, when I go back to Vermont with my mother for commencement, I don't get to keep the hat. Seriously, for that kind of money, I should get to keep the goddamn hat. I don't even get to keep the tassel! It says so right here on the schedule:

You MUST RETURN the cap, tassel, and gown to the Greene Room immediately after the ceremony, before going to the tent for refreshments! Students will be charged $75.00 if these items are not returned, and a $25.00 charge will result if not returned immediately after the ceremony.

For my decade's worth of work and five figures worth of debt, all I get is a (small) piece of paper and the right to put the words "BA with honors" on my resume.

I should really get to keep the tassel.

I want to wear a sign to commencement that says, "I spent four years at this boutique liberal arts college, and I didn't even get a goddamn t-shirt."

Or a tassel.

PS: Oh, and our commencement speaker is a bit lame as well. Some classes get Nobel laureates, and some of us get lawyers. Luck of the draw, I guess.
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Sunday, April 16, 2006
Insufferable Pretension, Part 5

So I'm a bit late. Sue me.

I've spent my whole morning up to my elbows in bread dough -- the family here does a dinner for most notable days, and it has somehow become my regular role to bring bread. (Not that I mind, I love baking bread.) Last night/this morning I was working on a slow-rise white bread that I usually use for pizza crust and foccacia. It's made of nothing but flour, salt, yeast and water, but it's a perfect demonstration of how four characterless ingredients can, when artfully combined, yield something sublime. This bread is amazing -- the trick is that a very, very slow fermentation in the fridge allows the yeast to break down the starch in the flour more completely, releasing a wider variety of sugars, and hence producing a more complex flavor than you usually get in a lean white bread. It's gorgeous -- with a little fresh unsalted butter, it almost has a sourdough-like twang. And I produced the best crust I've ever managed in this oven -- chewy and crackly, not the equal of a loaf produced in a good stone oven with a steam valve, but fucking good just the same. My only problem is that I've been having trouble regulating my yeast over the last half-year or so -- I bought a jar of instant yeast for economy, but the yeast inside proved to be sluggish. I lost three or four loaves to an inadequate second rise, which was frustrating considering the amount of work that goes into baking bread by hand. So this time I bought plain old packets, and this stuff is like rocket yeast -- the white rolls I made this morning practically turned themselves inside-out in the oven, trying to push out of the crust I'd so carefully gelatinized. Which is fine, except that now they're a bit fugly. Not that anyone will care -- the great thing about baking bread is that however cosmetically imperfect a loaf is, people will still clamor for a piece of it. You can't go wrong with bread.

I'm doing a second batch of rolls now, my faithful struan multigrain. The family snaps these up every time I bring them around, I get requests at every holiday. They're slightly wasted as rolls since this formula's highest calling is as thick-cut toast, but form must follow function, and at a big group meal toast isn't really practical anyway. Those rolls are proofing in the kitchen as I write this -- they still have a little bit further to go -- and by the time I'm done it should be about time to slash their tops and throw 'em in the oven. Baking is deeply gratifying, and I recommend it highly. Some people putter in gardens; some people knit; I bake bread.

Does that count as pretentious, or just homey? Strange, isn't it, that what was once the daily job of every woman is now a fetishy, pseudo-philosophical hobby. And yet the process itself hasn't changed at all.

In any case, I'm done with this now -- even I am sick of listening to myself prattle on about creativity. Next week: all pointless bullshit, all the time!

PS: In the end, the multigrain rolls came out so beautifully, I just can't bear to put my white rolls next to them. So only the multigrains are going to the family do. Still, we can't possibly eat all of what we have left -- I don't suppose anyone in Memphis would be interested in taking half a dozen ugly but delectable rolls off my hands?

PPS: Oh, also -- for the purpose of future-easy-indexing-related-programs-activities, I'm turning this post into an index for the whole schticky week. (Speaking of which, I really, really need to update that index... and all the fiddly boxes around the perimeter. Sigh.)

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
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Friday, April 14, 2006
Friday Pagan Blogging

How crazy is it that Jeebus died for our sins in exact synchronization with the moon? So much so that we determine the anniversary of his resurrection by picking out the first Sunday after the first full moon occuring on or after the vernal equinox? And how bizarre a coincidence is it that our Christian holiday of Easter coincides almost exactly with the old pagan month of Eostremonat, in honor of the goddess Eostre, whose celebration included things like Osterhase (easter bunnies) and eggs? And how fantastically improbable is it that "Eostre" sounds suspiciously similar to the word "Easter," the name given by Yahweh himself to the holiday celebrating his only begotten son, Jeezy Creazy's grisly, torturous demise? I mean really, what are the chances? And yet it all really, literally happened just that way! Wow!

It's surely proof of some kind of intelligent design.




And then, of course, there's always the old standby.

PS: I'll do the last part of "Insufferable Pretension" tomorrow.
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Thursday, April 13, 2006
Insufferable Pretension, Part 4

Well. Yes. Quite.

I don't know about you, but I had an interesting day yesterday. Short version: I finally got a fucking job, but due to certain circumstances elsewhere, it turns out I probably won't be able to take it. Bah.

I'm not actually too disappointed about that. As jobs go, it would've been far from the worst I've ever had, and there were some definite good points. The work atmosphere was lovely, the work would've been easy and probably often interesting, and I was actually a very good candidate. On the other hand, the pay, while not horrible, was definitely inadequate. Worst of all, the job almost certainly would've stripped me of all the things that I actually live for on a day-to-day basis, at least for some months. I was going to have to give up doing an awful lot of stuff I really want to do, and that would've sucked.

In the end, though, none of those were the reason why I'll probably have to turn this one down; they just mean that I don't feel all that broken up about it. Still, it made for a strange kind of day -- instead of getting all tense about whether I could get the job, I decided to just turn up in jeans and sneakers to see what happened, not really caring whether I got the job or not. I nailed the tests, nailed the interview, and walked out the door with an offer of work. And then, a couple of hours later, I discovered that I really couldn't take the job at all. So it was a bit of an up-and-down day for me.

The thing is -- and I'm not even going to deny that I'm boasting here -- I'm actually a fucking good employee. I'm capable, competent, productive, I know lots about lots of things and can pick other stuff up quickly, I'm focused enough to get stuff done but still relaxed enough to get along -- I'm exactly the kind of person I'd want to hire if I were in a position to hire someone for something. My job is never going to be my life, but for my personal level of ambition I'm top-fucking-notch. I know it; the vast majority of the people I've worked with have confirmed it; the problem is convincing the people who fill the jobs of it. I can do a lot better than the job I was offered today... not to denigrate the importance of the job (which is actually extremely important to some people), but it would frankly be a bit of a waste of my abilities. If I'm going to sell out, I at least want to be respectably compensated and given work that involves more than typing fast and speaking clearly.

The last couple of months have been very frustrating because, in spite of all of the above, it's been rejection after rejection -- I know I shouldn't take it personally, but after enough of these, I just start to wonder why nobody wants me. I've been repeatedly told that (whatever I'm doing) I'll eventually find someone who'll pay me decently for my work, but it always comes from people who can't actually pay me themselves. The people who can pay just ignore me. And like I say, that's been just a little frustrating.

But after today, I can at least say that my near misses are getting nearer, and less miss-y. Maybe I just need to learn not to give a shit; it worked pretty well today.

Any... way...

Now that I've blown most of your attention span on that, what the fuck was I going to write about?

Okay, how about this: there are lots of kinds of creativity besides the obvious ones. I really like that idea, and I think we artistically-minded people should be talking that point up a lot more. For example, one regular commentor on this blog (he knows who he is) says he's not an artistic type. But he's also said the he's built a house and raised kids. And I ask you: what could possibly be more creative, more artistic than that? Isn't having a child the ne plus ultra of creative, artistic acts? It's making a person! Not a representation of a person, or an idea of a person, but an actual person. (As a side note, one question that frequently recurs in my mind first cropped up in respect to a quote about writing. It was about collaboration among writers and ran along the lines of, "two people writing a book is like three people having a baby." But surely it does take three people to have a baby, yes? There are, by definition, three people involved: mommy, and daddy, and baby. Isn't the baby itself as actively engaged, in its own way, as the parents? So... yeah, anyway, you get my point, so I shall digress.)

Being an active participant in society is an artistic act, undertaken en masse with everyone else. Religion was the very seat of artistic thought before it got its head stuck up its ass. Science is creative; mathematics is creative; whether or not they might qualify as "art" is open to discussion, but I think I could be persuaded to make room for them. The working definition of "art" I finally settled on is, art is anything that means more than what it actually is, in and of itself. A novel is really ink on (on average) a pound and a half of paper; Guernica is some slap on a canvas; Mozart's Requiem is a series of sensations in the brain brought about by the disturbance of mechanical energy propagating through matter in the form of a wave. Obviously they're also a lot more than that... but that's my whole point. If you think about it for a while, the question becomes not, "what is art?" but rather, "what's NOT art?"

My film professor in Vermont, who was a pretty good guy, thought that the real problem with our society is that collectively we lack imagination. He said that we have difficulty visualizing things and circumstances that don't currently exist. That's why we couldn't foresee the mess we've made of Iraq; that's why we can't muster up the motivation to do something about our little oil problem; that's why we seem to have given up on improving our society, instead just trying to make it as comfortable as possible for those of us who are lucky enough to already be comfortable. I think he had a damn good point. What would our world be like if everyone approached their lives not as something at which to succeed or fail, but as a continual work of art, in which both success and failure have equal artistic value? What if, when choosing how to act, we considered the beauty of our actions as well as their benefits and costs? What if we could step back and attempt to perceive even the darker aspects of our natures as a valid part of the overall artwork of humanity? Not to propagate evil things, but to acknowledge that they are, however ugly, a part of the work we've collectively created? To recognize that even short, ugly, brutish lives have the same weight and meaning as long, beautiful, tranquil ones? It's easy to perceive the big things in life as having meaning, but what if we tried to do it with all the mundane stuff as well? It's not particularly difficult to do; we've all done it, if only for a few moments at a time. But what if we agreed that doing this was not only useful, but vitally important? What if we didn't wait for a consensus on the matter, but just started to live that way individually? What would make that any different from being an artist?

Was that pretentious enough for a Thursday?
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Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Insufferable Pretension, Part 3

Okay, so you kids aren't really down with this week's theme. My hitcount has been squishy-soft all week (even by this blog's headpat-inducing standards), so I'm guessing that public interest in my plaintive mewling on the creative process is a bit on the low side.

But y'know what? I don't care. Nope, I don't care at all. It's only day three, bitches, and we've got a long way to go. I'm-a putting my prostelytizin' hat on today (which is a lot like a pimp hat, but with a much more immodest plume.)

My Wednesday thesis is this: film is the greatest creative medium that has ever existed. It's the Uber-Medium. You can have your theater, your dance, your painting, your music, your opera, your sculpture, your prose and poetry. I mean, I love all of those things, too, but there's a reason why I chose film over any of them: film is capable of encompassing all of the above, and with a bit more on the side. I've gotten to play with everything since I began -- not always for as long as I'd like, or to as deep a level as I'd want, but enough to get my hands dirty in new and interesting ways. The only glaring gap in my secondary skill set is music -- music is still, for me, a shop window against which I often press my nose, watching the kids inside playing with shiny toys I only vaguely understand. And one day I'll come back around and put some time into solving that particular puzzle, but now's not that time.

The point is, the big attraction of film for me is the absolute impossibility of running out of new stuff to learn about during my finite human lifetime. The attendant risk is that I never actually manage to learn about any of it deeply enough to completely understand it. Knowing a bit about optics and a bit about chemistry and a bit about sound design and a bit about mechanics and a bit about electronics and a bit about drama and a bit about eye-brain response and a bit about all the rest of it is great, and it'll certainly make a well-rounded person out of you, but will it ever imbue a real depth of understanding of anything?

For example, I'm currently enjoying my own personal age of reason, spending my spring on evolutionary biology (which is unspeakably amazing), but it'll never make a biologist of me. And much of my life has been spent this way -- a year on Haitian vodoun, a year on folklore and ritual, a year on Jungian psychology, a year teaching myself French... and the only thing that ties it all together is that somehow, eventually, it'll end up in a film. All the people I've known, every place I've been, the assorted lives I've led -- they're all scooped up and chewed up and deposited back onto a page that will, hopefully, one day become a moving picture on a screen. The cinema is the glue that holds my entire life together.

Which you'd never guess from the sparse body of my extant works. The problem is that most of these films have not yet been -- and might never be -- made. Oh, I'll make as many as I can, but like I said, it can take years, and right now I'm only in the writing and meaningfully-experimenting stage. I have ideas enough to fill walls of shelves; by 30 already enough to keep me busy for a lifetime even if I never have another one. And with my expecation that as I get older my ideas will only improve, I'm assuming most of them will never see the light of day, as a screenplay or as anything else. Most of them will never be more than pages of notes. Still, it's not a bad thing, really, knowing that you've got enough work to keep you occupied.

These days I keep my post-adolescent fantasies of Indiewood glory in a box on a shelf in my metaphorical closet (everyone needs something powerful enough to push them off down the road), and I've come to realize that I'll spend as much time wrestling with myself and my circumstances as I will actually doing the work I want to do. But I'm nothing if not doggedly determined -- the up-side of taking the slow-and-steady approach is that what you lose in forward propulsion you gain as staying-power. And at least I know I won't flame out by 35 (and who decided that creative success is supposed to happen so young, anyway?) I figure I'll be hitting my creative peak by my early 50s, just as my estrogen levels drop and my bullshit-rejecting, old-lady ass-kickingness surfaces. When I'm an old lady I intend to wear big floppy hats, carry a walking stick, and stomp around like I own the place everywhere I go.

But I can't do any of that unless I do all this fiddly work now -- making my notes, writing the pages that'll never be anything more than pages, digging my fingers down into the myriad parts that make up my cinematic whole and trying to get a handle on them, one by one. It's not exactly what drew me in in the first place, but it's what always draws me back . If I can spend my life this way, doing this endless, endlessly new work, I'll be satisfied regardless of whether I ever "make it" or not.

Though a decent paycheck wouldn't be a bad thing.
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Tuesday, April 11, 2006
Natural Selection At Its Finest

I know this is probably terribly unfair of me to say, since it's a hallowed performance medium and doubtless sacrosanct to its practitioners, but I just can't feel too sorry that the world's foremost purveyor of ventriloquist dummies is going out of business. If anything, in this world where good men struggle and evil men run the country, it feels as though one thing, at least, is finally going right.

Those fucking puppets were hoping to drag us all down to hell with them.



Die, puppet scum!


Now we just need to do something about the Ventriloquist Dummy-In-Chief.
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Insufferable Pretension, Part 2

I admit that on a superficial level, I have at times been a bit frustrated with the film I made over the summer and autumn. The thing that irritates me is that so few people understood what I was trying to do. I myself can acknowledge that my realization was patchy, but I worry that a lot of the people who've seen it haven't even understood what I was reaching for, much less whether or not I hit the mark.

And obviously that's not their fault, and my even questioning them earns me the badge with which I've named this post. There's no reason why anyone should understand what I was doing, and no reason why I should expect them to, or even reasonably hope that they might. Stuff on the screen that needs to be explained is pretty much by definition not good enough. But that still doesn't stop me from wanting to explain in excrutiating detail the intellectual structure under the film. I tried out a lot of big concepts in that one, y'know. I was prodding around in the core assumptions of cinema, and only the most informed viewers can see me doing it. Not that the ground hasn't been covered a hundred thousand times before, but it was still the first time for me.

The film, as I said back when I was working on it, was based mostly on the films of Maya Deren (the fact that it was based on a Garcia-Marquez story was incedental.) Deren was a formalist, primarily interested in those attributes of film that are unique to the medium. Back when she was doing her own work, in the 40s and 50s, her stuff was revolutionary, or at least interesting; now that we're all so well-versed in cinematic visual language from the time we're infants, it looks pretty straightforward, if a bit artfully so. Its significance was rooted in its context, and once we're outside of that context we can't easily understand it anymore. It's a bit like the way I heard early Beatles songs when I was a kid -- from the context of 80s pop, I couldn't really grasp what they'd done until I understood their original context.

Anyway, Deren's big thing was using the camera to do things that could only be done with the camera, or done better with a camera than any other way... time manipulation, spatial confusion, muddled narratives, split characters, that kind of thing. You can't bend time and space on a stage, or in a still photograph; these functions are unique to motion pictures, and so, in Deren's opinion, were the purest expression of cinema. Follow me?

What I was doing, then, was sort of the film equivalent of copying the work of an old master -- studying the structure and detail and then trying it out for myself. The time and space distortion is there, the split character is there, the confused narrative is there; it's all in a stripped-down form, but I did manage to wedge most of her key concepts into the film. But nobody ever sees it! I mean, they see it, but it doesn't register. Or, certainly, it does with some, but not with most... or I haven't heard about it if it did, anyway. And like I say, that's okay... I don't actually expect everyone to read my thesis first and then watch the film. If that's what it takes to get things across to my satisfaction, then I'm really not doing a good job at all. But I still find myself compelled to explain the film.

I guess that's what commentary tracks are for. Now I just need to make enough additional shorts to warrant the full DVD treatment.

I still have a hell of a lot of work to do -- there are whole swaths of filmmaking practice that I've barely touched so far. If nothing else, I need to do a lot of work on my confidence level... it's probably safe to admit this now, but I was nauseous with fear and anxiety the first morning of shooting on that film. It really sucked at the time because I didn't actually have anyone around to ask for reassurance except the people who were actually in the film, and those are the last people to whom you should admit your misgivings, even if they'd be cool with it (which they almost certainly would have been.) I had to stop before I got where I was going because my hands were shaking -- and I know that Spielberg says he still vomits before the the first day's shoot on every production, but it wasn't like I had a gazillion-dollar budget and the weight of an industry on my shoulders; just the trust of a couple of people whom I liked and respected and didn't want to disappoint. And I was existentially terrified that I was going to let them down (and even now, that's still my biggest worry.) I'm just saying, surely the situation can be better.

The way I keep writing about it, y'all are going to start thinking I really hate making films. I guess tomorrow I should talk about why I love it, so you don't get the wrong idea.
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Monday, April 10, 2006
Picture Of The Day



"See? Can't even impeach me now! I'm holdin' a black woman's panties, and y'still can't impeach me! Heh! Heh! Try! I dare ya!


(via)
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Totally Unrelated

I was in a local supermarket yesterday, and while I was in the checkout line I noticed an ad on the wall for a store-brand debit card sorta thingy -- y'know, like you put money into a store account and then you use this card to pay for groceries until your account is empty. Right. Anyway, the name they'd given this program was "eScrip".

And it occured to me that, in a largely African-American community in the cotton belt, this name was probably not the best-thought-out idea ever.
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Sunday, April 09, 2006
Insufferable Pretension, Part 1

I think I'm going to spend all this week writing about art and the creative process. (Hey, it's my blog, and I can do what I want.) Permit me, Greensmile, to use part of your comment as a launching pad for some continued navel-gazing.

If you already have the occasional idea boiling up inside you, its time to DO rather than time to expose yourself to yet more of the world.

I agree, with this statement and with your subsequent qualifier. But the issue with film -- not only with film, certainly, but maybe to an especially large degree with film -- is that the distance between inspiration and realization is fucking enormous and frought with obstacles. Even on the simplest level, it still requires that the artist work by way of a machine and complex chemical/electronic and physiological reactions. I know lots of other media can use similar processes, but film is utterly, completely reliant upon them. In fact, early objections to film being recognized as an artform had nothing to do with commerce or the compound nature of medium, but were instead based on this interaction between artist and machine: if the artist is reliant upon an artificial mechanism, then is film more a product of the artist or of the machine? Obviously there's no serious dispute over the question anymore -- film is art, as is photography -- but I mention it to underline the inherent compromise that's already involved in making a film.

The creative process for a filmmaker, then, is based on compromise from the first moment, and compromise makes up a huge part of the process throughout. On top of all the usual problems that crop up in any artist's creative life -- inspiration (and its lack), self-doubt, the tension between artist and viewer, exhaustion, and the rest of it -- filmmakers also have to contend with the huge gap between the moment when they have an idea and the moment when they can see the product of that idea in front of them. (And as if that wasn't discouraging enough, no matter how good you are you'll never be able to communicate your original vision to anyone else, ever. The best you can do is to interpret it faithfully. Every film starts as a perfect idea running in your head that nobody else will ever, ever see -- the frustration can be intense, but it also forces you to be a bit zen about your art. Maybe I'll write more about that another day.)

My usual process goes like this: 1) idea; 2) irrational enthusiasm for idea; 3) good night's sleep; 4) sudden profound doubt about the idea and embarrassment over previous irrational enthusiasm (few projects make it past this stage); 5) note-taking, background reading, research, idea development; 6) initial structural planning, maybe a little early plotting and plot-dissection; 7) writing; 8) repeat steps 6 & 7 until you've got a reasonable first draft; 9) another bout of intense self-doubt; 10) second draft, throwing half of the first draft away; 11) repeat step 10 until you're done; 12) shred completed screenplay to (metaphorical) pieces and begin figuring out how to actually make a film out of it.

And that's just the work I do before I actually set about doing the work. Even simple films can easily take years to get from their conception to their first public screening, and maintaining the required level of passion over years has got to be one of the most difficult tasks anyone could undertake. The point is, it's not like I can just whip out a canvas and some paints and get to work whenever inspiration strikes, and then enjoy the gratification of having made something. It is possible to just pick up a camera and go shoot a lot of whatever happens in front of you -- I have a number of friends who work that way, and I've done a fair bit of it myself -- but I personally find it too limited a form to keep me satisfied. (Although I've learned a lot of valuable lessons from doing it, and I think it's a necessary thing for anyone to try. But it's like the difference, perhaps, between playing improvisational jazz and composing an opera. They're two completely different things.)

By the time I get through the whole process -- conception, development, planning, production, post-production -- I can't see the film anymore, I can't remember what it was like to feel inspired by the idea from which it grew, I can barely bring myself to watch it, and having other people watch it is an exercise in emotional detachment. In fact, getting people's responses to a film is something I feel more obligated to do than anything else -- my ego is interested (mostly in having them say it's good), but my creative self is completely absent from the proceedings. I have enormous envy for those who create in an artform where they get to interact in real time with their audiences, where the doing and the feedback happen simultaneously. (I know it doesn't always work out that way in real life, but at least it's viable possibility.)

Writing it out this way really makes me wonder why I bother with film at all. It's a fucking hell of a lot of work for a severely slim pay-off. (The answer, obviously, is that I love it and feel deeply compelled and can't not do it. Sometimes art is strictly about self-flagellation. Especially for me.) I can't say I feel much either way about the idea of "retreat" -- except that maybe, since I do tend basically towards introversion and self-reference, that my version of "retreat" means going out to be with other people.

It's funny, when I was a kid I went through a phase where I wanted to be a film director (sandwiched between wanting to be a horse vet/breeder and wanting to be a writer), but rejected the idea because it meant I'd have to work with other people. And it definitely does mean that. But the thing that surprised me (once I decided to try anyway and loved it, and convinced myself that it was something I could really pursue) was that I discovered that I'm absolutely driven by collaboration -- the only thing that gets me through all of the above is the time I spend working with others. Not other filmmakers primarily -- them too, yes, but not first and foremost -- but rather people who do everything else. Actors. Visual artists. Writers. Musicians. (The musicians are the best of all -- I've associated with several since I started out, and I've always learned the most from them. There's a natural symbiosis, I think, between film and music, and it goes deeper than the obvious stuff.) When I work alone, I tend to drift, and forward movement is slow and difficult; when I work with others, I'm better able to focus and progress. And when I work with certain people, the act of artistic creation is like a nuclear reaction -- I've only met half a dozen or so about whom I can say this, but all I have to do is hang around them and my creativity spikes. I would swim across an ocean of bullshit to get to those people -- being around them is a privilege and the best thing in the world.

Anyway, more tomorrow.
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Saturday, April 08, 2006
Lump

I don't know why, but I've been feeling really uninspired this week -- not bad or depressed or anything, just really low-energy. I feel like someone let all the air out of my passion... pfffffff. I'm sure in another week or so I'll be back on top of things, but if I've been taciturn of late, it's because I just can't be bothered writing my thoughts down. You know how it is.

And I've been rolling a lot of thoughts and ideas around in my head lately -- if anything, I've been feeling intellectually voracious these last weeks. Having come off a year dedicated to tying old thoughts into a tidy little bow, now I'm (naturally) putting a lot of my energy into developing some new ones. I've been thinking a lot about the difference between art and intellect -- for example, intellectually I think I could be a kick-ass film writer, except that I can barely bring myself to actually write about film. Writing about it, y'see, is an intellectual exercise, but in my case film is my chosen artistic medium -- and art is something you do, not something you think about. Of course, the doing is usually, in my case, preceded by a protracted period of thinking about it, but it's a different kind of thought: it's about growth and development rather than dissection and analysis. I hate reading about film, too, except inasmuch as it helps me feed my own development. This is something I'm only now consciously realizing -- I always feel like I should be eager to read the writings of directors, and sometimes I am, but it's still an activity that's uncomfortably removed from "doing".

Would the rest of you artful people agree? Does this sound roughly accurate to you?

So now I'm thinking that while writing about film would still be a useful (and necessary) thing to undertake, maybe I'd be best off also picking some other medium -- one that I don't participate in and have no intention of participating in -- and writing about that instead. Or making films about it. Or, hell, both. There's no law that says I can't do both.

Planting seeds, planting seeds.

I'm also blaming my available workspace for my low productivity. I've gotten some writing done since I came back, and I've made a lot of notes, but I haven't accomplished as much as I'd like, or as much as I think I feasibly could. I think it's this chair and this desk. This room. The way the light streams(or more accurately, fails to stream) through the window. The intriguing but frankly ugly pattern on the wallpaper. Is that a cop-out? I think probably it is, but then again, I'm a lot more creatively productive in other places, and environment is actually pretty important. The single biggest batch of structural work I've done since I got back was at a noisy bar during a show -- I started out just trying to look busy, and somehow that turned into actually being busy, to the point that I ignored friends because I was on such a roll. If I could work in public all the time, I'd have a finished feature screenplay by now. But I just can't write a screenplay longhand. Notes I have to do longhand, but the actual writing I have to type. I can't write fast enough to keep up with my brain.
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Thursday, April 06, 2006
One More Time With Feeling

It's time to put up or shut up, pro-lifers.

Do you really want to see fewer abortions? Or are you, like those you follow, all big talk divorced from reality, and happy enough to make nice with the devil as long as he doesn't ask you to do anything too hard?

The Prevention First Act is sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), one of few congressional Democrats considered anti-abortion. The bill, which Reid introduced at the start of the Congress, has the support of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), presumptive front-runner in the 2008 presidential primary and 21 other Democrats.

The bill would prohibit group health plans from excluding contraceptive drugs, devices and outpatient services if they cover the cost of other prescription drugs and outpatient services. It would also require the secretary of health and human services to disseminate information on emergency contraception to healthcare providers and require hospitals receiving federal money to provide emergency contraception to victims of sexual assault.

The bill would also mandate that federally funded programs provide information about contraceptives that is medically accurate and includes data on health benefits and failure rates.

source

It's a simple, logical, reality-based plan: more contraception = fewer unwanted pregnancies = fewer abortions. You can have this, or you can have more useless abstinence-only programs, misleading sex education, and a blockade against emergency contraception -- all of which lead to more unwanted pregnancies and more abortions.

I'd think it would be a pretty simple choice. But then, I'm also used to watching Republicans do the exact opposite of whatever they say they're for. So I'll be waiting to see what you do.
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This Is What Repression Gets You

From now on, "GOP" stands for "Gross Old Perverts."

Man whores in the press corps, novels about young girls being raped by bears, girlfriend stranglers, O'Reilly's obscene phone calls, Santorum's weird obsession with "man-on-dog" sex, that other guy who admitted on the radio that he'd fucked animals; the strange anti-gay activists with intensely detailed, encyclopedic knowledge of the implausibly weird stuff they claim "average gays" get up to; the distressingly detailed rape scenarios posited by Sen. Napoli of South Dakota; the seemingly endless parade of fine, upstanding Republican Christian men in towns across America being arrested for feeling up little kids; and now this:

The deputy press secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was put on leave and his security clearance suspended on Wednesday after being arrested on charges of using the Internet to try to seduce a 14-year-old girl, an official said.

(...)

A statement issued by the sheriff's office said Doyle contacted a 14-year-old girl whose profile was posted on the Internet and initiated a sexually explicit conversation. The "girl" was actually an undercover Polk County detective.

It said Doyle gave his office phone number and his government-issued cell phone number. He also was accused of using the Internet to send pornographic movie clips and having explicit sexual conversations in online chats with the supposed girl.

(source)

And as if that weren't bad enough, the rationale given to Doyle for this "girl" never being in school was that she was in treatment for cancer.

What the fuck, Republicans? Seriously... what the fuck? Why can't one of your guys just get a nice, decent blowjob once in a while? Why does it always have to be about the really, really nasty stuff? Why can't your side just stick to good, clean, "safe, sane, and consenual" fun? Why always with the violence and humiliation angle? Y'all walk around spouting "family values this" and "abstinence only that," calling us the pervs... but all we want to do is enjoy ourselves. Your side seems to want to really hurt people.

What the fuck?
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Wednesday, April 05, 2006
The Funniest Thing I've Read This Week

David Icke -- former British footballer and TV presenter turned loonball -- decided at some point that the world is being run by "reptilians." The list of allegedly reptilian public figures is fascinating, not so much for the obvious choices as for the mind-bogglingly random ones. I mean, c'mon, what did Jim J. Bullock ever do to you?


a lizard, apparently


PS: Here, read some more about David Icke. God bless the Guardian for covering everything that ever mattered to anyone.
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Personal Service Announcement

So, like, I turned on my mobile phone tonight and found at least two messages that were a month old. I feel terrible -- these people must've thought I just didn't give a shit. But that couldn't be further from the truth! I do! I give many shits! Had I gotten their messages, I'd have called right back, I swear to god. You have to believe me.

Obviously, this means the problem lies with me. (Smithers is laughing sardonically at this one, having been around this block once or twice.)

The truth is, calling my mobile is probably the worst possible way to try to get a hold of me. Whereas I check my email at minimum four times a day, I check my mobile voicemail maybe every other month. I admit that I'm twitchy about phones -- I tend to use them only as a last resort when all my email options have been exhausted. People who've known me for a while will inevitably notice that while I frequently email, I almost never call. I'm not proud of it, and I'm not suggesting that this is a wise use of my resources. I'm just saying, it is what it is, and it's unlikely to change in the near future, so if anybody really needs to get my attention, the email is definitely the best way to go.

And if you're one of the people who left me a message ages and ages ago, please forgive me -- I love you, and I'd never just ignore you like that. You know that, right?
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Tuesday, April 04, 2006
Experiment

Yeah, I'm still here. I've just been listless the last few days -- I've got a few half-written posts in the mill, but I'm feeling a little uninspired.

I got over 200 hits yesterday just for that same old mention of you know who, so it's not like posting or not posting makes any difference to the overall health of this blog, at least not in quantitative terms.

We should turn this into a game -- anybody have any suggestions for phrases or word combinations that they'd like to see gratuitously posted on this website, just for the hell of seeing how many people come searching for them? I'd rather avoid the obvious tactic of stringing starlets' names together with red-button porn words -- that's too easy. I want to see how many people come looking for stuff like "clown fisting."

PS: Whatever happened to Ducky Doolittle, anyway? She was the shit.
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