Monday, March 23, 2009

Or Some Blog...

Jacob Weisberg, in SLATE
“I'm doing my best not to become a Kindle bore.”

Too late, pal.

Twitter Twating
I joined Twitter, and tweeted: “Using Twitter for the first time.” For some reason, somebody responded to that. I mean, God, I bored myself typing it. I have no idea what to do with Twitter, but I signed up anyway. What’s the difference between Twitter and Instant Messenger? Why is it suddenly not only a big deal, but an attractor of followers who seem kind of cult-y, if you know what I mean? Going to update my Facebook status now. Not.

“Or some shit…”
I’ve noticed a habit with young males, at least from overhearing their conversations, that they frequently qualify a statement with “…or some shit” at the end. As in, “He was going downtown, or some shit,” or “he was drinking a beer or some shit,” or “she said she didn’t want to see me any more, or some shit.”

I noticed that this qualifier doesn’t really qualify anything. The original statement is perfectly unambiguous. He was going downtown. He was drinking a beer. She said she didn’t want to see me any more.

The intention seems to be to apply a layer of urban insouciance to statements of fact. The speaker cannot be bothered to vouch for the truth of what he is saying, he’s just, you know, throwing it out there. Whatever.

But I was on the couch of an evening, as is my wont, and found myself applying this qualifier to statements made by people on television, silently to myself, at first, and then – sensing that the Dread Bride might find it funny – out loud. My, we were amused!

I’m listening to the radio now. It works with best with pundits and newscasters. It’s easy to do. When you hear “We need to reduce regulatory obstacles,” add “or some shit.” “Obama’s top budget officials seem confident they can deal with this immediate difficulty. Or some shit.” My, you will be amused!

Shootings in Oakland, Where I Live
Four cops dead, for no apparent reason, shot by a guy who probably should have still been in prison. Between the first shooting, and the second, the shooter acquired (somehow) an AK-47. Where did that come from? I’m not a gun control kind of guy, really. I grew up with guns. But they were .22s, shotguns, and like that. Why should ANYBODY outside of the armed forces have a machine gun? And the killings in Mexico? Thousands dead? That’s because people can’t get machine guns in Mexico, but they can certainly buy them here. And smuggle them down.

I keep trying to dredge up some enthusiasm for our post-Bush world, but what can I say? I’m going to be sixty in October, have no money (but I’m debt-free!), want to drown Octomom in her own litter (Horrid Wife calls her “Octopussy”), set fire to AIG, and half of Obama’s administration (which half?), and make the Twitter, Tweets, Twaters, and Twitterverse just. Go. Away. We are turning into Smurfs. Evil Smurfs.

Did I mention Afghanistan?

From AP
“A woman accused of taking more than $73,000 from the Arlington church where she was an administrative assistant blames the devil. Papers filed with a theft charge Wednesday in Snohomish County Superior Court say the 62-year-old Arlington woman told detectives ‘Satan had a big part in the theft.’”

He held the bag, politely.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Swinging computer generated blog

A Mom speaks out.
The Fearsome Wife sent me a link to a conservative mommyblogger’s review of WATCHMEN. She didn’t like it much. It’s bad for children.

She also wrote, re WATCHMEN: “…[T]he Soviets are about to nuke America. It's 1985 and Nixon is President. We've won in Vietnam. Oh, and Henry Kissinger has a Russian accent. And Ronald Reagan is thinking of running for President in 1988. Wow, isn't that cool that they got it wrong on purpose? I'm so amazed at this ‘high-brow art’ of deliberately getting dates and timelines wrong, you know, just to be ‘artistic,’ and get the drooling of the critics. That is sooooo genius. Like way totally cool.” Apparently, she has difficulty grasping the concept of “alternative reality.” And she also didn’t notice that critics, by and large, far from drooling over WATCHMEN, pretty much all hated it.

She also used the phrase “computer generated penis” three times. Disapprovingly. That is to say, unlike the vast majority of Americans, she does not approve of computer generated penises. When it comes to computer generated penises, she’s against them and doesn’t care who knows it.
Oh, the first time she refers to Dr Manhattan’s “swinging computer-generated penis.” The second time: “computer generated penis swinging about.” The third: “…terrible computer generated images (including the penis).” I wonder: if it had not swung, but remained perfectly still, would she have cut the penis a little more slack?

Anthony Lane, in The New Yorker, on WATCHMEN:
“Last and hugest is Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), who is buff, buck naked, and blue, like a porn star left overnight in a meat locker.”

My daughter, on WATCHMEN:
“It was awesome.”

The Ongoing Crisis
Right after 9/11, you’ll recall, President Bush urged us to get out and shop. I found this a curious way to respond to the murder of hundreds of people, but by coincidence I did find myself going to Macy’s on September 12. I needed a pair of pants. There was nobody in the men’s department except me. There were two clerks. As one was ringing up my order, I noticed the other clerk, way down at the other end of the men’s department, marching around his workstation to the strains of patriotic music that was blaring over the store’s sound system.

Well, we have a new President now, and he’s urging us to, I don’t know really, cut down and spend at the same time, kind of.

I’ve been trying to wrap my poor brain around the whole economy thing. I’m not good with money, but I always thought I knew what it was at least. Now I realize that nobody knows what money is. Anybody who claims to know what money is is a fool or a liar.

I’m reminded of a minor digerati phenomenon, the Singularity. This is a belief that at some point (the Singularity) machines will achieve self-awareness, and either destroy us utterly, or usher in a new epoch in which we actually become machines ourselves. It’s kind of the geek version of the Rapture.

Maybe that’s what happened with money. Money has become so complicated and opaque that is has achieved its own reality and its own volition. In the future, we won’t spend money any more. It will just spend us.

Bubble gum 2.0
I sometimes think that modern day product development is focused on one central question: “What don’t we need right now? Let’s make it.”

Take Topps, the bubble gum card company. I don’t think the cards come with gum any more. Remember that gum? It was like pink cardboard sprinkled with sugar. You chewed it for roughly three minutes before it turned into a mass with the consistency and taste of tile grout, or spackle. And you were left with a picture of an athlete you’ve never heard of. Luckily, you had a friend who collected the things. You’d swap him the card for a plastic cowboy, or a marble, and he’d put the card carefully in a shoebox, where it would be alphabetized, and coded by team, and he would grow up to sell his collection on eBay for thousands of dollars, providing him the seed money to start his own company that would eventually earn him millions of dollars.

You wouldn’t think Topps would mess with that system, would you? Well, profits are down. Baseball cards, once a billion dollar a year business, now pull in around 200 million a year. There are a couple reasons for that. One is that the player stats so beloved by baseball fans can be easily found online. Another is, perhaps, that baseball players are so pumped up on steroids that the stats are meaningless.

Be that is it may, Topps, which is now owned by former Disney chief Michael Eisner, has come up with a new baseball card. If you point a webcam at it, a 3D avatar of the player on the card shows up on your computer screen. Rotate the card and the player on the screen rotates. You can use your keyboard to animate the figure to perform simple batting or pitching actions. Wow, apparently.

The trouble is, this new card requires a webcam and a computer to work. How many eight year old boys have those things, and if they do, are they really going to spend their free time watching some cartoon benchwarmer strike out? No. They’re going to make a video of themselves lip-synching to a bubble gum pop song, and post it on YouTube. They’ll be famous for two months, and then sink back into bitter obscurity, without even a shoe box to show for their trouble.

I think Topps should focus on the gum. Surely, with today’s technology, you can create a piece of gum that actually has flavor, for one thing, and maintains that flavor for longer than thirty seconds. And if you want to create little 3D baseball players, why not put them on the gum itself? The act of chewing will animate the player. Kids, amaze your friends! Open your mouth, and everybody around you will see a little tiny A Rod, for example, balanced on your tongue, and swinging a bat. And even if the technology doesn’t quite work, the animation fails, and you have a little dead baseball player in your mouth, you can still say, “Ha ha! Made you look!” And that, my friends, is what childhood is all about.

From an old notebook.
"Mycroft Fonzarelli."

The Fonz’ smarter brother, I think. I was going to do something with that, supposedly, but never got anything done beyond writing down the name. Sometimes, perhaps, that suffices.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Blog comes in like a lion.

Same Oh
I watched President’s Obama’s speech to Congress, and was satisfied that he is acting Presidential. I’m not going out and buying any Obama commemorative plates any time soon, or putting his poster in my window, or weeping with joy over the stimulus package, but still….

However, watching Alexandra Pelosi’s documentary on HBO (“Right America: Feeling Wronged”), I was reminded that there is a whole world out there, beyond my irritating little Bay Area bubble of semi-lefties, cynics, and eco-twits, of angry conservatives who really really hate those who are not angry conservatives.

And there are many who fear that President Obama is taking the United States to hell in a handcart. (Even if that’s true, those many seem to forget that the handcart is not of his making, nor is the hell towards which we are careening. I’m certain he would love to have his own special handcart that runs on solar power, but you have to go to hell with the cart you are dealt.)

Still, it baffles me that in the wake of the successful passing of the stimulus package, some conservatives are claiming victory. I found this, for example:

"If Senate Republicans show a unified voice in opposing the stimulus package, it will be a clear victory," says Richard Viguerie, chairman of the conservative grassroots Web site "Not only will it undermine Obama's determination for bipartisan support, it will show the American public that Republicans are the clear alternative to Democrats—a remarkable change from the years of the Bush administration when that line was blurred."

I found that on the conservative grassroots website,, Richard Viguerie’s website, as part of an article written by Richard Viguerie. A self-closed information loop! Wow!

Rick Santelli, CNBC correspondent, broadcasting live, made the viral video circuit with his anti-Obama rant: "This is America! How many of you people want to pay for your neighbors' mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can't pay their bills? ... President Obama, are you listening?" That he issued this anti-enconium from the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade seems to be an irony lost on those who think Santelli tore the new administration a new one. I mean, there he was surrounded by a bunch of white guys trading in futures and options and derivatives, the kind of guys who in their eagerness and fondness for unique financial instruments helped create the mortgage crisis in the first place. Their shouts of approval for Mr. Santelli’s outburst struck this viewer as more pathetic than stirring.

Santelli 2
Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, responding to queries about Santelli’s remarks, suggested that Santelli take the plan, "download it, hit print and begin to read it."

Santelli appeared on “The G. Gordon Liddy Show,” and agreed with Liddy’s on-air claim that Gibbs was making a “veiled threat.”

When he appeared on “Today,” host Matt Lauder asked him if he was serious about that.

Santelli said, "Ok, this is more about the feelings my wife had when she watched the body language and listened to what he was saying." To which Matt Lauer responded: "But this is the White House Press Secretary. You think he's going to threaten you on national television?"

Everything now really means something else. It is all shadows and symbols, and coded messages. That only your wife can read.

Monkey Business
This brings us to the flap over the cartoon in the New York Post. The day before it was published a chimpanzee had escaped in Connecticut, and was shot dead by police. So the cartoon showed a dead chimpanzee in a pool of blood on the street, with two bullet holes in its chest, and two cops: one with a smoking gun, and the other one saying, “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.”

Al Sharpton and others immediately jumped on this cartoon, calling it “racist,” that it was comparing President Obama to an ape, and encouraging his assassination. The Post issued an apology, explaining that the cartoon was a reference to the chimpanzee in Connecticut, and was intended to mock the stimulus package. (It’s so stupid, you see, an ape could have written it. Get it?) Critics were not mollified, and called upon people to boycott the Post, and shut it down.

Well, in the first place, though it has now become known as the “monkey cartoon,” an ape is not a monkey. It’s obvious that the cartoonist was reviving an old trope: “A monkey could draw that,” or “A chimpanzee could write better than that,” or “My three-year-old child could paint a better picture.” Because that old trope is always true, and always funny as hell.

In the second place, President Obama did not write the stimulus bill. A team of lawyers did. Or maybe a hundred chimpanzees. I don’t know.

In the third place, that is about the clumsiest punch line I’ve ever read. Punchier would have been “Who’s going to write the next stimulus bill?” On second thought, no. There is no way to make a punch line that includes the words “stimulus bill” funny.

In the fourth place, the cartoon is kind of grotesque. Why would the cartoonist think a bullet-ridden dead chimpanzee in a pool of blood amusing?

Headline: Will Web readers pay for news?
No. They spent all their money on ring tones.