Monday, June 30, 2008

Funny People On Funny People

Jerry Seinfeld on George Carlin's Life and Comedy - New York Times

You know, everything I've been reading about George Carlin this past week has made him seem like he was that rarest of beasts: a stand-up comic with some wisdom and warmth in his material. Not that Jerry Seinfeld is a cold heartless bastard, but...basically yeah. Also, unlike other famous funnymen whose goofy public personas, from what I've gathered, are miles away from their actual personalities (such as Jerry Lewis, Bill Murray, or Mike Myers), it sounds like Carlin the comic and Carlin the man were one and the same. Party on, dude.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

From My Cold, Dead, Well Manicured Hands

In case you weren't paying attention today, the Supremest Court in the land just ruled a couple of hours ago on something that every American already knew: under the second amendment, we the people of this great nation have the individual right to own an bear arms. This came in a not-so-surprising 5-4 decision as most Supreme Court decisions do.

The case was brought before the court by a Washington DC security officer who (also not surprisingly) lived in a bad DC neighborhood, but was forced to leave his hand gun at work. Just so we are all on the same page with my little rant here; we have a man, Dick Heller, who Washington DC trusts to brandish a gun during normal business hours as a security guard (I believe for one of the federal court buildings in DC), but tells him he isn't trustworthy enough to protect himself or his family while off duty.

Personally I've never agreed with DC's hand gun laws, or any other gun ban based on the skewed logic that if law abiding citizens aren't allowed to carry or own hand guns there will be less crime and wrongful death, which is the case with DC's ban. DC happens to have one of the largest crime rates in the country, especially with gun related killings. I know San Francisco tried to get something similar passed a little while ago, but it was shut down almost immediately as it should have.

On a related note, the Supreme Court also ruled yesterday in another nail biting 5-4 decision that it was not constitutionally accepted to give child rapists the death penalty. Well, you can't be right all the time.

A Slightly Flawed Storm

Why does everyone have to say "it is a like a perfect storm" when they describe several things happening at once? It's like some kind of mental disease. If you want to explain that a situation is exacerbated by a confluence of negative events, then just come out and say it. There's a perfect storm of starvation causing factors in Somalia according to some guy on NPR. Salon quotes a 'noise pollution activist' saying "I pretty much live near a 'perfect storm' of noise pollution." There's a perfect storm--of storms in Ohio.

This was voted one of the most overused phrases of 2007 but it's even worse now. Maybe it's an activation word for hypnotized terrorist sleeper cells controlled by the Bavarian Illuminati and supported by Zionist postman cabals. With skyrocketing oil and food prices, the armed forces occupied in Iraq, a submissive Democratic congress, the lame duck president to end all lame ducks, and many other suspiciously coincidental events occurring in quick succession there will be no stopping them.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Herr Zrbo's New Favorite Blog

Move over ladies of 280, Herr Zrbo's got a new favorite blog. Oh yes, it's puerile and sexist, but the newest (blog)spot in town is where all the hip cats are at: TV Anchor Babes. It's got the lowdown on all your ratings-boosting news anchors. Who says networks need to cover news when they've got these lovely ladies to delight your eyes! Rising oil prices? Jihadist wars? Which branch of the government is spying on you? Huh, what... I was distracted. For the record, KTVU Channel 2's Gasia Mikaelian takes the cake in my book. You can't go wrong with an Armenian, just ask Little Earl.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Adventures In Rap #5: Run-D.M.C.

According to AMG's Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Run-D.M.C. are "hip-hop's Beatles." I don't think that comparison works at all. He writes, "Run-D.M.C. were the Beatles of rap because they signaled a cultural and musical change for the music, ushering it into its accepted form; neither group originated the music, but they gave it the shape known today." That may be true, but listening to Run-D.M.C. in 2008, I can't say that their music strikes me as being all that...good. Maybe they are more like "hip-hop's early silent films": historically groundbreaking and tremendously influential in their time, sure, but...I tend to prefer my movies with sound these days.

Rap's detractors like to say that hip-hop is just noise and not music. The thing is, with Run-D.M.C., I don't know if that dismissive statement is too far off the mark. Most of their songs really don't have hooks or melodies or anything of that nature. I mean, their crossover collaboration with Aerosmith (a revamped cover of "Walk This Way") ends up being one of their best songs simply by default, given that it is an actual song with an actual melody. Otherwise, there aren't too many Run-D.M.C. songs I'd be inclined to listen to twice. Rap scholars also make much of the group's hybrid rap-rock sound, but it seems to me that the rap that followed owes little to this almost random stylistic direction. What do heavy metal guitars have to do with the young black urban experience?

I mean, I feel like I have to squint my eyes and tilt my head to see exactly what made Run-D.M.C. so much more grittier and more credible than the other acts of their era. Erlewine writes that "Run-D.M.C. helped move rap from a singles-oriented genre to an album-oriented one -- they were the first hip-hop artists to construct full-fledged albums, not just collections with two singles and a bunch of filler." As far as I can tell, he is correct. But if Kurtis Blow and Grandmaster Flash albums resemble those early Motown collections with names like The Supremes Today and The Four Tops Sing For You, Run-D.M.C. albums don't exactly strike me as What's Going Ons or Talking Books, you know what I mean?

And their lyrical approach is sort of stuck halfway between the engaging cheesiness of Sugar Hill era rap and the nasty, in-your-face harrowism of the more political late '80s rap. I mean, Kurtis Blow may be cheesy, but nobody calls Kurtis Blow a lyrical genius. In other words, Run.D.M.C.'s lyrics are not bad enough to be entertainingly bad, but probably not good enough to actually be good. An example from "King of Rock":

They call us ill, we're gettin' iller
There's no one chiller
It's not Michael Jackson
And this is not Thriller
As one def rapper, I know I can hang
I'm Run from Run-D.M.C., like Kool from Kool and the Gang
Roll to the rock, rock to the roll
D.M.C. stands for devastating mic control
You can't touch me with a ten foot pole
And I even made the devil sell me his soul

This is not terrible, but it is not Chuck D. Now, you will hear Chuck D go on and on about how Run-D.M.C. completely blew him away in 1984, but influence cannot be the only measure of a band's quality. The Beatles are not just the best group in rock because they were the most influential, but also because they remain the most musically rewarding. I mean, maybe if you combined Public Enemy, N.W.A., De La Soul and the Beastie Boys into one big group, then you might have something that you could possibly call "the Beatles of rap." As is it, I'm certainly glad Run-D.M.C. moved the genre along, but after reading Erlewine's comments in the All Music Guide, I have to say I expected...more.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Return to Sender

So the AP reported yesterday about a woman in Germany who was denied her appeal for child support because she over a month late filing. Her reason, you might ask. She has a phobia of "Official Letters" so the several correspondences that the court sent her (official like) were left unanswered for almost six months. The court did not accept her phobia as an excuse, and denied her appeal.

There are a couple of things I like about this article. One; the court didn't accept her excuse because she made the mistake of saying that this was an affliction she had been suffering from for a long time. They figured "a long time" meant she had plenty of time to seek help for this mind boggling illness. Two; the woman said that she never sought help because she was too embarrassed about it. Are you kidding me? Instead of privately seeking psychiatric help, skirting the chance of anyone finding out your nut-ball condition, you throw your silly phobia out there in the public courts so we can all partake in the laughter? Priceless.

I bring this article up because I am excited that there is still some common sense and reason left in a court somewhere in the world. I can't help but think that if this situation had occurred somewhere in the U.S. she would have been given a free pass, and her appeal would have been granted.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Hitchens + Hillary = Hilarity

Don't blame sexism for Hillary Clinton's defeat - By Christopher Hitchens, Slate

Favorite passages:

"But now Sen. Clinton's partisans are crying foul and saying that the Democratic primary voters, incited by the media, only rejected her for something known as sexism. This indistinct and vague offense, portentously invoked in many recent articles and 'news analyses,' is supposed to be revealed (as a New York Times report on its own reporting so masochistically phrased it) in such outrageous ways as the following: 'The New York Times wrote about Mrs. Clinton's "cackle." ' "

"Replay some of Sen. Clinton's less spontaneous moments of laughter during the Democratic debates. How would you describe them? To refer to them as merely mirthful would be to do violence to language. The word cackle, which is really an onomatopoeia, is easily the best, because it conveys what her awkward noise sounded like."

"Going as far as it dared on the point, the same sternly disapproving New York Times report found the courage to say that the Washington Post, in mentioning Sen. Clinton, had also alluded to 'her cleavage.' Living as we do in an age of the easily offended and the aggressively innocent, we were not regarded as sufficiently adult to be informed whether this cleavage was in the front or the back. (Something in me makes me hope very devoutly that it was not the latter.) But I think I see the emerging pattern. People who favor Sen. Clinton are allowed to stress her gender and sex at all times and to make a gigantic point of it for its own sake. They are even allowed to proclaim that she should be the president of the United States in time of war only because she would be the first vagina-possessing person to hold the job. But—and here's the catch—people who do not favor her are not even allowed to allude to the fact that she is female and has feminine characteristics."

I think I might start using that as a pick-up line: "Hey, vagina-possessing person..." Or, alternately, "How 'bout you and me...cackle a little cleavage, yeah?"

Monday, June 16, 2008

More Monkeys

I finally got off my butt this weekend and created my own blog. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, anthropoids and anthromorphs, I give you Ludology 101. As the oh-so-clever name suggests, I'll be focusing on videogame related topics, discussing such wonderous things like the best way to take BR3 on Lockout from glass and whether the proper spelling is "video game" or "videogame". This way there'll be less gaming-related nonsense on the Cosmic American. Now I just need to find me some monkeys.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

M. Night Shyamalan: Visionary Or Dweeb?

So my co-worker wanders over to my cubicle the other day and starts ranting about how annoying it is that reviewers and fans keep throwing unnecessarily harsh sentiments M. Night Shyamalan's way: "So, fine, maybe he's made a couple of failures but at least he's trying to make an interesting, creative movie each time. I mean, why do people rip on M. Night Shyamalan when a guy like Michael Bay's movies are ten times worse?"

I will personally confess that I do not rip on M. Night Shyamalan. To be fair, I have only seen two of his films: The Sixth Sense and Signs. I will say, however, that given the career path he has decided to take after the success of The Sixth Sense, and given the types of stories he has decided to tell, I feel like, even though I have not seen most of his movies, it's safe to say that M. Night Shyamalan and I do not share the same ideas about great cinema. Over time, he's revealed himself to be a more conventional and genre-oriented director than The Sixth Sense might have suggested he'd be. I mean, for all we knew, he was on his way to becoming the next David Lynch. Instead, he's gunning for more of a Dean Koontz sort of trip. I tend to gravitate (though not always) toward directors who make fiercely personal, emotionally naked films. I suppose you could say that Shyamalan's films are fiercely personal and emotionally naked in their own way, but to me they just seem like that guy in the fiction writing workshop who's trying too hard to come up with something totally weird and amazing when he should just write a little more from his soul. Which is all just to say that I may not admire the man's work, but I don't feel any particular animosity toward him.

I mean, what exactly is at the root of people's "ripping" on him? Is it because his films display so much promise but then consistently "squander" it? Is it because he is a master of certain aspects of filmmaking but inept in others? What say you, oh opinionated reader?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

And I Thought I Knew The '70s

I clicked on the All Music Guide's "1977: The Year in Music" feature with a sense of both curiousity and pride. Curiousity because I feel, as they do, that 1977 was a particularly rich year for music and I am always curious to read about what other enthusiasts have to say on that subject. Pride because I tend to think of myself as someone who is a bit of an expert on the creations of that era. So it was quite the ego-deflator when I took one look at their list and realized...I barely know 1977 at all! Below are some albums mentioned in this article that I have heard of but never actually heard:

Ian Dury - New Boots and Panties!!
Peter Gabriel - Peter Gabriel
Iggy Pop - The Idiot
Iggy Pop - Lust for Life
Thin Lizzy - Bad Reputation
The Saints - (I’m) Stranded
Suicide - Suicide
Weather Report - Heavy Weather
Dennis Wilson - Pacific Ocean Blue

Below are some albums I have never heard but am pretty sure I never need to hear:

Boz Scaggs - Down Two Then Left
Rush - A Farewell to Kings
Barry Manilow - Live
Ramp - Come into Knowledge
Steeleye Span - Storm Force Ten

But then - but then! - are the albums I didn't even know existed. The legend himself, Stephen Thomas Erlewine, surely takes the cake with his list of "15 Overlooked LPs":

American Flyer - Spirit of a Woman
Amazing Rhythm Aces - Toucan Do It Too
Clover - Unavailable
Rick Danko - Rick Danko
Eddie & the Hot Rods - Thriller
Kursaal Flyers - Five Live Kursaals
Milk ‘n’ Cookies - Milk ‘n’ Cookies
Frankie Miller - Full House
The Motors - The Motors 1
Pezband - Pezband
Blue Ash - Front Page News
The Rubinoos - The Rubinoos
The Scruffs - Wanna Meet the Scruffs?
Shoes - Black Vinyl Shoes
Dwight Twilley - Twilley Don’t Mind

Milk 'n' Cookies? Pezband? What in the Jimmy Carter? I guess I just have to call it quits and bow down to the master. That said, here are my personal faves from that most entralling of years (and it's not quite as original a list as some people's, apparently):

David Bowie - Low
Elvis Costello - My Aim Is True
The Damned - Damned Damned Damned
Billy Joel - The Stranger
Pink Floyd - Animals
The Ramones - Leave Home
Talking Heads - Talking Heads: 77
Wire - Pink Flag

Honorable mentions go to Nevermind The Bollocks, The Clash, and Rumours, which are all great albums that deserve the acclaim they've received but for some reason do not hold the same place in my heart as the ones listed above.

Wow, that's almost more than all my favorite albums from the '80s - combined.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Michael Clayton (Gilroy)

There is something to be said for modesty. Michael Clayton does not shoot for the moon, but it also does not overreach. It did not blow my mind, but on its own terms, I found it immensely satisfying.

George Clooney, talented actor though he is, must have a tricky time choosing his roles. After all, there are only so many kinds of characters such a classically gorgeous human being can convincingly play. Philip Seymour Hoffman he is not. Then again, I suppose if he had the inclination, he could "uglify" himself a la Nicole Kidman and Charlize Theron, but why bother? Come to think of it, he did gain some weight for Syriana but did he really look that much worse? No matter. He can play a guy in a suit and he can play it well. There is also something uniquely sympathetic about the cog in the corporate machine who suddenly finds himself thrust into a moral dilemma. My life may ultimately bear very little resemblance to Michael Clayton's, but damn it, I just liked the guy.

Tom Wilkinson is a hoot as a man who is both totally off his rocker and yet utterly sane. Tilda Swinton is memorably icy as the ethically dubious lawyer with perspiration problems. And the late Sydney Pollack ends his acting career in style as the seen-it-all, done-it-all head of the firm. Tony Gilroy, the film's director, wrote the screenplays for the Bourne films, and although I have only seen the first Bourne film, I have to say that as enjoyable as that franchise may be, Mr. Gilroy should direct a few more movies and write a few less Bourne screenplays. Because he can direct a terrific movie.

Also, never underestimate the value of a good last shot.

"Film critic" rating: ****
"Little Earl" rating: ***1/2

Friday, June 6, 2008

Ebert, Sex And The City, And Dog Masturbation

Good to see the Big E back on the scene, as he muses over movies which he knows are not in the least meant for him, i.e. Sex And The City. You see, the man understands that as long as he has to write a review of a stupid blockbuster, he may as well go and have fun with it. He gets particularly strong mileage out of the film's suggestion of female dog masturbation. An excerpt from the initial review:

The dog gets friendly with every pillow, stuffed animal and ottoman and towel, and here’s the funny thing, it ravishes them male-doggy-style. I went to and typed in “How do female dogs masturbate?” and did not get a satisfactory answer, although it would seem to be: “Just like all dogs do, but not how male dogs also do.”

Ah yes, but if you assumed the subject would have exhausted itself right there, you'd be mistaken. In a post on his new blog, Ebert writes:

Oddly enough, searching the AM's Google Mail account for questions about 'Sex and the City,' I found that all the messages, every single one, dealt only with matters of masturbating female dogs. But surely I was mistaken? Surely with such a popular film there would be messages about something else, especially since it was a popular movie, my review was negative, and my hit-counting software indicated that tens of thousands had read it? Was the only thing they wanted to write me about the leisure activity of Samantha's pet dog?

It appears that inquiring minds want to know. He goes on to suggest that if a sequel were to be made of Sex And The City, it ought to star dogs:

The question is, what dog would it star? Here at the movie desk we stop at nothing to inform our readers, and so I can tell you that Baby is played by a dog named Gidget Gormley, who has countless web pages in her honor, mostly pink. Search as I did, I found no information about how Gidget was trained to masturbate on demand. But since Gidget is billed as "the world's cutest dog," maybe all it took was a mirror.

Finally, after a young male reader writes in to defend the artistry of the original show and suggest Ebert give it a try if he ever has the opportunity, Roger responds:

I regret, Ian, that I will never have the opportunity. Wild horses could not drag me to the opportunity. SATC is so definitely not my cup of tea that, for me, it is not tea at all, and does not come in a cup.

Oh Roger, you're such a cad!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Ay Dios Mio

Car crashes into bike race in Mexico -

The Wonderful World of Patents

For those who don't know, I work in a patent firm. Surrounded by quirky lawyers following an extremely linear and boring process of bringing patents to grant, I've processed a lot of patents in my short time here. Every so often I stumble across a particularly bizarre or oddly worded patent description that I just have to jot down. Today I've decided to share some of these with you. Ladies and gentlemen, here are a few of the things you could have invented and made your millions on:

"Processing architecture having passive threads and active semaphores"

Huh?? Perhaps the inventor liked using those semaphore flags!

"Carry-skip adder having merged carry-skip cells with sum cells"

Try saying that ten times fast, er... skipper.

"Nodma Cache"

Duuude, I just got this cache of some killer nodma, wanna come over and smoke some with me?

"Detecting Virtualization"

This is one of my faves, just how is a gerund and an intangible concept a patent? This is like saying "Seeking Amalgamation" - I just don't see how this is anything tangible.

"Wound capicator with ball-and-lead configuration"

Someone must have been spending too much time at the Tokien convention, isn't this just a mace?

And finally, what inspired me to write this post, my work partner came across this one yesterday:

"Method of making a condom by blow extrusion"


Sunday, June 1, 2008

Baseball Card Bust aka You Don't Know What You Got Till Thirty Years Later

Buddhism speaks of the difficulty, in meditation, of controlling one's own thought processes. If I were to say to myself, for example, "Don't think of an elephant," what am I doing at that moment but thinking of an elephant? And so it is with the folly-filled world of sports memorabilia, as this article in Slate (regarding the coveted 1989 Ken Griffey, Jr. Upper Deck rookie card) so vividly reminded me.

Many were the nights my father beguiled my brother and I with the (possibly apocryphal) tale of how his mother threw out all his baseball cards in a pique of the housecleaning spirit. "God, can you imagine how much those cards would be worth today?" my father griped. "I can't believe she just...threw them away." But of course, who at the time could have anticipated that those cards would ever be worth more than the gum with which they came? And who at MGM in 1939 would have even bothered saving any outtakes from that lousy Wizard of Oz movie? Now we're treated to deleted scenes from What Happens In Vegas and You Don't Mess With The Zohan on needless "special edition" DVDs, and all those cards my brother and I saved are hardly worth anything at all because every other early '90s baseball card collector was thinking the same exact thing we were. As Darren Rovell writes, "Collectors' hands would shake when they saw Griffey's face in their pack, confident that this card would be the key to financing a college education." Now the card is only worth about $275 max. Hey, community college can be a very rewarding educational experience.

Back before the days of fantasy baseball, card collecting was the ultimate marriage of athletic achievement and naked capitalism. Oh what fools we were, fondling our Topps Jose Cansecos and Donruss Nolan Ryans like they were stocks and bonds. "When Griffey welcomed collectors to the very first Upper Deck set, investment was just about to trump fun in the card world. Kids had started putting their collections in plastic sheets and hard cases rather than bicycle spokes and shoe boxes, and investors would cross-check every card picked from a pack against the latest issue of Beckett's price guide." Ah yes, Beckett's price guide. I'll never forget the day I touched a tender nerve in Jack - owner of Jack's Cards in Strawflower Center. Jack was like a stoner Dennis Eckersley: long black hair, '70s 'stache, thin and wiry. On the whole he knew his stuff, but after a couple of months I couldn't help but notice that, say, a Darryl Strawberry listed in Beckett's at 50 cents was being sold at Jack's for $1. With the wisdom of age I have learned to keep such observations to myself. However, at the age of ten I was known to speak my mind, and after coming across another particularly glaring price discrepancy, I muttered under my breath, "This place is a rip-off." Jack seized the Beckett's from my hand. "Let me tell you something, kid! Beckett's is not the only authority on baseball cards, all right?" I backed away. "Beckett' not God!" He chucked it across the room. "And I do everything I make sure you guys get the best cards at the best prices know what? If you think I'm a rip-off, then you can go to some other card shop and buy your cards there, all right?" Tactfully, I kept my mouth shut and wandered to the other side of the store. My father came by and apologized.

Years later, after Beatles books had dethroned card collecting as my diversion of choice, I brought a Beckett's guide home with me, just to see how many millions my 11-year-old self had had the foresight to generate. Not only had the value of most of my cards remained the same, but some had even gone down. And so, like those miners in the Gold Rush who came just a little too late, and had to sweat and scrape just to mine enough gold to pay the bills, it dawned on me that I might as well not have bothered at all.