Thursday, January 29, 2009

Stories of the Decline

This is the end
Beautiful friend, the end
Of our elaborate plans
The End

You don't pull out a Doors quote for just any run of the mill bloggage. Oh no, a Doors quote demands something so absurd, so humorously evil, that nothing less will do. To what do I refer? Mortgage backed securities, of course.

And this brings us back to that article I linked up there, "The End," by Micheal Lewis. Lewis wrote Liar's Poker about his time working as a trader at Salomon Brothers in the late '80s. He writes about another Dorothea of the modern investment world, figuring out that the man behind the curtain is a fraud and figuring how best to profit from the knowledge. I'm another step removed from the whole process, having done nothing involving finance other than overdraw my meager and beleaguered bank account a few times. But I can't help but gawk at the wreckage. There is an unearned feeling of moral superiority that comes of it - I was right to major in English rather than Business! English may be equally bogus, but at least I didn't taint myself by making any money off of it! Or something like that.

The best criticisms come from within. Not because of insider knowledge, although that helps. Insiders can properly convey the emotional rush of the situation. How thrilling it must have been to realize that a significant portion of the world economy was a sham. The child thrills to discover that there is no tooth fairy, and grins within at talk of Santa Claus. The adults don't and they've been lying to you, but that's okay because now anything is possible - or nothing, but that doesn't come for a few years. It's the whole fucking point of The Wizard of Oz and something of the point of Alice in Wonderland.

Now don't accuse me of invented psychobabble, Lewis acknowledges the connection:

"But I didn’t argue with him. For just as you revert to being about nine years old when you visit your parents, you revert to total subordination when you are in the presence of your former C.E.O. John Gutfreund was still the King of Wall Street, and I was still a geek. He spoke in declarative statements; I spoke in questions.

But as he spoke, my eyes kept drifting to his hands. His alarmingly thick and meaty hands. They weren’t the hands of a soft Wall Street banker but of a boxer. I looked up. The boxer was smiling—though it was less a smile than a placeholder expression. And he was saying, very deliberately, “Your…fucking…book.”

I smiled back, though it wasn’t quite a smile.

“Your fucking book destroyed my career, and it made yours,” he said."

What's the ultimate moral status of one who profits from the evil he reveals? It's certainly better than one who says nothing. And it certainly made me want to read the book, which in this English major's opinion is never a bad thing.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sadly Not That Kind Of Collapse

Don't tell me I'm the only one who clicked on MSN and saw the headline "Icelandic Government Collapses," followed by the word "Video," and thought, "Oh my God, how many people were crushed to death by massive sheets of ice in the ensuing destruction?" After only a couple of moments I realized, "Oh...they meant the collapse of the governmental coalition, not the collapse of an actual building. Oops, my bad." Honestly, I was expecting to see video footage of Icelandic politicians dodging humongous crystal slabs a la Marlon Brando in the first Superman. Otherwise, what kind of footage was it really going to be? Just some guy in a suit talking policy? Lame.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Why Are People So Stupid?

Ok, this is really more of me ranting about some pet peeves I have, but everyday of my life I seem to encounter the stupidest people. Sometimes I'm tempted to directly confront these foolish fools to ask them the reasoning behind their actions. Now, I'm sure there's stuff I do that pisses people off, but sometimes it's hard not to think I'm the only sane person on this planet. Here's a few examples of what I'm talking about:

- This guy at my work cannot, for the life of him, park his car into a parking spot properly. Maybe he found a way to break the conditioning when he was learning to drive, but 4/5 days of the week I come into work this bozo has parked his car in such a way that he's taken up two parking spots. No, not just in a just-barely-over-the-line kind of way, I'm talking about lining the center of his car up with the white line so that he's equally taking up two whole spots. Who is this guy? Did he not get the memo on how to park, is it really that difficult to figure out??

- People who don't use their goddamned turn-signals. Like I'm supposed to have a psychic connection that you wanted to merge in front of me. It's even worse when they use their turn-signal and DON'T go the direction they're indicating. I got pulled over by a cop once when I was turning left at an intersection and the car coming in the opposite direction had his right turn signal on, so I foolishly presumed that he would turn, but instead he continued to go straight as I turned in front of him, honking at me like I was the one to blame. The cop, sitting at an angle where he couldn't see our turn signals, thought I had turned in front of the guy going straight without yielding first, and proceeded to pull me over. Please, when driving use your turn signal and use it properly!

- As I'm using the urinal at work to relieve myself another co-worker walks in and waits for me to finish up. I do so and flush the urinal. Then he walks over and flushes it again before commencing. Hey buddy, I just flushed it, did you not hear the big whoosh sound it made? Or is your pee some Dalai-Lama holy water that needs to be placed in a properly cleaned receptacle? It's just piss you idiot, I didn't even need to flush the urinal since I knew you were behind me, but I did it out of courtesy. So collectively we just wasted a few gallons of water and you know there ain't much water around these days?

- People who claim that global warming/evolution/the Holocaust aren't real. Ok, for the first two items I can understand that we probably don't yet fully understand everything about how global warming works and whose responsible, or if darwinism is entirely correct, but to just flat-out deny thousands of scientists by calling their work "junk science" is just idiotic to me. Like you know any better than these guys because your spidey-sense tells you so. As for the third item, go back to I'm-not-really-an-anti-semite!-ville idiot.

(I apologize for my vitriol today, it must be the water or something)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Keeping America Cosmic (Two Year Anniversary)

Well, would you look at the time! I just realized Cosmic American Blog has been churning out the goods for at least a full two years now. That's right, we posted our first post exactly two years ago today. True, that first post wasn't much (take a look if you choose). But in no time at all we quickly set a standard that I think has made many a self-respecting amateur music/film/video game/politics/shark masturbation blogger jealous. So I decided to take this moment to reflect on what I know has been an essential part of my daily life, and what I imagine has been a crucial part of yours, by compiling a list of some of my all-time favorite Cosmic American Blog discussions. Note that these are not necessarily my all-time favorite Cosmic American Blog posts, but rather, these are the posts that I feel generated the most interesting, thoughtful commentary, for one reason or another. It seems our most fruitful debates tended to revolve around the peculiarities of artistic taste, the urge to evaluate art in a more rational, scientific manner, what constitutes art, etc. So eat my entrails Aristotle. In the end, I just want to thank all our fans out there for making the magic happen. Keep on rockin' in the free world!

Sracso Eht (February 26, 2007)

Yoggoth: "I'm not very impressed with the Oscars myself. All the talk surrounding them sounds suspiciously like english grad student nonsense. Eddie Murphy deserves an Oscar? Yeah, in the same way that Aphra Behn is a great writer. The idea that it matters who wins best picture is as silly as the idea that writing ecocriticism helps the environment. In terms of national competitions I'd put it below the superbowl but above the PGA tournament in cultural importance."

When The Janitor Picks The 200 Greatest Albums of All Time (March 7, 2007)

Yoggoth: "I mentioned A Love Supreme before and it still amuses me to no end that it ended up on a list with the Titanic sdtrk. Not only is it like putting Girls Gone Wild 3 on a movie list, it's like putting it right after L'Age d'Or!"

Towards A General Theory Of Artistic Taste (March 10, 2007);
Re: Towards A General Theory Of Artistic Taste (March 10, 2007)*

*Herr Zrbo makes his first appearance!

Yoggoth: "Concerning information theory-- At some point we're going to have robot friends. My theory can help us make those robot friends better!"

Wish They Were There
(March 13, 2007)

Yoggoth: "Gentlemen, I think it's okay to admit that England and America have the best taste in rock. We could let France and Germany do the electronic music list. Japan could do the 'Music with no Discernable Melody' list. Or just throw Japan, Germany, France, Brazil, and Scandanavia into a catch-all Other category. I'm imagining some kind of awe inspiring Death Noise Bossa Nova list but it would probably just end up with a bunch of odd lounge singers."

Have I Found...The "Ultimate List"? (March 15, 2007)

Little Earl: "To me, the point of a list like this is to give people who have just walked out of a cave and have almost no knowledge of popular music a good roadmap of what they need to hear first if they want to get a reasonable idea of what the best and most important rock music is. Thus the artists need to be ranked by some combination of influential/unique/just plain good. Given that criteria, I think it's easier to point out where this list is weird. The question is: would the caveman/idiot child get a good idea of rock history/great music from this list?"

The Rock Band Is Dead (July 19, 2007)

Yoggoth: "Another problem is the audience. Almost every show I see in the Bay Area features a bored looking, mid-20's crowd that doesn't dance and hardly even sways to the beat. I feel embarrassed to be the one guy jumping up and down, and no one should feel embarrassed for jumping at a rock concert. So many people just stand there and take pictures on their cell phones or record the music on their mp3 players. WHY would you want a recording or picture when you don't even enjoy yourself while you're there?? The mass rock audience has seemingly embraced a culture of death and nostalgia and I want none of it!"

Election '08: Who's Actually Going To Win? (August 4, 2007)

Yoggoth: "As for Bush being fascist, well maybe in a really wimpy way. All of the things he's done may be bad, but let's face it, none of them affect our nice California lives all that much."

Roger Ebert vs. Video Games: Round II (August 9, 2007)

Herr Zrbo: "It's going to sound silly, but I keep thinking of 'Paper Mario and the Thousand Year Door', not only was the art style fantastic, I could load up that game just to stare at some of the different worlds (art direction/ cinematography), but by the end of the game I had a genuine emotional response and actually shed a few tears (yes, I'm admitting a mario game made me cry). Does that qualify as art? If something elicits an emotional response does that make it art? Doesn't that mean if someone is emotionally effected by 'Daddy Day Camp' then that film qualifies as art? I'm confusing myself here."

The Indie Wars (August 22, 2007)

Little Earl: "The real story here is that, as far as I can tell, indie rock has pretty much broken into the mainstream over the past few years, and yet that hasn't felt very exciting. When grunge broke through, I was barely paying attention personally, but at least in retrospect it seems like it was a little more gratifying. Now it's more like, 'Wow, Modest Mouse went to Number One, but's that's mostly because the rest of popular music has been so bad.' "

Department Of Pathetic Indignation -- Music Snobs 'R' Us
(November 13, 2007)

Little Earl: "I'm not exactly 'worried' or 'not worried' that I don't like too much of the music that's out right now. I'm pretty happy downloading obscure older music until the end of time. But I guess it's a pretty artistically conservative position to take. I just don't believe in being charitable to music that's not very good just because it happens to be new."

The Two-Pronged Movie Review System Attack (January 30, 2008)

Yoggoth: "To quote Wittgenstein, 'What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.' Those things worth giving stars to are the things we cannot speak about, for the things you cannot speak about are often the only things worth discussing."

Lament Of A Gamer (February 18, 2008)

Herr Zrbo: "So in the end you've got this sort of bizarre hybridization of art and sports. It's not really one or the other. I mean, it's nearly impossible to take out either the sport element or the art element and still have an easily recognizable video game. Does this melding of two completely different forms of expression disqualify video games from ever being a full art form?"

Thursday, January 22, 2009

I Saw An AMG Guy!

No, not Stephen Thomas Erlewine, but Richie Unterberger. If the name Richie Unterberger doesn't immediately ring a bell, let me just say that if you've spent a reasonable amount of time perusing the All Music Guide, you have most likely read something written by Richie Unterberger whether you've been aware of it or not. For example, the official AMG biographies for obscure cult bands such as the Beatles, Elvis Presley, Pink Floyd, Jim Hendrix, The Doors, The Velvet Underground and Simon & Garfunkel are his, as well as the official AMG reviews for some bargain bin albums named Rubber Soul, Abbey Road, Pet Sounds, Let It Bleed, Tommy, and Are You Experienced?, among others. His specialty appears to be '60s rock, pop, and soul. From what I've gathered, he is one of those hardcore '60s rock purists who thinks that popular music became significantly less worthwhile right around 1971. No progressive rock, singer-songwriter, punk or disco for Richie Unterberger, thank you. At times I feel like he takes '60s rock a bit too seriously, lamenting the subsequent turn to tackiness and tastelessness in the '70s the way a jazz obsessive might have lamented the turn to rock and roll. Yet within that early rock timeframe, Unterberger seems to hold no snobbish tendencies whatsoever. He appears to be just as fond of the Four Seasons as he is of the Beach Boys, just as fond of Lulu (clip featured above) as he is of Dusty Springfield. So I don't quite know what his deal is, but like Erlewine, he's a very informative and reasonable writer.

He also, so I've discovered, lives in San Francisco and gives monthly presentations of rare rock and roll film clips at the Park Branch library on Page St. - only seven or eight blocks from my apartment! Thus was the case last Wednesday, and after seeing the event listed in the Examiner, I knew I needed to attend. Well, Cosmic American friends, it was everything you might have hoped for and more. The crowd was a predictable cluster of anti-social rock geeks, grey-haired baby boomers and stoned hippie burnouts. A sleazy-looking guy behind me asked another slightly less sleazy-looking guy behind me for some pot, but I believe he was refused. Any mystique I imagined Richie to possess after years of reading his reviews dissipated in a short time. He was a slightly balding fellow with a beer belly wearing an Elvis '56 t-shirt. "My God," I thought. "This legendary AMG writer is...just some guy!"

Most of the clips were terrific. At one point he joked that we could probably find a lot of them on YouTube by now but that "you'd be missing out on the wonderful in-person commentary" (I've tried to link to the ones I could find). He showed footage of Alex Chilton performing "The Letter" live with the Box Tops, Linda Ronstadt doing a tune with the Stone Poneys (of "Different Drum" fame), Burt Bacharach leading his band in a solo "performance" (three coquettish blonde girls did the actual singing), Jimi Hendrix running through "Hey Joe" (stopping in mid-song and switching to Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love"), and so on. Richie was particularly enthusiastic about two early rock and roll clips. One featured Bill Haley & The Comets in what looked like a theatrical short that had been filmed in 1954, before the idea of "rock and roll" even really existed. Although Haley has a (mostly fair I'd say) reputation for being square and cornball compared to Elvis and the other early rock and roll performers, in this clip the stand-up bass player began riding his bass around the stage like a horse while the saxophone player essentially humped him. The other was of Gene Vincent ("Be Bop A Lula") dressed head-to-toe in leather, prancing around a stage in France with his gimp leg, for the most part looking (and sounding) a lot like the Hamburg-era Beatles. Finally, we got some killer footage of the Stones on The Ed Sullivan Show doing "Time Is On My Side," The Kinks storming through "You Really Got Me," and the Yardbirds performing "Heart Full of Soul." During the Yardbirds clip a particularly spaced-out audience member proclaimed, "Wow, man...Jeff Beck..." Everyone ignored him.

It was a bit of a mind-meld watching these clips with Richie in the same room with me. For example, as I observed the Yardbirds singing "Heart Full of Soul," I thought, "This, of course, was one of the three famous Yardbirds hits written by songwriter Graham Gouldman, which is a piece of information I learned many years ago by reading...Richie Unterberger from the All Music Guide! Whoa."

Most of all, this was an excellent opportunity for me to feed my own music geek ego, as Richie often asked us questions in between clips and I was eager to shout out the answers. When he started playing a clip of The Move performing "Blackberry Way," I exclaimed "Hey, The Move!" to demonstrate to the people around me that, oh yes, I knew this was a clip of The Move. I received the ultimate opportunity to flaunt my knowledge when Richie showed a clip of the Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac performing "Oh Well." Yoggoth can attest to my recent discovery of the pre Buckingham-Nicks Fleetwood Mac, so I was well-armed for this moment. After the clip ended, I decided to ask a question, the answer to which I was relatively sure I knew anyway. While my hand was in the air, Richie explained that "we had a clip of the earlier and, in my opinion, much better line-up of Fleetwood Mac," to which a man sitting behind me muttered, "Yeah, God, really." OK, we get it guys, you're too cool for Rumours, just keep it to yourself, all right? At any rate, Richie pointed to me and I asked my question: "So was that Jeremy Spencer shaking the maracas and Danny Kirwan playing guitar in the middle?" Richie replied, "Yes" and began explaining the history of early Fleetwood Mac to those who might not have been aware. Which did not include me of course. But although a great deal of my motivation in asking the question was to show off my rock snobbery, I did genuinely want to confirm which band member was which.

So in the end, I can't say I met Richie but I did ask him a question. Besides, since I've learned that he gives these sorts of presentations once a month, I have to admit that there really is no rush and I may possibly meet him in the future.

In other words: rock journalism, here I come!

"Betel Nut Beauties"

Here's an interesting article about young women in Taiwan who wear revealing clothes and sell "the date-like fruit of the areca palm" which is apparently comparable to cigarettes in terms of narcotic effect and cancer risk.

"Most stands feature glaring neon lights and a large mirror designed to draw attention to the women. Not exactly subtle, but it stops traffic. At which point the women teeter to the curb in their high heels, bend into the car window suggestively and hand over a couple of packets of betel nuts and a plastic cup for drivers to spit into."

Sounds hot!

Okay, not really. But then, I've never seen the appeal of Hooters either.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I Heard Some Black Dude Is President Now

Did anyone hear something about some black guy becoming president? I just barely caught something about it on one of those tickers they have running at the bottom of the screen during last night's news. Too bad the media didn't report on it more, I would have liked to know more about this guy. Who is this mysterious figure?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Synecdoche, New York (Kaufman)

There's a scene, early on in Synecdoche, where Philip Seymour Hoffman stares into the toilet at green, malformed shit, trying to establish exactly what it means. That might describe my reaction to this movie. Staring at green, malformed shit is interesting, certainly, but at some point you just need to flush it down.

As the world's biggest fan of Adaptation., you could say I was looking forward to Charlie Kaufman's directorial debut as much as anyone. Well here it is and be careful what you wish for. Ladies and gentlemen, Charlie Kaufman has finally managed to lodge himself up his own asshole. That might sound like a recommendation. Perhaps it is. On Rotten Tomatoes, the "fresh" reviews almost sound negative, and the "rotten" reviews almost sound positive. Some snippets:
Nearly a month after watching Charlie Kaufman's directorial debut... I'm still figuring out whether it was a brilliant idea poorly executed or a poor idea brilliantly executed.

One of those movies that's full of ideas and sparks lively discussions after the lights come up. Too bad that actually sitting through the thing feels like torture.

He goes for Fellini's 8 1/2 but comes up 8 short.

A great big incomprehensible phantasmagoria. I'm all for 'personal' movies, but this one's private.

Watching the film is also wearying, like assembling a puzzle from a box into which a sadist continually pours new pieces.

You can't help but think this must be what it looks like when your life flashes before your eyes.
That should give you some idea. So what do I think? Well, by the basic standards of "Is this film interesting/creative/imaginative/compelling/etc.," I would have to say that Synecdoche is a success. But by the standards of "Did this film improve my life in a significant way," I would have to say not particularly. I hesitate to bash a movie for being too ambitious. Maybe Synecdoche made me realize how much of a key piece Spike Jonze must have been in Kaufman's earlier successes. Jonze's music-video-skater-punk-prankster vibe really complimented and counterbalanced Kaufman's neurotic anti-social intellectualism quite well I thought. Without Jonzes' touch, or even Michel Gondry's, it appears that Kaufman's most impenetrating tendencies have gone unchecked. And I mean unchecked. It's sort of like Morrissey without Marr. It's like Damon Albarn without Graham Coxon. Synecdoche is more Think Tank than Modern Life Is Rubbish, more Vauxhall & I than Louder Than Bombs. Sure, Vauxhall & I is worth a listen, but is it better than Louder Than Bombs? I don't need to wait for your reply.

A while back Jason wrote in the comments section, "From what I hear, this movie is about a guy building a SCALE MODEL of New York City. I'm sold." Yeah I was sold too. Except Kaufman completely mutes the impact of that gag. See, the whole movie exists in a Lynchian dreamscape, so it's one of those "I don't have to make anything plausible because it's all surreal and dreamy" sort of deals. Been there done that buddy. I also didn't detect much of a strong visual flare. And the acting is a bit on the catatonic side. A movie can be ambitious and intelligent and still have energy, right? I don't think Kaufman got the memo. I'm reminded of a scene from the Simpsons where Homer flips the channel and catches Garrison Keillor on TV. After a couple of seconds, he throws a bottle of beer at the screen and says, "Stupid TV. Be more funny!" That's me at the screening of Synecdoche.

Roger Ebert has blown a gasket over Synecdoche. He's not "wrong," of course, but I don't know if he's bothered to put the film into any kind perspective (hell, when you watch so many movies that aren't even trying, as Ebert does, you probably become flabbergasted by a movie that actually is, even if you can't quite pinpoint why it's good). Some excerpts: "This is a film with the richness of great fiction." Yeah, but all great movies should have the richness of great fiction. "The subject of Synecdoche, New York is nothing less than human life and how it works." Yeah, but the subject of any great movie is nothing less than human life and how it works. "It is obvious that he [Kaufman] has only one subject, the mind, and only one plot, how the mind negotiates with reality, fantasy, hallucination, desire and dreams." Yeah, that's only one subject and only one plot, all right. Ebert's reaching for some grand, overarching Kaufman thesis, but I don't see bupkus. And he's acting like he's never seen an ambitious, intelligent movie before. Hate to break it to you Roger, but these topics have been covered in cinema prior to Charlie Kaufman. Well so what, you say? People criticized Adaptation. on the same grounds: "That whole meta-fiction thing has been done so many times already." Yeah, but the difference is that Adaptation. was funny. At least I thought it was funny. Synecdoche is just a dense modernist headache. But hey, if you love dense modernist headaches, then by all means, check it out.

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

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Quick Thoughts - Eastern Promises

Now THIS is a plausible history of violence - in Russian and with tattoos.

Cronenberg made the same movie twice, and got it right the second time around. Unfortunately it's the same crime movie everyone else makes - with added Russian and tattoos.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Universe May Be Scratched Gin Blossoms CD You Threw Out In 1997

Okay, that's not what the article says, but is it that far a stretch once you accept that our world may be a giant hologram.

New Scientist loves these sorts of articles. If you read them it often turns out that the attention grabbing title is only a metaphor used by the scientist to convey the gist of their work to lay-persons. But here we read, "work by several string theorists, most notably Juan Maldacena at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, has confirmed that the idea is on the right track. He showed that the physics inside a hypothetical universe with five dimensions and shaped like a Pringle is the same as the physics taking place on the four-dimensional boundary." And everyone knows that if the physics inside a hypothetical universe with five dimensions and shaped like a Pringle is the same as the physics taking place on the four-dimensional boundary it's just a small step to hologramville.

I'm kidding, in a way. This stuff is interesting, but what would it mean for the universe to be a giant hologram? Is that more or less reassuring than the idea that the universe is a clock, or a bag of jiggling bits? Don't get be wrong, I'm all for supporting this kind of inquiry and understand that the information we may learn is more important than New Scientist can convey in a short article. But after a while this sort of thing seems like so much physics-porn for those of us who wimped out after a year of calculus.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

How Ricardo Montalban Led Me To True Salvation

This post was originally going to be about the death of Ricardo Montalban, the hispanic actor most known for his role as Khan in Star Trek II and as Mr. Roarke in Fantasy Island. But in my quest to find out out more about Mr. Montalban and his life I came across one of the most bizarre things on the internet (and let me tell you, there's a lot of weird stuff out there). I came across a forum post of The Landover Baptist Church proclaiming that Mr. Montalban was a homosexual sinner and is probably burning in hell! I couldn't believe it, were these people serious? I delved into the forums of this nightmarish ultra-ULTRA-right wing Christian church and came across all sorts of disturbing posts. "The evils of Valentine's Day" (it's pagan!), "I am chinese, will the creator condemn me?" , "OMG there's a fag in my neighborborhood what should I do?", and "Was baby Madeleine abducted by goths?" - all adorned with "Palin in 2012!" signatures. This was indeed a very scary place.

But something was off, something didn't feel quite right. There's crazy Christians, but these people were just crazy. The tipping point came when I read the first post announcing Montalban's death:

Folks, it brings me great joy to announce that C-list actor and possible illegal immigrant Ricardo Montalban has died at the age of 88. I take this as a personal victory for myself because he and I never exactly got along. The truth is that during the 70's I was going through a hard time and tried out for the part of Mr. Roarke on Fantasy Island. I got the part and filmed an unaired pilot episode. Unfortunately it was 1978 and I had an expensive drug habit. To pay my astronomical debts to my dealers I decided to steal Charlie Chaplin's corpse and extort his family but unfortunately that plan had been done several months earlier and now the corpse was under two meters of concrete. I went back to the producers and asked for a raise only to be turned away because this Mexican immigrant was willing to do the job for less money than me. In my pilot episode one guest wishes for a bus full of 15 year old boys to break down in front of his cabana while our other guest, a former concentration camp officer, wishes that the woman he sexually tortured at Auschwitz would come back so he can resume his relationship with her. Studio heads decided that the plot about a pedophile wasn't the kind of upbeat family viewing they intended and the producers of the film "The Night Porter" sued us on the second plot. The episode was burried in an underground vault along with Jerry Lewis' "The Day The Clown Cried" and was later accompanied by Roseanne's sex tape. To this day I curse the name of Ricardo Montalban, but can sleep a little easier tonight knowing he is likely in hell.

Ok, there is just no way this is real. So I went to Wikipedia and came across this enlightening entry. Aha! It's all satire! Well, that's a relief. These people sure do take their satire seriously though, post after post of faux-Christian hate and bigotry. The scariest part is that it can be hard to differentiate from the folks who really think this way, but for now I'll breathe a sight of relief as I say, "Thank you Mr. Montalban for leading me to true salvation!" Amen (Palin in '12!)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I Also Said I'd Never Start A Blog AKA Should I Give Up And Join Facebook?

Recently it's been dawning on me that I ought to climb a little further out of my own hole. However, I have yet to be convinced that I would benefit from joining this contraption they call "Facebook." Slate's Farhad Manjoo has written an article just for me:
Though your ranks dwindle daily, there are many of you. This is understandable—any social movement that becomes so popular so fast engenders skepticism. A year ago, the New York Observer interviewed a half-dozen or so disdainful Facebook holdouts. "I don't see how having hundreds or thousands of 'friends' is leading to any kind of substantive friendships," said Cary Goldstein, the director of publicity at Twelve Publishers. "The whole thing seems so weird to me. Now you really have to turn off your computer and just go out to live real life and make real connections with people that way. I don't think it's healthy." I was reminded of a quote from an Onion story, "Area Man Constantly Mentioning He Doesn't Own a Television."

Friends—can I call you friends?—it's time to drop the attitude: There is no longer any good reason to avoid Facebook. The site has crossed a threshold—it is now so widely trafficked that it's fast becoming a routine aide to social interaction, like e-mail and antiperspirant. It's only the most recent of many new technologies that have crossed over this stage. For a long while—from about the late '80s to the late-middle '90s, Wall Street to Jerry Maguire—carrying a mobile phone seemed like a haughty affectation. But as more people got phones, they became more useful for everyone—and then one day enough people had cell phones that everyone began to assume that you did, too. Your friends stopped prearranging where they would meet up on Saturday night because it was assumed that everyone would call from wherever they were to find out what was going on. From that moment on, it became an affectation not to carry a mobile phone; they'd grown so deeply entwined with modern life that the only reason to be without one was to make a statement by abstaining. Facebook is now at that same point—whether or not you intend it, you're saying something by staying away.
That's me all right. I didn't get a cell phone until 2005. And even then, I tried to leave it off. Now I realize I was just clinging to some meaningless standard of non-conformity. But still...Facebook? I'm just not feeling it yet. First of all, I don't want a bunch of people from high school and college hunting me down. Secondly...well the first one pretty much covers it.

So what do you guys think? Am I being stubborn? Is Facebook a waste of time? As far as I'm concerned, I've already got a Facebook page, and its name is...Cosmic American Blog.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

How NOT To Dislodge Your Car From An Icy Embankment

1. Put a phone book under the tires (the book will fly right underneath but the car will remain in place)

2. Put a shovel handle under the tires (the shovel handle will break in two but the car will remain in place)

3. Put the car in Four Wheel Drive after becoming stuck in the icy embankment (the time to put the car in Four Wheel Drive has passed)

4. Slip and fall on the ice while stepping out of the car (you will injure yourself but the car will remain in place)

How to dislodge your car from an icy embankment (believe it or not):

1. Push the car from the side until it rotates on the ice and is facing downhill, then hop in and turn the ignition

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Please Tell Me Cosmic American Blog Doesn't Come Off Like This

I know we made fun of Slate's Movie Club last year but...but...I can't help myself!

Problem Numero Uno: These people are all too glib, too guarded, too impersonal. They spend all their time inventing mildly interesting quasi-theories instead of actually sharing some thoughts that you might consider gutsy or embarrassing. But come on, what's the fun in saying you liked Rachel Getting Married because something that happened to the character reminded you of a certain painful event from your own life? Much more fun to say you liked Rachel Getting Married because "I loved the catlike prowl of Declan Quinn's camerawork, Rosemarie DeWitt's slow-burn infuriation, and Anne Hathaway's bottomless eyes and her watch-through-your-fingers toast to the squirming couple." Tell me about you, Jessica Winter! Tell me about you.

Still, it's fun to watch the writers try to outdo each other in obnoxiousness. Let's see who wins:

Dana Stevens: Is it possible that Anna Faris' itinerant centerfold in The House Bunny was the breakout performance of the year?

Even assuming that this is possible, assuming that this is the most amazing acting showcase in all of 2008 screen acting, just how great could this performance really be?

Dana Stevens: As for Jeanette's list of waterworks moments: The most unexpected one of the year for me came in Catherine Breillat's The Last Mistress, when Asia Argento, in a thoroughly bizarre and unforgettable turn as a cigar-smoking Spanish courtesan, had wild sex with her lover as their child's funeral pyre burned beside them in the North African desert. It was so overwritten and lurid and absurd and yet … Niagara. All of Angelina's pious mourning for her lost boy in The Changeling couldn't touch the unhinged wildness of that scene of maternal grief. The Last Mistress was a whacked-out treatise on gender, power, and obsession disguised as a period costume drama, and I loved every perverse minute.

"Niagara"? Oh man, that scene was so "Niagara." Wink wink. I know what you're sayin' Dana.

Dana Stevens: Lisa, you're up next: What made you cry in spite of yourself this year? What made you laugh? And can I get anyone to join me on the Clint-Eastwood-is-overrated train?

Choo-choo! Chugga-chugga! All aboooooaaaaard! Clint-Eastwood-is-overrated train leaving the station! If you don't think he's that good, don't talk about his movies. Why do you need company?

Lisa Schwarzbaum: What else made me laugh this year: Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which also kinda touched me as it did Dana. And Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, an underrated little beauty that looked "regular" but was, I thought, amazingly radical in its seamless weaving of straight and gay lives.

Just because a movie is "amazingly radical in its seamless weaving of straight and gay lives" doesn't make it good.

Jessica Winter: Back to the year's comedies: I wasn't a fan of Forgetting Sarah Marshall. (Jason Segel's naked self-abnegation would have been more affecting if the rest of the movie hadn't surrounded him with nubile women eager to dress him up in their love and/or sex.) And somehow I doubt I have much company in advocating for the mostly maligned Step Brothers. Comedy is subjective, of course, but there's some feral pocket of my frontal lobes that wonders how it's possible to resist a movie in which the great Richard Jenkins (who gave one of the year's most tender performances in The Visitor) delivers a rousing speech about how he always wanted to be a dinosaur when he grew up. Or a comedy with a scrotum-on-the-drum-set fracas (marking the second time, after Boogie Nights, that John C. Reilly has appeared in a film featuring state-of-the-art prosthetic genitalia). Or that deploys "Ice Ice Baby" as a villain's ominous theme song. Or that contains a triumphant scene wherein grown men beat up children on a playground. Perhaps someone can talk me out of all this. Yet uneven as it is, Step Brothers strikes me not as the cynical nadir of the Judd Apatow-associated trend of manboy movies but as an imploded critique of said trend, and it thrums with anarchic, deranged energy. The same kind of energy, strange as it may sound, that Dana loved about The Last Mistress: I also adored that insane Eros-and-Thanatos desert sex tableau. And how about that gob-smacking moment when the incomparable Ms. Argento—who was just as memorable this year as the drug-running slut machine in Boarding Gate—sucks greedily at her lover's chest wound?

You're not selling me on Step Brothers guys. Or The Last Mistress. Yes, I know, you're sick of all the hype for the Oscar bait dramas. But just because you're fed up with Oscar bait dramas doesn't mean Step Brothers is suddenly "an imploded critique" of "manboy movies." Or maybe it is. I haven't seen it.

On another, more sexist, note, the Movie Club spends a great deal of time discussing how significant it is that this year all the members of the Movie Club happen to be female. Now, I'm not female, but this strikes me as the sort of thing that is significant and yet not that significant. They certainly don't help matters by spending at least one-third of the time analyzing the role of plastic surgery in cinema today. One navel-gazing highlight:

Lisa Schwarzbaum: Hi la … well, I was going to say "ladies," the kind of retro hello I would offer a group of girlfriends without a second thought. But here we are, movie critics who happen to be women as well as women who happen to movie critics, and perhaps I ought to be more formal, at least on the first go-round. Or at least until we get into the rich territory of how we-as-femme-critics see what we see on screen. So, hi all.

Oh just say hi God damn it.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Metal Gear Solid 2: Now In Bitingly Satirical Webcomic Form!

Did reading my piece on Metal Gear Solid 2 get you interested in experiencing the game but you don't want to go through the motions of playing it? Don't fear! Someone has gone ahead and translated the entire experience into hilarious satirical webcomic form. Live Journal member Hiimdaisy has put up four pieces that go through the entire plot of MGS2, but done in a way that just makes the whole thing funny while staying true to the actual game. I laughed my ass off through all four pieces, though if you haven't played it you might not find it so brilliant. Check out "Let's Destroy Metal Gear Again!" Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

One of One Beautifully Packaged Fiction Periodical Agrees - Steam > Cyber

From "Mom, Dad, I'm Into Steampunk" by Marco Kaye:

"You'll appreciate this, Dad. Would I ever lose this cell phone? It's got a back plate of soldered brass. I created the aged patina with simple ammonia and salt. I'll replenish that soon, if you'll quit bugging me about it. Check this out. These interlocking gears are what I use to dial. They also explain why I haven't been replying to your texts recently.


Don't look so crestfallen, Mom and Dad. At least I'm not into cyberpunk."

Who's on your side Zrbo, the Paris Review? HA!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Adventures In Rap #10: "Boyz-N-The- Hood"

You may be sitting there in your jacuzzi, snorting coke off a woman's well-tanned stomach, listening to The Chronic or AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted or Eazy-Duz-It and wondering where it all began. Well wonder no longer. You might be forgiven for not immediately sensing the significance of "Boyz-n-the-Hood" upon one quick listen, but this, for those who remain unaware, is nothing less than the birth of the most notorious rap group to ever grace a suburban white kid's stereo speaker. Dr. Dre producing. Eazy-E rapping. Ice Cube writing. I mean here it is folks.

According to scholars, "Boyz-n-the-Hood" is not the first gangsta rap song. But it is close. Many point to Ice-T's "Six in the Morning," but the Original Gangster himself credits Philadelphia rapper Schoolly D and his single "P.S.K. What Does It Mean":
The first record that came out along those lines was Schoolly D's "P.S.K." Then the syncopation of that rap was used by me when I made "Six In The Morning". The vocal delivery was the same: '...P.S.K. is makin' that green', '...six in the morning, police at my door'. When I heard that record I was like "Oh shit!" and call it a bite or what you will but I dug that record. My record didn't sound like "P.S.K.", but I liked the way he was flowing with it. "P.S.K." was talking about Park Side Killers but it was very vague. That was the only difference, when Schoolly did it, it was ' by one, I'm knockin' em out'. All he did was represent a gang on his record. I took that and wrote a record about guns, beating people down, and all that with "Six In The Morning".
And thank goodness he did! All right, so maybe it's quite possible to imagine a world without gangsta rap but for better or worse that is not the world that we live in today. More than twenty years later, what can we say about a musical genre that not only refuses to explicitly condemn violence, but in many ways actively endorses it? If your initial reaction is to dub all gangsta rap immoral, as mine was, you'd be wise to recognize the links between the debate over the merits of gangsta rap and the debate over the merits of violence in cinema. Chew on that for a while. But I'm getting ahead of myself here; "Boyz-n-the-Hood" is hardly a work of major controversy.

Its musical merits are negligible, and yet its awkward lurch possesses a certain sleazy charm. Dr. Dre's usage of sampling at this stage is laughably rudimentary. Instead of building the background beat out of a bedrock of samples, he simply uses a drum machine and throws in a barely-altered sample (Jean Knight's "Mr. Big Stuff," the Staple Sister's "I'll Take You There," etc.) in between each verse. Needs some work, dude. (Note to aspiring rap producers: Never sample a song that is catchier than your own - otherwise the listener will be thinking "All right, 'Mr. Big Stuff'! Oh, wait, damn, I'm actually listening to 'Boyz-n-the-Hood.'")

Eazy-E sounds notably mellow and restrained; those who were present say he accepted rapping duties reluctantly and felt nervous and uneasy. This sense of caution would not last.

The real meat of the song, however, is Ice Cube's engagingly rambling lyrics. He makes no attempt to dilute his South Central slang for easy consumption:

Cruising down the street in my 6-4
Jockin' the freaks, clocking the dough
Went to the park to get the scoop
Knuckleheads out there cold shooting some hoops
A car pulls up who can it be
A fresh El Camino rollin', Kilo G
He rolls down his window and he started to say
It's all about making that GTA

GTA? Can Somebody help me out here? "Good Time Ass"? "Gold Trans Am"? I really don't have a clue. Then comes the vaguely threatening chorus:

Cuz the boyz n tha hood are always hard
You come talking that trash we'll pull your card
Knowing nothing in life but to be legit

And now here, I believe, is the first clue as to just how seriously you should really be taking these lyrics:

Don't quote me boy, cuz I ain't said shit

So there you have it, straight from the source: "Whatever we say, we're basically just fucking around." It goes on:

Donald B's in the place to give me the pace
He said my man JB is on freebase
The boy JB was a friend of mine
Till I caught him in my car trying to steal my Alpine
Chased him up the street to call a truce
The silly cluck head pulled out a deuce-deuce
Little did he know I had a loaded 12 gauge
One sucker dead, LA Times front page

Here we have the first hints of violent action as gratifying fantasy. N.W.A would quickly expand on this approach and take it all the way to the bank. Next comes the misogyny:

Bored as hell and I wanna get ill
So I went to a place where my homeboys chill
The fellows out there, making that dollar
I pulled up in my 6-4 Impala
They greet me with a 40 and I started drinking
And from the 8-ball my breath start stinking
Love to get my girl, to rock that body
Before I left I hit the Bacardi
Went to her house to get her out of the pad
Dumb hoe says something stupid that made me mad
She said somethin' that I couldn't believe
So I grabbed the stupid bitch by her nappy ass weave
She started talkin' shit, wouldn't you know?
Reached back like a pimp and slapped the hoe
Her father jumped out and he started to shout
So I threw a right-cross cold knocked him out

Ooh, milestones in almost every line! We get domestic abuse as acceptable expression of anger, casual dispensal of prostitution terminology, and I'm sure there's more but I've got other fish to fry:

I'm rollin' hard now I'm under control
Then wrapped my 6-4 round the telephone poll
I looked at my car and I said, "Oh brother"
I throw it in the gutter and go buy another
Walkin' home I see the G ride
Now Kat is drivin Kilo on the side
As they busted a U, they got pulled over
An undercover cop in a dark green Nova
Kat got beaten for resistin' arrest
He socked the pig in the head for rippin' his Guess
Now G is caught for doin' the crime
Fourth offence on the boy, he'll do some time

N.W.A's great "breakthrough," if one can call it that, was to completely toss aside any notion of personal responsibility. In N.W.A Land, a person can crash his or her car, and yet simply "throw it in the gutter and go buy another." Wow! It's like Grand Theft Auto! Yet Ice Cube's narrative does not suffer for its tenuous grip on reality, but rather gains strength by existing on its own surreal wavelength, as evinced by the improbable conclusion:

I went to get them out but there was no bail
The fellaz start to riot in the county jail
Two days later in municiple court
Kilo G on trial cold cut a fart
Disruption of a court, said the judge
On a six-year sentence my man didn't budge
Bailiff came over to turn him in
Kilo G looked up and gave a grin
He yelled out "FIRE!" then came Suzy
The bitch came in with a sub-machine Uzi
Police shot the girl but didn't hurt her
Both up state for attempted murder

So see? Women aren't so bad after all! Sometimes they bust into courtrooms and start mowing people down Terminator-style. Oh that Ice Cube, what a romantic.