Wednesday, November 28, 2007

She can burn you up in bed just like she said

Some time ago I watched an episode of Saturday Night Live. Even then it was a distant rerun, from Jean Doumanian's ill-fated run. You could sort of tell things were going badly. The cast was kind of spotty, although the late Charles Rocket was always an underrated performer. Malcolm McDowell said in his monologue that he was only hosting to renew his work visa, and it was easy to believe him. The tone of the sketches was frequently off.

Doumanian did, however, get the Captain. That makes up for a lot.

Note that the "Fire! Fire! Fire!" thing was way before Beavis and Butthead.

A tidbit about me

That deep nasal twitch, you know the one. Like some gnat flying around in your nostril.

When I get that feeling* I can't not sneeze. And with me, there's no such thing as sneezing quietly. People at work found this out today, if they didn't already know it.

It's a family thing. Me old Nanna was much the same way. Could send sleeping birds flying a mile away.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Rarely imitated, never duplicated

Through messing around with that Google "I'm feeling lucky" button, I just found out that there's a recently made remake of Tod Browning's Freaks. Boy, does that sound like a bad idea. Anyone who's seen the original will never be able to accept a substitute, one where most of the freaks seem to be special makeup FX. On the other hand, those who've never seen Browning's movie--which is too close to its subject to be called exploitation--probably won't get it this way either.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Fun with a magic lasso

Hasen sketch courtesy of Wonder Woman Museum

After much buildup and delay, Gail Simone has taken over as the writer on DC's Wonder Woman monthly. The changing of the guard came with issue #14, which I think hit the stands the Wednesday afore last. Didn't buy comics that week, so I just saw it for the first time today.

Simone is--at least in recent memory--the first woman to take on scripting chores for Wondy on an open-ended basis. Novelist Jodi Picoult did write her for a few months recently, but that was always meant as a limited run, and wound up getting overshadowed by the soul-draining "Amazons Attack" storyline. Men can write the character well; any author should be able to take on characters different from themselves. But the fact that for most of her existence only men were writing/drawing/editing her has probably skewed the character.

The obvious question, of course, is how does Simone do? Quite well I'd have to say. #14 does take place in the framework of decompressed storytelling. And if you interpret that as "nothing much happens" you've pretty much got it. But what we do see shows that GS gets the character.

For instance, before going mano-a-mano with a unit of albino gorillas (and that phrase in itself should establish some interest) Wondy says, "You're fighing me to see if you can defeat Superman? I'm honored. Shall we?" It's cocky, but an unflashy kind of cockiness. Her Amazon warrior training appears to include minimizing tiresome bluster.

More importantly, after fighting the apes to a standstill, she talks to them. She comes to an agreement with them. They, in fact, wind up crashing at alter ego Diana Prince's apartment. This is the kind of action that should define her. Justifiability aside, breaking Max Lord's neck isn't characteristic of her, or at least it shouldn't be. So yes, raise a glass to strength and mercy, and let's hope it lasts.

Fans of the Amazon Princess may also be interested to know that Etta Candy has been worked into the continuity again. She's a fed now, apparently assigned as a kind of Internal Affairs shadow on Wonder Woman herself. In a way I wished the company had kept the obese chocolatier/therapist Etta that Grant Morrison introduced in his Zatanna miniseries. But this one is a little different-looking in comics context. She's frumpy-sexy (frexy?) in a kind of Midwestern way. She also susses out that Sarge Steel has more chemical dependencies than Pete Rose and Gregory House put together. Smart girl, shows potential.

There's also a scene of Hyppolita, WW's mom, back on Themyscira. As long as we don't go back to Amazons assassinating random ten-year-old boys, their involvement is a good thing.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Two shots of Todd and a chaser of Blood

Are video posts a lazy cheat? They sure are! But you know what? I've spent about a decade as an office temp in my life. You learn to look busy when you're not.

Here's the lovely(?) and talented Todd Barry in the ed-film role of a lifetime.

Now I like the number 7. Have to use it twice whenever I write my birthdate down. But you should know that the seven colors in the rainbow are a product of Isaac Newton's penchant for numerology, hence the resemblance between blue and indigo. Sh, don't tell the cops.

Here's a whole different side of Mr. Barry.

Ah yes, always exciting to see a healthy checking account.

And now for a tuneful palate cleanser, the intense maybe-bluegrass-maybe-not group Big Blood play their nation-sweeping hit "Oh Country (Skin and Bones)."

Now you don't see drummers playing like that every day. I like to think she's ahead of the curve.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Bold venturing

It's no secret that Hunter S. Thompson had a bone to pick with Garry Trudeau over his representation as Uncle Duke in Doonesbury.

Thompson also was the model for the character of "Uncle Duke" in the "Doonesbury" comic strip. But Thompson strongly disliked the characterization, once telling an interviewer that he would set "Doonesbury" creator Garry Trudeau on fire if the two ever met.

In later years, however, Thompson said he had made peace with the "Uncle Duke" portrayal.

"I got used to it a long time ago," he told Freezerbox magazine in 2003. "I used to be a little perturbed by it. It was a lot more personal ... It no longer bothers me."

And why not? Duke initially appeared in the strip as a fun-loving train wreck who wrote whacked outjournalism: a fair representation overall. But from the character's installation as governor of Samoa, he became increasingly tied to dictatorial power and Blackwater-style mercenaryism. Thompson was a true-blue Nixon hater, and had a sharp eye on the abuse of power, so as a character a clef Duke was pretty wide of the mark.

So what would Thompson react to Hunter Gathers, another character based on him, appearing a couple of times so far on The Venture Bros ? Hard to say. Gathers is a deranged spit and polish secret agent who teaches psychopathic regular Brock Sampson (given likeably dry voicing by Patrick Warburton) in the ways of the assassin/field agent, is an over-the-top shitkicker. He also winds up getting gender-reassignment surgery. On the whole the character arc is so hallucinatory I think the doctor would have to approve.

I got the season two DVD of Venture recently, and I have to say I'm enjoying it a lot. As with season 1, the hand-drawn animation is consistently top notch, even if the stories are hit-and-miss. The latter is probably related to the former, as it may take time for the creators to figure what they can draw well within budget and time constraints. But at the point the hits far outweigh the misses. The lead characters of Dr Venture--a venal and selfish super-scientist--and his weak reed sons remain compelling. And I'm now finding it easier to accept Dr Girlfriend as a woman, even if she does have the voice of a Jersey loading dock foreman.

My favorite episode of the series may be "¡Viva los Muertos!" There's a lot going on in it. Doctor Orpheus, a Doctor Srangely necromancer with a tan, has a South American guru giving his party the Castaneda treatment. Meanwhile the Mystery Machine rolls up, but the riders aren't the nice Scooby gang. No, Fred's a manipulative cult leader, Velma quotes The SCUM Manifesto, and while Shaggy does talk to the dog, he hears much the same thing Son of Sam did.

Of course semi-obscure pop references are all over the place in animation. Much of it ("South Park", "Family Guy") also goes for "Oh no they di'nt!" on a regular basis. But there's an extra level of satire here. Venture has created a zombie from an intruder Brock killed. He needs to make this zombie more docile and pliable to his commands. So he puts the stiff in a "learning bed" and shows him... a WTO-produced prop film promoting child labor.

It may not exactly be Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but it's pretty ballsy humor.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Disturbing the dust

I went to the library tonight to pick up a book I had ordered. A Brief Life, by Juan Carlos Onetti, and I hope it's good. At the very least it promises to be different.

One thing that gives me a slight feeling of accomplishment is taking a bbok out that hasn't been borrowed for a good long time. And the last due date stamped in this book is October 27, 1989. So I've struck gold. Okay, so George Bush was president back then, too, but still.

May I never lose the ability to be delighted by simple things.

Let's take a look

I'm having a glitch while trying to look at other blogspot blogs. Let's see if it's a problem within the host.

Update: Well, I was able to post those two sentences, but then couldn't see anything. But now I can. A happy ending.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Return to a slightly neglected blog

Haven't had much to put here lately. I wish I could say that it was an eventful weekend, but it wasn't. The lowlight was probably combing Rumford for an apparently non-existent address. Rhode Island geography: it's 90% of what inspired H.P. Lovecraft.

The highlight was probably seeing Art Spiegelman punch out Comic Book Guy while wearing a Maus mask. That there is what I call a bold touch.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The logical next step

While it seems like fifteen-odd people have been running for President since the dawn of time, we're still at the point where this is whimsical fun. By next summer it may so close to actual political advertising, only professionals will know the difference. I tell you, if the GOP finds a pointman as magnetic as that cute little lispy girl in the pink sweater, WE ARE ALL SO SCREWED!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Become a proctologist, you'llnever go broke

Just need to vent here for a second.

Was at Borders tonight, in the cafe. Now, I'm trying to concentrate on something, but this guy is talking on his Bluetooth, loudly. He's having a very repetitive conversation with his girlfriend, who ir I read correctly between the lines is making sure his unemployed ass is fed and sheltered. But I don't really care about their relatiohship. I want peace and quiet, or failing that, a more interesting conversation to overhear. No such luck. Wherever I go, I'm still in earshot.

Why didn't I confront him? No one and nothing would have had my back. As far as I know cell phone etiquette just goes one way, favoring the user in most cases. But I definitely plan to lawschool myself on the subject.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Dumont no dummy

Self-Styled Siren has a post up running through some of the great comic character actors from Ye Olde Golden Age. And yes, she gives due respect to Groucho's favorite foil, Margaret Dumont.

No tribute to comic character actors could be complete without mention of the great Margaret Dumont. She was, without question, The Greatest Straight Woman of All Time. Marx authorities ranging from Dick Cavett to Groucho himself all say Dumont didn't get the jokes, on or off screen, but the Siren doesn't buy it. Dumont had a long career as a comic foil, and face it, she is too good not to know what she's doing. To be a good straight (wo)man, it isn't enough to keep a poker face and ignore the lunacy. Kitty Carlisle, Lillian Roth and Kay Francis all do that, and they still get flattened. No, Dumont had something extra--the ability to broaden her characterization with each new joke. Her finest moments probably came in Duck Soup, where her manner is so impeccably grand she seems to have wandered in from some Ruritanian operetta filming on another soundstage. Groucho was one of the funniest men American comedy ever produced--and if you want to say THE funniest the Siren won't argue. But it takes nothing away from Groucho to state that he was never funnier than when he was bouncing joke after joke off Dumont's imposing figure.

I'd have to say that strikes me as exactly right. Because of typecasting, audiences could leave when the lights came up thinking that Dumont had no sense of humor. That's a shame, because it almost certainly isn't true. Being a straight man or straight woman is a skill, one that tends to be invisible to the audience. Bud Abbott, with a few exceptions, didn't say anything funny either. And yet it's hard to think of Costello working as well with anyone else.

Dumont was in the whole first run of Marx Brothers movies, only excepting the two postwar comedies they made. Groucho had many of his best scenes opposite her. Based on the evidence, she got their humor as well as anyone whose last name wasn't "Marx."

Been through the War

More people died in World War One--aka the Great War--than in World War Two.

How do I know that? Grandad, my maternal grandfather told me. WWI was over when he was just a child, although for years I'm sure that for years afterward it haunted the converation of the grownups. He fought in Two.

It was very like him to point out that fact. To specify that the war he fought in could have been bigger, could have been worse. He was a kind man, and also a humble and unassuming one.

These qualities can lead to one being taken for granted. And I know that back then I didn't fully appreciate him. But even though he wasn't in the US armed forces--rather he was a member of the British Royal Navy--he's the vet I'm thinking of thise veteran's day.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

About Dick and women (it's not what it sounds like)

A book I'm currently reading is Ubik, by Philip K. Dick. In the manner of his best books, it's funny and paranoid. I can only imagine how shaky I'd be if I read it on the same drugs he used to take.

Whatzit about? Well here's a brief synopsis. Glen Runciter runs a business employing "inertials." These are people who are able to counter the wild talents of others, like telepaths and precognitives and so forth. Joe Chip is a tester of inertials, and Runciter's most trusted employee. He's also dirt poor, a fact which matters slightly less when a new anti-precog named Pat Conley moves in as his mistress.

Runciter leads Joe, Pat, and an elite team of crack(ed) inertials to the moon for a lucrative assignment. This mission turns out to be a trap, and Runciter is killed by a bomb almost immediately. Except, evidence mounts that the rest of the team died, and only Runciter survived. These maybe-dead people face the decay of their physical world, the regression to earlier phones. So that, for example, a videophone turns into an old candlestick model, pre-dial.

Yeah, that's just a rough outline. It's got some twists and turns.

Dick first published in the fifties. Initially he intended to write suburban realist novels. These didn't sell, but his science fiction did, and took on some of the themes he had been exploring with his other work.

Science fiction at this time was not great with female characters. Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man had some fascinating concepts, but was undone by turning what should have been a key character into a simpering cypher. Most male authors, in fact, had trouble making women anything more than ornaments.

Dick is a weird exception. Yes, his own romantic history was troubled. At the Marin County divorce court, he was known as "hi Phil." Andy yes, a lot of his women are bitchy and/or pitiful. What they aren't is passive. His male protagonists often have trouble with ex-wives, or sometimes with mutual stalkers. The trouble stems from the fact that these women have their own interests and agendas, and know it. And the solution--if there is one--is not as simple as Ahnold putting a bullet in Sharon Stone and saying "Consider that a divorce."

Another thing I would say about Dick's fiction is that it's not that friendly to studio filmmaking. This despite the occasional interest Hollywood has taken in his work. (A Radio Free Albemuth is in production with Alanis Morrissette in the cast, and Paul Giamatti is interested in doing a biopic.) His novels and short stories are visual, yes, but what you "see" while reading is often cheap and shabby, not really conforming to the look of a summer blockbuster. The lead characters are often kind of schlubby too. Joe Chip, for example, might not be bad looking, but I can't picture an A-list star portraying him. Could be a personal reaction, but I think a lot of readers would share it.

One last note. That picture isn't on the cover of the edition I'm reading. It's from an old Finnish copy. But it certainly is evocative.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

¿Que es mas macho?

The inimitable Laurie Anderson quizzes her backup singers and triumphs over '80s hair.

This is kind of a filler post, as I have some thoughts that I don't really have time to pursue right now. But it is fun filler, isn't it?

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


Say you're on a jury. The uy in front of you has confessed to bringing in smack from Afghanistan, selling it to third graders (he accepts rare Pokemon cards as payment) and blowing away one of their mothers in front of the crumb snatcher. Slam dunk case, right? Vote guilty, give him the chair, and be home in time for "Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?"

But wait. The defense counsel gets the lead detective back for cross examination. On cross, the detective reveals that the defendant only made this confession after the cops drownded him and pulled him out before he asphyxiated. Might that change your verdict?

I suspect it would change everything. For most people it would render anything the man confessed unreliable, when you look at it. But it doesn't matter. This is a form of interrogation meant for detainees who are never supposed to go in front of a jury.


The nomination of Mr. Mukasey was almost derailed by his refusal at his confirmation hearings to define as torture the interrogation technique known as waterboarding, which simulates drowning and is reported to have been used by the Central Intelligence Agency on a handful of Qaeda leaders since the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

In a letter to senators last week, Mr. Mukasey said the practice of waterboarding was “repugnant” but added that he could not judge its legality until he had been given access to classified information about interrogation techniques.

Don't know what kind of classified info Mukasey is waiting for, but thanks to Majikthise I'm privy to an insider's view.

2. Waterboarding is not a simulation. Unless you have been strapped down to the board, have endured the agonizing feeling of the water overpowering your gag reflex, and then feel your throat open and allow pint after pint of water to involuntarily fill your lungs, you will not know the meaning of the word.

Waterboarding is a controlled drowning that, in the American model, occurs under the watch of a doctor, a psychologist, an interrogator and a trained strap-in/strap-out team. It does not simulate drowning, as the lungs are actually filling with water. There is no way to simulate that. The victim is drowning. How much the victim is to drown depends on the desired result (in the form of answers to questions shouted into the victim’s face) and the obstinacy of the subject. A team doctor watches the quantity of water that is ingested and for the physiological signs which show when the drowning effect goes from painful psychological experience, to horrific suffocating punishment to the final death spiral.

Waterboarding is slow motion suffocation with enough time to contemplate the inevitability of black out and expiration –usually the person goes into hysterics on the board. For the uninitiated, it is horrifying to watch and if it goes wrong, it can lead straight to terminal hypoxia. When done right it is controlled death. Its lack of physical scarring allows the victim to recover and be threaten with its use again and again.

Call it “Chinese Water Torture,” “the Barrel,” or “the Waterfall,” it is all the same. Whether the victim is allowed to comply or not is usually left up to the interrogator. Many waterboard team members, even in training, enjoy the sadistic power of making the victim suffer and often ask questions as an after thought. These people are dangerous and predictable and when left unshackled, unsupervised or undetected they bring us the murderous abuses seen at Abu Ghraieb, Baghram and Guantanamo. No doubt, to avoid human factors like fear and guilt someone has created a one-button version that probably looks like an MRI machine with high intensity waterjets.

Yeah, they probably have.

If the Deomocrats were at all an effective opposition party, Mukasey probably wouldn't have been nominated. At the very least, he wouldn't have hedged on waterboarding. But he did, and thanks to Feinstein and Schumer, he's probably a shoo-in.

I'm starting to wish Cindy Sheehan would forget Pelosi's seat and raise her sights to the Senate.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Bundling up

What a day, what a day. A cold nasty rain and some strong winds came on the scene, albeit not the gale force winds they were predicting. Mind you, days like this are part and parcel of living in New England, andI like the variability of the seasons here. But still, kind of uncomfortable when the water gets into your shoes.

Got a little writing done at Starbucks when I stopped in there. So I was more productive in that than I entirely expected.

As for tonight, it's still stormy out. So it's a goon night to stay in, curl up with a good book, and listen to Sassy.

She had a gorgeous voice and--it seems--an empathic connection with the musicians working with her. I can't think of a singer who better personifies the throb of life.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The day after the Great Pumpkin came

Holy kwap, I forgot to blog on Halloween!

How could I forget? Well friends, I was sprawled out on the floor riding that sweet, sweet heroin. Okay, so it was really Alka Seltzer nighttime cold therapy, but the other way sounds more rockstar.

Halloween morning I saw something kind of cool. A teen boy was going to school dressed up as Alex from A Clockwork Orange. You know, white tunic, bowler hat, cane. Either his teachers have neither read the book nor seen the movie, or they have a high tolerance for black humor.

While we're on the belated subject, check out this 'toon. The Brothers Chaps tend to celebrate this time of year in style.