Wednesday, January 31, 2007

News media censors offensive Mooninite.

Today, news outlets censored the hand gesture of a cartoon character.

The story was posted by FanTent at .
FanTent explain: "The buzz in the marketing world today focuses on Boston’s reaction to a guerrilla marketing campaign on behalf of Aqua Teen Hunger Force. As everyone at this point knows the “magnetic” light boxes were misinterpreted as, well, bombs. Suffice it to say that this marketing campaign might well be considered a bomb (at least for the guy who’s been arrested).
What’s interesting from the FanTent perspective is the fact that the national media has taken to editing the image of the Mooninite coming off the Longfellow Bridge".
You can see both versions on the news report video here:
Quite right too. Imagine what would happen if an unsuspecting person saw the original picture. It could be interpreted as a sort of hand gesture of some kind! It's time we put our children's well-being first!!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Amen, Brother

I'd always vaguely wondered why Drum and Bass had that out of control drum thing going on. I assumed it was in honor of Animal. Apparently not. It's a sample that got way outside its comfort zone.

Some things proliferate beyond their natural lifespan, out of control and getting more massive and disorganized with every generation. One such runaway element is the hundreds of pounds of collagen, originally from the foreskin of a California boy, now living on in thousands upon thousands of plumped up lips, according to cosmetic surgery author Alex Kuczynski. Another modern neoplastic element, apparently, is the Amen Break.

This is the sound of a short drum break from "Amen, Brother", the B-side of a 1969 single called "Color Him Father" by The Winstons. It lasted 5.2 seconds in the original and, I hereby guess at random, if now laid end-to-end would last for several hours. It was originally sampled onto a record called Ultimate Breaks and Beats in such a way that it was easily cut out by club DJs from the surrounding music, like a transposon, a so-called Jumping Gene, and like the genetic equivalent, found itself living on inside new material and taking on different characteristics as its surroundings changed. It's been everywhere, even more places than that sample of John Bonham's drums on When the Levee Breaks that you hear all over the place. You can hear it in NWA's Straight Outta Compton and in 3rd Bass' Wordz of Wisdom. There's even a Slipknot track that uses the sample.

Then it mutated, as the individual elements of the break – the snare and hi-hat – were pulled apart by samplers and put back together in new ways, faster and faster, ultimately producing the classic percussion sounds of Drum and Bass (a style of music I admit I find unlistenable, but at least I now know how it got to be what it is). There's a list of the many songs that sample the Amen Break here .

To follow up, I recommend a strange 18-minute video on YouTube that breaks the bounds of video by actually being a more-or-less unbroken shot of a tone arm playing a white-label acetate of the video's narration, which is a man talking about the Amen Break, with occasional forays into copyright law. It's called Video explains the world's most important six-second loop, and is as dry as the title. But strangely fascinating nonetheless.

If you really catch the sampling bug while watching this video, you can grab the progress dot at the bottom of the video picture and drag it backwards and forwards. The tone arm then zooms back and forth over the record like a disk read head. It makes me feel like a DJ scratching an LP. And that is all I have to say about that.

Battlestar Galactica: Taking a Break from All Your Worries

Six is back, and pushing poor Baltar to his limits again. The interplay between Six and Baltar is written so well that it's still impossible to tell whether she's an independent agent or just inside his head, the voice of his conscience. Baltar seems to alternate between threesomes with beautiful Cylons and being tortured. I bet he thinks he shoulda stood in bed. No, wait, it's bed that got him into this mess. I bet he wishes he'd never gotten involved in planetary defense systems. Great episode in terms of Baltar character development.

I'm not so sure about the intercutting between Apollo/Kara's soap-opera life and Baltar's torture though, unless the message is that marriage is as bad as being a prisoner of war in a place that isn't a signatory to the Geneva Conventions. All I have to say is, if marriage is as bad, Jamie "Apollo" Bamber is not actor enough to carry it off. He looked more like a man with a mild case of indigestion than a man whose life is falling apart. About one more shot of him drinking heavily and glancing longingly at Kara and I'd have had to start drinking myself. Come on, you married each other. Deal with it and leave me out of it. And as my SO says, it's a problem that can easily be solved by buying a bigger bed. Do they have bigger beds in Galactica? Perhaps they could just push a few bunks together. It'd be a nice treat for the viewers and put a stop to the four of them whining.

On the other hand, Baltar manages to look totally without hope in his scenes, especially the one in which Six encouraged him to hang himself – a scene which might not have been intended to look as kinky as it actually did. Oh, wait, this is Galactica. It must have been designed to look kinky. You don't often see imaginary gorgeous six foot tall blonde models kicking a chair out from under a man and watching him strangle on a rope, at least not on regular cable.

Baltar's trial should be good. Mind you, I think it's that bastard Helo who should be on trial. He's sold out his own people twice to save his little toaster squeeze (killing the Cylon prisoners to stop Rosyln's planned germ warfare and 'killing' his wife so she's reborn, unarmed and in captivity, on the Cylon ship still filled with knowledge of the Colonial defenses) – and he knows he's doing it too, where Baltar has plenty of room to claim he was either under duress or too mad to understand what he was doing (or frequently both).

I have a theory about Baltar. But that way lies fanfic. (Never again with the fanfic.)

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Poison Satan Fruit

So I went to a restaurant - one which I often go to, in fact - and ordered the Monte Carlo sandwich. "That comes with fruit, doesn't it? And your fruit bowl always has strawberries mixed in, right?"
The waitress nodded.
"I can't eat strawberries. Can you do that without the fruit bowl but with a dip of applesauce instead?"
She nodded.
When the sandwich came it was accompanied by a bowl of applesauce and no side of fruit. However, the chef had carefully decorated the whole sandwich by placing gigantic strawberries - I'm talking baseball-sized strawberries - cut-side down all over the sandwich in a complex master-cheffy sort of eyecatching design. I blanched.
"Take this back," I said to the server, "I asked for no strawberries. I'm allergic to strawberries."
A few minutes later the waitress came running up. "You didn't say you were allergic to strawberries. You said no fruit because fruit contained strawberries!" she wailed. "I wrote 'no fruit side' on the order!"
Well, whatever.
It's a tasty sandwich, though, the Monte Carlo, when it's denuded of the Poison Devil Fruit. Ham, cheese and turkey on sourdough, dipped in egg and fried. Or something. Very American.
Californians love strawberries. In England you used to only be able to get them three weeks of the year, so you'd watch Wimbledon while eating several pounds of strawberries, and then have to wait until next year to have some more. Californians like to show off by having ginormous, perfect strawberries on everything (if they had Black Pudding, they'd put them on Black Pudding too, believe me) all year round. Especially December and January, those most summery of months. Meanwhile, decent god-fearing fruit like blackberries are only available for 0.017 seconds in September, having been trucked in from Tierra del Fuego by 20-mule teams on a go-slow along with their own weight in green powdery mold and small, angry worms that lurk at the bottom of the punnet to surprise the first-time eater. Chestnuts - admittedly not a fruit - are invariably rotten, almost as though that is the correct way to serve them, like Hundred Year-Old Eggs or lutefisk. But the delicate summer strawberry is always available and always mildew-free and uninfested by insects, and has learned, dishearteningly, to cunningly disguise itself under unassuming healthful vegetables the better to make me eat it by accident and break out in hives.
I've lost count of the number of strawberry birthday cakes and strawberries-and-cream well-done celebrations my cow-orkers have put on for me in California. Thanks, guys. Brings a tear to my eye. In fact, it brings a swelling to all my mucous membranes.

Monday, January 08, 2007

A picture of Colonel Tavington. (He's prettier than the Chevaliere d'Eon.)

Chevalier d'Eon

No particular reason for this post, except that I wanted to place this excerpt on the web where people can find it.

As a Jason Isaacs fan, and therefore a fan of the character of Colonel Tavington (in The Patriot) I've read (and written) a great deal of fan-fiction based on the movie. One theme that tends to come up in Rev War fan-fiction is the woman-disguised-as-a-man hiding amongst the troops. The idea of the cross dressing Colonial-era soldier is a persistent one. However, it is invariably of a woman who dresses as a man. Put the hair a queue, find an appropriately baggy uniform (or find a tight, form-fitting pair of breeches if you're going to be in a Hollywood movie later), adopt a gruff voice and there you are.

The story of the Chevalier d'Eon is different. He was a man, a duelist and a dragoon and known to many people as such. For some reason, he began to dress as a woman. There are a number of references to him on the web, but none seem to have exactly the slant of the description below, which is an excerpt from "Benjamin Franklin, The First Civilized American" by Phillips Russell, published in 1926.

The remaining members of the Hell Fire Club seem to have been minor and undistinguished personages, but we have already said enough concerning their companions to indicate what they were like. Franklin arrived in London for his third visit too late to have been admitted to membership, the club having been dissolved when Dashwood became Lord le Despencer in 1762; but there can be little doubt that he would have rejoiced in the company of the other members almost as much as in that of his lordship. Wit, clubbability, free-thinking, and bold gallantry - these were attributes that ever fascinated the provincial Franklin.

There was another associate member or visitor to the club, who perhaps fascinated Franklin even more. This was Eon de Beaumont, known as the Chevalier d'Eon, soldier of France, writer, poet, and diplomat, the secret of whose real sex agitated for years the gossips of the chancelleries of Europe. Indeed, the Hell Fire Club once held a mock trial to determine this very point. D'Eon was living in exile in London while Franklin was there, and there is evidence that they became friends.

The mystery concerning d'Eon involved, as an old French biography puts it, "the imperious circumstances which one day compelled him to conceal his sex." What those strange circumstances were has never been authentically disclosed, but the concealment is said to have been by the order of his king, Louis XV, whose secret correspondence with the Empress Elizabeth of Russia was in charge of d'Eon for five years. Early in his career d'Eon was the secret agent and close confidant of the king, but on somehow falling out of favor, he spent an exile of 14 years in England. He was permitted to return to France in 1775.

Two years afterwards, Count Vergennes, of whose later relations with Franklin we shall presently hear, ordered d'Eon at his home in Tonnerre, to "reassume the garments of his sex." The autopsy at his death is said to have revealed d'Eon as unquestionably male.

Bearing on this point, there is a curious letter from d'Eon to Franklin in the files of the American Philosophical Society at Philadelphia. It was written in Paris in 1778, a year after Count Vergennes had issued his queer order. The following is a translation:
"I have been to Passy to have the honor of seeing you and to felicitate you on recent events occurring in America, but you were in Paris. In your absence we drank to your health and to Liberty, at the home of your friend M. le Ray de Chaumont, who was joined by madame his wife and mademoiselle his daughter in extending to me the most agreeable reception. I hope that the health of the Liberty carried by Madlle d'Eon to three places in Versailles results in all the good possible to America. My brother-in law, the Chevalier O'Gorman, has arrived from Burgundy. He will return next week. He hopes that when next spring you go to Dijon that you will give him the pleasure and honor of stopping with him at Tonnerre. I shall be very happy if I can be present at the same time and there give proofs of the sincere and respectful attachment with which I am
"Your very humble and very obedient servant,

It is to be noted that d'Eon's signature is in the feminine. Moreover, in calling himself "servant," he uses not the usual masculine serviteur but the feminine servante.

Also, on the back of the letter there is this memorandum, apparently in Franklin's handwriting and possibly for filing purposes: "Chevaliere D'Eon, 24 jany, 1778" - again the feminine form. This letter heightens the mystery which even to this day is attached to the name of d'Eon.

To the last he dressed in women's clothes, and, clinging to his skirts, even took part in fencing duels. In his later years he was always careful to call himself, as in the above letter, "Mademoiselle d'Eon."
In connection with d'Eon there is a curious story told of Franklin during his residence as American envoy at Passy, now part of Paris but then a suburb. Franklin let it be known that he wished to contribute to the "blessed bread" being distributed in the parish of Passy. He offered thirteen brioches, or cakes, representing the thirteen American colonies, on the first of which -destined for the cure- should be inscribed, in large letters, the word "Liberty." The cure and the bishop sought to dissuade him, but it was d'Eon who caused him to renounce the project by saying: "Passy is too close to Versailles. They do not greatly care for that word there." [1]
It may have been that d'Eon, who at times manifested sportive inclinations, took it upon himself to carry the inscribed cakes to Versailles. If so, this would explain his reference to "the Liberty" in his letter to Franklin.

[1] Archives of the Historical Society of Auteuil and Passy.

Wikepedia's take:'Eon

That Ben Franklin was a card, eh?

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Pac Bell's Cannon

There's been quite a buzz about this video – a young guy playing Pachelbel's Canon in D on the electric guitar, in what appears to be the ultimate expression of the style popularized by Bill and Ted's excellent Wyld Stallyns. Fascinating stuff. I've now watched it about five times straight through, open-mouthed with awe. He sure is fast; he sure is good. You can't take your eyes off him.

The only trouble is I'm watching it in much the same way I watch a skateboarder – more in wonder that he never falls over and flattens his nose on a curb than admiration for his sheer wanton fabulousness. My outstanding thought is that this guy – his name is Jeong-Hyun Lim, apparently - probably played more notes practicing this and playing it for the video than Paul Kossoff played in his entire lifetime. And yet I look forward more to hearing the first three notes of Kossoff's solo on I'll Be Creepin' (at 2:12 on this video) than to hearing Lim shred another skull-peeling five-minute virtuoso solo.

With Koss it never seemed to be about how many notes he could fit in to a piece. It was about picking the right one for the occasion. Usually he just needed a few and the listener got his message perfectly – there's a couple of solos that almost make me cry, they're so effective. Using the right note and making it sound right was the key. He got what people refer to as the right tone. As you read through the comments on Kossoff's playing on the YouTube videos, you see people asking how gets that sound. How does he? I don’t know – apart from starting out really loud, of course. I've read that he didn't care too much about his legendary tone. It seems he just got it when he played as though he carried it with him, rather than carefully teasing it out of a unique combination of guitar and amplifier.

On another note (no pun intended) the comments on Lim's video mention that when he makes a mistake (which is rare), his eyes flick to the right and rest there for a second. One person thinks he has his tablature on the wall over there and he's checking it. I'm not sure; I think that people look into their minds by looking up and to the right. It's a way to access your inner thoughts. At least I hope so, because I'm putting that into a character's habits in a piece I'm currently writing. Funny to see it played out (so to speak) on a video in front of me.

Saturday, January 06, 2007


I got my new passport today - in record time, I might add, so all those extra fees might have been worth it.

One thing that had slipped my mind, even though I do read Bruce Sterling's blog, is that all US passports issued after January 1st have "sensitive electronics" aka RFIDs in them. Mine was issued on January 3rd. So now I can go anywhere (except Cuba), and as an added bonus, Uncle Sam can track me everywhere, and anyone who hacks the passport can read all my sekrit details! Yay! I'm told it's a bad idea to microwave the passport to accidentally ruin the chip, so I'll buy it a lead bag, photographic films for the preserving of, and keep it in there.

It's a very nice passport with at least as much kerfufflry as the British one I had. Instead of scrolls and swirls and and Requests from Her Britannic Majesty and stuff, it has pictures of exceedingly noble, wise-looking eagles, quotes from Lincoln, the Star Bangled Spammer and some stuff from the Preamble of the Constitution or the Bill of Rights or something. (I've already forgotten . . . in lead bag out of sight, out of mind, I guess.)

They even remembered to send back my naturalization certificate, albeit after folding it in three with a sharp crease that's going to cause trouble in a few years. Still, you can't win 'em all. So, where shall I go on my nice new passport?

Extreme Dentistry

The search for great teeth continues. The visit yesterday took a remarkable pharmaceutical detour. The dentist was cutting some tissue away and decided to use Epinephrine, a standard anti-bleeding drug, along with the anesthetic. I have a vague memory that all my dentists over the past few years have used it whenever there's a possibility of bleeding, and in the approximately gazillion other surgeries I had last year, I think the non-dental surgeons used Epi each time. At least, after the injection of the local anesthetic, my skin went white, which is typical; Epi closes the capillaries, which is how it cuts down on bleeding.

As you probably know, Epi is otherwise known as adrenaline, the "fight, fright or fight" hormone. Sometimes a surgeon warns me that "this may make your heart race". It never has. Today he injected me with it as usual but this time it went and did the adrenaline thing. My heart accelerated to the road-drill stage, the long drop opened up beneath me and I began falling down the rabbit-hole. Within twenty seconds of the injection I was hyperventilating with a heart rate of 150, and the dentist was calling for someone to get me oxygen.

I'm not sure which one of us was most worried. Epi is a fast-acting hormone, but it goes away just as fast. The half-life is in the 30 second range, so within two minutes I was back to normal. The dentist made some notes in my record, patted me on the shoulder and told me that if I couldn't remember a long word like "Epinephrine" I should at least remember to tell the next dentist that I'd had a "bit of a reaction to the drug that makes your heart race". I assured him that I could remember the word. He possibly didn't intend to say this out loud, but he added, "What worries me is I only gave you a small dose." Well, I said, all I'd had to eat that day was my usual morning eight cups of coffee and a megadose of Amoxicillin (I have to take antibiotics before each of these increasingly frequent trips to the dentist for reasons too boring to go into). I think he calmed down a bit after I described the contents of my Breakfast of Champions.

On the way home, I thought about the way that, many years ago, I used to pay good money to get that same head rush. Amyl Nitrite, a cheap-ass, legal and thoroughly rotten drug that I hope no one uses any more, was a staple of my college circle. The effect is surprisingly similar. Of course, when taking Amyl I was a) about twenty years old and b) having sex at the time. Yesterday I was a) in my forties and b) lying in a dentist's chair with two medical professionals staring down at me with a shared thought balloon over their heads clearly reading YIKE IS MALPRACTICE INSURANCE UP TO DATE PLZ CHECK. Somehow it's not the same.

Gooey Hellmouths

Reading Tom Disch's Live Journal today, I came across this:

The dark side to all this can be seen as the problem of atheism in a world of lawless and disaffected teenagers addicted to bingo. My friend grieved that so many young people were being "thrown away" by society. I grieve that anarchy now has the edge.

It was a damned refreshing outlook on the Problems We Face Today. Unfortunately, when I reread it a moment later, it actually read

The dark side to all this can be seen as the problem of atheism in a world of lawless and disaffected teenagers addicted to drugs. My friend grieved that so many young people were being "thrown away" by society. I grieve that anarchy now has the edge.

The Ugly Things website later informed me:

Welcome to Ugly Things, the ultimate rock'n'roll read, bringing you wild sounds from past dimensions, from times when rock'n'roll was young, daring, religious and viral.

Which turned out, on closer inspection, to read:

Welcome to Ugly Things, the ultimate rock'n'roll read, bringing you wild sounds from past dimensions, from times when rock'n'roll was young, daring, dangerous and vital.

Y'see, I'm an over-40 person. My eyesight isn't what it used to be, I can't find my glasses (of course), and my brain has apparently come up with a timesaving measure. Its solution is to invent up any words it can't make out. Usually, the brain's in the ballpark. People are fairly predictable after all, and sentences normally play out the way they intimated they would right at the beginning. Sometimes, though, brain gets it wrong. Amusingly wrong as above, or even spectacularly wrong.

Most websites use text sizes which just don't cut it for me. I can increase the font size or zoom (and destroy the intended layout of the page) using my browser, of course, but I'd prefer to read a page the way it opens, with the graphics and margins falling in the place where the designer intended them to be. I don't know why so many web layouts are only marginally readable. The answer I've seen around is that networking site providers want to woo teenage hip young things who early-adopt and are generally considered to be good for business. They have good short-distance eyesight and discrimination and *like* clutter, red-text-on-black-backgrounds and paragraphs with no extra line feed. That explains the layout on LiveJournal and most of Blogger, and makes a start on explaining the cramped, dark and noisy styles available on MySpace. (Then again, nothing can fully explain MySpace's layout. Unless – someone should try this - if you reverse the colors on the page, does part of the text jump out at you to spell "Here's to My Sweet Satan"? That might be it.)

That common answer, though, doesn't say why the networking sites are so desperate to herd the youngsters towards their hellmouths. After all, people my age have all the money, and there's more and more of us and fewer ankle-biters every year. And I – I just want to re-iterate this now – can't read anything smaller than 12-point type. It's not a problem with a book or a newspaper, which I can hold closer or further away until it swims into focus, or switch a light on to better illuminate the page, or (as a last resort) carry the thing around with me until a pair of glasses manifests on a table somewhere and then carry on reading. But the screen won't be moved or carried around, and the Forget-It Co-efficient of a web page (the time taken to load plus the time taken to find my glasses) is about one thousand times that of the Forget-It Co-efficient of a book. After all, I've usually gone out and bought a book, or at least um, bought it from Amazon. Anyway, I've actually decided in some meaningful way that I want it. With a web page, I've usually clicked on to it out of mild interest from somewhere else and have nothing invested in it. If it wants me to stay and look at it, it should at least be readable.

The above's not entirely true. I can read down to 8-point type. But at that level I substitute about 20% of the verbs and 10% of the nouns with words of my own choosing. Looking at the examples above – the two I bothered to copy and paste out of about ten double-takes today – it's more thought-provoking that way anyway.


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