Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Bad News From Tehran

I don't usually send out proper news here, but I've been following an Iranian blogger (through a common second language, although his is a little better than mine) who's somehow still getting a few lines out of Tehran, and the information he posted earlier this afternoon is pretty grim. It's not something I can independently confirm, but maybe this will help somebody. Here's a rough translation/paraphrase:
  • According to his latest information, 37 people were killed nationwide as of Sunday.
  • Since Sunday evening, groups of social activists (students, university professors, journalits, members of the women's rights movement, Iranian human rights activists, members of social organizations, etc.) are being arrested.
  • Some (not many) of the ayatollahs who support or are favorable to the protest movement are being strongly suppressed and threatened through governmentally-supported pressure groups.
  • At various universities the students are participating in anti-government demonstrations over the murder of the peaceful protesters who were shot down over the weekend.
  • At the moment in Tehran, more than 1100 people have been arrested over the past two days. Clear information about elsewhere isn't available.
You'll have to forgive me if I don't yet directly link the blogger I'm cribbing these notes from, but after hearing about protesters and other information sources being tracked down and arrested through Twitter tweets and Facebook posts, you'll have to allow me an extra level of paranoia on behalf of a good stranger who might want to keep his head for awhile longer...at least for now. This is obviously going to get worse before it starts getting better.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Ho! Ho! No?!

And yes, this is actually one of mine for a change...

There's always been something a bit weird about the "Santa Claus' Story" film that's been making the rounds of dollar-bin Christmas videos in recent years (and I'm not talking about the random monkey film clips, or the little boy who looks like he got heroin in his stocking). Thanks to high-tech audio forensics (or a/v boredom, take your pick), the truth has been revealed!

Merry Christmas, ya punks.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Internet Tells The Story Of My Life

Submitted for your approval are a few random lines from a recent Roger Ebert blog post that proves my theory: Now that the Internet has reached saturation point (at least in the developed world), you will eventually find the story of your life. Oh, it won't necessarily be your life in the sense that it'll be a page about you, and you might not even find it all in one place from one author, but you can assemble a recognizable collage of digital bricabrac and someone will say "Oh, that's so you, it's not even funny."

That wasn't necessarily so back in the 80s when grad students and scientists were running the table, but now we have stuff like this.
My books are a subject of much discussion. They pour from shelves onto tables, chairs and the floor, and Chaz observes that I haven't read many of them and I never will. You just never know. One day I may -- need is the word I use -- to read Finnegans Wake, the Icelandic sagas, Churchill's history of the Second World War, the complete Tintin in French, 47 novels by Simenon, and By Love Possessed. [...]

Like an alcoholic trying to walk past a bar, you should see me trying to walk past a used book store.
Yeah man. Of course, the titles are different, and I don't have a Chaz in my life at the moment, but the core is on the money.

And yet, I know that the article starts off with "One afternoon in Cape Town I sat in my little room at University House and took inventory. This must have been in June, winter in the southern hemisphere, and it had been raining steadily for most of a week." Is that my life, too? Not even close. Keep in mind this is a theory that's still in development.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Plug Beach! Just In Time For The Off-Season!

Partially a low-content plug salad, partially a memo to make sure I don't forget these things. Either way, you should take a look.
  • Letters of Note (via News From ME): Lots and lots of scanned-in memos and letters that for one reason or another are worthy of attention. Many of these are funny, some are sad, and a few are actually historically important. All of them are a great way to kill some time.
  • The Constant Viewer (via Roger Ebert): Now here's somebody who, in a perfect world, would go a long way on the Intertubes. Framed as entries in an imaginary "cinema diary" which will eventually stretch from Muybridge's earliest experiments to this summer's blockbusters, most people would be content to watch the movies and write them up. Paul J. Marasa is much more ambitious than that, putting himself in the shoes of a contemporary viewer and conjuring up that guy's reactions. Even the writing styles his diarist uses are period specific.

    At a time where everybody under creation seems to be using their cozy modern sensibilities to skin the past (guilty as charged), Marasa is doing much heavier imaginative lifting by inhabiting the skin of the past. Currently, he's up to 1954, so now's as good a time as any to get in while the getting's good.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009


Sometime today, Barack Obama is scheduled to make a television address to the students of the nation on one of the traditional first days of school. A huge controversy has been stirred up about what the president was going to say to the kids, and as a result, some districts decided not to run his speech, while some parents decided just to keep their kids out of school today so Obama couldn't get to them. The one reason I keep hearing is that the parents are afraid he's going to push some political agenda on a group of citizens who are at a most impressionable and malleable place in their lives (The forum rats at Democratic Underground? Oh, the kids, sorry...).

So what's the evil message of indoctrination that even now is being piped into our classrooms, insinuating into our children's (well, your children's) minds like worms eating their brains? (WARNING: Please read the next line with your eyes covered. You don't want to get infected.)


In what has been a depressing trend this summer, this current round of paranoia was based on nothing, since none of the pundits making the noise--and definitely none of the parents complaining to the school boards--had seen even a semicolon from the speech before throwing a tantrum about it. Really, when has a message from the prez to the kids not been "stay in school"? Or some other homily about civic pride or exercise?

To those who fell for yet another phony outrage from the professional provocateurs: Congratulations, you made your kids cut classes so Obama couldn't tell them not to cut classes. That's a great lesson to carry forward into life. Of course, there's always the chance they'd drop out just to spite Osama Obama, but sometimes they're gonna do what they're gonna do.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Just Finished: In The Land of Invented Languages

In The Land of Invented Languages by Arika Okrent (Spiegel & Grau, 2009): Well, here's something I haven't done in awhile, and especially not with a book released in the same year I write it up. Mother of mercy, I might actually start paying attention to the world around me again! It could actually happen, friends. Excuse me while I shake the moss off my shoulders...

When we talk about invented languages--who are we kidding, when I talk about invented languages while you're trying to steer the table-talk subject back to sports or politics--it's usually either Klingon or Esperanto, not the 900+ other constructed languages that Arika Okrent had available to pick through for her book. Most people who run into a Klingon speaker probably ran into someone who memorized a few phrases to go with their alarmingly elaborate costume for the convention, and while there are a good-sized number of Esperanto speakers in the world, you probably won't just bump into one. (Full disclosure: I claim to be an Esperantist, which is how I found this book in the first place, although I admit I've been half-assing it. Sed mi esperas por plej bonaj tagoj...)

Rather than lay an encyclopedia on us, Okrent, a PhD-holding linguist, takes on a handful of "best of breed" projects with a pretty decent amount of detail. She bookends In The Land of Invented Languages with the story of how she fell in with the Klingon speakers, and how she obtained her first-level certification in Klingon just for the challenge of it, which points to the major tone of the book. Like a lot of popular nonfiction of recent years, the book is salted and peppered with Okrent's first-person accounts of dealing with these projects and/or their adherents. To that end, not only do we get the histories of the driven men and women who brought these things into the world, but we also get the author's experiences at Esperanto conventions, figuring out how to curse in a 17th century philosophical language, and almost forgetting how to comprehend English after spending too much time with the "logical" language of Lojban.

Having a horse going into this race, I was especially interested in the sections about Esperanto, whose creator had the good sense to step to one side after the initial work was done and let his child run where it wanted. The result is that although Esperanto hasn't become the universal language the first generation was hoping for (yet), it has developed into a living language of a kind of voluntary diaspora...although you wouldn't know it unless you knew where to look. As a sad counterpoint--and a cautionary tale to control freaks--we're also given the story of Blissymbolics, a symbol language created by Charles Bliss to bring about peace and understanding which instead found success as a way of communication for children whose disorders made speaking impossible. What should have been Bliss' ultimate vindication curdled in the pan because he was aiming for a particularly quixotic kind of "success", one that made it impossible for him to step out of the way and let a different kind of triumph happen. Simple interference turned into willful obstructionism. It got pretty ugly. There were lawyers involved at the end. And they were suing a children's charity.

In The Land of Invented Languages was a brisk read which deals with language and grammar with only a very rare whiff of the classroom and a sense of humor that isn't reflexively dismissive, very important for a work of this type. On top of all that, Arika Okrent did me a solid. I am no longer frightened by Klingon speakers...but now I'm terrified of Lojban.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

This banking ripoff is PERFECT for a black person...OR a white person!

You've all seen this by now, I assume...

...and yes, if you haven't figured it out, Red House is a real place, even if the ad didn't actually run on TV.

One of the recurring snide comments I've read in connection with this video is "Only in North Carolina would they even consider running something like this." Because self-awareness is against the law in the southeast, right? Because once you get to Virginia, irony is what you use on your shirts-ony, right? Because the rest of the country is sooooo much more progressive, right? Riiiiiiight?

Let me help you out with something ripped screaming and afraid from the headlines. Like our buddy Ten Gauge, the fine people at the Baltimore branches of Wells Fargo (the banking behemoth that recently ate home-grown Wachovia alive) liked extending credit to everybody. But unlike our buddy Ten Gauge, if the pending lawsuit is to be believed, certain types of now-infamous credit ripoffs were aimed very heavily at minority customers. The declarations of ex-employees claim that African American and other minority communities were targeted for subprime mortgages ("ghetto loans," they called them), and in fact told all kinds of fanciful lies to people who qualified for prime loans to get them on the subprime train.

They focused on African-American churches. Churches, people. I don't know how different it is in the streets of Baltimore, but here in Red House country (where, if you'll remember, black people AND white people buy furniture), the church community is still considered Quite Worthy. They didn't call the game plan "riding the stagecoach to hell" for nothing.

Now consider this: the company that does credit pre-qualifying for Red House claims to offer a non-discriminatory assessment of all applicants, and not following up on what would seem to be a commonsense "play fair" rule is a surefire way to have your name immortalized in an 800+ page legal complaint...as Wells Fargo Baltimore has found out.

So really, who's the chump now? And can't we all just get along? I know of a place where we can, but you'll have to figure out where it is yourself. It's down the road from the Cuban gynecologist who sells cars.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

If you cannot control your desktop, you cannot command others...

Y'know folks, when I get into one of these no-talky, no-posty funks, it often takes something very special or very horrifying to drag me out of that hole. This is both of those things. Ladies and gentlemen, Sophos has released an anti-virus tool in Klingon.

A brief musical interlude follows while the implications of that announcement (and the follow-up post which offhandedly mentions (shudder) the upcoming Klingon Kama Sutra...and you thought they weren't flexible) sink in. Sing along if you know the words and aren't afraid to say them out loud...just follow the bouncing bat'leth!

Klingon Anti-Virus: Because to those who are overly cautious, every download is impossible.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Of all the photo blogs I've been pointed to, none drop my jaw as far as This Is Why You're Fat, a celebration (if that's the word) of excess in the kitchen and food that shouldn't go on top of (or inside of) other food. And it's not top-dollar-for-artistically-tiny-portions excess, oh nonono. This is all middle-class everything-from-the-freezer-on-one-dish excess, the kind that you and I can afford...and live to regret. For that reason, no text is needed, although an occasional "BACON DOESN'T BELONG THERE!" would be extremely helpful. Obviously deserving of multiple visits.

Singled out for special mention: the Lovecraftian horror of THE MEAT SHIP.


My God...it's full of sausages...