Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The 2011 Christmas Annex: Kukla, Fran, and Ollie

(For those of you who missed it, 2010’s monumental screaming rush through a all 49 holiday-themed episodes on a $5 DVD set is still up, even if some of the videos are broken.)

As far as The Dunciad is concerned, a large chunk of the year passed by without a thank-you-kindly. (Here’s a hint: I’m a lot more mouthy on my Google+ feed, even if you can’t exactly monetize it yet.) There’s no way I’d skip Christmas, though, and although I don’t have a master plan yet, I do have the other Mill Creek holiday collection to pick over, but I’ll introduce you to that sometime in the next few days, as well as a few other dips and dabs sitting on the shelf.

The plan? At the moment, there is no plan. We’re just going to play it by ear, and hopefully use that momentum to get back to the @#$^&*! mystery movies in the New Year! See? I never forget a failure!

But first…
The traditional KFO tight shot pose.
Just Enough Information: The story of Kukla, Fran and Ollie as we’re familiar with them began on October 13, 1947, when Junior Jamboree launched over WBKB Chicago, but as the marvelous Kuklapolitan Website explains it, the full story began roughly ten years earlier when a young puppeteer named Burr Tillstrom created a balding puppet with a big red nose for a friend but couldn’t bear to send it away. The friend ended up getting another puppet, and Tillstrom got a performing partner for life.

Since you should really get the full story from the people who know how to tell it well, this will stick to the “100 words or less” version: In dips and dabs over the next decade, Tillstrom created the rest of the group that would come to be known as the Kuklapolitan Players, including Oliver J. Dragon, the handsome devil with the bedroom eyes whose name takes up the bottom half of the title. Fran Allison, who was a regular singer and comedian on Don McNeill’s radio show The Breakfast Club, was brought in for the TV show to interact with “the kids”—Burr never called them puppets—and her easy rapport with the Kuklapolitans helped put over the whole enterprise.

Even more amazing was that the show, like many of the programs from what the first generation of television critics called “the Chicago school”, was improvised as they went.  While the production team planned out the programs to the extent that musical arrangements, props and costumes could be put together, the dialogue was never rehearsed. 

James Thurber, in one of the many celebrity fan letters Burr received over the years, put it best: “You are one of the few people helping to save the sanity of the nation and to improve, if not even to invent, the quality of television.”


The Christmas Episode:  “Making a Christmas Tree Stand”. Original airdate: December 20, 1949 live over NBC.

It’s a pretty simple situation, really. Company member Buelah Witch has flown up from North Carolina with a freshly cut Kuklapolitan-size Christmas tree (strapped to her broom, as if you had to ask), and Kukla takes on the task of building a stand for it. But like anything that sounds deceptively simple in print, it’s not what happens, but how it happens.
For instance, when I say that Kukla builds the stand, I mean Kukla builds the stand. Live and on the air.
First with the saw......and then with the rest of the tool box.
Ollie was going to chip in, but when he spotted Kukla with that saw, he decided discretion was the better part of getting out of Dodge, or whatever you care to call it. Fortunately, stagehand Cecil Bill is around, and really, he should’ve been in on the project to begin with since we can assume he’s with the union.
Real hammer, real chisel, real hands inside the characters, both belonging to the same guy who’s lining all of this up on a video monitor. That’s what you call bravery in the face of television.

And it keeps going like that for about six or seven minutes. But Burr knew where he was going, so just relax.

“Where he’s going” is to music director Jack Fascinato’s piano (well, not literally), where they finish the show by singing a few Christmas songs.  Roll the clip:

Have I mentioned that I’m totally in love with this show? You’ll might have to watch a few episodes to click with the show’s natural rhythm and sense of humor, but it’s worth doing.

But Don’t Take My Word For It:  Well, there are a few complete KFO shows available for streaming on the Museum of Broadcast Communications website (“Collection -> Search the archives”, then register…it’s free), but not this one. This episode, along with 19 others, is on the first Kukla, Fran and Ollie: The First Episodes DVD set, which is available for purchase right now at a reasonable price through Amazon and the Chicago History Museum. Volume 2 (which—who saw this coming—includes another Christmas-themed episode) will be ready to order by the end of the week, and the fact that we can talk about a Volume 2 proves that if you support this type of small label release, they’ll make more. If the result is more vintage stuff to watch, you shouldn’t fight it. If you’ve got a sweet spot for early television, you really should have both of them.

Next: Me trying to figure out where we’re going next…

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Congress Tries To Break the Internet...yet again...

Breaking radio silence to remind you that the things we take for granted are now under constant assault, and not just the things Occupy Wall Street care about.  For instance, there's an odious piece of "piracy" legislation worming its way through Congress (the PROTECT-IP Act in the Senate, and the infinitely more odious SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) in the House of Representatives), and forget about illegally sharing videos, if you've ever shared a link to one of those videos, this is a cartoon piano aimed squarely at your head.  But don't take my word for it...


PROTECT IP Act Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.

(from the video page)
Tell Congress not to censor the internet NOW! - fightforthefuture.org/pipa

PROTECT-IP is a bill that has been introduced in the Senate and the House and is moving quickly through Congress. It gives the government and corporations the ability to censor the net, in the name of protecting "creativity". The law would let the government or corporations censor entire sites-- they just have to convince a judge that the site is "dedicated to copyright infringement." 

The government has already wrongly shut down sites without any recourse to the site owner. Under this bill, sharing a video with anything copyrighted in it, or what sites like Youtube and Twitter do, would be considered illegal behavior according to this bill. 

According to the Congressional Budget Office, this bill would cost us $47 million tax dollars a year — that's for a fix that won't work, disrupts the internet, stifles innovation, shuts out diverse voices, and censors the internet. This bill is bad for creativity and does not protect your rights.

As with anything involving new media and the entertainment industry, what's on the table is aggressive and regressive, and as usual, they're going after you and me, because we're only consumers and we can't be trusted.  Social media and search engines would have to be actively censored to prevent anything that even smells like infringement. You know how Justin Bieber got discovered by singing cover songs on Youtube? Those type of shenanigans would get you five years in prison under the proposed laws. And as tempting as some of you probably find that, there's no way we should let that happen.

And of course, there are the unintended consequences, because if internet censorship legislation is famous for anything, it's for not being thought through or even exhibiting a basic understanding of how technology works. Because once there's an easy-to-abuse legal mechanism to get a song or a movie scrubbed from the record, what would stop a cult or a "dirty tricks" political group from using it against critics or whistleblowers?

There's no upside here. This is a bad law, badly written, presumably written by the type of boardroom lawyers who don't give two craps about people as long as they get paid. Handing this power to the government is dark and nasty enough, but handing it to privately-held industry groups is just infernal. If they're not stopped now, it's the death of liberty...all because of their dark fantasies about some kid trying to watch a Harry Potter movie without paying.

This type of thug-rule demands a grass-roots push back just to prove that American democracy works.  Get on the horn to your Congresspeople.

Edit @ 6:45: The first day of the hearing happened today, and Katherine Oyama lived up to the company's mantra of "do no evil."  However, she was the only witness against the proposed legislation invited to testify before committee, while five witnesses in favor of the bill are up next. This feels like a fraud and smells like a fraud. Will it quack like a fraud? We shall see...

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Censorship of Faith Makes Me Mad, But Idiot News Bloggers Make Me FURIOUS

The reason I really, really, really hate American-based current events bloggers is that most of them go in with a pre-defined agenda and, by playing their commentary into the agenda, basically degenerate current events into a cookie and a story before bedtime for true believers. That's why I try not to do that here, and stick with the light, fluffy crap that makes us all stupider as a nation, regardless of political affiliation. However, the way these baby pundits are covering the controversy at the Houston (TX) Veterans Administration Cemetery shows what happens when somebody decides to "tell you what it all means" without a firm understanding of what actually happened in the first place.

First, the story as I understand it (from the Houston Chronicle): The local chapters of three organizations--the Veterans of Foreign Wars, The American Legion and the National Memorial Ladies--are accusing Arleen Ocasio, director of the Houston National Cemetery, of creating an atmosphere of "religious hostility" by banning those organizations from using the words "God" and "Jesus," censoring the content of prayers, and forbidding religious messages in burial rituals "unless the deceased's family submitted the text for prior approval. In the text of the complaint which is currently in court--while Ocasio is on vacation, oddly enough--the accusations continue: "The doors remain locked during Houston National Cemetery operating hours, the cross and the Bible have been removed, and the Chapel bells, which tolled at least twice a day, are now inoperative. Director Ocasio only unlocks the chapel doors when meetings or training sessions are held at the building. Furthermore, it is no longer called a 'chapel' but a 'meeting facility.'" As this was all done by a director under the employ of the VA, the result is a federal lawsuit.

To top that off, the VA has allegedly been investigating these claims for a month, but when Judge Lynn Hughes asked VA attorney Fred Hinrichs a simple question like "Is the chapel actually open?", he was unable to answer.

If these accusations hold water, there's a lot to be angry about, first of all because the charges imply that this Ocasio jerk apparently believes family wishes (and faith (or not)) don't figure into plans for vets' funerals. She obviously doesn't "get" what the word "chapel" means or what a prayer is, and the VA's conduct doesn't exactly shine like a fresh penny, either. But it seems like the crux of this complaint is a supervisor overstepping her bounds and being an insensitive jerk about matters of faith at a time in people's lives where they need whatever they can get. Still, this is not only about stupidity, but stupidity coming from someone on the government payroll, so there's plenty of lumps to go around at the federal level.

That's my take away, and it took all of thirty seconds on Google to find the source. Now, let's pick a random "news blogger" (full disclosure: never heard of them, not going to bother to get acquainted) and see what they have to say: "Another craven example of the left's war on America. We are not godless." Then an assumption that they'd probably give Allah a free pass based on absolutely nothing but a phone call that says the VA doesn't comment on ongoing litigation and pre-determined biases, and of course, the snotty denigration of just the concept American Muslim soldiers. Finally, the post quotes (in its entirety) another blogger's summary of the Chronicle article, rather than actually going back to the original source herself.

A quick scan of the (ugh) blogosphere shows that the same people who fight the phony War on Christmas are already building this into the tip of a government conspiracy against people of faith. One headline states, as bluntly as a fart, "God banned from funerals for war vets under Obama VA's orders," with absolutely no indication in any legitimate source that this was an official policy or whether (as I suspect, but it's just my opinion) Ocasio was acting on her own stupid initiative, just the implicit understanding that anything that includes "government" and "religion" is a top-down decision 100% of the time, forever and ever amen. In other words, at some point in the chain a collection of Internet idiots started making up details based on nothing.

This is what some people have pretended is the new paradigm of citizen journalism. I call it "playing telephone on the Internet." Before you write that comment claiming that I'm part of the conspiracy, it's worth noting that pre-processed, unexamined assumptions are a non-partisan symptom of enraged ideologues of all political persuasions. Since this is a partisan example someday I might get around to "balancing the scales", but there's no way in hell that I'm going out of my way to track down an example of an unwarranted leftist blog freakout today. When I want the news, I read the damn news. Not a blog. And neither should you. For that matter, why are you still here? Go read the newspaper.

The moral of this story: A scientist can see a drop of water and figure out the existence of Niagra Falls, but a news blogger sees a drop of water and cooks up a theory about how George Soros/Rupert Murdoch/the Trilateral Commission is trying to destroy us with millions of drops of evil, evil water. But really, why the hell should you listen to me? I'm just some guy you've never heard of.

And that's my "my country is losing its mind" post for the month. Don't panic, I'll be back to trivial crap by the weekend.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Fish, A Barrel, and That Other Thing You May Have Heard Of

One of the anniversaries that wasn't marked here while I was off in Eeyore's Gloomy Place or whatever: ten years ago on June 8th, Suck.com announced it was going fishing and never came back, leaving a generation of bastard web children to grow up wondering who their dad was. Then would've been as good a time as any to link to Matt Sharkey's thorough history of the site from 2005 (which does a very good job at reminding us why a single 200 pixel column of low-bandwidth snark was revolutionary in 1995), but doing it in something resembling a timely manner would've actually required making a proper effort.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Intermission Is Almost Over...

...and then we can get back to our mystery movies and other nonsense. The snack bar is still open, or if you don't have one of those, you're stuck with your refrigerator.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Okay, what were we doing again?

Ya tell a guy the world's ending, and pretty soon he's blown a whole month hanging billboards and handing out flyers. Go figure. As for what happened to those other weeks, well, OOO LOOK SHINY RED BALL! GO GET IT BOY! GO GET IT!

Oh, since I've declared this "Rebecca Black Action Center", we might as well get this out of the way. The full version rolls out June 14th on Funny Or Die, with a cameo from America's favorite YouTube baffler.


I haven't forgotten about the mystery movies, either. That's a thing that is still going to happen.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Toronto Smoking Law Takes Down Vatican Assassin Warlock

File under "So you think that's his real problem, do you?": In advance of his Self-Delusion Continental Tour, which hit Toronto's Massey Hall at the end of last week, Ontario Health Promotion Minister Margarett Best offered to help Sheen give up smoking...or at least call the hotline. New Democrat France Gélinas was one of several opposition politicians who snickered at the offer, saying hell no, you can't use our anti-smoking hotline if you don't even live here. It may be a cunning plan, since recent experience has told us that ordering Charlie around is a great way to get him to do the opposite.

Ontario has strict laws about smoking in enclosed public spaces, although whether Sheen got a warning or a ticket would've depended on whether the enforcing officer wanted to pick a fight with a warlock. It turned out to be a moot point, because when Thursday rolled around Sheen spent the show puffing on a fake cig that emitted water vapor, saving the genuine article for the fire escape before and after the show. Like a common dog, I tell ya!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Scrounger’s Cheapjack Mystery Movie! #1: Bulldog Drummond’s Revenge

And yes, I know I said “this weekend”, but come on, it’s somebody’s weekend right now…

Released by CONGRESS FILMS! Lots of talk that ultimately means nothing!

Our Feature Presentation: Bulldog Drummond’s Revenge (1937), starring John Howard as Capt. Hugh “Bulldog” Drummond, Louise Campbell as Phyllis Clavering, Reginald Denny as Algy Longworth, and John Barrymore (top-billed, because hey, why the hell not) as Colonel Nielson of Scotland Yard. Based on characters created by Herman Cyril “Sapper” McNeile.

It’s a jolly day because Capt. Drummond is going to marry his fiancée Phyllis Claverling. His chum Algy is coming along, as well as Colonel Nielson of Scotland Yard.

Putting a kink into the plans, Nielson has just been warned of a nasty bit of espionage going down against Sir John Haxton, creator of an experimental explosive he very humbly named after himself. A satchelful of Haxtonite, he assures Nielson, can bring down Westminster Abbey, and who wouldn’t want their name smeared all over that?

By the way, this is how science used to look before computers ruined everything.

Because of—or rather, in spite of—the stuff having a conveniently random level of volatility, he refuses a military escort, flying a suitcase load of the boom-boom powder in his single engine private plane (yeah, because those are much safer than military transport) with his personal secretary, a man who bears the not-at-all-ominous name Draven Nogais. Once they’re airborne, Nogais shoots Sir John and grabs the suitcase. Then—and here’s where things get interesting—he pulls out a severed forearm that was wrapped in some newspaper behind the passenger seat, drops the suitcase by parachute from the plane for his confederates, steers the plane into a nosedive, and parachutes himself out before the moment of ultimate destiny so that his gang can sell powdered exploding death to the highest bidder.

See? He’s perfectly armless! AHAHAHAHAHAokayI’llstopnow…

Unfortunately for the villains, all of this happens directly over the same country road that Drummond, his valet Tenny, and Algy are using as a shortcut to rendezvous with Phyllis. Not only do they almost run over the Suitcase of Potential Exploding Doom, but then the plane crashes right in front of them. The severed arm was part of a master plan to make it look like Nogais died in the crash, but Drummond doesn’t buy it for a second since the arm is stone cold and a freshly-severed arm doesn’t lose heat that quickly.

Drummond, having a sense that something bizarre is going on, takes the suitcase with him, and for some odd reason (having a sense of the bizarre?) grabs the arm, too. How’s that wedding rhyme go? Something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue from rigor mortis? That’s three out of four right there.

Unfortunately, Nogais and company follow Drummond to the lodge where he’s meeting Phyllis and the group steals the suitcase back. In another one of those unfortunate coincidences, he makes a break for the continent on the same train to Dover that Drummond, Tenny, Algy, and Phyllis are using—in the next compartment, for that matter. Even more unfortunately, for a large chunk of the second half, the film is confined to those two rooms and the strip of corridor in between them. But the supreme bit of unfortunateness is that Nogais chooses to evade detection by disguising himself in women’s clothes. Frankly, Eddie Izzard with the beard is a more convincing crossdresser.

How long is he going to keep wearing the dress? Until he stops feeling pretty.

Still, the film’s not that bad, as these things go. Sure, Phyllis’s anti-adventuring complaints go on for a bit too long (“You must choose, Hugh. Marry me or save the world from fiery death. Just don’t expect me to stick around while you’re buckling your swash.”) and severed arm or no, she faints way too often (hey, it was olden times!), but the film does have a certain snap to it in places, and even massive twit Algy comes through when the chips are down. And like a lot of the B-pictures on this set, even if it starts wearing you down, it’s over in about an hour. You can’t say that about Transformers.

The Real Mystery: Okay, forgetting that Drummond decided to run with a severed arm, where did Nogais find it? Good ol’ fashioned grave robbing? Dine and dash at the morgue? Explosion at the Soylent Green factory? People want to know!

But Don’t Take My Word For It: Here’s the whole thing, via Internet Archive.

Extra Credit: Thanks to Silent Matt, here are a few other possible mottos for Congress Pictures:

  • Congress Films: The Opposite of Progress!
  • Congress Films: Superficial, Bloated and Pointless!
  • Congress Films: Aging, Irrelevant, and at least 90% White!

Oddly enough, all of those fit late ‘30s B-movies perfectly.

Next Time: Bulldog Drummond Escapes! It’ll happen sooner or later, promise. Watch this space…

Sunday, April 10, 2011

So It's Come To This (Part 2): Monday Comes After Church

In what's becoming the manifest destiny of every Internet meme (at least the ones that are all-ages appropriate), here's the well-meaning-but-bland Christian-oriented remake/rewrite of "Friday". That's "remake" because parody's kind of a strong word for what's happening here.


Does this mark the end of the road? Have we at last crossed the pop culture Rubicon, the point of no return, on Rebecca Black? I dunno, but somehow I think there's a story behind the comments being disabled on this video.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Introducing The Scrounger's Cheapjack Mystery Movie!

Okay, let's say for the sake of argument that your epic "Friday" post was a huge hit, and your "only known picture of Charlie Sheen's Magic Tray" is a solid draw as well. So what's a guy supposed to do for an encore? First answer: Set a tree on fire and push it into the road! Don't tell the neighbors...they'll figure it out on their own very quickly. However, after my meds kicked in (and I figure out that pushing around a full-grown flaming tree by yourself is really, really hard), I came up with a proper answer: just keep it moving, buddy.

For our purposes, here's the current definition of "just keep it moving": after the Christmas "classics" marathon went over so well, I stumbled across another DVD goody box made by Mill Creek Entertainment, which (as I may have mentioned before) is the spiritual successor to the faceless companies who planted $3 VHS tapes of ancient movies in drugstores and K-Marts across the country during the 1980s. You'll also recall that what makes them really stand out in the bottom-feeder market is sheer quantity. The beloved-by-me Holiday TV Classics set aside, they're also responsible for the legendary-to-some-of-us Giant 600 Cartoon Collection and a number of 20, 50, and 100-film/TV show bundles, massive bargain-priced compilations that serve as a reminder of how low manufacturing costs have on factory-pressed DVDs when you don't have to pay through the nose for content.

And that's the box in question: 50 Mystery Classics. If some of these titles sound familiar, that's because other more popular web people (ones less likely to think about flaming trees) have wrestled with its big brother, the version with 100 movies, or its steroid-popping uncle with 250 movies. There's a good chance you've walked through part of this collection before, but not with me, and that's why we're banking on this being a worthwhile time-killer...also because the Internet is not the Internet if you can't run a good thing into the ground at lightning speed. As to why I didn't go with the full 100 or the mind-choking 250...hey, 50 was what they had on sale. Scroungers gotta scrounge, bubba.

Like the Christmas stunt, we'll be following an informal template to help us process it all. Unlike the Christmas stunt, there's no holiday deadline breathing down our necks, no clock to beat. I will reach number 50 when I reach number 50. Due to the frequent collapse of my Protestant worth ethic, that makes the chance of bailing out much more likely. So it's an adventure!

So here's the awesome announcement: Stay tuned for THE SCROUNGER'S CHEAPJACK MYSTERY MOVIE! Starting this weekend! (or sometime thereafter, because I told you people I suck at deadlines...)


(Don't get your hopes up, none of these shows are actually in it.)

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

BEHOLD, A THING YOU CANNOT UNSEE!!

Hey, it's Michael Chiklis and Patton Oswalt performing a dramatic reenactment of a viral smash hit! And yes, the most unnerving part is that somewhere in America, somebody is getting turned on by this.

Da da da da da da? Da.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Tales of Dog Awesomeness: Ban, The Tsunami Dog

Interrupting our ongoing nonsense for a tale of dog awesomeness: Our video is of Ban, a dog who was found floating on the roof of a house that was swept out to sea by the tsunami which followed the massive earthquake in Japan. And yes, that was a complete roof friends...in one piece, more or less. She spent three weeks among the rubble when the Japanese Coast Guard made the pickup. At first, they tried dropping someone with a helicopter, but thanks to a combination of low fuel and freaked-out dog, they ended up sending out a boat.

The rescuers were hoping the dog could lead them to the owner, assuming that the owner was under the wreckage somewhere, but instead the TV coverage led the owner to her dog.



They're facing a hard future, at least in the short term, but they're facing it together. Sometimes that's the only thing you can ask for.

And of course, Ban is a good dog. Look at that face. Don't you just want to give her a biscuit?

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Tomorrow Is Saturday (and Sunday Comes Afterwards)

And now that we've had our fun (fun fun fun), time to see what a few other weirdos have done with "Friday". Let's run this crap into the ground!

Exhibit A: In an excellent out-of-left-field piece of recycling, here's Rebecca Black as reinterpreted by a bad lipreader.



Exhibit B: Yesterday (which was April Fool's Day, oddly enough), Funny Or Die released a tidal wave of videos starring You-Know-Who for something they called "Black Friday". This one in particular struck me in a good place, for some odd reason.


"Betwixt The Music" gets the runner-up slot for SAMMY HAGAR OUTTA NOWHERE!

Exhibit 3...um, C: Charlie Brooker, notable (and notably awesome) British media curmudgeon, is disappointed by the "Friday" backlash...or rather by the poverty of cleverness exhibited by a lot of the Youtube/Twitter haters. "If you are complaining about a banal pop song but can't muster a more inventive way to express yourself than typing 'OMFG BITCH YOU SUCK', then you really ought to consider folding your laptop shut and sitting quietly in the corner until that fallow lifespan of yours eventually reaches its conclusion."

Extra credit assignment: Look up Brooker's BBC TV series Screenwipe and the follow-up dedicated to current events reporting, Newswipe, both of which prove his bona-fides as a spleen-venter who can come up with much more than "OMFG BITCH YOU SUCK." Although they're a few years old at this point, the things that are awful about the media really haven't gotten that much better since 2009.

Exhibit...Wait, What Comes After C?: File this one under "So it's come to this.": A Tumblr site dedicated to Bob Dylan's "Friday."

And finally, Exhibit The Thing That Comes After The Thing That Comes After C: Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert, and The Roots make that special kind of TV magic on NBC's Late Night.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Looking Forward To The Weekend: Preliminary Notes On Bob Dylan’s “Friday”

(long post…fair warning)

The record came in a flimsy card stock sleeve with what the artist in question would call a striptease title: Doctor Zimmerman’s Genuine Basement Brew. The LP was what the manager charitably billed as “new-old stock”, and the first thing I checked for was bubbles in the vinyl, since some of these things played about as well as a record you’d cut off the back of a cereal box. I’d been burned before. But there were two reasons I was still holding this slab of cast-off underground vinyl when I stood in front of the register at the Record Exchange: the dour face of Bob Dylan (in true on-the-sly fashion, his name wasn’t printed on the cover at all) and a track listing that I wasn’t entirely familiar with. “Sign on the Cross” was legendary among tape traders, although I knew it only by reputation, and what was billed as an alternate take of “Tears of Rage” looked very tempting. But what the hell was this thing at the end of side one they called “Friday”?

The needle dropped, and through the surface noise—like a lot of things that reached us out in the wilderness, this turned out to be an LP copy of yet another beaten-up LP—I heard a simple strum and a set of lyrics coming out of nowhere that would blow my mind.

It’s Friday, Friday,
Gotta get down on Friday
Everybody’s looking forward to the weekend.
Partyin’, partyin’, yeah.
Fun...fun, fun, fun.
Looking forward to the weekend

Robbie Robertson has said that at first, the sessions immortalized as The Basement Tapes were Bob’s way of “educating” the unit which would soon be dubbed The Band to the folk tradition. “The whole folkie thing was still very questionable to us—it wasn't the train we came in on.” Mostly, they were blown away. However, on the unedited “Friday” tapes—what the Internet has is Columbia’s remix of the material—the silence following the last chord was broken by a raucous cackle from off-mike. “Really, Bob? Really?” In response, or possibly surrender, Bob led the Band into the sloppiest version of “Million Dollar Bash” ever committed. On this day at least, class let out early.

Very loosely based on “The Good Thief”, a Russian Orthodox chant typically performed on Good Friday,* Dylan’s lyrics, like a haiku, are deceptively simple. However, once you adjust your gaze past the surface, they take on an unexpected depth.

Seven a.m., wakin’ up in the morning,
Gotta be fresh, gotta go downstairs,
Gotta have my bowl, gotta have cereal,
Seein’ everything, the time is goin’,
Tickin’ on and on, everybody’s rushin’

Everybody’s Russian? Is this a cold war parable? And if everybody’s Russian, is that the ticking of the Doomsday Clock? It’s an easy line to mishear, especially coming from 60s-era Dylan. (Let’s set aside for a moment that, Bob being Bob, everybody knew that when he mentions “[having] my bowl”, he’s not really talking about cereal.) But no, as you keep listening you realize he’s talking about being in a hurry. But hurrying for what? There’s a clue, although not as obvious as it seems, in the end of the verse and the first half of the chorus:

Gotta get down to the bus stop,
Gotta catch the bus, I see my friends.

Kickin’ in the front seat,
Sittin’ in the back seat.
Gotta make my mind up.
Which seat can I take?

In the rather lively discussion that has evolved around this piece after a Dylanologist posted the song on YouTube, it seems fairly obvious that most true believers think Bob was talking about the civil rights movement. User Rorschach567 shared the most plausible of the creation stories which has come down to us: “Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and a bunch of folksingers were in a Greenwich Village coffee shop, smoking bowls and eating cereal, when someone mentioned ‘Friday, Juneteenth,’ when news of abolition reached slaves in the southernmost regions in Texas. ‘And look at us now,’ said Richie Havens, ‘kicking in the front seat, kicking in the back seat,’ speaking of the end of bus segregation. Before anyone checked to see if June 19, 1865 was a Friday, Bob was already strumming the melody of what became ‘Friday.’”

Obviously “kicking in the front seat” sounds like a anachronism until you realize that he’s talking about kicking in (that is, kicking over) the seats which symbolized racial inequality—not just the bus boycotts, but also the lunch counter sit-ins and other non-violent protests which people associate with the early-60s movement. Myself, I’m not quite so sure, since by 1965, the year of Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited (not to mention the infamous Newport electric set), Dylan was resolutely marching away from direct statements. I always read “which seat shall I take” as a more universal reference to the Miltonian quandary about whether it’s better to serve in Heaven (sitting in the back seat, a passive supplicant, safe but with many doors snapping shut behind you, possibly forever) or to rule in Hell (kickin’ in the front seat, presumably behind the wheel of your own destiny and driving it into the abyss). Obviously there is danger in the front seat—the driver is the first to go through the windshield, after all—but would you prefer watching through the passenger window as missed opportunities recede behind you? Or grasping the wheel as you hurtle head-first into the world, in control of a screaming steel behemoth? Which seat can you take?

As if that wasn’t confusing enough, now we come to the most cryptic passage of them all:

Fun, fun, think about fun
You know what it is
I got this, you got this.
My friend is by my right, hey.
I got this, you got this,
Now you know it.

The whole verse is a head-scratcher, but no line more so than “My friend is by my right,” which in the overheated confrontational years of the late 60s was loaded with a dangerous level of political negation. It’s small wonder that the record company had the 45 rpm edit suppressed after a few promo pressings, especially in the wake of 1969’s “country Bob” album Nashville Skyline. How were the heavily radicalized youth of ‘69 supposed to react to a throwaway line like that next to “Oh me, oh my/ Love that country pie”?

The answer, of course, is that it was an exercise in realpolitik—in the German sense of realistic politics—that Dylan realized the destruction of the political system was never really going to happen (not with dope, dancing, and face paint, anyway) and that while compromise isn’t what you truly desire, it can get you more than you had the day before. In the other direction, the youth who have said “no” to the grinding misery of the adult world can pull their elders backwards to type of rejuvenating joy that, before a certain era, had to be surrendered to the onus of supporting/running a household and raising your ingrate kids (“fun, fun, think about fun / you know what it is”). Drawing a “contact high” off of the exuberance of youth could be, and to an extent still can be, a mutual exchange of goods. Bob got this, and by passing this wisdom on to the listener, “now you know it.” That you’re expected to keep up your end of the bargain and pass the advice down the line is so obvious as to be downright crass to say out loud.

But despite all the best efforts of a generation to fend off adulthood--to fend off death--it all comes crashing down, or simply falls apart in a gentle, slow decay, as implied by the most heartbreaking lines of them all:

Tomorrow is Saturday,
And Sunday comes afterwards.
I don’t want this weekend to end.

Friday, it should go without saying, is a symbol of sweet release, the casting off of what came before and replenishment for what is necessary. Does Monday have to come? Can’t we shake off the obligations of adulthood forever, selling handmade candles and hemp wallets out of the back of a VW bus while following jam bands around the country? I don’t want this weekend to end. Do I really have to be a hedge fund manager? Sadly, as the so-called “boomers” (among which we count Mr. Zimmerman himself) push inexorably towards retirement age, many of them are still asking those questions, and the answers aren’t any easier the harder they cling to those faded Fridays of youth. Fun, fun, think about fun. You do still know what it is, don’t you?


All of this, of course, isn’t anywhere near the definitive interpretation (as if one was possible), but much of the discussion around this piece reflects in microcosm Roland Barthes’ “death of the author” argument. Barthes, you’ll remember, gave us the paradigm-busting literary theory that the author of a text (or, in this case, lyric) isn’t the godlike arbiter of absolute meaning, but works in collaboration with the reader (or listener) to build a story that exists between the spaces of what is actually on the page. With the hints from the text, a reader builds the story from their own experiences, joys, and disappointments, so your father’s Great Gatsby won’t be exactly the same as yours—he might have enjoyed his, for instance. This is especially true with the young, wiry Bob, who seemed a little put out by explaining anything, treating us as if we were (horrors!) intelligent, reasoning people who could figure out these things on our own. But something this bare, this deceptively direct, gives us pause. Listen to “Desolation Row”. Get lost in the shrubbery maze that is Dylan’s liner notes for the Highway 61 album...or if you’re a masochist, Tarantula. Then fire up “Friday” again. “Gotta be fresh, gotta go downstairs”? You can see why we get paranoid when Bobby lays the plainspeak on us.

A major part of it, of course, is contained in the performance. Dylan takes ownership of what Dylan sings, and anybody who takes on the task of untangling his knots does so at their own risk. In a Real Life Rock Top 10 entry on the song, Greil Marcus cut to the root of the discussion: “Only an artist as fully in tune with the nuances of his vocal instrument as Dylan is can take the joyous Beach Boys exhortation ‘fun fun fun’ and turn it into the most desolate, abandoned stretch of desert road in the English language.”

In preparation for this piece, I ran a few of these thoughts by a music critic acquaintance who has a few strong thoughts of her own on the subject, but with Marcus’ comments running through my head, a nagging doubt in the back of my mind had to be addressed. “Let me run a hypothetical situation by you. What if all of this boils down to Dylan as a framing device? What if, instead of this song being a Dylan original, this whole discussion...every last line...was a communal fraud built around...oh, I don’t know, a fluffy work-for-hire jingle written for a 13 year-old girl? What then?”

She gave me an exhausted raise of the eyebrows—I’ve never seen them go higher—followed by a sharp exhale. “Then this would be the most ridiculous conversation in the world, wouldn’t it?”

Coming soon: The semiotics of Janis Joplin’s “My Humps.”

*Footnote: “The Good Thief (Praise Be To God On Friday)”: As diligently researched by Youtube commenter HioPojac, who also mentions that the Soviets later repurposed the melody as "The Party, The Party, Yes." "As resistance to the Party grew, the composer Shostakovitch adapted the Communist anthem into an a political symphony, 'We look forward, beyond oppression, to the weekend.'" return

Scratch and win: (A bottomless pit of gratitude to maestro Mike Bauer and the authors of over 13,000 Youtube comments (which I drew from for this piece) for the inspiration. You are the wind beneath my ass. Special thanks and a tip of the hat to the folks at ARK Music Factory and Rebecca Black. Don't let us online twerps get in your head. This is just the type of thing that happens when you become inescapable on the Internet.)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Another Teaser...

...because what may be my first epic work of 2011 really is coming in a few days. Just need to polish it a bit.

Edit on 3/31: It's definitely happening tomorrow, and may (finally and at last) qualify me for that peculiar type of Internet immortality which seems to be spreading like black mold in a damp house. Keep watching this blog space.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Coming this Friday...

A very special post. Incredibly special. In fact, you may want a snack and a soda afterwards.

Watch this space.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Hard Bandwidth Caps? Kill That Noise Before It Spreads

You've heard the short version: AT&T is trying to kill the Internet. Standard DSL gets 150GB downstream, U-Verse users get 250GB, and you're charged an extra $10 for every 50 GB you go over As usual, the claim is to limit the alleged "bandwidth hogs" (although they don't give any hard data about their claims that the "average user" won't go over their limits, or what even qualifies as an average user these days) but it's obviously a blunt anti-competitive maneuver to kneecap the growth of Netflix Instant, Hulu Plus, Amazon VOD, and whatever else will help you give up cable TV (an industry AT&T is hip deep in thanks to U-Verse, and thus has a vested interest in maintaining some version of the status quo).

As Gigom (via the Laptop blog, in my case) helpfully points out, these limits let you watch three hours of hi-def video from Netflix (or whoever) a day...if you don't plan on doing anything else online. Ever. Think about how much TV you'd bother to watch if cable imposed those limits on itself. Somebody in the near future is going to make a mint by setting up a "Netflix friendly" ISP. Maybe Netflix itself is going to have to do it.

The collateral damage for this move is pretty much every broadband-based innovation that's popped up in the past five (maybe ten) years. Backing up your hard drive online, or any of those other nifty cloud-based computing gadgets? Sorry, gotta roll that back. High quality Skype video chat with loved ones halfway around the world? You'll have to plan that out like you were going to have to walk every mile yourself. And that if that 3GB Windows 7 service pack didn't terrify you before, now you've really got something to cry about.

Time Warner users very narrowly dodged a pretty nasty looking bandwidth cap in 2009. They claimed it was because the consumers didn't understand, while I claim we understood it a bit too well. The long and the short of it is that if they thought they could get away with it, they'd try it again, especially with online on-demand services siphoning off their core business. The guts of the whole argument against this is that along with a number of other big-gorilla ISPs, AT&T is charging you through the nose for a service they don't exactly trust you to use, even if you're using perfectly legal services that they just don't happen to like. It's time to make them aware that yes, you have been paying attention, and it's time to stop fighting the future.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sheen Action Center: CHARLIE SHEEN BIT MY FINGER!

Sadly (Is that really the word we're using? Why yes it is!), Sheen's Korner ended after four episodes (including the deleted one that gave us the wonders of the Magic Tray), but not before we got one more snap of what I'm terming Adventures in Unfortunate Freeze Frames.


You'd think a professional actor would use better lighting (or at least comb his hair before hitting the record button), since this one frozen moment disturbingly makes him look like a stoned street person, but Sheen's in uncharted waters at the moment anyway. In the meantime, here's...um...something. Well, it makes as much sense as anything else today.



And now that we've all had a good laugh, time to get serious for a moment: Six Ways You Can Help Earthquake and Tsunami Victims in Japan. Text REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10 from your phone, or follow one of the other links in the linked article. Make the real type of winning happen. God knows a lot of people in Japan need it right now.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Francis E. Dec: The Charles Gnarlington Rosetta Stone?

For those of you looking for the secret of Charlie Sheen's Magic Tray, humor me for a moment: Sheen's free-verse slam poetry invective is starting to sound very familiar. Is
he coming dangerously close to the infamous rants of paranoid schizophrenic Francis E. Dec? Listen and decide for yourself, as Dec's words are read with admirable gusto by radio personality Boyd Britton.

(Caution: If you've never been exposed to Dec, be advised that the text contains very liberal use of the N-word and other incredibly offensive words and phrases. Click play at your own risk.)

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Live From Sherman Oaks: Winning. DUH!

A LATE NIGHT EXTRA: I've been following with slack-jawed wonder the disintegration of Charlie Sheen, once and (probably) future star of Two and a Half Men (or as I call it, "Holy Crap, Where'd I Put The Remote?"), so it was with great anticipation and trepidation that I stuck my nose into what he's threatening to turn into a nightly webcast, Sheen's Korner. (Oh, I could embed the whole thing for you, but I want you to come back.)

What sums it up for me--both the webcast and and the way Sheen is perceived by most people these days--was a "segment" he called Magic Tray, when he reached behind his desk and pulled out a typing paper tray full of...um...stuff. About once a minute throughout the show, Sheen and his team of hangers-on shouted "Winning. DUH!" like they were going to have the t-shirts in the stores tomorrow. So what does winning (DUH!) look like? Gaze deeply into the Magic Tray, children...


Now and Laters! Jawbreakers! Marlboros! Twizzlers! (Or Red Vines, if you're gonna be a jerk about it.) Not pictured: hookers and blow, of course. The blow would fit in the tray easily. The hookers would not. And if they did, you would not want any of the Twizzlers they were sitting on.

That bottle to the right of the mike? That's Tiger's Blood. No really, that's what he called it. G'nite everybody! Trolls beware...

(Edit on 3/7/11: Lucky that I didn't embed Charlie's first webcast, since he pulled it down sometime after webcast #2 went up. Thanks to my screengrab foresight, this may be the only place where you can see the awesomeness of the Magic Tray. And that's what you call winning. Duh.)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

QUIT PRANCING AROUND LIKE THAT!

Is any context necessary for the video I'm about to put up? Yes, but you're not about to get it from me. Just consider that over the past year, this simple comic strip edit...



(coughcoughSOMETHINGAWFULFORUMScough)...has been transformed into this.



And no, I'm not the genius behind either of these. Just a poor slob basking in reflected glory.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Flashback: American Idiot! (or "When I think I'm out (of ammo against fools), they PULL ME BACK IN")

(Eric in 2011: Inspired by the Bieberite Grammy fan-tantrum, another flashback to another music-related fit, tied into the now-in-a-long-decline American Idol. This early entry was written before I got over my jones for ALL CAPS SHOUTING. It was also well before Clay Aiken came out, by the way, making at least one joke doubly hilarious (or obnoxious) when viewed in hindsight.)

Chaz was kind enough to bring this to everybody's attention. Apparently, after Clay lost the American Idol finals on Fox, a few thousand diehard supporters decided to write the FCC demanding an audited recount, since they thought the voting was FIXED.

(For those of you who haven't experienced this before, Evil E mode is now engaged...)

The fact that thousands of my fellow countrymen have built this American Idol cattle business up into an ominous JFK-style conspiracy against effiminate-looking pasty-white skinny boys while they seem perfectly alright with the idea that the "justifications" for the most recent war are falling apart like wet toilet tissue is a bit unsettling. These letters are still entertaining to read, especially the ones who think they're talking to the Fox producers instead of the FCC. People who can't figure out who can't figure out who is at the other end of an e-mail address that ends in fcc.com probably don't need to be taking very much anyway.

Some of the best lines: PEOPLE SHOULD BE HONEST AND TELL THE TRUTH! Although being honest by lying is a helluva trick if you can pull it off.

Even the OSCARS hire outside accounting firms, that independently verify. Gee, you don't suppose that's because the Oscars are a highly respected industry award with a huge amount of history on the line, while Idol is a frickin' game show. Maybe when AI has been on the air for 70 years, you can start making comparisons like that. "EVEN the Oscars" would imply that Anonymous Dork puts AI on a higher plane of existence...man, I love that type of uneducated chutzpah.

In a letter that was not only sent to the FCC, but cc:ed to Fox, MSNBC, Paramount, and the Drudge report (yeah, this'll top that Clinton scoop as a career-maker): "My support goes completely to Clay Aiken! What talent! What a remarkable human being and a role model for all of us!" Okay, let's make this one multiple choice:

  • A) "MAKE LOVE TO ME, CLAY! RIGHT HERE ON THE PIANO! HOLD ME TIGHT UNTIL YOU SNAP MY BACK IN YOUR MANLY ARMS!"
  • B) "I'm establishing the Church of Clay to further my belief system! We'll be doing personality tests on random people in the street, and advising members not to have anything to do with the Rubenites under pain of excommunitation! Scientology?! What's that?!"
  • C) "Now that I've seen perfection, I have nothing to live for! So I'm going to flog myself to death with this copy of the latest Rolling Stone! And I'm taking you with me!"
  • D) Eric, PLEASE move on...it's getting late, and you're getting stale. (Answer Key: If you chose "D", you get your wish)
At the end of the same letter: I'm voting with my wallet and they can't take that vote away from me!" (letter writer feels for wallet, watches as a pickpocket darts down the street yelling "RUBEN! RUBEN!") "Aw, dammit, not again..."

"I didn't think that controversy would be something that would come up because after all, this is just a TV show. And what did it matter anyway? But it does, when it challenges my beliefs of fair play and honesty, two things which are very important to me." Important enough to be swayed by the plight of a photogenic stranger in a contest you see on TV who still gets to make records and be on talk shows even though technically he LOST? Pardon me for not crying myself to sleep tonight. And anyway, we all know that fair play and honesty are a huge part of the recording industry, right? You can stop laughing any time now.

The line that really made me do a double take, though, was at the bottom of this last letter: How does FOX and/or the production company want to be know among viewers? Is honesty and integrity important or has making money always been the issue here? HELLO? When has THE FRICKIN' FRACKIN' FOX NETWORK EVER BEEN ABOUT INTEGRITY? Or anything OTHER than making money? Remember, this is the same network that ran hours and hours of videos of people caught screwing on hidden cameras and bears mauling kids before they bit the hook on the reality TV trend. Really folks, the Simpsons can only carry your credibility so far.

For what it's worth, I went to an actual locally-owned record store (NOT AMAZON, you lazy tools) the other day. There was a stack of Clay CD singles by the cash register, while they were down to their last Ruben. I should've pried a bit more into how the sales were going, and I just might the next time I go there, but the point remains: a lot of people in this country need to grow the hell up. It really is only television.

And yes, I say this knowing I just wasted a big chunk of blog real estate lacing into people lacing into a lighter-than-air TV show. Never said I didn't have room to improve. Just look at this haircut, for instance...

--Original Post: July 12, 2003.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Real Reason You Should Be Asking Who Esperanza Spalding Is

At the risk of hammering at this a while longer, here's the lead track from the album that broke Bieber fans hearts. I bought the album from Amazon MP3 this afternoon (during their usual post-Grammy sale) and it's excellent stuff.

That Thing I Was Going To Show You On 15 February, 2011 (Audio Daily Double)

Dick Cavett, a marvelous man, has written a book about his experiences as a talk show host (Talk Show: Confrontations, Pointed Commentary, and Off-Screen Secrets), and he’s making the rounds of broadcasting venues that still talk to authors (which means talk radio…and maybe C-SPAN if we’re lucky). However, I’ll bet my bankroll that none of those interviews will begin with a Gymkata reference the way his chat with The Sound of Young America's Jesse Thorn did.

The Sound Of Young America is a Public Radio International offering, and if this sounds like something you’d like to hear coming out of a real radio, call your public radio station and tell them. Use a pledge check if you think that would help.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Esperanza Spalding vs. A Gathering Of Angry 12 Year-Old Girls

File this late night session under "Daaaaaaaaaamn, do you kiss your mom with that mouth, Bieber fan?": Esperanza Spalding--and yeah, she's a new one to me, too--won the 2011 Best New Artist Grammy on Sunday night, beating (among others) fresh-faced inescapable pop star Justin Bieber. The hipster scum laugh up their sleeves at the mainstream values of Grammy voters (at least they did until Arcade Fire took Best Album), but that gold gramaphone is still a marvelous way to attract attention to yourself. First sign of that: soon after Spalding won, her Wikipedia bio lit up with all kinds of edit action, mainly from enraged Bieber fans who apparently aren't used to being told "NO." A few simple samples:
  • First, some authentic-sounding Bieber fan invective: "Recently, she won the best new artist at the 53rd Grammy Awards JUSTIN BIEBER DESERVED IT GO DIE IN A HOLE. WHO THE HECK ARE YOU ANYWAY?" Because gosh-darn it, I'm peed off at Bieber catching cow cookies from everybody! Pardon my language...
  • An almost-hidden-but-not-quite snipe: "Esperanza Justin Spalding (born October 18, 1984 in Portland, Oregon) is a Grammy-Award winning American multi-instrumentalist best known as a jazz bassist and singer, who draws upon many genres in her own compositions. Recently, she won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist at the 53rd Grammy Awards by stealing it from Justin Bieber." Apart from that petty tag, note the added middle name, which doesn't quite take the biscuit the way the "Esperanza Quesadilla Spalding" edit did.
  • Some were a little more volatile. "Her mother, who raised her and her brother as a single parent, was an independent, industrious woman. SHE IS F****** REATARD THAT NO ONE HAS HEARD OF SO B**** PLEASE DIE !" Note that this drive-by vandal thinks in terms of curse words but still can't muster up the cojones to actually write them out.
  • "She now has the 2011 Grammy for being the Best new Artist! Even though no one has ever heard of her! Yay!"
  • The most recent drive-by at this writing shows something approaching sad resignation. "She won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist at the 53rd Grammy Awards, which is a shame because no one is better than the Biebs."
  • The winner of the "Why Does This Make Me Think of John Hodgman?" Award: "Spalding currently lives in Austin, Texas. Also, testicles, that is all.."
  • And finally, one from the opposition camp: "On February 13th, Esperanza won the Grammy for Best New Artist, beating out Nominee and gay favorite Justina Bieber."
In the interests of full disclosure, I also found a "DAMN IT MUMFORD AND SONS SHOULD HAVE WON THE GRAMMMY!!!!" edit, but it doesn't really constitute a trend. Don't sweat it, guys.

All these in-public tantrums don't do the Bieberites any favors, since many of us always assumed they were all 12 years old anyway, but they really should be grateful that the new artist Grammy skipped over their golden boy. After all, Amy Winehouse got one of those too, and look what happened to her.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Sometimes You Just Have To Show Up: No More Mubarak

The news showed up while I wasn't looking: Mubarak finally gave the Egyptian masses what they were asking for.

Two quotes come to mind here:
  • "First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win."--Gandhi
  • "90% of life is just showing up." --attributed to Woody Allen, but who the hell knows.
The world can be such an evil bastard, with so many darkly clever ways of breaking dreamers on the wheel, that it's worth marking the times when everything just works. The men who set themselves on fire were mocked, and people started showing up. People were beaten, killed, and more people showed up. The rocks started flying, and that just made them surer that what they were doing was the right road. The man who was in the seat of power tried to sing them to sleep, and they made it clear they didn't want a story at bedtime. And it worked. It's always amazing when it happens like this.

Now comes the real heavy lifting. I usually chafe at crossing politics and religion, but one thing is true for both: being saved--that is, waking up to a new reality (or a new truth)--can happen in a moment, but staying saved is an ongoing process. The long road is ahead of you. It can be difficult and rocky, and it can test you, but it's worth making that trip. Today is the day they know it can be done, and a large number of people in Tahir Square tonight won't accept half-measures again.

So come on, guys. Make the new order work. Don't make me look like an idiot for all of the above.

Flashback: TOMMY, YOU'RE PERMANENTLY EXPELLED!

(Eric in 2011: Once again, the events of the world conspire against my natural mellow nature. Today's flashback takes us back yet again to a happier time...unless you were a cartoon kid being used as a teaching tool.)

Most of us remember the police officer that showed up to tell our elementary school class drug horror stories designed to scare us straight. Some of us even remember taking the list of spices alleged to have psychoactive properties in the booklet the officer gave out and trying something with them ("I think I'm feeling it...did we use all the mace yet?"). I'm convinced they put those in the "information" booklet just to give the more gullible kids something to try and fail at.

However, now it's the information age, with computers, the Internet, flying cars...all that whatnot. So of course, we can't just have community outreach programs to keep the kids on the straight and narrow. We have to have websites like Arizona's Law For Kids. And since it is the Internet, Law For Kids has to have awful cartoons.

As educational tools, the cartoons just don't cut it; in a few of them it's impossible to see what the point is. And kids can tell when you're just not trying. For our purposes, which is cheap laughs at bad art, it's a goldmine.

Let's go over a few of these:

DRAG RACE DISASTER (Flash animation): Chuck, Elsie, and Melissa are kicking back, doing a little drunk driving and drag racing to start the weekend off right, and Chuck cracks up his car trying to outrun the cops. To undercut any moral they might've had, we find the kids riding bikes on the sidewalk on a sunny day. Come on, guys, this is supposed to be "scared straight" territory! At least show them walking sullenly everywhere they go, or in a hospital bed. THEN we'd know that "Chuck, Elsie, and Melissa were lucky." The real kicker is that they make a big show of naming the kids, like they're more than barely animated ciphers. Really, if they're not even going to have dialogue, why bother?


It's also an interesting touch that the guy is the only one drinking a beer, while the ladies are downing wine coolers. Female teenage alcoholics are apparently much pickier these days. Some of the boys, on the other hand, are still trying to drink that blue stuff they dip the barber's combs in because they were told it'll really get 'em FACED.

I have a theory that after losing his license, Chuck became the kid in the Chronic Future video, which is another strike against drunk driving.

JOYRIDING: We see a boy and a girl get into a car, a cop pulls them over and frisks them. The girl says "But I wasn't driving!" and the state trooper barks "EVEN THE PASSENGER GETS IN TROUBLE!" At least I hope he's a state trooper; his hat is a little bit too plain to be a genuine officer. It's possible that he's a mentally unbalanced guy who always wanted to be a cop, but ever since the accident cost him his eyebrows, he drives around in a shoddy imitation of the uniform he admires, a flashing light he bought at Radio Shack wired to the family sedan. On weekends, he pulls over "race mixing" teens to lecture them (with brute force) about BLOOD PURITY. She was just riding in a car with him, officer; no hanky panky involved. Ah, but EVEN THE PASSENGER GETS IN TROUBLE, as you will soon find out after the strip search.


I'm sorry, I got freaky there for a second. Of course, the cop is legit, since this is a site about kids and the law, but what law are they breaking here? From what we're shown, they were pulled over and frisked by an angry trooper for not wearing seat belts. Arizona is obviously taking "click it or ticket" a few steps beyond. Next step: death penalty for jaywalkers. The kid on your shoulders while you cross against the lights gets tossed to foster care because EVEN THE PASSENGERS GET IN TROUBLE.

LEARNER'S PERMIT: Pretty benign, although that kid does have a crazed glint in his eyes. I'd rather not be stuck behind him in traffic. Also, it's nice to see that Arizona put a DMV station in Gargamel's house instead of one of those stuffy concrete slab buildings. It gives license renewal a nice homey feel, and keeps the Smurf population under control.

MARIJUANA and SCHOOL THREATS : There's a reason I'm taking these two together (and you should read them in order for the full effect), because they both use a kid they call M.P. We're not really supposed to be thinking about continuity here, but taken as a sequence, does this tell us that smoking pot turns you into a squealer? A kid lights up a doobie, and all of the sudden he's ratting out teenage Hank Hill for making prank calls. They call him "Tommy" here, but any Dragnet fan knows that the names in the case histories are changed to protect the innocent. So M.P. gets Hank/Tommy permanently expelled, jaw hanging open in shock, and they still toss him in prison five years later. Maybe he's just overly paranoid, since he's already breaking a few laws and probably got pulled over by the fake state trooper earlier in the day.

The dangers of being in a Mike Judge cartoon.
Actually, all these kids look unspeakably afraid, like they were clued in to the fatalistic drama their ethnically-diverse lives were being plugged into. They're in a constant state of terror because they know that no matter what good intentions they have, turning in guys who make death threats or trying to get friends off the weed, M.P.'s still going to end up in jail by panel 5 for lighting that blunt, while Mikey is fated to be a nameless drone pointing at an incomprehensible chart. Or maybe the artist just got lazy and used clip art.

It's interesting that the Principal's desk plate is turned facing himself; maybe he just needs to keep reminding himself that he's not the janitor.

--Original post: September 23, 2004

Friday, February 04, 2011

The Guy Has A Name Now

The formerly anonymous blogger ("formerly" because obviously "they" know who he is now, and so do we) who since 2004 has posted the Rantings of a Sandmonkey blog will be on the non-international version of CNN during their 8pm EST show. Now that his blog has finally been restored to the land of the living and apparently more celebrated than ever, now's a good time to get acquainted with his work. "What do we actually want from the west?", an entry from 2005, caught my eye, since it gives the impression that a lot of Egyptians and Mubarak had a real Ike and Tina Turner-style relationship...and in spite of the events of the past week, some of them are still feeling the urge to let the old bastard in just one more time. An excerpt:
The people that are angry at the US and the EU for exerting pressure on Egypt to reform confuse me because they are protesting against a generally good thing that is in their benefit. They remind me of the battered wives that go bail out the husbands that are in jail for beating them: They know that they are giving their abusers sanction to keep beating them, which they don’t like, but they don’t want them in Jail for it either. Like the Wife on Cops that yells at the officer “That’s none of your business! Let my Husband Go!” for arresting her Husband for giving her a black eye. Their rational: “Such reforms should come from inside and shouldn’t be forced on us. What, are we helpless children or something, that we need the USA to demand Democracy in our name?”

To them I say : Yes!

I am sorry, but you are defending the person who abused you and oppressed you for the past 24 years. The person who, if it wasn’t for the US pressure and its presence in the region (which you so oppose), wouldn't have tolerated a single word of dissent from any of you and would’ve thrown every Kifaya/democracy activist in jail till Kingdom Come. You are basically angry at the US for doing what you couldn't do, for exposing you for the helpless choiceless victims that you were for the past 20 years. I am not saying that the democracy activists that are protesting now were silent before, I am saying that they couldn't be heard, weren’t allowed to organize and could never have criticized the President publicly before. The US pressure that you decry as foreign intervention every 5 seconds is the reason why you and those people now have voices, whether you like it or not.
Now that we can actually see the full blog, one other source of admiration: any activist whose puts a picture of Johnny Bravo in his masthead has platinum-plated balls.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Sandmonkey

So there's this Egyptian activist/blogger who goes by the interesting handle of Sandmonkey, a man who has been doing whatever the hell he can to get the word out in a country where words can get your ass in the soup...or in the ground, as a few people found out last night. He's been writing, he's been tweeting, and (very importantly for the past few days) he's been one of the hundreds of thousands in the streets of Cairo.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty managed to get a few words with Sandmonkey a few days ago, and while he calls his recent experience at Egyptian activism "scary and exhilarating" he very ominously adds that activists have gone missing every day, and detention is the least of their worries. "The Egyptian regime is actually capable of horrifying things." So when Twitter reports started circulating that Sandmonkey had been arrested on the way to the front lines with medical supplies, people started fearing the worst.

At this writing, I can't link to his remarkable blog except in slightly-mangled Google Cache form. Freedom's Zone, Sandmonkey's hosting provider, claim it's just a temporary suspension while they sort out a few technical issues, so I'll be happy to link to where it's supposed to be on the slim chance that everybody involved is due for better days. What's in the cache is recommended reading all the way through, to say the least, since it points out that the issues which drove honest people into the streets didn't just spring from Zeus's head after a Wikileaks-inspired bender.

That final message (hopefully not the Final Message) before his ill-fated supply run is powerful medicine, too good to throw away. So the Internet people are doing what Internet people always do when confronted with repressed things: they mirror it, they mirror it, they mirror it, they mirror it. And really, that's all people half a world away can do with this particular situation. If those three copies go away, post ten. If the ten copies go down the filter hole, come back with twenty five. It might seem like another small gesture, but it's a necessary one. Let's make it inescapable.

(Edit @ 2:22 pm: The man himself updated his Twitter a little over three hours ago: "I am ok. I got out. I was ambushed & beaten by the police, my phone confiscated , my car ripped apar(t)& supplies taken". Not the ideal end, but under the circumstances, better than was hoped for.)

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

A Hoplessly Inadequate Post About Egypt

I can't pretend to know diddly about squat about the Egyptian situation, except that I'm all for a people's right for self-governance and self-determination and loathe any strike against human rights, which means when given the choice, I'm with the people. It's also annoying to the extreme that my country's media has an almost provincial habit of not paying attention to the world unless something's on fire or being shot. With that in mind, here's a blog post from someone who really does know their stuff: "A Guide: How Not To Say Stupid Stuff About Egypt."

Also, if you're not following already, be sure to follow @Jan25voices and Al Jazeera English for the latest updates. Somehow, a guy who never leaves his desk in Washington, DC is woefully inadequate when it comes to figuring out Cairo.

One thing I can say without sounding like a real tool: this was a hell of a time for Lieberman to put the "kill switch" bill back on the table. Way to go, Joe!

Update @ 1:43am Wednesday: Remember that Voice to Tweet thing Google set up? Alive In Egypt is a site dedicated to transcribing and translating them. Here's to hoping they don't need to stay in business for long.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Jack LaLanne 1914-2011

Godspeed, Jack LaLanne. The memorial he would want? Get off your butt tomorrow and get your heart pumping.





Monday afternoon edit: Mark Evanier, who seemingly has a story about everybody, told his Jack LaLanne story earlier today.