Monday, August 31, 2009

parallelism, damn your eyes!

(click to enlarge)

This sort of thing again. I'm just going to swing by, pick up some contact lenses and some glaucoma.

[O-or is Cataracts Glaucoma the name of the doctor? With a name like that, what other career was he going to pursue? Bankruptcy, divorce—call Glaucoma, Psoriasis, Bunions, and Schwartz, LLC.]

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Ideas for Hollywood sequels

Terminator Reunion—All the time-traveling robots meet in a TV studio to talk about their experiences, while watching and responding to classic clips from their adventures.

A Muppet Fight Club—Spoiler alert: turns out Kermit is Gonzo. Highlight: how Dr. Teeth lost that tooth.

Coming to America 2—Instead of Arsenio Hall and James Earl Jones it's just Eddie Murphy in foam-rubber Arsenio Hall and James Earl Jones suits.

Back to the Future Part IV—Doc Brown and Marty go back in time to an alternate 2015 that accidentally got stuck somehow in 1885; caveman Biff falls into mammoth manure.

Star Trek II, Too—In this sequel to the reboot (or reboot of the sequel), Khan is played by Fred Willard, and he's not so much wrathful as he is wacky!

Ferris Bueller's Day Off with a Vengeance—Cameron goes berserk and Ferris has to solve a series of riddles and puzzles over the phone in order to prevent a bomb from going off in the Von Steuban Day parade. (Sets up the third and fourth movies, Live Free or Day Off and the identity-bending Ferris Bueller's Face/Off.)

Goonies: The Fratellis' Revenge—When Ma Fratelli and her sons track Annie the mermaid to her home and hold the whole underwater city hostage, only the Goonies can save the day! (NOTE: This is less a sequel to the 1985 motion picture than it is to the 1987 Nintendo game.)

Teen Wolf [reboot]—Starring Michael Cera as Michael Cera!

oh my God it's God I see God

James Wood, in The New Yorker: "Both Eagleton and the new atheists have, finally, an incomprehension of the actual faith that people lead their lives by...What is needed is neither the overweening rationalist atheism of a Dawkins nor the rarefied religious belief of an Eagleton but a theologically engaged atheism that resembles disappointed belief."

Here's my problem. Atheism based on "disappointed belief" isn't real atheism. I'm reminded of Foreskin's Lament by Shalom Auslander, in which the narrator has rejected his religion altogether and yet still does believe in its god (and is pretty well convinced that that god will eventually kill him for leaving the fold). I mean, honestly: you don't believe in God because bad things happen? because some of the things your religion told you don't seem to be right? Is it rude if I say that that's just fucking stupid?

It's totally reasonable to leave your particular religion because you realize it's internally inconsistent, but to conclude therefore that there cannot be a God (especially when the one thing every sane human being not living under a rock knows about religion is that different religions disagree with each other on the specifics, such that the possible invalidation of your own religion does not automatically invalidate other, rival religions) is ludicrous. You don't think it's conceivable that God exists but doesn't answer prayers, or that God exists and would allow the Holocaust to happen for some reason? Look, I don't believe in God, but if I imagine in theory that God might exist, I don't see any particular paradox in his doing all sorts of crazy shit that I disagree with or don't understand. Why is it axiomatically true that I've got to understand him, let alone approve of him? "God moves in mysterious ways"—we're all familiar with that. And, yes, that might seem like unfounded bullshit, but why any more so than the basic starting-point concept of the existence of God in the first place?

It might be reasonable to conclude that God is an asshole, which is pretty much what Shalom Auslander did, but to conclude that he must not exist? I do not follow your logic. You don't tell people they don't exist when they hurt your feelings—not unless you're like six years old.


James Wood also writes, "Religion, Wittgenstein thought, is a matter not of holding certain propositions (as in, say, 'I believe that Christ sits in Heaven at the right hand of God') but of inhabiting certain religious practices (charitable activity, turning the other cheek, playing the organ in church). One of his examples is of kissing the picture of a loved one. This is not based on a belief that it will have an effect on the person represented, he says; we do it because it satisfies us."

I don't know about all y'all, but never has kissing a picture satisfied me. I may have tried it once or twice, but it always felt I was playacting—indeed, rarely have I felt so caught up in my own solipsistic universe than when making that kind of dramatic gesture. If James Wood is trying to suggest that religious people are caught up in little fantasy worlds instead of paying attention to reality, then he's doing a decent job.]

Saturday, August 29, 2009

advertising nothing

I'm pretty sure that this is usually one of those painted billboards, and my guess is that the reason it's black is that one advertiser's lease ran out and no one had yet taken over—the equivalent of scrambling someone's cable signal when the money runs out—but I took a picture of it because a big black rectangle is so much nicer to see than somebody's fucking ad. And if it's intentional, if it's public art, then all the better! Reminds me of Tristram Shandy and Donald Barthelme.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

a little scary

This ad has bothered me for a while. I guess it's just supposed to be funny and to appeal to kids...but are kids really going to go look at the Library of Congress web site? I just checked it out, and it isn't even trying to be kid friendly—particularly not friendly to the kind of kid whose reaction to school would be panic.

The trouble with this ad is that it's difficult to understand what it's saying—even what it's trying to say. "THINK HISTORY IS A LITTLE SCARY?" it says, with a picture of a kid literally pressed against a door in terrified flight. The text below suggests that History can be more "fun," but is fun the opposite of scary? You'd think the point would be that kids think History is boring, not scary. How many kids are scared of History?

And then you start getting the uncomfortable feeling—I don't think this is supposed to be the point—that...well, I mean, why would a young black boy, in particular, be scared of History, which in this country usually means American History? I don't know about you, but the first place my mind goes when trying to find an answer to that question is, oh, centuries of slavery, subjugation, oppression, and murder. Could it be that this ad is actually saying, "It can be scary to learn how large racism has loomed in our history and to know that not 100 years ago it wouldn't be too uncommon, at least in some parts of the country, for people like you to be murdered just because of your race"? Seems a little heavy for an ad suggesting that History can be "fun"—besides which, the picture (which I think is supposed to be funny, but seriously, who fucking knows?) is inappropriate for such serious subject matter, calling to mind much more serious dangers than an unlikable teacher.

I'm pretty sure the history of racism is not the point, here, but then what is? Can anybody help me out here? Are kids terrified of learning (in which case, again, you might grimace a little if you start to ask why they chose to make the kid black)? Who's the target audience? What the hell is going on?

My guess is that minimal thought went into this ad and that it really just actually doesn't work, but I'm sure curious.

ménage à quoi?!

OK, here's the problem: ménage means household, and originally—not even that long ago—ménage à trois referred to a particular living arrangement. It was always a little titillating, sure, because it implied three people in a sexual relationship together, but the emphasis was on a relationship rather than an act. Somewhere along the line (and I bet this is another shift for which we can thank pornography), people came to think of it as entirely synonymous with a "three-way," but it used to refer to something in some ways more radical and in other ways more humdrum.

So when you replace trois (3) with Tues., you're left with either total nonsense or something inadvertently unracy*—because the ménage part without the trois has nothing to do with sex or even about nontraditional romantic arrangements. "Ménage a Tues." is about as sexy as, say,"Tuesday chores."

* And in case there's any confusion, these ads are meant to be racy. The one where the guy's grabbing that girl's ass really is a step forward in the some kind of field.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

I've been living happily these past eight months in the year 1885.

Are you fucking kidding me with this shit?

No, seriously: is this a joke? Is it the work of some helpful citizen?—because I swear "The Bronx" wasn't spelled this way two weeks ago: the -cks spelling is, what, 200 years old or something? What the hell is going on here?

[Also sort of amazing because this same sign has had other mishaps in the past, and—weird coincidence—last time it happened, I wrote about Kevin Allison, and this time I was coming from Kevin Allison's new show, Risk! Definitive evidence of the existence of God, clearly...]

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Who can really be sure?

Monday, August 17, 2009

be advised

Pregnancy may cause birth defects. I suppose that's not untrue. Reminds me of this.

[BONUS: Note the "can not" error. Let me just note that I can not pay for these two-bite brownies...]

Friday, August 14, 2009


Predictably enough, I loved these things when I was a little boy. My mother remembers my being able to tell fire trucks, police cars, and ambulances apart by the sound of their sirens when I was too young to talk in proper words (I believe police cars were "piece" and ambulances were "amps"; not sure about fire trucks)—so these emergency call boxes, which used to be all over the place, were very exciting.

You don't see 'em much today, and I was under the impression that none of them worked anymore—thought I'd seen something to that effect in some New York Times article a while back—but maybe I was remembering the thing about the buttons you're sometimes still asked to push when waiting at a crosswalk?

I fetishize the late '70s and early '80s. I know I'm not the only one. Were they actually amazing times, or is it just a kind of displaced narcissism, worshiping ourselves in the form of our earliest memories? Maybe we all sort of wish that we could live in the times our parents lived in right when we were born, or right before we were born, because the only adulthood we can really believe in is the adulthood our parents have, or had...? Or maybe that's just me. And maybe I'd be singing a different tune if I had kids.

There is something nice about a communication system that is physical, something about a box bolted to a streetlamp that a wireless phone in your pocket just can't reproduce.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

lookin' good, lookin'...WHOOPS.

This ad (above) is too much like this ad (below).

It's even got a Terminator-ish font. I acknowledge that the one is playing off something more like a Calvin Klein ad and is explicitly supposed to look sexy but for the fact that the guy's got his, uh, parts showing...but when I put it like that, isn't that essentially true of the original, too? You'd like to think that people making art a lot like preexisting art would prefer to emphasize the ways it's different, not the same—but what am I saying? The people advertising and financing this stuff are businessmen, not artists, and the creative material is product, "property." Part of what bugs me about the echo here is that it's surely anything but accidental: consumers know Terminator a lot better than they know Surrogates, so Terminator it is.

Ah, you know what? I'm on vacation. I don't give a shit.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

a few quick thoughts on (or a half-assed review of) the new Pynchon novel

1. Pynchon Lite? At least one reviewer has said so. Is it true? Depends what you mean. I wouldn't call it watered-down Pynchon so much as one distilled element of Pynchon with the rest left out. Just as [or I guess "in a way not entirely dissimilar to the way in which"] White Light/White Heat x The Velvet Underground ÷ 2 = The Velvet Underground & Nico, I'd say that maybe...The Crying of Lot 49 + Vineland ÷ Against the Day = Inherent Vice? In short...

2. It's a cartoon—a cartoon against the Man, thus combining two very Pynchonesque elements. I got to Pynchon from Douglas Adams and his Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by way of Stephen King and Kurt Vonnegut. I've always been a "voracious reader," which I suppose is a cliché, but my dirty secret is that I'm all but incapable of reading things I find boring (the lucky thing for me, as a former English student, major, and then teacher, being that I seem to find more books interesting than the average bear). And the thing about Pynchon is that he's always been like candy to me...or maybe not so much candy as, like, some intense, delicious dessert—something involving cake and chocolate and ice cream or something. But so what I'm trying to say is that Inherent Vice is only what his other books have been crucially to me, which is entertainment. (And to be totally clear, when I say it's a cartoon, I'm not speaking in some vague, hard-to-trace metaphor: "The world had just been disassembled, anybody here could be working any hustle you could think of, and it was long past time to be, as Shaggy would say, like, gettin out of here, Scoob.")

3. So what's it like? It's like Barthelme's "Policemen's Ball" crossed with The Big Lebowski and—sure, yeah—Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?

4. Loved it, then? Well, OK, look. It's something new, sure; he's doing something different. Usually the cartoonishness in his work is balanced out by some dense & intense intellectual/philosophical business, and here the latter is kept to an airy minimum. Like I said, or suggested, I've always enjoyed the cartoonishness, and I love Pynchon's writing style, and you get all that. But do I miss the heavier stuff? Sure. Gravity's Rainbow I couldn't love without the cartoon elements, but I wouldn't love it if it were just the cartoon elements, either. Put it this way: I loved reading Inherent Vice (which I'm not sure I could say whole-heartedly of Against the Day or even Mason & Dixon in its entirety), but I'm hesitant to say it's good, exactly, without getting into a whole discussion of what good means. Would I say it's fun, though? Absolutely—but only with a side note that fun is a noun, not an adjective, because that's just how I roll.

Put it this way. Do I like it as much as Gravity's Rainbow? Not even close. But I'd be a hell of a lot likelier to recommend it to a friend.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Friday, August 7, 2009

another game of telephone

Google Voice has one-upped itself...three-upped, even. I wrote the other day about how the Google voicemail-transcription service can result in a kind of found comedy; well, today Google took that to a new level.

Here is what the caller* actually said: "All I can think of is pancakes, pancakes, pancakes, pancakes, pancakes, pancakes." Funny in itself. Here's what Google thought she said [and you can click to enlarge the screenshot if the font is too OED-condensed for you]:

The best part—well, or let's just say one great part—is that the darker the letters, the surer Google is that the word is right. So Google was real confident about "dick suck."

Another good one just yesterday was when a friend said, "I am going to say nonsense now for the benefit of your Google Voice," and then the only thing that Google really got wrong was "to say nonsense," which came out as "tuesday $0.09"—that one was just sort of perfect. But I'm not sure there's really any way to beat "it's been taken care of a dick suck a dick suck a dick suck a dick suck."

DOPEY SITCOM-STYLE JOKE: She must really like pancakes! [Doesn't actually make sense.]

* A Gentleman Caller...but a lady. Sort that one out.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

epic throwdown

I can't decide which one to root for!

Monday, August 3, 2009

more Ghostbusters/Shining tomfoolery

This one isn't as good as the one I put up here, but I think it has its positive qualities.

How to Fight

Just remembered this:

Fuckin' screenshot sort of gives away the joke, but I'm gonna assume it's still worth watching, as evidenced by the fact that I've enjoyed watching it multiple times and obviously only the first time was there any element of surprise...

I hate Sam Anderson.

Sam Anderson writes in the new New York magazine that he hates Thomas Pynchon. OK, fine. Everybody dislikes some writer that other people like. What bugs me, though, is Anderson's belief that he's being some kind of daring iconoclast by blasting his opinion, as if he's shouting some unacceptable belief to a world run by Pynchon's acolytes. A dangerous rebel!

Guess what, Sam? Not that many people read Pynchon, and a lot of the ones who do...don't like him either! True story!

One thing I've learned from loving Pynchon's work (particularly the first four novels) is that recommending him to friends, no matter how "literary," is never a sure thing: more often than not, they don't like the stuff. So, fine, Pynchon isn't for everybody. Yet somehow he winds up with the worst of both worlds: Anderson hates him and feels angry about it and thinks he has to debunk some myth or tell the world. "This...might even destroy my career and end a few friendships and scandalize my children..." (I wish.) No, Sam, don't worry: you're solidly in the mainstream, and safe as the Man in his nuke-proof bunker. Even in English departments (hardly representatives of monolithic power), Pynchon hardly has a foothold. You aren't going to anger some powerful Pynchon lobby because there's no powerful Pynchon lobby to anger. (In fact, you wrote this article because you knew people were going to agree.)

Few things annoy me more than the strong kicking the weak and claiming self-defense—than somebody who knocks out a David and then tries to pretend he was a Goliath.

Anyway, I can't "disprove" what Sam says because it's his opinion. (Just in case you've lost track, Sam—it is your opinion.) But I will just note what he listed as the best novels of 2007. You hate Pynchon; what do you like?

1. Junot Díaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
Pointless, aimless, precious, pretentious, meaningless, overrated crap. My opinion.

2. Roberto Bolaño, The Savage Detectives.
Haven't read it, but everyone I know who's read it didn't like it, thought it was boring. For whatever that's worth. No offense to Bolaño, whom I do not assume is bad or anything. (I'm enjoying 2666 pretty well, although I don't quite see what all the fuss is about.*)

3. Michael Chabon, The Yiddish Policemen's Union.
Ahem. Anderson gives this book the "best style" award and cites the following examples of his "exuberant language": "The main character's wife 'accepts a compliment as if it's a can of soda that she suspects him of having shaken.' A pretentious journalist speaks Yiddish 'like a sausage recipe with footnotes.' And a salmon is an 'aquatic Zionist, forever dreaming of its fatal home.'" Just to be totally, 100% clear here, these are examples of good writing, figurative language that we're meant to admire and take seriously. Just to be clear.

So, Sam—agree to disagree?

P.S. You're a douchebag.

* And I'll be taking a break to read Inherent Vice, which I just bought this afternoon!

on message

I first noticed this in the beginning of 2002 on a Ben & Jerry's table in New York and then saw it again last week on a Ben & Jerry's table in Massachusetts and remembered. I think it's funny because these are not particularly compatible concepts: it looks less like a shared statement of values than it does like a disagreement.

BEN: If it's not fun, why do it?
JERRY: Well, Ben, business has the responsibility to give back to the community.

Smiling and not looking at each other. "THIS CONFLICT DEFINES US."

[Some of you are thinking, "Maybe giving back to the community is fun." Just stop.]