Wednesday, September 30, 2009

thisism, thatism, ism ism ism

Everybody's talkin' 'bout
foreign debts,
homeless vets,
AIDS, crack,
Bernie Goetz.
All we are saying is give peace a chance.
All we are saying is give peace a chance.

Everybody's talkin' 'bout
Greta Garbo and Monroe,
Dietrich and DiMaggio,
Marlon Brando, Jimmy Dean,
on the cover of a magazine.
All we are saying is give peace a chance.
All we are saying is give peace a chance.

Everybody's talkin' 'bout
Brooklyn girls, French girls,
all the Oriental girls,
Chinese, Japanese,
Swiss girls, Italian women,
stewardesses flying around the world.
All we are saying is give peace a chance.
All we are saying is give peace a chance.

Everybody's talkin' 'bout
Andy Secher at Hit Parader,
Circus Magazine,
Mick Wall at Kerrang,
Bob Guiccione Jr. at Spin.
All we are saying is give peace a chance.
All we are saying is give peace a chance.

Everybody's talkin' 'bout
argon, krypton, neon, radon, xenon, zinc, and rhodium,
and chlorine, carbon, cobalt, copper,
Bay of Pigs invasion.
All we are saying is give peace a chance.
All we are saying is give peace a chance.

[Thanks to the sun duck for her Photoshop wizardry. WORLD IS OVER!—if you want it.]

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Those New Yorker guys just keep putting out magazines!

Some thoughts on the new New Yorker (Oct. 5, 2009):

Oh, Hilton Als!
Now, I've had problems with New Yorker theater reviews before [q.v.], and I have three problems with the review, in this issue, of Peter Sellars's Othello (that's Peter Sellars, not to be confused with Peter Sellers).
First, and most bizarrely, there is the last line of the review: Philip Seymour Hoffman, whose performance Als hated, "takes up as much space as a white man can, if you let him." Huh? Seriously: what?
Second, also making no sense, Als writes, "Whom haven't we betrayed—in love or in business—to advance a cause we feel insecure about anyway?" Now, I'm slow to acknowledge that "we" have all of us betrayed people, and slower still to acknowledge that we've all betrayed people "to advance a cause we feel insecure about anyway." But that's not even what Als says. He says "Whom haven't we betrayed?" [emphasis mine]. In other words, we have betrayed everyone. What in the world is this guy talking about?
Third, it has always been my understanding that Iago is notable for his motiveless malignancy—not only did it seem clear to me personally that Iago's reasons for doing what he does are unclear, but there's lots of critical writing to the same effect, and I'm not an expert on the subject but I've never actually heard anyone say otherwise—but so then Als "answers" the question of Iago's motivation in a sentence...not even in a sentence, but in an aside: "Once there, Iago, who feels he has been passed over for a promotion, puts into action a plan to destroy the man he serves" [emphasis mine]. Not only does Als think that this is the motive for the malignancy, but he doesn't even think there's any question, any debate. Weird.

motiveless malignancy

Super Coen Bros.
I'm going to have to save this issue and read the review of the new Coen Bros. movie later because I know Denby and what's-his-name have no qualms at all about giving shit away in their reviews, and I'm excited to see this thing without knowing the ending first. (Denby's review begins, "At the conclusion of their new movie, 'A Serious Man'..." Are you kidding me with that shit? Slate did that with Inglourious Basterds, too: assholes opened an article with the final scene, before the movie had even been released! Why is this OK? Aren't there laws about that?) The New Yorker's film reviews are some of the worst film reviews in the world, in my opinion—careless, smug, and irresponsible—so I won't be at all surprised if I disagree with this one. Looking forward to it.

a serious man

Why does The New Yorker write "DVR" but then "A.T.M." and "G.P.S."? What's the reasoning? Why use periods in some but not others? DVR, ATM, and GPS are all initialisms, they're all three letters long, they all refer to computerized electronic devices... I'm at a loss to explain it. Can someone explain it?

"His schlock has gravitas."
Two people talking at a cocktail party. I can't say I think that's a great cartoon, or funny (not that they ever are, see footnote here), but I like the caption all the same—maybe just because it's what I'm shooting for with my novel: I'm hoping my schlock has gravitas.

I [heart] George Saunders.
Who but George Saunders today can write a story with a happy ending—a moral, even—and have it at the same time be real, not sentimental, not schlock? (Not even schlock with gravitas?) Saunders belongs in the company of Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut,* those rare writers who can combine everything that is good about the dark, sardonic, skeptical, incisive satirist and the loving, empathetic, bleeding-heart moralist. Twain, Vonnegut, and Saunders do not pull their punches, nor do they shy away from the dark and horrible side of life—and yet they're at the same time unafraid to say things that few of us could manage to say without sounding like saps, things about the goodness of people, the value of hope, the importance of caring and of love. Hell, I feel like a doofus even trying to articulate it. But when Saunders writes about it, I believe it—most of the time, anyway.
"Victory Lap" reminds me of the first George Saunders story I ever read: "The Falls," I believe it was called, also published in The New Yorker, in 1995 or 1996. A supportive and excellent English teacher gave me a Xeroxed copy in high school, and I was blown away—and thrilled, then, a year or so later, to find CivilWarLand in Bad Decline on a shelf at Barnes & Noble, although those stories were much less like "The Falls" than some that would follow in later collections.
And I am proud to say that the reason she gave me "The Falls" was that the style reminded her of me. Or am I making that up? Whatever: it's my story, and I'm sticking with it. Anything that groups me with George Saunders, I'm going to keep close, whether it's made up or not.
I loved this story. It had an effect on my whole day: it changed the atmosphere. I hope that George Saunders feels good about the work he does because he's one hell of a writer. I don't love all of his stuff, but some of it I do, I really do: I love it. And if you can do that, if you can write some stuff that is that good—well, you're doing something right, let's say that. George Saunders makes the universe a better place. God bless him.

I love this man.

* I might include David Foster Wallace as well, although it's more of a stretch—although not as much of a stretch as I think the average literate American would think it was: I was rather surprised when rereading him last year to find how much like this he actually was, after about a decade's press marking him as a somewhat cold and sterile formalist.

verbal (the limp is fake)

When I read Infinite Jest last summer, I kept a list of words I meant to look up. Then I didn't look them up. Some of them were ones I felt I ought to know, maybe one or two were ones I felt I did know but wanted to double check, but most of them were what-the-fucks. I kept the list in my phone, adding them diligently as I came upon them. Then I didn't look them up.

Here's the list.

venulated (nose)
clef (hips')
apicals (except s)
cunctations (in speech)
dirndls (clothing?)
sub rosa
teratoid (face, unwittingly)
sump (drained into some psychic sump)
a childlike SYBARITIC life (Fromm)

Not sure what I meant by the "Fromm" in that last one...maybe that it was no longer from Infinite Jest but from something by Erich Fromm? Either that or David Foster Wallace name-drops Fromm. Or it reminded me of something in Fromm...

Anyway, I thought of this list today because I was reading the Galchen and came upon a word I really ought to know but felt in context that I guess I don't actually know:


So let's learn something. Ersatz: Used as an inferior substitute, not real—literally, replacement. Ersatz. (If ex-girlfriends are erst' girlfriends, might rebounds be ers' girlfriends?*)

* No. No. A hundred times no.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Ames et al

I finished reading that Jonathan Ames book. With the exception of the rare violent parts (which for whatever reason I did not like) and the parts where he's effectively writing about how famous he is (which I don't think works as well as when he's writing about how pathetic he is), I enjoyed it pretty well.

Jonathan Ames amuses me and depresses me. I want to say he does that all at once, but that's not exactly right. Nor is it right to say that he does them alternately or that there's some sort of oscillation. Maybe it has something to do with how I understood what he was saying about wanting to tear things down but didn't see how nihilism was quite the right word: maybe there are ways in which I really see what he's getting at but ultimately I really don't, and the result is this kind of near-communication that's both exhilarating and exhausting...? Or maybe it's just that he's like Jesus, doing shit so we don't have to.

Anyway, I'm glad for him that he's got an HBO show; I hope this means he's "made it" and won't really have to worry ever again about job stability. That is if he has had to do that anyway. His book makes it seem like he has—half broke for decades, I think he said—but that could be in the past, or romanticized, or exaggerated, or plain false. I don't know. I do care, though, if only because I'm arguably looking down the barrel of "half broke for decades" myself...and without substance abuse to help me. I'm kidding about "help," there. Almost entirely.

Now I'm reading Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen. I bought it at Shakespeare & Co. a little while back because of (a) the description on the back; (b) the author photograph, in which Ms. Galchen looks pretty cute, I'm sorry; and, most importantly, (c) the blurbs:
  • The New York Times Book Review says it "calls to mind the playful techniques of Jonathan Lethem, Franz Kafka, Primo Levi, and Thomas Pynchon"! (Primo Levi?)
  • James Wood says "a sentence never quite ends up where you expect"!
  • Bookforum says Galchen "is clearly tuned, preternaturally, to the key of...Borges"!
  • Other reviewers name-drop David Foster Wallace, Tristram Shandy, and Homer Simpson!
I'm only two pages in, but I'm excited...

[When I have a book I'm enjoying or am excited about, it has a distinctly positive effect on my general happiness; conversely, when I'm not happy with what I'm reading or can't settle on a book, I'm generally sadder. (Even truer is the effect of writing: when I am writing—by which I mean during periods or days or weeks when I am writing, not just when I am actually putting words on the page—I am much, much happier, ridiculously so. Actually, what's really ridiculous is how often I forget and then re-remember it: I've re-remembered this so many times it has become embarrassing. Yes, it is true, Shorty: write and you will feel better! Unfortunately I don't mean Alt85—it's got to be "real" writing. The good news is I'm doing it: 2,000 words/day of a novel. Started this thing at the end of July, and it's already more than 300 pages long—this with several weeks lost to vacation and other disasters. Now, this is a rough, rough draft, rougher than any draft I've drafted since I was a kid—but I also haven't been so productive since I was a kid, a teenager, and I'm actually writing this thing instead of getting stuck re-re-rewriting incomplete rough drafts and then giving up on them altogether. Thank you, Stephen King...)]

Pretty cute, I'm sorry.

a September 28

(or, the Ghost of Sep. 28 Past)

How has the world changed? Last night I lay in bed and looked [out] my windows, and they reminded me somehow of the mental image I had formed in 1991, from CNN or my imagination, of Baghdad bombarded. It wasn't a scary thought; it was just a thought.
On 14 September, ["Gottlieb"] sent some of us a message from Rabbi Arthur Waskow, the director of the Shalom Center. I don't know who he is or what that is, but that e-mail was one of the most comforting things I've read since the attack. "We are in truth all vulnerable... There are only wispy walls and leaky roofs between us." I won't quote it all or bother to explain why it comforted me. I'll save that for less crude, less direct communication.
J— believes (or at least said once that she believes) in progress, in the upward mobility of mankind. I disagree. I disagree now more than ever before. That doesn't mean that I belive in downward mobility or believe there is no hope for us. I mean only that I've never felt so close to the people of ancient times. I always knew on some level that they were people just as we are, but I couldn't get it through my head. I still can't, but I've wedged it partway in there. It has a leg in. Rome, sure. We're all human, and none of us the center.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

post no moss

If you click to enlarge the crappy phone-shot photo above, I hope you'll be able to see that this cock is made out actual mossy earth—hence the gross yellow bleeding down after the rain. Amazing! Is it naïve or overly optimistic to think that such a thing is unlikely to be a corporate advertisement but must be the work of some local artmonger? I believe I am misusing the suffix -monger.

some thoughts, in no order [UPDATED]

"I express to [Marilyn Manson] that being a nihilist is a form of idealism—you don't want to tear things down if you don't think things could be better somehow, and he agrees." –Jonathan Ames, The Double Life Is Twice as Good, which I'm in the middle of right now.

I'm not sure about that use of the word nihilist—I might say skeptic? [misanthrope? –ed.]—but the rest of it I identify with: in fact it's all over this blog. I spoke to Marilyn Manson on the phone once; he didn't sound the way I expected him to, but then I never really listened to his music. Jonathan Ames I like but do not love. His show so far has not particularly grabbed me, although I did like it when Zach Galifianakis said, "I read it in my diary."


Isn't O'Hurley's sort of a terrible name for a restaurant? Maybe I'm just 12 years old, but doesn't it call to mind a vomiting cartoon Irishman? "Welcome to O'Hurley's, BLAAAUUUUGGHHHH!"


Fuckin' Facebook. I just turned mine off altogether. People will think (have thought) I've defriended them, but that's just, like, collateral damage, man. I had to get outta there, at least for a while. FUCK Facebook. [Cf.*]


I'm going to start saying erst' girlfriend instead of ex-girlfriend—short for erstwhile.†

† No I'm not.

Monday, September 21, 2009

a few little things

Wait a I suffering from some kind of cognitive deficit, here, or is this sign problematic? I mean, my Math scores weren't as high as my Verbal on the SAT, but isn't the range 715–739 contained within the range 701–751? I guess what they really mean isn't so much "701–751" as "701-714 & 740–751"? But so then why don't they say that? (Important note: the person I was with had no trouble understanding where room 730 was and didn't hesitate even two seconds. So, yes, maybe some kind of cognitive deficit. O-or neurological disorder.)

I think naturally is one of those words that are at risk of losing their meaning. Instructions on how to be naturally anything seem problematic. HOW TO BE NATURALLY THIN: Inherit a high metabolism; have a genetic predisposition toward thinness. Next week: HOW TO BE NATURALLY ATTRACTIVE.

Troubling pay-per-view pornography made wonderful by the troubling copy. "Maybe they're a turn on because they remind you of your first sexual experience." Yeah...maybe that's it. I love that whoever wrote this is kind of trying to apologize on behalf of whoever wants to watch this movie, offering something that's somewhere in between a justification ("Ohhh, I can see how you might have thought this was pedophilia; no, it's nostalgia") and a psychological explanation ("INCEST PORN: Maybe it's a turn on because you're conflicted about your relationship with your family").

ULTIMATE MADELEINES!!! For memory trips that'll knock your socks off! Why go in search of lost time when you can blow lost time out of its gopher holes with an explosion of buttery flavor? Get out of your sick bed and write the shit out of 20th-century literature! ULTIMATE MADELEINES!!!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

holy crap: 400?!

We're coming up on 1¼ years of Alternate 1985. Here are your stats.


Heyyy, the wily octopus, pulling into second! I like the way you think!

NEW FAVORITES (since 300)
Ghostbusters and The Shining (a personal favorite).


I wrote a tongue twister.

Here it is: a brand-new tongue twister for 2009!

skeptical spectacle

You just try saying that shit five times fast.

More fun with tongues.

So maybe a Google search suggests that other people have thought of this already, "skeptical spectacle." Fine. It doesn't suggest that anyone before me has identified it as a tongue twister!* People were aware of pus from cowpox pustules before anyone worked out the idea of innoculation. (Yes, I am equating my tongue twister to major advances in medical science.)

Innoculation is sexy fun.

To be fair, it would be more impressive if I had written a palindrome. One of my Sara-friends (not this one) once either wrote or at least shared "Satan, oscillate my metallic sonatas," and it blew my mind—which is why my mind is no longer capable of generating palindromes. It's a shame. I heard once, but have never been able to verify, that Georges Perec wrote a palindrome that was, like, a whole novella? That can't be. But can you imagine?

I have not seen this movie.

John Hodgman did us all a great service in Areas of My Expertise by sharing with us the following amazing (slightly abridged) list of "failed palindromes," which is a brilliant comic feat because he's somehow managed to write things that sound like palindromes—a concept that had never even occurred to me, the sound of a palindrome, until I read this:

Slow speed: deep owls
Sour candy and Dan C. Roused
Desire still lisps: Arise! D.
Eh, S'occurs to Me to Succor She
Tow a What? Thaw!

All hail Hodgman.

Anyway, go ahead and try my tongue twister. But then please send me a royalty check. I don't do this shit for my health.

* At least, the first 10 results don't.

Monday, September 14, 2009

escape route to nowhere?

Somebody help me out with this:

To this day (September 14, 2009) you see these "FALLOUT SHELTER" signs all over New York City, and nobody's yet been able to tell me what the deal is. Here are the possibilities, as far as I can tell:

  1. This sign alerts us to the fact that there is a fully functional, civilian-ready fallout shelter waiting somewhere in the building. The big questions, then, are (a) where in the building can we find this shelter and (b) what do we do if we need to use it, just show up and knock?
  2. This sign alerts us to the fact that there is a fallout shelter somewhere in the building, but it is almost certainly in a state of total disrepair, not having been maintained or tended to since the end of the Cold War (at the latest, probably). Hide here at your own risk: there's probably no food or water, and who knows if the seals, filters, ventilation, and whatever-all-else are still working.
  3. This sign once alerted people to the fact that there was a fallout shelter somewhere in the building—or you could say they alert us to the fact that there once was a fallout shelter somewhere in the building—but the sign is up now only because no one ever bothered to take it down, or because it acts as a kind of historical marker. There is no fallout shelter: you'd be just as well off hiding in a Starbuck's.
  4. This sign alerts and alerted people to the fact that some part of this building—a staircase leading to a little basement alleyway underneath, for example, like what's sometimes used for the transportation of residential garbage—could and can be used as a fallout shelter in much the same way that supposedly you're supposed to, what, stand in a door if there's an earthquake? Not a plan that fills one with confidence, but better than nothing, maybe.
  5. There were no shelters, as any nuclear attack would basically kill everyone, and the signs' sole purpose was to calm and reassure an otherwise panic-prone citizenry by suggesting (falsely) that there were fallout shelters waiting all across the city. (That one doesn't seem likely, but I figured I should include it as a possibility.)

Does anyone know the answer? I'm really curious—not even particularly for survival purposes (part of me, a big part, figures that the best place to be in case of nuclear attack is directly underneath the falling bomb; another part of me, a smaller part, finds that attitude existentially, philosophically, and to some extent morally unacceptable...)—so if anyone reading has any idea, please post and share.

One thing I will say is that these signs are pretty awesome.

That and a dollar eighty-nine'll get you on the subway.

(click to enlarge, or just read below)

I was glad to see this ad again because it puzzled me earlier and I wanted to have a chance to think about what it says.

What it says: "Believe it or not. In 1986, the subway and bus fare was $1. That's $1.89 in 2008 dollars. Today 30-day Unlimited Ride MetroCard* brings the fare down to $1.17. Believe it."

According to the Inflation Calculator I mentioned in my discussion of the Ghostbusters' annual income, $1 (1986) ≈ $1.94 in 2008...which would be even better for the MTA's argument. OK, so we're good so far.

Here's the part that worries me: in what sense does a 30-day Unlimited Ride MetroCard bring the fare down to $1.17? You pay a flat fee for an Unlimited Ride MetroCard, which means that for Unlimited Ride passengers, the fare for a single ride is pretty much theoretical and varies depending on the number of rides you take within those 30 days. This means that we can say, even before doing any calculations, that the $1.17 claim simply is not true: $1.17 is not the cost of a single ride in pretty much the same way that 5'10" is not the height of a man.

Given that, let's see what they're trying to say. A 30-day Unlimited Ride MetroCard costs $89, but I think the ad might have come out before the fare went up from $81, so let's look at that lower number (although you certainly could complain that they have an obligation to take down or update any ad that brags about outdated fares). If you took a round trip once a day, every day, including the weekends, then that's 60 rides per 30 days, and each ride will have effectively cost a little more than $1.35. Now, I'm no mathemagician, but I know that $1.17 ≤ $1.35 ≤ $1.48 (the cost with a present-day, $89 MetroCard). So then where does the $1.17 come from?

Algebra, don't fail me now!

$1.17x = $81
x = 69.23

So I guess what they meant to say is that an old 30-day Unlimited Ride MetroCard brings the fare down to $1.17 if you take a little more than eight round-trip rides a week. So how did they come up with eight? We can guess (or hope) that that's the average or something, but does it even matter? One way or another, the "if you take a little more than eight round-trips a week" part seems pretty relevant, and leaving it out seems pretty questionable. Why didn't they say "can bring the fare down" instead of "brings the fare down" [emphasis mine]?

Probably because it can bring it down more than that. For example, if you take 89 trips in 30 days, the fare is just 52¢ (1986)...and if you get up around 200 trips (only about three round trips a day), you can bring the fare down to about 44¢, or one 1948 nickel—the cost of the subway for our grandparents, the Greatest Generation, who defeated the Nazis in World War II! (Of course, if you only take the bus or subway once, that's an $89 ride. But who would do once what he could do 200 times?)

If you're going to hide a number (in this case 69.23), then that number had better make a lot of sense. Its being the City average, if it is so, is a not-unreasonable defense, but it seems to me still unjustifiable by virtue of being fairly high: with access neither to the hidden number nor to statistical averages (nor to a calculator), I think a consumer might reasonably assume that $1.17 was the average fare for someone who takes the subway to and from work every weekday—no? I mean, how much is the fare if you just do that?

Get this: if you use it only to go to and from work five days a week, "30-day Unlimited Ride MetroCard" (old $81 version) brings the fare down to...wait for it...$1.89. has some claim to be the most basic, middle-of-the-road use of a MetroCard winds up costing you exactly what it cost in 1986.

Oh: except that of course now that card costs $89, so now it's $2.08. It's gone up 7¢ (1986).

I think that if an ad is going to try to drive a point home by throwing numbers at you, it is irresponsible, even unethical, for that ad to leave out key information—particularly information having to do with whether those numbers actually apply to you. Anything else is manipulation and deceit. And when a closer examination reveals that the fare drop they're talking about could just as easily be pegged at zero... Well, that, in the words of Jesus, is laughable, man.

Nobody fucks with the Jesus.

* It annoys me that "30-day Unlimited Ride MetroCard" is being treated as a name, such that it does not get an article.

No, it's YOU.

Hey, wow—clever commentary! Whoever came up with this ad would be pretty embarrassed to see how you totally turned things around! I mean, here's Larry David asking this question, totally straight, like, "Is it me," and we're all like, "Well, that's a rhetorical question, and we can pretty much assume that the one thing it isn't is him," like, "No, surely the answer to that question is no"—but then you swoop in, and you're all, "YES!" Oh, man, so brilliant, so awesome. He never saw it coming!

You're like a masked avenger. Of fucking idiots.

* Which does have its faults.

no cigar

OK, look—there are three standard spellings, here: 'til, till, and until.

The first, although probably more common than the second, makes less sense because till:until::to:unto. That is, till is its own word—actually an older word than until!—so treating it as an abbreviation of until is kind of silly: imagine if someone wrote, "I'm going 'to the grocery store."*

All of which goes to say that til, without an apostrophe, is not a word. Not as bad as 'till, which suggests a misunderstanding of the basic concept of abbreviations or apostrophes or both—but wrong, wrong, unholy and wrong!


* Actually, that would be awesome.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


I bought Scrabble for my phone and have been enjoying it too much. However, I was annoyed to find that there are a number of words it does not recognize as words, not because they aren't in the dictionary (thing uses Merriam–Webster, supposedly, and these words are all in there), but instead, it's reasonably clear, because they are all "offensive." [Cf.]



Remember that scene in Foul Play when the two old ladies are playing Scrabble while Goldie Hawn dangles outside their window from a fire escape (or stands on a ledge or something) and one of them puts down fucker and the other makes it motherfucker and then they argue about whether motherfucker is one or two words or is hyphenated? I know this is not an important issue per se, in that Scrabble is not important (per se), but it taps into something larger that I think is worth getting annoyed about. I could understand if the game had a "DISALLOW OFFENSIVE WORDS" option—that would still be stupid, but I would understand—but its responding to goy the same way it would respond to oyg really rubs me the wrong way. Even "Sorry, this word is not allowed" would be preferable. But to be told that goy is not a word? It is a word. It is a word!*

The 1970s, when comedies were steamy
and motherfucker was still a word.

* Blogger's spell-check doesn't know it's a word, either. Um...anti-Semitic conspiracy, anyone?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

no duck pond simulators

I enjoy the pictorial representation, here, of "NO LITTERING":

Reminds me of this thing from 5–6 years ago.* Another take might be, "NO TELEKINESIS."

* Don't miss the game at the end! I would have linked to it directly if I had figured out how.

Only one of these coffees...

This ad is supposed to be much wider and has effectively been cropped, to mildly amusing effect:

(click to enlarge)

Well, which one is it?? Is this a Zen koan or some shit? I'm dying, here!

No exit, LOL!

(or, Textistentialism[?])

Interesting juxtaposition at Urban Outfitters:

What was that song they used to sing on Sesame Street? One of these not like the others... [I know I'm only showing you two books, so let me just be clear: "OMFG" is more or less like the others; "L'enfer, c'est les autres," not so much.] Anyway, the side-by-side really struck me. Hell is other people—OMFG!

Aujourd'hui, maman est morte. Ou peut-être hier, je ne sais pas. :P

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

trespassing from dusk to dawn

Of course there's a big "NO" to the left of this, but I found that cropping out that "NO" leaves a nice little list of transgressive delights that feels like an advertisement for the evil kids' club that Shredder and Sam Rockwell were running in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie.

The person I was with when I saw the sign felt pretty strongly that it was not at all funny; I think what I like about it is the idea (once you make the leap of imagining that these are things that are being promised instead of things that are being forbidden) that alongside alcoholic beverages, the bad-ass "Fight for Your Right"–variety enticements and attractions (lot of beer, lot of girls, and a lot of cursing) might include climbing on buildings, loitering, and "motor vehicles or horses on playgrounds"—that last one feeling like something that wouldn't be out of place in a lost Donald Barthelme version of Pinocchio.

When you wish upon that STAR
It makes no difference who you ARE
Like a Bolt Bus comin' out from the BLUE
You wish upon a star, and your dreams come TRUE

atheism: the word

I've written about this before, but I feel like revisiting the subject and focusing on it a little more precisely. What does it mean to self-identify as an atheist? A lot of people I know subscribe to the idea that it's extreme, or a little silly, or even stupid to say that you're an atheist, and that the only reasonable position is agnosticism—in fact, I used to say that myself.

The argument against atheism is that it doesn't make any sense to be so sure that God doesn't exist: how could you possibly know that? In that sense, atheism is at least as irrational as belief. Agnosticism, on the other hand, is an expression of doubt or uncertainty: "Nobody really knows," you're saying, "which makes both belief in God and atheism pretty naïve."

Here's the problem with that, and the reason why I changed my mind:

  • An agnostic isn't just someone who says he isn't sure whether God exists: it's someone who says that that cannot be known. (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines the word as "One who believes that it is impossible to know whether there is a God.")
  • Agnosticism, then, isn't just a statement of uncertainty, isn't simply synonymous with "I don't know for sure": it's a philosophical position, an interesting and somewhat appealing but at the same time rather extreme one, not a neutral statement but a belief in itself, all tangled up with epistemology and linked without too much difficulty to a kind of mysticism.
  • So: do you believe that it is impossible to know whether there is a God—not in that S.A.T. way of "not enough information," but as a kind of unalterable cosmic truth? Not just unknown but unknowable?* Maybe so. Certainly some people must qualify as agnostics. But I'm suspicious. A lot of people self-identify as agnostics: are they all really so damned philosophical about everything?
  • How about atheism? Atheism is the belief that God does not exist. Stop and think about that. Note that it is not the knowledge that God does not exist, or the absolute certainty that God does not exist, or the ability to demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that God does not exist. No: it is the belief that God does not exist.
  • Do you believe that unicorns exist? No? OK. Are you sure that they do not exist? How can you possibly claim to know that?
  • How do you feel about the following statement: "It's stupid to say that you don't believe in unicorns [or in ghosts or fairies or Santa Claus or Freddy Krueger]; the only reasonable thing to say is that you have no way of knowing"? Might you not respond, "No, it's still reasonable for me to say that I don't believe that Santa Claus exists, even though, sure, it's theoretically possible that he really does live up at North Pole and I'm just the victim [or beneficiary] of an enormous international cover-up"?
  • Isn't this why they call it belief instead of knowledge?

Belief in God is not generally challenged on the basis of the claim's absurdity per se: the devout are not told that knowledge and belief themselves are inherently ridiculous.† I think there are two main reasons why people think it makes sense to challenge disbelief on that shaky basis.

  1. Confusion about either the words' meanings or the difference between belief and knowledge.
  2. A sense that it's rude or wrong to disbelieve, or that a statement of disbelief as opposed to uncertainty is somehow too harsh.

The American Heritage Dictionary does give another definition of agnostic: "One who is skeptical about the existence of God but does not profess true atheism." That, I think, is what most agnostics are: fence-sitters. Also, that definition begs the question‡: why not? As I wrote back in October 2008, there does seem to be a feeling that belief in God must be protected, that it is fragile and vulnerable (I agree with that second part, for sure, although either way you do wonder why the all-powerful Creator and Lord of All Things needs to be shielded from the words of his creatures§).

But I'm getting off track, here: all I really want to focus on is the terminology, and all I really want to say (again) is this:

If you don't think God exists, call yourself an atheist because that's what you are. Atheism is the belief that God doesn't exist. We all have beliefs—most of them (we can hope) based on some kind of evidence or authority or reason, all of them subject to questioning and evaluation and reevaluation and criticism, but none of them invalidated as beliefs by the mere fact of their being beliefs—and if you believe that God does not exist or just don't believe he does, then guess what? You're an atheist.

If, on the other hand, you believe that the very question of God's existence is beyond the realm of human evaluation and knowledge—not that it's unknown, but that it is fundamentally unknowable—then, sure, you're an agnostic. But...come on, really?

* Could a super-computer find the answer? Could a hyper-intelligent being? Could God?
† A much likelier and more common attack would be the assertion that their specific beliefs are wrong and that the specific things they "know" they actually only think they know—in other words, it's a factual disagreement, not an epistemological investigation. [Blind faith ≠ knowledge and belief. Discuss.]
‡ I'm, like, arguably half-misusing this expression.
§ Unless he's like Tinkerbell...? Clap, everyone! Clap your hands and say, "I believe," or God will die!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Are you threatening me?

OK. I know I'm not the target audience for this ad, and I'm sure that pores is shorthand for clogged pores or, more likely, big gaping pores. But that's not what this says. It says, "PORES NO MORE!" Now, I'm not a medical doctor, but I'm pretty sure that we have pores for a reason,* and that getting rid of them would be—what was that term Egon used?—oh, right: bad.


You will not suffocate—
you will die a slow,
relaxing & luxurious
death from overheating!


Indulge yourself!

* Snopes: "Although it was still widely believed at the time Goldfinger was made (1964) that we 'breathe' through our skin and that closing off all the pores in one's body would result in a quick death, we now know this to be false... This isn't to say that painting yourself isn't unsafe, however [dude: triple negative! SCORE!]—clogging all your pores prevents you from perspiring and could eventually cause you to die from overheating..."

second thought?

So, yes, I'm excited about this show, but the ad I saw this afternoon in the subway was disheartening:

"Noir-otic" is a groaner and, in my opinion, not too successful even by corny standards. When a pun has to reach—whether it's a stretch of pronunciation, as in this case, or a question of too many steps from point A to point B—it's almost invariably dead on arrival. The whole thing is made worse by the fact that a "neurotic noir" is hardly a brand-new idea. Meanwhile, "How he solves anything is a mystery"...haven't I even heard that joke before? Maybe not. One way or another, this ad has massively lowered my expectations.

Come on, Ames, Galifianakis—I'm still rooting for you!

Meanwhile—and this is just a complaint about the design, with no particular relevance to the show (unless you want to argue that the quality of an ad can reflect upon the quality of the show, or at least the creators' sensibilities: I'll listen to that argument)—I think Jason Schwartzman is supposed to be looking at the shoes that are dangling at the top right. Am I right about that? If so—well, he isn't.

Sort of looks like he's looking at his own name, doesn't it? Maybe Ted Danson's. Definitely not the shoes, though...

[BONUS COMPLAINT (also HBO-related): In the new Curb Your Enthusiasm ads, which feature Larry David chatting away on a psychiatrist's couch while the psychiatrist dangles from the ceiling, having hanged himself* (because suicide is always hilarious), someone decided that it was worthwhile for us to be able to read the psychiatrist's diploma—it's blurry, but it's legible. And unless there's some subtle and sophisticated humor at play that I'm missing, I'm going to go ahead and say that this was a mistake:

In ascending order of ridiculousness:
  1. First of all, I could be wrong here, but its being an "Award of Merit" seems questionable. Do psychiatrists have Certificates of Accomplishment on their walls? Maybe I'm wrong, maybe that's what you get when you complete postgraduate work or something. But it smells to me like something they did in order to avoid having to forge some real diploma and name some real school, or make up a fake school.
  2. Really? John Doe? I know, your lawyers said you couldn't make up a name because somebody's got that name and could sue you—particularly dicey because you had him hang himself. But it's like the 555 phone numbers: when at all possible, you probably want to avoid it—like, don't even give a phone number if it has to look fake and it isn't necessary, right? "John Doe," I submit, is even worse than the 555. Why even bother?
  3. Child psychology. Why does it say child psychology? I don't get it. Is this something on the show that I don't know about? (I've only seen a few episodes—I enjoyed them!) Is it some convoluted joke-within-the-joke, like, not only is he so awful that his shrink killed himself, but he isn't even going to a regular shrink! I highly doubt that. Is it just a mistake, pure and simple? Honestly: why is Larry David going to a child psychologist? Color me mystified.]

* The past tense of hang when you mean it this way is hanged, not hung, hence the logic of the joke in Blazing Saddles: "They told me you was hung!" "They was right!"

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

I am excited about this upcoming television program.

Zach Galifianakis* plus Jason Schwartzman† plus, OK, Ted Danson‡... plus HBO original series, not irrelevant§... it's written and "created" by the amazing Jonathan Ames (writer of, among other things, the short piece "I Crap My Pants in the South of France")!

So, yes, I am excited about this upcoming television program. Honestly I've got to say I don't particularly have any guess as to whether it will actually be any good, though: sometimes exciting all-star collaborations result in crap. The Cusack–Leyner collaboration War, Inc.** was exciting to me in theory (a dark-comedic war satire written by Mark Leyner?—um, sign me up!), but it would be difficult to argue that it was particularly good or successful. I can easily see an Ames–Galifianakis pairing being just about the best or the worst thing ever.


* No, I did not like The Hangover.
† Best when directed by Wes Anderson, it seems.
‡ Before your time.
§ The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Da Ali G Show, most recently True Blood... Flight of the Conchords is sometimes excellent, The Wire I understand is supposed to be the best TV show ever made, but I don't want to watch it...
** I'd been hearing about such a collaboration for years and years...I feel like there was some talk of an Et Tu, Babe movie with John Cusack attached way back in the mid-to-late '90s. John Cusack is cool.