Friday, December 12, 2008

This is not a poem

I made some notes for a story I was thinking about. They are notes. They are not a poem. I wonder what the hell I thought I was doing.

Chances, the gambling cat.

designed by scientists to be a cat that gambles.

Made without a childhood

liars dice, with truths the hazard

and childhood memories the wager

the house never wins

no one ever wins

the house has a bigger stake

bets more; plays more games

but in the end, the house is another sucker

Monday, October 27, 2008

9:20PM this evening

Tonight at the bus stop at Geneva and Naples, I let out the sort of loud hooting laugh that I do when I really can't help it. Immediately I looked around and noticed a pretty young Asian girl to my left, and I felt slightly embarrassed (NOTE: NOT BECAUSE I WANTED TO MAKE IT WITH HER. SHE IS LIKE SEVENTEEN OR SOMETHING). But then I saw that she was safely ensconced in iPodland, and had most likely not heard me. I returned to the book that had inspired the maniacal cackle in the first place. After a moment, I caught movement from the corner of my eye. I glanced back at the girl to find her doing a sort of awkward shuffling, bouncing sort of hip hop kind of dance (I suppose, like I said, she's like seventeen, and that age group falls well without the bounds of my knowledge of terpsichorean taxonomy). She has a huge black purse under one arm and a heavy blue plaid backpack, so it can't be said that her dancing was entirely graceful, but it seemed fairly rhythmic, and certainly enthusiastic. And it was all of the sudden this beautiful moment, where I don't care if she hears my stupid laugh and she doesn't care if I see her (let's be fair) goofy dancing. And then the bus comes.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Best worst idea for a story ever

Your challenge is to write crossover fanfiction combining Thundercats and the Diary of Anne Frank.
The story should use marriage as a plot device!

Generated by the Terrible Crossover Fanfiction Idea Generator

Monday, October 13, 2008

short fictional prose writing thing

There once was a man named John Pinchback who was a marvelously gifted calligrapher. He never studied the art, and was never aware of his talent for as long as he lived. He was indifferently read, but a meticulous speller. He worked as a mechanic at a muffler specialist, and rarely had occasion to write more than a receipt. However, when the time came to write a tag for a Christmas gift, or to knock off a flier for a garage sale, to draw a simple map for a lost stranger, or to leave a note for the babysitter, his lettering was a marvel of composition, perfectly balanced, with each stroke evincing an effortless awareness of the overall sense of what was being written. Each letter vibrated with a holographic richness, each ascender and descender conveying the sum expression of the word it formed. Despite the fact that his artistic training was limited to one high school shop class, and that his media were never more refined than a Sharpie or a ball-point pen, his calligraphy could have stood up in a comparison with any of the great Zen or Confucian masters. He has been dead for fifteen years. Outside of fragments in the possession of his family, his only extant work is a hastily scrawled "Wet Paint" sign that is folded into quarters, housed in a sun-yellowed paperback copy of J. P. Donleavy's The Ginger Man on a shelf at the Purple Heart store in Tyler, TX.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Imaginary music, 2

Scholars of the American Delta Blues are notoriously as fickle in their allegiances as a high school lunch room. The discovery of a stack of warped 78 rpm records by an obscure songster will be fêted in the obscure mimeographed journals that are the lifesblood of the field. Cassette tapes will be traded, and thousands of words will unfold in contrarian letters and in heated posts on internet forums. Sooner or later, the most marketable of these forgotten artists filter in to the mainstream. With luck, an expensive boxed set of that artist's works will eventually follow, usually with a fulsome essay or two by one of the critical eminenses grises of the blues field. Adulation and Grammy to follow. After a few years of this, there will in invariably a backlash, and the artist will be found to be derivative of some newly-discovered predecessor, their songs trite, their former critical praise rooted in some complex form of racism that takes ten years of calculus and a very sharp knife to understand.

This tendency may have reached its pinnacle in the recent lionization of Blind Pat Morita Jones. Jones may or may not have been a native of Greasetrap, Mississippi, born around 1895 (there is a burgeoning literature devoted singly to the issue of his birthdate. Some scholars believe him to have been born at least six centuries previous to this date). He was apparently the master of a sort of homemade ukelele fabricated from a cigar box and, according to Lomax, the femur of Leadbelly's uncle Rex. This is all highly speculative. In the thousands of hours of interviews done by various folklorists with his putative contemporaries, no one so much as mentions him in passing. There is no birth certificate or gravesite. And in spite of the best efforts of several anthropology faculties, no descendants have been uncovered.

There are no extant recordings of Jones' work. Some authorities believe that he at one point had a record contract, or at least had heard of one. Two years ago there was a moment of delirious academic excitement when Dr. Ted Bissup of the University of Toronto claimed to have evidence that the notorious "lost" Comanche singles (CR 105-108), always listed in the contemporary catalogs with a blank where the artist and title information should be, were in fact Blind Pat Morita Jones recordings. This theory remained current until the discovery of a test pressing of CR-107, which proved to be a pornographic recording geared towards the nascent rubber fetishist niche market, far-sighted marketing well in line with what this writer described in The Comanche Story: The Story of Comanche Records (Tulpa Press, 2007). Nevertheless, Arthur Q. Lomax (no relation) is hard at work on a boxed set of the Complete Blind Pat Morita Jones. The theory at work there is that any of the handful of structures still standing that may have been roadhouses where Jones may or may not have played (see "Is You is or Is You Ain't Mama Joon's Saloon," Delta Blues News and Review June 2002) contain in their very walls some acoustic artifact of the theoretical performance or performances, in that the soundwaves emitted necessarily caused infinitessimal changes in the structure of the building. At the time of this writing, there is no information available concerning the technology that will be used to reconstruct Jones' music from the decades of layers that these phenomena have been overlaid by other acoustic evernt, or even if such technology is at all possible.

In related work, Dr. Denis Donadieu is currently engaged in a tentative reconstruction of Blind Pat Morita Jones' lyrics, based on a subtractive analysis of back numbers of Colliers magazine, the dimensions of contemporary McCormick harvester blades, and a computer-generated composite model of the performers who might have been Jones' inspirations. A sample verse:

Baby [...]
Well pemmican wine[...]

As you can see, there are more exciting developments to come.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

this is beautiful

Jonathan Coulton's "I'm Still Alive" performed by the famous-on-the-internet Molly, a.k.a. Sweetafton23.

Friday, September 12, 2008

reflections upon the first 3 episodes of Airwolf, Part 1

(This is an abstract for a paper currently under revision for publication in the Spring 2010 number of the North American Journal of Airwolf Studies.)

The 1984-1987 American television show Airwolf is in many ways simply awful. The writing is horrible. The acting is almost uniformly shambolic. The special effects are often laughable model shots that look all the worse for their marriage to the much more big-budget helicopter action sequences. Stock footage is utilized relentlessly, in a way that you simply can't get away with on television any more. And yet, all of these failings combine to create something, that when it is examined from the right perspective, is far greater than the sum of its parts.

The acting and writing, as bad as they are succeed in creating a sense of an unseen mythology behind the surface of the action. Stringfellow Hawke, woodenly portrayed by Jan Michael Vincent (henceforth JMV) seems to have depths unrevealed by the scripted show. Stringfellow can fly the heck out of a helicopter. If he meets any random veteran, odds are that String probably airlifted them out of "Indian Country" back in 'Nam. Oh yeah, and Airwolf.

He performs cello recitals of Prokofiev for a bald eagle (represented by the same few seconds of stock footage again and again, occasionally flipped for the sake of variety) that fishes in the lake where Hawkes' cabin lies. (represented by the same few seconds of stock footage again and again, occasionally flipped for the sake of variety) whilst sitting in a camp chair on his dock/launch pad. His bucolic cabin on a soundstage (which is disjunctive, considering that the dock is a location shot) is filled with a collection of priceless old masters and early modern paintings. Gabrielle, his love interest from the pilot episode (they all die) exclaims at the quality of his reproduction of Van Gogh's "Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear." Hawke informs her that it is not a copy. She exclaims that she saw the original at the "Impressionists Museum" (presumably the Musée d'Orsee, one supposes--Donald Belasario apparently lacked an encyclopedia) never mind that this painting has been in London's Courtauld Institute Galleries since 1948) His wine cellar is exquisitely stocked. Gabrielle tries to impress him by identifying the wine they are drinking as a '79 Montrachet (never mind that the bottle is resting on the bar two feet from her head). A few lines later he cuttingly identifies it as a '78. Hawke is kind a total jerk if he likes you, because if he likes you, you'll probably die. Like his parents. His first girlfriend. His brother Saint John (annoyingly referred to as "Sin Jin") has been MIA in Vietnam for years. His girlfriends die with alarming regularity. This makes him understandably taciturn and brooding, communicated by JMV as a sort of sullen grumpiness. All of these ludicrous details paint a colossal figure, a dark hero who thinks nothing of using a supersonic attack helicopter as a one-on-one antipersonnel weapon. The script and JMV fail to communicate this. But the slapdash fragments of their failures somehow do.

Another aspect of Airwolf which works when it really shouldn't is the disjucntive textures of the various modes of film making used in each episode. Location shots are deliriously interspersed with soundstage sets, stock footage of various ages and qualities weaves drunkenly from exploding model shots to footage recycled from previous episodes. The end result is a celebration of the idiosyncracies of each, and their staggering incompatibility brings a fascinating off-kilter rhythm to the proceedings: we are remorselessly asked to suspend disbelief again and again, finally settling into a shell-shocked haze at the magnificent stupidity of it all. A further notable aspect of this is the recycling of various shots from the pilot episode--the iconic slow spin up of the juxtaposed rotors, shots of Airwolf at rest in her mountain fastness, the deployment of the weapons system, or of JMV's steely, determined glare through the glass of the cockpit. The reuse of these images results in sort of ritual space in the narrative. As Sylvester LeVay's iconic synthesizer theme begins, and we see the images of Airwolf becoming prepared for her next adventure, we are in the presence of a great warrior girding her loins for battle, and these images are the traditional benediction or supplications performed as part of that rite.

An aside concerning the music: Sylvester LeVay was really good. The Airwolf theme is instantly recognizable, of course. But the incidental music and synthesized sound design are totally bitchin'. There is some wicked cool fm synth programming going down here.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Can we just say

Fuck a bunch of steampunk. Please? It was a nice mental exercise. But can it now be fucked? Please? Do I have to see grown men in waistcoats and derbies walking around without a goddamned jacket on? Seriously. If people put a little bit more effort than sticking a broken watch on a pair of cufflinks, maybe it would be okay. Maybe. Naw.



Naw, fuck a bunch of steampunk.

Monday, August 4, 2008

boris videos

A Bao A Qu
When people ask me (they don't, but humor me) why I like Boris, the above pretty much sums it up. Yeah, it's metal. There is some shredding and some tearing a trapset a new asshole. But it's so dreamlike, so enveloping. I love the way that they can manage to make metal feel like modernist poetry. Yes folks, you read it here first: Boris is the Wallace Stevens of metal.

Flower Sun Rain
Or maybe this one, apparently a live Merzbow mix of "Flower Sun Rain" from Rock Dream. To be so aggressively noisy and so damned pretty at the same time.

Or just plain pretty.

But then again, if I was a Boris video, "Ibitsu" would be me.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

inking exercise

A little while ago, I posted this drawing. I decided to practice my brush skills today, and so went hunting for a suitable pencil drawing to victimize. The results:

Totally effed up the hat and his hands, but I like the results in the drapery.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Imaginary musical genres, 1

As a sort of thought exercise, I have been trying to come up with a few imaginary genres of music that do not yet exist. The first one is


Car culture has for too long been caught up in the flamejob, hellbilly, Bettie Page bangs thing. As our culture of excess begins to devour itself, it seems natural that automobile enthusiasts must, like their hobby, change or die. I am envisioning a grafting of the motorhead, hotrodder scene with the blazing zealotry of some aspects of the alternative fuel movement. Yes, I run my car on stale fryer grease, but man does it go!

The cheeseball hippy bullshit and defanged world music preferred by the current biodiesel acolytes will most emphatically NOT transfer to the custom car crowd (should it be Kustom Kar Krowd?), whether they are more Big Daddy Roth, or more Lowrider Magazine. What is needed is a fusion of the amphetamine-crazed spirit of the subculture with the utopian vision that is their only hope for salvation. I am envisioning something that combines the perfect aural vistas of classic Kraftwerk with the musique concrete aesthetic of early-period Einsturzende Neubaten, peppered with the sense of danger and abandon of rockabilly (because, really, can you really purge the rockabilly from the hotrod scene?). A sonic dreamscape of a perfect future where the individual can travel wherever they like at breakneck speed, without destroying the world. An epic poetry of automotion, told in the voices of the very machines they love, with the reminder of the grinning face of death (black cat clutching a firecracker on the forehead of a skull with snake-eyes dice in its sockets, skeletal hand wrapped around an 8-ball gearshift wearing a Bettie Page wig) never very far away.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

So, if I were a creative person, I would write some gripping content, and not rely upon Youtube videos to make up the bulk of these posts.

This is how I feel most days. Frank Black really does a better job than I can of explaining it all.

Mark E. Smith has made a career of that moment when you're singing a karaoke song that you think you know, and you suddenly realize that you have no idea how the verse goes. Only he writes the songs. I know it sounds like a bloody mess. You should see them live; it all will make sense.
There are a few questions that arise in any assessment of the late '70s U.K. punk rock scene. How did Joy Division become New Order? How did Johnny Rotten have the wherewithal to bring together PIL? And how did Howard Devoto manage to create pop-punk and move on to Magazine?

Something Brief

Cory McAbee's The American Astronaut is one of my top two or three favorite films of all time. And so naturally, I am waiting faithfully for his next feature. I am terrified that that might never happen, the vagaries of funding for visionary artists being what they are. He was, however, tapped to produce a straight-to-cellphone short a few years ago that I think is worth everyone's time:

Sunday, June 29, 2008

One moment please, nostalgia coming through

I spent as much time as humanly possible hanging out at Cafe 101 in Lafayette, LA in the years between my 17th and 20th birthday (I spent the evening of my 21st eating pizza with Richard Grant at the Papa Johns that took over the space after the cafe failed). The moments not spent going to shows at Metropolis, chasing girls, doing drugs, or working were lived there. My work study at USL was in the English department, and on my runs to the campus post office, I always managed to swing way out of my way to grab a cup of coffee (in my personal George E. Ohr mug, kept behind the counter) and catch up with the folks. It's that place for me, the place where I met the people who taught me the things that made me the person I am. The coffee was okay, a little better once they started roasting their own. I've since had much better. But the people and the space, the open mikes that we had, the stupid shit that we did, that is irreplaceable.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Thursday, June 26, 2008

atomized Moby-Dick

Wordle is a web gee-gaw that generates awesome clouds of words from submitted text. I fed Wordle the text of Moby-Dick:

(click, of course, to increase girth)

Thanks, Bully!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Chris Sims is a really funny guy

So, I read Chris Sims' Incredible Super Blog pretty much daily. It is a treasure: smartly written, funny prose, mostly about comic books that should by all rights be consigned to the dust-heap of history. So yeah, geek-city. Anyway, today's entry contained a real gem, which I would like to share with you:
For my part, the evening started in the hotel room, where I mixed up a Wake-Up Call (Kahlua, Cream Liqueur, Vanilla Rum and a Starbucks Double-Shot) to recover from a long day of conventioneering and Dr. K pointed out that the actual name of that drink is something that ends in “-tini.” I told him that if I was going to make a Girl Drink, I should at least be allowed to give it a manlier name. It was then decided–and this took me, Dr. K, Chad, Trey and Jay–that by that rationale, a Strawberry Daquiri with extra whipped cream, cherries and a pineapple stick should be called a Cock Sword Machinegun Pickup Truck Volume 2: The Metal Years. Tell your friends!

Can we please go out for Cock Sword Machinegun Pickup Truck Volume 2: The Metal Yearses this weekend guys, please?!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Two Exercises

I have recently decided to start trying the exercises in Jessica Abel and Matt Madden's Drawing Words and Writing Pictures, the wonderful new comics-art textbook from First Second. Since I have this blog thing, and part of the point of it is to show people stuff I do, here are two results that I like:

(Draw a person staggering)

(Draw a person running)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Why The Incredible Hulk is a cinematic masterpiece

There was this one part where the Hulk throws a forklift at a guy. And there was this other part where the Hulk rips a police car in half and puts the halves on his fists to use as brass knuckles so he can whale on the Abomination. Yes, you read that right. Rips a police car in half. Oh, and also, Ed Norton is a gifted actor who makes me not mind so much the parts of the movie where the Hulk is not hulking around, smashing stuff. William Hurt? Good stuff. Thunderbolt Ross to a T. Liv Tyler? A good actress, giving emotional depth to a part in a comic book movie. But the Hulk, smashing? Yes. Very nice.

The Hulk, for me, represents the sense of rage and powerlessness that is a symptom of living in a world run by avaricious, shortsighted jackasses. Individuals living today cannot escape a feeling of hopelessness in the face of the fact that the ruling elite, those that have power over us, are to a man lunatics and assholes. In a strange sense, despite his brutality and the swath of destruction that his presence invariably carves across reality, the Hulk embodies a primarily creative principle, that of the ability of the individual to enact change in a world that tends towards moral decay and despair. It is important to remember that the Hulk is more often heroic than not. Even in his darkest moments, where he seems to be the twisted embodiment of Banner's unfettered id, this sense of boundless power arising from rage at the way the world is is still a fundamental aspect of the portrayal of the Hulk. Anyway, that's me rambling on about why I love the Hulk.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

It is my effing birthday

So, I'm just posting to kill time before people buy me drinks and give me things.

Things that are important today:

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: A Review

You are chained to a damp concrete floor in a room, blinded by remorseless, harsh spotlights that intermittently sputter and strobe in heart-stopping, insane rhythms. On a torn projector screen, a poorly-focused, off color image is flickering silently. A pair of inhumanly strong, cybernetically-operated severed hands clamp your fingers to a white-hot cast iron Playstation controller, forcing you to play through the first level of Tomb Raider 2 again and again, forcing you to die in the same place each time. A keening, idiot humming is coming from somewhere, the broken melody is familiar: Duhn da nuh NAHH, dun na NAH.

You feel something wet against your leg and you realize that you have shit yourself. It is not the honest shit of a sick person; it is the feces of shame. The reek of self-loathing and rotting childhood fills the air.

Indistinct figures loom above you. You can only make out beards at first, but in a sudden flaring of the spotlights, the silhouettes resolve into the leering, bearded faces of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. They are drinking Champipple from a baby's skull goblet and smoking PCP and laughing at you. And your mom is there, and she is laughing at you. And you can't help it and you gout out another jet of steaming diarrhea, and they laugh even louder. And you are weeping, and shitting, and they are laughing. Suddenly another figure is in front of you, silhouetted by the projector! That hat! Oh, it is Harrison Ford! Maybe he can save you! He leans in to the light and smiles at you. You know, that smile. Sorry kid. You wanted this. Not me.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Saturday, May 10, 2008

What really went on there? We only have this excerpt:

The so-called New Wave of science fiction, exemplified by such writers as Samuel Delaney, Norman Spinrad, Joanna Russ, and M. John Harrison was the cause of literally tons of amazing paperback covers in the late '60s and early '70s. Here is one of them, announcing a title by the High Priest of New Wave SF, Philip K. Dick, writing in collaboration with Ray Nelson. The artist is uncredited, but I suspect it may be the noted German illustrator Mati Klarwein, best know for his cover art for Mile's Davis' Bitches' Brew. I may of course, be totally wrong.

All of the represented elements in the design are indeed present in the text of the novel: A black man is one of the principal protagonists, and a hapa woman is another. And yes, there are giant aardvarks and a mountain with an angry, glaring eye. About the only element that isn't found in the story are the zappy Art-Deco electrodes. Despite the fact that that this is an amazingly psychedelic cover design, it may be one of the most literal interpretations of the text to ever grace a book cover. God love the 1960s.

Anyway, just thought I'd share.

Also: it's a rad book.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Space Viking by H. Beam Piper

I haven't read this novel. I bought it because I like the cover. Before I read it, or read anything about it, I'd like to invite the readers of this weblog to join me in extrapolating a brief synopsis of the book from the cover alone. Afterwards, we can all read the novel together, and figure out whose idea came closest to the actual text, and if any of our plots are any better than the late H. Beam Piper's.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

So, I just want to say

BURN MICROSOFT VISTA IN EFFIGY. So I know that one of the readers of my blog uses a Mac. The other guy who reads it is using like, Windows 98 or something. I think that someone once complained that it wasn't optimized for Mosaic. Anyway, anyone who reads this, please join with me in trying to come up with a physical avatar for Microsoft Vista that I can lynch from a lamppost and set aflame. I spent about four hours tonight having an utter conniption fit because I accidentally opened a *.exe file with a text editor, and my bitchface OS decided that "Oh, you prefer to experience programs as scrambled masses of incomprehensible text? Allow me." And lo, every single fucking program on my hard drive would only open as a text file. Yes, it apparently made a global change to my registry to this end. I was able to start my web browser by clicking on the Help and Support section of my start menu (Microsoft wants $60 before they will even consider helping you fix their shittily-designed product after 90 days activation), and thence found my way to a blog post where someone posted a registry fix, and things are better now. But what was crazy was that there were so many other people with the same problem thanking the poster. I guess when you have global dominance over a market, you stop giving a shit about quality.

Okay, I lost some things I was working on, and I'm a little upset. Microsoft Vista blows donkey and makes appreciative slurping noises.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Not if I Kill You First, Orphan Bitch!

I sat through the closing credits of Rob Minkoff's The Forbidden Kingdom in a state of amazement that so many people in at least five different countries combined forces to midwife this stinking heap of dogshit into the world. Who gave these guys so much money? It seems as if a little dust had settled on the junkheap of pop culture history, and so they decided to toss another on. I mean, I would say that this movie must have been written by a brain-damaged donkey with too much of a fondness for crème de menthe, but I have more respect for donkeys--Grasshopper-addled or not--than to make that statement. It was so bad that I imbd-ed to make sure it wasn't a vanity project. Minkoff is apparently responsible for The Lion King, and the writer John Fusco is the man who brought you such gems as Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron and Loch Ness which I'm sure we all remember fondly. Okay, okay, he also wrote Young Guns and Thunderheart both of which films are not entirely awful. These guys are perfectly respectable laborers in the more commercial, more lowest-common-denominator mines of Hollywood. Bad work, maybe, but Hollywood-standard bad, not insultingly, monumentally, jaw-droppingly bad. How could they have made this film, this movie that stars both Jackie Chan and Jet Li so intensely bad? So bad indeed, that Chan, not exactly known for his great range as an actor, was quoted as saying that the script was nonsense, that he did it mostly for the experience of being in a film with Jet Li.

It's bad because it's a kung fu film strapped into a rejected little-boy's-fantasy-comes-to-life movie from the 80s, like The Last Starfighter or Cloak and Dagger. Cloak and Dagger had Dabney Coleman in dual roles, much like both Chan and Li in this film, but I gotta say, they just don't have the panache that old Dabney had. Scrolling down to the very bottom of John Fusco's list of accomplishments, we see that he wrote a little thing called Crossroads. Crossroads was a movie about a geeky East Coast white teenager (affably played by Ralph Macchio, who reprised this role in The Karate Kid) who is guided through the Land of the Blues by a Magical Negro (wonderfully played by Joe Seneca, who was replaced by Pat Morita as a Magical Nip in The Karate Kid). This movie is about a geeky East Coast teenager (played with slack-jawed ineptitude by some teenaged schlub called Michael Angarano) who is transported into a weakly-imagined fantasy China, guided by a duo of Magical Chinamen. These super-powered people that happen to not be white are in both films dee-lighted to help the white kid out in his hero quest, and happily step aside when it comes time for folk of European descent to shine. The big difference between the two films is that Walter Hill was a director with a knack for turning what could have been utter schlock into cinema with weight and power. Mr. Minkoff directed Stuart Little.

Mr. Chan and Mr. Li are awesome when they're fighting, and at they're best when they are brutalizing and humiliating their young student during the inevitable training sequences, with what I hope seems to be real relish. Chan moves with a sturdy grace that's amazing for a 54 year-old man, and Jet Li is his usual balletic bad self. As actors, well you know. Li is at his best looking determined and noble, and when he strays from this things can get a little hinky. His performance as the Monkey King is really annoying and giggly, but it seems that that's how Sun Wu Kung is usually portrayed. Jackie Chan is just being himself, you know, charming and one note, this time wearing an awesome wig. The plot is horseshit, and really really badly written. Angarano's character has a line during one of the training sequences where he blurts, "And you're just sitting there on that horse like the King of England!" at Mr. Chan. Not only has no contemporary teenager ever lived during the reign of a King of England, no one of any age would ever have used such a shitty simile. Why is a guy on a horse anything like the King of England? Golden Sparrow, the young lad's love interest (gamely played--against unspeakable odds-- by Liu Yifei), for no good reason whatsoever talks about herself in the third person for the whole goddamned movie. Mr. Chan, Mr. Li, and the rest of the characters who interact with Agarano's character inexplicably switch between Mandarin and English. Now people, I know the plot wouldn't have worked if nobody could speak to the fucking kid, he's the main character and all, but really, you could have made a joke about it at least, I mean gone a little metafilmic with it. Or not. You could have him drink a magic potion. Or that people with Kung Fu superpowers automatically have like a universal translator that gives them crash courses in language, like a super-Berlitz. Whatever. They don't do shit. The movie is a clinker, and not worth the time I've spent writing about it. But Jackie Chan and Jet Li have a great fight scene or two. Watch for it on YouTube.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Yuri's Night 2008

My friends Erik and Lisa build robots with Swarm and so they were at Yuri's Night at NASA Ames in Mountainview, and they invited me. I gotta say: a party in a NASA hanger is a pretty bitchin' idea.

Yeah! Beer and uh, candy cigarettes next to jet fuel! If that's not living, I don't know what is.

I have this thing about taking pictures of people taking pictures.

The orbs are pretty damned rad. Gyro-stabilized, radio controlled, with user-triggered light and sound effects.

Eventually, they are to be software controlled, so that they can be programmed to move in formation, possibly with coordinated music and light shows.

They look pretty intense at night.

How many Garfields do you have to kill to make a coat like this dude's?

Erik wanted a Buckaroo Banzai shot. We were really too tired to make the effort.

Can I say that Jesse is a champ?

Saturday, April 5, 2008

I know it's because I am old

I am old. As far as the internet is concerned, I'm like 70. I'm old enough to have used Lynx on a VAX/VMS network. I was there when Al Gore made the internet out of wattle and daub. I remember when people had homepages. So, maybe it's just that that makes me want to strangle people when they talk about shooting each other emails. Just think about that phrase: "I'll shoot you an email." The blueshirt shitbag who coined that ugly idiom deserves to be dragged into the street and shot. People who use it sound like they discovered the internet last week and are trying to make up slang so they can sound hip. When you say, "I'll shoot you an email," you sound like a small town middle school guidance counsellor who was forced to start using a computer last year. Seriously people, don't say it.

Sunday, March 30, 2008


I have been interested in inadvertent art for years, the way that sound and vision not created for the purposes of aesthetic enjoyment can sometimes be delightfully beautiful. The minimalist tapestries of printer self-tests. The voice synthesizer announcements in subways. Warning signs and hazardous-waste labels. I remember being fascinated by industrial signage catalogs at a young age. Tibor Kalman's book (un)Fashion is a great document of these principals applied to clothing. There seems to be a sort of subconscious aesthetic at play in the most pragmatic of designs, almost as if even in our most mechanistic, problem-solving artificing there is a dream of beauty that we cannot help but express.

I've used the word "testpattern" in my e-mail address for something like eight years now. Television test patterns, or test cards, were created for the most pragmatic of purposes: to tune and align the images being sent by a television station. As such, they are very rationally ordered images, clearly presenting elements of contrast and detail, focus and alignment, and of course color and hue, once those became important factors in broadcast. I'm sure that all of the test patterns used over the years by various TV networks all had designers. In fact, the original art for perhaps the most iconic test card of all, the RCA Indian Head was discovered in 1970, and now belongs to a private collector of historical television ephemera. Nevertheless, each one seems to be somehow undesigned, created for single-mindedly optical purposes, with little real consideration of aesthetics. I think that in this purity of purpose they manage to become almost like secular mandalas, abstractions that draw the mind in and allow for the cessation of thought. I spent this morning collecting a few images of test cards that I found particularly appealing, and I thought I'd share them with you. I don't propose to make any analysis of the images, or provide any historical context. If that interests you, this is one of many good starting places. And if you long for the comfort of a piercing sine wave tone to accompany them, go here or just search for test cards on Youtube

The Cokesbury Stunt Book

I found this book at a thrift store in Columbia, SC. Arthur Depew was a loyal member of the West Palm Beach Kiwanis club. This useful 1934 manual contains 600 stunts, japes, and hilarious suggestions for all of your service club meeting needs, whether you be Rotarian, Kiwanis, K. of C. or any other white male brotherhood:

My favorite part of the so-called "stunt" entitled "K. K. K." is the suggestion that robes be "secure[d]" from the Klan, as though the intended audience of the book generally won't be lacking such contacts.
There are a few more amazingly offensive pages in this book, but the rest are crashingly boring, miraculously unfunny party ideas that make me wonder why anyone ever joined a service club in the first place.

Friday, March 28, 2008

I promise to do sit-ups all day Sunday

For those of us who are truly serious about loving food, those of us who think of bicycle chains and dark alleys when we hear the word "Foodie," Atlanta may be one of the Holy Cities of our faith. It is definitely true that great Southern food can be found in just about any city in the country in which a sizable population of Southerners resides. People tell me you can get good barbeque in Oakland, for instance, and I've found at least one good soul food place in SF. It is also true that scattered throughout the cities and tiny backwoods towns of the South are more great meals than any one human being could ever imagine to sample in a lifetime (even if said lifetime managed to escape curtailment at the hands of the attendant cholesterol that this cuisine proudly assaults its acolytes with). Each state, each subregion, each city, each cook has their own techniques, tricks, and preferences. And there is of course the omnipresent racial divide. The same dish is sometimes quite different when filtered through the cultural lens of either side of the melanin line. More talented writers on food have addressed the issues of race in Southern cuisine, and I certainly am not qualified to wrassle that sack of porcupines. Anyway, more germane to the point of this writing is that Atlanta is an embarrassment of riches for the discerning omnivore. The sheer size and historical density of the city, coupled with its citizens' sense of pride in their heritage has resulted in a bewildering array of culinary seductions. I have had the chance to sample a few of them.

The photographs accompanying this post were taken of my meals at Mary Mac's Tea Room and Paschal's Restaurant, both of which are Altanta institutions. I also had barbeque at Daddy D'z this afternoon, and I forgot my camera. These were the three best meals of my visit, and I think that what I have to say here will be mostly taken from those experiences.
Above you see our first course at Mary Mac's: fried crawfish tails and fried okra. The sauces are a vaguely spicy jalapeño cocktail sauce for the mudbugs and a lovely creamed horseradish concoction for the okra. These dishes were good. It's definitely possible to screw up crunchy fried things, but it's hard to make them really outstanding. The okra was fresh. The crawfish tails were probably frozen. Whatever. They were delicious. What is not documented in the photograph is the amuse bouche of a cup of potlikker and cornbread that we received upon making our order. That was divine. If you haven't had potlikker before, it's essentially the broth left over from making collard greens. The potlikker at Mary Mac's was subtle, porky, and delicious. Salty enough to make its point without destroying the vibrant flavor of the greens. It was intense enough that I elected not to order the collard as one of the sides with my main course, the fried chicken:
I wish that my camera could convey just how perfect the above meal was. The chicken was simultaneously somehow rich and greasy and dancingly light and crisp. It sat with me for hours afterwards, a gastronomic satori radiating out from my stomach. I have had better fried chicken. Frenchy's in Houston, for instance, has a far more flavorful batter. But there was something about the combination of comfort-food richness and sure-handed execution that made this bird stand out. I'm sorry I wasn't able to try the lauded buttermilk-marinated yardbird at Scott Peacock's Watershed in Decateur, but I am pleased with my choice.

The sides I chose for it, the mac and cheese and the hoppin' john were equally stellar. The mac and cheese had a wonderful curd-like consistency, perhaps from the use of ricotta or cottage cheese. The hoppin' john made me wish that I had forgone the rest of the dinner and just eaten a bowl of these black-eyed peas. I think that more traditionally, hoppin' john is a sort of bean stew, the way that Cajun and Creole cooks make red beans and rice. At Mary Mac's, it was a spoonful of their side order of black-eyed peas over rice. THAT DIDN'T FUCKING MATTER. These little guys were gorgeous. After my first bite, I bewailed my misfortune for having involved rice in the equation, and my dining companion
generously offered to let me finish hers. Predictably enough, she had plenty of that vile carrot and raisin salad left over (I'm sure it was wonderfully executed), and like six beans. Can I tell you? Can I convey the perfect love with which this humble legume was treated? Cooked just enough--firm but tender. Salty, and with an understated hint of pork, floating dreamlike just under the surface of the flavors. This is a wonderful example of how a minimum of ingredients, lovingly handled, can come together in a symphony of flavors that rivals the heights of the most exalted culinary baroqueries. These beans alone make Mary Mac's worth visiting, and that's saying something, as the rest of the meal was pretty damned sublime.

One jarring note at Mary Mac's was a tiny aspect of the decor. Among the various autographed celebrity photos and newspaper clippings was a little cluster of stories about Georgia's controversial governor, Lester Maddox, who rode to political success upon the basis of his violent opposition to segregation, famously defending his Pickrick restaurant from black activists, ax-handle and pistol in hand. Apparently, in his later years, Maddox enjoyed celebrating his birthday at Mary Mac's, and a few society-pages clippings chronicle these events. Maddox is a central figure in Georgia's history, and one can argue that his governorship was extremely beneficial to Georgia's African American population. However, he is still a controversial figure, and enshrining him in an establishment where the ownership is white and a large percentage of the employees black is a decision in questionable taste at best.

No such greater socio-political quandaries taint the meal at Paschal's, which is a good thing, because Paschal's needs all the help it can get. It's not bad, mind you, but when compared to Mary Mac's, it comes across as a bit bland. This is a shame, as Paschal's is one of the oldest and most successful black-owned restaurants in Atlanta. In the '50s and 60s, it was a favored meeting place for Dr. King and his aides. The founding Paschal brothers were known to post bail for jailed protesters, and to extend their hours to offer a meeting place for their families to welcome them home. With such a rich and honorable tradition, it is a shame that Paschal's only satisfies, instead of impressing.

This is the Paschal's gumbo. It wasn't by any means bad, just awkward. What seemed like at least two whole bell peppers, cut into quarter-sized pieces floated in the broth, rendering it more of a pepper soup than anything else. Wisps of boiled-to-death chicken floated like faint memories through the startlingly red liquid (over-liberal Tabasco, I'm afraid). Now, I grew up in Louisiana, so maybe I just don't understand the subtleties of Atlantan variations upon Creole cuisine. And like I said, this soup wasn't bad. It just wasn't what I would hope for from a landmark restaurant.

The sides faired much better. Although the mac and cheese lacked the intriguing texture of Mary Mac's, it was very well done, with a perfectly cheddary flavor. I'm afraid that the black-eyed peas were a disappointment after my earlier meal. These were most likely canned, and a bit overcooked. Not at all bad, but not the lethally-focused weapon in use a Mary Mac's. The collards were excellent, though. I suspect that brown sugar is a part of the recipe here, which played up the flavor of the greens rather than the pork, and was very successful.

The chicken-fried steak was just so almost-there as to be heartbreaking. I mean, look at it: the apex of what Brown Food should look like. And yet. And yet. Underseasoned beef, too loose a patty. Batter too quick to wilt under the onslaught of gravy. People, I can't get edible chicken-fried steak in California! What are you doing to me?!

Paschal's seems to have extended its operations very successfully into the catering market, and this can certainly explain why the flagship kitchen belies their reputation. It's tragic, though.

My last meal out in Atlanta was a mess of ribs and a quarter chicken at Daddy D'z on Memorial. This was straight up the best food I've had all week. I can't get good barbeque at home, and this is a constant source of woe, especially since I live a block from the almost-there Lilly's in SF, and the aroma of smoked meat is a constant in my life. So coming to Atlanta had to culminate with smoked meat. After careful research, I chose Daddy D'z, based on internet reviews, and boy howdy am I glad I did. Something about the way everything was smoked (hickory is the wood of choice, as it is most everywhere but Texas) rendered all the meat into a delightfully liquid consistency that flooded the palate with juicy gorgeousness. The sauce was intense, delightfully deep and vinegary. It's hard to use words to describe successful barbeque, but suffice it to say that this was some of the best I've ever had. Daddy D'z sides were also excellent. The fried okra was as perfectly executed as at Mary Mac's, and the collard greens were hands-down the best of the three presentations I managed to sample this week. As perfectly meaty and salted as Mary Mac's, they had the added distinction of some indefinable earthy, smoky spice that I suspect consisted of a mug of barbeque sauce tossed into the pot with everything else. This was surprising, as usually the sides at a good BBQ place tend to be well-executed afterthoughts at best.

So, that's it for Atlanta food. Those of you who live near me will probably taste the fruits of my fieldwork in the near future. Nothing makes me want to cook so much as eating.