Friday, October 30, 2009

The bestest Halloween article in the history of the universe

...most of the candy sold during this season has been dedicated and prayed over by witches.

I do not buy candy during the Halloween season. Curses are sent through the tricks and treats of the innocent whether they get it by going door to door or by purchasing it from the local grocery store. The demons cannot tell the difference.

That's a quote from a 100-percent, I kid you not, serious article about how Christians should view Halloween. The article was reproduced on Pat Robertson's website, but it's so insanely goofy that even they took it down with no explanation.

Some more highlights:

The word "holiday" means "holy day." But there is nothing holy about Halloween. The root word of Halloween is "hallow," which means "holy, consecrated and set apart for service." If this holiday is hallowed, whose service is it set apart for? The answer to that question is very easy—Lucifer's! [I'm disappointed. She missed a good chance to say, "Could it be... Satan?!"]
The key word in discussing Halloween is "dedicated." It is dedicated to darkness and is an accursed season. During Halloween, time-released curses are always loosed. A time-released curse is a period that has been set aside to release demonic activity and to ensnare souls in great measure.
Halloween is much more than a holiday filled with fun and tricks or treats. It is a time for the gathering of evil that masquerades behind the fictitious characters of Dracula, werewolves, mummies and witches on brooms. The truth is that these demons that have been presented as scary cartoons actually exist. I have prayed for witches who are addicted to drinking blood and howling at the moon.

I really don't know what to say about an article like that. It's hilarious, of course, but at the same time I find it rather sad. I wonder what it's like to live with so much fear and superstition that you can't even buy candy at certain times of the year -- much less display a pumpkin or stand next to a bonfire -- without worrying that you'll be attacked by demons. "The demon-haunted world" indeed.

(h/t: Friendly Atheist)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

When doctors say "Wow!"

I don't like impressing doctors. I hate it when they look at a swelling and say, "Wow, that's really big!" or at lab work and say, "Wow, that's really high!" or at a sprain and say, "Wow, look at all that bruising!" I don't want to hear any doctors I visit to say, "Wow!" I want them to play it cool. I want them to say things like, "Oh, that's nothing. I've seen a million just like that." Unless it's my urologist. He can say, "Wow, that's really big!" if he wants.

Thursday haiku: faint

faint, your microwave
beeps me awake. faint, days of
love before breakfast

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (10/28/2009)

"An official announcement by the Obama administration disclosing the reality of extraterrestrial life is imminent." Looking forward to it.

Imported European honeybees are helpless against giant predatory Japanese hornets. Thirty hornets can wipe out an entire hive of 30,000 bees in a few hours. But Japanese bees have evolved an unusual defense: they cook invading hornets.

More on concussions and football: "I don't want anyone to end up like me" (h/t: Ta-Nehisi Coates)

"The Fugitive," directed by Roman Polanski

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (10/27/09)

I love data edition:

A Pew study on marriage with a cool interactive map

Information Is Beautiful: all sorts of data, visualized

The Monkey Cage: links to and discussion of political science research

Don't believe the econometric hype?


OK, I'm gonna do it. I'm going to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). What is NaNoWriMo?

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that's a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

I was thinking about using this to make some progress on my novel-not-in-progress, but technically that would be cheating, since you're supposed to start a new novel, and I have another project that I've been meaning to work on anyway.

So this is what I'll be working on: a Harry Potter parody called Harry Ninja and the Ninja's Stones. It's the story of an orphaned ninja named Harry Ninja, who enrolls at a boarding school for ninjas called the Warthog* School of Ninjutsu and Ninjary, where he studies subjects such as Infiltration, Sabotage, and Defense against the Pirate Arts.

I don't know if I'll actually get close to 50,000 words. I'm a painfully slow writer, and 50,000 words in a month is over 1,600 a day. That's an awful lot for me. But I'm going to give it a shot. I know a lot of you are writers too; I hope you'll consider giving it a try as well.

*School motto: "All the good animals were already taken."

Monday, October 26, 2009

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (10/26/2009)

What deconversion is like. Exactly what it's like. Egg-frakkin-zactly.

I'd often wondered why people plant those stupid inedible horse chestnut trees instead of trees with real, delicious, chestnuts. Now I know: American chestnut trees all died. Four billion of them. But maybe they're about to make a comeback.

Does exposure to civil war lead to violence in individuals' lives? Soccer players who come from countries with recent civil wars are more likely to get yellow and red cards in soccer (football). (h/t: The Monkey Cage)

TV Tropes. I've wasted hours there.

'80s Music Monday: Joy Division

I've been wanting to write about Joy Division from the first time I did '80s Monday, but I've been hesitant. For a simple reason really: Joy Division is one of the greatest bands ever -- not one of the greatest bands of a particular decade, one of the greatest bands ever -- and I'm afraid that I can't do them justice.

Joy Division formed in 1976 and only released one album before their lead singer and lyricist Ian Curtis committed suicide in 1980. They released another album shortly after Curtis died, and another a year later. After Curtis's death, the band reorganized as New Order (another great band, my absolute favorite during the '80s, who I'll write about next time).

When anyone talks about what made Joy Division great, it wasn't because of their musicianship. Their playing was adequate, no more. Ian Curtis, frankly, couldn't sing for shit. Musically, he was just awful. But that actually made him better than he would have been if he sounded "prettier."

Because what made Joy Division great were the music and the lyrics. They were beautiful... except when they were ugly. And when they were ugly, they were still beautiful, because they were ugly on purpose. And Curtis's limitations as a vocalist fit them perfectly. Ian Curtis couldn't sing, but oh how he could sing. His tortured voice conveyed the anguish of his lyrics in a way that struck deep and true. This was especially so on Closer, the album released after his death, which in effect was an album-length suicide note.

"Love Will Tear Us Apart" (1979)
When routine bites hard
And ambitions are low
And resentment rides high
But emotions won't grow
And we're changing our ways,
Taking different roads
Then love, love will tear us apart again
Love will tear us apart again

Why is the bedroom so cold
Turned away on your side?
Is my timing that flawed,
Our respect run so dry?
Yet there's still this appeal
That we've kept through our lives
Love, love will tear us apart again
Love, love will tear us apart again

Do you cry out in your sleep
All my failings expose?
Get a taste in my mouth
As desperation takes hold
Is it something so good
Just can't function no more?
When love, love will tear us apart again
Love, love will tear us apart again
Love, love will tear us apart again
Love, love will tear us apart again

"She's Lost Control" (1979)
Confusion in her eyes that says it all.
She's lost control.
And she's clinging to the nearest passer by,
She's lost control.
And she gave away the secrets of her past,
And said I've lost control again,
And a voice that told her when and where to act,
She said I've lost control again.

And she turned to me and took me by the hand and said,
I've lost control again.
And how I'll never know just why or understand,
She said I've lost control again.
And she screamed out kicking on her side and said,
I've lost control again.
And seized up on the floor, I thought she'd die.
She said I've lost control again.
She's lost control again.
She's lost control.
She's lost control again.
She's lost control.

Well I had to phone her friend to state my case,
And say she's lost control again.
And she showed up all the errors and mistakes,
And said I've lost control again.
But she expressed herself in many different ways,
Until she lost control again.
And walked upon the edge of no escape,
And laughed I've lost control again.
She's lost control again.
She's lost control.
She's lost control again.
She's lost control.

"Dead Souls" (1979)
Someone take these dreams away,
That point me to another day,
A duel of personalities,
That stretch all true realities.

That keep calling me,
They keep calling me,
Keep on calling me,
They keep calling me.

Where figures from the past stand tall,
And mocking voices ring the halls.
Imperialistic house of prayer,
Conquistadors who took their share.

That keep calling me,
They keep calling me,
Keep on calling me,
They keep calling me.

Calling me, calling me, calling me, calling me.

They keep calling me,
Keep on calling me,
They keep calling me,
They keep calling me.

"Atrocity Exhibition" (1980)
Asylums with doors open wide,
Where people had paid to see inside,
For entertainment they watch his body twist
Behind his eyes he says, 'I still exist.'

This is the way, step inside.
This is the way, step inside.
This is the way, step inside.
This is the way, step inside.

In arenas he kills for a prize,
Wins a minute to add to his life.
But the sickness is drowned by cries for more,
Pray to God, make it quick, watch him fall.

This is the way, step inside.
This is the way, step inside.
This is the way, step inside.
This is the way, step inside.

This is the way.
This is the way.
This is the way.
This is the way.
This is the way, step inside.
This is the way, step inside.
This is the way, step inside.
This is the way, step inside.

You'll see the horrors of a faraway place,
Meet the architects of law face to face.
See mass murder on a scale you've never seen,
And all the ones who try hard to succeed.

This is the way, step inside.
This is the way, step inside.
This is the way, step inside.
This is the way, step inside.

And I picked on the whims of a thousand or more,
Still pursuing the path that's been buried for years,
All the dead wood from jungles and cities on fire,
Can't replace or relate, can't release or repair,
Take my hand and I'll show you what was and will be.

"The Eternal" (1980)
Procession moves on, the shouting is over,
Praise to the glory of loved ones now gone.
Talking aloud as they sit round their tables,
Scattering flowers washed down by the rain.
Stood by the gate at the foot of the garden,
Watching them pass like clouds in the sky,
Try to cry out in the heat of the moment,
Possessed by a fury that burns from inside.

Cry like a child, though these years make me older,
With children my time is so wastefully spent,
A burden to keep, though their inner communion,
Accept like a curse an unlucky deal.
Played by the gate at the foot of the garden,
My view stretches out from the fence to the wall,
No words could explain, no actions determine,
Just watching the trees and the leaves as they fall.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

One Sentence Movie Review: "Control"

Control (2007)

The story of Ian Curtis, the epileptic, suicidal frontman of the seminal post-punk band Joy Division is a fascinating one, and the movie is interesting, but I don't feel I understand him any better after watching this biopic.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (10/23/2009)

To commemorate the release of Windows 7, Burger King Japan is selling the Windows 7 Whopper, a hamburger with seven quarter-pound patties. Two guys try to eat it.

I love I Love xkcd

Well, I suppose at least they were better than Limp Bizkit.

Looking for a new grill?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (10/18/2009)

Malcolm Gladwell asks, How different are football and dogfighting?

African Christians are torturing and murdering children accused of witchcraft.

Monkeys also fall into the "uncanny valley."

An interesting post (with pictures) about the new LDS section in Austria's Central Cemetary

Two out of three Republicans are completely nuts

[Updated with more relevant picture]

That's the conclusion I draw from a focus-group study published last week. I think everybody knew these ideas were out there (in more than one sense), but I certainly had no idea that so many Republicans -- almost two-thirds -- believe this stuff.

First, for any Republicans who want to dismiss this information out of hand, here's your reason: the study was conducted by Democratic strategist James Carville's consulting company.

For everyone else, yes, that's a reason to take the information with a grain of salt. However, this study is meant to provide Democrats with an understanding of Republican voters, so it would not really be in their interest to just make stuff up.

With those caveats, here's some of what almost two-thirds of Republican voters (nearly one-fifth of the electorate) apparently believe.

First and foremost, these conservative Republican voters believe Obama is deliberately and ruthlessly advancing a "secret agenda" to bankrupt our country and dramatically expand government control over all aspects of our daily lives. They view this effort in sweeping terms, and cast a successful Obama presidency as the destruction of the United States as it was conceived by our founders and developed over the past 200 years.

This concern combines with a profound sense of collective identity. In our conversations, it was striking how these voters constantly characterized themselves as part of a group of individuals who share a set of beliefs, a unique knowledge, and a commitment of opposition to Obama that sets them apart from the majority of the country. They readily identify themselves as a minority in this country – a minority whose values are mocked and attacked by a liberal media and class of elites. They also believe they possess a level of knowledge and understanding when it comes to politics and current events, one gained from a rejection of the mainstream media and an embrace of conservative media and pundits such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, which sets them apart even more. Further, they believe this position leaves them with a responsibility to spread the word, to educate those who do not share their insights, and to take back the country that they love. Their faith in this country and its ideals leave them confident that their numbers will grow, and that they will ultimately defeat Barack Obama and the shadowy forces driving his hidden agenda.

They also feel contempt for the Republican Party itself.

And yet remarkably, these voters had virtually nothing positive to say about the Republican Party. They see their own party as weak, old, and out of touch. They feel it has lost sight of conservative values and conservative voters and is in desperate need of new leadership. They identified a clear disconnect between ‘the people’ and ‘the politicians,’ which poses a growing threat to the party’s ability to challenge Democratic control in Washington. While they continue to defend George W. Bush personally, his presidency is an embarrassment to them and represents the culmination of a creeping betrayal of conservative values that started with the election of his father more than 20 years ago. The lionization of Ronald Reagan in these groups was as strong as we have seen for any political figure, as was the desperate desire for a new Reaganesque figure to lead them out of their current wilderness.

It's important to note, however, that those are the views of conservative Republicans. Conservative and conservative-leaning independents don't share those views.

Looking at the current political debate, it was evident in our focus group discussions that the divide between conservative Republicans and even the most conservative-leaning independents remains very, very wide. Independents like those in our suburban Cleveland groups harbor doubts about Obama’s health care reform but are desperate to see some version of health care reform pass this year; the conservative Republicans view any health care reform as a victory for Obama and are militantly opposed. Asked about the issues of greatest importance to them in choosing a candidate for Congress, health care ranked sixth among the Republicans, below issues such as tax cuts, immigration, and a candidate’s personal values and faith; but for the independents, health care was number one.

The language they use further reflects this divide. Conservative Republicans fully embrace the "socialism" attacks on Obama and believe it is the best, most accurate way to describe him and his agenda. Independents largely dismiss these attacks as partisan rhetoric detracting from a legitimate debate about what many of them do see as excessive government control and spending.

Got that? Conservative Republicans think Obama is an evil socialist out to destroy the country.

There is no doubt in their minds that the ultimate goal of this strategy is to change our country to a socialist nation. In their minds, this is the key to truly understanding the Obama presidency and what is happening in our country today. Everything goes back to government control and Obama (aided by Democrats in Congress and the liberal media) seeking to systematically strip away individual rights and insert government into every aspect of our daily lives.

Conservative independents think he's a nice guy who's maybe moving too fast and spending too much.

By comparison, the independent voters expressed clear concerns about Obama - especially that he is doing "too much, too fast," that he is spending too much, that they do not understand his health care reforms, and that he does not have a clear plan for bringing jobs back to the US – some of which certainly touched on the conservative Republicans’ concerns. But they still fundamentally like and respect him on several levels and are very clearly rooting for him to succeed.
They see him as hard-working and committed to helping people, especially the "little people," and give him credit for tackling issues that were ignored for too long and for doing what he feels is best for the U.S. – a sharp contrast to the conservative Republicans who see him actively working against the interests of our country.

Really, you should read the whole thing to get a better sense of just how nutty these people's beliefs are.

I really don't know what to say about it. What does it mean for a country with a two-party system when one of the parties is full of crazy people, or to be kinder, people with crazy ideas?

It seems like this is very bad for the Republican Party -- it basically kills any chance of winning national elections. You might think I'd think that's a good thing, and of course in a sense I do, but not really. A sensible, pragmatic, sane (FFS) Republican Party is good for the country. But we don't seem to have one anymore.

Friday, October 16, 2009

I'm reading "Twilight," so you don't have to (ch. 18)

Our Story So Far

Here's my synopsis of Chapter 18 of Twilight, by Stephenie [sic] Meyer.

Chapter 18. The Hunt

Three Bad Vampires come out of the forest into the meadow where Bella is watching Edward and his Beautiful Sparkly Vampire family play Beautiful Sparkly Vampire baseball. The Bad Vampires aren't Beautiful and Sparkly, they're Scruffy. Their clothes are frayed, they have no shoes (WTF?), and the female Bad Scruffy Shoeless Vampire's hair is full of "leaves and debris from the woods." (Apparently, they have no combs either.)

Laurent, the Leader Of The Bad Scruffy Shoeless Vampires, is simultaneously olive-skinned and pale. He also has a French accent, but only "the slightest," so Stephenie [sic] Meyer doesn't need to try to reproduce it in the dialog. Victoria, the female Bad Scruffy Shoeless Vampire has red hair (with leaves in it) and shifty eyes. James, the other Bad Scruffy Shoeless Vampire is "nondescript" and "unobtrusive" and his eyes are "vigilant" though not shifty. (All this fading into the background, of course, will mean that he's the most important of the three. Mark my words.) For unexplained reasons, all three have "disturbing and sinister" burgundy-colored eyes instead of gold and black ones. And they crouch a lot.

Unlike the crouchy Bad Scruffy Shoeless Vampires, Carlisle The Wise Leader has an urbane stance. (No word on how wide it is.) He and Laurent The Leader Of The Bad Scruffy Shoeless Vampires talk. Laurent asks if they'll let them join in any vampire games. Carlisle The Wise Leader says maybe next time.

Carlisle The Wise Leader invites the Bad Scruffy Shoeless Vampires to the Beautiful Sparkly Vampire family's Beautiful Gloomy Mansion. The Bad Scruffy Shoeless Vampires are surprised to find that a) the Beautiful Sparkly Vampires live permanently in one place and b) have a house. (Most people would have surmised b as soon as they heard a, but these Bad Scruffy Shoeless Vampires seem just a tad slow on the uptake.)

Laurent moves his eyes appreciatively over Carlisle's refined appearance. (Laurent sometimes seems just a little too French if you ask me, know what I mean, wink-wink, nudge-nudge.)

They're all about to go, when the wind shifts, and James The Supposedly Unobtrusive But Really You Knew He's Going To Be The Most Important Bad Scruffy Shoeless Vampire catches Bella's delicious aroma. He lurches into a crouch, which makes Edward snarl, which makes Bella think, Ooh, scary! with chills that go not just down her spine, but from the crown of her head to the backs of her heels.

Laurent The Leader Of The Bad Scruffy Shoeless Vampires finally figures out that Bella is just a regular human and says, "You brought a snack?" (Credit where due, it's a good line -- the best in the book.) Carlisle The Wise leader says, "She's with us," and Laurent gives in and says it's cool, let's go see this permanent house of yours.

James The Extra-Bad Scruffy Shoeless Vampire Who Wants to Kill Bella (as he shall be known from now on) gives Laurent The Leader Of The Bad Scruffy Shoeless Vampires a "Dude, WTF!" look and then looks at Victoria The Female Bad Scruffy Shoeless Vampire With Leaves In Her Hair, which she responds to by being shifty-eyed some more.

They all leave. Edward, Emmett The Big One and Alice The Nice One go with Bella in the Monster Jeep. But Edward drives south, away from Forks. Bella says, Dude, where the hell are we going, and Edward says, Far away. Brave Sir Robin Edward has decided they should run away.

Bella stands up for herself for once and says, Take me home. She tries to unfasten her seat belt off-road harness, but of course the straps are too complicated for her. But just in case she eventually figures them out, Edward has Emmett The Big One secure her hands in his steely grasp.

Edward says, STFU and let me kidnap you in peace, bitch I have to do this, please be quiet. Bella says, If you do, my dad will call the FBI and your whole Beautiful Sparkly Vampire Family will have to run and hide. (I'm not real clear on why Bella's Dad wouldn't just call himself, since he's the Police Chief.)

Edward says, Whatever, we're good at running away. Bella says, I'm not worthy, and struggles violently, with total futility. Alice The Nice One says, Pull over a minute and let's talk this over. Edwards says, No way, James The Extra-Bad Scruffy Shoeless Vampire Who Wants to Kill Bella is a "Tracker." Everybody but Bella knows what that means. (I suspect that's a situation she finds herself in fairly often.)

A Tracker, we learn from the dialog, is a vampire that tracks people. (Apparently that means that instead of finding a person and eating them right away, the vampire lets them go and follows their trail and then eats them. Or something. Anyway, it's an excuse to have six more chapters instead of just having a big vampire fight, The End.)

Everybody argues with Edward, who keeps insisting on running away. Edward roars, hisses, snarls (blisteringly), and growls during the argument, but he loses anyway. He loses partly because Bella's Dad would be in danger, but mainly because Bella has come up with what everybody agrees is a great idea: she'll go home, tell her dad she hates him and is moving to Phoenix to live with her mom, and then she'll go to Phoenix. That will totally fool James The Extra-Bad Scruffy Shoeless Vampire Who Wants to Kill Bella, because he'll be sure that the one place Bella won't go is the place she tells everyone she's going. But just in case he does go to Phoenix, she won't actually live with her mom.

And only Alice The Nice One and Jasper The Other One will go to Phoenix with Bella. (Because when you have numerical superiority over an enemy, the only sensible thing to do is divide your forces so you won't outnumber them anymore. And by "sensible," I don't mean "sensible if you want to defeat the enemy," I mean "sensible if you want to drag things out for a few more chapters and put the heroine in greater jeopardy." And never mind that they just got done figuring out how to keep Bella's Dad out of danger and their plan puts Bella's Mom in danger instead.)

I'd forgotten how tired this book makes me.

(Check the pull-down menu under "Ongoing Series" in the left side-blog for more Twilight chapters.)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Mitt Romney and the uncanny valley

[Updated for greater clarity]
I finally figured out why I don't like Mitt Romney. It was something Andrew said that pointed me in the right direction. Writing about "heroes," he said:
...realistic people do have flaws. A person without at least some flaws hits that huge dip in the uncanny valley…we just know the person is close to being legitimate, but the one thing that he doesn’t get right sticks out.

I've certainly never thought of Mitt Romney as a hero (whatever that is), nor as a person without flaws. Far from it. But I've always felt that there's something "off" about the man, at least in his public persona. And thanks to Andrew, I've finally figured out why Romney creeps me out. To me, he's firmly ensconced in the "uncanny valley."

What is the uncanny valley? According to the font of all knowledge,

The uncanny valley hypothesis holds that when robots and other facsimiles of humans look and act almost like actual humans, it causes a response of revulsion among human observers. The "valley" in question is a dip in a proposed graph of the positivity of human reaction as a function of a robot's lifelikeness.

The graph looks like this:

In other words, people like dolls and robots and so on that look a little human, but not too human. When something looks very human but not fully human, it becomes creepy instead of endearing.

Which brings us to Romney. With his constant pandering, his willingness to say anything and claim it's a heartfelt belief in order to get elected, emphasized by his too-perfect hair, his too-perfect teeth, and the wooden stiffness of his persona, Romney comes across like a robot, a facsimile of a real person, an almost-human simulacrum. He is so plastic, so fake, so unreal, that he repulses me. He slips into the uncanny valley.

If an entity looks sufficiently nonhuman, its human characteristics will be noticeable, generating empathy. However, if the entity looks almost human, it will elicit our model of a human other and its detailed normative expectations. The nonhuman characteristics will be noticeable, giving the human viewer a sense of strangeness. In other words, a robot stuck inside the uncanny valley is no longer being judged by the standards of a robot doing a passable job at pretending to be human, but is instead being judged by the standards of a human doing a terrible job at acting like a normal person.

That's Mitt Romney in a nutshell. The "one thing he doesn't get right" is being human. He comes across like a robot trying to act like a normal human being and doing a bad job of it. And it gives me the creeps.

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (10/13/2009)

The most frightening logo of all time: the Catholic Church’s Archdiocesan Youth Commission (1973) (more creepy ads at HuffPo)

How to cook perfect boiled eggs

Passwords: How we should reinvent them

The Chrysler turbo encapsulator

Monday, October 12, 2009

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (10/12/2009)

My Parents Were Awesome. I expect to see my picture there sometime soon.

A Dalek made out of 480,000 matchsticks.

List of the world's ugliest buildings FAIL. Only problem is, most of the 15 buildings are quirky and interesting, not ugly. (h/t: Ezra Klein)

California: America's first failed state?

'80s Music Monday: Thompson Twins

The Thompson Twins were neither siblings nor even a duo; they were a trio. (This tended to cause confusion among causal music fans, many of whom assumed the two white people were twins and wondered who the black guy was.) They took their name from Thompson and Thompson, the detectives in the Tintin books.

They played fairly typical UK synth-pop, catchy dance tunes with thoughtful lyrics mostly about love. The Thompson Twins were pretty big for a few years, not just in the UK, but in the US as well. Musically, their best work came from 1982 through 1985, but they stayed popular for a few years after that before breaking up for good in 1993.

They were especially popular in dance clubs. During the mid to late '80s, you couldn't go to a club without hearing a Thompson Twins song. And they looked pretty cool -- not beautiful, but interesting -- so they got played on MTV a lot.

So here's four favorites by the Thompson Twins.

"Lies" (1983)

"Hold Me Now" (1984)
A very nice "I don't wanna break up" song.

"Love on Your Side" (1983)

"Lay Your Hands on Me" (1985)
This one's my favorite, mainly because I really love the lyrics: "When it almost seemed too much/I see your face/And sense the grace/And feel the magic in your touch." Everybody should have someone who makes them feel that way.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (10/9/2009)

Thirty-one unbelievable high school mascots (h/t: murketing)

State scorecards on health care (Vermont is number 1; Mississippi is last)

Americans love socialized medicine government-run health care the VHA and TRICARE.

Stephen Colbert on Glenn Beck: "It's like looking into a mirror after you've done a ton of coke off it."

Obama? WTF?

Obama doesn't deserve the Nobel Peace Prize. Not yet. I mean, I voted for the man, and I'd certainly vote for him again tomorrow against anyone the Republicans could come up with, but let's get real here. He hasn't done much of anything yet except not be George Bush or John McCain (admittedly a big step towards a more peaceful world, but still).

Glenn Greenwald summed up why I don't think Obama deserves the award:

Obama has changed the tone America uses to speak to the world generally and the Muslim world specifically. His speech in Cairo, his first-week interview on al-Arabiya, and the extraordinarily conciliatory holiday video he sent to Iran are all substantial illustrations of that. His willingness to sit down and negotiate with Iran -- rather than threaten and berate them -- has already produced tangible results. He has at least preliminarily broken from Bush's full-scale subservience to Israel and has applied steadfast pressure on the Israelis to cease settlement activities, even though it's subjected him to the sorts of domestic political risks and vicious smears that have made prior Presidents afraid to do so. His decision to use his first full day in office to issue Executive Orders to close Guantanamo, ostensibly ban torture, and bar CIA black sites was an important symbol offered to the world (even though it's been followed by actions that make those commitments little more than empty symbols). He refused to reflexively support the right-wing, civil-liberty-crushing coup leaders in Honduras merely because they were "pro-American" and "anti-Chavez," thus siding with the vast bulk of Latin America's governments -- a move George Bush, or John McCain, never would have made. And as a result of all of that, the U.S. -- in a worldwide survey released just this week -- rose from seventh to first on the list of "most admired countries."

All that said, these changes are completely preliminary, which is to be expected given that he's only been in office nine months. For that reason, while Obama's popularity has surged in Western Europe, the changes in the Muslim world in terms of how the U.S. is perceived have been small to nonexistent. ... People who live in regions that have long been devastated by American weaponry don't have the luxury of being dazzled by pretty words and speeches. They apparently -- and rationally -- won't believe that America will actually change from a war-making nation into a peace-making one until there are tangible signs that this is happening. It's because that has so plainly not yet occurred that the Nobel Committee has made a mockery out of their own award.


Beyond Afghanistan, Obama continues to preside over another war -- in Iraq: remember that? -- where no meaningful withdrawal has occurred. He uttered not a peep of opposition to the Israeli massacre of Gazan civilians at the beginning of this year (using American weapons), one which a U.N. investigator just found constituted war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity. The changed tone to Iran notwithstanding, his administration frequently emphasizes that it is preserving the option to bomb that country, too -- which could be a third war against a Muslim country fought simultaneously under his watch. He's worked tirelessly to protect his country not only from accountability -- but also transparency -- for the last eight years of war crimes, almost certainly violating America's treaty obligations in the process. And he is currently presiding over an expansion of the legal black hole at Bagram while aggressively demanding the right to abduct people from around the world, ship them there, and then imprison them indefinitely with no rights of any kind.

It's certainly true that Obama inherited, not started, these conflicts. And it's possible that he could bring about their end, along with an overall change in how America interacts with the world in terms of actions, not just words. If he does that, he would deserve immense credit -- perhaps even a Nobel Peace Prize. But he hasn't done any of that. And it's at least as possible that he'll do the opposite: that he'll continue to escalate the 8-year occupation of Afghanistan, preside over more conflict in Iraq, end up in a dangerous confrontation with Iran, and continue to preserve many of the core Bush/Cheney Terrorism policies that created such a stain on America's image and character around the world.

Nobel Peace prizes, it seems to me, should be awarded for what people have actually done, or at least what they're clearly trying to do, not for what they say they want to do. Talk is cheap, after all.

I think the most, um, "noble" thing for Obama to do would be to decline the award. I'd like to see him say, "I haven't done anything yet. Come back in three years and see if you still think I deserve it." That would be all kinds of awesome. But I guess that kind of thing doesn't happen in the real world.

Anyway, though, at least we'll get to enjoy the spectacle of the rightwing going absolutely apeshit over this.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

One Sentence Movie Review: "Stardust"

Stardust (2007)

This fantasy based on the Neil Gaiman novel shoots for Princess Bride territory and comes surprisingly close.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (10/7/2009)

Everybody likes crafts. Except for the ones at Regretsy. I think my favorite is the "Fish in a Squirrel Suit Taxidermy" (only $350!), although I have to admit the "Baby Rat in Altoid Tin" gives it a run for its money. (h/t: murketing)

Monuments under threat

I guess this is proof that Poe's Law (expanded concept 3) can apply to art too. Of course, that doesn't mean fundamentalist art is itself immune to parody.

Animated murals:

(h/t: BizarroBlog)

Monday, October 05, 2009

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (10/5/2009)

A very trippy optical illusion. Don't look at it if you have visually-induced epilepsy. Also, it might cause nausea or headaches if you look at it for too long, so be careful. (h/t/: Bad Astronomy)

The blobfish -- yes, this is a real fish, despite its resemblance to my Uncle Mike.

(There are lots of other freaky fish on the site as well.)

The Top 10 things you didn't know about Iran

The sunflower boy's smile

'80s Monday: Eurotrash edition

Not every song I listened to during the '80s was from the UK, or even in English. Here are some of the European bands I listened to during the '80s: Nina Hagen, Trio, Nena, Falco, and Plastic Bertrand.

"My Way" by Nina Hagen (1978)
Nina Hagen was born in East Germany, and became a pop star there, but she was allowed to leave after her stepfather got kicked out for political activism. On her application to emigrate to West Germany, she said she'd be even more trouble than her stepfather was if they didn't let her go. Her application was approved. She soon traveled to London to learn about Western culture. While she was there, she met the Sex Pistols...

"Da, Da, Da" by Trio (1982)
Trio was a pretty much a one-hit wonder even in Germany, but their one hit was a hit in about 30 countries. (It was also used in an American Volkswagen commercial during the late '90s.) It's a strange song, and an even stranger video, but (or so) I like it a lot. Also, if you can spot the guy in the white t-shirt dancing around in the background sometimes, that's totally how I used to dance in the '80s.

"99 Luftballons" by Nena (1983)
The English version, "99 Red Balloons," reached number 2 on the US charts. Most people seemed to think of it as just a cute song about balloons, but it was actually an anti - Cold War protest song. (I've noticed many times that most people seem to pay much less attention to song lyrics than I do.)

"Der Kommissar" by Falco (1982)
Falco had a number 1 hit in the US with "Rock Me Amadeus," but I like this song better. An English version by the UK band After the Fire is better known, but I'm all about authenticity, so here's Falco's original.

"Ça plane pour moi" by Plastic Bertrand (1977)

I feel a little guilty posting this, because it's actually kind of a rip-off of the original version, Elton Motello's explicit gay-boy anthem "Jet Boy, Jet Girl." The original was extremely daring, and apparently has meant a lot to many gay teens over the years. Bertrand's version is completely watered down and has nothing to do with teh gay anyway. It's pretty "plastic," frankly.
But I didn't know all that when I first heard it. "Jet Boy, Jet Girl" was too explicit to get played on the radio or MTV, so I didn't even know the song existed until I heard the Damned's version a few years later. "Ça plane pour moi" was just a catchy pop song to me. And it'll still fill a dance floor in a hurry.