we got into a serious thing

The Governess seems disappointed in herself for bailing out on the line for the super-secret Beck show. I wouldn’t be so hard on yourself, G.
Call me crazy, wrongheaded, dangerously deranged but… isn’t Beck sort of just-okay? Sure, he’s put out a lot of pretty good pop songs. But I can’t say that any of them have moved me or gotten stuck in my head (at least, not in a good way). My favorite thing that he’s done remains, by far, the Futurama episode that he appeared in. I wouldn’t mind seeing one of his shows, but I don’t think I’d go through very much discomfort for one. Besides, the Black Cat back stage sucks. And he’s a Scientologist. Fuck ‘im.
But I could be wrong. I’m no Beckologist — all I know is that Sea Change bored the hell out of me. Maybe I’m completely missing the point. Still, I’ve already got an experimental indie pop weirdo/messiah, thanks. But I guess I’ll keep Beck’s resume on file in case a position opens up.

playing dress up

Ayer’s Hardware is the greatest store on earth. From the wealth of electrical doodads to the penny candy to the commendably deadly toy guns, it’s a winner all the way. I’ve had two friends work there, re-told Jeff‘s story about Mr. Ayers dying on the breakroom couch dozens of times, and been in the store for post-church candy acquisition on more occasions than I can possibly count. Also, it’s where my in-store Santa of choice resided when I was a kid. It’s a great store.
It’s also probably the best place on earth to go for last-minute Halloween costume preparation. With its help (and a brief stop by Target for thermal underwear), I was able to go from zero to Krang in the space of one afternoon. I think it turned out pretty well:
me as krang; photo by yglesias
Fewer people knew that Krang was an evil brain from Dimension X (a subdivision of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle universe) than I had expected, but those that did seemed pretty enthusiastic about it. More importantly, at the moment I appear to be occupying the top three spots on Flickr for the tag “krang“, which is extremely great.
But I don’t really deserve any of the credit: Emily came up with the idea. Her Cylon costume was highly successful in its own right, featuring hexagonal dog tags, spaceboots and precisely-selected spacetanktops. And, if I can boast a little, it had a pretty great light-up spine (that I took a pretty non-great video of after the batteries had mostly died). Note to future generations of Cylon impersonators: 27 volts is about right for a string of seven Christmas lights. We used 36v, and apparently it got unpleasantly hot.
Other favorites: the war on Christmas, the white rabbit, Teen Wolf and Julian’s absolutely definitive Riddler. Lots more party pictures here.

fun with lightbox (and booze!)

I visited Emily in Philadelphia last weekend — conveniently enough, she and her neighbors had all decided to throw a party on Saturday. The apartments all adjoin a nice brick courtyard, providing a pretty prime party location. The food was great, the booze was plentiful, and talk eventually turned to the the Flickr API and how to use microcontrollers to train cats to use the toilet (this was not a theoretical conversation). And there was mulled cider. C’mon, admit it: that’s pretty good.
Anyway, it was a lot of fun. And as you might imagine, there are pictures. But I wouldn’t be doing justice to a party at which I discussed the Flickr API with multiple people if I didn’t do something weird with the photoset. So check it out: I’ve written a handy wrapper function in PHP that lets me quickly generate thumbnail galleries. Even better, they make use of the excellent Lightbox2 project. Go ahead — click on one of the thumbnails for web 2.0-y goodness. It works pretty well for me, although to exit picture-viewing mode I seem to have to click above or below the photo — clicking to its right or left seems relatively flakey.

UPDATE: Replaced my own code with a WP plugin after moving from MT.

30 rock

is actually pretty funny, judging by tonight’s episode. I don’t know why the early word on it was so negative.

blegs are best when they’re enigmatic

Wanted: one or preferably two cassette tape decks or walkmen that the lender doesn’t mind getting back in the form of a pile of parts (or a thankful email). The second one (if available) needs to work and have the ability to record. The first doesn’t need to work at all.
Alright, you’ve got the parameters for the riddle. Now, what could I be up to? How does this scenario end with a dead man in a puddle of water in a locked room? How many legs have I got at various times of the day? And whose son am I? Etc.
I’m serious about the request, though.
ALSO: This is an unintentionally great name for a site.

jagshemash!

Cyrus has a post linking to several articles profiling Borat’s unwitting interview subjects. I remember a bunch of these profiles coming out when Ali G got his big DVD-release PR push. Fake production companies, friendly assistants — just insist on meeting the on-air talent before the camera rolls and I think you can escape Mr. Baron-Cohen’s traps.
But, as you might imagine, the people who were duped aren’t entirely happy. To their credit, few seem really outraged. But there is a recurring theme. From Newsweek:

“I was disappointed that Mr. Cohen never let me in on the joke,” says Kathie Martin, who runs an etiquette school in Birmingham, Ala.

From the BBC:

Washington DC public speaking coach Pat Haggerty also appears — and is seen trying to teach humour to Borat…
“About halfway through the session we took a break and I went up to one of the producers and said: ‘This guy can’t be real.
“‘If you let me in on the gag, I will help you reach your goals because I don’t care if you’re from Kazakhstan, nobody is this crazy.’”

From Linda Stein’s firsthand account:

Inspired segments of Borat and me were cut. At one point, Borat declared that men are stronger than women and held up two chairs to prove it. I did, too — although I’m only half his size

Last night, immediately before the Q&A, John Hodgman forbade any questions that were wacky or funny. It didn’t stop the middle-aged, slightly drunk government lawyers in the audience from defying their embarrassed wives’ pleas and asking questions like, “What is the meaning of life?” But he was still right to try.
What those interview subjects and assistant-counsels-in-charge-of-something-or-other don’t understand is that guys like Hodgman and Baron-Cohen aren’t looking for assistants. It would be nice if they were running a humorist fantasy camp where everyone could feel like part of the action, the same way that many NBA stars spend a few weeks each summer pretending that they enjoy playing games of Horse with aging corporate executives. But that’s not what your ticket or selection as a interviewee gets you. To Hodgman, you’re a customer. To Baron-Cohen, you’re a prop. Just try to turn in a performance half as subtle and unselfconscious as that horse that falls down in the preview.
Which brings me to the other thing about Borat: the exculpatory analyses of him are wishful thinking. Don’t get me wrong — I think the character is hilarious, and by far the funniest of Baron-Cohen’s creations. But the liberal-guilt-inspired line about Borat’s humor being an attempt to lay our own prejudices bare? It’s complete bullshit. Yes, “In My Country There Is Problem” showcases some entertainingly brazen country/western antisemitism. But most of Borat’s interviews just show that Americans are patient, generous hosts. That isn’t particularly funny.
It’s Borat himself that’s funny, because he’s a hilarious oaf. He looks foolish. He does dumb things. It’s fun to laugh at him. But of course, this kind of humor has been employed in awful ways in the past.
Now, the guilt-dodging excuse I favor is that Borat isn’t actually parodying any specific ethnic or cultural group. He’s a hodgepodge of stereotypes we have about eastern European otherness. He’s certainly not a specific attempt to belittle the people of Kazakhstan (their sadly defensive PR campaign notwithstanding) — the only reason Borat hails from a specific country or speaks snippets of pidgin Polish is that he needs to interact with the outside world. These details convey some necessary authenticity; but they aren’t meant to tie the character to any specific group of human beings. I don’t really believe that Borat’s antics are any more detestable than when Homer Simpson visited Crazy Vaclav’s Place Of Cars (or blamed Tibor for his problems at work).
But I may be fooling myself. I’d feel pretty uncomfortable watching a Borat segment with somebody from Kazakhstan, and that may be the real test. I won’t be at all surprised if history judges the character harshly. I’m still going to see the movie, though. Because I’m a monster.

this is going to end badly

…although it’s starting off pretty well. Just got back from seeing John Hodgman, David Rees and Jonathan Coulton at the Warehouse Theater with Sommer, Matt, Catherine, Julian, Will and probably several other hyperlinked Americans. Look, blurry proof:
John Hodgman
And lo, it was funny. But it’s downhill from here. I’m in the midst of a personal technological apocalypse. These happen from time to time, but I’ve got a particularly bad feeling about this one. My headphones broke, my ipod clip busted, my work email’s been flaking out and my DSL modem spontaneously changed its settings after two years of quiet competence. If you don’t hear from me, check under the supposedly fail-safe garage door.

hallowentertainment

I really, really love Halloween. It’s clearly the best holiday ever, as Kriston ably explains here. But my track record of displaying my love for the occasion is mixed, and this year I’m being particularly lame. I haven’t acquired any pumpkins, I haven’t decided on a costume, and I certainly haven’t summoned any unspeakable creatures of ancient evil from beyond the bounds of sane men’s dreams. I’m dropping the ball.
I’ve made my peace with this, though. I’ve more or less resigned myself to dealing with middle age by being the creepy guy who puts way too much effort into decorating his house each year, so it’s okay if I run up a Halloween-related karmic debt right now. Besides, by the time next year’s celebration rolls around I anticipate having learned how to make animatronic monsters (leaving only genuine necromancy remaining on my lifetime h’ween syllabus).
But I don’t want to let the date slip by entirely, so for now I’ll just offer some Halloween-y media that I enjoy:

  • Do They Know It’s Halloween? I still love this song a stupid amount (be forewarned: there’s sound on the page at that link). I sang its praises last year, but my enthusiasm for the concept and execution hasn’t dimmed. It stayed in my regular ipod rotation for an embarrassingly large amount of November ’05, and it’s wormed its way back in over the past few weeks.
  • Hellboy! I came across the pretty-good movie adaptation on TV last night, which naturally reminded me of the totally awesome comic (viewer applications: currently-unavailable PC viewer, untested PC viewer, okay Mac viewer, untested Mac viewer). I soliloquized on Hellboy in a pretty tiring manner a year and a half ago — if you’re curious to know the storyline, head there. If you just want to read a deeply creepy and well-realized horror pastiche, start that Bittorrent download posthaste.
  • Garfield’s Halloween Adventure. Admittedly, I haven’t actually seen this since I was a little kid, and anything associated with this franchise is generally pretty terrible. But it remains one of my most vivid Halloween memories. The internet disagrees with me, but I swear that when I saw this as a kid it contained a bunch of short animated pieces in addition to the main storyline. One of these centered on an orange cat — drawn in a completely different and generally more realistic style — escaping from an animal testing lab and being hunted down by scientists and dogs. In the final scene he escapes capture by involuntarily transforming into a dog — the result of the horrible testing he had undergone.
    Okay, I might not be doing a good job of making it sound creepy as it seemed. But it scared the hell out of me when I first saw it. Now, sadly, the internet seems to have collectively forgotten this unusually grim chapter in the Garfield ouevre. Or maybe the sheer terror of it all just made everyone repress the memory. Anyway, this special was way better than Charlie Brown’s annual Halloween apostasy. Great Pumpkin?! Screw that.

…obedient, kind, clean and reverent toward hollywood

Yeah, okay, Kriston’s pretty well got my number. I can’t say that I’m too upset, though. I’m so used to getting grief over the Boy Scouts’ admittedly inexcusable policies on homosexuality that having gentle fun poked at their new “Respect Copyrights Activity Patch” feels like a relief. Also, Kriston was kind enough not to excerpt this part of the original article:

The inspiration for the new badge came from Hong Kong, where the local Boy Scouts organization had its members pledge not to use or buy pirated materials. In addition, the Scouts agreed to search Internet file-sharing sites and turn in sites and users they see violating the law. The campaign was launched at a stadium before a slew of pop stars where the so-called “youth ambassadors” pledged to stem the rise piracy.

So you’re organizing rallies of youth devoted to turning undesirables over to the powers that be, eh? Sounds, uh, potentially problematic. Particularly since artifacts like these knives exist. (I actually own one — but hey, it was inherited! And originally purchased at a New Zealand flea market! And honestly, it’s not evil in any easily-identifiable way, other than being the most deadly-looking object bearing the Boy Scout insignia that you can possibly imagine, which was the reason I kept it around.)
I think it would behoove everybody to take a step back and remember that the Boy Scouts’ weirdly militaristic structure works because it’s designed to complement the impulses of little boys, who are, in most important respects, tiny fascists. It sounds bad, but it works out pretty well so long as the aggression is safely channeled down the command structure (and age brackets). Using those ugly impulses to further grown-ups’ own martial fantasies turns really creepy really quickly, though.
But I think it’ll be alright: this is just an “activity badge”, after all — it carries far less metaphysical import than a real merit badge. In fact, I don’t actually remember whether activity badges existed during my tenure in the Boy Scouts. They may be a recent invention of Big Badge, catering to the same mouth-breathing demographic that powers our nation’s vanity licenseplate industry. I won’t be a bit surprised if the coming months bring us both the “threw brick through Strabucks window at ANSWER rally” activity badge AND the “strewed plastic mini-fetuses outside abortion clinic” activity badge (it’s called the long tail, people, and it’s potentially mostly not imaginary).
As long as the merit badge institution remains safely devoted to wholesome activities like rabbit-raising, philatelism SLASH numismatology and harnessing the fearsome power of the atom, all is well with the world. And even if merit badges do become corrupted, there’s still one last bastion of badge integrity that would have to be assailed before I lost my enthusiasm for the entire institution.
You see, much like radioactive disasters, the very best badges were the ones that conferred new powers: Tote N’ Chip let you play with knives, and the seldom-seen Fire N’ Chip let you burn things (many troops, including my own, recognized boykind’s innate right to play with fire and dispensed with the latter). I think there may have been a Torment The Fat Kid N’ Chip badge as well, but I always missed the meetings where they were distributed.
Merit badges, on the other hand, were simply a means of advancing in rank. Aside from the marksmanship badges, none carried the awesome destructive potential required to elicit any kind of enthusiasm from those earning them. Usually having one just meant that you had spent an uncomfortable half-hour talking to your friend’s mom about Citizenship.
So I think we’ll be alright. Although if they start somehow incorporating DRM into swiss army knives (no whittling copyrighted works!), somebody’s gonna have to die.