Thursday, December 31, 2009


2010 snuck up on me this year, more than any other year has. I don’t know if it’s just because I’m getting older and the years are going by quicker or if it’s a greater phenomenon, but 2009 whizzed by and I’m left looking back and struggling to remember what were my goals, what did I accomplish, how did I spend the last 364 days? And the answer I come up with is this: I have spent the last 364 days being happened to. First Obama happened, and I did have something to do with that. Then the Economy happened, and I rode that wave with the rest of the country. I didn’t lose my job, but my main source of income was in working with Circuit City, and we all know what happened there. So I became part of the legions of the underemployed, hopping from non-paid freelance to ill-paid freelance, barely staying above water and only that because I am fortunate enough to have supportive parents. So I let that happen for awhile. I finally started to get some footing around August, when I moved to a cheaper apartment and got another job. Part-time, but you take what you can get. I was (finally) being proactive! Then a new job practically threw itself in my lap. Full-time, full benefits, and with my mounting medical bills I literally couldn’t afford to pass it up. Now there is money in the bank and I am supposed to be using this month to plan out the next few years. I’ve let time get away from me again, though, and 2010 is tomorrow. For the first time in my life, I know what people mean when they say “one day you wake up and you’re [insert ‘old’ age here].” Living is proactive.

So that’s my new year’s resolution: to be aware of the time I’m spending, and make choices for my life instead of just letting it happen to me. It was very easy to let life happen to me when I was in school because I still felt like I was going somewhere. Real life is so much harder in that sense, and I have to be vigiliant. So wish me luck, and let this be a cautionary tale. A lot is happening in the world that we can’t control, but I don’t think it’s going to stop any time soon. So don’t just wait it out.

"You're Welcome, Jesus" or "World:1 John Ozkirbas:1"

Several months ago, science fired the first shot in what has become an apocalyptic struggle between the laws and history forming existence itself and my gargantuan ego. I was a wounded animal. Befuddled. Scared. Lost. I pleaded to the heavens for direction and guidance. I questioned whether I could go on and feared that I may abandon whatever moral dignities I still held. After months of teetering on the edge as a broken man, I left on a Dantean quest for deliverance from such existential despair. And, now I return. VICTORIOUS:

Yep. Do another double take. It's not going to change a thing. After months of soul-searching in a perdition of defeat, my own heritage gripped me tight and lifted me from the pit to salvation. New and improved. Redeemed. So what if the world might be a hologram? Science, you showed your hand too soon. Ozkirbas gets to put one in the win column.

While the article admits the extensive debatability of its claims, it still raises the question about whether or not a given culture can ever definitively claim to be the "source" of a given rite, tradition, or myth. Many cultures may claim (or be academically attributed) to source certain customs, but it is usually difficult to concretely narrow down when a tradition first appeared. Additionally, analogues of a given custom will occur across cultures, despite being on opposite parts of the globe. Psychologist Carl Jung used to talk about a collective unconscious - a genetic source-pool by which all human beings could recall and recognize certain cultural variables. Anthropologists argued a human migration theory concerning myth/custom generation - Snorri Sturluson himself attributed in his Edda the existence of the Norse gods to the migration of the Turks from Troy up north (i.e. that the Asgard were actually Trojans). Either are intriguing prospects.

Still, if Christmas trees can be come out of left field to surprise us, what else can? Does anyone else dare to second guess the origins of the customs and traditions they practice? Can anyone think of common myths and customs that may come from an unexpected place?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Oh, Pop Music

They say art imitates life, and given the year, I'd say this is pretty fitting. It starts off with a bang and slides into depression, angst, nonsense words, and it swells into hope (and dancing!) at the end.

Cheers to 2010 and all the delightfully crappy pop music that comes with it!

My Books of the Year: 2009

This year I broke the 100 book barrier. I dunno if I'll ever do that again, but suffice it to say, I read a lot this year. More fiction than I've ever read before, more non-fiction than before and certainly way more short stories. Plus a whole lot of magazine articles too.

Below is a list of some of the stuff that I've enjoyed reading this year. Also, see this for my thoughts from the first half of the year.

Yasunari Kawabata - The Master of Go
I know nothing about the game of Go. It's super complicated and I don't think I've seen anyone play it in the states. But this is a fantastic sport book which focuses not just on the plays, but also the drama and machinations surrounding a grandmaster's final match against an aggressive-playing hypochondriac.

Jay McInerney - Story of My Life
One of the cliches of lazy book reviewing is to compare a young character to a Holden Caulfield. It would be lazy for me to call the young female narrator of this novel a coked-out '80s version of Catcher in the Rye, so I won't. But if I did, you'd have a good sense of this book.

Chuck Klosterman - Eating the Dinosaur
Klosterman, along with Bill Simmons and Malcolm Gladwell have become masters of generating zany ideas, and even if the facts don't always back them up they're all highly amusing writers whose work ranges from the serious (Gladwell) to the sports related (Simmons) to the pop culture-y (Klosterman). Klosterman's new book is the of thing that's hard to resist if you've consumed as much must and television as most folks from our generation have.

Julian Barnes - Talking It Over / Nothing to Be Frightened Of
One is a lighthearted novel about a love triangle, the other is lighthearted (sort-of) look at death and religion. Barnes displays his ample cleverness in both.

Alice Munro - The Love of a Good Woman
Andre Dubus - Dancing After Hours
I know a lot of folks don't read short stories. These two are both fantastic writers that would convert anyone to the format.

Paul Auster - The New York Trilogy
These are three unrelated mysteries that all take place more in the minds of their narrators than the outside world, although they are very much New York books. All three are short, weird and poignant.

George Pelecanos - Drama City
Pelecanos was an executive producer and writer for The Wire, and if you are still unsure of where to go after finishing the Wire (hint hint, Jason) Pelecanos's work has the same gritty feel and excellent development of characters that you get from The Wire.

J. M. Coetzee - Disgrace
Now a major motion picture! This story is as soul crushing and bleak as a Cormac McCarthy novel, but Coetzee uses much more economy of language.

Dash Shaw - Bottomless Belly Button
Jeff Lemire - Essex County
Two graphic novels that are both about as thick as phone books, but both read quickly. The former deals with a grown family coming together after the parents decide to get a divorce. The latter is composed of three semi-connected stories taking place outside of Toronto and tackle timeless topics like childhood innocence, aging, and hockey (which is pretty timeless if you're Canadian).

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

I Have Created Something Truly Terrifying, and I Want to Share It

Have you ever wondered how the Jonas Brothers would sound if they got Trent Reznor to produce their next record?

Wonder no more.

You can all thank me later.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Apple Doesn't Get It

I was gifted a Droid for Christmas this year, and thus far its everything I hoped it would be. Along with a being a (kick-ass) smart phone, the Droid also plays music. So Christmas day I begin transferring my music from my Macbook Pro to my Droid. Already there's a problem - iTunes won't recognize my phone, even after its been mounted. No problem, there's a program ready-made to fix this short sightedness on Apple's part. In under five minutes I'm set up and I begin transferring my music to my Droid. There's another problem. A few albums are refusing to be transferred to the phone because they're "protected" albums I downloaded from the iTunes store. Many of these albums happen to be by some of my favorite artists: Brandi Carlile, Ray Lamontagne, Lil Wayne, Amos Lee. I can't transfer them over because they are Protected AAC files -- as opposed to mp3s -- that can only be played on iTunes, iPods, or iPhones.

What's up Apple? Everything you've ever made for me has been great. My Macbook is my life; I've bought and loved iPods (I just ordered an iPod shuffle for my workouts); and I've even been accused of being a mac evangelist, of walking the world proselytizing on the purity and awesomeness of Apple products (Guilty). But now, I'm buying music from you and you're going to tell me on which devises I'm "authorized" to play music that I purchased. Excuse my coarseness here, but fuck off.

Apple uses a system called Fairplay to encrypt all media purchased from iTunes in the campaign to create a haggard facade of defense against piracy. Of course this created an outcry amongst users who want to be able to play their purchased music on other devices, besides iPods or iPhones. Apple penned a response whimsically titled, "Thoughts on Music"; which seems more like the vague title of a college freshman's reflective essay on the music of Bob Marley, rather than a serious response to a controversial policy that seems to force users into staying with Apple products. Apple's argument? Well everyone else is doing it!

Music purchased from Microsoft’s Zune store will only play on Zune players; music purchased from Sony’s Connect store will only play on Sony’s players; and music purchased from Apple’s iTunes store will only play on iPods. This is the current state of affairs in the industry, and customers are being well served with a continuing stream of innovative products and a wide variety of choices.

Furthermore, Apple acknowledges that this looks bad; that only allowing iTunes music to only be played on Apple products seems like Apple is unfairly locking in its customer. Apples wants us to consider the numbers:

Through the end of 2006, customers purchased a total of 90 million iPods and 2 billion songs from the iTunes store. On average, that’s 22 songs purchased from the iTunes store for each iPod ever sold.Today’s most popular iPod holds 1000 songs, and research tells us that the average iPod is nearly full. This means that only 22 out of 1000 songs, or under 3% of the music on the average iPod, is purchased from the iTunes store and protected with a DRM... It’s hard to believe that just 3% of the music on the average iPod is enough to lock users into buying only iPods in the future.

Right, it's hard to believe. But this argument is as stupid as it is lazy. I don't steal music. I buy the music of my favorite artists because I want them to make money and keep writing and performing. Sometimes I buy that music online, because often its cheaper and easier. But now that I realize I don't actually own the music that I download from iTunes -- own the music as I would own the music on a CD, music which I'm free to play in any device I choose -- I simply won't buy from iTunes anymore. Problem solved. But not for everyone else and certainly not for the music industry. It would be a lot simpler for me to simply steal the music, download it off of a torrent site for free, and then put it on any device I choose.

I won't. But plenty of other people will because it makes more sense. What incentive is the music industry really giving anybody to buy their music if the music comes with such idiotic strings attached? It's simple: if you're product is inferior, people will go else where -- in many cases just they will steal the music and feel good about it. Music with DRM is inferior to music without. If you make music DRM free, readily available, and at a fair price then more people will buy it. This wouldn't eliminate piracy. But it would certainly give people less reason to be so justified in their theft.

Apple I'd like to own the music I buy from you. Get rid of DRM. Until then I won't buy anymore music from you.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Well That Explains A Lot

I was perusing teh interwebz when I found this gem of a video. I'm not sure if the NSYE has done this before, but it's still pretty amazing. And by amazing I mean appropriate. I present to you... Darth Vader on Wall Street.

If you only knew the power of the put.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Gentlemanly Reminder

Dear AT&T and Slightly Less Talented Wilson Brother,

It comes to my attention that you do not know how to begin a discussion. This little ad on Facebook is quite poorly executed:

Perhaps you could back up that statement with a reference? Perhaps you could wipe that smug look off your face? Perhaps you could work faster to make my phone work when I'm riding the Metro.

How about this as a starting point: "AT&T has a 3G Network. This has been independently verified." It's a good start and it's all factual!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Snap Judgments: AOL/Time Warner

First, an apology to my quick-responding Gentlemen as to the tardiness of this latest post. It was supposed to go up the day after the news broke that AOL was breaking from Time Warner to once again become an independant organization. I then spent the next several days away from my computer and was not able to make this judgment quite as snappy as I'd hoped.

Regardless, here is our gentlemenly reaction to the final last gasp of the dot com explosion.

Dan Strauss
AOL: All Outta Luck. I'm not the first person to think of this, I'm sure, but it's funny, and I'm going to take credit for it, because I didn't hear anyone say it before me, and therefore, I'm going to say I made it up. If someone else did, they can contact me, and I'll print a retraction. Actually, I wont, because really, I thought of it myself, so if two people think of something independently of each other, I don't think that's copyright infringement. I mean, there's no way I could have known someone else thought of it. Listen, the bottom line here is, AOL is screwed, yo.
John Ozkirbas
The only thing that AOL makes me think of is the dial-up modem noise that computers used to make. When my father taught me how to use the internet for the first time, he told me that I'd know I was online when that noise was made because the computer and the internet were "shaking hands." To this day, I continue to call that iconic series of cacophonous screeches the "handshake noise," much to the confusion of anyone who hears me call it that. With that said, I lack any knowledge of what would possibly happen after AOL's split from Time Warner. In fact, my immediate reaction was "whoa, whoa, whoa... AOL still exists?" My best guess is that day-to-day living probably won't change much. I mean, it's sad that AOL and Time Warner won't be shaking hands anymore (and this probably is less an active "split" and more Time Warner casting AOL off like an infected, money-hemorrhaging appendix), but I don't need handshakes to get on the internet these days. I have cable now and, instead, must deal with Comcast until Fios is available in my area. But, really - what would this actually do? I have no idea.
Jason Heat
Does anyone still actually use aol?

I don't mean that in a snarky way, I'm being totally serious - does anyone actually still aol? I can't think of anyone offhand who does, and I'm wondering what aol really is at this point. I read somewhere recently (I think Business Week?) that aol has over a hundred pages of content to offer but I have no idea what they are. Maybe someone who uses them can tell me, because I really have NO idea. My last vestige of aol use in my life is AIM - which I still think is the best messaging software around in terms of functionality, but with less and less people using it facebook chat and g-chat are starting to become my defaults. I had no idea aol still had any relevancy left.

That said, I'm happy to see the end of the deal. Time Warner is a company I have a great deal of affinity for given the intellectual property they own (DC Comics, Warner Brothers) and I'd prefer to see them healthier.
David Pratt
All my earliest memories of the internet stem from AOL. I remember blitzing through chat rooms (do those even exist anymore?) the strange novelty of Instant Messenger. When they merged with Time Warner, I, like many, was erroneously enthralled at the possibilities of the focal point of the world wide web as I knew it. Then time went on and nothing seemed to materialize.

Time Warner is a good company that probably isn't going anywhere for awhile. AOL failed to live up to any of the expectations America had for it. That merger just was not destined to last, or even produce anything really that noteworthy. Now if Time Warner had the foresight to merge with a fledgling Google, who knows what might have happened?

I'm not sure how bright AOL's future is going to be without the Time Warner machine behind it, but maybe they'll use this opportunity to reinvent themselves and become relevant again. Or maybe the once all-encompassing America Online will go the way of the tech bubble and dot com explosion it represented.

Thus, like two friends parting ways after shaking hands, another Snap Judgment comes and goes.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Missing the Point of Fighting Against the Drug War

This was in response to a perfectly intelligent and dedicated individual who just doesn't get it. It's always frustrating being misunderstood by people you respect.


You miss such a huge slice of [the Drug War] issue that it doesn't surprise me you think I'm focused on a narrow, selfish cause.

Drugs are definitely dangerous, but drug prohibition does nothing to reduce or alleviate those dangers. They merely heap more dangers on the pile.

We spend billions every year destroying rain forest in South America to eradicate coca production, and coca production consistently goes up. Solution or counterproductive waste of time/money?

Needle exchange is a proven method for reducing the spread of disease and encouraging treatment, but until just last week federal funding for this was banned. Are we literally fighting AGAINST the interests of public health in an attempt to appear hard on drugs?

Cannabis isn't toxic, and is actually a potent medicine with a wide range of pharmacological uses. 80% of the country agrees with this including the American Medical Association, but cannabis is classified as a Schedule I drug, which means it's supposedly incredibly addictive, detrimental to the body, and has no accepted medical uses.

Are we literally fighting against advances in medicine and science?

Drug possession laws are an easy excuse for police to violate your rights, and it only takes a quick YouTube search to see what happens next. Are we literally fighting a war against our own people when our very actions go against the solutions to the recognized problems?

It costs us about $50 Billion a year in federal money alone to wage our drug war and less than a third of that goes towards treatment. Are we literally pissing our money down the drain arresting people as a deterrent when we have decades of evidence that it doesn't act as one?

You can continue to miss the point, but I'm in it to win it and I'm not alone.


Sunday, December 20, 2009

You're a Virgin Who Can't Drive

I was a freshman in high school before I saw the movie Clueless. The movie was already 5 years old, and the styles and phrases were way outdated (totally!). It quickly, however, became one of my "feel good movies." Those movies that I could trust to put me in a good mood, no matter what. If I needed a pick-me-up, I was sure to be smiling at the end of a movie off that list. Even to this day, it makes my heart flutter a bit when Paul Rudd catches Alicia Silverstone in that first kiss at the top of the stairs.

And even to this day, I feel a little bit awkward and uncomfortable when Brittany Murphy is on the fringes of the impromptu photo shoot outside the school. She didn't quite fit in. I got that then, and I get that now. She almost sacrifices her friendship with Cher over a petty high school fight, and when they make up it feels like I've just hugged it out with my own bestie.

Brittany Murphy died this morning at the age of 32, just 15 short years after playing Tai in Clueless. If you ask me, it's a huge loss. She wasn't in high art films, and she was never up for an Oscar, but she was usually a feel good character. You rooted for her. Her smile was contagious. There is a lot of speculation already (What caused her heart attack? Was it drugs? Diabetes? Ugh, whatEVer.), but also a lot of praise heaped on her from fellow actors. Her death, even more than Heath Ledger's, made me stop in my tracks and ask, What the H, Hollywood? This just isn't right. Is it the pressure? The fast-paced don't stop lifestyles? Why does it seem, more than ever, that people are dying far too young? Or am I just now learning to pay attention? In the end, I'm just sad that someone who was able to make me happy is gone. I hope she knows how many fans loved watching her characters.

If you haven't seen Clueless, I'd recommend it. As B. mentioned in her teen movie intro post, it really captures what it meant to be a teenager in the 90s. And it's a feel good movie. I bet you'll like it.

I was wondering if I should chill with a movie tonight, and now I know. I'm going to pop my Clueless 10th Anniversary dvd in and roll with the homies. For Tai.

30 Tiny Truths - 10

10. So You've Reproduced ...

I'm not against small talk. Well, I'm not totally against small talk. I guess it serves it's purpose, it makes existing in the presence of others just a bit less awkward. But there's one area that needs to be addressed: Parents, your children are not special in any way, shape, or form. Nothing they do or have done before the age of around16 is even remotely interesting to anyone above the age of 16.

Note that unless there is a picture of them on Cute Overload (I presume that site still exists) then whatever you said is "Soooo cute" is actually not really that cute. Unless their educational path mirrors that of Doogie Houser, they aren't all that bright. And if they are a 14 year old doctor, well that's basically just fucked up.

Look - You can have children, hell you can have 19 children, but spare us the magic of your special little guy. The second that your new lifeform came into the world, god blessed you with 18 years of being a really dull conversationalist.

So, let's just talk about the weather, shall we?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Health Care by Christmas?

The Dems have their sixty votes, and it was Senator Ben Nelson (D, Nebraska) rather than Senator Joe Lieberman (I, Conn) who said he would provide the crucial sixtieth Yea.

Apparently I hadn't been following this closely enough. I was surprised to find out there was a Democratic hold out! Given the press hullabaloo that followed Lieberman's conflict with a compromise in the bill that would let people 55 and over buy into Medicare, I (naively) assumed the Dems absolutely needed him to avoid a filibuster, thus all hope for healthcare rested in Joe's superior jowls. Not so!

Nelson from Nebraska is on board after a hot and heavy courtship by the progressives replete with chocolates, serenading by moonlight,  a little bit of playful teasing over restricting abortions, and the final touch that makes every starry-eyed Senator swoon: extra goodies to take home to the constituents. In this case goodies equal extra Medicare funds for Nebraska, according to The Atlantic and Wonk Room.  Everyone likes to be wooed now and again. 

So what now? The House bill and the Senate bill will have to be reconciled (*sigh*). Nelson has already placed a few quid pro quos on the relationship, announcing that he'd leave if there were any chances to the bill that he didn't like. But the NYT pointed out that in this dance, every Democrat has the chance to be such a heartbreaker. 

"Because the Democrats nominally control 60 seats in the Senate — the precise number needed to overcome Republican filibusters — every senator in the Democratic caucus effectively has veto power over the bill. No Republican is willing to support it." 

Progressive Democrats will likely try to resurrect the public option during the joint debates, angering conservative Dems. Republicans will continue shooting poison darts from the shadows, hoping one strikes healthcare in the jugular. 

For you political wonks out there, I'm not clear on something. Sixty is the magic number to invoke cloture and end debate, so you can go to a straight vote. But do the Democrats have to worry about a filibuster after the House and Senate have reconciled their bills?

To end here are some numbers:

  • According to Congressional Budget Office, the health bill will "yield a net reduction in federal deficits of $132 billion over the 2010-2019 period."
  • CBO also says it will cost $871 billion over 10 years, $614 billion of which will go to actually increasing insurance coverage. 
  • One-third of the 23 million non-elderly people who will still be uninsured will be illegal immigrants. 

Capitalism 1 - Weather 0

As I was sitting at home this morning and the snow kept piling up outside, I figured I'd have to get out of the house at some point today and see if anything was stirring out in Northern Virginia. After watching a couple of fantastic Premier League games, I set off for a stroll to Tyson's Corner. Walking there is not the most enjoyable form of transportation under normal circumstances, but it seemed like the most prudent choice, as there was (and is) zero chance of my car even getting down the street.

As I was walking, I noticed an impressive amount of trucks plowing parking lots and access roads and the walk itself wasn't too bad. As I approached the mall, I wasn't sure which outcome would be more surprising - the mall being open or closed. But sure enough, you can't stop Christmas/capitalism and even with the parking lot mostly empty, the mall was absolutely open and the majority of the stores within were staffed as well. I'm not sure exactly what kind of person says, "Well there's a freak snow storm, better go out and buy the rest of those stocking stuffers," but there were certainly shoppers there and without looking outside it could easily have been an average weekday crowd. Never underestimate the shopping power of the American people.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Turk Theater Presents - Flash Edition

A very special Turk Theater.

Gentle Readers, welcome to another installment of Turk Theater Presents. Today, we step outside TTP's usual scope (see sometimes good, but usually bad movies) and discuss an important and contemporary art form - flash animation. Several months ago, Video Games and Myth discussed Terry Cavanagh's "Don't Look Back" as an artistic re-imagining of the classic Greek myth Orpheus and Eurydice. In that segment's introduction, we discussed the prevalence of flash animation on the internet and elsewhere, and flash's importance as a cheap alternative to studio production that allows animation artists to cut their teeth. While "Don't Look Back" was a creative and impressive use of flash animation, its minimalist style fails to demonstrate flash's incredible range. So, instead of reviewing traditional films, TTP introduces two flash artists from whom I'm always excited to see new creations.

Name: Adam Phillips
Online Alias: chluaid (pronounced "Clyde")
Known Best For: Brakenwood
Website: Bitey Castle
(Picture property of Adam Phillips)

A prodigy illustrator from South Wales, Phillips is a former Disney artist who began making his own flash animations in 2000. By 2003, Phillips created Bitey of Brakenwood, a second installment in an award-winning series that most of his flash-work now surrounds. The series Brakenwood is set on an arboreal planet of the same name, mostly absent of human life. The series predominately follows the exploits of Bitey, a mischievous, satyr-like creature whose advantage lies in his incredible running speed and the possibility that he is the sole, sentient being in a vast forest of unique wildlife. A rascally trickster figure, Bitey spends his days taking all that he wants and running the forest rampant by pranking the unwitting inhabitants on sheer whim. In each installment Bitey attempts to avoid the consequences of his actions at the hand of a different foe, slowly learning the value of camaraderie and friendship in the process. Most episodes feature minimal-to-no talking and entertain the audience with mostly sound-effects, an impressive soundtrack, and the animation on the screen. Below you'll find a link to Phillips' latest work, The Last Dashkin - providing an official introduction to the series protagonist, complete with "Nature Channel-esque" narration (and the option to go without).

As you've probably noticed, Brakenwood is full of beautiful, otherworldly landscapes featuring flowing and smooth animation to aid its story telling. Each installment in the series is, at its worst, impressive and, at its best, breathtaking. If you like what you've seen, you'll be delighted to know that Adam Phillips is currently outlining plans for a Brakenwood feature film to come out in the near future.

Name: Michael Swain
Online Alias: The Swain
Known Best For: Blockhead
(Picture property of Michael Swain)

A jack-of-all trades, at 27 Swain produces flash animation, flash games, and internet comic strips streaming directly from his website (link above). According to his website and interviews with and Brainwash Studio, Swain began animating flash in 2005 - depicting a character he had been doodling on notebooks since the 6th Grade. Originally a mockery of his friends, who could only draw stick-figures, Blockhead quickly evolved into a character that embodied, "ill decision without consequence... bliss through ignorance, and... knowledge without responsibility." In each episodic installment, Blockhead has an "adventure" where he traverses out into the real world with complete disregard for all social standards and morays. Accompanied only by his conscience - an old, fat, mulleted, jersey stereotype - Blockhead commits atrocity after hilarious atrocity at the futile protest of his bitter, tired inner voice. Starting out as a one-note gag, Blockhead's evolution quickly produced musical episodes, fictitious holidays, and a selection of story-telling styles. The entire updated run of Blockhead can be found in the link below - with more to follow in the future:


What I like about Swain is that he's always improving and trying something new. Each Blockhead progressively tweaks and changes, keeping his material from being static and stale. In addition to blockhead, Swain has created the Mastermind series, a collection of webcomics (including... Racist Vampires!?), and his newest work, a flash game/Japanimation Ninja Warrior spoof titled Ching-Chog Beautiful: A Game of Great Endurance Challenge. Swain maintains an interesting, clever, yet slapstick approach to animation while paying apt attention even to the subtle details of his own works. He is always working on something new - keep an eye out for more Swain in the future.

I hope you enjoyed this installment of Turk Theater Presents, Gentle Readers. While unorthodox, I hope it allowed you to explore artistic and entertainment avenues you would not have normally. What did you think? Any favorite artists or animations out there? Post below.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

30 Tiny Truths - 9

9. Nothing makes a woman want you more than another woman wanting you.

I think of this story often, when I'm trying to figure out the female mind. I've changed the names, for the sake of the people it's about.

My friend Sarah couldn't get this guy, Ben, to leave her alone. Not in a creepy way, just in the way that he was always asking her out, or buying her chocolates, or giving her mixtapes, you know, he had a big crush on her or something. Maybe more than a crush, I don't know. But she just blew him off every time, you know, which I couldn't really understand, since Sarah wasn't exactly beating them off with a stick. Don't get me wrong, she's pretty, but not that pretty, and Ben always seemed like a pretty good catch.

I remember, Ben started dating this girl, Meredith. Maybe he really liked her. Maybe he didn't. It's hard to say. What's easy to say, as that as soon as Ben and Meredith got together, Sarah couldn't take her eyes off of him. Ben didn't look any different, he still wore the same second hand shirts and dinged up Levi's, but it didn't matter. Sarah wanted him like you wouldn't believe. And well, to be honest, you couldn't really blame Ben for calling it off with Meredith, all he wanted was Sarah anyway.

Too bad it didn't work out though. After he and Meredith split up, Ben couldn't even get Sarah to return one of his calls. Went from having two women to having none, just like that. I think he owns an auto repair shop now.

Women love a taken man. It's just the truth.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

30 Tiny Truths - 8

8. You Sir...

If you complain about having sex, you're an asshole.

You know who I hate?

People who complain about getting laid, as though all the charm and fun of the act itself has washed away in that same sense of jaded disillusionment that a hipster has for their favorite band once they reach airplay. As though getting some is some sort of burden they have to bear, when they really wanted to watch that movie, or get up rested for another day at the office. Life is hard for them - they only came once last night.

Fuck you.

I don't care if it wasn't 'that good.'
I don't care if he was a '20 second special.'
I don't care if she used her teeth (I mean, geez, just tell her to stop and FIX THE PROBLEM.)

Sure, it could have been better. No question.
But, the only thing anyone going on a two year dry spell is thinking about when they hear how tedious your intercourse was last night is how satisfying it'll be to hit you in the face.

You didn't have a bad night.
No - laying in bed alone, lightly touching yourself, watching 2 am reruns of The Nanny? THAT is a bad night.
If you're having sex, you're having a fantastic night. And if it's good, hot, dirty, whatever your adjective of choice, sex - your night is only getting better.

I'm talking about consensual relations between two adults. Obviously, there are cases where sex is NOT COOL, and I am not referring to anyone being taken advantage of, or coerced, or any other scenario where things are actually wrong.

But mild disappointment? Some 'been there, done that' blase` malaise?
If you can't appreciate the warmth of a human body next to yours? Soft skin? The fact that someone is actually letting you touch them, nay wants you touch them, and are enjoying it?
If you don't think 'this is fucking awesome' every single time?

Then you sir, are no Gentleman.

And Nick at Night comes for everyone.

30 Tiny Truths - 3.5

Read This, then -

Don't let this be you.

Thanks to Christian Sullivan and Texts From Last Night for sending this my way.

Let Us Discuss The Superdrag

When Superdrag reunited to do a few shows a couple of years ago they were selling a fantastic double album of demos at their shows featuring recordings from the early part of their career. It was the kind of extensive and lovingly created release that every fan wants to see from a band they love. The first disc was a wide selection of early demos and recordings, plus a few covers and some 4-track recording by lead singer John Davis. The second disc was a dry run for their debut album, but with a lot of extra songs that wound up on EPs or unreleased.

The really nifty thing about these discs was that they revealed a sizable influence that lurked under the surface for most of Superdrag's career. The thick feedback of many of these early songs shows how much Davis's original vision seemed to be a more melodic version of Dinosaur Jr. If you combine this with the bands most obvious influence, Guided By Voices, you get the big power pop sound that the band parlayed into four fantastic albums (and a decent comeback album).

But the point is, you don't need to know these influences to enjoy the band. I didn't know who Guided By Voices were until Superdrag were already deep into their career. The British influence and huge hooks were what grabbed me in the first place, and it was only later that I connected this to their love for Bob Pollard. Now most of us have heard "Sucked Out" but there are loads of great songs in their arsenal. Hell, I think "Destination Ursa Major" is just as good a single from the first album. They were (and are) a great band who happened to have one big '90s alternative hit.

Monday, December 14, 2009

30 Tiny Truths - 7

7. Worth a Thousand Words

I think comic books are the highest form of published media available today.

This is not to cast any disparagement upon our other forms of communication. Books, magazines, newspapers - they all range, just as comic books do, from unbearable to superb. Comic books seem ephemeral compared to these stalwarts of media. They dart endlessly from one story to the next, often endlessly retelling similar stories in slightly different situations as writers struggle to pump out fresh ideas after nearly 70 years of being in the public eye. A book is solid, stalwart, written as a testament to the subject contained within to stand eternally as it is, ever unchanged. By comparison, comic books seem almost trivial.

In school, we study Dickens and Twain, not Morrison and Straczynski (though I maintain Mark Twain would love X-Men). We are given a thorough education on William Shakespeare, but learn nothing of Jack Kirby. Friends and family might guide us to the works of Hunter S. Thompson, but few are the people pointed in the direction of Alan Moore. Comic books as a form of art and literature exist on the fringes of the acceptable mainstream, more likely to garner attention as a summer blockbuster than as a monthly periodical.

Yet I solidly maintain that the comic book is the highest form of printed media we have attained as human beings. The story of a comic is not told in the pages between the covers, but in the journey of its character. When a comic story comes to a close, it is only so the next one might begin, and the lesson it teaches continue for the next reader. Atticus Finch and Tom Sawyer might provide a useful example of men fighting prejudice, but children who grew up reading X-Men have been learning that lesson their entire lives. We might get a thrill by reading about Sherlock Holmes and his brilliant deductions, but followers of Batman have watched the titular character use science and logic to the benefit of justice for over 7 decades. Frank Castle's endless journey in the pages of The Punisher show more about the ultimate futility of revenge than Moby Dick ever gets across, and with way cooler action scenes. Also, I'm pretty sure he used a whale to kill a guy once.

There are things you can express in a well-written comic that simply cannot be reproduced in normal print media. Iconic drawings stay with us just as long as a well-written passage. Facial expressions and subtle motions of hand and eye can be conveyed without the need for extra words to describe them. You can become emotionally attached to characters in comic books in ways books never quite attain. For once a book is over, that is the end of it. The next time you read it, the story will still be the same. In a comic, the story goes on forever, and the possibilities are endless.

So when you're questioning how to teach your kids the important lessons in life, look no further than your nearest comic shop. Spider-Man can teach them responsibility, Superman will show them the value of restraint, the Fantastic Four will illustrate the power of family. And if times are tough, Daredevil can show them that sometimes life is a bitch. There's no need to hide a love of comic books, in my opinion. On the contrary, I find avid readers subscribe to, at least in my estimation, the highest form of published media available today.

A Word or Two on Mr. Woods

A lot of ink has been spilled about Tiger Woods. I could go on and on about the ridiculousness of his infidelities, which seem to still be multiplying at an incredible rate, but his "sabbatical" announcement merits a bit of discussion.

Let's look at a little comparison. A few years ago, Kobe Bryant was on trial for sexual assault. During the period he could have gone into hiding or at least taken off a few games during the middle of the trial. Instead, he chose fly directly from the trial each day to basketball games the same night. Is this something a normal person would do? No. But Bryant is, for better or worse, one of the most talented athletes of our time, and playing basketball each night was probably the only thing in his life that was going right.

Tiger is in the same category. Avoiding "his own" tournament (and how many of "his own" tournaments are there? I thought the one in the DC area was "Tiger's" as well, but I digress) after the shit hit the fan was a pretty prudent choice. But now it's the golf off-season. Woods has a few months to do whatever it is he needs to do - get a divorce or start the healing or just go far far away for a while. And yet he's chosen to temporarily pack in career, which may be the only thing that will help him mentally and in the court of public opinions. Tiger should get back to playing golf as soon as reasonably possible. It's becoming more clear that that's the only thing he will ever be great at.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

30 Tiny Truths - 6

6. This might be a music blog.

For the first time in my life, I have my own record player.
It was my dad's, and instead of sitting in my parents basement in NJ, it now sits on a shelf below my TV. This was special for me, a kind of right of passage that I take this revered form of music player and harness it. And with it came a collection of old records from the 70's and 80's. I now have a healthy dose of Talking Heads, Rolling Stones, and David Bowie vinyl with me as well, and I'm not complaining.

Well, a record player that's been sitting in the basement requires some maintenance. My new record player needed a new needle; the one already attached clearly dulled. So first I went to Radioshack, which was not the right choice. It took me a while to figure out what that right choice was, but finally, a local musicians store had some. Not just a needle, but a stylus.

I also had to learn how to calibrate the weights and bearings for the arm so it would sit just right. And, it turns out, a record players requires not just speakers (I have speakers that hook up by aux cable to my laptop) but something that amplifies the sound too. This requires a stereo between the two of course. So, the next time I was home in NJ, I took one of my dad's old stereos.

I did something else while I was home. I downloaded some music for my mom's ipod for her so she has new music to listen to while she goes running. I downloaded music like: the Talking Heads, Rolling Stones, David Bowie. And now it's on her ipod.

I've always held a high esteem for records. They're the original form, authentic, tangible, prized. I'll be honest though, while my appreciation for older music has not waned, my appreciation for the record player has. This whole mp3 thing is pretty convenient.

If It Weren't for Those Pesky *Teenagers*...

Like it or not, we are defined in a very big way by our teenage years. Whether we spend the rest of our lives trying to recapture or distance ourselves from them, there it is. There is something about the hormones, the rapid growth and change, the rollercoaster passion and despair of teenagedom, from which we do not easily recover. The term has only been around for about sixty years, but isn’t it true that most major wars and revolutions before then were propogated by people under twenty-five? Hormones, man.

As it stands, teenagers as a socio-political entity, as a marketing term, have been around just under as long as film, and that fact has only deepened teenagers’ ability to affect us long after our twentieth birthday. I’m talking, of course, about teen movies. Serious, comic, serio-comic, some teen films have captured or defined whole generations at a time, and continue to do so long after their intended audience grew up and produced teenagers of their own. So I’m going to go through, decade by decade, and discuss some of the greatest teen movies of all time. Movies that somehow managed to perfectly capture their moment in time or define how the rest of the decade would look, all within the allotted hour-and-a-half-to-two-hours.

Now, I will readily admit my bias in that, of all the teen movies in the world, Clueless and Mean Girls are in a dead heat for first place in my heart. Then again, you probably knew that. Strong female characters and great costumes in a smart, satirical comedy with some slapstick mixed in. And everyone is friends in the end! At this point in my development I’m not sure if I was drawn to them because of my personality, or if my personality was intrinsically shaped because of those movies. Either way I don’t care, because they’re brilliant. Clueless came around when I was nine, just on the precipice of that oh-so-coveted teendom, and taught me how teenagers dressed, talked, and acted. Mean Girls caught me on my way out, at eighteen, when I could look back at my high school experience, still so fresh in my developing heart and say, “oh my GOD they’re right!”

I am at the moment an officially grown ass woman but a large part of me still wants to look like Cher and learn my life lessons from the safety of my couch. And in a world in which I am still adjusting to not having anything in common with teenagers, going back to those movies is comforting. Young people look different already, and I am just not ready for that. So I’m going to go back, back, back in time and try to glean those movies that defined generations with the brilliance and humility of something taken much more seriously than mere entertainment, or teenagers themselves. I’ll start in the fifties, with the advent of “teenagers” as we know them today, and work up from there.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

30 Tiny Truths - 5

5. Master Debater

So back in high school I was on the debate team.
I know, I was just that cool. Technically it's not really a team sport, though. It's actually every man for themselves.

But after a couple of years I started think about trends in how I did as a debater. I certainly won more debates than I lost, but I was not particularly dominant. My first thought when looking back was that I just could not beat anyone from Walter Johnson. This wasn't such a bad thing - they had the best debaters in Montgomery County, including the county champ (who I lost to by one point in a debate that I *knew* I had won. I got robbed.)

And then I realized something else, it wasn't that I was losing to every debater from WJ. It was that I was losing to everyone from there who was a girl, since the demographics of their team skewed very female. Then I realized that this seemed to apply to other schools to as well. And it hit me - I was practically incapable of winning debates against women. This was a valuable life lesson that still holds true today.

Will Your Future Children Get Giant Mechas For Christmas? (That They Control With Their Minds?)

We can know that a technology might just be a wave of the future if the Pentagon is dumping Heaps of Cash into its research and development. Such is the case with possibly my personal favorite Holy-Crap-Do-We-Realize-The-Implications emerging technology: brain-computer interfacing.

The idea is very simple. Put electrodes in the brain, on the surface of the brain, or, less invasively, on the ends of nerves. Electrodes read brain signals. Electrodes interpret said signals and tell a machine to do something.

Holy Crap, Do We Realize The Implications?

Yes, folks. Giant Mechas. Also, teledildonics. (Alternate post title: Will your future [adult!] children get teledildos for Chanukah?)

Very recently, a human being was given a robotic hand, which he was able to successfully control, and even reported feeling sensations through it. Even more recently, ProDigits, the first commercially available bionic hand, debuted in Britain (price tag quoted as 57-73 thousand dollars). Prior to this, the most successful experiment was giving a monkey a bionic arm in addition to its intact, functioning one (the functioning one being immobolized with a 'nerve block').

Both human and monkey test subjects were able to control the robotic arm with their thoughts; and it seems their brains adapted to the direct neural control fairly quickly – as the monkey article puts it, the monkey’s brain accepted the robot arm into its “neurospace.” In other words, it seems it became just as natural for the monkey’s brain to control the robot arm as it was to control the monkey’s real one. Which makes sense, if you think about it and have ever driven a car – I’m going out on a theoretical limb here, but I would bet we all have the experience of controlling the vehicles we drive directly and subconsciously. When learning to drive, inside our brains, at first it was all “I push pedal down halfway, car goes faster,” but now it’s just “car go faster.” I’m guessing the same natural feeling of body extension is what one would experience, being hooked up to a robot arm.

Currently, the intent is to allow replacement limbs for amputees. A similar but more primitive version of the concept has already been actualized and that allows people to spell words by controlling a cursor on a screen with directed thoughts – or, in a much cooler application, play Pong. But, if one thinks about it, the possibilities are endless and staggering.

First of all, realize that the technology essentially uses the firing of a set of neurons in the user’s brain as a trigger for an electronic/computer function. There is no limitation to what that function is. It may be natural to think of using one’s arm-twitch brain signals to twitch a robot arm, but a computer could just as easily use them to control a robot leg. Or a robot mouse. Or a microwave. Or, yes, to play Pong – or World of Warcraft.

(If you think we have already strayed into fantasy, see here. Or here. Or here. A game of "The Adventures of NeuroBoy," anyone?)

In fact, there’s nothing to prevent a simple system being set up whereby when the user flexes a bicep, a bell rings. Or an alarm goes off. Or, with a little more effort, an electrode gives that user an electric shock. Now, change the trigger signal from “flexes a bicep” to “flexes the muscles in the genitals” or even “brain involuntarily increases blood-flow to genitals” and you have a sexual denial system. Or, in a version less attractive to scary fundamentalists and clever fetishists, one could set up a system whereby when the user gets turned on, a small capsule imbedded in their bloodstream releases Viagra to give them some help. (Please note that Viagra is known to have an arousing effect on females, as well.)

Let’s keep pushing. If you can make any detectable signals from the brain equal anything that a computer can make happen in reality, what can’t you do? You could potentially send an email to a friend or update your Twitter – while walking down the street and seeming to do absolutely nothing at all (all you do is think the right commands, and your mobile device does it without leaving your pocket). You could potentially control your own limbs with your thoughts – an application being considered by researchers, for the purpose of restoring limb usage to people with nerve damage, but which could also be used to do stuff like make your eyes point opposite directions or vomit on command (if you so desired) or deliver yourself an internal shot of insulin if you have a diabetic attack. And you could, potentially, drive a car without using your hands or feet – or without being in the car. Or without being in the same hemisphere as the car.

Which brings me to the giant mechas, a.k.a. neurorobots. Staples of Japanese manga and anime for decades, these massive war-bots allow a tiny, well-trained individual to fight Extreme Battles while looking Damn Awesome doing it. If we could build such a machine – which, considering our struggles with mobile robots, could be a ways off, admittedly – then with an advanced brain-computer interface, a soldier could control it directly through brain signals, without joysticks or keyboards. The soldier could control it from a remote war room. The soldier could control it while it flies into outer space. Yes, folks, the soldier of the future might be… a video gamer.

(Actually, the soldier of today might already be a video gamer, what with drone planes and robot bomb-sniffers. But we’re talking remote-inhabited mobile infantry here, not support and artillery.)

I predict a geek sport in the eventual future in which teams create their own weird mechas, dressed up like Evangelions or the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, control them as a team (Bobby’s thoughts move the legs, Jenny’s thoughts fire the cannon) and battle them in arenas.

But that is only the beginning – I mentioned teledildonics, right? – because so far I have only talked about one-way, inside-out brain-computer interfacing.

The other way – going from outside in – is also under early development. Scientists have been able to make elementary recordings of what a cat’s and a human’s eyes have seen, and a technology called BrainPort allows visual signals to be sent to a blind person’s brain (similar to a cochlear implant for the hearing-impaired), amongst other applications.

These two technologies are complementary. One lets you control a computer and, by extension, anything a computer can control; the other lets a computer control, or least activate, your sensory experiences. Put them together, and what do you get? Forget controlling a giant mecha. Try being a giant mecha.

Imagine this giant war robot has video cameras, touch sensors, microphones. All we need is the technology to input this sensory information directly into your brain, and you experience the physical existence of the robot. Preferably, your natural sensory input from your real-life body is shut off temporarily; putting on blindfolds and getting in an isolation room would probably be sufficient, but nothing says we couldn’t figure out how to completely prevent you from experiencing the room your natural body is in. (Remember the 'nerve blocking' from the monkey-arm experiment?)

I don’t need to guide your imagination too far from there. It is only a few steps from the melding of these two technologies – which, remember, are under development – to all the wildest dreams of science-fiction. The Matrix? Easy (if you have enough computing power). Controlling another person’s body – in fact, switching bodies? Yep.

However, I believe things start getting really crazy when you remember, again, that there is nothing that says the relationship between the natural half of the equation (either the brain’s natural signals when going inside-out, or the natural world when going outside-in) and the computer-controlled half (the robot arm, the computer-generated sensory experience) has to be logical or typical.

Artificial synesthesia is possible; when the computer camera sees the color red, it can make your brain smell potatoes. If the computer camera is installed in the back of your own eye then you can be looped into yourself so that whenever you see the color red, you smell potatoes. Or whenever you taste potatoes, you hear the entirety of an Irish jig. Or whenever you hear an Irish jig, you automatically become aroused. Or whenever you become aroused, you’re suddenly, as far as your personal sensory reality is concerned, in the jungle, complete with visuals, smells, and the sensation of being strangled by an anaconda. (I’m sure it’s somebody’s fetish.)

Which brings me to teledildonics. Currently, as in that article, teledildonic technology is limited to stuff like the Sinulator, a pair of sex toys that simulate what is being done to the other sex toy remotely. Now we all know that sex has been one of the biggest motivators for improvement in technology – the porn industry was one of the first to get into both videotape and the Internet, so doubtless once these technologies start becoming a little closer to reality, baser human desires – and cold hard cash – will motivate all sorts of innovations. (How long until the first bionic penis replacement? Anyone wanna start a betting pool?) Innovations like a sex doll that you control with your thoughts (for yourself or someone else’s perverse enjoyment). Or celebrity porn stars who have sex with a volunteer who doesn’t mind getting Being John Malkovich’d, and a thousand users download themselves into his neurospace, and thus a thousand people have the same sexual experience. Or, scariest of all, direct stimulation of another person’s pleasure centers, which, following sci-fi author Larry Niven’s realistic vision of it, would be a technology so addictive its users die because they neglect to drink water or eat.

Now I don’t want to sound perverted. The applications are, of course, not strictly sexual. You could, for instance, play Super Mario Bros. 3 as Mario – as in, you become two-dimensional and stomp Koopa Troopas and grow to double size when you (YOU) touch a mushroom. If you can hook up your brain-interfacing computers to a network and thus to other people’s computers, you can have your theme music play in everyone’s heads whenever you enter the room. Or set it up so that if you feel an attraction to someone in the room, and they feel an attraction back, you both instantaneously “know” and can skip the awkward flirtation phase (okay, so that application was sexual). Or have a conversation with someone without speaking out loud – but you can still hear each other’s voices. For that matter, in the experience of you and the person you’re conversing with, you see each other’s mouths moving, and hands gesturing; but the rest of the world perceives two people sitting silently, unmoving - i.e., telepathy. (The military is researching precisely this application for battlefield purposes.) And then there’s whole-body uploading – where you more or less permanently inhabit another physical body, whether artificial or natural, whether looking like a human or like a frog or a anthropomorphic pencil. Basically, things can get weird.

Of course, the potential for abuse and crime is there too, but I’ll leave that to your imagination (or nightmares). I’ll also leave to your imagination the possibilities available when you consider that our perception of time is subjective, and therefore potentially controllable by sufficiently advanced interfacing.

To wrap up on that note, remember that, while all of this is fantastic, and the more out-there possibilities require the invention of some technologies that aren’t even conceived yet, for the most part the difference between where we are now and a world in which a person in Chicago and a person in Paris hook up by inhabiting sex robots on the moon is strictly a matter of degree and of combining technologies (like brain-computer interfacing and the Internet) that are currently separate. This technology is coming fast; I drafted this article in summer 2009, and only had the monkey experiment to refer to at that point. In a year or two, mark my words, once the technology is combined with this one and the motor functions and feedback are refined, people who can afford it (and of course it will get cheaper over time) will have completely undetectable replacement limbs; and it will only be a matter of time after that before some enterprising and slightly insane rich person gets themselves a third arm. So while I’m not saying we’ll be living in Tron anytime soon, don’t be surprised if within a decade or so, Team Mecha Battle Extreme!!! debuts on Japanese TV, or at least most forms of blindness and paralyzation are bypassed and effectively cured.

And to finally end on a wild tangent, this might be why we’ve never discovered intelligent life in the universe – perhaps whenever it gets to a certain point of technological development, a species simply closes up into virtual reality, stops bothering with space exploration, and has perfectly calibrated virtual orgies and tea parties until the end of time.

Friday, December 11, 2009

30 Tiny Truths - 4

4. Texts from the Last 20 Seconds or So.

You should always make sure to check that you're actually texting who you think you are.

Let me tell you a story.

I knew a guy once. Let's call him 'Dude.'
And I knew a girl once. Lets call her 'Pancake.'

Dude is a friend of fellow Gentleman Dan Strauss from college, who once joined Dan on a visit back home to DC.
Pancake was a girl we knew back in High School.
And at some point on this visit, probably at a show, they met.
They hit it off, as dudes and pancakes usually do, and some mouth to mouth action occurred.

It bears some mentioning that while not stupid, in some areas, Pancake was not always the brightest girl.

They stayed in touch, and sometime later, Dude made the long trip back from Michigan to get some head shots taken. Now, I'm sure they were some really good head shots, but I'm gonna go out on a limb and guess that the real reason for the 521 mile ride, given that they have cameras in the Mid-West, was to see her.
And lo, in the midst of all that photography, he had a hotel room and she did spend much time there.

Then, one morning, Dude was laying in bed while Pancake went to the bathroom.
He got a text message, and saw that it was from Pancake.
"How odd." He thought, "to send me a text from the bathroom, when I'm right here."

And when he read it, it went something like this -

"I don't think it's going to work out with Dude. He's pretty weird."

That's right. She sent him that message, from the bathroom, while he was in the other room.
It was, of course, meant for her friend.

So when Pancake returned from the bathroom, all smiles, Dude looked at her, held up the phone and said "We should probably talk."
And much awkwardness was had by all.

Learn from Pancake.
Text responsibly.

A Public Service Announcement from These Gentlemen

Viral Vestiges

"viral" adj.
1) Of the nature of, caused by, or relating to a virus or viruses
2) Of or involving the rapid spread of information about a product or service by viral marketing techniques

"vestige" n.
1) A trace of something that is disappearing or no longer exists
2) Biology a part or organ of an organism that has become reduced or functionless in the course of evolution

Back in October (when I originally started this post), I fell ill with a virus resembling what some may call "Swine Flu," "H1N1," or (as I came to call it) "Flu +: New and Improved." While the kind of flu was never verified, I was the sickest I had been in a very long time. It got me thinking about viruses and their inherent nature, their composition, and how they behave because - despite not being a med student or having a medical degree - I have an oddly clinical perspective. Viruses are some of the most hated "creatures" on the face of the Earth, whose existence is incredibly interesting.

For instance, did you know that viruses are not technically alive?

Literally, viruses are strands of DNA or RNA wrapped in protein shells that float inertly until they infect your living cells, hi-jack them by injecting their DNA inside, and use them for their own devious purposes. They don't consume energy, they have no organelles to qualify them as living cells, yet they exist - mindlessly reproducing their own, dead kind and using your biological process to spread themselves around. They have no motive, instinct, or express purpose - no desire to reproduce, to destroy you, or to annoy you. They just are. Where they come from is uncertain, but some suggest that (in layman's terms) viruses are the vestiges of the primordial ooze. Relics from "organisms-to-be" left over, forgotten by biology and time, drifting aimlessly under the radar, going through the motions of being alive, but still are not. With no thought or reason, they reproduce, evolve, and reproduce again, endlessly infecting, consuming, and destroying all living creatures - as if they're cosmically designed to seek vengeance against life itself for not permitting their contributions into the gene pool. Where there's one, there's often many. We try to avoid them at all costs, but many will inevitably succumb to virus' mindless fervor. And, then the fallen will infect the rest of us. If you're thinking that our relationship with viral disease strangely mirrors a horror movie character's relationship with zombies, you're probably not too off base.

The roaming, living dead. Scary and fascinating, this pervasive legend peeks its head out in some form in nearly all cultures. The term "zombie" originates from Voodoo and Hoodoo legend - the dead risen again, re-ensouled, mute, and will-less, for the express purpose of performing labor and obeying commands. These zombies did not have the undying hunger for flesh present in current cinema (you can thank George A. Romero for that. And, thank God, because he was half-way into considering rape as their modus operandi instead of cannibalism), but instead were controlled through the use of salt. America's cinematic melting pot melded the collective influences of multiple countries (primarily myths about "ghouls") and, interestingly enough, Mary Shelly's Frankenstein in crafting our own cinematic myth that uses science at the core of its explanation, as opposed to evil forces or black magic. Between space dust, bacteria, radioactivity, gene therapy, genetic weaponry - the most common source from which zombie apocalypses spawn now seem to be viruses.

We often make monsters from real-life concepts of which we're afraid. Between Swine Flu, SARS, Mad Cow, Foot and Mouth, HIV/AIDS, Malaria and the fear of a resurgence of Small Pox - we have our hands full with diseases. And, rightfully so - viruses can inflict pain, suffering, and destruction on the human body like nothing else. Is there really any question why the biblical plagues were so epic or why Pestilence gets his own horse?

Viruses and plagues have a very natural association with zombies, providing an ease of explanation over the undead's existence as well as drawing inherent similarities between the ways zombies and viruses behave. These not-quite-alive, wandering, mindless, and consumptive creatures flock, swarm, multiply, and flock again - witlessly feeding some primal, but unnecessary, instinct to feed. The zombie's plight and lament does not simply originate from his need to eat flesh and viscera, but also to remain on the verge of being alive while not quite actuating it. Reanimated, but not living, these poor, unfortunate souls continually go through the motions of life only to rot further and spread their disease person by person, eventually crumbling civilization under their rotten (and possibly missing) heels. Viruses, as dictated above, seem to function in similar fashion - consuming all life, desperately trying to be a part of it, yet never succeeding.
"More than any other monster, zombies are fully and literally apocalyptic... they signal the end of the world as we know it."
Kim Paffenroth
Author of
Gospel of the Living Dead: George Romero's Vision of Hell on Earth

Snap Judgments - Climategate

Snap Judgments - the newest sensation that's sweeping the nation!

These Gentlemen have decided upon a new segment to grace us semi-periodically, meaning whenever a topic of interest happens in current events that we want to stay on top of. From the time the request for answers goes out until the post goes up, no more than 24 hours shall pass (from this point on, I was a little late getting this up) so that you can get our most honest and unadulterated reactions to anything currently happening on the world stage.

This exercise is meant to be quick and to the point, so I will be, too! On to our first subject - Climategate.

Adam Winer
I fundamentally don't believe in any scandal or argument that ends with "gate" unless you're actually referring to the hotel or connected offices.

Brett Abelman
Climate-Gate: first impression: for heaven's sake can we stop using "-gate" as a suffix for "scandal."

Okay. So. What it seems like to me: There is a lot of science in support of anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming. Science is messy. The world is huge. The weather is freakin' crazy. The scientists at Copenhagen, they believe that global warming is happening, and we as a human race must prevent it or we face disaster. What do they do when they come upon messes in the data? Announce to the world something complicated like, "we don't understand exactly how it works, and science isn't clean, but this is how we think this might fit in if this future experiment shows that..." snore. The cable channels have already started proclaiming the whole thing bunk.

So they - unwisely, though out of a place of conscience (and I'm sure quite a few were motivated by base concern for their reputations) - aim to keep quiet the controversial data. They are on a Mission to Save the Planet. The wee little dumb folk of the world, they don't have patience for subtlety and contradiction and risk assessment. The wee little dumb folk, they tell the politicians what to do, and the politicans tell the businesses what to do, and if the businesses don't stop polluting, we're gonna need more than Captain Planet. It's (assuming all this interpolation is accurate as to their intentions) haughty and unscientific and wrong. But when High Stakes are up, moral questions get gray.

As far as global warming itself, it's hard to argue that reducing pollution would be a bad thing in and of itself. The question of government controls is more economic than anything, and ridiculously complicated. The best thing, in my mind, is for the public to continue to "go green" in this recent trendy way (though hopefully to do so in smarter ways than just buying so-called 'organic'), and convince businesses to reduce their emissions for the sake of appealing to the well-off green customers. Market forces, that kind of thing. Very little bad can come of this.
The last question is just how much the anti-legislation, anti-green types will make of this. Will Fox commentators and bloggers all over blow this up so big that it constitutes a serious backlash against the green trend? Will people start spraying CFCs just to say "ha ha!" to their political enemies? With any luck, this will blow over pretty quickly - or actually have a positive effect as, in order to understand the controversy, people actually have to read about the real science, and learn about the vagaries, and make complex decisions based on complex facts. Time will tell!

Beaver Dam Graham
I have little to no impressions, because as of late I've been spending my days going to great lengths to avoid thinking about climate change. This is mainly because it scares the bejesus out of me and I don't need another reason to not sleep at night. Space existing is bad enough, now I have to think of my own world turning against me? No sirree, I'll just try to keep my carbon footprint as small as I can, and turn off NPR whenever they start talking about it.

Anyone who proports that climate change isn't real or a big deal is lazy and I'm going to go as far as to say a jerk, because even if climate change truly isn't "as big a deal" as scientists are (only just recently) saying, pollution is still bad news bears and something needs to be done about it. And I still won't listen to NPR talk about it on the radio.

ali d.

My first instinct upon considering ClimateGate is to wonder whether the ends might justify the means. Can we really claim that there's anything wrong with trying to be more Green as a nation? If the facts/fears surrounding global warming led to such an intense initiative toward cleaning up our personal and corporate practices in order to treat Mother Earth better, is that really so bad?

But of course, it's never that simple. Climate legislation will likely lead to the federal government spending more money and a tax hike (see: the cap and trade bill). Especially with the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference underway, it would be nice to know that we're combating legitimate data. In the end, though, it seems clear to me that humans really are mucking up the planet, global warming or not, and we should probably work to curtail that as much as we can. I just hope that legislation affecting our efforts to create clean energy will allow for U.S.-made research and implementation, so we can create jobs and boost our economic stance while helping the environment.

And really, let's look at it rationally - this is no Nannygate. Let's calm down, people.

David Pratt

First, let me say that I could go off on a rant all its own on the fascination with calling every scandal "Noun+gate." The Watergate scandal was named such because it was a scandal involving the Watergate, which is a hotel. It makes sense. There are no hotels or gates in this scenario. There's some research involving water, but that didn't make it into the name. Continuing down this line of thinking is just going to take us off-topic before we even get to it in the first place. So, the point is, there's no hotel, there's no gate, and, besides a massive invasion of privacy, there's not even a scandal.

Bottom line: Scientists still disagree about the extent of global warming. That was something we knew before the e-mails came out and something we still know now. The questionable material in the body of what was sent literally came from two out of over 1,000. In one of them it was requested work which ran counter to global warming theory not be included in a study. The reason, however, was that the paper itself was shoddy. After the material was published along with the rest of the study anyway, it came under attack by scientists not involved with the work because - surprise - it was shoddy.

And even if you're still not convinced that man can ever influence the weather or climate no matter how many tons of greenhouse gases we pump daily into our atmosphere, are you seriously going to argue with the idea that we shouldn't be poisoning the air we breathe and the water we drink? Because everybody being sick or dead is going to be a whole lot more harmful to the economy than cap-and-trade.

There you have it, our very first Snap Judgments. That's all for now, look forward for more, only on These Gentlemen.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

30 Tiny Truths - 3

3. It Should Be Obvious

If you come into work with cum in your hair, go downstairs immediately and take a shower.

Do not sit in a meeting, toying with your hair, saying out loud 'I think I may have cum in my hair.'
Do not turn down the shower, saying then your hair will be 'cold and wet.'

Better yet, don't come into work with cum in your hair.

Once Upon a Time

This past Monday, I went to work - a common, if not always consistent, occurrence for me. But nothing about Monday's trip was common. For you see, on Monday I forgot my cell phone.

It was such a silly mistake. I left it sitting on my dresser instead of tucking it safely inside my purse or a pocket, as I usually do as soon as I wake up. And I, absent-minded goof that I am, never grabbed it. It's such an appendage to my being these days that I realized it was missing before I even got on the highway. I was just barely going to be on time for my class as it was, though, and could not turn around to retrieve it.

I was on my own. And this is a brief summary of the events that followed, complete with my thoughts at the time:

I got onto 495W at approximately 2:50 p.m., and immediately encountered a little bit of back-up from afternoon traffic. Oh shit, what if traffic is bad the whole way there? What if I'm running late and I can't call the school to let them know? The slowness soon eased, and I was cruising down the highway on my way to Travilah Elementary School in North Potomac. I arrived with just enough time to set up my classroom before my students started arriving. Is that clock correct? I wish I had my cell to tell me the exact time. I hope I'm not late bringing them out to their parents. Class lasted for an hour, and by 4:45, I was out of work and on my way to my friend Jescie's house, to meet up with her and go for Cold Stone.

Now here's where things got sticky. I was supposed to call Jescie once I left work and was on my way to her place. I had gotten directions from google maps, and was to let her know exactly what time I'd be getting there. Obviously, this was no longer an option, and I was just going to have to show up unannounced.

I hit the road, encountered no traffic, and was making good time. What if Jescie tried to change plans? What if she's not at her house when I get there, because I never called her? Well I can just get in touch with my roommate and ask her if I have any messages! Oh... wait. No I can't - I don't have my phone. Anyways, stop being silly. Of course she'll be home, she got your facebook message saying you'd be there between 5:15 and 5:30. Upon getting off 370, I discovered that google maps hadn't prepared me for the fork at Shady Grove Road, so I picked the most logical direction and kept driving. Oh geez, what if I get lost and can't call her for directions? My logic was rewarded when I easily found my next turn What if she's not home? What am I going to do? Oh my gosh, calm yourself, OF COURSE she'll be home, and I was at her house even earlier than I expected.

I walked up the sidewalk to the front door. The house looks awfully dark. Maybe she's not home from school yet. I did get here a few minutes before I said I would. I rang the doorbell, but no one answered. I knocked on the garage door. Nothing. I walked around to the back of the house, but the snow was undisturbed. Oh this figures. What do I do now? So I returned to my car to wait for her. Luckily, I had a book with me, and I read for 10 minutes before getting out and repeating my knocking and ringing. This is the right house, isn't it? Still nothing. Surely she'll drive up any minute now, and I'll feel foolish for worrying so much. I returned to my car and read for another 20 minutes. She's going to think I ditched out on our plans! The house was still dark. No new cars had pulled up. I was cold, getting hungry, and I couldn't call Jescie to let her know that I was at her house. Oh hey! I'm not far from Olney, and David is still at work. I can use their phone to... crap, I don't know Jescie's number! Dammit! I felt terrible about it, but I didn't know what else to do. I left.

I drove to Olney Theatre, but David didn't have Jescie's cell number. I still had an hour before I had to leave for my rehearsal, so we got a bite to eat and some hot chocolate. I was stewing in my own guilt, but the night had to go on, and so I started driving toward Bowie. Oh shoot, did I leave too late? I won't be able to call our stage manager and let him know! I arrived just in time, rehearsed, and finally, after 7 cellphone-less hours, headed home.

As soon as I got in, I called Jescie and apologized profusely. As it turns out, she had been home the whole time. She and her boyfriend live in the basement of the house, and have a separate entrance. She had wondered if I'd forgotten my phone, and even considered driving out to Cold Stone to see if I'd gone there. Had she come out to her car, she would have seen me sitting out front. We both laughed and apologized and made the same plans for next Monday.

Here's the thing though. In case you didn't catch on to the frenzied tone in my thoughts above, I was absolutely panicked for the majority of my time without my phone. My plans hinged on making a phone call. Without it, I was at a loss. But once upon a time (even 10 years ago), here's how our outing would have happened:

I would have picked up the landline at my house and called the landline at Jescie's.

Me: Hey Jescie, I'll be near your house next Monday! Want to meet up and get that Cold Stone?
J: Sure, sounds great! What time do you think you'll be there?
Me: Sometime between 5:15 and 5:30 depending on traffic.
J: Okay, do you need directions?
Me: Yeah, can you tell me the best way to get there from North Potomac?
J: (Gives directions) And so you know, the entrance to our place is on the left side of the house. You know what, I'll just be waiting outside for you at 5:15 so I can show you in.
Me: Great, thanks! See you then!

And I would have seen her then.

Easy. Simple. Direct. Complete.

Because once upon a time, we made complete plans before hitting the road. Once upon a time, we memorized our friends' phone numbers. Once upon a time, I didn't need total contact with everyone I know in order to function.

Sure, cell phones are great. In an emergency I feel much more secure and taken care of. But my gosh, I remember a time when I didn't have to rely on one. And sometimes I think that wasn't such a bad thing.