and I quote

june 2013

click for permalink June 28, 2013

Thanks to Benjamen Walker's newly reformatted podcast Too Much Information, I spent much of my afternoon thoroughly enjoying comic artist and writer Tim Kreider's articles on the NYT. Among my favorites is one titled The Referendum. It's about the peculiar voyeurism and judging we engage in when comparing our lives to the lives of our friends, especially those whose origins were similar to ours, but who have made very different choices in life — like most of his friends, he says, and most of mine.

Quite a lot of what passes itself off as a dialogue about our society consists of people trying to justify their own choices as the only right or natural ones by denouncing others' as selfish or pathological or wrong."

I have never even idly thought for a single passing second that it might make my life nicer to have a small, rude, incontinent person follow me around screaming and making me buy them stuff for the rest of my life. [Note to friends with children: I am referring to other people's children, not to yours.]" [from The Referendum by Tim Kreider.]

They're all filled with "painful truths" of this kind — a kind perhaps that resonates strongly with my demographic in particular. But it was one called I Know What You Think of Me that unpacked itself in my brain like a hidden archive of flashbacks so diverting I had to pause in the middle of my task of consuming his entire body of published work in one sitting — a bad habit the Internet makes way too easy anyway.

It's like Patton Oswalt says about being a nerd in the 1980s; it was better than being a nerd now (and not just because everyone thinks they're one now) because back then, between the releases of each new Star Trek film, issues of The Watchmen or albums by your favorite band, you had an agonizing, endless wait. It takes that kind of time to cultivate the truly maniacal levels of intimacy and longing that separate the nerds from the mere fans — and those interminable intervals were also fertile ground for our own creative urges.

But now we're never not jacked into the hive mind, sharing and absorbing other people's impressions about our obsessions, feeding and being fed every waking minute by our extended communities of common interest, instantaneously and endlessly. Mashups, remixes and homages have flooded the basement where our obsessions were once allowed to multiply and mutate in silence and darkness, alone.

Patton Oswalt concludes that having access to "[Everything That Ever Was—Available Forever] doesn't produce a new generation of artists—just an army of sated consumers."

That's the one part of his brilliant essay with which I disagree—because when was the last time you felt sated? After binge-watching every available season of your new favorite show, only to feel bereft once you've exhausted the entire supply? Any time I discover some new thing to like these days, I find I have to invent ways of tricking myself into behaving like a civilized person instead of a rabid consumer. It's too easy to become the sensation-crazed automaton that our economic model wants us to be, but devour everything in sight until there's nothing left, and you'll feel hungrier than when you started. We're more like an army of consumed consumers.

Back to Tim Kreider, it was only after reading several of his most recent editorials for the NYT and perusing the archive of comics on his website that I found a list of articles posted elsewhere. Scanning the titles, I suddenly saw one I recognized and realized that he was the author of one of my favorite articles of all time, "Introducing Sociology: Eyes Wide Shut" (for Film Quarterly). It was 10 years ago that I first read, bookmarked and forwarded that article to friends, and I credit it with single-handedly transforming my opinion of Stanley Kubrick.

Kreider's analysis cuts through all the lurid marketing and widespread missing-of-the-point that surrounded the 2000 release and reviews of Eyes Wide Shut, crafting an argument for everything the superficial viewer (which at the time I was) might mistakely attribute to flawed filmmaking. Notoriously fanatical about details, Kubrick was a director whose work stands up better than most to this sort of layered critical analysis; the meaning behind a certain camera angle, or the hidden connections between seemingly unrelated characters based on the colors they wear or the props with which they're framed. From the flat superficiality of the protagonists of the film to its compulsively candlelit, artfully cavernous rooms lined with bored/sinister figures in softcore-porn-like tableaus, this essay makes all the pieces fit together in a way I find totally convincing.

His comic ("The Pain—When Will it End?") is good too. I especially liked August 29, 2001— The Structure of Our Government (what does it say about the kind of nerd I am that I found his footnotes explaining "some of the nerdier references" totally extraneous?).


click for permalink June 26, 2013

Since the National Security Agency has been in the news lately, we've been treated to a lot of pictures of the seenister black monolith of their HQ building in Fort Meade, MD.

Am I the only one who finds it oddly reminiscent of the Kaaba?

Okay, take it easy... I'm not suggesting that it means anything. I just find it interesting that can't get through a news report on the recently unveiled global surveillance apparatus the US maintains, ostensibly to protect its citizens against the threat of terrorism, without being reminded of Mecca.


click for permalink June 24, 2013

I spent the last few hours on the Guardian's website reading their minute-by-minute coverage of Edward Snowden's flight from Hong Kong last night, tripping out over the history-unfolding feeling of the day's events and the weird moments of comedy that sprang up throughout the day as the international press and various governments were slowly starved of concrete facts, unable to confirm his whereabouts but still unwilling to admit they had nothing to report. At the news he had caught a flight to Moscow, journalists staked out the airport there, photographing random planes from the windows and emitting a nonstop barrage of Tweets from the crowded terminal.

After waiting several hours to board a plane to Cuba, which was believed to be the next stop in Snowden's No Sleep 'til Extradition tour, British journalists got a little punchy and began posting photos of guys who looked nothing like him, then quickly retracting same, speculating that the airport was crawling with Ecuadorian diplomats and "plain-clothed Russian agents" and attempting to interview other people who were milling around trying to interview people. Here are two of my favorite Tweets from the Guardian and Reuters reporters' as they documented their own descents into paranoid delirium:

This one really reveals the effects of sleep deprivation:

So... They can make you empty your pockets and take your shoes off, pour out your bottled water, shampoo and conditioner, force you to walk through an x-ray scanner and strip naked if they're not satisfied with that — all before you've even cleared customs. They can search your bags, detain you for hours, refuse you entry into the country or onto the plane without justification, and that's just in the western democracies. You're going from Moscow to Havana and you're confused about whether they can legally "borrow" your phone until the end of the flight (when you're not supposed to be using it anyway)?

By the middle of the day, Dick Cheney and John Kerry had weighed in with messages that were uncomfortably harmonious; Kerry to issue vague threats towards China and Russia if they're caught harboring or assisting the fugitive's escape, and Cheney to brag that he set up the NSA surveillance programs himself after 9-11, and assuring reporters that Congress had been unanimously fine with their complete lack of oversight. Even Ari Fleischer got to snark off on Twitter, answering the prayers of everyone who's been wondering what the former White House press secretary's been getting up to since the good ol' days of the invasion of Iraq.

By the end of the day, everyone was getting in on the fun...

But at this point it looks like the solitary governmental defender of the American Dream is Ecuador, whose Ambassador announced this afternoon that they were reviewing Snowden's application for asylum. He expressed concern over the threat to the whistleblower's safety and liberty, both implicit and obvious to everyone, should he be extradited to the the US, and proclaimed his country's desire to protect the rights of all whistleblowers to free speech and privacy. Where have I heard those things mentioned before..?

Photo by Luke MacGreggor/REUTERS

From the statement of Ricardo Patino Arocam, Ecuador's foreign minister, as transcribed by The Guardian:

"Ecuador's constitution says it will guarantee the safety of people who publish opinions through the media and work in any form of communication, he says. No human being will be considered illegal because of his immigration status... We do not do that in Ecuador... The UN protects the right to privacy and from abuse by technology... Every human being has the right to freedom of speech... and this includes not being attacked for exercising one's rights."

So here's my armchair activism for the day. I can't sign it since I don't currently live in the country or have valid identification, but I want to urge my imagined American audience to sign this. I don't expect it to have any particular effect, but I think it's important to be counted.

I don't know, maybe I am a tiny bit hopeful... This story has grown so much bigger than I expected, especially in the foreign press, despite the US government's predictable belligerence and bullying disregard for the rest of the world beyond its borders There's only so long it can go on imagining itself "the last superpower," a hollow fright mask with an expectation of autonomy, assuming that the rest of the world will always turn a blind eye to its overreach and abuse, as unquestioning as its own Stockholmed citizens.

China for one is not impressed, according to the BBC:

"Beijing's Global Times says China must fight back against "US hegemony in cyberspace... Instead of apologizing, Washington is showing off its muscle by attempting to control the whole situation," the newspaper says. "Snowden sounded the alarm, and we cannot cover our ears."


click for permalink June 22, 2013

Some random thoughts... starting with this, which is one of my new favorite things this minute: it is a blog in which there are screenshots from Mad Men with words written on them, e.g.:


Okay, so you see this picture of James Cameron during the filming of Avatar? The first thing that went through my mind when I saw this was, oh my god, he's Overdog from Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone...

Since few would argue with the fact that James Cameron is a film geek of the highest order, I'd be willing to bet he was thinking the same thing when they took that picture. "Hey, check me out! I am Overdog... Heheheh." Funnily enough, Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone was, much like Mr. Cameron himself, a completely Canadian production — all the way down to the inimitable Michael Ironside, typecast in the role of Overdog.

When Spacehunter was released in 1983 it was billed as "the first 3-D space adventure," although it was really more like the first in 30 years. You might have heard that 3-D technology's rapid flame-out after its introduction in the early 50s was due to the poor quality of the ill-fitting glasses and the fact that so many filmmakers at the time saw 3-D as an excuse to make the worst imaginable movies with lots of headache-inducing, "crap flying at you" effects in place of any actual story or suspense.

Being aware of this history, you might have figured that its reemergence in the early 1980s was the result of some new technological breakthrough or technique that would render the viewing experience something more akin to the oft-cited ideal of "virtual reality" than the relatively crude red-offset-by-blue trickery of the mid-century. But you would have been wrong. I don't know what triggered the return of 3-D as a genre — or a genre-suffix, as it was more often used (i.e.: You thought Jaws was scary... try Jaws 3-D!) — but it was definitely not innovation or creative ideas whose time had come.

The point is this; I saw Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone basically the minute it hit the theaters (with my parents, of course — I had just turned 10). We saw a lot of movies in the mid-80s, from drive-in showings of The Last Starfighter and Enemy Mine to double features of Alien and Aliens to, well, the first 3-D space adventure... so highly anticipated doesn't begin to describe it. Unfortunately, by the time the lights in the theater went down, I had already made the rookie mistake of touching my glasses as I tried to situate them comfortably on my face. Residual traces of butter-flavored varnish on my fingers reacted with the tinted mylar coating of the lenses in the way grease reacts with paper products of any kind, so for the duration of the movie, I could really only see clearly for brief interludes.

For a few moments at a time over the next two hours, I would find myself temporarily distracted, but that blissful state of willful ignorance was elusive at best. I kept adjusting and bending the card-stock paper frames to keep them from sliding down my nose and, when they did stay in one place, they itched like a paper cut. When I wasn't obsessing over how uncomfortable the fucking glasses were, I was trying to focus on watching the movie through one side of the glasses, since the popcorn-grease spot actually seemed to be spreading. Admittedly, my initial misguided attempt to "clean" the lens on my sleeve had made it much worse, spreading the popcorn grease around and adding a layer of lint so that the entire left side was blurry and corroded, which made it hard to look at the screen for very long without feeling sick.

(If you think it matters that this gif is in Portuguese, apparently you haven't been paying attention.)

My personal experience of physical discomfort aside, it was obviously a laughably horrendous film (you did catch the name, after all?), but I still remember it somewhat fondly. One review that I found sees Spacehunter as part of a larger context in books and film, aligned with the long, if not remotely distinguished, tradition of "pulp magazines of the 1950s [featuring] scantily clad damsels in distress held unconscious in the arms of a monster or an alien, to be used — ostensibly — for some unspeakable, inhuman pleasure." He goes on to claim that "Spacehunter undeniably pay[s] tribute to long-standing pulp tradition at the same time [as] it looks forward to the next iteration of the genre: cyberpunk."

That helps to explain, to my mind anyway, why I still vividly remember such a horrifically trashy movie 30 years later (oh yeah, I said it). You know, it's funny but I didn't even think about the obvious connection between Spacehunter which ushered in the early-80s 3-D renaissance and James Cameron doing an homage to it (consciously or otherwise) whilst filming Avatar, the movie that single-handedly resurrected 3-D again, for better or worse. Come to think of it (or find it via IMDB trivia, whatever), he was on the 3-D bandwagon long before that. In 1999 he directed T2 3-D: Battle Across Time, a Terminator-themed Universal Studios attraction that combined 3-D and live-action into a 12-minute movie/immersive experience. At $60 million, it was "the most expensive venture per minute in movie history."

"The burden of civilization is upon us..."

Night of the Comet... Now there's a cheesy 80s sci-fi/horror movie I have no qualms about remembering (or being able to quote lines from, even).



click for permalink June 19, 2013

You might have thought I'd be mourning the loss of The Daily Show, but who needs J-Stew when we've got Rap News? The timely rhymes from the scribes at Juice Media always make me smile. (Brilliant, you say... but can a sistah get a transcript? Oh yes, she can.)

You know I can never pass up a personality test or weirdly insightful algorithm like the one that can tell your Meyers-Briggs type from a blog post. If you paste a couple of paragraphs into this one, it tells you which famous writer your writing is most like. Yes, no doubt it's highly subjective and who knows what sort of analysis it's actually doing — I suppose a paragraph mentioning food could automatically return a verdict of Julia Child (or Anthony Bourdain, if the same sample contained profanity) — but flattery goes a long way, and with a result like this you won't catch me complaining.

I write like
David Foster Wallace

I Write Like. Analyze your writing!

click for permalink June 15, 2013

Last week I said I would post some pictures of the t-shirts I've been printing, and here I am doing just that. (I'm as surprised as you.) These are based on the drawings I post every month from Sketchy's, with color added after the fact. And I've been playing with gradients in Photoshop; downloading them by the thousands, then trying one after another after another until my index finger gets tired of pressing the right arrow button, and then (obviously) printing and ironing them onto every t-shirt I can find in my closet. Too much fun.


click for permalink June 12, 2013

I've spoken of this before, but for someone who doesn't have and never wants children, I find it weirdly fascinating to study the trends in children's names, and apparently I'm not alone in this (well, maybe I am in name only). Last week at The Awl, a writer named Emma found it fascinating enough to post an article titled "Before Too Long, Everyone You Know Will Be Named Emma" along with this infographic by Frank Jacobs of StrangeMaps fame:

"Last year, a total of 20,791 Emmas were born in the US... only surpassed by the 22,158 Sophias... Together, both names came out on top in 47 of the 50 states."

If you liked that, you might also enjoy this map of the most popular boys' names in the US circa 2012.

So what else is going on right now? Well, I stumbled across the web portfolio of an old friend (named Julie) and had one of those rare moments of pleasant surprise when, instead of scrolling down a page filled with fragments of people I used to know and repeatedly thinking, "jesus, what's wrong with this person?" until I could no longer stand the carping, snarking, judging sound of my own inner voice, I found myself thinking, "wow, what a cool website." Considering the fact that we haven't spoken in about 10 years, it's a funny little synchronicity that the book she's currently reading is 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People by Susan M. Weinschenk, which I just finished ordering from Amazon earlier today. I also especially enjoyed this:

So, obviously the big news this week is about NSA whistle blower Edward Snowden and his revelations/confirmations of your worst fears about the US government as panopticon police state, vacuuming up every conversation and transaction conducted or transmitted on the world's inescapably entangled web of spyware-enabled, geo-locating, face-recognizing devices. The best coverage is by Glenn Greenwald at The Guardian, if you can avoid the two-faced kitten strategically/democratically placed on the page to test your resolve... Guarding the entrance, Cerberuslike, if you will.

If one were feeling a tad exposed after all this talk of massive cross-referenceable databases connecting years of phone records, emails, documents, photos, Internet searching and purchases, credit card and bank records, passwords and everything stored "in the cloud" with all your CCTV appearances and the digital breadcrumbs that trail behind you in the real world through your phones and cars, transit and parking passes, traffic sentinels and embedded cameras in all your devices, you could be forgiven for being more than a little intrigued by the idea of Dazzle makeup. This fledgeling technology is based on a WWI-era camouflage technique developed by the British navy at the dawn of the 20th Century. Ships at sea, especially giant gun turret-encrusted battleships, are clearly visible and easily identifiable against the wavy horizontal undulation of the ocean, with their sudden interruptions of vertical lines and precise angles. So they painted their fleet using "a system of stripes and disrupted lines to distort the external shape by violent color contrasts and confuse the enemy about the speed and dimensions of a ship." (Wikipedia)

Dazzle makeup, similarly, is designed to break up the predictable components that computers have learned to identify as comprising facial features, foiling their ability to "recognize" your face as yours, or to "see" a face at all. Reminds me of Arnold crouching in the mud, his face masked in the colors of the swamp, rendered invisible to the technologically-enhanced eyes of the Predator.

Not to be confused with this Dazzler, of course. (Doll designed by Shannon Craven of Flutterwing Designs.)

So thanks to our friend Char's recommendation, we spent much of last week burning through two seasons of "The Killing" on Netflix. The show received mixed reviews but one thing that's unimpeachable, at least in the first season, is the caliber of the acting. All the main characters are incredibly strong, especially at the start of the show, and despite some serious fluctuations in the quality of the writing towards the middle, I'd still rank it in the top 5% of shows out there and recommend it without reservation. Like I said, we spent several days this past week immersed in its dark, unrelentingly rain-soaked Seattle/Vancouver hybrid world, running the gamut of emotional responses over the course of 26 episodes. Starting with astonishment and delight at the pilot, riveted by its masterful composition of characters and contrivances, rapt with attention as it built towards a crescendo of expectation tinged with trepidation.

...Followed by no small amount of irritation and disillusionment as the first season not only failed to resolve but compounded cliffhanger insult with red herring injury in the finale's final moments. We cleansed the palette with an episode of J.J. Abrams' sci-fi "corps 'n' covert ops" drama "Fringe" before plunging into season two of "The Killing," then bitched our way through the dregs of a few disappointingly uninspired episodes until somewhere around the fifth episode when the writing finally seemed to straighten up and fly right.

The show regained some equilibrium in the second half of season two, but never entirely recaptured the original air of ownership over its storyline as it forced the audience to overlook a few too many glaring, contradictory if not ridiculous plot holes in an attempt to weave a complex enough narrative to justify the two-year arc it had spent unravelling a single mystery. But it ultimately succeeded in delivering a more satisfying ending than I expected, wrapping up all the loose ends in the final episode and closing the proverbial book mostly for good. It wasn't until after the credits rolled on that last episode that we looked online and discovered that the show had actually just been renewed for a third season. The first episode aired — you guessed it — last weekend.

We've also been catching up on the "extras" from Mad Men Season Five since my number finally came up on one of the library's copies, and we're keeping up to date on Season 6 as well as some of the more detailed, verging on obsessional episode recaps out there on the Internets, like the ones at The AV Club and this one that deconstructs the whole Bob Benson phenomenon as well as the fashion and interior design sense of the show from a "big ol' mouthy gay" perspective. (So that's what I've been missing!)

So I'll leave you with a rather mind-blowing departure from type for Breaking Bad's Walt Jr., in anticipation of the show's return this month for what is sure to be an insane, all-bets-are-off final season. (No, I don't think it contains any clues about his character's trajectory in upcoming episodes. It's just eye candy.)

click for permalink June 5, 2013

This might be my shortest post ever, but if I waited until I had more to say... well, we all know how that turns out (or doesn't). Anyway, I wanted to post this video of one of my post-Sketchys drawings, which encapsulates half the fun since I started "finishing" them at home. This one started out as a five-minute sketch last Sunday night and at regular speed, the rest took me just under an hour and 20 minutes (the video is just over five minutes long at 16x speed).

Thanks to Mr. Pink for giving me the brilliant idea and then helping me futz around for over an hour with a clip-on external webcam, then trying to figure out how to connect our camera via usb to use it as a webcam (impossible, it turns out (although by the time I write this I'm sure someone will have invented, uploaded and monetized the perfect solution which I won't bother researching for another six months), then finally rigging up a speaker stand to hold my laptop at a 150 degree angle to the drawing surface so I could use its webcam and the rest is YouTube/ history. Yes, we are a zany, madcap pair... It's a nonstop erotic cabaret at Chez Pink, let me tell you.

Seriously though, is he a great boyfriend or what? He's like the real life version of that Handmade Ryan Gosling meme. "Girl, I'd love to drop everything and spend an hour rigging up a webcam so you can post a video on your website where two — maybe two and a half — dozen people worldwide will see it."

Next time, I'll post some pictures of Maddy the Mannequin modelling some of the t-shirts I've been printing lately. I would do it today but it's such a pain in the ass taking her arms off and putting them back on again between every change of clothes. I could ask for help but I don't want to push my luck... Even Ryan Gosling has his limits.