When I was in Japan, there was this combination video game/trading card obsession called Mushi King, which was an endless round of electronic beetle fights. All the kids were into it. They'd go to these kiosks where you are issued little cards with your bugs, and you keep them, like Tops cards but with stag and rhinoceros and other beetles on them. But your cards were coded to create avataor bugs in the machines, and you could use the cards to physically control your bug in the video game, minority-report style. Or at least, that's what it seemed like from a distance. You can certainly do such magic with other card/video games in Japan. Video soccer with the cards is huge. Anyhow, once I wandered into some high rise and took the escalator to the twelfth floor -- because you can always take like a dozen escalators in Japan -- and I found this giant room with a bunch of people smoking and battling their bugs furiously. Those were digital bugs, but this being Japan, it was also possible to see real beetles fighting to the death on TV. And if you miss it on TV, you can always just stop in at your local bizarro Japanese crazy store and pick up a DVD compilation of bug fights. Once, we were in Shinjuku at night, when the streets are filled with roaming bands of kids who look like they're in a video game themselves, and there was a crowd of gothic lolita and japanese psycho billies standing around, watching a closed store display of a gnarly bug battle compilation. That DVD was 4 hours, and I would not be surprised if some of those people stood there, rapt, the whole time. But if that can't find your way to Shinjuku, you can always just go here for a round robin of Japanese bug fights that is as fascinating as it is troubling.
Courtesy of pal Jon Korn, a stunning video connection. Step 1:
is the nutjob political version of Step 2:
Looks like babyfaced moron Glenn Beck is on the wrong network! The dude instinctively knows the pro pitchman rules: Don't stop the flow. Never circle back. Keep talking, even if you don't know what you're talking about. Think how many rotisserie chicken ovens dude could sell! (I guess "spelling" is just a just a method of social control "they" use to separate "us" from our AR-15s.) Or maybe Beck could combine his strengths:
If you join call the number on your screen and join the 9/12 movement now, we'll throw in a Slap Chop for free! You're love my nuts!
Yesterday, I spent part of the morning arguing with a friend as to the ongoing importance of film criticism. He said that film critics were like bees in September: dying slowly and stinging wildly in their final days. I said: Feh! Criticism is the last bastion of meaningful writing for a mass audience. My friend resorted to he elitism canard about how Ain't It Cool News and shit like that is more relevant to the people's tastes. I guess I'm not "the people," because I don't care what fanboys think about Avatar. (Which, if you ask me, looks retarded, and has no chance of escaping the long shadow of the fractionally expensive and work of genius, District 9.) Even if you don't agree with Manohla, she cares about the transcendent meaning of film, and I'm all for that. There's nothing better than reading a great film review, even if you're uninterested in the movie. Like, for example, Dennis Lim's consideration of the latest Final Destination -- a movie I could never see; my friend Starlee and I once considered creating a series of horror film reviews that would be based on their Wikipedia entries, since we would be too scared to watch the actual movies -- in which Lim manages to concoct and sell a critical connection between the four Final Destinations and the metaphysics of Ingmar Bergman:
Their first innovation
is the casting of Death itself as the antagonist, which turns out to be
quite pleasing from a design perspective. These are remarkably
streamlined, clutter-free movies, unencumbered by the need to identify
the killer or his motivation, let alone explain why he appears to die
at the end of one film only to be revived at the start of the next.
There is no supernatural or psychological back story and — a rarity in
this most charged of genres —no sociopolitical subtext to speak of. At
most, for those so inclined, the movies function as memento mori,
posing cosmic questions about fate and mortality. The arc of any “Final
Destination” film — a futile, movielong negotiation with Death — echoes
that of the Bergman classic “The Seventh Seal.
I mean, you know I love monkeys doing human things. As the poster of this video of a recent Banana Derby states in the description: "Monkeys wearing little jockey silks, riding dogs like horses! Hilarious!"
But the idiot quotient surrounding this particular event seems high enough to make the whole thing feel unseemly. Then again, it is pretty cool that the dogs and monkeys are such good friends. Maybe they are just waiting for the right moment to turn on their masters one day. Imagine: an army of monkey-equipped hounds, tearing through the audience with banana-fueled blood-lust. People running, and peels everywhere adding to the confusion -- now that's something I'd like to see.
Maybe that's because he is a little gremlin! Last collected in 1921, the pygmy tarsier weighs 50 grams, about as much as a king-size bag of Fritos. This particular guy was captured using "276 mist nets," according to the article -- which are what exactly? Gremlin-trapping devices, apparently. Although the mist nets are not quite perfect: "One other individual was spotted but eluded capture."
It's not every day that someone gets a 6,200-word A-section obit in the NY Times. I can't get enough of all the eulogies and remembrances of the runt of the litter who became larger than life, and I like this one because reads more like a novella than an obit, with tragedy and redemption and duty and family and addiction, not to mention the whole history of post-war America wrapped up in the life of one person. And since it's EMK and the obit has been in the works for years, each line of copy has been carefully finessed over time to a bright polish of literary flourish. I imagine that for all these years there was one guy somewhere in the Times building in charge of the Teddy file, constantly updating and perfecting this piece into an appropriately grand statement. Which is how we get grafs like so:
He was a Rabelaisian figure in the Senate and in life, instantly recognizable by his shock of white hair, his florid, oversize face, his booming Boston brogue, his powerful but pained stride. He was a celebrity, sometimes a self-parody, a hearty friend, an implacable foe, a man of large faith and large flaws, a melancholy character who persevered, drank deeply and sang loudly. He was a Kennedy.
When John, Jr. flew into the Atlantic, I was barely interested. Even the nostalgic shots of him saluting JFK at the funeral didn't really have much effect. But this one really got me.
139.34% is institutionalized loan-sharking, said our perennially dour-faced Atty General Jerry Brown, and a court agreed, fining the company $1m. Specific to the allegations were the deceptive ads, including those featuring innocent little Arnold. What they don't say is that once you're hooked by CashCall, that $2600 can cost you $10,762. And if you fall behind, they come after you. If anyone should, it's Gary Coleman himself: he agreed to the do the ads because he couldn't pay back the original loan. I guess it's true what they say: the pitch man is the scam's first victim.
Artist Amelia Bauer has redefined the excitement of cinematic fireballs by capturing stills of them on pillows. It's true. Among the movies quoted, as it were, for the series are Blood Diamond (above), The Departed,
Night of the Living -- and everyone's favorite scene from Zoolander:
Column One enlightens again, with one of those bittersweet "last" stories:
Hatano, 82, is the last farmer on the Palos Verdes Peninsula -- and the
last link to a Palos Verdes few remember, one dotted with farms worked
by Japanese immigrants and their families. Their garbanzo beans and
tomatoes, nourished by rain and ocean mists, were known worldwide...
For $631 a year, Hatano leases two sites totaling 14 acres from the
city of Rancho Palos Verdes. He still drives to his fields several
times a week to make sure things are running smoothly....
When he retires, the land will revert to the city and a century-old
tradition will end. "It represents our last connection to a previous
way of life," says Judi Gerber, author of "Farming in Torrance and the
South Bay." "I know that way of life is gone, but it's living history."
Since the last summary of the world’s mammals was published in 2005,
tallying the roughly 5,400 mammalian species then known, Dr. Helgen
said, an astounding 400 or so new species have been added to the list.
“Most people don’t realize this,” he said, “but we are smack-dab in the
middle of the age of discovery for mammals.”
The reason, however is likely because of unprecedented human penetration into the wild. So the age of discovery is accompanied by an age of extinction. Bad news for scientists and pseudo-scientists alike. So if you're going to find bigfoot, better do it soon.
In ninth grade we all took some kind of school district test that was supposed to provide career guidance based on your personal preferences. There were lots of questions -- about classes, grades, interests, etc. -- and at the end you would tabulate the results, consult your numbers against this big grid, and presto: instant professional planning!
But even in ninth grade we knew the the career grid was as dated as those false-color science books in the back of the library that speculated about how one day shall man walk on the moon, or the saturated super 8 Driver's Ed films that had been transferred to VHS but still featured cadillacs with fins giving Dodge Darts "friendly toots" to "stay aware on the asphalt." Our grid was a big chart of Traditional Jobs in Post-War America, a non-illustrated equivalent of a Richard Scarry book. Was David Witt really best suited to be a "deck hand" like the grid said? And I'm not sure many graduates of John Muir High School in the early 90s were really destined to go into farming, or air-conditioning repair.
Because I was good at math and liked drawing, I came up with architecture. Seemed sensible, I guess. And timeless. Better than deck hand, anyway. And so I took the grid's advice all the way to 12th grade, and wound up in architecture school, where the grid's oracular power was immediately shown to be fraudelent by the fact that I hated staying up all night trying to build models out of balsa wood for no apparent reason. Plus, even at seventeen my idea of architecture was basically still rooted in drawing maps in Dungeons and Dragons and so I couldn't understand why the studio proctor wasn't as interested as me in double-walled keeps and towers with parapets. You guys are missing out, I thought. I mean, Imagine how much you could spice up your commission with the the dramatic possibilities created by just one massive portcullis!
Not that I could have built my balsa-wood portcullis anyhow. I didn't have the patience. Or maybe I did, but I was discouraged by my competition. It seemed that no matter how hard one tried in studio, there were a dozen super-slick Asian dudes who showed up with a dozen different flawless models, all of which were better than ours and looked like they had been created by lasers in space. They weren't even products of all-nighters, like ours. They'd stroll in the next morning, groomed and calm, perfection in hand. The meticulous patience, attention to detail, and capacity for execution just couldn't be competed with. One of our assignments was to model some basic geometric shapes for accuracy and me and my roommate figured no one would try a ball since that was just too hard, and I swear all those asian dudes had somehow milled solid, perfect spheres to a micrometer tolerance in their dorm rooms.
I did like those chairs. That was probably the first thing that pulled me a few centuries forward from my prevailing medieval aesthetic. But cardboard is even messier and clumsier than balsa wood to work with for small-scale models. And yet, those Asian dudes could work wonders with it. They'd show up with incredible craftmanship, like so:
Now you're talking! Yes, that's made from cardboard. It isn't something from my architecture studio, but rather something I found on the internet that reminded me of those days, and why I quit before the first semester ended. How did I get out of it? I told the professors that I had a strange pain in my left testicle and never came back. True story.
You get this incredible Sunday NYTimes Magazine piece from a couple weeks back by Jack Hitt. Hitt never goes wrong anyhow, but this odd tale of Serbian war criminal Radovan Karadzic's hiding in plain sight in Belgrade as a long-haired mystical healer provides an opportunity for the unlikely combination of international justice, cultural insight, and a surprising dose of humor (especially for the NY Times) in one article. With just 5,000 or so words, the amount of narrative and nuance Hitt manages to layer in about identity and politics and some Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde suggestions about The Inner Struggle of Man is astonishgly efficient. Add to that the fact that Hitt almost gets killed in a right-wing bar -- and then manages to turn almost getting killed into a punchline -- and the piece should get some kind of award. Why isn't there a pulitzer category for Funniest News Feature? I hereby create, nominate and award this piece for that category, if only for the following passage, in which Hitt visits a sex therapist named Bojovic who was working with Karadzic's alter-ego, Dragan Dabic:
Bojovic is a man of many inventions and theories, which is how he and Dabic connected. He explained that his current work is a study of his nation’s penises. Before he would discuss Dabic, he insisted on walking me and Tesanovic through a scrapbook with some 2,000 Polaroid close-ups of middle-aged, mainly Serbian penises. Bojovic said that he had recently proved that Serbian men can have active sex until the age 102 and Serbian women until 84.
He seemed especially interested in treating “strong-blooded women who cannot live without sex.” For them he has invented a special device called an aplikator, which can bring on a “gentle orgasm” and which can also be marketed (he insisted on telling me despite my best efforts to stop him) to “men who have problems with the colon or problems in the bathroom.” He does not ignore the active man, however. For womanizers, especially, he has invented the Spermosan. It is a small metal cup that attaches snugly to the testicles; through the cup, Bojovic detonates “a gentle surge of electricity that makes the sperm fall asleep, and then a womanizer can go womanize without being afraid of an unwanted pregnancy.” Even though this invention is “the one most deserving of praise,” he reported that the total number of clients for the Spermosan was “not many.”
Remember when you used to read funny things on the internet and print them out? Me neither. But I guess I did, because I just was rooting around in some old files and found this piece of paper on which is printed one of them goofy craigslist ads. May have even been before Best of Craigslist, which is why I must have read it with a chuckle, murmured "got to save this one," and hit PRINT. And then stuck it in my closet for seven years. But I was on the right track, because I tried finding it again online, maybe on a blog, or perhaps even a livejournal. Guess what? Nuthin! Praise be to my anticipatory archival instincts and typesetting abilities for preserving this important material for posterity:
newyork.craigslist.org > housing swap > Christian Gun Owner Seeks Young Man to Help Around House
$350 / Christian Gun Owner Seeks Young Man to Help Around House
Reply to: firstname.lastname@example.org Date: Sat Nov 9 00:17:20 2002
I am a proud, freedom loving American in search of a young man to help out around the house. My wife died early this year and left behind myself and our 17 year old daughter. We are looking for someone to help out with chores around the house. In exchange you will pay $350 a month to live in the master bedroom.
The room is 25'x20' with its own private bath. It also has hardwood floors, a large bay window that faces the ocean, a frie place and comes fully furnihsed with a big screen TV and a stereo.
The chores include taking out the trash and feeding the dog, Rufus. You will also have full kitchen access and are invited to eat together with my daughter and I. But don't you dare lay a hand on my little girl. She may look a lot older than she is, but I guarantee you she is young and innocent and doesn't need a funny business in her life. If you touch her in a way that I think is inappropriate, I swear on my honor as a Marine and a Christian, I will make you sorry you ever hit puberty. Remember, every Marine is a trained rifleman.
This is perfect for a college student or an honest, god-fearing young man who needs a place to call home. Foreigners and other terrorist types not welcome.
Before you come by, ask yourself these questions -- Can I disassemble and clean a 1903 Springfield? An HK MP-5? An AR-15? A 1911 Colt .45? If so, how fast? Is that fast enough? Can I improve? How? Remember, these are important life skills, not just chores.
From the people so morally bankrupt they invented the "death panel" charge as a way to keep health care reform from saving thousands of lives comes this silliness:
In perhaps the most amusing effort to discredit US President Barack
Obama's plan for nationalized health care - if not the most ridiculous
- US financial newspaper Investor's Business Daily has said that if Stephen Hawking were British, he would be dead.
For starters, you'd figure that the "concerned citizens" yelling "keep your government hands of my medicare" from their donated wheelchairs would prefer that Stephen Hawking and his crazy scientific "ideas" died a long time ago. More importantly, of course, is how this argumen (like many made by opponents of health care reform) actually makes the opposite points, since Stephen Hawking is in fact British and has been kept alive by socialized medicine, a point he made himself:
"I wouldn’t be here today if it were not for the NHS," Hawking told The Guardian. "I have received a large amount of high-quality treatment without which I would not have survived."
And you missed your annual chance for insane clown camaraderie (well worth watching, if you haven't already), these handy decals by graphic designer extraordinaire Mike Davis allow you to re-create juggalo magic anywhere, any time:
The Zombie Zeitgeist A full scale movement is on the lurch. But why the best zombie movie ever made a video game?
Believer interview with Mark Allen Digital artist and awesome gallerist Mark Allen talks about Tekken Torture Tournament and other projects where people were wired to machines and did strange things in public.
Believer interview with Marjane Satrapi Enlightening Q & A with the Persian cartoonist, memoirist, quick conversationalist in which she declares: “THE WORLD IS NOT ABOUT BATMAN AND ROBIN FIGHTING THE JOKER; THINGS ARE MORE COMPLICATED THAN THAT.”
Yeti Researcher Yet another 100-page issue of the world's top academic journal devoted scholarship about the Yeti, Bigfoot, Sasqatch, and other mystery primates worldwide. For researchers and lay audiences alike, the latest YR features a history of Sasquatch sightings in southern California, an update on the wily orang pendek of Sumatra, and a new look into Teddy Roosevelt's obsession with bagging a Bigfoot. As Editor-in-Chief, I promise you won't be disappointed.
Panda PowerPoint! I guess I don't mind being "the entertainment" when it's at Mark Allen's second annual Holiday Fry-B-Que. Presented: preliminary findings from my ongoing research into the most charismatic megafauna of all: Giant Pandas.
McSweeny's Presents: The World, Explained | Dec 9, 2006 For those who missed it, there will be more. World, Explained is going strong! Money was raised, laughs were had, and for those paying attention, small amounts of useful information about things like the aurora borealis were transmitted. Plus: Michael Cera = lovably funny. And Nick Diamonds' renditions of Dumb Dog and Hanging Tough are still in my head. As is that horribly catchy Fresh Step jam.
Jest Fest at Skylight Books Somehow I wound up hosting the 10th anniversary jubilee for Infinite Jest at Skylight Books. Because who doesn't love a jubilee, right? Despite being delirious with Hepatitis A (that's the mild, non-lethal kind; I'm not at risk for Hep B since I always go the needle share and choose clean-looking prostitutes), I managed to not mis-pronounce anyone's name and make an erudite joke and poke gentle fun at Michael Silverblatt.
McSweeny's Presents: The World, Explained | June 10, 2006 Number Three! Last one was sold out so we moved to a slightly larger theater. Andy Richter hosted, and his opening exegesis of CSI: Miami warmed the people up right. Evany Thomas presented her very scientific findings on the Secret Language of Sleep; Starlee Kine bared her neuroses to the world (or at least the 300 people in the audience); Josh Davis showed video of his 135-lb self sumo wrestling a 550-lb opera singer from San Bernardino; and Davy Rothbart closed it out with some Found Magazine magic. Grant Lee Phillips, Sam Shelton and Zooey Deschanel provided the music punctuation! I can still hear their rendition of We Are the Champions.
McSweeny's Presents: The World, Explained | Feb 11, 2006 The second in our series of precision comedy and fact-based entertainment extravaganzas benefiting 826LA. Patton Oswalt was kind enough to host, and Jon Brion joined in on the piano and guitar as thematic accompaniment. Presenters included: David Rees, Michael Colton, John Hodgman (along with his hirsuit troubadour, Jonathan Coulton), and me. Plus: a fashion show of exciting multi-user garmentry.
Little Gray Book Lecture at Galapagos How to Observe President's Day. Jonathan Coulton's technical wizardry has made this entire show available online. The summary from PRX: Sarah Vowell, John Hodgman and Joshuah Bearman on Presidents' Day, along with a fifteen-piece marching band and a new song about all forty-three presidents. My contribution? Yes, from Yeti Researcher. Again. Actually that was the first one. So I have only five stories!
July 25: TJ to LA -- A Night McSweeney's Readings I was honored to be part of a strange triptych along with Salvador Plascencia and Josh Kun. Sponsored, somehow, by La Ciudad magazine, we all packed into Beyond Baroque with no air conditions. 150 people showed at 7 o'clock on a Friday evening, which we took as a good sign of something. Sal held up and anxiously discussed drawings from his novel, Josh delivered an essay on the Dr. Moreau of Tijuana, and my shtick (again) was Pac Man and metaphysics, this time with fun slides.
October 8th: Skylight Books w/Stephen Elliott Fun times were had by all. Someone in the audience actually mistook me for an expert on the psychology human character. We ate shrimp cocktail and drank cheap wine and laughed at Bush and celebrated the certainty of right besting wrong in American democracy. A lot of good that did.