Thursday, September 29, 2005

UPDATED: New Comedy: The Shining

UPDATE: The new Harvey Danger CD I discuss below is fantastic; I urge you to go download it for free as soon as you're done reading this post. I've now listened to it five or six times and it reveals new pleasures with each listen -- while older pleasures gain in power and welcome.

It's cranked up on the headphones even as I write this.


Via Screenhead (and many others), here's the trailer for that heartwarming and wacky new comedy from Stanley Kubrick, The Shining.

Okay, for fans of The Shining, this is no kidding the funniest thing I've seen in a while.

And, as a bonus to my readers (and via BoingBoing), Seattle's Harvey Danger have put their entire new album Little by Little online for free download. I don't know much about the group, but I consider myself a fan just on the basis of their megahit song Flagpole Sitta', with it's punchy beat and bitingly intelligent lyrics:

been around the world and found
that only stupid people are breeding
the cretins cloning and feeding
and i don't even own a tv

paranoia paranoia
everybody's coming to get me
just say you never met me
i'm going underground with the moles

hear the voices in my head
i swear to god it sounds like they're snoring
but if you're bored then you're boring
the agony and the irony, they're killing me

Delicious! Little by Little is playing on the computer even as I type this, and it's a beauty. I have crappy little speakers here, but every song so far has been a winner; I look forward to getting this onto the iPod for a serious listen. Or two. Or ten.

Incidentally, if you like the album, Harvey Danger would like you to know that they'd appreciate if you would support them by buying it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

UPDATED: The Museum of the Hard-to-Believe

UPDATE: Doh! My buddy Greg left a comment here that Johnny has closed the Freakatorium (see below) and moved to Connecticut with his wife. I posted back in June that he was closing, but when I checked the Web site I saw nothing about it and I assumed that he had somehow managed to stay open (silly me, to assume people update their Web sites when they actually SHUT DOWN PERMANENTLY).


Kudos again to the Web, whose intricate and organic linking structure yielded the idea for this post, a journey into unusual museums.

BoingBoing has a fun post about, a neat repository of lore and info about sword swallowing. They even have an extensive list of contemporary sword swallowers, including Prague's own Emil Ondracek, (who I used to watch all the time during my own fabulist days in this most extraordinary city) and my old acquaintance Johnny Fox.

Johnny is also the owner/curator of the Freakatorium (El Museo Loco) in Manhattan, a direct descendent to the "Cabinets of Curiosities" that used to grace every major city worthy of the name. Johnny's amazing collection of oddities and freak-related memorabilia includes sideshow banners, Tom Thumb's clothes, P.T. Barnum's "Fiji Mermaid," and Sammy Davis Jr.'s glass eye. I haven't been to New York for about a decade and I have yet to visit the Freakatorium, but it's definitely on my short list of things to do when I make it back.

Thinking about the Czech Republic (which, for my less geography-centric readers, is in fact where Prague is located) reminded me of the jaw-dropping Sedlec Ossuary in the Czech town of Kutna Hora. This world-famous church is decorated with the bones of about 40,000 inhabitants of the cemetery that used to lie underneath it. Check out the coat of arms and the chandalier; this place is definitely worth a visit!

Mystery writer John Connelly has a lovely article about Sedlec; he was so taken with the place that he featured it in his latest book, The Black Angel.

And while you're in Kutna Hora, be sure to take a stroll over to the new Museum of Alchemy.

Another legendary museum I've not yet visited is the Mutter Museum, run by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia (which, for my really non-geography-centric readers, is in the eastern part of the United States, close to Colorado). From the site:

The Museum's collections include over 20,000 objects, including approximately 900 fluid-preserved anatomical and pathological specimens; 10,000+ medical instruments and apparati, primarily dating between 1750 and the present; ca. 400 anatomical and pathological models in plaster, wax, papier mache, and plastic; ca. 200 items of memorabilia of famous scientists and physicians; and ca. 1500 medical illustrations in the form of lantern slides, 35 mm. slides, photographs, drawings, and prints

The Mutter is most famous for it's "fluid-preserved anatomical and pathological specimens" (there's a fun description here), but they also have an excellent OB-GYN Instrument Collection, among other medical historical curiosities. Currently, they are running an exhibit on conjoined twins.

I've saved the best for last. No visit to Los Angeles is complete without a visit to the Museum of Jurassic Technology (MJT), an educational institution dedicated to the advancement of knowledge and the public appreciation of the Lower Jurassic. MJT is a tough place to describe; it's a "cabinet of curiosities" in a similar vein to the Freakatorium and the Mutter, but it's also a meta-museum, a museum about museums. The exhibits at MJT are as much about the elusive nature of knowledge and the arbitrary construction of reality as they are about forgotten neurophysiologist Geoffery Sonnabend or the little-known megolaponera foetens, a stink-ant from Cameroon.

I first visited the Museum of Jurassic Technology about fifteen years ago, after reading about it in local artsy paper the L.A. Weekly. My friend Mark and I found the non-descript storefront on Venice Boulevard and wandered in. The proprietor, a soft-spoken simian-looking man named David Wilson greeted us calmly (the place was otherwise empty), took our money, and then suggested we start with the introductory movie.

From there things got strange and stayed that way. I'll not describe what we saw; best to visit yourself and find out. Deliriously gifted writer Lawrence Weschler was so taken with MJT that he wrote Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonders, a loving examination of the museum and it's creator. Weschler also co-produced a beautiful Sound Portrait on MJT that's as good a place as any to start your own exploration.

Since my visit, David Wilson has won a MacArthur "genius grant" Fellowship, expanded the physical space considerably, and earned himself a devoted cult of followers. I consider the Museum of Jurassic Technology to be one of the great conceptual masterpieces of this century, and I urge everyone to check it out if you go to Los Angeles (which, as my more geography-centric readers well know, is an easy forty-five minutes southeast of Orlando, Florida).


Special Honorary mention to the first reader who can identify the geeky pop-culture origin of this post's title.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Martha Stewart on Fur

I don't usually go for these short posts, but sometimes I get particularly inspired. Courtesy of PETA, Martha Stewart hosts a very grim but even-tempered five-minute informational film in which she renounces fur and describes (with plenty of supporting footage) where it comes from. Various methods of animal killing are shown; if you wear fur, you may want to reconsider after seeing this.

Quote of the Day

Insanity in individuals is something rare - but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule. -Friedrich Nietzsche, philosopher (1844-1900)

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

UPDATED: New Orleans: A Cameraman's Diary

[See the UPDATE at the end.]

BoingBoing has a couple of extraordinary posts from a news cameraman (who chooses to remain anonymous) about the conditions on the ground in New Orleans. The first is from September 4th, the second just went up today (although it's dated September 9th).

From the earlier post:

There are almost no news crews in the field trying to cover the story. Hundreds, if not thousands of media people are in the region - but I have driven back and forth through some of the worst neighborhoods in the city and you don’t see them. You don’t see the National Guard… don’t see ANYONE, except for the poor unfortunate souls wandering the streets looking for food or water. Many of them are on their last legs; they are literally not long for this world. It is surreal; it’s like a zombie scene from Dawn of the Dead. It’s disgraceful that in our times, we are seeing the complete disintegration of our ability to care for our own.

This is a racist issue, there’s no other way to look at it. These are the poorest of the poor. The people left behind in New Orleans are there for one reason only; they had no means to remove themselves from the city. Everyone who could get out, got out.

In the September 9 post, the cameraman says:

The desperation and fear is so personal, I feel unworthy even witnessing such deep heartfelt pain. But it is everywhere and it is the same scene over and over - and there is nothing that anyone can say or do that will make it any better. Everyone here is suffering the loss of a relative or friend or home or a job. And it goes on for miles and miles and miles.

What is striking is the incredible toll Katrina has taken emotionally. We often tend to focus on the dollar amount, the material costs and time. It’s as though all of the emotion and suffering is compounded by the shear enormity of the disaster. It’s hard to put into words just how much pain is concentrated in this region. So many people have lost their homes, their possessions, and loved ones.

Then, in discussing the relief effort, the writer says:

The lack of a plan is still the big story. Who is in charge? What is going to be done first? What are the goals? Evacuation? No evacuation? The New Orleans Police Department is trying to rebuild itself, and the National Guard seems to be the most organized. But there are way too many cops from as far away as Reno driving around with shotguns and M-16’s.

This is like a giant summer camp for law enforcement. There are hundreds of black and whites, armored cars, assault vehicles, and lawmen carrying every type of firearm ever made. It’s as though every police chief in the country put 20 officers in 5 cars and sent them to New Orleans - on overtime.

Of course, many are helping, but some have no orders or task to complete. So they drive around all day taking pictures, and then they go and sleep in their cars with the engine running and the air conditioning on. They are sightseers with guns taking “happy snaps” to show to all the folks at home. Complete with long tales of how they saved New Orleans.


And now, as a reward for reading this through, here's a joke to pass on (also from BoingBoing):

Q: What's George Bush's position on Roe v. Wade?
A: He really doesn't care how people get out of New Orleans.


UPDATE: The third -- and apparently, final -- dispatch from the anonymous cameraman, dated September 13th, is available here. Thanks again, BoingBoing!

Monday, September 12, 2005

On Open Source and Employment

The open source movement seeks to eliminate proprietary software and replace it with programs in which anyone can access, modify, and improve the code. The Linux operating system and the Firefox browser (which I'm using right now) are two examples of highly successful open source projects. Both of these examples have user bases which are growing exponentially, since they (and many other open source programs) provide viable alternatives to the overpriced, frequently unstable software available from large, private software vendors.

One such private software company, a 900-pound gorilla named Microsoft, made the mistake of offering a job to one of the leading figures in the open source movement, hacker historian and coder Eric Raymond. Raymond posted the job offer, along with the response, on his Armed and Dangerous blog, and it's quite hilarious:

I’d thank you for your offer of employment at Microsoft, except
that it indicates that either you or your research team (or both)
couldn’t get a clue if it were pounded into you with baseball bats.

Raymond goes on to expound on why he might not be the number one choice for the job, then ends with:

...I must thank you for dropping a good joke on my afternoon. On
that hopefully not too far distant day that I piss on Microsoft’s
grave, I sincerely hope none of it will splash on you.

Thanks -- once again! -- to Grow-a-Brain for the link.


Sorry for the light posting schedule; I've been without evening Internet access for the past week or so and it looks like it will continue for a while. It seems the cable coming into my new apartment is too weak to sustain an Internet signal, so I need to either 1. convince my landlord to lay a new cable or figure out what's up with the old one, or 2. go back to DSL and decide whether to keep the cable TV service if I can't also have cable Internet. Since I've become an E True Hollywood Story junkie (and a Daily Show junkie and an IFC junkie, and...), I'm loathe to give up this embarrassment of riches, in any case.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Schwarzenegger: Spineless Girlie Man

As expected, the "morally corrupt" Governator vetoed the gay marriage bill.

From Reuters: Schwarzenegger's press secretary, Margita Thompson, said the governor "believes that gay couples are entitled to full protection under the law and should not be discriminated against based upon their relationship."

But since California voters approved a ballot measure five years ago defining marriage as between a man and a woman, the question of gay marriage should be put to voters again in a referendum or decided by courts, she said.

All together now: Civil liberties are not a popularity contest. They are a fundamental human right.

The Fourteenth Ammendment says:

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

And the Supreme Court, in the landmark 1967 Loving v. Virginia decision, which declared a Virginia statute banning interracial marriage unconstitutional, said:

Marriage is one of the "basic civil rights of man," fundamental to our very existence and survival.

I understand the distinction put forth by Arnold's mouthpiece above; it would be nice if the courts would settle this issue once and for all. But in the meantime, is it too much to ask of our elected leaders that they actually lead? Do they have to hide behind technicalities rather than simply doing the right thing?

Gavin Newsom for President!

Friday, September 02, 2005

Disaster Rankings, circa 2001

The conservative Free Republic site reprints a December 1, 2001 Houston Chronicle article about a rather eerily prescient mid-2001 Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) report. In the report, FEMA scientists concluded that the three most likely catastrophic disasters to occur in the U.S. in the near future are: 1. A terrorist attack on New York City (which happened); 2. a massive earthquake in San Francisco; and 3. (drumroll, please) a hurricane and flood in New Orleans. Of the last scenario (the main subject of the article), the Chronicle says:

In the face of an approaching storm, scientists say, the city's less-than-adequate evacuation routes would strand 250,000 people or more, and probably kill one of 10 left behind as the city drowned under 20 feet of water. Thousands of refugees could land in Houston....

A big storm, scientists said, would likely block four of five evacuation routes long before it hit. Those left behind would have no power or transportation, and little food or medicine, and no prospects for a return to normal any time soon.

Wow. FEMA is taking a lot of abuse these days for being unprepared and slow to respond to the catastrophe in New Orleans and surrounding areas. It's nice to see that their scientists, at least, knew long ago what they faced.

Sacred Geometry - Plugs

I was hooking up the electronic hub in my new place (that's my fancy way of saying I was setting up the stereo) when I noticed the beautiful geometric shape formed by the intersection of plugs. Specifically, the angles got really interesting when I added a 1-3 plug going into the extension cord to fit the iPod power supply and the iBook plug. The black plug is for my power amp. Preamp and CD player (which I seldom use anymore) are going into a separate outlet on the other side of the stereo.

Anyway, I was struck very strongly -- for the umpteenth time -- just how extraordinary all this technology is. I now have about 300 CDs on my tiny iPod, and it's amazing to be able to play any one of them on demand through my stereo but then to also simply grab the thing and have the entire vast library available in my car and at the gym, too.

Even more astoundingly, my laptop has a wireless connection so I'm able to wander the house, sit around in my pjs (metaphorically speaking), and participate in a global conversation and database. Wired "Senior Maverick" Kevin Kelly has a stunning article in last month's issue about how mind-boggling the web's ten years has been. I can't resist these excerpts:

The scope of the Web today is hard to fathom. The total number of Web pages, including those that are dynamically created upon request and document files available through links, exceeds 600 billion. That's 100 pages per person alive.

How could we create so much, so fast, so well? In fewer than 4,000 days, we have encoded half a trillion versions of our collective story and put them in front of 1 billion people, or one-sixth of the world's population. That remarkable achievement was not in anyone's 10-year plan.

I noticed this with bemusement years ago. I used to read a highly influential cyberpunk magazine called Mondo 2000 back around 1990 or so. This San Francisco-based mind-bender of a magazine covered everything from artificial intelligence to virtual reality to psychedelic drugs to new theories of consciousness and reality. They were early adapters of email and other embryonic electronic networks, such as bulletin boards.

And yet, these tripped-out visionaries didn't see the World Wide Web coming. They totally missed it. (As Kelly points out, so did everyone else). There's nothing in any of those jaw-dropping early issues that describes a future even remotely as connected as the present we live in today. And this is still only the beginning.

Kelly again: The accretion of tiny marvels can numb us to the arrival of the stupendous. Today, at any Net terminal, you can get: an amazing variety of music and video, an evolving encyclopedia, weather forecasts, help wanted ads, satellite images of anyplace on Earth, up-to-the-minute news from around the globe, tax forms, TV guides, road maps with driving directions, real-time stock quotes, telephone numbers, real estate listings with virtual walk-throughs, pictures of just about anything, sports scores, places to buy almost anything, records of political contributions, library catalogs, appliance manuals, live traffic reports, archives to major newspapers - all wrapped up in an interactive index that really works....

This view is spookily godlike....

Why aren't we more amazed by this fullness? Kings of old would have gone to war to win such abilities. Only small children would have dreamed such a magic window could be real. I have reviewed the expectations of waking adults and wise experts, and I can affirm that this comprehensive wealth of material, available on demand and free of charge, was not in anyone's scenario. Ten years ago, anyone silly enough to trumpet the above list as a vision of the near future would have been confronted by the evidence: There wasn't enough money in all the investment firms in the entire world to fund such a cornucopia. The success of the Web at this scale was impossible.

But if we have learned anything in the past decade, it is the plausibility of the impossible.

Later in the article, he states:

There is only one time in the history of each planet when its inhabitants first wire up its innumerable parts to make one large Machine. Later that Machine may run faster, but there is only one time when it is born.

You and I are alive at this moment.
[snip]This will be recognized as the largest, most complex, and most surprising event on the planet.

Well, that about sums up how I feel, too. I consider the Internet to be the most important invention in the history of life on earth, and it amazes me that more people don't appreciate just how profoundly it is transforming and benefitting humanity. We are fortunate beyond imagining to be living in such times.