Just His 19th Nervous Breakdown

The Reanimated Corpse of Keith Richards has demanded an apology for a bad review of a recent Reanimated Corpses of the Rolling Stones concert in Sweden.

This explains a lot, and actually makes me feel a bit better about the Stones. Maybe they haven't sold out, after all. Maybe they're not just in it for the money. Is it possible that Keith, Mick and the boys actually think they're still a credible rock-n-roll band? That they think they're going out there and "sticking it to the man" every night? That they truly don't see what a bad joke they've become for basically the entire rock music world outside of their namesake magazine?

"Write the truth," Keith demands in his letter. "It was a good show." Oh, well, if Keith says it was a good show, it must have been a good show, right?

Look, Keith..."Beggars' Banquet," "Let it Bleed" and "Sticky Fingers" will remain undeniable classics, absolute essentials of any rock aficionado's collection for as long as there is rock music, whether on vinyl, 8-Track tape, CD or iPod. Nothing you can do today will change that or threaten the Stones' status as one of the best, most significant and important rock bands in history. Your cameo in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End was by far the best thing about that movie, and you were far cooler in a five-minute appearance than Mick was through the entirety of Freejack.

But Keith, you're both an old man and a millionaire many times over. It's pretty stupid for you to be griping about a bad review in Sweden. And don't kid yourself - there's just no way your fingers are as nimble on the ol' axe as once they were. Don't try to convince anyone that the Stones can put on a show in 2007 that's anywhere near what you did in 1967 - because, c'mon, you and I both know that just ain't so. You're the same age as my Dad, Keith, but you look like you're the same age as Bob Dole. Hard living catches up with you. My Dad, at your age, likes golf, fine wine, Sunday afternoon naps, vacations where he can do a little SCUBA diving and a lot of sitting by the pool. He does not, as a general rule, ever try to convince anyone that he's still 23 years old, or even capable of all the things he was at that age.

Hey, go ahead and keep playing. No one's saying you can't. Feel free to put yourself out there to be the butt of jokes on late night talk shows - and seriously, you're old enough that the jokes about how old you are are twenty years old themselves. Go ahead, keep playing, keep making albums of ever-diminishing quality, keep selling tickets to rich and nostalgic Baby Boomers at $200 a pop. But don't get your Depends in a wad when someone points out that maybe you're not what you used to be.

The Loud American

Every now and then as I write, I use a word that I'm pretty sure means what I want to say, but not entirely sure. At times like these, I pause, open my dictionary widget, and look up the word to make sure I'm using it right. Pretty standard practice, I suppose.

The other day, George W. Bush made a speech in which he compared Iraq to Vietnam. What didn't appear in the news stories and the, "Uh, really, George?" commentary was the bit where Bush's speech writers attempted to make him appear erudite and well-read by tossing in a reference to Graham Greene's The Quiet American. The problem with this, as Greg Mitchell at Editor & Publisher points out, is that neither Bush nor his speech writers appear to have read or at least understood The Quiet American.

And there you have, in a nutshell, what I loathe about this president and his administration. Their philosophy has always been that the appearance of intelligence, confidence and leadership is just as good as actual intelligence, confidence and leadership. A lie repeated often enough and stridently enough becomes just as good as truth. Pretend to know what you're talking about often and stridently, and it's just as good as actually knowing what you're talking about. They don't pause to look things up in the dictionary because it doesn't matter to them if they're truly using the right word in the right way as long as it appears that they are.

Art is Not a Contest

Ah, the internet. Where everyone is an expert on every subject and isn't afraid to share their expertise. Here, for example, we have a fellow who claims to be "an arts buff" and yet here clearly demonstrates that he knows nothing about art. Whining about the perceived "lack of skill" amongst modern artists, he makes a number of ludicrous claims.

"However," sez he, "I contend that the highest skill in painting is the ability to create a convincing human likeness without resorting to tracing a photograph or other mechanical tricks." This is a dubious enough claim to begin with. This "arts buff" seems like he's probably the kind of guy who goes to an art museum and spends the whole afternoon in the modern/contemporary wing snorting and saying, "Well, I could do that!" or even better, "Well, my four-year old could do that!" It's the sort of thing you hear all the time at art museums. I always say to myself, "There are probably ways to spend the day that you would enjoy more...the Natural History Museum is right across the street..."

People tend to think of "art" as a standard by which creative works are judged. Paintings by Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Monet are Art-with-a-capital-A. Pollack, Rothko, Matisse...well, I could do that. Art somehow has to involve a superior talent or ability that "average" people do not possess. An artist is something akin to a professional athlete. Tom Brady and LeBron James are, by objective standards, better in their chosen fields than an "average" person. An artist must, therefore, be better at art by objective standards than an average person, too.

But it just ain't so. Art is not a standard by which creative work is judged; art is the result of creative work. The world of art can perhaps be divided into "good" and "bad." It cannot be divided into "art" and "not art." The point is not that the artist does something that you cannot do, the point is that the artist does something that you do not do. Although some academics will claim otherwise, the fact is that art is ultimately democratic and open to all. Some academics use terms like "outsider art" and "underground art," but it's really all just art. Art is about provoking response, not engaging in a talent competition.

Our "arts buff" throws out an absolute gem in the midst of this: "Picasso was not top-notch when painting people, and this is one of the reasons I don't consider him a great artist: his greatest skill was in public relations."

Up above, at the top of this post, are two self-portraits. On the right is Picasso's famous 1907 self-portrait. On the left...well, that's by Picasso, too. If the "arts buff" had done, oh, two minutes of research, flipped through a basic book of 20th-century art history, done a single Google image search, he would have discovered that his claim that Picasso couldn't paint people is pure bullshit. Picasso was perfectly capable of painting a convincing human likeness. That simple Google image search would have turned up Picasso's famous portrait of Gertrude Stein, certainly a convincing human likeness, on the 11th hit.

Picasso didn't paint the way he did - or at least, the way he did most famously - because he was unable to paint "realistic" portraits. He painted the way he did because he chose to do so. He chose to explore bigger and deeper concepts than the simple creation of "realistic" human likenesses. He chose to attempt to convey a different way of seeing and to transcend the limitations of human binocular vision.

Apple used Picasso in their gramatically horrifying "Think Different" ad campaign several years back, which is just about right. It's not just that Picasso was able to think differently, but that he was able to see differently. And that, to me, is what great art really is - a medium to convey some small bit of the artist's mind or vision. Great art must have a point of view and something to say. Not that it should have an Aesopian moral - but that it should make the viewer think or feel. Convincing human likenesses are nice, but they rarely do that for me.

If you're out there truly making the claim that the man who created "Guernica" was not a great artist, I just can't lend a whole lot of credence to what you say.

All The Wrong Lessons

The BBC headline read, "Bush Warns of New Vietnam in Iraq." Curious and thinking that this was sort of like warning JFK not to go to Dallas in 1968, I clicked thru...

President George W Bush has warned a US withdrawal from Iraq could trigger the kind of upheaval seen in South East Asia after US forces quit Vietnam.

"The price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens," he told war veterans in Missouri.

Ah, of course. I had forgotten that in Bushworld, Vietnam was a disaster only because the United States failed to "stay the course" and pulled out after only ten years and a measly 60,000 dead American soldiers and a paltry five million dead Vietnamese combatants and civilians. If we hadn't been quitters, if we'd had the balls to stick with it for another ten years, why then we would have won, dammit. If we quit at the first sign of hardship, like we did in Vietnam, we'll never win anything.

In Bushworld, it is reasonable to assume, then, that the main lesson of the study of history is that winners never quit and quitters never win.

In Bushworld, the main lesson of algebra class is that 2 plus 2 can equal 5 if you insist that is does long enough and loud enough.

In Bushworld, the main lesson of English class is that Winston Smith wasn't patriotic enough and couldn't see how much Big Brother loved him.

In Bushworld, the main lesson of science class is that when your hypothesis is disproven, you need to change to a new hypothesis and claim that it fit the facts all along.

In Bushworld, Aristotle was Belgian, the central message of Buddhism is "every man for himself" and the London Underground is a political movement.

No, That's Your 19th Century Anarchist Revolutionary Name

Is there any game in the history of dumb start-a-pointless-five-minute-conversation-at-a-party game than the "What's Your Porn Star Name?" game? Especially since people always get bogged down in the rules of which one is your Porn Star Name and which one is your Drag Queen Name and so on and so forth.*

(Click to embiggen to legible scale)

As it turns out, there is. Nice work, Cat and Girl (aka super-awesome webcomic that I have somehow only just discovered)!

* Or maybe it's an awesome game and I'm just bitter because my Porn Star/Drag Queen name is J├Ągen 42nd Avenue. Who can say for sure?**

** Actually, I can say for sure. That game is stupid and it sucks.

Busy Busy Busy

We've arrived home after a busy weekend in Cali. Because of the timing of the flight, we never really ate dinner. I spent the entire drive home from the airport literally salivating over the the idea of seaweed salad and sushi-stuffed tofu bags.

A ham sandwich on thoroughly squashed bread was satisfactory...but I was a little disappointed that our fridge didn't magically fill with Japanese food while we were away...

1000 Words

Jennifer de Guzman, E-i-C of SLG Publishing, has this to say in an entry in Blog@Newsarama's "I ♥ Comics" series:

Here’s a confession: Comics are not the storytelling medium I love best. That place in my heart belongs to prose. I have degrees in English literature and creative writing, and when I tell stories, prose is the medium that comes most naturally to me. I adore words, and even as a kid didn’t balk from reading books without pictures in them.

However, as much as I would like to believe that words can express everything, I know that sometimes they can’t, and that sometimes they need to step aside and let images do the talking.

Think of a funny story that you were a part of. Think of how many times you've told that story, grinning and trying to keep yourself from laughing, and you get to the part about how his pants were around his ankles and he was covered in pistachio pudding and that's when the fire department showed up...and then you look up and realize that you're surrounded by a sea of blank or quizzical looks. You know the feeling, right? What do you say at that moment? "Well, I guess you had to be there..." Some things, you just can't describe with words.

It is, of course, possible to write enormously funny prose. Possible, but difficult. The people who can write truly laugh-out-loud funny prose are few and far between, and generally don't get the credit they deserve. Neil Gaiman described part of his impetus for writing Anansi Boys as the desire to write something funny. It was generally assumed that the collaboration between himself and Terry Pratchett on Good Omens involved Gaiman plotting and Pratchett dancing around in the background tossing out jokes. Knowing that this was not the case and desiring to demonstrate his own ability to be funny, Gaiman set out to make Anansi Boys funny. And it is - but in a more dry, witty, PG Wodehouse kind of way, the way in which you read something, smile and say to yourself, "That's funny," not the way in which you actually laugh as you're reading. Gaiman is a terrifically talented writer, of course, but has a tough time making readers laugh. Even his friend and collaborator, the aforementioned Mr. Pratchett, widely acknowledged as one of the great living writers of humorous prose, can't do it all that often. Or try reading one of the rash of books released by stand-up comics about ten years ago - Jerry Seinfeld's Sein Language, or Tim Allen's Don't Stand Too Close to a Naked Man, for example. Again, amusing, but not really funny.

Switch mediums and you've got something else altogether. Get Jerry Seinfeld actually performing, and the material comes alive and is hilarious.

Which brings us to comics - the first strip pictured above is by the great MAD Magazine cartoonist Sergio Aragones. It gives us a quick and humorous little story with no words at all. Not only does it not need any words, the joke only works visually. Try taking the same gag and making it funny as a prose piece or a joke you tell your friends at the bar.

Better still is the "9 Chickweed Lane" strip below it. The Aragones piece could work as some form of motion picture just as well as a comic strip. The "9 Chickweed Lane" strip works only as a comic strip. The gag depends on the interplay of words and pictures, but moreover, it depends also on the familiarity of the viewers with the conventions of the comic strip. It can't be translated to another medium, and it presents a bit of humor that no other medium could create.

This, I suppose, is part of the reason why humor strips dominate the newspaper comics page while adventure serials and soap operas have disappeared either to the dustbin of comics history books or "They still publish that?" obscurity. Although humor is possible in all media, it is something to which comics are uniquely suited.

Take that same story, the one with the pistachio pudding and the fire department, and turn it into a comic. Instead of your audience hearing events second-hand, you've suddenly turned them into...well, yourself. A first-hand observer of the events. Maybe I'm wrong, but I'm of the opinion that you're going to get a lot more smiles, chuckles and outright belly laughs that way.

Might be there's something to that old saw about the value of a picture, after all...

Look Up

If you have any way to get out of the city this weekend, do it. If there's any chance you can take off work on Monday, take it. Slurp down a couple of double espressos Sunday night, throw a couple of blankets in the car and get as far away from the polluting lights of the city as you can.

Earth is in the midst of its intersection with the orbit of the comet Swift-Tuttle. The comet is far away, but the dust it leaves in its path is not. Sunday night marks the peak of the annual Perseid Meteor Shower, the biggest and most spectacular shower of the year. This year should be a memorable one, as the meteor shower's peak coincides with a new moon. The sky will be dark and the cosmos will put on a fireworks show better than the 4th of July.

As Earth passes through the dust cloud left behind by the comet, the dust will enter the upper atmosphere at fantastic speeds. The tiny bits of cosmic debris will ignite, leaving spectacular trails of light across the sky. At the absolute peak, before dawn on Monday morning, there could be a meteor a minute.

If you have the chance, drive way way out, as far from the city as you can reasonably get. Throw one blanket across the hood of the car, bundle up in the other as necessary, turn towards the east - the meteors will appear to originate from the constellation Perseus, in the eastern sky, just above red light of Mars - lay back on your blanket, look up, and watch the show.

You Suck, Barry

The cheating bastard on the right, you might recognize. He's all over the TV, the newspaper and the internets at the moment. Barry Bonds, major league baseball's new all-time Home Run King. The fellow on the left? The one who doesn't even appear to be the same species as Bonds? Yeah, that's Bonds, too. Okay, maybe he just started a new weight-training program a few years back. Or, more likely, he's a great big cheating bastard. Earlier this evening, the 'roided-up San Francisco Giants slugger hit his 756th career home run. It's an achievement of sorts, I guess. Bonds calling himself the Home Run King is sort of like someone riding the Cog Railway to the summit and then claiming to have climbed Pikes Peak.

I'm not a great fan of or participator in the Moral Outrage that is popular amongst sports columnists these days. The sportswriters have collectively turned in thousands upon thousands of column inches about how the antics of Randy Moss and Terrell Owens have besmirched the proud and upstanding traditions of American football. Me, I thought it was hilarious when T.O. pulled a Sharpie out of his sock to autograph the football with which he had just scored a touchdown, and absurd but essentially harmless when Moss pretended - pretended, mind you - to moon the fans at Lambeau Field. But here we have a bit of Moral Outrage I can get behind.

You suck, Barry.

Being a self-aggrandizing prick isn't exactly noble, but it is, in the end, fairly meaningless. Being crass and vulgar is no more admirable, but again, it's meaningless. Hell, Babe Ruth, the God of American Professional Athletes, was a crass, vulgar, self-aggrandizing prick. Cheating is something else entirely. I wouldn't care if Bonds, who has long been widely regarded as the biggest asshole baseball has to offer, had set the record if a reasonable case could be made that he had done so honestly. Fair and square, as they say.

Some apologists are making the argument that we are living through "the Steroid Era" of professional baseball, and Bonds' accomplishment is okay because everyone he's playing against is juiced up, too. This argument is total bullshit. That everyone is cheating doesn't make cheating okay. More importantly, Bonds has notably been competing against two people who weren't on the 'roids: Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron.

I hate to be all "won't someone please think of the children?" here, but won't someone please think of the children? How are we supposed to teach kids about the value of sportsmanship and fair play when someone is making headlines and raking in the dough by cheating, disregarding everything we think is important about not just sports but life in general, and everyone sees it, acknowledges that it's going on, and just shrugs and says, "Well, whattaya gonna do?" The message here isn't "cheating is wrong," but rather, "cheating sucks, but there's no way to stop it." The lesson is that it isn't wrong if you don't get caught, especially if there's a buck to be made.

Everyone involved comes out better if nobody really acknowledges what's going on. Barry gets his record. Major League Baseball gets to sell tickets and merchandise (this could, of course, lead into a whole other post: "You Suck, Bud Selig."). The sports media gets an event to hype and to debate.

And that's something I don't get - what's to debate? Why all the discussion on ESPN about "what do you think?" What can any reasonable person who loves baseball think? Bonds stole a coveted record with chemical enhancements. He cheated, plain and simple. How many opinions can anyone really have about cheating?

My fondest wish regarding Barry Bonds is that enough proof will come out over the next few years to nail him. Maybe he gets to keep his record, maybe not. But I have a lovely image in my head of Barry Bonds and Pete Rose appearing at baseball card shows together in fifteen years, both getting into the Hall of Fame only by paying admission, signing balls and desperately trying to gain the public's forgiveness and acceptance. Rose has, of late, been signing balls with the inscription, "Sorry I bet on baseball." Maybe they'll both be sitting there, side by side, at a table at the mall, signing balls, "Sorry for being scumbags." It'll never happen, of course. It's in everyone's interests to pretend the steroid problem doesn't exist, ignore it and it'll go away, so Bonds will be a sure-shot Hall-of-Famer, enshrined alongside the guys who did it the old-fashioned way. But it's a nice image, isn't it?

Bonds has officially put lie to the old chestnut, "Cheaters never prosper." He seems to be prospering just fine.

You suck, Barry. For your lofty achievements through cheating, you suck. You suck great, hairy, green, infected-pus-oozing, syphillitic donkey balls. You suck, you suck, you suck.

I really mean it. You suck, Barry.

Your List Sucks

Dwight Silverman, blogging for the Houston Chronicle, writes a list of "15 Geek Novels to Read Before You Die." It's a decent list with a few interesting choices (The Catcher in the Rye, Cat's Cradle) interspersed amongst the usual chestnuts of such lists (The Lord of the Rings, Dune, Hitchhiker's Guide). I'm not sure just why Holden Caulfield's disillusionment and alienation qualify as a "geek novel," but that's kind of the point of such lists. It's a fun and fairly easy thing for a blogger or columnist to throw together when he doesn't really have any other ideas about what to write (e.g. my own GBN Top Five lists). With luck, it'll inspire some discussion and fun conversation. There's even an off-chance that some geek out there who may have had a humiliatingly deprived childhood and never heard of A Wrinkle in Time before reading such a list will now seek it out. Meaningless fun, right?

The geek response on the internet has been as predictable as the sun rising in the East.

Here's a sampling:

"Oh, and what, no Pratchett? Fail."

You can't "fail" at this kind of list. Yeah, it's called "...to Read Before You Die," but that's the kind of hyperbole is the norm for such things. In reality, no one is claiming that this is The Definitive List of the Best and Most Important "Geek Novels" in History. It's a nerdy Baby Boomer offering an opinion.

I don't think Harry Potter will last. It certainly doesn't belong on the same list as Dune.

Ah, the ever-amazing ability of the average internet geek to unfailingly predict the future. And clearly, something I personally don't like can't possibly be considered on the same level as something I do.

Any list of geek books that can find a space for Harry Potter and doesn't acknowledge anything by H. P. Lovecraft is just fundamentally wrong.

And clearly, if it includes something contemporary and popular that I don't like but doesn't include something old and cultish that I do like, this list is "fundamentally wrong."

I'd drop House of Leaves for Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. Come on... Mathmatics, symmetry and intelligence? Potential readers be warned: this is not the stuff of armchair geekery. You will need much more than an iPod and a Second Life account to appreciate this work.

Translated for those who don't speak geeksnob: Ha! This list is for amateurs! I don't read simplistic stuff like that, I read dense things like this! Tremble, worms, before my massive, massive intelligence!

No fantasy please (witchcraft is not geekiness). One of my favorites is A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller.

Only certain kinds of literature can qualify as geeky. Only science fiction. Fantasy sucks! Hard to believe, but there is snobbery and elitism amongst geeks, too.

I can't believe you left out The Time Machine by H.G. Wells.....

I can't believe you think there's five periods in an ellipsis. I also can't believe you think things can be "left out" on someone's personal and essentially arbitrary list.


Nerds have a hard time with disagreement. I've discussed this before. There's an assumption amongst a pretty large swath of the culture (not just nerds) that "my own opinions are objectively correct." Because of this, they look at any list like this as someone else putting out their objectively correct opinions. Then they get up in arms because two differing opinions can't both be objectively correct and they can't reconcile the two.

A list like this is supposed to inspire discussion. So, discuss. Say, "I disagree, I don't think 1984 belongs on the list," or "I would have included Ender's Game on that list." But don't say that the list is wrong, or that the writer has failed. When you argue that the writer has sacrificed his credibility by including or by failing to include a particular book...well, someone's credibility has indeed been sacrificed.

Guess whose?