Kamala Harris on Juneteenth

Kamala Harris speaking as Juneteenth is declared a federal holiday
Today as president Joe Biden signed the law making Juneteenth a federal holiday, vice president Kamala Harris delivered her own introductory remarks. Visibly choked with emotion, she succinctly summed up the moment's significance.

Throughout history, Juneteenth has been known by many names: Jubilee Day, Freedom Day, Liberation Day, Emancipation Day — and today, a national holiday. [Loud applause]

And looking out across this room, I see the advocates, the activists, the leaders who have been calling for this day for so long, including the one and only, Ms. Opal Lee. [Applause. The 94-year-old woman is surprised when Joe Biden walks over and bends down on one knee to shake her hand.] Who just received a very special recognition from the president of the United States!

And I see members of Congress, members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Members of the United States Senate who passed this bill unanimously. And all of whom, collectively, were responsible for delivering this bill to the president's desk. And I thank you all, we thank you all — your nation thanks you all!

When we establish a national holiday, it makes an important statement. National holidays are something important. These are days when we as a nation have decided to stop and take stock, and often to acknowledge our history. And so as we establish Juneteenth as our newest national holiday, let us be clear about what happened on June 19th, 1865 — the day we call Juneteenth. Because that day was not the end of slavery in America. Yes on that day, the enslaved people of Galveston, Texas learned that they were free. But in fact, two and half years earlier the Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery in the Confederacy. So think about that. For more than two years, the enslaved people of Texas were kept in servitude.

For more than two years, they were intentionally kept from their freedom. For more than two years.

And then on that summer day, 156 years ago, the enslaved people of Texas learned the news. They learned that they were free. And they claimed their freedom. [Applause] It was indeed an important day.

And still let us also remember that day was not the end of slavery in America. The truth is, it would be six more months before the 13th Amendment was ratified, before enslaved people in the South and the North were free. So as we commemorate the history of Juneteenth, as we did just weeks ago with the history of the Tulsa race massacre, we must learn from our history. And we must teach our children our history. Because it is part of our history as a nation. It is part of American history.

So let me end by saying this. We are gathered here in a house built by enslaved people. We are footsteps away from where president Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. And we are here to witness president Joe Biden establish Juneteenth as a national holiday.

We have come far. And we have far to go. But today is a day of celebration.

It is not only a day of pride. It is also a day for us to reaffirm and re-dedicate ourselves to action.

And with that I say, happy Juneteenth everybody, and with that I introduce the president of the United States, Joe Biden.

Signing the legislation, president Joe Biden acknowledged that "The emancipation of enslaved Black Americans didn't mark the end of America's work to deliver on the promise of equality. It only marked the beginning. To honor the true meaning of Juneteenth, we have to continue toward that promise, because we've not gotten there yet."

But he also included his own summation of the holiday's significance. "Great nations don't ignore their most painful moments... They embrace them. Great nations don't walk away. We come to terms with the mistakes we've made."

Kamala Harris with her arm around Opal Lee watches Joe Biden sign the law declaring Juneteenth a federal holiday
Kamala Harris with her arm around Opal Lee watches Joe Biden sign the law declaring Juneteenth a federal holiday

Dell Computers Has Been Hacked

Lego Cyberpunks (small)                                                          Image inspired by the Cyrus Borg_A minifig
Scammers pretending to be from Dell computers phoned me in November — but these scammers knew things about me. They identified the model number for both my Dell computers, and knew every problem that I'd ever called Dell about. None of this information was ever posted online, so it's not available anywhere except Dell's own customer service records. (Even my e-mail account is secured with "two-step verification"...)

I called the (real) Dell, and spoke to a customer support representative named Mark, who tried to explain how the scammers knew my account history.

"Dell has detected hackers," he said. "They're hacking our web site."

I'm not sure I believe him. (Another theory is that scammers are simply getting hired by Dell, and then supplementing their hourly wage by trying to con Dell's customers out of hundreds of dollars more...) But one thing that's absolutely certain is that I'm not the only person who's being scammed. Dell's own support forum shows many more customers are complaining about the same phone scam. "There is no other way the person would have my name, cell phone number, and know I had a Dell computer if it didn't come from your company..." posted one unhappy customer in June. "This is pretty scary, especially since you claim to be able to protect our PCs, but if you can't even seem to protect our info on your servers how can we ever trust this company again??"

In my case the scammers suggested I enter their domain name into my "Run window", which would've taken me to a site where I could download software to allow remote access to my system. (This presumably would allow the scammers to make a more compelling case that my computer was infected and in need of their high-priced support services...) In June someone identified as "Social Media Support" on Dell's forums responded to the complaints by saying it was "under investigation," then reassured Dell's customers by pointing to a post where the same thing had happened to somebody else.

But in fact, there were seven more identical complaints in two other threads.

"How did they gain access to such secure information from Dell? This is very concerning."

"I had the same thing happen to me yesterday... He told me he was 'Tier 3 Dell Support' and knew the model number of my computer, my personal info, etc. "

"Was DELL hacked...?? How did this 'helpful tech representative' have my contact info AND knowledge of my technical issue ???????"

"The same thing happened to me on July 9... I have not seen any report of Dell acknowledging this."

"Same thing happened to me yesterday... I called Dell support and they are sticking their head in the sand."

"Also getting calls from 'Dell', and they know which models of computer I have."

Using Google, I was able to look up the phone number that had called me, and on two different web sites found even more Dell customers complaining throughout September that they'd also received calls from a similar scammer.

"[H]e had my email and computer Service Tag info!!"

"The[y] had lots of Dell info about me, my laptop id and service I got from them. It was very convincing."

It's been happening since at least last May, according to an article at eSecurityPlanet about yet another victim of the Dell scam who reported that the scammers had also known his Dell Service Tag Number and Express Service Code. And since then ten more victims of the Dell customer support scam have left comments on the article.

"This scam is still active in October 2015. I got a similar call today..."

"This happened to my uncle in October. He lives in an assisted living [facility]... Dell told me today that they are aware of it and the FBI (or some government agency) is investigating it. I was told to cancel his charge card."

"Placed an order with Dell, two days later I start getting voicemails about 'confirming info about my order'. I called Dell, and while they were absolutely no help at all, they did confirm it wasn't them calling..."

Ironically, just eight days before I received my scam phone call in November, the FTC announced that they'd cracked down on a phone scam involving fake Dell technical support which had already cost consumers more than $17 million. (The FTC's next goal? "[T]o get money back for the victims in this case, and keep the defendants out of the scam tech support business.") Fake tech support calls are apparently a very profitable business, according to the FTC. "Since at least 2013, Defendants have bilked millions of dollars from consumers throughout the United States...by making consumers believe that they are part of or affiliated with well-known U.S. technology companies, such as Microsoft, Google, Apple, or Dell...

"Then, Defendants peddle their technical support services and charge consumers up to thousands of dollars."

But unfortunately, the FTC's announcement makes it clear that that was a much less sophisticated scam that involved simply placing online ads targeted to people searching for solutions to technical problems. ("[I]n some instances, the technicians removed consumers' antivirus and security software already installed on the computers and replaced it with some other programs...") It was disturbing to learn that they'd been in business "since at least 2013" before the FTC finally managed to shut them down. Maybe it's a reminder that there's lots of different phone scammers out there.

But it's very disturbing that scammers are now also apparently in possession of service histories — and home phone numbers — for Dell's customers.

See Also:
How I Sued a Craigslist Sex Troll
Steve Wozniak v. Stephen Colbert — and Other Pranks
What Happened to the Perry Bible Fellowship?
The Night Larry Wall Unveiled Perl 6
How The iPod Changes Culture

The Night Larry Wall Unveiled Perl 6

Larry Wall - October 5th 2015 - Perl 6 event

They'd been waiting for more than a decade. And then Monday night in San Francisco, where the Embarcadero meets the Bay, Craigslist took over the Exploratorium for a long-awaited event. They handed out bottle openers with built-in flash drives, as well as t-shirts and Craigslist stickers with the new Perl 6 logo. "Help yourself to food and Larry and drinks," one greeter told me. Larry Wall, the creator of Perl, was circulating through the room in a red and white Hawaiian shirt, chatting and posing for pictures...

It felt like a great moment in geek history. More than a decade after O'Reilly Media released their book about the "upcoming" Perl 6 language, the celebratory launch of this first development release had finally arrived. Craigslist hosted the event, so there were classy little appetizer plates with banh mi sandwiches, dolma rolls with olives, and even little bowls of sobe salad. Waiters circulated throughout the celebration, handing out free drinks which all appeared to be California-produced wine and beers. (Lagunitas, Sierra Nevada ...)

And now, 28 years after the first release of Perl — and more than 20 years after Perl 5 — Larry Wall was going to unveil something new...

At 7:30 the room grew quiet, and the small throng of geeks migrated into the "Kanbar Forum" room — a small auditorium with a large presentation screen — for the official unveiling. Someone told me even Randal L. Schwartz was in the room. There was already a browser on the screen that was displaying the Perl6 home page at Perl6.org, and two more tabs appeared to be IRC logs "for #p..." The quiet chatter turned to applause when Larry Wall finally walked out onto the stage. Then he made shadow puppets on the screen with his fingers — and left.

"I have to say, these language designers can be such a tease sometimes," joked Jeremy Zawondy from Craigslist. He'd come up to the podium to officially introduce Larry before the main presentation. Jeremy noted the parallel development of Perl 5 and Perl 6, arguing that it really says something about the Perl community. And then he shared how people had answered his question when RSVPing for the event on Meetup. "What do you love about Perl?"

"The power."

"I've been using it forever. It's part of my brain."

"Because it's so wrong." (Applause) Jeremy turned to the audience and said, "So far I agree with all of these."

"Brevity and Power."

"It dares to be weird.

"It's been paying the bills for 20 years." (Jeremy pointed out what a remarkable statement that was...)

"It makes me feel happy."

"Its love is unconditional."

"My first and only successful company was built on Perl." (Laughter and applause)

"Perl loves me."

"And last, but not least: 'It's readable'." (Laughter from audience...) But Jeremy said he'd been talking to Larry and his wife about the old joke comparing Perl code to line noise. And he noted that later, languages started copying Perl's built-in support for regular expressions. "They made fun of Perl, but..." Then he said something about "years to come" — I'm not sure if he was talking about Larry or Perl — and then finally Larry Wall came back onto the stage.

He removed his leather cowboy hat, smiled, and then playfully handed the hat to his wife. One of the first things he said was a thank-you to Craigslist, "for sponsoring me these last few years." 61-year-old Larry Wall said he couldn't properly express his gratitude to Craigslist. And then he launched into his first series of slides.

    Larry Wall Presents; Perl 6
    By, er, Larry Wall.

He alluded to the road ahead, joking that because he was using vim as his text editor, it was trivially easy to re-write the version number for Perl's new compiler as Then he added something about a versioning system with a holiday theme — 6.Birthday and 6.Christmas...

My favorite slide said "More bugs. Less docs." ("Wait, that's a bug," Larry joked, quickly replacing it with a slide that said "More docs, less bugs.") For example, he described one of Perl's earlier problems as "Hanging things on the wrong peg." (That is, too many things being accessible in the "global" namespace, which Larry proved by displaying the keys from a hash of global environment variables.) Then he ran the same code on Perl 6, which found no variables in the global namespace. A lot of them went instead into the CORE library. "They're hung on the right peg," Larry said, "instead of the wrong peg..."

He seemed pleased to be upgrading a language that he'd first shared with the world more than 28 years ago. He pointed out that Perl 6 would have fewer arbitrary lists for geeks to memorize. (Like which symbols are global, but also which functions use the special $_ variable as their default parameter). And Larry demonstrated a Perl 6 program which, among other things, made use of the trendy new "enumerated" type. The program simulated a forest fire using tree icons in one of four states.

   enums <Empty Tree Heating Burning>

Amazingly, all the little tree icons were continuously being re-drawn surprisingly quickly on his screen, each one using different ANSI colors to simulate their current state. Larry explained that this was being facilitated by the tree object's "direct-access variables", created by adding a "bang" after the variable-type sigil.

   Int $!height;

"By the way, strict is default," he said, drawing enthusiastic applause from the audience. The strict pragma stops the troublesome auto-creation of new variables when a variable name is accidentally mistyped — which has plagued Perl developers for years.

He also said something about improving the scoping of methods by looking up the call stack (noting Perl's infamous attempt at a local function back in the 1990s). There was a nod to other quirks of Perl 5 — "multi-pass parsing" and various examples of "action at a distance" — showing that he'd really dug down into the "guts" of Perl.

He had a funny response when someone asked about his philosophy about what should be included in the standard library. First he replied that Perl 6 is analogous to the Linux kernel, in the sense that nobody only downloads it by itself. ("They download a distribution.") So unlike some other programming languages, these "editorial decisions" about what should be included are delegated to the creators of those distributions. "In other words...we punt."

But one of the most impressive bullet points was just two words: "dog food". Instead of dipping into the Unix tool box for the language's implementation, "In Perl 6, we 'eat our own dog food.' " Much of the "guts" of Perl 6 — like the parser and the runtime — is now actually written in Perl 6. And they're also working on an advanced bundling. ("We plan to do better than CPAN.")

He seemed excited that universities would now have a single language that could be used to teach every style of programming — from functional to procedural. With an eye toward the future, he said "Some professors will think that's a great thing." And this came up again after a very thoughtful observation about the new butterfly logo for Perl 6.

"Paul Graham wrote this thing about the 100-year language," Larry remembered, which had inspired some thoughts about language longevity. So the new butterfly logo for Perl 6 "is specifically designed, among other things, to appeal to 7-year-old girls. The Python community has done a much better job appealing to kids with fun stuff.

"We don't expect to be the language of the week. We don't want to play that game. We want it to keep being there... We don't want their language to run out of steam. It might be a 30- or 40-year language. I think it's good enough." And then someone in the audience asked him which part of Perl 6 was his favorite.

"The part where we get done," he answered.

"I kind of like all of it, really."

Five Strange Facts about the Life of Annette Funicello

1. Sleeping with Zorro?

As a 15-year-old girl in 1957, Annette Funicello had a crush on the TV character Zorro, and "every night I drifted off to sleep hugging his eight-by-ten framed photo to my chest," she remembered in her biography. So the next year, Walt Disney had a special treat for the Mickey Mouse Club star — a guest appearance on Zorro (which was also produced by Walt Disney Studios). The delighted teenager got to celebrate her 16th birthday on the set, where Zorro himself carved a 'Z' into the frosting of her cake. And in that episode Annette also got to wield Zorro's infamous sword — "thrusting it into the chest of my no-good fiancé and sending him plunging off the side of a ship."

That episode was titled "The Postponed Wedding," but Annette's real life romances were more complicated, as she struggled with growing popularity. (Her biography also reveals that she discovered that "for a while one of my brothers was selling my phone number!") Annette lived with her parents until the day she was married, and at the time one tabloid boasted the headline "Annette reveals: How Far I'll Go Now That I'm Engaged." But on the day of her wedding, she received a death threat from a soldier, and remembered that ultimately "Saint Cyril's Church became a guarded fortress filled with unobtrusive Disney security people..."

As Annette marched down the aisle, she was wearing the veil that she'd worn in the Walt Disney movie, "Babes in Toyland". But this wedding wouldn't lead to a fairy tale happy ending. In her biography, Annette wrote that there was "a spat" on her honeymoon, that the honeymooning couple didn't speak to each other for two days, and that she called home to her parents crying. And that three weeks later, she was pregnant.

Her husband was Hollywood agent Jack Gilardi, and they had three children together, though daughter Gina once asked if her father was Frankie Avalon (Annette's co-star from movies like Beach Blanket Bingo), and if so, why was he never home for dinner? Annette got married when she was 23 — and got divorced when she was 39. Years later, she would even film a pilot for a dramatic TV series where she plays a sad widow whose husband was killed in Vietnam, who then meets up with a lost love from her teenaged years who'd tried but failed to become a successful nightclub singer...played by Frankie Avalon.

But in real life, Annette got married again to a former police officer who she met at a race track — and she tells a wonderful story about surprising her now-grown-up fans. They'd complain that they couldn't imagine discovering the former sweet and pure Disney star at a race track, holding a drink in her hand, and smoking a cigarette. "I also have three kids," Annette would remind them.

"So guess what else I do...?"

2. Devo, The Beach Boys, and Johnny Carson

Looking over her career, one of Annette's most fascinating songs was recorded with the Beach Boys in 1965. It was the opening song for "The Monkey's Uncle," a movie about a genius college student named Merlin Jones. "Let them say he's the booby prize," Annette sings, as the Beach Boys supply their familiar harmonies. "He's the boy I idolize..."

But a full 41 years later, in 2006, the Disney Studios released a new album of songs covered by contemporary artists — and chose "The Monkey's Uncle" for its final track. And in an interesting twist, the song was performed by Devo 2.0 — a new generation of teenaged Disney performers, assembled into a 21st-century version of the pioneering new wave band, who were actually backed and produced by the original members of Devo!

Annette also earned a place in television history as the original performer of what eventually became the theme to The Tonight Show. But ironically, it all came from a failed attempt to date Paul Anka, another 1950s teen idol. Though their relationship didn't last, it produced an album titled "Annette Sings Anka" — and years later, Anka would create Johnny Carson's theme from the melody of one of the album's more sentimental tracks. ("And now at long last, it's really love...")

However the most memorable track on that album is probably "Hey Mama," if only for its misplaced set of teen-rebel lyrics, addressing a mother worried that her daughter will become "the leader of a teenaged gang..."

3. Grown-Up Movies?

Even in the movies, there's at least one scene where Annette gets luridly drunk — and then starts driving a race car around an abandoned track.

Fabian: You crazy broad! What's gotten into you?

Annette: Thatshh right, I'm a crazy broad. But you don't care...

Fabian: I'd kiss your silly-looking face if you didn't smell like a brewery..

In Thunder Alley (1967), the former Disney star played the daughter of a racing promoter who gradually starts to fall in love with the traveling driver played by Fabian, and tries to compete for his affection. ("Days of screaming wheels. Nights of reckless pleasure!" promises the movie's tagline. "Their god is speed... Their pleasure an 'anytime' girl!") It was her last film of the 1960s and her last film for 20 years, except for a brief scene in the psychedelic movie Head starring the Monkees. Although she was approached about appearing naked in a film — wearing nothing but that hat with the Mickey Mouse ears that she'd worn as a Mouseketeer — she declined the offer. ("People are more interested in changing my image than I am," she later explained.)

But reportedly, Annette did confess to one interviewer that "I did naughty things. There was a time, I was in my thirties, when I wanted to see an X-rated movie, OK? I bought a blond wig, and I got into the movie.

"It was boring."

4. 125 stitches

Annette bravely struggled through a series of health problems — which was all the more difficult since it was years before the underlying cause was diagnosed as multiple sclerosis. For example, one night, she remembers that it felt like the room in her house had suddenly gone dark and started spinning, while Annette heard "loud, crashing bells." As she ran for the bedroom, she slipped on a ball that one of her children had left on the floor, and gouged her face on the side of a dresser as she fell to the ground. It took 125 stitches and some plastic surgery to repair Annette's face, she writes, and she later discovered that her right eye had a permanent blind spot.

But she also writes that immediately after the accident — and presumably still in shock — she'd blurted out to her husband that "I need to brush my teeth before we go to the hospital."

Annette hid the news of her illness for over five years — not even telling her parents. She later described this period as "Living a lie," and in a 1994 interview with Tom Snyder, she admits that "It was a hard choice for me to make... I tried to keep it a secret. I really did." Her reasons were "I just didn't want pity", and also, "I didn't want to worry anybody." But when she finally revealed the illness, she told USA Today that "Just being able to talk about it now is a big help."

She'd worried people would see her struggling to walk in a restaurant, and come to the conclusion that "'Annette's drunk'."

5. Ears Held High

Her star-dom peaked in the 1950s and 1960s, but Annette continued to hold a special place in the hearts of her fans — though she knew that the world was changing. At one point in his 1994 interview, Tom Snyder describes a commercial promoting the Vermont Teddy Bear Company in which Howard Stern recites the slogan "Give her a bear, she'll bang you!" Annette laughs gamely, then replies that "That's not very Disney." And she also confirmed that Walt Disney had indeed once asked her to never allow her navel to be photographed when she began making movies for other studios.

"How much would we have to give to see your belly button?" Snyder asks eagerly.

"I don't have one," she joked.

But during that same interview, she also comforts a 17-year-old girl in California who'd been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis just two weeks earlier, and later Annette would be recognized for the inspiring example she set in raising awareness about the disease. In 1993 she even founded the Annette Funicello Research Fund for Neurological Diseases, which according to CNN still remains active 20 years later, supporting research into their causes, treatments, and cures. Bob Iger, the new CEO at Disney studios, ultimately told CNN that she "was well-known for being as beautiful inside as she was on the outside, and she faced her physical challenges with dignity, bravery and grace."

It was because of her status as a former Disney-era icon that her openness had that much more impact. In a made-for-TV movie about her life, Annette said "It makes me so happy when I hear from people that my going public makes them feel stronger. They're not embarrassed to use their canes or to be in a wheelchair because if I can do it, they feel they can too." Though she was played by an actress in most of the film, she appears as herself in its final scenes. And she delivers its inspiring closing line — a characteristically sweet but ultimately very fair assessment of what it all had meant.

"Life doesn't have to be perfect to be wonderful."

My Favorite Roger Ebert Stories

1. "Your Movie Sucks"

Roger Ebert could wield a poison pen as well as anybody. And the story of one confrontation has a permanent place of honor in Ebert's page on Wikipedia. In January 2005, Rob Schneider took out full-page ads in Hollywood newspapers to attack movie critic Patrick Goldstein, who had panned Schneider's recent movie Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo. Schneider suggested mockingly that Goldstein wasn't qualified to critique the movie, since his movie reviews had never won a Pulitzer Prize.

"As chance would have it, I have won the Pulitzer Prize," Ebert wrote in his own review in the Chicago Sun-Times, "and so I am qualified. Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks."

Ebert later even titled his next collection of negative movie reviews, "Your Movie Sucks" — although the rest of his review was equally scathing. ("Schneider was nominated for a 2000 Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actor, but lost to Jar-Jar Binks...") But Wikipedia notes that this fight actually ended with a surprisingly amicable resolution. "On May 7, 2007, Roger Ebert reported on his website that he had received a bouquet of flowers from Rob Schneider, with a note signed, 'Your least favorite actor, Rob Schneider.' Ebert saw the flowers as a kind gesture and publicly thanked Schneider, and said that Schneider may have made a bad film, but he was not a bad man.

"Ebert also expressed hope that Schneider would make a film that Ebert would find wonderful."

That same good-natured honesty turned up in 2003, when Ebert called Vincent Gallo's The Brown Bunny the worst movie ever shown at the Cannes Film Festival. A columnist at Deadline.com remembers that at one particularly painful part of the film, Ebert "even started singing 'Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head' out loud, eliciting laughter from what was left of the audience at that point." Ebert had done that before. (In 1987, at a tedious screening of Jaws 4: The Revenge, Ebert couldn't contain himself when he spotted a glaring continuity error. As Michael Caine emerged from the ocean and climbed over the side of a boat, Ebert blurted out to the audience around him, "His shirt is dry!")

Gallo was stung by Ebert's criticism, and called him "a fat pig with the physique of a slave trader," to which Ebert just responded by paraphrasing Winston Churchill in a perfect and devastating comeback. "I can always lose weight, but you will always be the director of The Brown Bunny."

"But then he did a remarkable thing," remembers Deadline's columnist. "[W]hen the film was cut by 26 minutes over a year later, he agreed to see it again and wrote a piece actually reversing his opinion.

"In addition to being sharp, funny, insightful, interesting, opinionated, informed and complex in his writings he was also fair."

2. Thirty-Two Years Ago...

Roger Ebert honestly enjoyed Ice Cube's 1997 horror film Anaconda, and years later his new co-host Richard Roeper didn't let him forget it. But the two men disagreed even more over a 2002 romantic comedy called Never Again — which Roeper liked, but Roger Ebert didn't. He complained that its explicit vulgar language just didn't work in a romantic comedy, and Roeper started teasing Ebert about being so easily upset. Ebert, who had just turned 60, wasn't going to be put in that box.

"Don't condescend to me!" Ebert shouted.

"You're so shocked by it!" Richard Roeper responded smugly, not aware the Ebert had the perfect comeback.

"I've written an X-rated movie!" Ebert retorts. "How many have you written?" And we all smiled, remembering that Ebert did indeed write the screenplay for Russ Meyer's 1970 cult classic, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.

Ebert later wrote that in Meyer's films, "the women were always the strong characters, and men were the mindless sex objects." Although he added that the legendary B-movie producer disapproved of silicone implants because "They miss the whole point."

3. Ebert vs. Siskel: the Secret Smackdown

Some remarkable footage surfaced in 2006 showing Roger Ebert's rowdy behind-the-scenes banter with his TV co-host, Gene Siskel. Filmed sometime in the early 1980s, it reveals their brief bursts of on-camera enthusiasm (while recording their promos) to be part of a longer, vicious, battle of wits that kept happening off-camera. Gene Siskel, peeved that Ebert slammed his public speaking ability, reached for the obvious comeback about Ebert's weight. But soon they're just trying to see who can ad lib the funniest put-down. After Gene tries to rattle off a list of foods, all of which Ebert would supposedly order at McDonalds, he ultimately trips over his own words, and Ebert interrupts triumphantly, "I knew Gene couldn't sustain that string for long without a grammatical error..." And then he goes in for the kill. "Now the other day Gene was in there and the little girl said to him, 'Would you like some french fries with your order?', and Gene said, 'No! Maybe... Other! Other! Never mind! Never mind!' And then he walked out..."

"They saw Roger walking in," Gene counters, "and they said one of everything to go. And one of everything to stay here."

"When they saw Gene walking in," Roger retorts, "the little kid behind the counter called for the manager and said 'Mr. Jones, can you come out here? You can understand Mr. Siskel, can't you? I can't ever understand him when he's ordering!" And then on a roll, Ebert ends up doing both the manager's voice and Siskel's incomprehensible response.

"What will you have sir?"

"Uh, Pounder quarter. Pounder quarter. Uh... uh... Quarter pounder. Uh, cheese. No cheese! Cheese. No cheese! Shake milk! Shake milk..."

But by the end, they actually seem to be bonding because of this movie-critic ritual, and I'll never forget Roger's gracious words when Siskel died of brain cancer in 1999. "What Gene and I did together is one of the great joys of my life. My relationship with him was one of the great events of my life."

4. Roger Ebert vs. Bill O'Reilly

Ebert always had strong opinions. (According to the Internet Movie Database, he considered the 1978 film I Spit on Your Grave to be the worst movie he'd ever seen — until he saw a 2010 re-make, which he declared to be even worse.) But through it all, he always seemed proud to be writing for a daily newspaper. "My first professional newspaper job was on The News-Gazette," he remembered in a 2008 article, "in my home town of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. I was 15. The pay was 75 cents a hour, eventually climbing even higher..." So he took offense when the Chicago Sun-Times was listed in a "Hall of Shame" created by Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly. Ebert wrote a column delivering a fierce rebuttal, but in his typical style, the passion remained connected to a personal memory. Ebert writes that he'd hate to be in O'Reilly's hall of fame because "It would place us in the favor of a man who turns red and starts screaming when anyone disagrees with him. My grade-school teacher, wise Sister Nathan, would have called in your parents and recommended counseling with Father Hogben."

Ebert had spent decades sharpening his writing style, and a quick call to the Sun-Times editors revealed that Bill O'Reilly was going to be a very easy target. "I understand you believe one of the Sun-Times misdemeanors was dropping your syndicated column," Ebert's column continued. "My editor informs me that 'very few' readers complained about the disappearance of your column, adding, 'many more complained about Nancy.'

"I know I did. That was the famous Ernie Bushmiller comic strip in which Sluggo explained that 'wow' was 'mom' spelled upside-down..."

5. Ebert's Last Column

Roger Ebert famously dated Oprah Winfrey back in 1985, but of course there was more to the story. "It begins early one morning in Baltimore," he remembered in a 2005 column in the Sun-Times, "where Gene Siskel and I are scheduled to appear on a morning talk show hosted by a newcomer named Oprah Winfrey. The other guests on the show include a vegetarian chef, and four dwarfs dressed as chipmunks, who will sing 'The Chipmunk Christmas Song' while dancing with Hula-Hoops." It's a funny memoir — on their second date, Ebert treated Oprah to dinner at Hamburger Hamlet, thought at least he also took her out to the movies. And yes, the date ends with Ebert informing Oprah of just how much money she could make by syndicating her show, and the rest was history.

But even people who weren't Oprah have fond memories about the kindness of Roger Ebert. I once e-mailed him asking if he'd ever watched Jennifer Ringley's JenniCam, and Ebert took the time to send me a quick e-mail back. ("Have never watched. Will look and see what I think....") A friend of mine remembers interacting with Roger online back when Ebert was still running CompuServe's movie forum — and being invited to dinner with Ebert during a break at the Cannes Film Festival. And I'll never forget the time a teenaged girl wrote in to Ebert to complain that he'd given a negative review to a teen comedy that she'd actually liked. I can't find that column online, but maybe it's better just to remember it as a legend. "I'm glad you liked it," Ebert wrote back. "I love movies too much to wish anyone a bad time at the movies..."

He dispensed this kindness through his hometown newspaper, the Chicago Sun-Times, which became his permanent home in print. Ebert seemed to know he'd become famous, but he used this platform for good causes, fighting against book censorship, film colorization, and the no-adult-movie policies at Blockbuster Video. ("It's my belief that no true movie lover has any business going into Blockbuster in the first place, since its policies have done so much harm to modern American cinema...") Over years of reviewing for the Sun-Times, Ebert once calculated he'd seen over 8,000 movies. Maybe that's why, even in print, Ebert always felt like an old friend.

Besides sharing lots of laughs and some personal stories, Roger Ebert shared his deep love for films. On Tuesday, Roger Ebert wrote what would turn out to be his last column for the Chicago Sun-Times — marking the 46th anniversary of the day back in 1967 when he'd first become their film critic. "However you came to know me, I'm glad you did," he wrote, "and thank you for being the best readers any film critic could ask for." And he ended it with his signature trademark. "So on this day of reflection I say again, thank you for going on this journey with me.

"I'll see you at the movies."

The Eight Geekiest Halloween Costumes

I think every geek secretly wants to dress up as a zombie, and then go on a rampage to destroy mindless middle-managers. But that's probably just me — and it turns out there's some even better ideas for Halloween costumes.

1. Gollum from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy

In a way, this latex Gollum mask resembles the very soul of trick-or-treaters. When it comes to sugar-y candies, "We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious..." No wonder America is fighting an epidemic of obesity!

2. Yoda from the Star Wars movies

You don't have to fly from Tatooine if you're seeking the great Jedi master Yoda. Apparently he's co-hosting The Today Show with Kathie Lee Gifford. In 2009, news co-anchor Hoda Kotb turned up this fantastic Yoda costume, while Gifford dressed as C-3PO, and Al Roker become Han Solo.

But they must really hate co-host Ann Curry, because they made her wear a Darth Vader costume throughout the entire show...

3. Trinity from The Matrix

Everyone wants to look cool for Halloween, and let's face it, there's no cooler costume idea for geeks than the crew from The Matrix. Trinity is a machine's worst enemy, she's lethal with martial arts, she's liberated herself from the Matrix, and oh yeah, once she even brought Keanu Reeves back from the dead.

But more importantly, she really knows how to rock a black latex trench coat!

4. Iron Man from The Avengers

You know what would make this costume even better? If it actually shot real repulsor beams. Just imagine a patronizing suburbanite greeting a cute little Tony Stark wannabe — and suddenly their doorstep gets incinerated by a high-voltage blast of pure electrical energy. "Trick or treat!" says the little Tony Stark wannabe.

"I'm still mad about last year, when you gave everybody apples."

And apparently, so are the rest of the Avengers...

5. Angry Birds

There's nothing geekier than basing your Halloween costume on the characters from a phone app!

And for extra effect, make snarling bird noises whenever you get to somebody's house — and then hurl your body against their walls to see if you can knock them over.

6. Hagrid from the Harry Potter movies

There's already something Halloween-y already about a school for witchcraft and wizardry. But to embody its heart and soul, try dressing up as gruff, loveable caretaker, Hagrid, who makes friends with everybody — including spiders and griffins.

And if anyone gets tired while trick-or-treating, you can just drive them home in your flying motorcycle

7. The Scooby Doo gang

I was always pretty sure that Velma was a lesbian, that Shaggy was a stoner, and that the ghost would always turn out to be someone like old man Johnson, who'd wanted all that gold for himself. (And he would've gotten away with it, too, if it hadn't been for these meddling kids...) But after 40 years of chasing ghosts, the Scooby-Doo gang are all cultural touchstones — and the one with the glasses has become real a nerd girl icon.

Now marketers are selling a complete set of costumes for each character. But of course, you can always try making your own costumes at home...

8. Beaker from The Muppets

Speaking of annoying middle managers, what's the deal with Dr. Bunsen Honeydew? Whenever I watched The Muppet Show, I felt sorry for his poor red-haired lab assistant Beaker, who always seemed to find himself trapped in the internship from hell.

Week after week, Beaker was called on to demonstrate one dangerous invention after another. ("At last, your family can be protected from the heartbreak of gorilla invasion...") But in 2011, someone finally created this loving Halloween tribute to the world's least-lucky muppet.

It's nice to think that he finally escaped the world of science altogether, and is now just trolling around the neighborhood collecting candy on Halloween!

See Also:
The 10 Best Monster Ads
Lost 'Horrors' Ending Found on YouTube
Will 'The Hunt for Gollum' Satisfy True Fans?
The Mormon Bigfoot Genesis Theory
The Ghost of the D.C. Madam
Why Thomas S. Roche Dreams of a Zombie Apocalypse Dead Woman Blogging

Seven Forgotten Classics by Davy Jones

1. The Greatest Story Ever Told

I'm a fan — and there's one song Davy Jones should be remembered by. In 1986, the 41-year-old former teen idol recorded his own secret anthem. I think of it as his personal "My Way" — an original song about a life spent in show business, where (more than most performers) he'd spent years trapped by his own fame. "We had them eating Corn Flakes out of the palm of our hand," he sings wryly at one point, and there's an ironic nod to the title of one of the first Monkees songs ever recorded, "I Want to Be Free."

The song has real grace, showing that Davy Jones ultimately made peace with his strange fate. (He titled his 1987 autobiography "They Made a Monkee Out of Me".) And on a forgotten corner of YouTube, in a home-grown video that's been viewed less than 100 times, a hardcore Monkees fan has lovingly annotated the song with a poignant collection of clips.

"I've done it all, from A to Z.
And I want to be free..."

Click here for the complete lyrics.

2. When Davy Jones met Frank Zappa

The last act of the Monkees was a forgotten psychedelic film called "Head" where they mercilessly deconstructed their own celebrity. ("The money's in, we're made of tin. We're here to give you more!" they sing at one point.) And when the film finally arrived at Davy's segment, it finds him trapped in a song-and-dance persona, singing a strange song written by Harry Nilsson. Davy turns in a mind-boggling dance number where his black and white tuxedo turns to white and black, while he sings up a weird childhood memory about the day he realized that "his father was not a man, and it all was just a game."

Davy suddenly does a dramatic spoken-word rendition of the song's last line — "if I ever have a son...let the sadness pass him by" — only to be jarringly snapped back into his song-and-dance persona once more. But at the end of the song, he's confronted by Frank Zappa himself — escorting a cow — who tells him that the song "was pretty white".

Zappa adds, possibly sarcastically, that the youth of America depend on Davy to lead the way.

3. Marcia, Marcia, Marcia

At the age of 54, Davy joined with the other Monkees for a reunion tour — and he'd shared a strange story about that time when, at the peak of his "teen idol" career, he appeared on an episode of The Brady Bunch in 1971.

In the episode, teenaged Marcia Brady tells her high school that she can get Davy Jones to sing at their prom — but she can't actually get in touch with him, because hundreds of other teenaged girls are already swarming outside his hotel. Davy overhears her story (when Marcia bursts into the sound booth at a recording session) — and then later surprises Marcia by showing up at her house, and asking if he can be her date for the senior prom. "I got hate letters from every other girl in America," Davy told the concert audience in 2002.

"Because I wouldn't go to their bloody prom...."

4. 1995's Grunge-y "Brady Bunch Movie"

Nearly 25 years later, Davy actually appeared on the big screen in "The Brady Bunch Movie" — but only to mock that same sugar-y episode (and the way Marcia always upstaged her younger sister, Jan). Davy had already been doing a live version of the song in a stage show called "The Real Live Brady Bunch." (Chicago's "Annoyance Theatre" would actually re-enact episodes, satirically performing a new one each week, with Jane Lynch playing Mrs. Brady and Andy Richter playing her husband.) When the troupe performed the "Getting Davy Jones" episode, Jones would play himself.

The cheesy 1970s show had become a campy touchstone, and the growing fascination ultimately inspired a big-screen send-up called "The Brady Bunch Movie" (co-written by the show's original creator, Sherwood Schwartz, and starring Shelly Long). Its premise was that the '70s family hadn't changed a bit, though they now lived in a very different mid-1990s world. And then yet again, Marcia announces to her high school prom that she's procured an appearance by that dreamy teen sensation, Davy Jones.

The real Davy Jones again sings "Girl", though he's startled to discover that this time, he's being accompanied by a grunge band on the stage behind him — who join in, and decide that his song is pretty groovy.

5. Nicole, Nicole, Nicole?

Surprisingly Davy also sang a song on another forgotten 1980s sitcom — but this time, in an episode acknowledging that show business can make you crazy. In a remarkable guest appearance on Paul Reiser's first series, My Two Dads, Davy played a flamboyant celebrity named Malcolm who drops in on the show's two single guys raising a teenaged daughter — with his entire entourage. ("That's my business manager, road manager, personal manager, and a gaggle of tarts.")

In the episode "Fallen Idol," the pressures of show business ultimately cause the high-strung singer character to lash out at his loyal teenaged fan, blurting out that "Malcolm is dead, and you killed him."

But to make it up to her, he later delivers a command performance in her living room of a sweet song written especially for her — titled "Oh, Nicole".

6. Your Personal Penguin

Cartoonist Sandra Boynton created a children's picture book about a penguin in 2006 — and the book was packaged with a special recording by Davy Jones. Even after all these years, Jones presumably still seemed like the perfect choice for the penguin's formal yet ever-so-friendly voice.
"I want to be your personal penguin,
I want to walk right by your side.
I want to be your personal penguin,
I want to travel with you far and wide..."

In the short "board book," a little penguin adores a hippopotamus, and promises to remain its best friend forever. (It's already racked up 26 five-star reviews on Amazon.) You can still download a free mp3 of the bouncy song from Sandra Boynton's web site. And the video above takes a peek at the session where it was recorded.

7. Sexina

I'd had a chance to interview Davy Jones back in 2008. Davy was already in his sixties, but just four years before his death, he'd recorded the theme for a campy new indie comedy called Sexina, Pop Star Private Investigator. ("She has the boobs and the brains of a queen. She's every man's dream...")

"79-year-old Adam West plays a ruthless music industry overlord bent on destroying the sexy pop sensation [Sexina] with an evil boy band composed entirely of cuddly robots," I wrote in my article. And for the movie's James Bond-style theme, the film-makers had brought in "one of the original boy band singers."

Click the image to hear an excerpt from Davy Jones' theme song for "Sexina: Popstar PI."

I'd always thought of Davy Jones as a smart, thoughtful man, confined to the life of a remembered teen idol. In the end I decided not to do the interview, but producer Eric Sharkey later assured me that he'd really enjoyed working with Davy, and saw him as someone with "a good philosophical outlook on life. Someone who's at peace with themself.

"He's got his horses, he's got his music — and he knows who he is."

Why Thomas S. Roche Dreams of a Zombie Apocalypse

The gonzo author (inset) meets the cover of
his newly-published novel The Panama Laugh

Zombies! Brains! Zombies! It's the first novel ever published by author Thomas S. Roche.

The Panama Laugh opens with a punch — literally — before launching into an unrelenting onslaught of dangerous crimelords, soldiers of fortune, radical fringe groups, and yes, zombies!!! There's a global throwdown with moments of weapons porn — like hijacked nuclear-powered warships and deadly remote surveillance drones — while radical fringe survivors may be holed up in "the Armory" in San Francisco (a real-life building owned by Kink.com).

It's Roche's very first novel — or at least, the first novel published under his own name. (There's also hundreds of horror, crime, fantasy, and, yes, erotic short stories and books that he's written under pseudonyms). Maybe the real question is what makes a man write an "after the apocalypse" zombie novel — after hundreds of hours of writing porn? Combined with a lifelong obsession with vintage pulp fiction, the end result is an original, daring and thoroughly-researched "debut apocalypse," a 300-page buzzsaw that one Barnes and Noble reviewer called simply "exceptional."

I remembered Thomas from his legendary stint as the gonzo technology editor at a web magazine called GettingIt.com, where we'd worked together back in 1999. I decided to track him down for the inside dirt on his mysterious new kick — and to see just how much fun you can have with the word zombie!

10 ZEN MONKEYS: Is there something millenarian in the zeitgeist now — some universal sense of doom, or a desire to laugh and secede from humanity? I'm sorry — every question I'd ask you suddenly seems tainted with a dark obscenity whenever I add the word zombie. "Where do you get your inspiration for your novels...about zombies? Will you be writing a sequel...about zombies? How do you celebrate finishing your first novel...about zombies?"

THOMAS S. ROCHE: Isn't everything about zombies?

I just go ape-shit over good zombie apocalypses. I love them; they're one of my favorite genres. I read a lot and watch a lot and just completely groove on all the incredible creativity involved in zombie walks, all the viral zombie websites and social-networking stuff, all the in-jokes for zombie fans...I just love it. It's a template that takes on so many wonderful forms!

I feel like some of the zombie novels published in the last five years were jumping on a bandwagon. But I'm not going to badmouth them because that's essentially what I was doing, even though it's a bandwagon I've more or less been on for 20 years ever since I read the first Book of the Dead, which is one of the two best zombie books ever published (the other being Max Brooks' World War Z). I think Night of the Living Dead is one of the greatest and one of the most important films ever released. I love Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead and Land of the Dead. And I go nuts over the Resident Evil movies even in the slow parts. I adore Fido. I want to grow up to be Frankenhooker.

10Z: So will you be writing a sequel to your novel about zombies? Maybe "The Panama Laugh Zombies Strike Back"?

TSR: That is actually a question for the publisher. I already know what happens next — but I'm not talking unless somebody pays me!

10Z: Spoken like a true pulp fiction fan...

TSR: I'm hoping there will be a sequel, because the story's really not finished. There are about a thousand threads that lead into other parts of my science fiction mythology — some of them red herrings. Everything I write in the science fiction, fantasy, or horror genre relates to everything else I write in those genres, so the characters, institutions and situations show up elsewhere. I already know what happens — but the cats need kibble, so I'm not talking unless the money's on the nightstand!

Did I mention writing a mercenary character came kinda natural to me?

10Z: I can already see the influence of all those vintage crime novels. So how did you celebrate finishing your first novel...about zombies?

TSR: I don't think I celebrate, ever. Sorry. When I turned it in, I probably went home and tried to figure out how to pay my rent. I probably read CNN and wept bitterly about the direction our country is going. Maybe if it was a good day, I let myself read an early '60s crime novel instead of trying to work on the next project that might pay me $25 or $50 in an attempt to afford some food...

10Z: And then months later, you're a star! A zombie star, with your name on thousands on horror book covers — along with gorgeous artwork visualizing the doomsday you'd only imagined. How'd it feel to finally see your novel getting a full-color, fantasy-style illustration?

TSR: I just can't even begin to describe how thrilled I was to see such a spot-on representation of what I wanted my book to feel like — at least, the post-apocalyptic segments. Some of the earlier segments might have been a bit more Dick Tracy. But as for the scenes in San Francisco, cover artist Lucas Graziano nailed it, beautifully — and it even has the leopard-print zeppelin! I've never been so thrilled.

10Z: But you always write about such wild subjects. It's hard to believe you've never gotten the Heavy Metal treatment before.

TSR: I believe there have been only two other times original art has been commissioned from my work. One of them was the short story "Anthony," about a doomed punk sex-addicted dildo who gets hooked on mainlining oil-based lubricants. It was turned into a comic book by my friend Anna Costa, in 1992, for a magazine called Puppytoss. (No puppies were actually tossed, don't worry — we weren't that punk). The second time was the story "Headturner," which I co-wrote with Kevin Andrew Murphy, which was illustrated for an issue of Glen Danzig's Verotika comic book. That was more than a decade ago!

10Z: It's still hard to believe, since you've written a bunch of great zombie stories already. (And is it true that some of them are about sex?)

TSR: My pre-Panama Laugh zombie mythology isn't about sex, but it's about sexuality...homophobia specifically. The zombie short stories I have written have just been re-released individually for Kindle, and you can see there's even a zombie bibliography on my website that links to them.

My two other zombie mythologies don't overlap with each other or with The Panama Laugh. In one, which I call the "San Esteban Stories," zombies represent denied erotic urges — violence owing to sexual repression, particularly internalized homophobia. In the San Esteban stories, zombification does not appear to be transmissible. (See The Sound of Weeping and Veggie Mountain.)

There's also another lengthy screenplay on that theme that may become a novel, that's never been published because I only finish novels when people come over to my house and kick me.

10Z: So what happened when you sat down for your full-length zombie-fighting novel? What kind of zombification did you pull out for The Panama Laugh?

TSR: It has a similar thematic intention, but it's not about sex. Two other stories, the podcast "St. John of the Throwdown" and the novella Deepwater Miracle exist in that universe. My story Viva Las Vegas is a totally different mythology, because it was originally written as a submission for Skipp & Spector's Book of the Dead 4, so it's concretely Romeroesque, meaning George Romero, more than the others. Its main character is very similar in voice to the Dante Bogart character in The Panama Laugh.

10Z: I'm remembering that you do a lot of work for charity — and some of it's pretty sexy! Literally — like, you've taught at San Francisco Sex Information since the 1990s, and four years ago, you were even involved in the San Francisco iteration of an event called Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School, where even amateur non-artists get to draw sketches of naked models. So what ties all this together? What's the motivation?

TSR: I think it's an impulse toward the Bohemian. I'm easily bored!

I've given informational lectures on such diverse topic as anal sex, oral sex, sex, gender and orientation, transgender surgery and other transgender procedures, intersex issues and disorders of sex development, BDSM and D/s theory and etiquette, necrophilia, bestiality, fisting, group sex, fetishism and fetish dressing, infantilism and age play, recovery from sexual abuse, and about a dozen other topics, as well as facilitating small groups and workshops. At SFSI, the goal is to have our trainees prepared to discuss any sexual topic in informational terms, so we cover a broad range.

10Z: I'll say! I just remember a very "sex positive" vibe at one of the Dr. Sketchy events I attended. You've got ladies taking off their clothes for a roomful of gawking geek voyeurs, week after week....

TSR: Doing Dr. Sketchy's was wonderful. Models would come and get naked but be wearing clown makeup, balloon animal hats, Victorian lingerie — Burning Man type costumes. It was really a blast!

But I'm not by nature an event manager. So by mutual agreement with the event's New York founder, Molly Crabapple, my co-organizer and I passed the event on to the very capable Bombshell Betty. It's a great event, and it was really fun to do.

10Z: In real life you're soft-spoken and compassionate, and yet you've seen more than most men will ever see in a lifetime. After synthesizing it all into hundreds of published stories — including a new violent zombie-fighting novel — what do you think you've learned...about sex, and about violence?

I mean, there's one line in the book that struck me. The gun-toting scumbag says "Without women, we're monsters — and we know it, but they don't. We live our lives in fear that they'll find out." I have this theory that it's all related — that people are now despairing about everything — government, culture, gender roles — and they secretly long for a zombie crisis where it all crumbles and gets replaced by something new.

TSR: I learned a lot, and continue to learn a lot, from the world of trans activism and gender theory. I also think that the "bubble" of a very narrow set of queer-friendly, trans-friendly neighborhoods in San Francisco can serve as an excellent place to stand there and evaluate the gender context of violence, as it relates to the idea of what makes gender in the first place.

In the context of the international arena where brutal violence is the order of the day in many post-colonial and neo-colonial nations, I think it's important to consider issues of what tends to bring perceptions of masculinity in line with violent activity. And to do that in a context of knowing that male and female behaviors are often mutable... As an aside, I believe that the fact that men and women tend to — tend to, mind you, again — have different ideas about that is one of the reasons it's so important to have women in the military in leadership roles, because gender cues get all mixed up when you're talking about premeditated violence, let alone the kind of confusion that happens in combat.

To me, it's critical to have combat decisions made by a pluralistic group with a shared value system that isn't built strictly on machismo. The same is doubly true of law enforcement. In fact, that connection between masculinity and monstrous behavior is probably my primary interest in terms of fiction. My chief fascination has always been with postwar America, and the scars carried by men in my father's generation and a bit older, who fought in World War II and Korea. War requires one to do terrible things, and if any amount of belief in one's principles allows one to forget that, I believe we're in trouble. I'm not going to claim Osama bin Laden or Ghaddafi shouldn't have been killed, but anyone high-fiving about it earns my unremitting revulsion.

I would like to see the United States be a little less pleased with itself, and that's some of what The Panama Laugh is about. "The Laugh" is a symbol for everything we're forced to stuff down in order to turn a blind eye to tragedy. When it comes bursting out...ba-da-bing!

10Z: It seems like some of this novel must've come from all the weird world news you'd covered for — is it over a year? — at TechYum. (Besides flying cars and Bigfoot sightings, there's also weaponry, international wars, Fukushima radiation, and "the face of a Norwegian Killer" — including his Twitter feed....)

TSR: Yeah, there's definitely a strong undercurrent of paranormal obsession, and a real obsession with information technology.

10Z: What about WikiLeaks? You also mention WikiLeaks a lot in your novel. Has it achieved a mythic status — and if so, what does it represent?

TSR: Some of the fringe elements are definitely inspired by Wikileaks and Anonymous.

I think those elements arose as an antidote to what I felt was a one-sided vilification in the novel of the American right-wing — Blackwater, Haliburton and Cheney's cronies. I definitely lean more toward the left, and I think Wikileaks represents a very important impulse and the start of a strong movement toward anti-corporate sentiment and the demand for government transparency. (As ineffectual as that movement may end up being — because it started so late in the process of corporate control being consolidated...)

But I've also been around leftists for more than twenty years. Some of them are douchebags. I find it far from unthinkable that some leftist depopulation advocates would want to depopulate the globe for environmental reasons, as is one of the possible conspiracies in The Panama Laugh. The paranormal stuff, for me, just makes all that fringe stuff interesting.

10Z: Your novel also seems very aware of the latest ways that information gets distributed. There's viral YouTube videos, conspiracy forums, text messages, and one mysteriously-abandoned laptop. It's the contemporary details that most fiction leaves out, which somehow makes The Panama Laugh feel more real when information about the zombie attacks start turning up at CNN.com.

I feel like you and I lived in the center of a new kind of cutting-edge crazy during the dotcom boom, and it's nice to see someone channeling that into cutting-edge fiction. (There's even hacktivists in your book!) So do you sense a "big picture" about what's happening as new technologies come online, both in the U.S. and around the world?

TSR: I find it very interesting that Africa and South Asia seem to be getting wireless web technologies before they get wired ones. I think that'll affect the computer security environment enormously in the next ten years. And I think there are many very strange social implications for those of us who live our lives mostly online — good and bad.

Mostly, good. But I also think the possibility for disinformation is huge, which is some of what this novel is about.

10Z: When it came out in September, you did something interesting on the web. You're posting news blurbs — complete with links to the actual articles — about events which only happened in your novel. I did a double-take when I saw these headlines:
"Terrorist Group" Seizes San Francisco Building

San Francisco Cryopreservation Foundation Found Liable

And on Facebook, your novel also has its own page. Even though it's just been released, it's already won awards from...er, wait a minute. These are from your zombie counter-universe again, aren't they?

"2011 Crazed Hippie Disinformation Award" from Virgil Amaro Memorial Association.

"2011 It's Not Our Fault Award" from Bellona Industries Military Consultation (Juried Award).

"2011 Involuntary Termination Award" from mysterious international "Depopulation Activist" hacker group DePop Art.

TSR: Hah! Definitely, that's all disinformation. The novel is about corporate disinformation — think of this as my own little attempt to get incorporated. They're all characters and institutions in the novel.

10Z: In light of all that, it's funny that there's a disclaimer at the end. "The novel is fiction. Also, zombies aren't real." But wasn't it cathartic to describe the ruin and desolation of your old stomping grounds in San Francisco? I mean, you left San Francisco, moved to Sacramento, and then wrote a book where the zombies attack...San Francisco!

TSR: Oh, it wasn't vengeful. I love San Francisco! I was asked to write a zombie apocalypse set there, so I did....though I did it in the most roundabout possible way. It was really interesting to map out a route across a zombie-infested city that I know so well, and to invent all sorts of tunnels and things...

And the social stuff is all meant to feel very much like it could've really happened. To me, that makes the apocalyptic elements more interesting.

10Z: In the Talmud it says every man, in his life, should write a book. I believe they must've meant "a book about zombies." Imagine describing your home town in ruins — the police force abandoned, the high school laid to waste, every enemy converted into shambling undead. And not just your enemies — the whole invisible power structure.

But seriously, none of your friends are in the novel? I'm not sure I could resist the temptation! That jerk from the apartment upstairs? Zombie...

TSR: There are definitely no real people in the book. Strangely, that's not even a temptation to me. Even where characters are based on figures from the news, they're hybrids of several different people, and the institutions are all mixed up.

But there are dozens of Easter eggs to other books I'm working on...all of which concern paranormal stuff, which wouldn't be "real" in the context of the Panama Laugh universe. The only place where a real person showed up, in altered form, in the mythology was in the podcast "St. John of the Throwdown," which was written for Violet Blue to read and as such was inspired by her experience of being a homeless teenager. I wouldn't say that character is Violet, but she's certainly related.

10Z: So what kind of coffee do you have to drink to write about a zombie apocalypse?

TSR: Well, Temple has about the best damned coffee you'll ever drink. It's consistently rated highly in national terms. Of all the things that have been hard for me moving from San Francisco to Sacramento, Temple coffee makes it much easier. Any snotty San Francisco people who want to talk shit about Sacramento can face down a steaming mug of Temple's Ethiopian or Brazil Boa Sorte.

Click here to read Thomas's zombie apocalypse

Other Interviews:
Neil Gaiman has Lost His Clothes
Steve Wozniak vs. Stephen Colbert — and Other Pranks
Jimmy Wales will Destroy Google
Nicholas Gurewitch: What Happened to the Perry Bible Fellowship?

The D.C. Madam Speaks!
James Ketchum: Hallucinogenic Weapons — the Other Chemical Warfare D.C. Sex Diarist Bares All
Beyond the 'Zipless Fuck' with Erica Jong

The Secret History of Charlie Brown’s Christmas

As America settles in tonight for the 45th broadcast of "A Charlie Brown Christmas," YouTube is revealing one of Charlie Brown's strangest secrets.

Though it was the first animated Peanuts special, it followed a six-year period where the whole gang was recording commercials for Ford Motor Vehicles.

Year after year, Ford cranked out animated Peanuts advertisements for their cars, plus a Ford-sponsored variety show (that was hosted by Tennessee Ernie Ford). Was Schulz finally getting back at his advertisers through A Charlie Brown Christmas?

In a strange twist, the Ford ad campaign itself was originally the idea of a small child, according to Lee Mendelson's 2000 book, A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition. An advertising agency executive had brought his young granddaughter to work, and when she'd overheard he was looking for a new character to endorse Ford's cars, she'd suggested, "Why don't you use Peanuts?" Then the grown-ups got involved, and eventually Schulz himself had said, 'Sure, I don't mind doing that because the only car I've ever driven was a Ford."

In fact, one of the first cartoons was about advertising itself. "Why don't you write some advertising on your kite, and sell it to the people at Ford," Lucy suggests to Charlie Brown...

But you have to wonder if Schulz secretly felt ambivalent about the cartoons. When Ford's animator first arrived, along with an executive from his advertising agency, Schulz greeted them with a sardonic sign on his home that said "Welcome New York, Welcome Hollywood." By all reports, he was a sincere and spiritual man, and throughout his career, he even kept his home phone number listed in the local phone book. After five years, maybe Schulz saw A Charlie Brown Christmas as his chance to finally send a message of his own.

They'd recorded the childrens' voices for the whole show in just a few hours, according to Melendez's book. (Peter Robbins, who gave Charlie Brown his voice, remembered that "It was very strange for an eight-and-a-half-year-old to pretend to be depressed about Christmas, the most joyous time of the year!") Christopher Shea, who played Linus, mostly just remembers producer Bill Melendez howling to create the voice of Snoopy. Yet the show ultimately won both an Emmy and a Peabody award, and eventually its popularity spawned another 45 animated Peanuts specials, along with four animated Peanuts movies and even two different Broadway musicals.

But its success is even more ironic when you consider its very clear message about not commercializing the holidays. ("The half-hour special first aired on Thursday, December 9, 1965," notes Wikipedia, "preempting The Munsters and following the Gilligan's Island episode 'Don't Bug the Mosquitos'.") But in Hollywood on the same day, both the Daily Variety and Hollywood Reporter ran the producers' ad sharing "Our special thanks to the Coca-Cola Bottlers of America Who Have Made it All Possible." And another ad in TV Guide reminded viewers the innocent characters were "Brought to life...and presented to you by the people in your town who bottle Coca-Cola." But what's even stranger is that originally, the Coca-Cola logo actually appeared in the cartoons themselves!

"In the 'fence' scene, where several of the Peanuts gang are attempting to knock cans off a fence with snowballs, Linus is seen knocking down a can with his blanket," Wikipedia reports, adding that "In the original airing, this was a Coke can..." There's also a deleted bit in the skating scene, right after Snoopy grabs Linus's blanket and hurtles Charlie Brown into the snow under a tree. In the deleted scene, Linus is hurtled in the other direction, into a sign which Wikipedia reports originally read "Coca-Cola."

"Although the FCC eventually imposed rules preventing sponsor references in the context of a story (especially in children's programming), this had no effect upon the decision to impose these edits. The Coca-Cola product placement elements were removed when the company ceased being the sole sponsor, replaced in 1968 by Dolly Madison snack products, who continued to sponsor the Peanuts specials through the 1980s, along with McDonald's."

In fact, originally the special ended with the Christmas carol — "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" — being interrupted by the following voice-over: "Brought to you by the people in your town who bottle Coca Cola."

"This is very ironic," commented one user on YouTube, "considering how the whole special is denouncing commercialism..."

35 years later — on the night before he died — a 77-year-old Charles M. Schulz was discussing the Christmas special one last time with the man who'd co-produced it, Lee Mendelson. Schulz was excited about a book they were preparing together about the special, and his feelings about it were still very clear. Over the decades they'd produced 45 animated specials, but Schulz always insisted that the Christmas special had been his favorite. And in his book, Mendelson would also take a moment to remember something else that Schulz had told him years before.

"There will always be a market in this country for innocence."

See Also:
The 5 Lamest Charlie Brown cartoons
Psychiatric Help, Five Cents
Christmas 2.0: Subverting the Holidays with Re-dubbing
A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition
Santa's Crimes Against Humanity

Dana Plato and the Diff’rent Strokes Curse

It was 1999 when I first investigated the sordid aftermath of the death of another Diff'rent Strokes actor, Dana Plato. It seemed like the last remnants of Dana Plato's fame had finally been picked clean by the scandal-hungry media when she'd died that May. According to People magazine, "[T]he lovable star of Diff'rent Stokes grew up to be a petty crook, an addict, an alcoholic and, with her death at age 34, a Hollywood casualty." The New York Daily News added that by the early '90s "she was spending most of her time playing the nickel slots in Las Vegas after she was turned down for a $6-an-hour job picking up garbage and cleaning bathrooms." But in the last month of her life, Dana started an even more unlikely business relationship with Shane Bugbee, a 31-year-old Chicago-based promoter, which ensured her continued infamy after death.

For one thing, he'd put her alleged autopsy on the Internet: "Internal examination, external examination, graphical view..."

Dana started down this final road to degredation earlier that month. She'd scheduled an appearance at Bugbee's Expo of the Extreme — along with alternative metal acts like Marky Ramone, Jello Biafra, and Motorhead — and got time on Howard Stern's radio show to promote it. That interview landed Bugbee a brief flirtation with notoriety when Stern read the name of his vulgar-punned Web site (MikeHuntsOnFire.com) on the air. Her appearance on the Stern show was important, Bugbee had told her, because "my response, from the Web page, from everyone, is no one believes I'm even talking to you."

Bugbee's proud press release for the Expo — headlined "Dana Plato Speaks!" — was soon followed by one titled "Dana Plato Silenced," after she died of an overdose of painkillers and muscle relaxants just two weeks before the big event. Dana's years of notoriety were over, and all Bugbee had left were the tapes of their phone conversations.

Plato on Tape

But if there are no second acts in America, Bugbee at least provided Dana with a sordid epilogue. Bugbee contacted Internet Entertainment Group, according to a company spokesperson, and offered the recordings for their pornography Web site. But there was more to come.

In August, Bugbee launched the "Dana Plato Cult Web site," and began hawking memberships for $30 apiece. (Archive.org's 1999 version of the site is here). The site included more attempts at exploiting the former child star's notoriety. One page offered to let visitors "Ask Dana questions from the grave through the Dana Plato Psychic Network." (Presumably, they'd be answered by excerpts from his recordings — but nearly four months later, it still led to a page "under construction," and the same held true for the site's message board.) But have no fear, every page ended with a banner ad marketing Bugbee's CD: "Dana Plato's Last Breath."

The disc featured the doomed actress talking extremely fast, in her hyperactive voice with childish enthusiasm, about resting from the flu, or lisping because she'd bit her tongue. Plato is chatty and erratically candid, but it's not necessarily the "tell all" promised by the site's promotional copy. Dana does ramble in their last conversation, but there's no explicit descent "into a drugged-out Hollywood HELL!" ("Listen in HORROR...") And though it does open with a montage of sound clips, to advertise it as "Kimberly Drummand's [sic] audio suicide note CAUGHT ON TAPE!!" was an exaggeration.

But nonetheless, they are recordings from the last week of Dana's life, which ironically include an eerie clip from her appearance on Howard Stern. (Howard Stern: "Hi Dana, how you doing? You don't look near death. I look near death, actually." Robin Quivers: "Right, we look in worse shape!")

Former child star Barry Williams, who played Greg on The Brady Bunch, told me a few months after her death, "I listened to the interview and it didn't — something didn't sound okay, even then... It sort of reminded me of the Shakespearean line, you know — 'She doth protest-eth too much.'" If she was loaded, it wouldn't be the first time. Diane Anderson-Minshall, who interviewed Dana for the lesbian magazine Girlfriends in 1998, remembers that "she came to our cover shoot drunk."

Even on Bugbee's recordings, you can hear him emphasizing an important point to Dana about her New York trip. "It's a non-refundable ticket... It's not transferable for cash or anything." And Dana does sound strangely anxious to please on the tapes. In Bugbee's recording of their last phone call, the night before she died, Dana can't seem to hang up. Clinging for more than 20 minutes, her thoughts gets less and less organized. (Bugbee later told IEG that "she sounded loaded.") After sentimentally blathering about working for free, Plato seems to start crying when her 14-year-old son Tyler asks if he can be an actor. She asks for an earlier flight home from New York ("so that I have some time to rest, and not look like hell,") and when it turns out that's not an option, she says "That's fine. I'll get a valium from someone and sleep."

Towards the end, she burbles out "I really, really, really, really, really have a good vibe that this is — this is it."

The Last Stop

Wrong. The next track on Bugbee's CD is the call he'd attempted to make to Dana the night she overdosed. Yes, he's morbidly included the recording of Robert Menchaca, Dana's fiance, trying to wake her up. ("Dana. Dana! Hey, Dana....") Bugbee went so far as to title the track, as well as the CD, "Dana Plato's Last Breath," though there's no evidence that it's her last breath, or even who it is that's breathing on the tape. Bugbee can be heard telling Menchaca "That's okay, man, let her sleep it off, dude. Whatever."

Bugbee's also included two additional conversations with Menchaca. In the first, Menchaca calls crying from the hospital the day after the suicide, and in the next he talks about the autopsy and the investigation. He tells Bugbee police found syringes, a pill bottle, and a pack of rolling papers. Ironically, he complains to Bugbee about the media. "They turned a light on this as soon as I got out of the truck."

The autopsy Bugbee posted was presented under the heading: "You decide... Accident, Suicide, or Murder?" It was clearly a publicity stunt. A link at the bottom of the page read: "Learn more about the life and death of Dana Plato by getting your own copy of Dana Plato's Last Breath by clicking here! " Inside the scandal-mongering booklet that accompanied the CD, Bugbee listed Menchaca as a possible suspect. Dana's mother-in-law was listed as "Suspect #2", and the next subhead was "Government Plot." ("after all, the government has done weirder things....")

It all marked the gravy train's last stop. In his booklet, Bugbee wrote that he and Dana had discussed a coffee table book, a biography, and other business deals. But 15 minutes into the recording of their last conversation, he said "It's been great talking to you and just getting to talk to you the little bit I have. If that's all I walk away from this whole experience is having a few conversations with you, I feel like a lucky guy."

And there was one final irony. As their last conversation wound down, Dana babbled, "Um, It's just, it's, no one, no one ever takes [sic] attention to me, you know, and I will not let you down, ever."

Bugbee blustered optimistically, "Well, good! Then I won't you. We'll have a long relationship, then.

"We'll know each other forever."

See Also:
Dana Plato, Porn Star
Screech's Sex Tape Hoax
Nancy Drew's Sexy Secrets
Why Sarah Palin's Sex Life Matters
Diff'rent Strokes: Season One

Nancy Drew’s Sexy Secrets

I'm not saying Nancy Drew was a lesbian. (Believe me, I still remember the pushback on our 2007 article, How Gay Were the Hardy Boys.) But the original Nancy Drew stories were written in 1930, and sometimes their outdated language creates a problem.

"Will you tell us why you came here, and promise never to divulge to a soul a word about this place?"

"I promise nothing," Nancy declared.

"What!" the men ejaculated in astonishment.

I hate it when that happens....

That's an actual quote from the 1933 edition of Password to Larkspur Lane. The language was updated in later decades, and most readers have never seen the original texts. But before Nancy even hooked up with her butch friend Bess Marvin, she'd enjoyed this strange adventure with a young femme named Helen Corning.

After Helen and Nancy Drew encounter a suspect, Helen gushes "I just hated the looks of that man. Let's think about something pleasant." And then...

The girls accordingly enjoyed themselves by admiring each other's dainty lingerie, choosing the stockings which would best match slippers and frocks, and so for a time forgot the mystery. Helen was in ecstasies over Nancy's powder blue evening gown...

And when Nancy finally sneaks into the bad guy's house, Helen actually kisses Nancy Drew.

"Good luck," she whispered.

I swear I'm not making this up! ("Helen kissed her chum," it says on page 173.) That's how mind-bogglingly innocent people were in 1933. Or... There's something else going on here.

Nancy even spends the night sleeping with Helen. And the next morning, when she tells Helen she has "an adventure" in mind — Helen can't wait....

She threw back the covers of the bed and began dressing rapidly. "Hurry up, Nancy," she cried gayly.

"Lead me to this adventure..."

And to hell with sleuthing!

Sorry, my mind wandered off there for a second. Or am I the only one who sees sexy lesbian bondage overtones in the 1930 frontispiece illustration for The Mystery at Lilac Inn? (See the picture above.) Even twenty years later, when the books were updated, Nancy Drew was still tied up at the hands of the domineering jewel thief Mary Mason.

And then there's this 1939 scene from The Clue of the Tapping Heels.

Though I've also had sexy lesbian bondage fantasies involving another Nancy...

Still, I want to believe that even the most prudish reader would be curious about a chapter titled "The Man with the Whip." ("You saved me from a very unpleasant experience back there, Effie...") But the real moral of this story is that even in 1933, Nancy Drew kicked bad-guy ass.
"'Oh dear, this is something I don't know much about," the girl said in vexation. "How does one go about crippling an airplane motor?"

Maybe it helps to think of the books as antique children's pulp fiction...

A Little History

The first Nancy Drew books were action-packed adventure stories ghostwritten by the first woman ever to receive a masters of journalism from the University of Iowa in 1927. Mildred Wirt Benson (under the pen name "Carolyn Keane") still remains an unsolved mystery, but it's obvious that she lived in a different world. Benson practically fell through time, according to Wikipedia, living for 97 years, from 1905 to 2002. And though she didn't write Password to Larkspur Lane, she is responsible for the The Mystery at Lilac Inn, which is often cited for another unfortunate anachronism in the original Nancy Drew series — racism.

In fact, the book's first three chapters are all about Nancy trying to find a substitute housekeeper when her maid goes out of town, with Benson writing that there's a "slovenly colored woman" who Nancy rejects (along with an "Irish woman," and a "Scotch lassie.") And in a 1930 Benson book, The Hidden Staircase, she uses almost identical language to describe the villain's maid — a "fat, slovenly looking colored woman". When Nancy sneaks in through the cellar window — and accidentally makes a noise — she brings the villain's maid downstairs to investigate. And then the maid says....
"I done reckons my old ears is playing me false. I hears noises dat sounds like dey was in de basement and dey was only in my haid."

Yes, Benson writes the maid's dialogue with the same dialect throughout the book. Later Nancy sneaks into a room in the hallway, and the villain's pet parrot starts squawking. The maid comes running, and Nancy hides in the closet.
"How comes you so excited to-night, talkbird?" the woman demanded crossly. "You carries on like a fool with all yo' squawkin' and speechifyin'."

And when the cops finally come, the maid holds them off with a shotgun.

To be fair, it was a long time ago. When Applewood Books ultimately republished these original texts in 1991, they added a preface with some soul-searching, acknowledging that "Much has changed" in America. ("The modern reader may be delighted with the warmth and exactness of the language, the wholesome innocence of the characters...but just as well, the modern reader may be extremely uncomfortable with the racial and social stereotypes...")

No matter how ugly these scenes are, the preface concludes, "These books are part of our heritage. They are a window on our real past." And all of these books were eventually re-written, though even those changes offer their own cultural clues.

By the 1950s Mary Mason's simple getaway car had become an elaborate two-man submarine, and jewel thief Mary was transformed into a spy for a massive foreign espionage ring — presumably reflecting anti-communist Cold War tensions.

But the changes also stripped away much of the gritty personality from the characters, reducing them to the bland action-hero stand-ins we know today, and making them more suitable for an ongoing series of massively-franchised children's books. In the original books, the Nancy Drew character was much more realistic, which explains the impact she had on earlier generations. USA Today even reports that on the Supreme Court, all three female justices cite that original Nancy Drew as an influence — Sandra Day O'Connor, Ruth Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor.

But now the updated characters are so insistently good, they almost dare readers to invent their own sexy subtexts. In one episode of That 70s Show, Jackie insists on reading a Nancy Drew mystery out loud during a sleep-over with her boyfriend. ("Dammit." says Kelso. "Why do I always have to Bess?") And in 2004 the commenters at Something Awful even submitted their own sexy re-imagined covers for both Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books.

The world's changed a lot, even if Nancy Drew hasn't. (If Nancy Drew is a lesbian, don't tell Pamela Sue Martin. In 1978, when she was 25, the TV actress who'd played Nancy Drew in the 1970s did a naked pictorial in the prototypical men's magazine Playboy.) I want to believe modern Nancy Drew writers understood this secret intrigue when they created a 1995 TV version. Its last episode ends with Nancy abruptly breaking things off with her boyfriend Ned.

"He was right. Our relationship is a mystery. But it's the one mystery I can't seem to solve..."

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the very first Nancy Drew books. But it's important to remember that no matter how quaint she started out, every once in a while, even those original old-fashioned Nancy books would still blurt out something so surprisingly progressive and modern, it'd make you want to cheer. For example, in the 1933 book Password to Larkspur Lane, Nancy tells her friend Helen to wear hiking clothes, since they're sneaking through the woods. I think this should be hung over the arch at the Nancy Drew School of Business.
"We are going to use strategy, but not charm, so put that frilly frock away."

You go, girl!

Don't let anyone tell you how to behave — no matter what decade it is!

Click here to purchase the original 1933 text
for Password to Larkspur Lane

The Most Depressing Children’s Books Ever Written

Okay, Curious George didn't really die from an overdose of ether. But after launching a blog reviewing children's picture books, I've discovered that some stories can be just as depressing!

1. The Jester Has Lost His Jingle

"Here I lie, I have a tumor...

And you ask me where's my sense of humor?"

This book was written by a 22-year-old diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease, who died just before it was published.
Published posthumously, it became a best-seller in 1995, and received a touching afterward by Maurice Sendak. ("I remember the face — the enthusiasm....")

No one laughs at this jester's jokes in the castle, so he tries downtown, where he's confronted by the sight of a miserable homeless man. ("It's kind of hard to laugh or joke / when you're unemployed and completely broke.") A man smoking a cigarette on a graffiti-covered subway explains to the jester that "The world is not a funny place. It's filled with pain and tears." And then the jester visits the hospital's cancer ward...

Eventually the jester brings a smile to a little girl's face — and then, to the entire city, as the unusual plot of author David Saltzman lurches to a happy ending.

Six months later, Saltzman was dead.

2. Fireboat

Fluffy bunnies? Happy little puppies? Nope. This children's picture book culminates with the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

Maira Kalman emphasizes that on 9/11, two airplanes "CRASHED, CRASHED, CRASHED into these two strong buildings...." It's illustrated with a two-page watercolor showing a cloud of debris plummeting from the top of the tower, to help young readers visualize the impending carnage. Turn the page, and another two-page watercolor shows flames sweeping uncontrollably through the buildings at ground zero. And then there's another two-page spread, showing exactly what that same fire looked like that night.

They're not quite the cheery images you'd want to savor before bedtime. It's the climax of a story about the history of New York's famous fireboat, the John J. Harvey, which sprayed water on the burning towers all night with a volunteer crew. Which is why the book is called "Fireboat" — and why parents received no warning whatsoever that the book closes with the World Trade Center attacks until it surprises them in the book's final pages.

"Thanks for making me cry my head off in front of my child!!" wrote one reviewer on Amazon.

3. Rickie and Henri

"Unfortunately, Curious George's parents were both dead, since they'd already been shot in the head by local hunters."

That's basically the story Jane Goodall tells in Rickie and Henrie. Though she uses a real monkey instead of Curious George.

Based on a true story, Goodall's picture book describes a mother monkey who tenderly holds her little baby — a female monkey named Rickie. Rickie's mother carried her from place to place, and "comforted her when she was hurting or frightened." But in the next picture, Rickie is shown screaming beside her mother's dead body, as a man with a gun walks away.

And no, he's not wearing a yellow hat...

"The hunter seized Rickie and pushed her into a tiny basket, while the infant chimpanzee, who didn't understand, went on screaming and screaming for her mother." (Who does nothing, because she's already dead.) In the next illustration, the scared little monkey is locked in a cage on a pole, and she's already been wounded by shotgun pellets. But "however much she cried, there was no one to help."

Eventually the little female monkey is rescued and taken to Jane Goodall's institute and sanctuary. Where Goodall decided to write a very depressing children's picture book about her...

4. One Candle

A family gathers for their Hanukkah celebration. And then grandma starts reminiscing about Buchenwald...

"We were separated from our families and put into a camp," she says, remembering her experience as a 12-year-old girl in the Nazi death camps.
Working in a kitchen guarded by an intimidating Nazi soldier (standing with a German shepherd guard dog), she'd shared the barracks with her 13-year-old sister. And most of the book is told as a horrified flashback, as the girl remembers trying to smuggle a potato past the guard for a Hanukkah celebration.

The book explains the death camps as simply as possible. ("The Germans didn't like the Jews...") But another relative at the present-day Hanukkah celebration counters with a more nuanced perspective. "The Germans didn't like a lot of people. It wasn't only the Jews."

And then the flashback returns to the death camps....

5. On That Day

"Fireboat" may have covered the World Trade Center attacks, but at least it wasn't done with a tissue paper collage. Because ironically, that had already been done by Andrea Patel, a Massachusetts schoolteacher — and pastry chef, and musician. She represents the earth as a big blue circle of tissue paper, then writes "One day a terrible thing happened," as a big red splotch appears on that circle.

"The world, which had been blue and green and bright and very big and really round and pretty peaceful, got badly hurt.

"Many people were injured. Many other people died. And everyone was sad."

Then she tries explaining terrorism to children — using more tissue paper collages. There's a tornado, an earthquake, and a fire — all bad things that happen naturally. "But sometimes bad things happen because people act in mean ways and hurt each other on purpose," she writes. "That's what happened on that day, a day when it felt like the world broke." Then there's a picture of the pieces of the world blowing away and drifting across the blank whiteness of the next page...

The book was finished within weeks of the September 11 attacks, and Patel donated all the book's proceeds to a 9/11 charity, but the whole exercise is still a little disturbing. People fumbled for the right response to the terrorist attacks, and in the end, this is probably Patel's most inadvertently honest sentence.

"This is scary, and hard to understand, even for grown-ups."

6. Smoky Nights
It's the Los Angeles riots — through the eyes of a child.

What could possibly be more magical?

"It can happen when people get angry..." a boy's mother says. "After a while it's like a game." The boy sees fires, and watches two men stealing a TV from an appliance store. Then another window breaks at a shoe store, and two men and a woman climb in through the broken glass.
That night his own apartment building is set on fire, and the boy and his mother have to flee to a shelter for safety. Author Eve Bunting actually lives in Los Angeles (and her illustrator lived just an hour away). Which is why one of her next fun-filled stories was about poor day laborers fighting for work in a Los Angeles parking lot.

7. Michael Rosen's Sad Book

"What makes me most sad is when I think about my son Eddie.

"He died."

"I loved him very, very much but he died anyway."

That's Michael Rosen, a British broadcaster, and his son died of meningitis in 2004 at the age of 19. "Sometimes this makes me really angry," Rosen writes in his book. (Its title? Michael Rosen's Sad Book.) "Maybe you think I'm happy in this picture. Really I'm sad but pretending I'm happy."

Rosen was 56 when the tragedy struck, and he's startlingly open about the experience of coping with a loss. Why is he smiling and pretending to be happy?

"I'm doing that because I think people won't like me if I look sad."

It's a depressing read, but it's also a brave moment of personal honesty. And maybe he's also sending us a message about depressing children's books.

Sometimes the truth can be very unpleasant...

See Also:
Lost "Horrors" Ending Found on YouTube
Six Freakiest Children's TV Rock Bands
Blossom Dearie's Conjunction Junction Romance?
How Gay Were the Hardy Boys?
Homeland Security Follies

“Every Sizzler restaurant in America?!”

"Some people want world peace," says Reed Fish. "Others want to photograph every Sizzler in the USA.

"A dream is a dream..."

Reed and his wife Liz are raising money on the internet to fund a tour of every Sizzler restaurant in America — which they'll photograph. And then self-publish the photos in a book. Called "Every Sizzler in the United States of America."

"Just as there's beauty in every person, there's beauty in every Sizzler," they explain on their fundraising page. "We make the photographs blurry to help bring this out..."

"Hopefully, a gallery show will follow."

And within a few weeks they'd attracted over $2,000. Kodak even donated film. The average donation size was over $50. And they'd proved something important. "We had the guts to do this," Liz wrote on their blog, "and no matter what happens, I'm proud of that."

Image via Google Maps street view

But why Sizzler's steakhouses? "Sizzler is Americana..." their page explains, grasping at the ghost behind this peculiar fascination. "If there isn't one in your town, there probably used to be..." In their web video, the couple fumbles to explain their quest's strange power.
REED: We really feel that chains, and especially Sizzler, tells us a lot about who we are as a culture.

Or, as they suggest in another part of the video.
LIZ: We're doing this so you don't have to.

REED: We're taking one for the team.

So who are these people? Reed Fish is that Reed fish — the screenwriter behind the quirky 2006 romantic comedy I'm Reed Fish, which Variety described as a "Charming, rural version of a pre-wedding panic." Two years ago the real Reed Fish married Liz, a professional photographer. And that's when the weirdness began...

Their Sizzler-rific quest is now 16 percent complete. Reed announces in their video that "We've already shot 34 of the 206..." While there's still 172 restaurants left to photograph, at least they're down to just 150 cities, Liz adds in a blog post. And she provides a glimpse of life on the Sizzler-photographing road.

"Our record so far is six Sizzlers in one day. The six-Sizzler day is actually kind of a rough day — because of navigating, traffic and, honestly — burnout."

It's not the first time someone has tried this. Thirteen years ago, when the web was young, Jason Alan Pfaff launched "Project: Denny's, attempting to visit as many of the chain's 2,500 franchises as possible.

But Reed wants to hit all the Sizzlers — so they're turning to the internet for support. So far "the Fishes" have attracted 38 backers — and three comments. ("Don't forget the menus!") — on the fundraising site Kickstarter. "If our project gets funded on Kickstarter, we're definitely going to try to get it all done before the end of the year," says Reed. ("It would be a mandate," adds Liz.) They've drawn $2025 in pledges, but with just six days left to raise the remaining $10,000 needed.

"But hey — a few weeks ago, if someone had told you 34 people would back The Fishes for almost $1700 (so far) to go photograph every Sizzler in America, would you have believed it?"

I interviewed Liz and Reed Fish about the weirdness, the art, and the secret American passion — and how it all led them on a collision course with a corporation named Sizzler.

10Z: Have you talked to Sizzler?

REED: We have. Essentially, giving them a head's up, because I didn't want them to hear about it from someone else who wasn't me. We had a good conversation — they thought it was a fun idea, and they were excited that it was their brand being promoted. But our strategy is, we're not doing an ad for Sizzler. We don't want to have an adversarial relationship, but we...

LIZ: You're half afraid someone's going to claim offense with it and say, "Okay, I'm going to sue you and prevent you from doing this."

REED: Obviously, this isn't Fast Food Nation! We're not taking a stance about whether Sizzler is good or bad. In a way, it's more of a documentary project.

10Z: "Hi. I'm planning an art installation with photos of all your franchises." So how'd Sizzler react?

REED: The thing is, I'd left a message — I just said what I was doing so they'd call me back, so I didn't get to hear their first response. I didn't get to hear, "You want to do what?!"

And I did most of the talking... I wanted to let them know that we didn't really want them to — we weren't asking them for money. And I think I did say, "But if you want to give us a gift card so that we can have dinner on the road, that'd be great."

10Z: How'd he respond?

REED: He just kind of laughed. And didn't send me a gift card. They thought I was a little crazy.

Honestly, they loved the idea. I think they just thought, "Wow, this is great this guy wants to do this..." And they thought it was funny.

10Z: On your web page, someone demanded "Where's the disclaimer that says this project was underwritten by Sizzlers?" And Reed responded: "Okay, here's the disclaimer: Sizzler is in no way affiliated with this project. That's why we're on Kickstarter trying to raise funds!"

LIZ: I've also had people say, "Why are you putting this on Kickstarter? That's the dummest thing, because you should just have Sizzler pay for this." And it's like, "No. It's an art project, and we want to have control over it. It's not an ad." Its genesis was completely different from anything that Sizzler would create.

REED: And we also — if it was a campaign from Sizzler, we wouldn't be trying to raise money. We'd just be doing it, and trying to get press as we're doing it. The whole trying to raise money — it's just counterintuitive, in a way. Especially considering that we're pretty far from our goal right now. Sizzler can be a tough sell. Especially when you're pitching it as a serious art project.

LIZ: I think we've had a hard time figuring out how to promote, because I think we feel like if we're trying to promote it as an art project, people don't think of it as super-serious, even though we really do. But we're presenting it in sort of a light way to bring people in.

REED: We feel like it's a populist art project.

LIZ: Yeah.

REED: It's not just for the hoity-toity crowd in New York. We love those people, but ...

LIZ: Maybe we're between crowds...

10Z: But how do you really feel about Sizzler?

REED: I swear, when we tell people, for the most part their face lights up. "Oh, I love Sizzler."

LIZ: It's kind of nostalgic.

REED: And at the same time, our friends don't go to Sizzler at this point. It's almost if you — it's almost ironically, if you're in the hipster/L.A. crowd or whatever. It's not something that people go to quite a lot. But it's one of those things — it's actually good.

10Z: I think we're approaching an answer to the biggest question. Why Sizzler?

REED: Because it was Americana. If you say "Sizzler", everyone's like, "Oh, god, I used to love it when I was a kid." Everyone.

It really evokes a reaction to anyone who grew up in the United States... They have a feeling about Sizzler. I believe a lot of the ones that have closed were in places like Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin... What I've heard from people is "Oh, I grew up in Connecticut. There used to be one there, but it's gone."

That's one of the other reasons why we think it's really great. It's kind of emblematic of the change in the culture. It's like your bankruptcies and closings — we've actually, in our travels so far, gone to two Sizzlers that were closed that were on the web site. So we drove over there, and it's kind of like the scene in Vacation where they drive to Walley World and it's closed. We drove from Los Angeles to New York, and the Sizzler was closed.

LIZ: But there were other Sizzlers in New York, and it was okay. And at the same time, we've seen new Sizzlers go up. And the development is different now. They'll be in mall parking lots — there'll be a Home Depot and the anchor store, and then there's the Sizzler.

REED: Sizzler itself is aspirational. It's a very middle class — middle to lower-class chain. Those are the people that go there. And I remember — it was a special occasion to go to Sizzler when you're a kid. It's like, "Oh yeah! We're going to Sizzler." And it's all you can eat, which is — nothing more American than that.

LIZ: Yeah, it's value. I think all those things are very much things that we seek as Americans. It's something that maybe we don't think about being quintessentially American, but I think it represents a lot of things throughout the years that, from the 1950s... It's one of the original chains.

REED: I think there's things that are specifically Sizzler, and also things about it that are just more general, in terms of the way Americans embrace chains and chain restaurants and stores.

10Z: And yet neither of you has childhood memories of Sizzler?

LIZ: But when Reed told me — when we initially talked about this project, I immediately was like, "Yes." I didn't have to explain — because you just get it. Because my family used to go to Shakey's and Pizza Hut, and that for us was a very similar experience. It was a way that a family could go out, and it felt nice. At the time, they used to wait on you. I'm the youngest of nine, so the fact that we could all go out was such a big deal.

REED: I actually had the idea in college, 15 years ago. And I think — like, I don't know if it was our first date...

LIZ: One of our first dates. "What are your dreams? What do you really want out of life?" And Reed said: "I want to photograph all the Sizzlers."

REED: If you tell a girl that, and she smiles and thinks it's great, you pretty much know then that that's who you should be with. It just made so much sense for us to do it together, because I think it's something we both felt a passion for. And it was a great opportunity to do this kind of epic thing together — with your best friend and the person you have trust in and you believe in and trust artistically. It's been fantastic.

10Z: So what's it like photographing Sizzlers?

REED: Sometimes you have to drive for hours, and sometimes it's a few minutes. But invariably we'll be driving up to one and right before we see it, or when we see it, Liz will say something along the lines of: "Now that's a beautiful Sizzler..." Such a genuine excitement from her at seeing the next Sizzler and seeing what it's going to look like.

LIZ: There's definitely a variety of Sizzler styles. And I find a lot of the architecture interesting. I mean, we saw in — where was that? The flat Sizzler. In New York — in Massapequa, there's one Sizzler that it's just — it has a flat roof. It's just a box. When you pull up to it, there was just something about the Sizzler that looks like a box that....

REED: It was the world's saddest Sizzler.

LIZ: And I hate to say that, but ...

REED: But one of them had to be the saddest.

LIZ: And we noticed it had a "For Lease" sign. So once its lease is up, it'll probably be out of there. It was sort of like this weird, sad Sizzler...

And it's also about the neighborhood and the atmosphere.

REED: One of the larger themes about the project is the sameness of the American experience, of how wherever you are in the country, you can eat the same food at the same restaurants and shop at the same stores. That for me was one of the central ideas about it. But then in the execution about it, you go and find that maybe they do serve the same steak, but in different buildings, in different neighborhoods. And all the people who work there bring their own unique experience to the place. So no two are exactly alike.

Sizzlers are like snowflakes.

LIZ: It's true, actually.

REED: And then also, you meet the people there, who are real people, nice people — people just trying to make a living. What I think it has done for me is humanize this chain. Where you were kind of going in thinking this chain is emblematic of the United States and the sameness everywhere — but there's humans behind it, and kind of an endearing human experience. I relish the differences in all of them. And they're not exactly the same.

10Z: So what's the most dangerous Sizzler you've been too?

REED: I think Sizzler is a very non-dangerous place. I think Sizzler, to me, is — like, it's safe. Sizzler is what it is, and it's not necessarily full of exciting stories, but it's beautiful nonetheless.

LIZ: We did take Reed's dad with us and photographed some of the Sizzler's around San Diego... And he was just like, "I just don't understand why anyone would give you money for this." And he kept saying that, over and over. We went to two or three with him, and he just kind of stood around.

REED: Taking your dad to — that's the scariest moment of all. And that's my other favorite quote: "I just don't get why the photographs have to be blurry."

10Z: I know it's a conceptual art project, but why do the photographs have to be blurry?

REED: Well, a few reasons. I think it kind of enhances the beauty of the Sizzlers. And it gives them also a sense of nostalgia. It enhances the feeling you have. You have these kind of memories, and it's a subtle reference to that.

And then the other theme we were talking about, in terms of the sameness of the chains — if you blur it, the actual specificity of the site kind of melts away a little bit, so you don't know if you're looking at the Sizzler in Flagstaff or Barstow or Orlando.

10Z: So what was it like photographing the Sizzler in Barstow?

REED: I have no comment.

I don't know if Barstow is renowned for being the most awesome place in the world — you stop to go to the bathroom on the way from Las Vegas to L.A. — but I believe that the photo we took of the Barstow Sizzler is really beautiful. So there is beauty in these places that we overlook.

10Z: How's photographing in New York City?

LIZ: It was hard to do them all in one day. It felt like an epic day. I mean — I think it's Smithtown. You really feel like you're in a small town, in a way. It's just so much different than, let's say, the Queen's Sizzler in New York.

We really experienced some traffic and that New York driving where — and then we ended up having to go back to Brooklyn and drive across. It was one of those days where it's just like — you can't wait to get out of the car, because it was just such a difficult driving day.

REED: One of the great details is in Orlando. The Sizzlers there... they actually serve breakfast in Orlando! But in Orlando, they really cater to British tourists for breakfast. So you go in there, and it's all these British families in leisure soccer gear hitting the buffet. And in the buffet they have beans and stewed tomatoes and all this British food. And it's really the weirdest, oddest thing.

LIZ: I think a lot of people would say, "Oh, I wouldn't be able to spend that much time with my spouse." Or my girlfriend or boyfriend. It has a lot to do with our relationship... We inspire each other, in a way. And we do want to spend the time together. And it has been a really great experience, for that reason.

REED: And so it's maybe a quest to find the most romantic Sizzler. You get to do it with your best friend and the person you love the most — who gets you the most. I mean, geez, real honestly, does it get better? I don't think so. Photographing Sizzlers with your wife? I mean — wow.

10Z: What's the reaction you're getting to this project?

REED: It runs the gamut from people thinking this is the greatest thing ever to people saying, "You guys are idiots." One guy said, "This is either the most brilliant thing I've ever seen or the stupidest thing I've ever seen." That to me is just about as big a complement as you can give. We're really serious about it, but I kind of like that people maybe don't know if we're serious

10Z: When I first heard about this, I just assumed Sizzler was funding you as a viral marketing campaign (like that stealthy paid placement in a real high school graduation speech for the movie "I Love You, Beth Cooper".) The big question is: How can we be sure Sizzler isn't paying you?

REED: In our video — and this interview — hopefully we come across genuine enough. We had been wondering that, and it's kind of too bad that it's gotten to that point, and that's the first thing that people think. I'd do the same thing — I'd wonder, too.

The fact also is, I'm a really bad liar (both Liz and I are)... The projects we choose may sometimes be wacky, but that doesn't mean we're not serious about them.

10Z: Seriously — it's the culmination of a year's-long dream?

REED: I would say, 15 years.

10Z: Ironically, Sizzler declared bankruptcy during that time, in 1996.

REED: That was a dark day for me. I remember where I was when I heard the news. No, no, I'm just kidding. But it's been a long time coming.

10Z: So how exactly will you pull off this nationwide road trip?

LIZ: We took all of the Sizzlers off the web site, because they do list all the addresses. So we printed that out...

REED: They're all listed on the web site, and then we just went through and Googled all of them and where they are. Because Sizzler doesn't have a map.

LIZ: If there are multiple Sizzlers in a town, we just sort of map them out as we go...

10Z: And then after you've visited a Sizzler, you get to change the color of its pin on Google's map?

REED: It's a great moment — just to get it off your to-do list. Sometimes you want to get to the end of the list. And that will feel good, when we change that last pin's color. That will feel like an accomplishment. That will feel like the culmination of a year's-long dream.

10Z: What about all the Sizzlers in foreign countries? There's 81 Sizzlers outside the U.S. — scattered throughout Australia, Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Singapore.

REED: That would be, I think, the sequel.

The Past Lives of Al Franken

Through 35 years in show business, he left a wake of bizarre sketches. ("Don't worry about your breath and your armpits, Al. It's your personality that stinks...")

Web sites remembered Al Franken's strange past life as a movie and TV comedian when he joined the U.S. Senate last week — in the ultimate weird (or all-American?) triumph. At the age of 25, Franken had started his career playing himself in this parody of a spray-on deodorant commercial in the 1976 movie Tunnel Vision.

"Hi. I'm one of the best-looking guys in town," he explains to a woman in a swimming pool. "Wanna go somewhere and shoot the shit?"

"Where do I meet you with my gun, feeb?" she replies.

One More Saturday Night

Future-Senator Franken even lights up a joint in one rowdy 1986 movie — and sings "I'm gonna get laid! I'm gonna get laid." ("Hey, I can't help it," he explains. "I'm a lesbian trapped inside a man's body.")

In One More Saturday Night, Franken played the singer in a scruffy local band — the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia produced some of the movie's music — and the movie ends with Franken's character taking Percodan and Demerol for a punch in the jaw. ("Idiot could've gotten 20 of those if he'd asked for them," says a bandmember played by Tom Davis — another Saturday Night Live writer who co-authored the movie's script with Franken.)

Their film resembles Fast Times at Ridgemont High, cross-cutting between several interlocking teen-oriented stories. ("Dad, did you ever have sex with any ladies besides Mom?") The widower dad gets busted having sex by the lake, but what's most fascinating is the script's perspective on the state of Minnesota — which would later elect Franken their Senator!

"The state of Minnesota has got more blonde, luscious, genetically pure Swedish women than any place in the world," Davis tells Franken. Al tries to wave Tom off of one hot prospect, saying "She's got kids," but their script supplies Tom with a weird comeback.

"It's okay. They can watch."

But the most scandalous thing about the movie may appear in its closing credits, which thank James R. Thompson, the governor of...Illinois. Franken's movie about a night in a small town in Minnesota was filmed entirely in Illinois, after Minnesota's Film Board deemed its script too obscene, according to Davis's recently-released biography.

He also reveals that this movie was never released on DVD — or even into theatres, after it failed two test screenings in Times Square and Sacramento, California.

Over the Borderline

In March Davis released his tell-all memoir about performing with Al Franken as a comedy team — including a drug stop at the Canadian border. Davis hurtled an incriminating hash pipe into a river — in front of the border police — who then insisted on detaining and strip searching both Davis and Franken, along with their friends. (One friend suggested next time, he'd hide a folded note for the officer between his butt checks.) But when the police tried to intimidate the future Senator, telling him privately that his partner had already confessed to everything, Franken daringly improvised the perfect response.

"We didn't mean to kill that Indian! It was an accident!"

There's also a 1983 visit to Jamaica, in which Franken spends an hour teaching a native how to play Frisbee, "before he finally figured out she was a hooker." But Davis's book also reveals the two most disturbing facts about the man from Minnesota. Franken's wife, Franni, was once Pauly Shore's baby sitter.

And Franken's mouth is so large, he can cram his entire fist into it.

Washington Whispers

Franken loves to tell the story about challenging future-President Ronald Reagan with a question about decriminalizing marijuana. (In 2004 Bill Clinton, at a book signing, greeted Franken by saying "My hero's here.") Franken recaps the incident in his book Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot. But in 1999, for his second book, Franken described making a (fictitious) run for a seat in Washington — the Presidency — just 10 years before his actual swearing in as a Senator.

"As you know, I have not been elected president," Franken explains patiently to the Supreme Court's Chief Justice, William Rehnquist, in a fake letter which opens Why Not Me, adding "and I have no plans to run for office — local, regional, or national." (Franken then asks Rehnquist if he'd appear on the book's cover...and if he'd travel to New York for the photo shoot — by train, during off-peak hours, to reduce Franken's expenses.)

And the book also includes a campaign speech where Franken promises no major scandals during his administration. But "I'm not saying there will be no scandals whatsoever. No candidate can honestly make that pledge."

Unfortunately, his fictitious administration unravels after the release of an all-too-honest campaign diary. ("May 6... Splurged on hooker.")

The book's election might've gone differently if voters had paid more attention to Franken's campaign biography, The Courage to Dare, which chronicled his experience with entrepreneurial success in college: founding the Fabulous Freaky Freakout Company, along with its subsidiary, the Smoking Doobie Banana Brothers, Ltd.

I Fought the Law

It was the strangest omen of all, when the media and political worlds began merging right before America's eyes.

In 1998, Franken starred in a short-lived NBC sitcom called LateLine. But now real politicians were drawn into Franken's bizarre TV world, and its 19 episodes included cameos by three U.S. Senators — Paul Simon, John Kerry, and Alan Simpson — while the show's fake Senator, "Crowl Pickens", was played by Saturday Night Live's Dana Carvey.

Just eight years later, Franken announced his own candidacy for the U.S. Senate — and he's now working with John Kerry.

The studio's atmosphere was surreal. "Next door was Sesame Street," one of the directors remembers on his blog, "and it was not uncommon to see guys walking down the hall with Muppets on one hand and cigarettes in the other." But the puppets would also share the hall with other misplaced guests from Washington, including Congressmen Dick Gephardt and Pat Schroeder.

There were visits from former presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, plus one-time Clinton administration officials like Joycelyn Elders and Robert Reich. The Muppets might also spot real-life political pundits like John McLaughlin, Pat Buchanan, and William F. Buckley dropping by. And the show even had parts for Allison Janney and Martin Sheen — the future stars of The West Wing.

Franken's show would mock journalists — he played a late-night TV correspondent — but ironically, in this episode, the future lawmaker would get pulled over by a cop.

And his night's about to get a lot worse....

Monday Night Live

"I take this oath very seriously," Franken said last week from the Senate Judiciary Committee, as he prepared to question Sonia Sotomayor over her nomination to the Supreme Court. "I may not be a lawyer, but neither are the overwhelming majority of Americans. Yet all of us, regardless of our backgrounds and professions, have a huge stake in who sits on the Supreme Court."

But while he'd later ask many questions — about privacy, internet access, and the right to an abortion — Franken's long strange trip came full circle when he'd eventually grill the future Justice over a TV-related question.

What was the one case that Perry Mason lost?

"Like you, I watched it all of the time," Sonia Sotomayor admitted, though she was unable to cite the fictitious case's title.

"Our whole family watched it," Franken remembers warmly, in one last nod to his television past. "And because there was no internet at the time, you and I were watching it at the same time."

"Is the Senator from Minnesota...going to tell us which episode that was?" demands Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, giving Franken a chance to make one last oddball joke before launching his six-year term.

"I don't know!" Franken replies.

"That's why I was asking!"

See Also:
The Great Wired Drug Non-Controversy
Prescription Ecstasy and Other Pipe Dreams
Lost 'Horrors' Ending Found on YouTube
Five Freaky Muppet Videos

What Happened to the Perry Bible Fellowship?

It's been over a year since cartoonist Nicholas Gurewitch entered semi-retirement. But he's working on a movie, a TV show — and he even made a surreal appearance on a Fox News interview show. And he's left behind a message for his fans, tucked away in plain sight in the comic strip Catch Phrase. "There's no secret message," Gurewitch told us last week. "There's an overt message perhaps. That sometimes Life can pigeonhole a person.

"That's something I personally believe is a danger..."

So in the last 13 months, the 25-year-old cartoonist has drawn just that one strip while he explores even bigger mediums. "I'm very, very excited to imagine either of the films I'm working on being made," Nicholas told 10 Zen Monkeys. "I might very well post production materials for them on my web site in the near future.

"I haven't been home in three weeks because I've been script-writing with friends."

And Wednesday he finally released what may be the final collection of his Perry Bible Fellowship strips. It contains "a heck of a lot more," Nicholas told Publisher's Weekly, and the book's official site lists out bonus features like unpublished "lost" strips and original sketches, plus Nicholas's revealing behind-the-scenes interview with Wondermark cartoonist David Malki.

An earlier collection, The Trial of Colonel Sweeto, will be discontinued, and this book is "more of a deluxe edition," says Darkhorse Publishing's publicity coordinator, promising there's more than 20 strips that weren't in the first volume, "so its a more complete library."

They warn that this will probably be the final collection of Nicholas's work, though in December the cartoonist told us he was "taking it easy, preparing some ideas," and in last week's email promised "I'll probably be posting a new PBF soonish." (The site was offline briefly in December, but only because "my Australian server guy fell on hard times.") And in this book, "Nicholas went through and talked about a lot of the process he was going through," according to Jacquelene Cohen, a publicist at Dark Horse publishing. "He put a lot of thought into his inspiration."

Television versus Books

Working in two countries, Nicholas prepared a pilot TV show for British television while also retouching his strips for the book and remastering their colors. In fact, the book's publication date was delayed six months while Nicholas gave it the same lavish attention as his web comic. "He really wanted to be thorough and give each strip the time it deserves," remembers Cohen, saying only that he committed "a painstaking number of hours put into making this as special as it could be."

And the TV show? It would be a series of sketches — including at least one based on the surprise-hazing strip Weeaboo. "The guys at the company that produced it — Endemol — fought hard to make sure that comic was adapted," Nicholas told us last week. "Most of the material is sparkling new. I wrote it with my friends." And the scriptwriting received expert supervision by one of the writers of the surreal British comedy show Look Around You, Robert Popper.

"He was a great guy," adds Nicholas.

The BBC and the rival Channel 4 network are both reviewing the show now. ("I've been told that the hurting economy has hindered the speed of their decision-making," Nicholas notes — but he says that both networks are still interested in it.) In fact, Nicholas had already experimented with making movies out of some of his most famous strips, including New Specs for Ken and A Kiss For Joe (a two-minute film in which Nicholas himself makes an appearance).

Last week Nicholas told us he's now working on the script for a feature length film (along with his friend Jordan Morris). "My buddy Jordan is always really good about knowing how I should amplify an idea," Nicholas says, "and he's come up with ideas [for the strip] on his own. We're all kind of on the same wavelength collaborating, and it's extremely easy." Nicholas explained to one interviewer that "When we’re both giddy with laughter, I can tell we’re on to something good."

Nicholas seems to have cinema-sized dreams — Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody even wrote the introduction for his new book — and Nicholas offered a simple explanation to the Daily Cross Hatch. "I think a lot my ideas have grown so weird that I think I may need another medium for it." Nicholas has always been clear about his reasons for slowing the publishing schedule: "I want to do other things besides be a cartoonist." He discusses the transition in his book's introduction, and Wondermark's creator David Malki makes a provocative point — "We'll never know what kind of novels Charles M. Schulz could have written."

Nicholas also uses the interview to suggest that he's taking a lesson from the cartoonist who created The Far Side. "I'm sure Gary Larson had trained his brain by the peak of his career to derive the unbearable oddness of any slice of life. Like, I'm willing to bet that there's a muscle in his brain that he just honed, so that he could see all of life a certain way... If he's constantly looking at the world with that vision, and it's an honest vision, I don't think he can do much wrong."

But Nicholas also makes sure he acknowledges his admiration for Bill Watterson, the popular cartoonist who fiercely resisted merchandizing of his comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes. ("Bill knows better than anyone the value of keeping your characters from appearing on things that get thrown away.") In the same spirit, Nicholas's new book comes with a satin-red bookmark, and was designed with an eye for quality. "This book will look great as a (sick and twisted) coffee table book," wrote one reviewer on Amazon.

"It's almost a shame to put it in a shelf as the cover is such eye candy..."

Dark Horse Publishing acknowledges that "We didn't really understand the potential of his first book, and it ended up being a major, major success." (Nearly 27,000 copies were sold before the collection was even released!) Jacquelene Cohen remembers that when Nicholas visited trade shows, "he would have lines wrapping down one aisle and then halfway down the next — people mobbing him for autographs and signed prints and books. It was crazy — like mayhem.

"He loved it."

Beyond the Perry Bible Fellowship

It's been 13 months since Nicholas reverted the strip to "a pace I'm more comfortable with," and over the summer he told interviewers that "I doubt they'll have regular intervals. But that's something I'll focus on as soon as I finish up work in these other areas." Fans may miss the strip, but Nicholas shares a secret in the new book — just how much care went into the online strips (even after they'd been published in newspapers). "I think there's about a hundred hours' work difference between the 'Commander Crisp' that I finished for the newspapers and the 'Commander Crisp' that I finished for the web."
I've lost a week's worth of work before because I've realized that a comic could be done better. I scrap stuff all the time. In fact, I find it kind of exciting to be able to scrap something I've put hours of effort into.

A lot of times, you work all that time to maybe give your mind some liberated state that allows you to do the very best job that you can do.

A panel from "Commander Crisp"

The last year suggests the same freedom may be growing from Nicholas's entire Perry Bible Fellowship experience. After seven years of laboring over the strip, it may become the first creative outburst that just unlocks an even greater one. "I'm never worried about scrapping something," Nicholas says in his book.

"Because a lot of times that fragment that you labored over ends up finding a home in some other future work."

See Also:
Records Broken by the Perry Bible Fellowship
The Perry Bible Fellowship Almanack
Neil Gaiman has Lost His Clothes
Secrets of the Perry Bible Fellowship

Blossom Dearie’s “Conjunction Junction” Romance?

Did the woman who sang "Unpack Your Adjectives" ever get together with the guy who sang "I'm Just a Bill"?

It turns out the answer is yes! Sort of...

Blossom Dearie was an occasional singer on Schoolhouse Rock, and so was Jack Sheldon, who sang the gravelly-voiced conductor song Conjunction Junction. When Blossom came to Hollywood (for a big recording session at Capitol Records), Sheldon was her trumpeter. "I was madly in love with Blossom at the time," he remembered wistfully. "We were going everywhere and doing everything together..." reads his remembrance 34 years later from the liner notes of Blossom's re-issued album. "Blossom was marvelous."

(Click to hear Jack's love-struck trumpet
on the album's title track, "May I Come In?")

Blossom Dearie, the beguiling blonde jazz chanteuse, died Saturday at the age of 82. But when she'd met Sheldon in 1964, she was just 38, and had already lived in Paris for several years — even though she didn't speak French! Within a few years, Blossom had recorded several jazz albums and married a Belgian saxophone player named Bobby Jaspar, who had recorded with Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Chet Baker. In 1963, Jaspar died of a heart attack at the age of 37 — but Blossom Dearie was about to earn her own fame in America.

In a funny twist of fate, an entire generation fell in love with her voice, mostly from just two songs — her vocals on two educational "Schoolhouse Rock" cartoons in the 1970s. Dearie and Sheldon actually sang together in a third cartoon, which featured every Schoolhouse Rock vocalist including Bob Dorough and Essra Mohawk. (In a song about the history of inventions, Dearie sings about Thomas Edison's mother, plagued by the lack of an electric light.) And it was her haunting vocal on the Figure Eight song which first captivated generation X. A cello in a minor key set a somber tone while Dearie's sunny girl-like voice thoughtfully advised children to "figure eight....as double four," and in a later video she described a rotten camping trip by unpacking her adjectives.

Jack Sheldon and Blossom Dearie became familiar to millions of children — or at least, their voices did. The short three-minute cartoons won four Emmys — even beating out Mister Roger's Neighborhood in the early 1970s. In the years to come, Sheldon would enjoy a lifelong fame, recording parodies of his Schoolhouse Rock songs. And Blossom? She became a cabaret singer. It's a dying art form — just a singer at a piano — but she had a wispy, sunny voice and a personality that could capture a room. On the day she was born, a neighbor celebrated by bringing peach-tree flowers to her family — one story says that's where she earned the name "blossom." And 80 years later, she was still delighting crowds at Danny's Skylight Room on Restaurant Row in the Broadway theatre district.

Sadly, that big recording session in Hollywood hadn't earner her big money. "I kept working, but it doesn't seem like there was much of an impact," Blossom once said. She appears on the album's cover in a mink coat — but the CD's liner notes point out that "It wasn't hers." (A secretary loaned it to her for the photograph.) Watching her pennies, Blossom once complained simply that "I don't want to have to worry about taking a cab uptown." Thirty years later she'd record the jingle for Calvin Klein's Obsession perfume, book-ending her first real fame in 1963, when she'd recorded a promotional album for Hires Root Beer — "the most rootin' tootin' songs of 1963."

"Today, the original LP goes for hundreds of dollars on eBay," one blogger noted, "when you can find a copy." She may not have gotten rich, but she delivered a million smiles, and left many people today feeling the same sentimental memory.

"I like to think that you might go out to Woodstock on some winter's day and see a little old lady skating by herself on a frozen pond, quietly singing Figure 8 in that baby-doll voice."

Five Most Violent Super Bowl Ads

Super Bowl ads were always violent, but Sunday's game cracked the mold. Men were exploding, electrocuting, and — in one unaired spot — buying porn at gunpoint. PETA wanted to broadcast sexy models performing near-fellatio with vegetables, but the day belonged to the dudes. Some were big, some were stupid — but they all had one thing in common.


#1. I'm Bad

The meme attains perfection with Pepsi's "I'm good" ad, offering not one but four violent vignettes (culminating with a man hurtled across the sky by a high-voltage shock.) "I'm good," everyone says — since men can take anything except the taste of diet cola.

It's a bit of a stretch, though it's really just an excuse to show four crazy stunts. (Pepsi continues a tradition that dates back at least to Bud Light's infamous slapping ads.) But you know what I can't take?

Pepsi's stupid new logo.

#2. Beer and Porn

"You needed a secret code to see this spot online," warns one YouTube user — before uploading a pirated version of Budweiser's 2009 pitch for Bud Light. It's a two-minute dramedy demonstrating just how bizarre a commercial can get. (At one point, Budweiser actually had to pixelate a vibrator.) "Please drink responsibly," Bud adds at the end.

Since the days of Chaucer, porn has united humankind in a warm round of uncomfortable nervous laughter. But with this ad, Budweiser may have sent the wrong message: bad things happen when you drink Bud Light.

Especially...the crappy taste of Bud Light.

#3. A Grand Slam They Can't Refuse

Denny's turned to the mafia to promote their "free breakfast on Tuesday" promotion. But Denny's first Super Bowl ad ever — "Thugs" — finds their conversation interrupted by a waitress spraying a smiley face onto their pancakes.

It's a slap at IHOP (which dessert-ifies every pancake beyond recognition). But personally, I think the real mafia is behind all those ads for Cash4Gold.

And William Shatner's toupee.

#4. Talk Into the Clown's Mouth

After 40 years, Jack was finally mowed down by a bus — presumably spilling secret Jack sauce all over the street. "No. It's really bad," says a flunky into his cell phone. "I'm just lying to him to cheer him up." But one columnist pointed out that the Jack in the Box site wasn't broadcasting the follow-up ad. "Should we just assume he's dead?"

There's a fake Twitter feed, and HangInThereJack.com racked up nearly 500 comments — possibly from his ad agency. ("LETS ALL EAT MORE JACK IN THE BOX SO THEY CAN PAY THE DOCTOR BILLS!") But most greeted the ghoulish ad campaign with an appropriate dose of internet cynicism
can I have your STUFF???
Your food actually made me sick yesterday!

And one commenter even suggested Jack's biggest problem was with the jerk who produced his Super Bowl ad.

"Maybe the camera man should have yelled something like, 'Look Out!' instead of just standing there recording your death."

#5. The Unaired MacGruber

MacGruber jumped the shark two years ago — after the first of seven appearances on Saturday Night Live. The night before the game, the real MacGyver even appeared in a Saturday Night Live skit in which he confronts "MacGruber" about selling out. (It's right before MacGruber pauses to announce "There's always time for Pepsi" — and then dying in an oil refinery explosion.) In the final SNL segment, the theme song changed its lyrics altogether to just "Pepsi Pepsi Pepsi Pepsi" — and every single word of MacGruber's dialogue became "Pepsi."

At that point, anything that happened on Super Bowl Sunday would be anti-climactic.

And I still wish they'd detonate that logo.

See Also:
7 Things I Learned From Super Bowl Ads
5 Best Videos: Animals Attacking Reporters
Pulp Fiction Parodies on YouTube
5 Sexiest Apple Videos

Elvis Presley’s Strangest Christmases

He's the biggest kid, with the biggest toys, and he loved Christmas like he loved life — a little too much. Maybe Elvis will wander into a truck stop this Christmas Eve, toting his gun and demanding a fried peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich.

But if not, we can celebrate the holiday sharing six legends of his rock and roll excess in December, as a poor boy from Tupelo grappled with three all-American holiday obsessions: stars, Christmas, and money.

1. Elvis Gone Wild
At 22, Elvis had struck it rich. For Christmas in 1957, he bought his mother one of every electrical appliance (according to one Elvis Christmas site) — plus, a cashmere coat. Unfortunately, five days before Christmas he also received an unwelcome card from the army — telling him he'd been drafted.

The next Christmas, Elvis's mother had died, and he was living in a German hotel and hitting on a 19-year-old German girl named Elisabeth. (He crashed her parent's house for Thanksgiving, then told them in December that he wanted to hire her as his secretary.) Yes, Elvis slept with her — and a bunch of other girls — and he was starting to live large, according to the biography Careless Love. Elvis rented a sporty BMW, bought a Cadillac from the company commander, showered money on the local orphanage for a Christmas party, and discovered amphetamines.

Elvis served for two years (after getting a three-month deferment to finish filming King Creole). But in December of 1958, after a hard day of working with his platoon, one of the soldiers picked up a guitar and starting singing Christmas songs. "One by one others joined in," according to the biography, "and then the soldier with the guitar asked Elvis if he would like to take part too. 'Yeah, all right' said a subdued Elvis...and he led the soldiers in song." Elvis went into a personal rapture when he got to "Silent Night," and one sergeant remembered all the other voices dropping out for the King.

"'Those going on pass didn't interrupt. They simply walked silently be Elvis, touched his shoulder, and walked out the door. Not another word was spoken after the song until Elvis broke the spell.
"Merry Christmas, everyone" he said.
"Merry Christmas, Elvis!" they replied in unison.

2. Head in the Clouds
Elvis's religious fervor got stronger, and for Christmas in 1964, he put a new headstone on his mother's grave — and experienced a miracle. He was searching for a spiritual solace, at one point announcing to his wife Priscilla that he'd now "withdraw myself from the temptations of sex." Within a few months, 29-year-old Elvis was driving his entourage across Arizona for the filming of Harum Scarum. ("Elvis brings the big beat to Baghdad.") And he suddenly spotted a mystical face in the clouds. Unfortunately, it was Joseph Stalin.

"That's Joseph Stalin's face up there..." Elvis whispered to his spiritual advisor Larry Geller. "[W]hat's he doing up there?" Geller himself remembers that the clouds did look like Joseph Stalin — and then that the miracle had happened.
Before I could answer, the cloud slowly turned in on itself, changing form and dimension until the image faded and gradually disappeared. I knew we had witnessed something extraordinary and turned to say so, but stopped when I saw Elvis staring into the cloud, his eyes open wide and his face reflecting wonder... Elvis' expression was the one that you read of in the Bible or other religious works: the look of the newly baptized or the converted.

Elvis violently screeched the bus to a halt, crying "It's God! It's God...! The face of Stalin turned right into the face of Jesus, and he smiled at me, and every fiber of my being felt it."

Elvis later decided that he wanted to become a monk, and according to the Careless Love, "the guys all fumed at this latest evidence of the boss's weirdness and almost perverse dedication to the bizarre."

And that night in the Mojave desert, their motor home caught on fire.

3. Elvis's last Christmas
Two days after Christmas in 1976, 41-year-old Elvis was heading to Wichita, Kansas after finishing his run at the Las Vegas Hilton. Elvis looked "very tired and quite sad," one fan reported, and according to biographer Peter Guralnick, Elvis had even asked minister Rex Humbard if he should abandon show business altogether to devote himself to god. (Then Elvis started talking excitedly about Armageddon...) Humbard remembers that he politely "took both his hands in mine, and said 'Elvis, right now I want to pray for you.' He said 'Please do,' and started weeping."

A bewildered reporter at the Memphis Press-Scimitar watched the last show in Vegas, and wrote that "one walks away wondering how much longer it can be before the end comes, perhaps suddenly, and why the King of Rock 'n' Roll would subject himself to possible ridicule by going onstage so ill-prepared.

"And yet they keep coming back, and they will pack his next road tour... Once a king, always a king. Maybe that's it."

"And just maybe they're still coming because they think it might be the last time around."

4. I Fought the Law
Even at the peak of his popularity, Elvis wistfully remembered his days of obscurity. In 1954, Elvis was a struggling 19-year-old superstar wannabe facing his first brush with the law (according to an interview he gave in 1966). Elvis had been the singer for a three-man combo, and one cold December night was driving back from Shreveport, Louisiana when a highway patrolman pulled him over for speeding. "It was cold," Elvis later told a reporter, "and I was sleepy. I woke up, and the officer asked, who are you?"

After hearing Elvis's name, "The officer looked puzzled. Of course he had never heard of me. Hardly anyone had. I thought, 'Here goes my Christmas money for a traffic ticket.'"

Instead, the officer waved them off with a warning, and relieved, the singer and his band performed a strange ritual. "After the officer left, the three of us got out of the car and counted our money by the car headlights. It was mostly in dollar bills. Man, that was the most money I'd ever had in my pockets at one time!

"I blew the whole bundle the next day for Christmas presents."

Elvis took a moment to remember the night 12 years later, just a few months before the filming of Paradise, Hawaiian Style. "There is a lot of difference in Christmases today and when we were growing up in East Tupelo," he told the reporter.

"[But] honestly, I can't say these are any better...."

5. Elvis's Revenge
Elvis had a dream on Christmas Eve just 19 months before his death — that no one who worked for him really cared about him; that they just wanted his money. According to biographer Guralnick, on Christmas morning Elvis spilled the details with a sympathetic nurse. "He had dreamed that he had gone broke, and when he needed them they walked out on him." Elvis and the nurse stayed up talking until 3 a.m., and by the time he came downstairs, nearly all of his friends had left.

So on Christmas day, Elvis tried treating his friends to a trip on his private jet, the Lisa Marie. As he was handing out jewelry to his posse, Elvis's drunken aunt Delta suddenly shouted at one of them " You ain't no damn friend of his! And I got a good mind to take this .38 I got in my purse and just shoot you dead!'" Looking at another hanger-on, she said "And you ain't worth a shit either, you wall-eyed son of a bitch... All you sons of bitches are here for the same thing. You just want his damn money!"

Elvis advised his friends she was drunk, but that night at 2 a.m., began beating on her trailer door with a cane. "His hair was messed up, and he was wild-eyed and red-faced..." remembered Elvis's cousin Billy, who had grabbed a gun before consoling the king about his Christmas day humiliation. ("He was out of his mind, he was so mad...")

But maybe Elvis had already gotten the ultimate revenge in 1971. Five years before his death, Elvis gathered his posse into his den, according to a gossip item Guralnick quotes in Careless Love. Each hanger-on remembered the previous year, when Elvis had given out several new Mercedes — and this year Elvis was promising them "maybe a little something special."
With a sly grin on his face, the singer turned to his father, Vernon Presley, and asked "Where are the envelopes, please?"

Vernon reached into his coat pockets and produced the envelopes. "Well, it's been a mighty lean year," said Elvis, whose income probably exceeded $4,000,000 in 1971. As the envelopes began to be opened, the room fell silent. His special gift for 1971 was a 50-cent gift certificate to McDonalds.

But Elvis was just kidding, and later gave them all thick envelopes loaded with cash. And a few days later, Elvis rented an entire movie theatre downtown just so he could watch Shaft.

That was also the year Elvis recorded his final Christmas album.
I've seen and I've done most everything
That a man can do or see.
But if I could only borrow one dream from yesterday
I'd be on that train tomorrow.
I'd be home on Christmas day

6. Resurrection

Did Elvis fake his death to escape a grueling show business life? For 30 years, the legend persisted, until one night the question was settled on an episode of American Idol. In August of last year Ryan Seacrest introduced "a duet you thought was impossible," resurrecting the ghost of Elvis from December of 1968 so he could sing with Celine Dion.

It was either a holographic monstrosity or a touching remembrance, as the legendary entertainer belted out the showstopper from his comeback special one last time. Though he would've been 73, somehow Elvis's image and voice transcended death itself — and kept on earning more money for other people. (Eight weeks ago, Sony records even used the same trick to release 12 new Elvis Christmas Duets.) From the great beyond, Elvis sends a final "Merry Christmas, Baby," and American Idol had probably identified the song you'd most expect to hear after re-animating the king of rock and roll.
We're lost in a cloud
with too much rain.
We're trapped in a world
That's troubled with pain.

But as long as a man
has the strength to dream
he can redeem his soul
and fly.

The video may not constitute a Christmas miracle worthy of Andy Kaufman.

But it does suggest that maybe Elvis isn't really dead —as long as his fans remember him.


See Also:
Christmas 2.0: Subvering the Holidays with Re-Dubbing
Alvin and the Chipmunks Launch iMunks.com
Atheist Filmmaker Issues "Blasphemy Challenge
A Christmas Conspiracy
They're Dreaming of a Boobs Christmas

20 Wildest Reactions to Obama’s Victory

Susie Bright screamed naked. The Santa Cruz-based author belonged to a Facebook group called "I will walk out my front door naked as soon as Obama wins!"

America went a little crazy on Tuesday night, finding a diversity of wild and wonderful ways to celebrate or to protest Obama's historic victory.

Here's 20 of them.

1. Naked in the Streets

That "naked" Facebook group had 227 celebrating members — and on election day, their reports began rolling in. "Its dark and cold here in Vermont, but it felt great!"

"I did it too! In fact, I danced on the front porch, and yelled 'Whoo hoo!'"

"My partner and I went downstairs in our robes, dropped the robes and cracked up like a couple of giddy schoolgirls!"

And in Santa Cruz, Susie Bright reported that she "tore off my clothes and ran out on the front porch and screamed my head off."

2. Impeach Him Already!

Facebook users have already started another dissenting group called "Impeach Barack Obama." In fact, they've started 30 different groups with variations on the same title, with a total of over 9,000 members. But soon other users were joining a competing group — called "Deport Those Who Wish To Impeach Barack Obama."

And another user's group was titled simply "MCCAIN LOST! GET OVER IT!"

3. The Last Word?

Another Facebook user tried creating a group called: "I bet I can find 1,000,000 people who hate political Facebook groups."

It currently has just 19 members.

4. Funny Papers

Meanwhile, political cartoonists around the world responded to Obama's victory with images that were nearly identical. Twelve different cartoonists drew Obama with the Lincoln Memorial, while nine more drew him with Martin Luther King.

But the response wasn't confined to the U.S. In Mexico City, Angel Boligan drew Obama wearing a Martin Luther King t-shirt. In Australia, Bill Leak drew King in heaven asking "Am I having a dream?" And in West Africa, Tayo Fatunla drew King in front of a picture of Obama, adding the caption "Having a dream...is the audacity of hope."

5. A Cartoon Gamble

Wednesday South Park aired a story lampooning Obama's victory just one day after the election. The production staff "will be up all night working on Wednesday’s show," their blog announced Tuesday, and Trey Parker told the L.A. Times they'd decided that "we're just going to make the Obama version, and if McCain somehow wins, we're basically just totally screwed."

They were still dubbing in dialogue hours before the episode aired — including actual text from Obama's victory speech. But Parker told the paper he was sure Obama would win — because of the odds at a sports betting site where he gambles on football.

6. Radio, Radio

A celebrating college radio station in Oregon played nothing but musical mixes of Obama's speeches for over an hour.

"It's really great to see people happy again," the DJ explained. "That's what the whole Obama thing is about."

7. Gun Sales are Up

A Utah newspaper reported that "Local gun dealers quickly are running out of stock of magazines for Colt AR-15s and AK models." They're not stocking up for militias, but anticipating Obama's reinstatement of a federal Assault Weapons Ban.

"Pretty much anything with more than 10 rounds is in high demand right now," a gun salesman told the newspaper, noting that one dealer had sold 82 assault rifles in a single day.

8. The Internet Responds

Wednesday someone registered the domain Has Obama Taken Away Your Guns Yet . com. In enormous letters, the site displays a single word.


And in a smaller subtitle, it quotes a famously-misspelled protest sign.

"get a brain morans"

9. Catch-All Criticism

On Tuesday, a realtor in Georgia had also registered the domain I Blame Obama.com.

10. Flushing the Plumber

In the end, an ungrateful Joe the Plumber said "I was unhappy that my name was used as much as it was." In an interview with a British newspaper, he complains that instead "I think there were real other issues that should’ve been discussed during the debate.”

All the attention landed him a book deal, and he's launched a charity site — where he's promoting his book and selling "freedom memberships" to the site — though he adds that "I will honor and support my president, but there will be no free ride."

Ironically, the actual domain Joe the Plumber .com has belonged to a different plumber in Amarillo Texas since February of 2004. He's using his site to sell American flags, t-shirts — and advertising space on Joe the Plumber.com

11. History by Hanes?

He's not the only one selling clothing to "commemorate" Obama's victory. An ad on CNN argues that history was just made.

"And it comes in your size."

12. Wardrobe Malfunction?

"Dear Sarah Palin," read a sign in a picture framing store in San Francisco.

"We eagerly await your $150,000 clothing donation on Nov. 5th.

"Thanks in advance, Goodwill."

13. You Betcha

Andrew Sullivan supported Barack's candidacy, and celebrated Thursday by noting a sweet vindication from the state Pennsylvania. The county that Sarah Palin had called "the real America"?

"It voted for Obama."

14. No More Bushes

Blogger Steve Benen observed the historic moment with another startling discovery.

2009 will be the first year in 45 years without a Dole or a Bush in elected office.

15. Ebert Gives a Thumb's Up

45 minutes after Obama was elected, Roger Ebert wrote that "Our long national nightmare is ending."

The 66-year-old film critic was quoting a speech Gerald Ford gave after assuming the Presidency from Richard Nixon. "I agree with Oliver Stone," Ebert wrote, "that Bush never knew he had been misled [into the Iraq war] until it was too late.

"I blame those who used him as their puppet."

16. Predicted in the 60s?

After "new left" protesters clashed with police during the 1968 Democratic convention, Norman Mailer had predicted that a torn country "will be fighting for forty years." (One critic complained that "Here at our end of the forty-year war there are no Norman Mailers. Only pollsters. And consultants. And political scientists.")

But shortly before his death last year, 84-year-old Mailer had made one of the only political campaign contributions of his life — to Barack Obama.

17. The Ghost of Chicago

The violent clashes at the '68 convention haunted Democrats — but one liberal who never understood the protesters was Barack Obama's own mother.

"Emotionally her liberalism would always remain of a decidedly pre-1967 vintage," Obama wrote in The Audacity of Hope, remembering that his mother's heart was "filled with images of the space program, the Peace Corps and Freedom Rides, Mahalia Jackson, and Joan Baez."

18. Rebellious or reasonable

Obama gave his victory speech at the same park as those violent police-protester confrontations in 1968 — and pundits couldn't miss the symbolism. Obama "stands on the shoulders of the crowds of four decades ago," according to one protester. Now a sociology professor, Todd Gitlin told the New York Times that Obama's rebellion "takes the form of practicality. He has the audacity of reason."

But one injury was reported Tuesday night — Chicago Sun-Times journalist Lynn Sweet, who injured her shoulder rushing to cover Obama's speech. In his first press conference, Obama noted wryly that "I think that was the only major incident during the entire Grant Park celebration."

19. What took you so long?

The morning after Obama was elected, he was told he'd been expected by Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple.

In an open letter, the 64-year-old author wrote that Obama had no idea how profound it was for southern blacks, though America's first black president was already "with us" and "in us" in previous generations, and "Knowing this, that you would actually appear, someday, was part of our strength."

She closed her letter by saying Obama's smile "can find an answering smile in all of us, lighting our way, and brightening the world.

"We are the ones we have been waiting for."

20. I Have a Dream

In 2004, Martin Luther King's widow had witnessed Obama's first address at the Democratic convention. King's daughter remembered that night after Tuesday's election results, saying her 76-year-old mother had said "Bernice, come here.

"I think we got somebody."

See Also:

Bush's Last Day: 10 Ways America Celebrated
Iraq YouTube Battle Footage
Why Sarah's Sex Life Matters
Drugs and Sex and Susie Bright
How a Barack Obama Site Made Me Famous

Lost “Horrors” Ending Found on YouTube

The web has resurrected a rare alternate ending to a 1986 musical about a monstrous, blood-sucking plant.

The spectacular 24-minute sequence shows an army of giant plants rampaging past city skyscrapers, overturning cars, swallowing railroads, and demolishing New York City, Godzilla-style. The U.S. army discovers the plants are bulletproof, and as helicopters flee, the plants swarm over the statue of Liberty.

It cost $5 million, took 11 months to produce, and has never been released.

Well, almost never.

Ten years ago, "Little Shop of Horrors" was available on a DVD including the toothier alternate ending — for exactly five days. But Warner Brothers failed to secure the proper copyrights for the alternate ending — and the DVD was recalled. For the next decade, producer David Geffen and Warner Brothers wrangled and promised to restore the original ending, until Warner Brothers finally discovered in 2007 that it had already been burned in a studio fire.

But while Hollywood argued, the coveted footage quietly slipped onto YouTube.

Fans of the 1986 musical version will recognize the ending's opening scene, which starts with the same shocks as the original off-Broadway theatrical production in 1982. (Blonde flower shop worker Audrey tries to water the enormous plant — which decides that it'd rather eat Audrey.) But the film makes explicit what was only implied in the stage musical's darker final number. Standing in front of an American flag, the three chorus singers (dressed in ominous robes) explain that "subsequent to the events you have just witnessed..."
The plants worked their terrible will
finding jerks who would feed them until
    the plants proceeded to grow and grow
and began what they came here to do
which was essentially to

    eat Cleveland
    and Des Moines
    and Peoria
    and New York

and where you live.

Ironically, the additional footage contained a prophetic scene with an agent haggling over the rights to the plant. He shouts "We don't have to deal with you. A god-damn vegetable is public domain! You ask our lawyers!"

A Long Strange Trip

There's something cathartic about the forbidden mayhem — and ironically, the raw cut returns the movie to its black-and-white roots. The legendary B-movie producer Roger Corman filmed the movie's original version in just two days — using sets that he'd borrowed from another film.

But his movie, released in 1960, marks a very real milestone in Hollywood history. "There was a big rush to finish before New Year's Eve," recalled Jackie Joseph. As the film's lead, she was interviewed for a 1988 book about the film, and remembered that "starting in 1960 you'd have to pay residuals." In fact, the site DVD Talk argues that when budget-conscious Corman finished his movie, something died in Hollywood forever. When the clock struck midnight on New Year's Eve, 1960, "drive-in films were stopped cold by the advent of residuals... Anyone who has studied Corman knows that this must have struck him like the bubonic plague."

But then again, the movie's weird idea had only sprang to life after "Roger and I went bar-hopping again on the Strip," according to Charles Griffith, the film's scriptwriter. (In Roger Corman's autobiography, Griffith remembers that while the two men were brainstorming, "I got drunk and ended up in a fight at Chez Paulette.") Somehow that inspired the idea of a cannibalistic restaurant chef — which became a man-eating plant for Little Shop of Horrors. 23-year-old Jack Nicholson appears briefly in the film as a dentist's masochistic patient, but it would've languished in obscurity if it hadn't been for two 11-year-old boys. They saw the film when it was released, and 20 years later, Martin Robinson and Howard Ashman turned it into a wildly successful off-Broadway musical.

The scriptwriter's other credits had included Attack of the Crab Monsters, Death Race 2000, and part of Barbarella: Queen of the Galaxy, so I want to believe he'd have some affection for the horror movie fans who finally uploaded the "lost ending" for the movie's musical version. And the movie seems to have haunted other lives as well. Mel Welles — the character actor who played Mr. Mushnick in the 1960 original— launched a web site 38 years later to share his memories about his work in Hollywood. At MelWelles.com, he held court for seven years, until he died in 2005 at age 81. (At the time of his death, he was reportedly working on a screenplay called "House of a Hundred Horrors.")

The strange magic continued through another generation, since the musical movie — released 26 years after the original — intersected still more nascent careers. The movie was directed by Yoda puppet-master Frank Oz, and featured Steve Martin as a sadistic dentist. John Candy did a memorable cameo, and the film also featured Jim Belushi and Bill Murray. And the voice of the blood-sucking plant came from Levi Stubbs, the baritone singer from the Four Tops who died just two weeks ago at the age of 72.

Maybe it's fitting that the story lives on for another generation — and on Halloween night, Stubbs's voice haunts the web one last time.

See Also:
Secrets of the Perry Bible Fellowship
The Great Wired Drug Non-Controversy
Prescription Ecstasy and Other Pipe Dreams

Site Sparks Political Sexiness War

A new web site promises to answer "the only question that matters." Who's sexier — Democrats or Republicans?

Sexy female and male voters can now upload their photos to SexiestParty.com and secretly whisper their political loyaties. Strangers on the web rate their attractiveness before the site exposes the secret — whether the picture was a luscious liberal or a cuddly conservative — while running tallies compare the sexiest people in each party.

"Sex and sex appeal have always been a part of politics," the site explains, "but with so much attention being paid to Palin's looks and Obama's charm, it's become a national obsession!" In just a few days the site's racked up nearly 20,000 pageviews, and every visitor has spent almost six minutes clicking around the site. Like Barack Obama, the sexy Democrats currently have a slight lead, while the contest has yet to reach its final climax.

But is this just internet fun, or a dark satire on the shallowness of the electorate? I pinned down the site's spokesman, who was leaving to enjoy an art festival and then watch Friday's debates "along with two or three extremely sexy female poly sci students." His email ended with the words "Stay sexy," but he agreed to do a short interview.

And the word "sexy" just kept coming up.

D: Your site's slogan is "May the sexiest party win."

SP: I think it's just inevitable. And really, honestly, four years of sexy people is better than four years of non-sexy people.

D: But why does it matter which party has sexier members?

SP: The fact that it has no significance is what matters. ;) It's fierce political competition on an issue that has no relevance to good governance. It's Bill Clinton's blow job. Palin's moose hunting. Obama's middle name. McCain's houses.

D: If Americans really will elect the sexiest party, then that means you hold the key to the November election's outcome.

SP: Yes. We do hold the key.

D: I mean in a sense, your site measures which party has the "sexiness edge."

SP: We're providing a public service. Everything else has been covered. The political sensibilities have been mapped and decoded across the land. But the one thing that seems to be missing is who's sexier, so to some extent, we're providing those data points as a public service.

D: What makes you think people on the internet are going to be interested in sex?

SP: It was just a wild hunch.

D: If I'm rating the male Democrats, will I eventually see a very sexy photo of Barack Obama?

SP: The more prominent members of the party, the candidates themselves, get plenty of exposure. I think there's already a solid sense of their sexiness on the spectrum. It's really the real people — the real Americans — we're interested in helping out.

D: But you sound kind of cynical about the choice of Sarah Palin.

SP: We're not the least bit cynical. Sarah Palin, and Obama too — he's also very photogenic, as has been pointed out. And this is nothing new. John F. Kennedy was also criticized for being basically a physically, aesthetically-pleasing candidate.

D: Are you saying that a sexy undercurrent leads to success in politics?

SP: We'll see with this election.

There is a thesis statement in there somewhere, and certainly a critique. I mean, once Palin got into the race, our site suddenly became that much more relevant. It was a demarcation of the shallowness of this whole process. We foreground that shallowness and give people a place to duke it out in our context. It is a place of real competition, but it's also satirical as well.

One interesting thing about this project is we're providing a forum where two different parties actually are on the same page. Both political viewpoints are so skewed. With the division in our culture, it's pretty rare to find a forum where both sides are presented objectively and on par. In version 2.0, we're even going to implement information about each party's participation levels on the site.

D: It's true that America is sharply divided now by a real and bitter partisanship. Do you think maybe you've found the missing common ground?

SP: We're bringing people together so there's no partisanship. We're trying to really focus on the issue that really matters, which is sexiness. (And we also don't allow comments, because we don't want it to devolve into bad behavior.)

This will seem convenient, but I came up with the idea when I was thinking about how deeply and personally many people take the red/blue divide. To the point of having it limit their options in life in areas that really have nothing to do with politics. Reporters ask which party is sexier at the end of interviews as a joke... but there are a lot of people who take it seriously.

D: So then is this all really just about the sexiness?

SP: Well, the site's definitely playful and sexy. But it does hint at some of the silliness inherent in how the red/blue divide has invaded issues that have nothing to do with politics. Why can't good god-fearing hockey Moms enjoy the odd latte?

D: Isn't this kind of sexist?

SP: Yeah, I guess. The whole culture is guilty of that as well. We really don't like to get involved in these kind of issues. We can't be held accountable for the sins of the culture. We just reflect. That's all we do.

D: I guess the "pursuit of happiness" is an inalienable right.

SP: And we all know that sexiness equates to happiness.

D: So if a party is determined to be sexier — does that mean I should join it?

SP: It might sway people to reconsider their positions.

D: Are you a Democrat or a Republican?

SP: We're a non-partisan site, so I really can't say. It's a very sexy party though.

D: There is something timely about your site. This year there've been high profile sex scandals — often, involving the most moralistic politicians.

SP: In all seriousness it's like that generation forgot they were young at one point in some ways. There's sort of a reaction against the excesses and dalliances of their youth, perhaps.

D: But didn't the other half of the political spectrum just embrace all their sexy urges?

SP: In some way, maybe we're putting our finger on sort of the dividing point of the culture. Maybe it really is all about sex — and the reaction against the permissive behavior in the 1960s and how that shaped the great ripples in our culture since then. It seems like we've actually gone backwards. We've gotten less permissive and less open to different types of behavior.

Maybe now through our site, they can lust after their deadly opponent — their enemies.

D: I thought they'd want to lust after the hottest members of their own party.

SP: There's certainly that as well.

D: So if Sarah Palin reminds voters of a sexy librarian, does that increase McCain's chance of getting elected?

SP: Palin is pretty sexy — but I need to see her with her hair down. Palin is definitely my type, yes. Brunettes with glasses. Of course, I want to emphasize that we're an objective non-partisan site, so we really take no position on sexiness vis-a-vis party affiliation.

D: Interestingly, Sarah Palin is actually opposed to sex education.

SP: It makes her seem a little bit like she's playing hard to get. That coy Sarah Palin. (You're not using my name, are you? I don't want any death threats.)

D: Your secret is safe with me.

SP: As you might have guessed, I'm developing this project under an alias... Too many nuts in the political world, and you never know who might get pissed off!

D: Are politically-active Americans sexier than, say, politically-active Canadians?

SP: Oh, absolutely. We're launching a Canadian version of the site to find out — to see how they compare. And we also think that sexiness knows no geographic boundaries.

D: So when will the Canadian version of your site launch?

SP: We're aiming for Monday. [The site just went live a few minutes ago.] It's at sexiestparty.ca. And of course, these are just the first two. We plan to roll them out into all the major political markets across the globe.

D: Maybe you've inspired a sense of national pride.

SP: They're coming from all across this great country of ours, from the farmlands to the urban portions of the country. From sea to sexy sea.

D: One study found that immediately after 9/11, casual sex increased dramatically. I wonder if we're now approaching another spike with the ongoing Wall Street meltdown.

SP: Living for the moment, I guess. Certainly we in no sense condone that — but we also don't condemn it, either. Obviously this is a frothy bit of frivolity, but hopefully there's an appeal to comic relief in these turbulent times, something to look at that's not so weighty.

D: So what happens if someone is determined to be the most sexy member of their political party? Do they get to break ties in the Senate?

SP: As it is an ongoing competition, they're encouraged to keep up the sexy fight lest they fall behind in the sexy race.

D: Why can't libertarians be sexy too? Right now your site only lets me judge Democrats and Republicans on the basis of their appearance. Why can't I also make sex objects out of Ron Paul supporters?

SP: I agree. I'm actually pushing to get third parties implemented on the site too.

D: I see that you registered your sexy domain all the way back in May.

SP: Yes. Due to our programming team's very active sex lives, progress on the site has been slow. There have been a lot of "candidates to interview," so to speak.

If we all weren't so damn sexy it would have been finished a long time ago.

D: But has the site also helped you hook up with other sexy people?

SP: It's not about me. It's really all about the American people.

See Also:
War of the Candidate Music Videos
CWILF Island: Hottie Candidate Spouses
Sarah Palin Photos and a Moose
Democratic Cartoon Candidates

Archie Comics Fights Mp3 Pirates

Archie's band recently confronted mp3 pirates, as the 67-year-old teenager struggles to adapt to digital technology and a changing world.

Yes, 67 years. Archie first appeared in 1941 — the cartoonist's mother was a Ziegfeld girl in the 1920s — and the characters were based on teenagers the cartoonist knew in the 1930s growing up in Northern Massachusetts.

But now that he's approaching 70, Archie has started flashing around the latest technology in his plucky comic book digests. There's web sites, text messages, mp3s, and file swapping — all pushing a new image for 2008.

Jealous Veronica Lodge is still badgering Archie for looking at other girls — but this time, she's using a massive network of her technologically-enabled conniving friends, all armed with cell phone cameras spying on Archie. ("Who'd have guessed that 'Big Brother' would be a beautiful brunette named Lodge?" Archie complains.) It's the cover story for July's issue of Archie comics — titled One Click Away — and Archie tries to jam Veronica's mobile surveillance by wearing a disguise from a costume shop. (Though then the girl he's pursuing just shouts "Steer clear of me, weird-o" and whacks him with a shopping bag.)

And Reggie's still a big sneak — but in February, he teamed up with a hacker named "The Serpent" to swipe the answers for the math teach from Mr. Novak's computer. ("It was his idea to use a library computer, so they couldn't trace it back to my home computer.")


Then again, in Archie's fictitious world, cutting edge of technology has always been just a brush stroke away. Even back in 1971, Archie and his pals watched cartoon renderings of newspaper comics on a cutting-edge Univac mainframe (in a bizarre TV/newspaper hybrid called "Archie's TV Funnies.")

Archie apparently got his first PC in 1995 — which he used to troll online dating services looking for dates. (According to Archie Digest Magazine #137 his first message was a full-screen image of Veronica, barking "How dare you use this computer to find girls! Why I oughtta...") But the matrix had set him on a collision course with music pirates — even if it took 40 years. That fateful afternoon when Archie and his gang lost their innocence came in Archie #577 — when they discovered that their music was being pirated.


The story's called "Record Breaker," and it shows Archie dreaming of launching an online downloading emporium. ("No CD's! We're bypassing that whole system to reduce overhead... We'll get paid directly per download!") Dilton, the strip's resident geek, builds a cutting-edge distribution platform as Jughead, Reggie, and the rest of the gang sink their savings into a recording session. ("We'll make back our outlay with the records we sell!")

"Lets find out just how rich we are," Archie says cockily as they stroll into Dilton's downloading command center.

Archie's music career was over before it began, apparently doomed by his failure to implement an infrastructure for harassing Riverdale's music pirates. The story ends with Archie and Jughead sadly going back to their day jobs at the burger joint, now working double shifts to earn back their money, and abandoning the band altogether.

But then again, Archie's been working there since Roosevelt was President, cracking jokes he inherited from his father's vaudeville act.

But there's one voice in Riverdale who might understand — and it's not the school principal Mr. Weatherbee. Ron Dante was the real voice for the Archies, singing on all 100 of their records (and at least once even performing as the voice of Betty). At 63 years old, he's watched the music scene change — and in a 2000 interview, Dante shared his thoughts about online music.

In a world of fluff and filler songs, "you'll see the really good stuff rise to the top of the Internet at some point," he predicted optimistically to Cosmik Debris magazine, "and people will be able to judge for themselves. It's a revolution. It's going to change the world of music as we know it.

"It's evolution, too. We have to go through this."

Even though he created the Archie's music, he laughed off the teenaged pirates that are now harrying Archie and Jughead's band.

"With all this hubbub about record people worried about the Internet, the record business is up ten percent. Instead of ten billion, it's thirteen billion this year.

"So I'm not too worried."

See Also:
Records Broken By the Perry Bible Fellowship
Steve Wozniak v. Stephen Colbert — and Other Pranks
Six Freakiest Children's TV Rock Bands
Alvin and the Chipmunks launch iMunks.com

Hating Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert won the first Pulitzer Prize for film criticism. But 33 years later, is he part of the problem?

That's what Armond White is suggesting in a 3,200-word essay arguing that Ebert's "TV glibness" misses the meat of movies. Critics today discuss movies "simply as entertainment" detached from their moral and political context, White argues, and internet bloggers are compounding the problem with an elite hipsterism which is "diminishing cultural discourse."

Vanity Fair's James Wolcott quipped that the column "has something to annoy, invigorate, and agitate just about everybody."

The 20th anniversary issue of the New York Press found Armond White declaring war on the deadened souls of the movie-loving literati. This week White, who heads the New York Film Critics Circle, accused critics of ignoring politically-relevant movies like Steven Spielberg's Munich and War of the Worlds. Instead they'll only endorse dishonest films like There Will Be Blood or Gus van Sant's film about the Columbine shootings, the kind of movies White describes as "irresponsible," "pseudo-serious," and "sometimes immoral or socially retrograde."

And where is Roger Ebert's big contribution to this cultural dialogue, White asks — his insightful new idea or his notable style? But White takes his attack even further by noting Ebert's substitutes on the show now "loyally prevaricate in Ebert’s manner — a 'criticism' show owned and sponsored by the Disney conglomerate!"

"Prevaricate" is a strong word, but White is suggesting an industry-wide pattern of dishonesty spotlighting the movie industry instead of the movies. For example, when Premiere launched in the last year of the Reagan presidency, it focused on box office receipts "for that era enthralled with tax shelters, bond-trading and pro-trust legislation," and the magazine ultimately "perverted movie journalism from criticism to production news." To this day, White concludes, we're left with film criticism "that's blurred with celebrity gossip."

But even more he objects to a "disrespect for thinking" — and this is where the bloggers come in. If it's a tragedy, "it’s not just for the journalism profession betraying its promise of news and ideas but also for those bloggers."
The love of movies that inspires their gigabytes of hyperbole has been traduced to nonsense language and non-thinking.

It breeds a new pinhead version of fan-clubism.

Unfortunately, the "post-Tarantino cinema" requires critics to reach for the esoteric in a kind of grass root elitism. With the world of film criticism now globally decentralized, it crowns "a network of bizarro authorities" — pompous trend-followers "with a hipster/avant-garde pack mentality...an opinionated throng, united in their sarcasm and intense pretense at intellectualizing what is basically a hobby." White accuses "the Internetters" of confusing the ability to publish online with democratization — "almost fascistically turning discourse into babble."

"...it’s mostly half-baked, overlong term-paper essays by fans who like to think they think."


Roger Ebert once confronted a similar issue with film critic Pauline Kael, according to a story White adds to his column. Ebert asked Kael if she watched his show, legend has it, and Kael replied dismissively that "If I wanted a layman's opinion on movies, I don't have to watch TV."

But Ebert himself takes a more philosophical view to the flood of online voices. When the web was young back in 1996, Ebert wrote a column for Yahoo! Internet Life with his reviewing partner Gene Siskel assessing the movie information available online. "You can find out almost anything about the movies on the Web," Ebert wrote.

"Some of it will be true. Some will be pure invention. A lot of it will be advertising..."

But Friday saw an announcement that for the first time the Annual Roger Ebert Film Festival would be held without Roger Ebert. Earlier this month 65-year-old Ebert made headlines when he announced he'd return to writing movie reviews after a series of health problems, though he'd forego a fourth surgery which would restore his ability to speak. "I am still cancer-free, and not ready to think about more surgery at this time," he wrote in a letter in the Chicago Sun-Times (adding "I should be content with the abundance I have.") Ebert adopted his familiar playful tone — "Are you as bored with my health as I am?" — but stressed a familiar passion. "I still have all my other abilities, including the love of viewing movies and writing about them."

After three decades in the public eye Ebert is one of the most familiar faces on television, and he seems blissfully unaware of White's column. Friday the Chicago Sun-Times site even boasted a fresh post on Roger Ebert's blog — titled Ebertfest in Exile.
Every year I keep meaning to include "Joe vs. the Volcano" in Ebertfest, and every year something else squeezes it out, some film more urgently requiring our immediate attention, you see...

Ebert writes honestly that the movie "was a failure in every possible way except that I loved it."


Did White launch his argument at the wrong time? "Don’t misconstrue this as an attack on the still-convalescent Ebert," White warns. "I wish him nothing but health. But I am trying to clarify where film criticism went bad." But White's article still drew a thumb down from blogger Matt Zoller Seitz.

"His simplistic denunciation of the meaning and impact of Roger Ebert — who has done more to widen the tastes of the movie-going public and popularize basic cinema literacy than any critic in the history of print — is shameful, and would be so even without the 'I wish him well as he recovers' parenthetical."

In fact, it was the online blog Defamer that identified the context for Armond's remarks. "Escalating Film Critic Crisis Enters Crucial 'Everything Sucks' Phase" read their snarky headline, linking the introspection to anxiety about the recent dismissal of several prominent newspaper film critics. "The discussion turned especially profound this week as a selection of esteemed critics moved on to slapping anyone and anything that would stand still long enough to absorb their blows."

Sympathy may be rolling towards Ebert in this discussion, but even before his column, White had already racked up an unflattering section in his Wikipedia entry labeled "controversy"
Many mainstream critics accuse White of contradicting the grain of mainstream criticism only to provoke debate [citation needed].

He frequently praises films that almost all other critics have drubbed, such as Little Man, Sahara and Against the Ropes. He often focuses a large portion of his reviews to attacks on the critical establishment... He is also frequently accused of being an aggressive pop culture writer who lends intellectual legitimacy to commercial product.[citation needed]

Of course, this could be dismissed as another half-baked term paper essay from the opinionated throng. The entry also notes dutifully that White "pioneered the case for the music video being one of the most significant postmodern art forms" and authored a book on the life of Tupac Shakur." (Library Journal wrote that "White has interviewed few subjects and done only modest secondary research in his attempt to place the rap star in a larger social and cultural context. This will appeal mostly to fans of standard rock biography....")

But it may be Google News that delivers the ultimate verdict. Searching for references to White's article turns up exactly one — the snarky sendup it received at Defamer. Ironically the only news outlet paying attention is one of the bizarro authorities with their "hipster/avantage-garde pack mentality."

If a critic challenges the awareness of film critics and no one notices — does he still make a sound?

See Also:
Sexy Adult Secrets in 'Little Children'
Robert Altman's 7 Secret Wars
Dead Woman Blogging
Pulp Fiction Parodies on YouTube
Author Slash Trickster 'JT LeRoy'
Robert Anton Wilson: 1932-2007
Alvin and the Chipmunks launch iMonks.com

Google Stalker Reveals Secret Project

Can Google Hear Me?

It was an exciting moment. After a year of development, they were finally going to release their secret project online. Aaron Stanton and his team had been up 26 hours, according to a Boise newspaper, "broken only by a 4 a.m. trip to WinCo for more Red Bull energy drink."

Aaron had already made headlines when he flew to Google's headquarters last year without an appointment, vowing he'd wait in their lobby until they heard him out. He wasn't allowed to camp in the lobby, but eventually he got his meeting and began cobbling together a prototype. Now Google, Yahoo, and Amazon have all peered at Aaron's big idea, and last week Boise's 26-year-old entrepreneur finally revealed it to the world.

Unfortunately, a year ago the world had already guessed Aaron's secret. Or at least, some commenters on Digg deduced that it was related to "the Novel Project," Aaron's abandoned venture from 2002.

His newest version also analyzes books. But instead of delivering book-writing suggestions to authors, it delivers book-buying suggestions to readers. (Aaron calls it "a Pandora.com for books.") In a December interview, Aaron told us he felt big companies would be more willing to listen to him now that he had something to show them. He'd already begun filing a patent, and "I still get e-mails on a regular basis wishing me luck."

But has he already received a rejection from Google? When we contacted Aaron twice last week with that question — we received no reply. Aaron's latest video announces instead that "This isn't just about Google any more. It's also about Yahoo, who reached out to us early in this adventure." So how did it go at Yahoo? "It was bad timing," Aaron later told Wired News. "We got down [to Silicon Valley], and two days later they had a bunch of layoffs."

He's also added more big names to his list of potential partners. "It's also about Microsoft and Amazon.com," he hedges in the video, saying they complete the list of "the four companies that we think are in the best position to look at what we're doing and say okay, that's genuinely pretty cool." But of course that depends on what "being about Microsoft" means. "If you happen to work at either one of those two companies and you see this, would you pass this on?" Aaron asks hopefully. "Because we have something we'd like to say to you."

"We do actually own 'Can Amazon Hear Me .com'," he says in the video, "but at this point (he smiles) that seems a little cliche."

Aaron rose to fame with an online video blog chronicling his quest to get that first meeting with Google — called "Can Google Hear Me?" But his enthusiastic updates had always adopted a fierce silence about one topic: his secret entrepreneurial project. Last week that mystery finally ended with the beta release of BookLamp.

Here's how it works. When a user pick a book, Aaron's system quickly "reads" it — every page — and calculates a score based on five criteria. (Its pace, the level of dialog and action, the amount of description and the density of its prose.) A slick interface then generates a graph showing how the book scored, page by page, on each criteria — and identifies other books with a similar profile.

In the next version, his interface will even let users adjust the algorithm themselves, and it may even become a self-learning system. (For example, it might tweak its scoring based on patterns like recurring "theme" words that the user may not even be aware of.) "The idea is that over time the system will be able to recommend books on data that you yourself would never think to look for on a keyword search," Aaron explains in a video.

He also thinks hopeful authors might be able to use the system to identify publishers who'd appreciate their style, using the system's analysis of the publisher's previous books. And he sees other potential advantages for readers. "Ultimately we could tell you don't give up on this book until you reach page 50 at least because then it's going to get a lot more action packed!"

So far they've analyzed 207 books — though its mostly science fiction, listed alphabetically by the author's first name. There's seven by Isaac Asimov, and five more set in Isaac Asimov's fictional world, plus two books by Michael Crichton and two by L. Ron Hubbard. There's even three by James Doohan, who played Scotty the engineer on the original Star Trek. James Doohan's Privateer rates low on description.

"I had a heavy date last night. I overslept," the spaceman replied, yawning loudly...

"We're late for Strong's meeting over at the Academy," Bret snapped. "Get up! We've got to leave right away."

But the algorithm does give it a high rating for "action" (as well as pacing).

Quent Miles looked at the other man, his black eyes gleaming coldly. "I'll get up when I'm ready," he said slowly.

The two men glared at each other for a moment, and finally Brett lowered his eyes. Miles grinned and yawned again.

If you liked The Privateer by James Doohan, BookLamp suggests eight other books — including Independent Command, by James Doohan.

They've plotted 729,000 data points across 30,293 scenes, but there's one big problem: it still doesn't return enough matches. "There's no real way around this," Aaron acknowledges, "short of adding books to our database." He estimates that delivering comprehensive results would require a database of at least a million books. "Luckily for us, we live in a time when there are a number of such large scanning projects currently underway!" And his team is even thinking about building their own scanner.

In the mean time, they've tucked a couple practical jokes into the system. Searching for George Orwell's 1984, the system returns a 98% match for the USA Patriot Act.

The book's description? "A bad idea."

A celebratory video touted the project's journey — a year of twice a week meetings for the five core team-members and 13 more working remotely. ("They worked in coffee shops and living rooms, via Skype and instant chat. They've become friends....") Though they'd originally aimed for an August prototype, it took about seven months longer. And yet it wasn't until last month that the three Boise developers met the other two core members, Matt Davenport from England and the mysterious Evan from Southern California. Dozens more programmers offered to help, the video notes.

It's been a heady ride. Aaron began receiving thousands of emails a day after launching his video blog. When his father was hospitalized in November of 2006, "I realized that if I was going to do anything with my idea I couldn't put it off any more," Aaron says.

But today he's at a crossroads. "So far, this project has been balanced against other things in our lives — we've been working on this in our own time, in our living rooms, normally after hours. And it's time for us to decide what we want to do with BookLamp."

Microsoft still hasn't opened its doors, according to Aaron's blog. But there's still one glimmer of hope. Earlier this month he posted optimistically that "our presentation materials are still being bounced around Amazon.com. We've received word on Friday that our work is being positively received, and we should be cautiously optimistic.

"Being one to celebrate whenever the opportunity arises, I immediately went out and bought myself a $1 fudge sundae from McDonald's.

And Aaron now seems to be considering other less entrepreneurial options. He told a Boise newspaper that "It could be money driven, but when you run out of money it's over. Or it could be fun driven, and you never run out of fun." He's considering simply releasing the algorithm as an open source project, and he's asking for input from the online community that's been so supportive. "It's not quite a 'choose your own adventure' project," Aaron posts in the forum at BookLamp, "but your feedback will absolutely influence our decisions."

And even if you don't like his idea, Aaron has a message for you: "thank you again to the thousands and thousands of people that have sent us good luck e-mails over this last year." He says their good will helped keep the project fun.

At the end of the day, Google, Yahoo, and Amazon at least took a look at his idea. And even if he doesn't make any money — he's still getting a chance to make his dream come true.

See Also:
Closing Pandora's Box: The End of Internet Radio?
Google Heard Me, Now What?
Should YouTube Hear Me?
Neil Gaiman Has Lost His Clothes

Lawrence Welk vs. The Hippies

Lawrence Welk was approaching his seventies when radical changes suddenly hit America's music scene. The clash in the late 1960s shook the band leader, America's most famous square, and he confronted the raging turmoil in a series of shocking performances — at least, according to these five videos.

Thirty years before American Idol, parts of America were still uncomfortable with the very idea of rock songs even appearing on television, especially during Welk's squeaky-clean song and dance show. And since The Lawrence Welk Show ran for three decades, these videos suggest the ultimate long, strange trip. They're a window in time, capturing a bizarre never-world where the hour-long show actually surrendered happily to the coming onslaught of rock.

1. Sweet Jesus

Yes, "Dale and Gail" are actually singing about the excessive use of marijuana: the devil's weed, the great satanic corrupter of our youth — and the counterculture's intellectual lubricant. Welk really did trot out a 23-year-old rejected Miss Oklahoma contestant to croon a shockingly wholesome rendition of "One Toke Over the Line." Maybe he was trying to tell us something.

Nearly 40 years later, the clip ignited a new controversy. Tom Shipley, one of the drug-friendly song's original singers, uploaded Welk's version onto YouTube — and nearly immediately, it drew over 160 comments.
"Do these two know what a 'toke' even is?"
"This fails so hard it approaches win from the other side."
"I think I'm about to stab pencils into my eyes and ears."

Welk was famous again, but for all the wrong reasons, as this forgotten moment in time "sparked" a very 21st-century enthusiasm.
"I want to make physical love to this clip."
"Way to go, Light-em-up Larry!"
"a priceless moment in television history"
"Champagne...the gateway drug!"

Though perhaps inevitably, some commenters also searched for a hidden message in the couple's giddy vocal delivery.
"look at their eyes!!, their baked!!"
"oh. my. god. becky, look at her blunt."
"She has to be baked to wear that outfit."

There's no evidence that Dale and Gail actually toked up before singing the song. But when accordionist Myron Floren introduces them — there's obviously something that's making him cough.

2. Sucking on a Ding-dong

Welk's heroin habit eventually caught up with him, and he was swallowed whole by a voracious counterculture. In a shocking turnaround, he brought in Lou Reed to jam with the show's banjo player, organist, drummer, and orchestra, citing a song which was "high" in popularity.

A remarkable video shows the squares in Welk's audience bobbing in a slow waltz as The Velvet Underground rips through "Sister Ray." ("I'm searching for my mainer, I said I couldn't hit it sideways...")

"Wonderful!" Welk declares at the end.

"Mr. Welk... This isn't like you at all," you can imagine his singers saying. Though of course, by now you folks know we were only kidding about that heroin habit...

3. Stop the Music

In a historic telecast, five men in yellow blazers and five women in matching blouses were confronted by "Hippie Welk."

The smiley man who played polkas on his accordion suddenly appeared with long hair and Beatle spectacles, flashing a peace sign and barking "Don't you cats know this polka jazz is strictly from Squares-ville? I can't stand that kind of music."

The audience actually gasps...

Backed by a Day-Glo drum, Welk then launches his singers into Wilson Pickett's "She's Looking Good." (Joking about bands with animal names, Welk says "I just opened the cages, and look what I released... The Babbling Baboons.") It rocks. Even if Welk's cast isn't quite sure how to dance to it.

While the Velvet Underground video was a mashup, this clip really is from an actual broadcast. It's a seismic shift in America's cultural landscape, as the song's driving beat fries the minds of America for exactly forty seconds. But then Welk's two white "soul sisters" are interrupted by some very unconvincing acting, as two female cast-members complain "Mr. Welk... This isn't like you at all."

Returning to their pre-liberated state of near-infantalism, they ask Welk about his trademark champagne music. "Whatever happened to the music that went doodly doodly doodly doodly doot?" They give him a raspberry, the audience applauds loudly, and Welk smilingly says "Of course, by now you folks know we were only kidding."

"We wouldn't do that to you nice people."

4. Meet the Beatles.

Drugs influenced the Beatles too, but when they broke up, it was Lawrence Welk who picked up their countercultural cred, turning "Hey Jude" into one of "ten big songs" on his ground-breaking concept album, Galveston. But where the Beatles released "Hey Jude" together with "Revolution," Welk paired it up with a softer song — Glen Campbell's "Gentle on My Mind."

Its graceful trumpet solo inspired audiences to waltz and vote for Nixon, shortly before a startling full-orchestra crescendo into the chorus, and one brief flourish of funk from an unappreciated bass player.

In a surreal moment, the string section saws away underneath a giant golden sign which says: "Geritol."

It was nobody's Woodstock.

5. Smoke on the Water?

It was almost heroic the way Welk clung to his kitschy schtick in the face of a changing world — his own personal freak flag, flown gloriously high.

Welk was nearly 90 when he died in 1989, but he lived long enough to see another accordion player make the big time, possibly channeling his spirit. In the early '80s, Weird Al Yankovic offered up the ultimate tribute, mixing Welk's "Bubbles in the Wine" into an accordion medley of 14 ridiculously inappropriate songs, from Devo to Jimi Hendrix, the Clash and the Who.

Later footage of Welk's show was even spliced into a video for the hyperactive medley (which also included "Hey Jude"), creating a montage that's oddly reminiscent of the surreal bandleader himself. It ultimately proves that given enough accordions, any song can become soul-crushingly square.

Even "Smoke on the Water."

100 Years After

It's been 105 years since Lawrence Welk was born. (Tuesday would've been his birthday.) But this November saw an interesting coda.

A video was uploaded to YouTube showing an audience of high school students baffled by a vinyl record of Welk's polka band performing "Minnie the Mermaid." Their heads bob as Welk's deep-voiced singer croons about the time he'd spent down in her seaweed bungalow...

But it turns out it was a time capsule within a time capsule, since the video came from a public access TV show they'd recorded for their local cable outlet in the 1980s. (An earlier episode featured a video by GWAR.) The two teenaged mid-80s hipsters are playing a song from 1957, just a pit stop on the song's journey to YouTube 50 years later.

The video has been watched just 87 times, but it drew one comment that puts the whole thing in perspective. "Now your show seems as ancient here as the Lawrence Welk record did..." In the future, maybe everyone will be Lawrence Welk for 15 minutes.

He'd learned to play the accordion before he'd learned to speak English at the age of 21, and rose from a poor immigrant family to become one of the richest men in Hollywood. But it was his earnest commitment to hokey friendliness that made him a kind of legend. Even if Welk never grokked the emergence of rock music, one YouTube comment suggested Welk had earned some respect simply for the role he'd played for the generations that came before.

"He made my grandparents — whom I loved dearly — happy during the final years of their lives. For that, I respect him."

Adam West and Davy Jones Meet Sexina

Sexina starring Adam West

Ladies and gentlemen...meet Sexina!

A James Bond-style theme song rolls behind the opening credits of a new film featuring Adam West as a ruthless criminal mastermind. But its star is Sexina, part Britney Spears, part private-investigator-secretly-fighting corruption-in-the-music-industry.

79-year-old West plays a ruthless music industry overlord bent on destroying the sexy pop sensation with an evil boy band composed entirely of cuddly robots. The ultimate irony? The movie's theme is sung by Davy Jones, whose vocals for The Monkees in the 1960s make him one of the original boy band singers.

Davy Jones records the theme to Sexina

Click here to hear an excerpt from
Davy Jones' theme song for "Sexina: Popstar PI."

UPDATE: You can also click here for our list of
"Seven Forgotten Classics by Davy Jones

"Sexina is a very campy film, and Davy's track blends well with the tone," according to the film's publicists. It's one of 80 wildly original films being screened at the San Francisco's Independent Film Festival, now celebrating its tenth anniversary. ("What we're lacking in corporate dollars, we make up for with our devoted IndieFest filmgoers," according to founder Jeff Ross.) To promote the festival, the organizers even came up with their own bizarre trailer.

And Sexina, Popstar PI couldn't possibly be more indie. It's the brainchild of Eric Sharkey, whose resume includes uncredited work as a production assistant on the notorious Glitter (as well as Vanilla Sky). He's written, directed, and produced two previous films — though one was a four-minute short about a Coney Island Alligator Hunter (Her secret weapon: beer.) The other film, I Got Lucky, pairs a pot-head with a talking hamburger who can predict the future.

Sexina starring Adam West
In his sexy new movie, Adam West, who was TV's original Batman, schemes in the shadows for ways to overthrow the pop stardom of the film's singing sensation, Sexina (played by Lauren D'Avella). Sexina — real name: Maude Jenkins — has withstood all challengers, including a rival singer named "Sir Stabs-a-lot."

But now she's facing new competition from a narcissistic teen idol named Lance Canyon. (Church groups complained about his controversial song, "You Need The Extra Deep Love," but Lance responds that "My penis was touched by god. They should just worship it.") By day, Sexina and her bodyguard Chainsaw deal with the pressures of show business. ("I don't want a rapping Jesus in my video!") But she's also moonlighting as a kick-ass detective.

"We have our best person on the case," says her adoring female boss. "She's tough, smart, and very sexy. She also has the coolest walk, and a great smile."

But watch out — this movie is filled with unlikely plot twists. ("Not only is G-Dog not really from Jamaica. He's also a robot!") Besides inspiring the young students at Britney High School, Sexina must also investigate a kidnapping — the daughter of yet-another former teen star. The film's crazy mix also includes ninjas, cannibals, a man in a bear costume, and even a brief parody of Barbara and Jenna Bush.

Sharkey co-wrote the theme song's campy lyrics. ("She has the boobs and the brains of a queen. She's every man's dream... ") It's not clear there's a message in his film, although despite the villainous Lance's anti-drug commercial, he's also a big hypocrite. "There's still plenty of weed, cocaine, and ecstasy for everyone," he announces to his party guests, "as well as heroin, crystal meth, horse tranquilizers, vicodin, Xanax, modelling glue, yellow jackets, black beauties..."

Lance probably should've listened to the movie's theme song more carefully.
She's wicked cool and that's a fact,
so evil-doer's watch your back.
She'll get you....

Sexina: Popstar PI makes its world premiere this week at the San Francisco Independent Film Festival. Catch it Saturday (February 16) at the Roxie at 9:30 p.m.

And click here for our list of seven forgotten classics by Davy Jones

The Mormon Bigfoot Genesis Theory

The Mormon Bigfoot/Genesis Theory

Is it Bigfoot? Or a fugitive from the garden of Eden. Or maybe both.

The Journal of Mormon History recently published a new investigation into stories suggesting that the giant Sasquatch monster is really Cain, the murderous second son of Adam and Eve.

It may not be the first controversy tackled by new Mormon President, Thomas S. Monson. But the article's author, Matthew Bowman cites a 1919 manuscript describing Hawaiian missionary E. Wesley Smith "being attacked by a huge, hairy creature, whom Smith drives off in the name of Christ" the night before the mission was dedicated. His brother tells him the attacker must've been Cain. ("Now therefore cursed shalt thou be upon the earth, which hath opened her mouth and received the blood of thy brother at thy hand...a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be upon the earth.") And then he refers him to a story by a celebrated Mormon martyr who was one of Joseph Smith's original twelve apostles.

In 1835, as evening fell, missionary David W. Patten had spotted a figure walking near his mule in Tennessee. His tall, dark body was covered with hair, he wore no clothing, and...
...he replied that he had no home, that he was a wanderer in the earth and traveled to and fro. He said he was a very miserable creature, that he had earnestly sought death during his sojourn upon the earth, but that he could not die, and his mission was to destroy the souls of men.

I rebuked him in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by virtue of the Holy Priesthood, and commanded him to go hence, and he immediately departed out of my sight.

"As best as I can determine, the explicit connection to Bigfoot arises around 1980 in Davis County, Utah," Bowman writes on the Mormon Mentality site. "At that point in time, you have a conjunction of two things — 1) the publication of The Miracle of Forgiveness, which reprinted the original Patten story; 2) a rash of Bigfoot sightings.

"By the mid-1980s, the two strains of folklore begin to fuse, and the story gains resurgence, particularly on Utah's college campuses."

The book of Genesis does specify that God issued the mark of Cain, "that whosoever found him should not kill him." But did that confer immortality?

On the Mormon Folklore blog, Bowman received an interested response from someone who'd heard Patten's story at the church's Missionary Training Center, "where he was on his horse and eye-to-eye with the standing Bigfoot."
[O]ne of the missionaries suggested that this is another example of Satan copying the ways of God. His logic was that God preserved the lives of John the Baptist and the Three Nephites to work as agents for Him until the end of time — Satan did the same thing with Cain (thus, the ability to live through the flood).

There's already been a controversy about the Mormon church's teachings on Cain. Brigham Young believed that God punished Cain's ancestors, and that "the mark of Cain" was: black skin. The same belief continued through a 1966 edition of the church reference book Mormon Doctrine, and black Mormons were banned from the church's priesthood. But at that same time, church president David O. McKay announced that "It is a practice, not a doctrine, and the practice will some day be changed." The position was ultimately reversed by church president Spencer W. Kimball, and the church ordained its first black priest in 1978. (Thomas S. Monson, the new Mormon President, conducted that priest's marriage and sacred ordinances.)

Eugene England, a professor at Brigham Young University, addressed "the Cain legacy" in a 1998 article in Sunstone magazine.
This is a good time to remind ourselves that most Mormons are still in denial about the ban, unwilling to talk in Church settings about it, and that some Mormons still believe that blacks were cursed by descent from Cain through Ham...

I check occasionally in classes at BYU and find that still, twenty years after the revelation, a majority of bright, well-educated Mormon students say they believe that blacks are descendants of Cain and Ham and thereby cursed...

Of course, Mormon theory has faced skepticism before, like the blog commenter who opined that "The bible is just a waste of paper and the Book of Mormon is even less useful." But regardless of its credibility, the new attention to the "Bigfoot" legend provided an interesting opportunity to examine the way the church's theology had evolved.

"I find the idea that Cain, the original Son of Perdition in our theology, would degenerate into something half human/half animal is notable..." wrote blogger Fenevad. "[D]id it occur when Brigham Young was teaching that the Sons of Perdition would fall prey to eternal retrogression? ... Perhaps one message of the story is that evil is big and scary, but ultimately controllable."

And another comment notes that it's not the first time monsters from folklore have found their way into religious debates.
That reminds me of the story that I used to hear that the Loch Ness Monster was a surviving dinosaur, thus proving that the earth is not as old as scientists say it is. Uniquely Mormon? No. But I have heard variations on that one as a way to argue for young earth creationism among Church members back when that seemed to be a hot issue.

Over at Museum of Hoaxes site, blogger Alex Boese couldn't resist making the obvious joke. "[I]f Bigfoot is Cain, maybe Nessie is really the snake from the Garden of Eden."

But in a 21st century flood of information and misinformation, the discussion offers its own testament to the way new generations will grapple with questions about faith, folklore, and our popular culture.

Even if the commenters at the Mormon Folklore blog add their own twist.
I also seem to remember a story about a noted church leader — I think his name was Childs — sitting next to Cain on an airplane and starting up a discussion about the Book of Mormon only to have Cain tell him that his mission in life was to destroy the souls of men, especially the younger generation...

Hang on, no, wait... that was Mick Jagger. My bad.

See Also:
Santa's Crimes Against Humanity
Give Me Immortality or Give Me Death
Thou Shalt Realize The Bible Kicketh Ass
Scientology Fugitive Arrested
Atheist Filmmaker Issues 'Blasphemy Challenge'

Six Secret Lost Videos

These videos shed new light on the phenomenon that is Lost — or was Lost. A new episode of the mind-boggling mystery hasn't aired in nearly 8 months, and last year saw the show lose nearly 50% of its audience.

But Thursday Lost returns to the airwaves, and last season's finale was even nominated for an Emmy. Whether the series can recapture its glory, it'll at least provide something for TV-loving geeks to talk about.

And these videos will put it all in perspective.

1. The 117th episode?

Lost will end in three years, after 48 more episodes. But hardcore fans know that the final episode already slipped out last January, featuring surprising scenes with Sawyer, Kate, Sayeed, and Ben.

Some argued that actors Evangeline Lilly and Josh Holloway only filmed a three-minute parody to pander to geeks attending the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. (This theory is buttressed by the fact that Kate announces in the video that the first thing she'll do after leaving the island is attend the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas, adding that the men attending the show are all "dead sexy.") Kate also reveals which of the hunky castaways she prefers, Sawyer or Jack, though her answer takes an unexpected twist.

It's nice to see the cast acknowledging their loyal fans, even if they're also teasing them about the show's mysteries. This video ultimately captures a final showdown with treacherous Ben (played by Michael Emerson, who would later be nominated for an Emmy.) In the clip, Ben promises Sayeed "one simple unifying theory" that explains the mysteries of the island. (Sayeed thinks the answer is purgatory — but he's in for an annoying surprise...)

2. Episode 0

Sneak a peek at a bizarro world where there is no plane crash, or even a TV series — just struggling actors desperate for work

The first season DVD holds the rare "audition tapes" that were recorded by the show's actors. As Sawyer, Josh Holloway is good-looking, charming, and even a little bit younger. But even more surprisingly, it's a world of Sawyers, since his part was also coveted by three of the other future Lost actors — Matthew Fox (Jack), Dominic Monaghan (Charlie), and Jorge Garcia (Hurley).

But the most disturbing secret of all lies in Evangeline Lilly's audition tape for the part of Kate. It apparently comes from a parallel reality where Jack, the doctor, was killed in the very first episode.

"And whatever it is that killed Jack is still out there."

3. I'll Be Lost For You

This video suggests another little-known secret about Lost. It was originally a sitcom about wacky good-looking friends living together on an island. They frolic in the water in its original opening, their smiling faces showing what good friends they really are. A montage captures their warm moments of friendship — smiling, dancing, sharing peanut butter, and relaxing by the flaming jets from a recently demolished airline.

This video's title is "The one with the Friends spoof" (even identifying one of the actors as "Matthew Fox Arquette.") But it's letting the cast off easy. Elsewhere on YouTube, someone actually redubbed four full minutes footage of Lost footage with a sitcom laugh track.

4. Sawyer's acting class

The character of Sawyer charmed Kate, who sees tenderness under his gruff exterior. But the other castaways usually just see his volatile temper.

As the frustrations of island life mount, this remarkable video could be seen as a Lost drinking game gone horribly wrong. If you promised to chug every time Sawyer says "Son of a bitch" — prepare for alcohol poisoning.

It's surprisingly zen, a moment in time in which Sawyer's dialogue never changes, though the world flows on around him. Even when he's been captured and gagged, he still manages to snarl out a muffled version of his trademark phrase.

"Son of a bitch"

5. The magic turtle

Lost's writers received a warning message about the unsolved mysteries that are starting to pile up. (There's that smoke monster, the eyepatch guy, what "The Others" want, the ghost of Mr. Eko...)

But maybe they're more interested in discussing what would happen if Kate and Locke switched brains? The rival writers at comedy site "SuperDeluxe" offer a dead-on analysis of what this show's story meetings must look like.

"Everyone wakes up, and the ocean is missing!"
"Everything goes backward, for two and a half years!"

And a comment uploaded with the video suggests what the ABC show's writers are really feeling.

"It begins with the letter 'L' and rhymes with cost."

6. Hurley's Last Laugh

Jorge Garcia was 31 when the writers of Lost created the character of "Hurley" specifically for him. He was the first actor cast, going from stand-up comedian to top-rated TV star, playing the unlucky everyman who regrets ever winning the lottery.

In November of 2006, he even turned up on the David Letterman Show, reading a list of "The Top Ten Signs You're Obsessed With Lost." ("Number four: Your co-workers affectionately refer to you as 'That loser who's obsessed with Lost.") It speaks to the show's popularity that each of the ten jokes triggered some kind of recognition from the audience.

But maybe we're all just spending too much time watching TV.

See Also:
Leaving Lost Limbo
Five Freaky Muppet Videos
Pulp Fiction Parodies on YouTube
Six Freakiest Children's TV Rock Bands
Democratic Cartoon Candidates


Real-life miracles were the subject of Van Jones' keynote address at the Craigslist Foundation's "Nonprofit Boot Camp" last year.

He amused and inspired his audience with the story of his early days at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

There's probably at least one person, and maybe more than one, who feels like their little not-for-profit just may not make it.

There may be somebody that feels like their cause is too marginal, their constituency is too desperate, their dreams are too big, their knowledge base is too small, and they just don't know if they're going to be able to pull this one off. If you're that person, I want to tell you a little bit about my story, my secret rules for success if you're doing tough things, and to remind you how important it is that you stick this out.

Ten years ago, all I had with my co-founder was a $10,000 grant and a scribble in my notebook, and we had a dream. We wanted to do something about police brutality. We wanted to do something about kids suffering in prison. We wanted to do something about the level of violence that was going on in our community. All we had was each other and that idea.

The very first champion that we got — the first person who was on our side, the chair of our advisory board who was our hero — told us "Frankly, man, you will never raise enough money to cover your own salary on this. I think you're great, I like what you're doing, but you will never raise enough money to actually have a full staff. But I like you, I like what you're doing, and I'm willing to lend my name." And that was our most enthusiastic supporter!

Eleven years later, we have a national organization. We have 24 people on staff, we occupy a two-story building, and we've won international awards and recognition for our human rights effort. We've stopped jails from being built, and we've been able to make a difference. In just ten years. I want you to know that looking back on it, you know what it looks like? It just looks like a series of miracles. Just miracle after miracle after miracle after miracle.

The only way we were able to get to those miracles was that we believed in what we were doing. When we first started out, we had a closet in the back of the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights. When I say closet, I'm not joking. It was literally a closet, that we took the shelves out of, wedged in a desk from my house, moved the tiles, dropped down wires so we could plug things in... That was our office for three years.

I'm thankful to Eva Patterson from the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights for giving us that opportunity. We took that closet and a Macintosh SE-30 from my house and our $10,000, and we started announcing that we had a hotline for survivors of police brutality and police misconduct. I think the first week we got one phone call. The second week we got two or three. Within about two months, we were getting three to four phone calls a day from people in the community who had no place else to turn... We were young lawyers and they were calling on us, and we were doing the best that we could.

But we were spending down that little $10,000 very quickly. We got to the place where we literally didn't have any more money. Diana and I looked at each other and we said, "You know what? We'll go on unemployment. We'll do whatever we have to do. We cannot let these people down."

I got on KPFA radio. I said "My name is Van Jones, and I'm working with Bay Area Police Watch. We're running into some trouble right now, but we want you to know, keep calling us. We're going to have to reduce our hours, but we're going to stick in there." The day before we spent our last dime — literally — we got a letter in the mail. An anonymous donation of $50,000.

"Hey! We might be able to keep going!" We took that $50,000, and we decided, you know what? We're going to go after the worst police officer in the Bay Area, a man named Mark Andaya. He had 27 formal complaints against him for racism and brutality. Remember this case? There were five lawsuits against him, and he was still on the police force. We took that money and launched a campaign to get him removed from the San Francisco police department.

Keeping On

We went through hell. We went through three hearings, we went through ups and downs, but at the end of that summer, the San Francisco police department fired Mark Andaya. It was a huge breakthrough. Suddenly we went from being these kids in the closet to being the people who'd really gotten something done in the community. And, we were broke again! Because we forgot to write grants. We're just fighting, just out there, just broke and ignorant — but passionate!

But we'd already had two miracles. We were still there, and we'd gotten this guy who had killed two people out of our community. There was an African-American woman at a prestigious local foundation who'd listened to us on the radio, had seen us on TV, had heard about what we were trying to do. I'd sent her a letter letting her know that we'd like to apply for a grant, but we didn't get a chance to, we'd missed the deadline, and please, please... "Mercy?"

This woman said "You know, I've been working at this foundation for a long time, and I've been waiting for someone to come out of the community, out of the neighborhood, who was really willing to do what it takes to make a difference. I don't have any more discretionary money. But I do have the $40,000 that we've always given to the symphony... And we're going to give it to you."


Now, she no longer works there. But she is well taken care of at another foundation...

We just kept on, and kept on, and kept on. If at any moment we had gotten too rational, if at any moment we'd actually done the math on how many foundations are committed to this thing and that thing, we wouldn't be here at all. You have a dream inside yourself, and it's an impossible dream. That's why the creator gave it to your crazy ass. If it was easy, She'd have given it to somebody else.

So let's talk about your impossible dream. You need some miracles. Good luck with that. But I can give you, as a 10-year veteran, my five counter-intuitive and probably immoral success secrets.
1. Self promote
2. Steal
3. Don't Lie
4. Hate your enemies, but love your rivals.
5. Do less.

Number One, Self Promotion. People say, "Van, you're a shameless self-promoter. We're disgusted with your shameless self-promotion!" And I say, "Au contraire, my friend. I am not a shameless self-promoter. I am a proud self promoter."

Because I'm proud of the work we're doing. I'm proud of the people on our team. I'm proud of the fights we take on. I'm proud there are still people coming out of law school who are willing to take on these crazy crusades. If I don't tell the story, if I don't share the victory, if I don't share the lessons — who will?

We have a simple theory about how we built this organization, and the only thing it requires is you've got to be willing. We call it the three-M conversion: Mobilization, Media, Money. If you're serious about scaling an organization that's small, with a marginal constituency, doing very difficult stuff, you've got to mobilize. You've got to do something! You've got to take on a fight, you've got to help somebody. You've got to get something done. But too many of us stop there, and then we wonder why the support that we need doesn't come.

We get bitter, and we get angry, and we look at the group over there that has two more dollars than we do, and we start making them the enemy, and start this whole competitive thing, and start in-fighting, and it just depresses everybody. Then some poor intern comes to work for you. They see all this drama and all this crazy stuff, and they say "I was just trying to help the poor! I didn't know I was joining an armed faction!"

So let's just de-mystify this whole thing. Do good stuff — mobilize resources, do something — and then, media. Write a press release, think about how to get some coverage. A lot of times, people don't want to cover our stuff? That's fine. Take the photo your damn self! Video cameras are small and cheap. Record your meeting, interview your people... Document your passion.

Document the people that you've helped. Document what you're doing so you can show it to somebody who wasn't there. That's a critical step, and we forget, don't we? We get so passionate about, "The meeting's going to be at 4:00, we've got to have the kids and the pizza..." When we get finished, we're so tired we go home... And there's not one single photograph.

You might've served 10,000 people and don't have one photograph, while the person next door served 20, and has a glossy manual. And you know who you're mad at? Them! You could've had a glossy manual... But you're mad at them, and now we've got drama. Document, and then take that documentation to people who have money.

People say, "Aw, I don't want to deal with the fund-raising. It's not about the money to me." Obviously it's not about the money for you, you're working for a non-profit! But people who have means and who have discretionary income and who have different types of financial instruments want to be helpful, and they want to be engaged — but they don't live in your neighborhood! By definition, they don't. They need some help understanding the situation. That's the media part, the documentation.

You have to get as passionate about talking to the people with as you are talking to the people without. Because we need each other, and you're the bridge person. If you were just desperate and needing of services and help, you wouldn't be working at a not-for-profit. If you were a gazillionaire, you probably also wouldn't be working at a non-profit. So you are the person whose job it is to bring the haves and the have-nots together. And you have to be passionate about that. Yeah, somebody will say "You self promote! You're self-promoting!" Fine, and proudly so! Get that out of your mind as a barrier, and look at the service you can provide by documenting your work.

Number Two, Steal. Steal! I don't mean steal money. Steal ideas! Talk to other people who don't work on your project. If you go to New York to see your friends or your parents, look up the other groups working in a similar area and say hello. If you can't meet with the executive director, that's good, because if the organization is more than five years old the executive director has no idea what's going on anyways.

Talk to the program officer, the deputy director, the receptionist — and steal ideas. And grab onto people that you stole the ideas from. If you go overseas, make sure to visit some of the non-governmental organizations in other countries. It's amazing how many problems have already been solved that you're still stewing in and suffering through.

Our first two years, 100% of all of the paperwork we had for checking in people and interviewing them we'd stolen from a similar project in Los Angeles. I went down there, I'd knocked on their door, I said hello, I told them what we were trying to do... They were very friendly, and said, "This is our paperwork," and I said "Thank you!" I got a Bic pen — remember, I told you we were broke? — and wrote on the top of it, "Bay Area Police Watch." And then we photocopied that thing for two years!

So you've got to be willing to steal. And people love it! People will brag about it, saying "Well you know, we're now the thought leaders in the field. Our model is being replicated." So it's good for them. So I'm not saying anything immoral yet.

Number Three, Don't Lie. This is for real. There is something about the relationship between the not-for-profit sector, the government, the foundations, and the donors that creates a massive incentive to lie — flagrantly, and often.

And it's not just a one-sided thing. The relationship between not-for-profits and foundations is like the relationship between teenagers and parents. You don't really want to tell them everything that's going on, and they don't really want to know. So there's this dance of deceit, shall we say.
"What'd you do this weekend?"
"Oh... Studied! With my friends."

And the parents say "Good! So glad to hear that!" Because they don't want to know. And so what do you say?
"How did the year go?"
"We had success after success! All goals were met, and a good time was had by all."

And what was there left to say? "Good! Good!" They don't want to know about the youth in your program that cussed you out and set the building on fire. They don't want to know that you hired somebody once again who was a complete idiot. They don't want to know, and you don't want to tell them, and therefore we all stay very ignorant. Then the actual innovation curve has flattened out, because nobody's telling the truth about what we're going through any more. We're all self-deceiving and trying to make it look good.

At the Ella Baker Center, we adopted a reporting form that freaked out our board and advisors. It was very simple: highlights, low lights, and lessons learned. We created a discipline in the organization that we would report out the bad stuff. First of all, everybody knows the bad stuff anyway, because the person you fired is talking right now, so it's not like it's not out there. But did you learn anything?

Program officers at foundations, donors, and philanthropists are just inundated with lying, false crap. And they know they're being lied to. If you took all your annual reports and just read them end to end, you'd have to conclude that we're now living in a socialist paradise. Everything's going well, people are being served, and all the children are happy. And then you look at any newspaper, and it's very clear that we might be fudging a bit.

So my experience has been that donors and program officers love to actually get the truth. They don't punish you for it if you learned something. I think if all of us started to confess a little bit more, we would learn a little bit faster.

Number Four: Hate Your Enemies, if you must, but love your rivals — and know the difference. Your enemies are people like Nazis, okay? Your enemies are people who want to do you bodily harm, who hate you, and who are actively plotting your demise, with weapons. Just about everybody else that you don't get along with is probably a rival. They run an organization and you run an organization, or they have a department and you have a department. Or they have a cubicle, and you have a cubicle. And you just don't get along. You don't see eye to eye, there's some jealousy, you have different communication patterns. Their mom was this way, your dad was that way — you're working it out.

But we turn those minor differences into adversarial wars. It's fine to hate your enemies if you must. Jesus, Gandhi, other people would argue with you, but if you insist, fine. Hate your enemies. But most of the people you see every day are not your enemy. I've got emotional scars and damage from being in this work, and I've never even met a Republican! Even with people who fundamentally agree with everything I think, we just fight and hurt each other and say mean things, and think mean thoughts. All the time! That's called the movement. That's called the progressive community, right?

I want to make the case that we should actually love our rivals, and we should develop a discipline about bragging on our rivals. One group doesn't like us very much at all. I started talking about them first at every funder meeting. "I'm so happy to be here. Before I tell you about our work, have you heard about X group? They're doing extraordinary work. They did this last year, they did this this year. If you don't know about them, I want to make sure you know about them before the meeting's over. Now let me tell you about what we're doing..."

I developed the discipline in my own mind that I was going to brag on my rivals. I was going to love them, I was going to learn from them. I was going to try to figure out what it was that I could do differently in the relationship. I want to report that it has made no difference, at all, in the way they treat me. But it's made a tremendous difference in the way that other people view our organization and the way that we view ourselves. We're lighter. Love your rivals.

Number Five, Do Less. When I first came into this movement, we named the organization after a woman named Ella Baker, a civil rights heroine from the sixties. Ella Baker said many, many wise things. One of the things that caught on was something she said in a moment of frustration. Some civil rights workers had been murdered — two Jews and a black — and while they were trying to find these civil rights workers, they kept coming up with body after body after body of black men that had been lynched and drowned down through the ages. The media kept saying, "Well, that's interesting but what about the two white kids?" She got frustrated, and she said in that moment of frustration — and it didn't represent her life, but she said "We who believe in freedom cannot rest. We who believe in freedom cannot rest until all mothers' children are honored."

It's rung down through the decades since she said that. I just drank the Kool-Aid on that. "We who believe in freedom cannot rest. We cannot rest. We cannot rest. We cannot..." And I hurt myself. Physically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually. I really hurt myself.

July 17, 2000, I had a complete emotional, physical, psychological breakdown. I literally could not get out of bed. I'd gone for years without — I would sleep with my clothes on, and the lights on, books all around me on the bed. I never took a vacation. For years it never occurred to me to take a vacation. Something just popped in my brain. It was almost audible. I was in deep trouble.

I'd been in all these coalition meetings, and it occurred to me that over the past couple years, in every meeting I'd been surrounded by idiots. I had to deal with them, and point out their flaws, and stop them from wreaking havoc, and... I was burning out, and I didn't know it. I had to take about two years of counseling, therapy, learning to go to the gym — things I'd just never done — just to be able to get back to doing this work.

My dad was an alcoholic, so I'd said, "Well I'm not going to do that," but then I was into this workaholism thing. I pulled out of it, and when I came back I saw that it was just everywhere. So what I want to say to you, very clearly, is that you have emotional needs. You have physical needs. You need to get them taken care of outside of this work.

You need to have something outside of this work where you go for re-charging, where you talk to people who don't do this kind of work, so you can keep it in perspective. So when you go into those board meetings and you go into those coalition things, you're coming with something. We who believe in freedom have to rest. We have to rest.

Who We Are

Our country is in a difficult situation now. We're facing difficult days. You're the people who are the reserve strength of the country. You're this nascent, pro-democracy movement trying to revive the best in the United States. It's important that you see yourselves in that way.

We tend in our movement to forget who we are. The legacy that we're carrying out, the shoes that we're standing in, the call that we're answering. Dr. Martin Luther King never gave a speech called "I Have...A Complaint." That wasn't his speech. The brother had a dream. And you have dreams. You have big, beautiful dreams. You will not be able to meet them alone. You need friends, you need solidarity, you need partnership, you need a movement.

But in a difficult period like the one that we're in right now, that's when there's opportunities for she-roes and heroes to step forward. People remember Roosevelt and Churchill and those guys because Hitler made it an awful, hard decade for them, and they rose to that. It's the same with every other hero and she-ro. This is a time for heroes. This is a time for she-ros. I want you to be the people who in the difficult times stood up for the best in this country, who said "We are willing to say that we'll defend America's freedoms." Who will say that the people who want to tear up the Constitution at the first opportunity are not the patriots. The patriots are the people who are willing to defend America's freedoms, the people who are willing to defend people's freedom to marry who they want to, and divorce who they want to.

We're the people who are willing to say America should be number one in the world. But not in war. Not in pollution. Not in incarceration rates. America should be number one in the world in green and clean technology, in solar power, in bio-diesel, in sharing those beautiful things with the world. We should be number one in showing how a rainbow nation — multi-colored, multi-class, multi-hued, multi-language — can come together and fix real problems, and show a rainbow planet how it's done. That's who we should be.

I believe if we do our work in that spirit, with that knowledge, with that commitment, we will build the kind of pro-democracy movement that will get past left and right, past black and white and yellow and every other color, and get back down to the very basics of who we are as people. People who believe, people who stand for something.

People who understand that at the end of the day, when it's all said and done, our love, our hope, our faith, and our commitment, is stronger than a bomb from anybody.

See Also:
20 Wildest Reactions to Obama's Victory
The QuestionAuthority Proposal
Reverend Billy Wants You To Stop Shopping
Is The Net Good For Writers
When Lego Goes To War

Alvin and the Chipmunks launch iMunks.com

It started when the real "David Seville" was facing bankruptcy, and spent his last $100 on a two-speed tape recorder. Soon he'd recorded a novelty record for Christmas that in 1958 sold an amazing 4 million copies in just 7 weeks. And "Alvin and the Chipmunks" were born.

His heirs are determined to keep the franchise going. After the movie was released, the Chipmunks' official web site began pointing visitors to an "iMunks" page for downloading Chipmunk mp3s — and not just songs from their new movie! Now re-located to Amazon.com, it includes nearly 100 songs from their 50-year career, including an 80s cover of the Knack's "Good Girls Don't," a 90s version of the X-Files theme, and their country duets with Tammy Wynette, Waylon Jennings, and Billy Ray Cyrus.

After the death of their original creator in 1972, his son re-launched their career in 1980 with an album called Chipmunk Punk. It included the Chipmunks' covers of songs like My Sharona and Blondie's "Call Me," and they continued their novelty success through the 90s with albums like "Club Chipmunk." (Its dance tracks featured their high-pitched versions of the B-52s' "Love Shack," the BeeGee's "Stayin' Alive," and "Play that Funky Music, Chipmunk.") There's even a version of "Hey, Macarena."

All these songs are available on the iMunks page, but unfortunately, there's a six-song minimum. The Chipmunks' new marketers are offering "silver," "gold," and "platinum" packages where the per-song price drops from $1 apiece to eighty cents.

But what's really newsworthy is that the singing rodents are here at all. In 1996 a lawsuit alleged that Universal Studios had bought a controlling stake in the Chipmunk franchise, but then “undertook the systematic destruction of a family owned and operated business” (according to an article in L.A. Business Journal.) They also reported the suit’s claim that Chipmunk-related revenue dropped 98% under Universal.

But there's a happy ending. Ross Bagdadsarian Jr. — the son of the original "David Seville" — told the business journal that “Everything turned out great in the end," and the big budget movie has already earned back its production costs, grossing over $84 million in its first ten days. The movie's closing credits even show record covers from the Chipmunks' multi-generational career, along with a note applauding Ross Bagdadsarian Sr. for having faith in his singing novelty act. And in the film the address of Dave's apartment is "1958", subtly reminding audiences that the Chipmunks have sung his song for nearly fifty years.

The film opens with the Chipmunks singing Daniel Powter's "You Had a Bad Day," and they later win Dave's loyalty with a doo-wop version of the classic song "Only You (Can Make the World Seem Right)" while standing in the rain. (Which they segue into "Funkytown," complete with choreography.) Despite the movie's flaws, a lot of care went into the choice of songs and the storyline.

It's drawing mixed reviews. (The New York Post declared that "this charm-free atrocity is awful enough to instantly cure any remaining nostalgia for the rodent trio.") After their tree in the forest is whisked away to Los Angeles, the movie launches an obligatory Hollywood sub-plot. The new Chipmunk actors could've been funnier, and Richard Roeper complained that as David Seville, TV's Jason Lee's uses the same acting style he uses on NBC's My Name Is Earl. The "dazed loser" persona may not compliment the computer-animated chipmunks, making it harder to suspend disbelief.

But the script was better than expected, giving each chipmunk a complete character and adding a story about whether they'd find a new home in the city. Toronto reviewer Stephen Cole pointed out that in audiences filled with children, the new movie was the favorite over The Golden Compass, "paws down." And yes, the new chipmunks really do love Christmas. And also, Sponge Bob Square Pants.

Maybe the film-makers are counting on a Christmas-time indulgence for their film about the giddy singing rodents. The Chipmunks' career has always included equal parts music and humor, and the history of American pop culture shows a strange ongoing love for their high-pitched voices.

And for better or worse, they've now found a way to bring Alvin and the Chipmunks into the 21st century.

See Also:
Haunted by Chipmunk Ghosts
Six Freakiest Children's TV Rock Bands
When Kurt Vonnegut Met Sammy Davis Jr.
5 Freaky Muppet Videos
What If Ben Were One of Us?

What If Ben Were One of Us?

What If Benjamin Franklin Were One of Us, CNN Editor Asks

Would Ben Franklin be a blogger? It's a serious question pondered by news "gatekeeper" Walter Isaacson, once the managing editor at Time magazine and the chief executive officer at CNN.

Isaacson shared some startling insights about technology and media, both past and present, at a symposium last year at the Smithsonian Institution's Lemelson Center (which studies "invention and innovation.") Isaacson told the audience that Ben Franklin was influenced by both the mechanics of 18th-century printing presses and a fickle American public. But as an afterthought, Isaacson noted that today the internet creates lots of publishers. "It's turned us back to the days when technology allowed low barriers of entry into the information transmission market."

So are we all Ben Franklin? Or, to put it another way — if Ben Franklin were alive today, would he be one of us? The National Archivist of the United States, Allan Weinstein, had suddenly asked the question.

Isaacson, who'd written a 608-page biography of Franklin, insisted that the answer was no — "not a blogger." The distinction was that Franklin "polished every word." But the question was too provocative to leave without more discussion. Ben Franklin would have a web site, Isaacson speculated. "It would be carefully crafted. It would be more like Andrew Sullivan than your normal blogger in pajamas."

"And he would charge!" added archivist Weinstein.

Yes, Ben Franklin would put his content behind a pay wall. "He would definitely charge for it," Isaacson agreed, "because he believed that if you weren't tested by the marketplace..." But then America's National Archivist cut him off with an important observation about the state of the media today.
Look, you have life going in two directions, as far as technology and democracy is concerned.

In one direction, you have the centralization of mass media to a great extent. You still have the three networks getting — not as much of the audience they did, but it's something...

But at the same time you have so many decentralizing elements in the mass media, the bloggers being just one of the major ones, that there's no coherence any longer.

It's wonderful. There's this great blooming, buzzing confusion in the media world which I think is, by and large, an asset to democratization.

In a poignant moment, the National Archivist remembered his childhood in New York, when there were twelve different newspapers. "That dozen became the three or four that we have now, by 1950." And former newsman Isaacson saw an even harsher reality. "Having three newspapers in New York — however you want to count it — that's unusual. In Los Angeles now you're not going to have three, and the Chicago Sun-Times is about to go under."

But ultimately this discussion led to one inescapable conclusion. Maybe inspired by Benjamin Franklin and America's history of a decentralized media, Isaacson made one irrefutable observation about our media landscape today. In the great American city of New Orleans, yes, there's one monopoly newspaper. "But there's about twenty web sites, and probably a thousand bloggers, all attacking the mayor of New Orleans at any given moment!"

The bloggers and other new decentralized media outlets are "a wonderful asset," Isaacson added. And he pointed out that a decentralized media is almost an American tradition. "Ben Franklin arrives in Philadelphia, and it's a town of what — 12,000 people? It's got four newspapers. So what does Ben Franklin do? Get a fifth!"
All the way through our life as a country, almost, you have low barriers of entry to the technology of information. People could become printers, they could have newspapers, they could be pamphleteers, they could — whatever.

When radio hits, something else happens — a monopolization of newspapers... For a variety of reasons — classified ads, everything else — it was better to have one newspaper in town than seven newspapers, so you started seeing consolidation in the newspaper market. And the barrier to entry into the broadcast world was very hard. You couldn't become an NBC just sitting in your pajamas in your attic or something, because there were public airwaves, there were monopolies. There were three networks.

So for a very brief period in our country's history, approximately from 1940 to the year 2000 — for just that sixty-year period — you have a concentration of media where it's a higher barrier to entry. You can't start a newspaper in town, you can't start a TV network.

Then the internet blows all that away, and everybody can start web sites, blogs, email newsletters, that sort of thing, until you'll see us reverting back to the free flow of information that's more democratized.

Would Ben Franklin really fit into all this? Isaacson thinks it's unmistakable. In his book he identifies Franklin as "A successful publisher and consummate networker with an inventive curiosity.

"He would have felt right at home in the information revolution."

See Also:
Is The Net Good For Writers?
Monkey v. Dog v. Wikipedia
The Furious Passions of Norman Mailer
When Cory Doctorow Ruled The World
Neil Gaiman Has Lost His Clothes
How Gay Were the Hardy Boys?

The Furious Passions of Norman Mailer

Norman Mailer

He had two Pulitzer Prizes, and six wives.

But while sex remained a fascination for Norman Mailer (along with power and celebrity), he lived his ideas — the good ones and the bad. His life became an 84-year fantasmagoria of fulfilled impulses, and the strange and wonderful knowledge that resulted. Woody Allen once joked that when Norman Mailer died, he'd donate his ego for medical research.

Calling ego "the buzzword of the century," Mailer boldly explored his passions in nine different decades, leaving behind a secret second body of work — amazing stories about the story-teller's life.

Here's some of the highlights.

Movies Gone Bad

Attracted by Hollywood intrigue, Mailer devoted his third novel The Deer Park to the depravation of the entertainment industry, naming it after the notorious 18th-century pleasure groves of King Louis XV. ("...that gorge of innocence and virtue in which were engulfed so many victims.")

But in 1968 Mailer pioneered a new form of excess, filming five days of unscripted improvisation "to dissolve the line between fiction and actuality," one biographer wrote — "to set the stage for an explosion of human passions." Fist fights broke out, and the movie ends with a genuine brawl between Mailer and actor Rip Torn.

Publisher Barney Rosset lent his house for part of the filming, and remembered that things quickly descended into chaos.
My mother in law went outside, then came back into the house screaming, "There's a midget in the swimming pool...!"

Someone had thrown Herve Villechaize into the pool, and he was drowning.

Rosset drove to Mailer's hotel room, banged on the door, and shouted "Norman, you've gotta come back and get your midget!" Villechaize was taken to a hospital where his stomach was pumped (possibly for alcohol), but the next day, the future Fantasy Island star was back on the set.

The movie told the story of a movie director — coincidentally, with Mailer's name — who's considering a run for the Presidency. Mailer wanted to explore what provokes the assassination of political figures, but the cast unwisely included both Mailer's wife and his ex-wife, and at one point Torn even advised the actors to attack Mailer's film doppelganger with their harshest criticisms of Mailer himself.
"All you want to hear is how wonderful you are."
"You never listen to anyone but yourself."
"You're spoiled."

The movie's ultimate achievement is probably the brutal honesty it uncovered. Torn's attack on Mailer — while wielding a hammer — was apparently triggered by disappointment that the movie hadn't followed through on its assassination premise.

"Four of Mailer's children — Dandy, Betsy, Michael, and Stephen — were terrified, screaming after Torn's assault on their father... Calling Torn a 'crazy fool cocksucker', Mailer wrestled him to the ground, biting and nearly tearing off Torn's ear."

Celebrity Gone Wild

In 1971 Norman Mailer showed up drunk on the Dick Cavett show. Backstage he slapped guest Gore Vidal, then literally butted his head, according to Mailer's recollections in a 1977 article in Esquire.
Vidal: Are you crazy?
Mailer: Shut up.
Vidal: You're absolutely mad. You are violent.
Mailer: I'll see you on the show.

Vidal had written a nasty remark about Mailer (comparing him to Charles Manson), and when Mailer finally took his seat, he sat in cold fury, spitting out fierce and cryptic insults.
Mailer: Why don't you look at your question sheet and ask a question?

Cavett: Why don't you fold it five ways and put it where the moon don't shine.

The audience hated him — But then Mailer's competitive instincts kicked in, and during the commercial break he sobered up enough to collect his wits.

"Why do you have to answer them with insults and nasty statements and they're answering you maturely and with dignity?" a woman asked from the audience.

"They're mature and full of dignity," Mailer replied, "and they'd cut my throat in any alley..."

In that moment a famous feud began with Gore Vidal that lasted nearly 20 years. "I've been misrepresented, by my own paranoid lights, for twenty-five years in this country..." Mailer told Cavett's audience. "I have presumed with all my extraordinary arrogance and loutishness and crudeness to step forth and say, 'I'm going to be the champ until one of you knocks me off...' But you know, they don't knock you off because they're too damned simply yellow, and they kick me in the nuts, and I don't like it."

It was one of the great moments of live television, and Mailer regretted only that his points hadn't come through clearly, though he'd definitely made an impression. (As he himself described it, "The good byes were short. Mailer turned around and Vidal was gone.")

This fascination continued, Mailer holding a fierce contempt with the mass media while occasionally also flirting with it. In 1981 he appeared as the doomed architect Stanford White in the movie version of E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime. And in 2004 he even played himself in an episode of The Gilmore Girls.

The episode was titled "Norman Mailer, I'm Pregnant."

The Boxer's Rebellion

Boxers are artists, Mailer argued, facing the same high stakes of ego and punishment that a writer faces when staring at a blank page. Or maybe Mailer was just attracted by the brutal pageantry. ("I respect most boxers," he once wrote, "because they're violent people who learned to discipline themselves...") His book The Fight captures all the social nuances of Muhammad Ali's 1974 re-match against George Foreman in Zaire.

But Mailer didn't just watch boxing; he'd step into the ring, sparring recreationally with light heavyweight champion Jose Torres even when he'd reached his 50s. And at least once, it went even further. Yesterday one online boxing fan remembered Mailer's most bizarre boxing moment, interrupting the post-fight press conference after the 1962 world heavyweight championship.
...after Sonny Liston flattened Patterson, Mailer had stayed up partying most of the night. He returned to his room early in the morning, but instead of getting some rest, or at least a shower, had spent the remaining time before the post-fight press conference drinking some more while trying to chat up the chamber maid cleaning his room. He made Liston's victorious post fight conference but preceded to barge onto the stage and attempt to explain to Liston that he could existentially prove that Liston hadn't won, and that he, Norman Mailer, was the only man who could promote the rematch into a million dollar event.

Liston, apparently, stared in impassive, silent, disbelief as Mailer was carried out of the room on his chair.

Strange Politics

In 1967 Mailer wrote a book titled Why Are We In Vietnam in which the word "Vietnam" occurs only on the last page. Instead the plot concerns two hormone-addled teenaged boys who wonder which one will bugger the other first. (The back of the swaggering book featured a picture of Mailer himself with a black eye.) Two years later Mailer ran for mayor of New York City, backed by columnist Jimmy Breslin, on a platform proposing that New York City should become the 51st state.

"I felt God wanted me to go into politics to save New York," Mailer remembered last year. "I was a high-octane fool."

He brought his novelist's ambition to covering the political scene, once receiving an invitation to meet President Kennedy, and remained fascinated by political personalities for nearly sixty years, and their suggestions about the national mood. In 2003, at the age of 80, he published a new book titled Why Are We At War — this time filled with an unusually timely analysis of the post-9/11 world.

"Since I believe in reincarnation, I think the character of your death is tremendously important to you. One wants to be able to meet one's death with a certain seriousness.. Terrorism's ultimate tendency is to make life absurd."

But he felt that a crazy religious fervor lurked behind the Bush administration's response. "Once we become a twenty-first-century embodiment of the old Roman Empire, moral reform can stride right back into the picture."

His political insights continued to the end. Last year a collection of interviews found him weighing in on Bill Clinton's statement about the Monica Lewinsky affair, that "I did it because I could." "I think the style of phrasing comes because of his wife.

"Having been married six times, I have some idea of what one says on such occasions."

Sex and Beyond

Norman Mailer didn't just write a biography of Marilyn Monroe, he wrote two — one, written in the first person.

The 70s also found him writing a book of essays called The Prisoner of Sex, much of it rebutting the new wave of feminists who were criticizing his public statements.

One year before his death, he published a collection of interviews performed by his son John Buffalo Mailer. Bill Clinton's remark that "I did it because I could" had been labelled by Playboy as the epitomy of the boomer generation, an "amorality" that frees the fool to pursue all courses with abandon. But Mailer made a simple yet irrefutable distinction for his own life.

"My amorality — if we're going to get into it — was a search. I wanted to learn more about sex."

Throughout his life, Mailer remained forcefully unapologetic, clinging to his own sense of the sexes and insisting human relations couldn't be reduced to simple formulas or sweeping generalizations. 1974 found him sending this letter to Women's Wear Daily.
It has come to my attention that Gore Vidal has been speaking in your pages of my hatred of women. Let me present the following items.

    Number of times married:Mailer 5Vidal 0
    Number of children:Mailer 7Vidal 0
    Number of daughters:Mailer 5Vidal 0

These statistics of course prove nothing unless it is to suggest that the reason Vidal may have married no lady and fathered no child is due perhaps to his love of women and his reluctance therefore to injure their tender flesh with his sharp tongue.

Ultimately Mailer's feud with Vidal ended with a rapprochement in 1992, and after Mailer's death it led to one final irony. In a New York Times profile, it was Vidal's kind words which were offered as Mailer's ultimate vindication.

"Each time he speaks he must become more bold, more loud, put on brighter motley and shake more foolish bells. Yet of all my contemporaries I retain the greatest affection for Norman as a force and as an artist.

"He is a man whose faults, though many, add to rather than subtract from the sum of his natural achievements."

See Also:
When Kurt Vonnegut Met Sammy Davis Jr.
Is The Net Good For Writers?
Neil Gaiman Has Lost His Clothes
Author Slash Trickster "JT Leroy"
When Cory Doctorow Ruled The World

10 Best Monster Ads

Monsters don't come from the Black Lagoon. They come from Hollywood. From your TV set. And especially — from advertising companies

And so do some of the strangest licensing deals you've ever seen...

1. Frankenstein Hates This Joint

It's the master work against which all other monster/ad hybrids must measure themselves. And also, it shows Frankenstein with arthritis problems.

Granted, a shambling undead man stitched together from corpses isn't the first thing you'd think of to promote an over-the-counter joint flexibility medication. But that's what makes it work.

Slate once observed that the ad is surprisingly memorable, even though "nobody gets tackled or bit in the face by a ferret."

2. Zombie Party

The Japanese will do anything to sell you Pocky. But a scary zombie movie?

Hmm, maybe it's a little too scary. Maybe it needs a cute girl and a dance number.

3. Ryoko the Vampire Slayer

Three sexy female vampires lurking in the back seat of a car run from four determined young men armed with their huge vampire-slaying crucifixes. Is it Buffy the Vampire Slayer — or just an ad for makeup?

This scary Japanese ad features coffins, wooden stakes, a surprise ending, and a health tip about fighting skin cancer.

4. Godzilla, King of Soft Drinks

He's the king of monsters, a giant fire-breathing rebuke to mankind's dangerous experiments with nuclear radiation. He can shoot laser beams from his eyes. And he's also really thirsty.

As Godzilla rampages through the city, destroying railroad tanker cars filled with wimpy lemonade, what can save Tokyo's citizens from their world of black-and-white terror? There's only one soft drink that can bring them deliverance, smiles, and cheesy 80s synthesizer music...

5. The Silver Bullet

OMG! Werewolf! Or is it just a party animal? Or just three gay frat boys?

Whatever it is, the solution is to stick a Coor's Light between your legs.

6. The Mummy wants Vaseline

Hey, everybody! Let's "Walk Like an Egyptian" — to a bottle of skin lotion!

18 years ago a guard's footsteps echoed through a creepy museum. He was about to confront a terrible curse, as an ancient naked mummified female rises from the crypt to...

...remind us of the skin lotion's non-greasy barrier against the loss of natural moisturization. Thanks, naked ancient mummified female!

By the way, the person who uploaded this video to YouTube had one word for the ancient naked mummified female.


7. The Creature from Aisle Eight

Ever amble into the liquor store at 2 in the morning, and feel like you're a monster? Well, you're not the only one...

This is a "conceptual" ad whose slogan is "Meet You There." Maybe it means your nightmares will meet you halfway — that some half-demon sea monster lurks to possess you if you start down the road of degradation signaled by Heineken beer.

Or maybe it's just another cute monster ad.

8. Dracula's Favorite Beer

Oh my god! Dracula is about to indulge that Transylvanian woman on the balcony with some sexy neck foreplay, and... no wait. All he wants is a beer. (Am I right, ladies?)

Then again, what do you expect from a guy who's wearing a cape? But at least it turns out those fangs are good for something else. (No, not that. The other thing...)

9. Sigourney Weaver vs. Aliens

I thought Alien was the scariest movie I'd ever seen, and its first sequel was even scarier. But it turns out Sigourney Weaver had a different motivation when she attacked the giant queen alien.

"All I wanna do is kick back and enjoy the DirectTV I just hooked up."

Yeah, right. So there's not a scared little girl named Newt cowering under the spaceship's deck grating? You just wanna watch TV? Thanks for spoiling the moment...

10. Elvira: Mistress of the Vegetarians

No one's done more for Halloween than Elvira — including a lot of bad commercials for Coor's Light. But last year she rose from the dead to deliver a fierce warning to the monsters of the world.

"Silly zombie. Flesh-eating is for worms."

So go vegetarian, Elvira urges. (It's an ad for PETA directed by Andy Dick.) Though Elvira always gives me the urge to celebrate Halloween with a cool, refreshing Coor's Light...

Does anybody else feel like getting drunk and watching monster movies?

See Also:
Lost "Horrors" Ending Found on YouTube
Six Freakiest Children's TV Rock Bands
Pulp Fiction Parodies on YouTube

How Gay Were the Hardy Boys?

The Great Hardy Boys Prank

He hated the Hardy Boys. But he wrote the Hardy Boys. Did their original author hide secret jokes inside the famous children's detective books?

"In his diaries, my father talks about having to write another of those cursed books," the author's son told one interviewer, "in order to earn another $100 to buy coal for the furnace." ("It was very good money during the Depression," Leslie McFarlane recalled in a radio interview forty years later. Both interviews are linked from the author's entry on Wikipedia.)

But over 100 million books have since been published with the boy detectives he brought to life. "A royalty of even a quarter of one percent would've been all right," he added wistfully...

Leslie McFarlane, original author of the Hardy Boys
Ghost Writer Leslie McFarlane
In 1926, a 24-year-old McFarlane accepted a short-term contract position which led to his writing the first sixteen Hardy Boys titles under the pseudonym Franklin W. Dixon. "I never did learn what the 'W' represented," he groused in a commemorative introduction later. "Certainly not Wealthy."

It's the mystery of the disgruntled ghost writer, as I discovered when reading the original 1929 version of The Secret of the Caves and found myself wondering: Are there dirty jokes hidden between the lines? He'd "inject his wonderful sense of humor," McFarlane's daughter once remembered, to make the writing project "palatable."

"And then he'd finish and say, 'I will never write another juvenile book.' But then the bills would pile up and he'd start another..."

It's been 80 years since the Hardy Boys mysteries first appeared, and the change in our language is hard to miss when the two brothers first begin investigating a ring of car-stealing smugglers, and their best friend describes his stolen vehicle.
"The car is pretty well known around Bayport," said Chet. "It was certainly a gay-looking speed-wagon."

Wikipedia argues the word gay "implied a willingness to disregard conventional or respectable sexual mores...as early as the 1920s."

The Shore Road Mystery - original 1928 illustration
Original caption: "We'll tie them up until we figure out what to do with them."
In his 1928 book The Shore Road Mystery, McFarlane had accidentally chosen words whose meanings were changing, I thought. But the same accident recurred just a few pages later, when the boy's aunt Gertrude argued they shouldn't post bail for farmer Dodd's son. "You can't rely on men who don't have a woman around the house to keep them straight."

Interestingly, McFarlane's publishing syndicate had given him strict instructions on how to portray the boys' romantic lives, he revealed in the commemorative introduction. "It was intimated that relations between the Hardy Boys and their girl friends would not go beyond the borders of wholesome friendship and discreet mutual esteem."

Was the book's author wryly hiding double entendres as a backhanded slap at his employer and their straitjacketing guidelines?

Or do readers in the 21st century just have dirty minds...

I've agonized over this question, but if it's true, then McFarlane's magnum opus was a 1929 masterpiece of dirty double meanings called — what else — The Secret of the Caves. Within a few chapters, an elderly male shopkeeper is warning the Hardy Boys and their two male friends to stay away from the mysterious beach because "There's some queer things been goin' on down there lately." And what exactly does that mean, asks the Hardy Boys' friend — Biff.
"Nobody knows. But there's been queer lights seen down around them caves. And shootin'. Guns goin' off. Mighty queer doin's, they say..."

Chet whistled softly. "This sounds good! We may stay longer than we had intended..."

Wikipedia says the word "queer" already had sexual overtones by the late 1800s.

Hardy Boys covers - The Secret of the CavesMcFarlane's book even detours to report that the females in the book were feeling left out.
"I wish I were a boy," sighed Callie Shaw.

Iola Morton looked up from her ice-cream soda. "Me, too."

"It's tough luck that you're not," agrees Joe Hardy in chapter six, but unfortunately, exploring strange caves is a men-only job. McFarlane opens chapter eight by telling us that "The Hardy boys and their chums spent the night at a hotel in a small village..."

The four teenagers are on summer vacation, so there's time for some sleuthing. When they buy camping supplies, the old shopkeeper re-iterated again that it's a dangerous cave full of queer doin's, and Frank "smiled at this thrust."

But his younger brother Joe was even more enthusiastic.
"The one thing we're afraid of is a quiet outing. Excitement," he added slangily, "is our meat."

"Ye'll get lots of it if ye go pokin' around them caves," the old gentleman predicted.

Maybe that was the book's rejected first title — Excitement is Our Meat.

In any case, by chapter 15, the four friends have started exploring the caves. There's a lot of darkness and candles, but apparently the four lads aren't alone. Within a few pages, the chums are approached by a strange looking old man.
"What a queer duck he is!" exclaimed Biff.

"I'll say he is!" ejaculated Chet Morton.

So that's the secret of the caves...

I wouldn't have said anything, except for an earlier scene where Frank Hardy regains consciousness in one of the cave's pits — and the narrator uses a tell-tale adverb.
[W]ith the aid of the rope, and with Joe and his chums pulling lustily, Frank was soon hauled to the top...

It's a strange book. The Hardy Boys' cave does prove to be filled with pits, but for the most part McFarlane's story records the mystery of the missing mystery. Until chapter 17, which veers suddenly into startlingly unwholesome territory.

The Secret of the Caves - The Hardy Boys - original 1929 cover

They were just approaching the cliff that hid the cave from view when Frank halted and peered through the fog at the base of the rocks some distance ahead.

"Do you see somebody lying there, Joe...? Seems like a man sprawled on the sand...."

The boys hastened across the rocks in the direction of the figure on the shore...

They came up to the man sprawled on the sand. He was not dead. An empty bottle lying by his side told the reason for his slumber.

"He's drunk!"

So "The Secret of the Caves" is — they have a liquor license?
He was quite senseless from the effects of the liquor he had drunk... "This is luck!" exclaimed Frank.

"What shall we do with him? asked Joe.

Frank groped in his pocket and produced a length of stout cord.

"We'll tie him up first!"

Say, what kind of beach is this, anyways?

The Hardy Boys had apparently identified their sexy smuggler as an escaped criminal who's wanted by the police — and their stars are lining up.
"What if he puts up a fight?"

"He's too drunk."

They throw hat-fuls of water into in his face to revive him — but when he wakes up, they keep throwing more water at him.
"Hey! What's this?" roared the car thief indignantly. He had just discovered that his wrists were bound.

"Just a little joke," said Frank.

Water was streaming down the man's face. He was thoroughly aroused by now.

"I'll say he is!" ejaculated Chet Morton.

The Hardy Boys prevailed, and eventually turned their captured smuggler over to the police. I don't know if they then lit a cigarette — but I decided I didn't need to read any further. I'd already guessed the secret of the caves.

But one tantalizing mystery about the Hardy Boys remained. How could such a wildly popular detective series be created by a man who was so ambivalent about them? And could he really write a total of 21 Hardy Boys books without leaving behind a hint of his true feelings?

As the years ticked on, Leslie McFarlane dreamed of writing a great epic novel about the Canadian north. But instead, he lived just long enough to see the Hardy Boys turned into a cheery Saturday morning cartoon with their own faux-60s rock band.

McFarlane's creations continued marching through the decades, with the books' texts suffering major revisions to keep up with a changing world. Ben Stiller and Tom Cruise are even reported to be collaborating on a new movie based on the characters called The Hardy Men.

Shortly before his death, a radio interviewer surprised Leslie McFarlane, then in his 70s, with a quiz about his original ending for The Shore Road Mystery. In the book, the Hardy Boys had investigated the baffling disapperances of cars along the old shore road. So who committed the crime?

"I haven't the foggiest idea," the author answered. "And I don't really care."

But last year in an interview with the newspaper of McMaster University, McFarlane's daughter shared a haunting memory. At the end of his life, he'd delivered one last sad and final irony.

"You know, I think people are only going to remember me for those damn books."

Click here to purchase McFarlane's original 1929 text
for The Secret of the Caves

See Also:
When Kurt Vonnegut Met Sammy Davis
Five Lamest Charlie Brown Cartoons
The Cartoon Porn Shop Janitor: Carol Burnett vs. Family Guy
The Druggiest High School Sitcom Scenes
Six Freakiest Children's TV Rock Bands

Five Druggiest High School Sitcom Scenes

They put the "high" in high school.

While drugs are a complicated experience, TV shows are not. So when the characters in a show about high school students tackle the issue of illicit substances — the characters are in for some very funky trips.

And so is the audience...

1. Freaks and Tweaks

Judd Apatow captured the existential moment every stoner faces when Lindsay smoked Nick's stash on a very special episode of Freaks and Geeks. A paranoid Lindsay isn't worried about losing high school innocence, but reality itself.

As acoustic guitars play a come-down tune, there's a beautiful speech about having faith, even from the other side of an altered reality. But ironically, after this episode aired, the entire series was cancelled — and Lindsay's whole universe really did cease to exist.

2. That 70s Bust

They'd already smoked pot for over eight years. In their high school yearbook they even wrote "What a long strange trip it's been....in Eric Foreman's basement."

But in one extra groovy episode of That 70s Show, Eric's hard-assed father Red finally catches the whole gang lighting up. And then the four stoned teenagers endure a histrionic lecture in the kitchen as its wallpaper seems to sway with trippy special effects

"Who taught you how do to this?! Was it those damn Beatles?"

"It's like Amsterdam down there!"

3. Saved by the Caffeine Pills

Saved By The Bell was notorious for its feel-good storylines — about personal responsibility, loyalty among friends, and the soul-crushing dangers of caffeine pill addiction.

In another episode, the cast also turned their backs on a pot-smoking TV star and recorded an explicit anti-drug message with NBC President Brandon Tartikoff. Although not all their fans agreed.

By the time that scene hit the internet, it was looking a little different...

It's all right. In the comments at YouTube, one party-pooper points out that the clip has obviously been edited. ("He originally says, Don't do drugs, then they all say, "There's no hope with dope!") If you watch closely, someone's even tampered with the closing credits, which now urge viewers to phone the NBC pot line — to get a free sample.

And a third commenter just says he couldn't stop marvelling at Screech's tripadelic shirt.

4. Welcome Back, Uppers

Epstein and Barbarino act like "we took some of them pills" in an earnest anti-drug episode of Welcome Back, Kotter. Unbeknownst to them, Horshack has already wolfed down a real handful of uppers, and their pretend stupor is complimented by — well, with Horshack, it's kind of hard to tell.

They'll scare Freddie "Boom Boom" Washington into going straight — especially with 25-year-old high school student John Travolta acting like "one of them druggie people. Real dum-like. 'Gimme drugs. Gimmie drugs...'"

Ultimately their six minutes of play-acting prove that it takes more than good intentions to cure drug addicts. It also takes some bad examples.

5. The Brady Bong

As Mr. Brady pulls the station wagon into the driveway, he discovers his son Greg is acting a little "dopier" than usual. But 17-year-old actor Barry Williams wasn't fooling anyone...
Greg: ...far out!!

In real life, Williams was stoned, as later investigations proved, in an episode of The Brady Bunch which was — ironically — titled "Law and Disorder." (Young Bobby Brady is appointed the school's safety monitor, but misses tell-tale signs of obvious reckless behavior...)

This is where the two worlds come together — the fake TV family, and the actors caught in the middle. Ultimately Barry Williams decided that his legendary drug scene represented just another form of play-acting. In his autobiography, he wrote that "Getting stoned instead left me...feeling as phony as the turf in the Brady's backyard.

"Maybe I should've just smoked that."

See Also:
Six Freakiest Children's TV Rock Bands
Paul McCartney on Drugs
Dustin Diamond vs. Sgt. Harvey
The 5 Sexiest Apple Videos
The Simpsons on Drugs: Six Trippiest Scenes

YouTube, the 20-Year-Old, and Date Unknown

YouTube will share ad revenue with 20-year-old Brandon Fletcher. Thus the stage is set for a flood of copycat bum-rushers who will no doubt lay siege to the YouTube/Googleplex armed with nothing but their media and their Gen-Y audacity.

It's just 46 days after Brandon's YouTube show launched, and he sent me an email this morning. It had a link to the breaking story, and a single emoticon.


"The deal is basically sharing ad money," Brandon tells me. "They place banners on my video pages and we split the revenue." (Though he adds that he "can't give specifics on the splits.")

"YouTube is going to place ads on the video pages of everyone in the program," he adds. "I didn't even ask about joining, they offered it to me!"

I feel like a chump now. Nine weeks ago I'd been skeptical when Brandon flew from New York City to Silicon Valley just to pitch YouTube his video show. He'd vowed he'd stay in YouTube's lobby until they agreed to put his video on their front page. "How did it go?" I'd asked cynically in April.

"Went really well," he wrote back cheerily, saying that an employee "took me out to eat, gave me some YouTube shirts and told me to come back!" But when he went back to camp in YouTube's lobby, a security guard stopped him at the elevator. Eventually, Brandon flew back to New York City. But he'd made some crucial contacts...

So what was his big idea? I did some sleuthing, and discovered it would be a web reality show. (Couples who met online would have their first real-life date -- and Brandon would film it.) But a few weeks later, my skepticism started to melt, and I fired off an email to our editor.

So that guy who didn't get past YouTube's security released his online dating show anyways. And I have to say -- I think it's really good.

They're both from MySpace -- nice twist! -- and there's genuine, real-life odd moments. (When the guy suggests that when they play pool, it should be "strip pool," his date thinks for a second. Then says, "I'm glad I wore a lot of layers... I think YOU should just strip.")

He just now sent out the press release...

And it was a good press release. "Behind the production, a story of determination and perseverance," announced one section's title. It said Brandon "funded the project on his own, and then filmed, edited, and scored and produced music for every episode..." It even referenced his "gutsy mission" to get YouTube to feature it.

But he hadn't achieved any results yet. The only happy ending I'd found was that Brandon hadn't given up. On his blog he'd written "I will not stop trying until I reach my goal."After the May launch of his secret video project, Brandon had seemed excited. "I feel great right now!" he told me. "I'm just going to keep on working hard, and trying to spread the word about this site as much as I can."

But he added: "I feel like I've created something great here, though."

He told me he hoped a TV network might show interest in the show, "but for now, as long as I'm enjoying this -- I will continue to handle it on my own." And the show continued -- mostly fueled by his raw enthusiasm.

Brandon planned to release a new episode every Monday, with extra videos throughout the week showing outtakes or on-the-street interviews about online dating. But within a week there was good news. "[S]omeone from YouTube placed the first episode on the 'Featured Directors' column, which appears on the right side of the website when you browse videos. It gets around 1 million impressions per day, so we're at about 10,000 views for episode one in less than a week!"

And I had to admit it was entertaining.
"Does it take you a lot to get wasted?" asks the guy in the red t-shirt that says "IDIOT!"

"No," his date answers. "I'm a light weight...."

That first episode was eventually viewed over 20,000 times. The YouTube channel seemed erratic -- episode 2 drew just 6,741 views, and episode 3 just 3,885. But Brandon told me there were more views on the web site, and "a few investors have been contacting me about the project." Three weeks ago he sent me an update -- that he was "Working on a sponsorship / cross-promotion." Eight days ago he told me that the last episode jumped to 25,000 views in one week. Maybe that was because its title was "Pee on me," I thought -- since the next episode racked up only 1,053 views in its first three days on YouTube.

But then today, the big news came.

YouTube had heard him, and YouTube had signed him.

And Brandon's email was both the last word, and maybe also a call to his peers...


See also:
YouTube’s 5 Sorriest Questions for the 2008 Presidential Candidates
The 5 Sexiest Apple Videos
Should YouTube Hear Me?
The Cartoon Porn Shop Janitor: Carol Burnett vs. Family Guy

The Cartoon Porn Shop Janitor – Carol Burnett vs. Family Guy

A porn shop in a cartoon unexpectedly triggered a lawsuit.

In the Family Guy episode "Peterotica," Peter and his friends go to the local adult bookstore. What happens next was apparently determined by the following sequence of events.

1. Family Guy asks Carol Burnett if they can use the theme to her 1970s variety show.

2. Carol Burnett says no.

3. They draw her into the cartoon as the adult bookstore's cleaning woman.

And then comes #4 — Carol Burnett sues them.

The Fox Network has expressed surprise, since she appears in the cartoon for only four seconds, but Burnett's lawsuit reportedly claimed violations of copyright and trademark law, plus a misappropriation of her name and likeness. This weekend a judge revealed what happens in step 5: Carol Burnett loses that lawsuit. According to news reports, a judge signed a ruling Friday that while the the Family Guy episode may offend her — the First Amendment allows parodies. (After all, her original variety show was famous for its own parodies.)

Carol Burnett is a pioneer in celebrity lawsuits. In 1981 she surprised legal observers with a successful lawsuit against the National Enquirer over a report that implied she'd been drunk in a restaurant with Henry Kissinger. (“In a Washington restaurant, a boisterous Carol Burnett had a loud argument... But Carol really raised eyebrows when she accidentally knocked a glass of wine over one diner and started giggling instead of apologizing...") She may have been vindicated over that slight to her public image, but as a public figure she's also fair game for ridicule. And thanks to Family Guy, an animated likeness of the 74-year-old comedienne can be glimpsed in some very unsavory company.

Like most Family Guy episodes, this one was a series of loosely-connected jokes, but this time they were tied together by the theme of adult books. Peter's disappointment at the adult bookstore's offerings drives him to write his own porn novels. (Including Angela's Asses, Shaved New World, and Harry Potter and the Half Black Chick.)

Ironically, in this episode of the cartoon, it's the Family Guy himself who is eventually sued — though for different reasons. Peter's own erotic novels are so steamy that they prompt one driver to remove his shirt while driving. (He'd been listening to the book on tape version of Peter's adult book, The Hot Chick Who Was Italian. Or Maybe Some Kind of Spanish.) This scene may include another dig at Carol Burnett, since the tape version of that book is being read by a regular guest on the Carol Burnett Show — Betty White.

Peter's career ends after the disgruntled motorist's lawsuit — and he also gets a surprise visit from... Betty White.

Perhaps foreshadowing the legal showdowns to come, she tells him, "I just got a subpoena for an erotic novel, and I'm looking for the son of a bitch responsible."

Click here to buy a DVD with this episode!

See also:
Top 5 Cartoon Hunks
Screech's Sex Tape Follies
The Celebrity Breast Conspiracy
The Porn Star, the Diva, and the World Wide Web
5 Sexiest Apple Videos
Dustin Diamond vs. Sgt. Harvey
5 Lamest Charlie Brown Cartoons

The Secret Ending of Pirates of the Caribbean 3

I didn't like Pirates of the Caribbean 3. But maybe I would have if I'd seen the ending. The real ending is tucked away behind the closing credits. In this crucial scene there's a flash forward — ten years into the future — and we find out what happened to Elizabeth and Will.

Fortunately, somebody's uploaded the footage to YouTube. It's just one way videos floating around the net give you a new perspective on movies, though it also raises an interesting question. Does it take a real act of movie piracy to explain Pirates 3?

Secret endings are almost a tradition with the Pirates movies. Each one included a very good scene hidden away behind its closing credits. The first Pirates movie tacked on a reminder of all that gold left back in the cave — the cursed treasure of the Black Pearl — in a surprising scene with a monkey. Pirates 2: Dead Man's Chest ended with a special scene re-visiting the island where natives held Johnny Depp captive. (It doesn't involve a monkey, but it does have a dog!)

But in Pirates 3 the extra scene actually reveals the fate of two characters. (Spoilers off the starboard bow!) If the curse of the Flying Dutchman keeps lovers apart for 10 years — what happens after 10 years? Is the reunion fraught with dread and bitterness — or do they have kids and settle down in the countryside? Maybe there's some improbable return to the land of the living after a magical green flash of light?

Watch this video and find out!

After two hours and 48 minutes, you can forgive moviegoers for heading to the exits early. (I'd seen a 10:40 showing which didn't end until 1:30 a.m!) "Maybe instead of At World's End, they should've called it At Credits' End," I grumbled later. "Because that's where all the answers lie."

But I ended up with a new appreciation for the internet — and its fan base of Pirates fans who assembled a stash of video curios.

It's easy to forget that Pirates of the Caribbean was once just a 40-year-old ride at Disneyland. Somehow, someone's uploaded footage of Johnny Depp re-visiting the clunky ride after it was rejuvenated to match the summer blockbuster. About 2:30 into the video, Depp's left the boat to poke his own animatronic figure as it rises from the barrel. ("It's a little more than spooky," he says.) There's also a video called Captain Jack Sparrow at Disney World, which is probably better if you don't know its backstory. Impossibly, the movie's swashbuckler seems to have turned up under Florida skies, mingling with children in full pirate regalia and corrupting them with his sword-fighting lessons.

That Johnny Depp is a sport — but how crazy are his fans? One woman found herself with a 20-year-old stick of bubble gum from a pack of "21 Jump Street" trading cards. Would you chew it if she also offered you its collectible Johnny Depp card?

But my favorite clip reminded me what all the hype was about. One fan created a mashup video in which Captain Jack Sparrow fights Captain Hook — using footage from both Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest and the 2003 live-action Peter Pan. The two sets of clips mesh perfectly, proving what to me is the most timeless and universal truth of all.

That pirate movies are fun.

See Also:
The Celebrity Breast Conspiracy
10 Worst Spiderman Tie-Ins
Pulp Fiction Parodies on YouTube

Ten Worst Spiderman Tie-Ins

Spidey Stuff!

It's the most expensive movie ever made — and probably the most heavily licensed.

Sony Pictures needs to earn $250 million just to break even on Spiderman 3 — so they've already licensed the costumed superhero's image for hundreds of products. Some are funny, some are strange, and some are stupid. We'll let you figure out which are which.

When Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider, he learned that with great power comes great responsibility.

But I don't think he ever expected...toothbrushes.

Fights Crime — and Cavities

Nothing screams dental hygiene like a tiny superhero clinging desperately to your toothbrush. ("No! Not the back molars!!") Is Peter Parker afraid of tooth decay, or just of being pushed into your stinky mouth?

This $8.00 toothbrush from Crest features the ol' floss-spinner himself. Fight plaque with the power of a radioactive spider's bite — and some delicious Crest toothpaste.

And maybe some mouthwash.

Bitten by a radioactive flea, "Spider-Dog" gained the proportionate strength of a spider, and can also lick himself.

Now he does whatever a spider can — and also, fetches.

And humps the mailman's leg.

He tried to join the Avengers once, but they kicked him out because he kept sniffing the other superheroes' butts.
Starring Kirsten Dunst

Sticks to Walls

"Ooh — did ookums get a boo-boo? I was bitten by a radioactive insect, gaining the freakish powers of a spider. So if there's one thing I know about, it's preventing infections."

"Unless you're allergic to latex."

"I'm a graduate from the Harvard School of Business — and my tie has Spider-Man on it."

It's the cutting edge in comic book superhero formal wear, and it's drawing rave reviews on Amazon.

"WOMEN LOVE IT!!! ...There's nothing that says, 'I'm a great lover and would make a good father' quite like 'Ol Spidey dangling right there down a man's torso... when I put this tie on, it's like I'm shooting electric sparks of love!"

5 of 5 people found this review helpful.
Get a Job!


Spider-Man would be less popular if he actually looked like this. And he'd probably be less intimidating to supervillains. Especially if they discovered that his secret identity was a cuddly plush pillow for ages three and up.

Among other things, it raises the question of how he'd blend into society when he returned to his identity as Peter Parker.

"Hey, Mary Jane. Who's your flat, box-shaped boyfriend with the legs that bend backwards?"

"He sure looks snuggly."

It's the ultimate slipper — it's half good, and half evil.

While you pad across your living room, Spider-Man protects you from supervillains and chilly tiles.

But Venom is lurking, just a few toes away, brooding on malevolent new crimes that involve static electricity.

Just remember: While you're lazing around on a Sunday morning, your slippers are plotting to destroy you.

Venom for your Feet

Secret Identity

The guys in gym class will never make fun of you again — oh no, not after they've seen your Spider-Man underwear. There will be no obvious jokes about whether your "Spider Sense" is tingling, no sniggering remarks about how you'll replenish your web shooters...

Go get 'em, Tiger.

"Who is this Spider-Man," snarls fictitious newspaper editor J. Jonah Jameson. Apparently he's a 7-year-old named David, who climbs up walls while his face never moves.

It's almost as though David's parents had uploaded his picture to Kideo.com so their child could "star" in a customized Spider-Man movie for $38.

It's money well spent, since according to their web page, the DVD also includes "an educational tutorial on spiders" hosted by noted spider authority...J. Jonah Jameson.

Former Child Star

Spider Hobo

Not only could Spider-Man stop a freight train — he is a freight train.

What kid hasn't dreamed of replacing fighting superheroes with drawings of them on the sides of a box car. Just imagine the thrilling battles when the Spider-Man boxcar fights the Green Goblin boxcar — to boxcar death.

The real moral of this story is that Sony didn't need to spend a quarter of a billion dollars making Spiderman 3. Kids would rather stay home playing with trains.

The Amazing Prosthetic Arm Spider-Man Fishing Rod

This last toy came from an open source project designing prosthetic limbs. They offer an online forum called "Pimp my Arm" — and somehow decided to combine a prosthetic arm with a fishing rod.

This isn't a commercial product — which puts the whole thing into perspective. If slapping the Spider-Man logo onto red and blue plastic was ever going to be meaningful, this is it. Imagine a happy child writing their own version of the Spider-Man theme song...about their arm.

Maybe it doesn't spin a web, any size. But it catches fish...using flies.

Go get 'em, tiger.

See Also:
George Bush vs. Spider-Man
Lost "Horrors" Ending Found on YouTube
The Celebrity Breast Conspiracy
Five Lamest Charlie Brown Cartoons
Neil Gaiman Has Lost His Clothes

Pulp Fiction Parodies on YouTube

Pulp Fiction changed cinema — but then the internet changed Pulp Fiction. Web pranksters have kicked down the door for a surprise attack on the 1994 film, re-imagining its dialogue in a series of surprising parodies.

Of course, Quentin Tarantino's own films have always included homages to his favorite movies, so maybe these parodies are just homages to favorite Tarantino scenes, celebrating the excitement of his violent, dialogue-filled originals. Jules and Vincent still roll to a hit while discussing what the French call their quarter pounders.

But after passing through the minds of a million internet wise guys — the scenes look a little different.

1. Muppet Pulp Fiction

Promising "a new film directed post-humously by Jim Henson," this trailer warns that "You won't know the facts until you seen it done with puppets." Kermit, Fozzie, and Beaker fulfill the whims of a muppet crimelord and his sultry temptress girlfriend — who looks less like Uma Thurman than she does Miss Piggy. The trailer promises grandly to explore the themes of loyalty, stuffing, and googly eyes...

But somewhere there's a breakfast diner that's about to be knocked over by Gonzo.

2. English, Motherfucker

The most original video has no characters at all — just an amazing animation of the words used in the scene. One by one they appear — "What ain't no country I ever heard of!" — in a hand-writing font synchronized perfectly to the dialogue.

"English" becomes an angry red-white-and blue British flag, and when you hear Brad start to reply, those nervous ellipses in "What...?" spell trouble.

3. I've Got Rhythm

Honey Bunny is ready — but then the jukebox kicks in.

This amazing music video demonstrates "video scratching" — Pulp Fiction dialogue samples matched perfectly to the music's rhythm. Using a trippy home-brewed version of the soundtrack, its echoey guitars compliment a suggestive series of clips showing a lighter, a spoon, a syringe...and then dancing.

Yes, there's the sound of squealing tires — but they're squealing in rhythm.

The drum beats even sync with Samuel L. Jackson's famous "Ezekiel" speech, as he lays down vengeance...and a righteous rhythm.

4. Royale With Cheese — and Robots

"Okay, tell me again about the hash bars," the scene begins — but it's read entirely by robots.

Samuel L. Jackson is a black metal robot with red flashing eyes and a fierce grill mouth, his fists cocked angrily to his side. But in this video it's a friendly silver robot which explains to him what to do if you get stopped by a cop in Amsterdam. ("Oh man. I'm going. That's all there is to it. I'm fucking going.") As his yellow eyes twinkle with joy, the silver robot's mechanized speech centers share the little differences — just one robot to another.

"You know what they put on French fries in Holland...?"

5. Walt Disney Presents...

John Travolta is a Disney Lion, and Samuel L. Jackson is Pumbaa the warthog. But he's got his hands full with a sleek female lion insisting "My husband your boss told you to take me out and do whatever I wanted," while it's the conniving Disney lion Scar who warns "in the fifth, your ass goes down."

This re-dubbed version of the heart-warming classic The Lion King is called — what else — Pulp Lions.

But I'm guessing Elton John wouldn't get anywhere near its soundtrack...

6. Every Motherfucking Last One Of You

Here's a handy cheat sheet for this video. "Any of you fucking pricks move, and I'll execute every motherfucking last one of ya!" just becomes "motherfucking."

"Do you speak English, motherfucker" just becomes "motherfucker."

And "Whose chopper is this?" isn't even in the movie.

It's the "Fuckin' Short Version" of Pulp Fiction, in which every shot is deleted unless it contains a character saying "fuck." Or "fucking". Or "motherfucker." Or, of course, "fucking motherfuckers."

And it's over two minutes long.

By the end it will seem strange if the characters don't say fuck.

7. What Planet Are You From?

A giant green alien shouts "English, motherfucker, do you speak it?" He's grilling anime charaters from Dragonball Z — who double-crossed the wrong alien.

"What country are you from?" he demands, with glaring alien eyes. "Say 'what' again. I double dare you!" (Though the new movie Grindhouse features Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror, imagine what he could have done with an alien who sounded like Samuel L. Jackson.)

8. The Phantom Marcellus

Samuel L. Jackson counsels his partner to "take care of" the big man's wife — though in this version she's played by Natalie Portman. Thanks to footage from the Star Wars movies, her Pulp Fiction escort becomes Jedi Ewan McGregor, and her husband — the crimelord Marcellus — is actually Jabba the Hutt.

With appearances by Han Solo and Princess Leia, this mashup supplies new footage for classic lines like "You got a corpse in a car minus a head in a garage..." and "Die! You muther—" — all courtesy of unauthorized swipes from LucasArts films.

It also includes the one actor you'd never expect to see in a Tarantino film. Yoda.

9. Brick Fiction

Pulp Fiction passed through the web and came out as Legos. Two different people have attempted the Honey Bunny "execution" speech with Legos.

It's difficult to convey menace with a pistol-waving mini-fig — but that's ultimately the point. Longer versions show Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta as...mini-figs in leather jackets. With drawn-on facial hair, they recite the "Royale with cheese" dialogue and anticipate their next hit while looking in a laughably tiny car trunk. ("We should have shotguns for this...")

Even Brad faces his ultimate reckoning with a painted-on Lego smile.

10. Pulp Ficturama

"Everybody be cool, this is a robbery!" As the diner scene's dialogue segues into fast electric guitar, there's a perfect Tarantino montage. It's got over-the-top action and adrenaline — but it's showing a giant mechanical crab attacking the city.

Pulp Fiction mixes its DNA with characters from Futurama — Leela, Dr. Zoidberg, Fry, and Bender. Only this time the hapless victims aren't terrorized by Samuel L. Jackson. They're attacked by rockets.

Every last motherfucking one of them.

See Also:
Five Best Videos: Animals Attacking Reporters
Lost "Horrors" Ending Found on YouTube
Six Freakiest Children's TV Rock Bands
Five Freaky Muppet Videos

New Tool for Bloggers: Technorati Incoming Links Visualizer

Finally, a way to visualize a web page's new referrers. What's your "Incoming Link Rate?" Try it!

Technorati provides a nearly real-time tracking of incoming links — but the one thing they've always lacked is a way to visualize it. Now entering a URL below will generate a bar graph representing a site's last 100 incoming links. (Don't forget to include http://www )

It's possible the date of an incoming link could be in a different time zone (since that web page's server may be far away).

This means Technorati appears to see mysterious incoming links arriving from the future.

Other caveats: I limited the display to links from the current year. (And not all web sites are tracked by Technorati - so there's a chance they may not have a record of your web site, or other sites which linked to it.)
But the patterns offer strong visual clues about a site's popularity...

Many sites are so popular that displaying only 100 incoming links won't even cover a single day.

Their bar graph is one vertical line that could just as easily be labelled "part of today."

Other sites show a reassuring consistency. Suck.com, which stopped publishing in 2001, lives in the memory of enough web surfers to draw an ongoing trickle of new incoming links.

Most popular sites fall somewhere in between.

Though some older sites have nearly been forgotten...

Technorati likes to say they reflect the "live" web -- an "always-updating" sample of the most recent links. They describe the value of their database as "Who's saying what. Right now." But if so, these graphs reflect the pace of that conversation -- or how loudly the crowd is whispering.

Technorati now tracks 74.7 million blogs, but most bloggers are only interested in one statistic: how many of them are linking to me? I like to think these visual graphs provide a fun answer, in the form of a digital pH strip.

When your site is popular, it turns black!

See Also:
Jimmy Wales Will Destroy Google
When Lego Goes to War
Sex For Meme's Sake

Should YouTube Hear Me?

Brandon Fletcher

Last week YouTube got a visit from a 19-year-old New Yorker who wanted his video on their front page. Brandon Fletcher says he tried emailing YouTube, but when that failed, he bought an airplane ticket to Silicon Valley. "If you believe in something — do whatever it takes to make your dream come to reality," Brandon announced grandiosely on his MySpace page. But he's also keeping a video blog of the journey — which of course puts additional pressure on YouTube.

Is this the latest craze — storming a corporation's headquarters and demanding that they listen to you?

Brandon says he was inspired by Aaron Stanton, a 25-year-old developer who pushed and shoved his way into a meeting with YouTube's owners last month. Aaron chronicled his surprise visit in a video blog called Can Google Hear Me?, and ultimately the company invited him in to hear his big idea. It was only a matter of time before someone else tried the same trick. One of Aaron's newly-recruited programmers even emailed Brandon to offer him encouragement.

But not everyone condones the tactic. After wishing him luck, Rocketboom's Joanne Colan added cynically (but ever-so-sweetly) "Try not to freak them out or anything." And one reporter even asked Brandon, "Why should you get special treatment?" (Brandon responded that his video has "a substantial amount" of subscribers, "so I'm basically getting to the bottom of it to see why it hasn't been featured yet.")

Does Brandon have "a substantial amount" of subscribers? He refused to identify his special video for ZDNet, acknowledging only that it's a reality show. But searching on the name of Brandon's enterprise pulls up a casting call for an online dating show, an ad for that dating show on CraigsList, and a page for the dating show on YouTube. (Which someone named Brandon has submitted to Digg.) And more importantly: that show has just 71 subscribers.

Nevertheless, Brandon appears undeterred. After touching down at the San Francisco airport, Brandon's first order of business was hiring a videographer to make sure his march on YouTube was documented. "I'm staying with a friend from high school," he told us at the time, and he spent over a week in the Bay Area before he was finally ready to make his move. "I woke up to a barrage of negative e-mails and comments full of criticism," Brandon wrote on his blog, "which only fueled my desire to succeed even more." Last Thursday the glorious moment came, and he posted the results in his video blog.

"'Security' doesn't let us off the elevator."

Brandon writes that "people from the YouTube office recognized me, and let me know that EVERYONE knew about the site and were waiting on my arrival..." He talked to two employees who gave him some t-shirts, some advice, and some free bottled water. But they both refused to be filmed.

Brandon says he showed them his idea, and they loved it. But he still hasn't made YouTube's front page. Which means he'll have to decide his next move for promoting the show: either creating another campaign — or pestering YouTube some more.

It's surprising that there's been such tolerance of what is now a de facto open-door policy for anyone who wants to use guerrilla tactics to tap into the rock star-making power of GooTube. Sure, Brandon was met by security and there's no indication that his gambit is gonna get his video on the home page of YouTube, but nonetheless, to anyone who hears or sees his story, it can only be encouraging that he got as far as he did without being man-handled by surly armed guards.

In his video blog he announces that "the mission isn't complete yet. I guess the journey never ends."

Good luck, Brandon.

But try not to freak them out, or anything.

See Also:
YouTube, the 20-Year-Old, and Date Unknown
Google Heard Me, Now What?
Worst Video Blogs of 2006
How the iPod Changes Culture
Jimmie Wales Will Destroy Google



When Kurt Vonnegut Met Sammy Davis

When Kurt Vonnegut published Slaughterhouse Five, he was 47. He'd struggled for 20 years to earn a living as an American writer, working as a public relations man for General Electric, an advertising copy writer, and even a car salesman. "All I wanted to do was support my family," Vonnegut wrote in 1999. "I didn't think I would amount to a hill of beans."

But this forgotten period of his life also includes a haunting story about television, a World War II story, and Sammy Davis Jr.

With two children, "I needed more money than GE would pay me," Vonnegut wrote in his introduction to Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction. "I also wanted, if possible, more self-respect." Vonnegut hoped to spend his life writing short stories for magazines, and began tapping his experiences in World War II — and in the world that followed. But in the 1950s the magazines publishing his fiction were exterminated by the ultimate juggernaut: television.

"You can't fight progress," Vonnegut wrote bitterly. "The best you can do is ignore it, until it finally takes your livelihood and self-respect away." In 1958 his sister died — and then her husband a few days later — and the 36-year-old would consider abandoning writing altogether.

In another world, Sammy Davis Jr. was a rising star. Though the 32-year-old had yet to join Frank Sinatra's Rat Pack, he was making a name for himself as an entertainer in Las Vegas and on Broadway. In a 1989 biography, Sammy remembered asking his agency for a role in TV dramas, and being told a black actor would be too jarring for audiences in the south.

"Baby," he replied, "have you any idea how jarring it must be for about five million colored kids who sit in front of their TV sets hour after hour and they almost never see anybody who looks like them? It's like they and their families and their friends just plain don't exist."

Sammy's genuine pain found echoes in one of Vonnegut's stories. D.P. — published in Welcome to the Monkey House — tells the story of the only black boy in a German orphanage. ("Had the children not been kept there...they might have wandered off the edges of the earth, searching for parents who had long ago stopped searching for them.") When the boy spots a black American soldier, he mistakes him for his father.

Sammy was cast as the soldier in a television adaptation of the story. Though TV was killing Vonnegut's career, he'd ended up as the co-author on this single teleplay. (Ironically, it was to appear in a showcase of half-hour dramas sponsored by his old employer: G.E. Theatre.) The published story ends with the young boy explaining his newfound hopes to the other skeptical orphans.

"How do you know he wasn't fooling you?"
"Because he cried when he left me."

In the teleplay, the heart-wrenching scene is played out. The alienated soldier — an orphan himself — finds himself abandoning the boy, yelling "Go away! I'm not your father!

"I don't need you!"

Then he realizes he can't do it. He collapses to his knees, and sobs "I need you."

And he promises he'll be back.

Sammy remembers that "everybody on the set was crying." Future President Ronald Reagan even wandered in — then the host of GE Theatre — and said warmly that "It's going to be a wonderful episode."

And according to Sammy's biography, his Hollywood agent Sy thought it was a milestone for America. "Well, sweetheart, you've made television history. When they write the books about the tube, they've got to write that Sammy Davis Jr. was the first Negro actor to star in episodic television... You'll have opened those doors for others to follow." Sammy remembered that "It didn't matter what as long as they broke out of it being just maids and butlers."

But there was one problem. General Electric worried that nearly two-thirds of their products were sold "below the Mason-Dixon line," according to Sammy's agent. His biography remembers that painful conversation. "They say they will be ostracized by their white customers and dealers. So there's no way we can use that show.

"The sponsor is the boss... GE paid for the show, and it's GE's right to bury it."

The show finally aired — in a doomed time slot competing against Rock Hudson's first television appearance ever. But surprisingly, it beat Hudson's ratings in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles — and was only a half point behind nationwide. The reaction was surprisingly positive, and GE even cast Sammy in two more episodes. And somewhere, America began to change.

Before publishing SlaughterHouse Five, Vonnegut struggled through another 10 years of writing. In Bagombo Snuff Box he complained that when he published Mother Night and The Sirens of Titan, "I got for each of them what I used to get for a short story."

But eight years before his death he'd look back fondly on the 1950s in America, remembering it as "a golden age of magazine fiction..."
"...a time before there was television, when an author might support a family by writing stories that satisfied uncritical readers of magazines, and earning thereby enough free time in which to write serious novels.

"This old man's hope has to be that some of his earliest tales, for all their mildness and innocence and clumsiness, may, in these coarse times, still entertain."

See also:
Robert Anton Wilson 1932-2007
Neil Gaiman Has Lost His Clothes
Rudy Rucker Interview
When Cory Doctorow Ruled the World

Six Freakiest Children’s TV Rock Bands

Are you ready to freak out? After the 1960s, both cartoons and live-action children's shows began including rock bands. They left a generation baffled by poseurs who said "groovy" alot — but somewhere there were subversives running wild in the programming department, and Saturday morning would never be the same.

These six videos remind us of that forgotten moment in time when the counter-culture came for our children.

1. The Secret Chimpanzee's Other Ball

Yes, it's a band composed entirely of monkeys. One year after Woodstock, and four months after Kent State, the airwaves were seized by a band of radical chimpanzees. ("C'mon baby, let your hair hang low. Let the revolution show you all you got to know...")

Each week after being introduced by a fake Ed Sullivan monkey, the "Evolution Revolution" indoctrinated a room full of pogo-ing monkeys as part of Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp. The camera zooms with rock star excitement, providing an unintentional satire of the entire pop music industry. (Alternate name: "Monkey Vanilli.") Editing can make a rock band out of anybody — including chimpanzees who look agitated, bored, and occassionally itchy.

Of course, in real life, the monkey Lancelot Link wasn't a rock musician. He was a secret agent for the Agency to Prevent Evil. (Or "APE.") But his band rocked the Nixon era for two years, until network TV executives decided it was frightening to both children and adults

2. Yabba Dabba Doobie

In 1971 Pebbles and Bam-Bam grew into trendy teenagers with their own awful rock band. They lasted exactly one season, doomed the moment a studio executive decided the perfect voice for teenaged Pebbles would be Sally Struthers.

Their band played instruments made out of domesticated animals, until "The Bedrock Rockers" were absorbed into the equally short-lived Flintstones Comedy Show. (It's slogan? "We'll have a groovy time.")

The only surviving relic is an unloved DVD and these surreal animated music videos for songs like Sunshine Man, Yabba Dabba Doosie, and one about the Zodiac. But it's better than that commercial Fred Flintstone did for Winston cigarettes.

"Winston is the one-filter cigarette that delivers flavor — twenty times a pack!"

3. The Bugaloo Experience

Flying bug people form a rock band and flee from "Benita Bizarre" and her sidekick, Funky Rat.

The Bugaloos all had hippy names like Joy and Harmony, and lived in a place called "The Tranquility Forest" with their sidekick — "Sparky". They also presuambly had unspeakable crushes on their female singer Joy, who wore a mini-skirt with pink wings, since even their birthday songs to her were creepy. ("Older woman — you're a little prettier today...")

The singing bug people all wore antennas, and continued freaking out Saturday morning viewers until 1972. Their song Fly Away With Us "sounds like the perky pests are trying to lure kids into an LSD trip," writes one web critic, "or some Eastern-inspired cult." After listening to "The Senses of Our World", he added: "This is what Prozac sounds like."

Amazingly, over 5,000 people had auditioned to be in the bug band — including Phil Collins.

4. Krofft Gets Funky

There's no evidence eight year olds dropped acid for The Krofft Super Show, but its theme song promised it "will blow your mind away."

Its hallucinogenic lyrics about "a crazy world...where most of what appears isn't true..." ended up in the hands of Captain Kool and the Kongs, a children's version of KISS with faces decorated in glitter and makeup. The "land of dreams" they introduced were live-action segments from Sid and Marty Krofft — which means they were low-budget and disturbing. There was Wonderbug, Dr. Shrinker, and Electra Woman and Dyna Girl.

Were they disturbing? Let's just say the actor playing Dr. Shrinker had also played Caligula, and served a year in prison for methadone possession.

5. Josie's Groovin' in Outer Space

A stoner reading Heavy Metal magazine decided the cartoon band Josie and the Pussycats would be even better if they lived in outer space with an alien named Gleep. He drew a phallic rocket which quivers on the launch pad, then blasted them eight miles high.

Two years later a competing stoner reading Heavy Metal launched the Partridge Family into space, stranding them in a cartoon continuum 230 years in the future, where they "showed us how it's gonna be." In 1982 the desperate cast of Gilligan's Island tried blasting themselves into outer space, but unfortunately, no one noticed. Soon even Fonzie and the other characters from Happy Days found themselves blasted out of the 1950s and into the future — and outer space.

None of these shows lasted more than a season — except Josie and the Pussycats In Outer Space, which lasted two. But when future generations build moon colonies, maybe they'll draw inspiration from the fact that they were preceded into space by an all-girl band in kitty costumes.

6. Sympathy for the Misfits

Jem and the Holograms were the 80s equivalent of The Pussycats — but with one difference. They had their own Nietszchean doppelgangers trying to destroy them.

Jem's animated rock band competed against a warpaint-wearing rival group with bizarre coked-up "metal" hair and a weirdly negative vibe. The Misfits' videos included giant spiders, lightning surfboards, guitar-shaped motorcycles, and even planet-swallowing darkness.

Alas, Glenn Danzig's punk band — also called The Misfits — was nowhere to be seen, and cheery MTV synth-pop ultimately conquered Saturday morning, bringing with it a line of tie-in toys from Hasbro. The bitter Jem-haters were our last line of resistance against a big media beachhead of beautiful people, and though the Misfits were as vindictive as they were doomed, they did teach impressionable youngsters an important and affirming truth.

That a world without freaks would be even worse.

See also:
Lost "Horrors" Ending Found on YouTube
The Simpsons on Drugs: Six Trippiest Scenes
The Cartoon Porn Shop Janitor: Carol Burnett vs. Family Guy

Google Heard Me, Now What?

Can Google Hear Me?

Aaron Stanton rose to online fame after vowing in a video that he'd fly to California and pitch an idea to Google. After they refused to let him camp in their lobby, he hovered nervously at a friend's house, recording anxious video updates at a web site — CanGoogleHearMe.com. On Valentine's Day, the story took a thrilling turn when he received a late-night email.
We can hear you : )

But what happened next? After his meeting with Google, 25-year-old Aaron returned mysteriously to his home in Boise and started rounding up programmers.

"It's related to the idea that I originally took down to Google," he told 10 Zen Monkeys. Does that mean Google rejected him? "That's a very premature assumption."

In fact, he notes that no one ever clearly identified his original expectations. "No one — to this day — has ever asked me what I wanted Google to do with my idea." Now the bright-eyed dreamer has entered the realm of hush-hush corporate prototype development. Or has he? "It's possible I wanted to partner with them, or see if I could negotiate some sort of access to their resources." Whatever it is, Aaron says that between July and August, "I hope to be through beta testing and be able to return to Silicon Valley — for a variety of reasons."

"I am very pleased with the outcome of the trip, and it falls very much in line with one of the hoped for outcomes before I started."

And when he returns, it doesn't look like he'll be waiting for a late-night invite again. "The return has fewer question marks about it than the original quest did," Aaron tells us. "I'll be going knowing what to expect, this time." But when it comes to the most important question, he's still maintaining the mystery. Where do things stand with Google?
Sorry, I can't really talk about Google's reaction at all. : )

One thing he will talk about is what a great experience it's been. "Independently of the actual project, I've had so many interesting opportunities that have opened up as a result of the adventure..." he tells us. When you ask him what the best part was, he says without hesitation: "The people I've met..."

And his email now ends with a grateful signature line.

"Sometimes when you say, 'Hello, World,' the world says hello back."

Aaron is filming more video updates as he puts together his team. Inspired by the story of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, he looked for programmers at a computer science club at Boise State University. Saying it went "Different than I expected," Aaron described the experience in another video. "They spent 1.5 hours teaching me how to play Magic: The Gathering." Calling it "a positive meeting," Aaron ultimately teamed up instead with Brandon Zehm, a self-taught programmer who'd sent him an email. In the video he introduces the new programmer, who he adds can also play keyboards and make his own chain mail.

"And then there were two," the video concludes.

Aaron won't say what his big idea is, but one Digg poster speculates it was tied to an old venture of Aaron's called the Novel Project
By analyzing published novels and breaking them down into detailed statistics, then graphing those statistics scene-by-scene, we allow authors to better understand their craft in a way never before possible. You already know to start your book with a high interest scene, but do you know what to do with the scenes after that?

Another Digg poster claimed that "I e-mailed him, and he sent back a note saying that it was related, but much more than that, that it had actually branched from that into separate projects."

In February Aaron himself joined the discussion, posting on another site. "The idea was actually developed (in a simple form) in 2003 and then grew and branched, but it didn't become an obvious match for Google for a while after that."

The mystery may be agonizing, but "The problem is that the Internet is a fast medium," Aaron writes, "and it's covering what can sometimes be a slow medium, which is life. Life sometimes takes time."

But even if it doesn't work out, Aaron has a reponse to people who ask: what if Google hadn't agreed to hear you out? The bright side, he said, would've been all the encouragement he received — which would give him the strength to keep trying again later. In fact, he's already collected all the encouraging emails into a keepsake book that he's titled "We Can Hear You :)"

The homemade cover identifies its author as "Aaron Stanton and 2000 friends."

See Also:
Google Stalker Reveals Secret Project
Should YouTube Hear Me?
Google is Trying To Get Into Your Pants
Lost "Horrors" Ending Found on YouTube
YouTube, the 20-Year-Old, and Date Unknown

Sexy Adult Secrets in “Little Children”

It was nominated for three Oscars, and won: none. Little Children dramatized Tom Perrotta's brilliant novel about suburban entrapment (and the possibility of escape). Was something lost in its transition to the screen?

Perrotta, along with director Tom Field, condensed his book's seven characters into movie-friendly vignettes. Even though their screenplay was nominated for an Oscar, it inevitably raises questions about what was left out — and why. Are book-reading audiences more liberal than mainstream movie-goers? Were some scenes too hot for Hollywood — or just too complicated?

Warning: this article is full of spoilers. Lots of 'em.

The Bi-Sexual Lover

When the film opens we see Kate Winslet playing an unhappy housewife at the playground. But in his book, Perrotta indulges in a glance at the life history that brought her there. An active feminist in college, she'd found meaning and self-discovery in a college Women's Studies program, ultimately enjoying "a passionate affair with a Korean-American woman named Amelia."

This digression leads to a scene which adds a crucial perspective to her future unhappiness. By page 12, Perrrotta has breezily recapped her failed grad school career, fretting that the best possible outcome would be "a one-year, nonrenewable appointment teaching remedial composition to football players in Oklahoma." She returns to a low-paying service sector job — at Starbucks coffee — where one day she spots her former lover, looking "absolutely radiant," with her husband and baby.

"Amelia shrugged, as if she didn't understand how it was possible that she even knew this pathetic woman in the green apron, let alone that they'd once danced to Aretha Franklin in their underwear and collapsed onto a narrow bed in a fit of giggles that seemed like it would never stop."

That year — and while working at Starbucks — she meets her future husband Richard.

Meeting Slutty Kay

Richard is seen in the movie, as the wealthy, fetish-bound husband who sniffs panties he ordered from an online porn site. The book describes his own troubled history — a previous twenty-year marriage from an accidental pregnancy, which ends in divorce. Yes, he'd turned to porn, before meeting his future second wife. ("They were both desperately lonely and waiting for someone to rescue them.") The book notes that it's the realities of child-rearing that first stifles their sex life. But it's only when doing research for his branding company — about the Y2K bug — that Richard stumbles across the web site for Slutty Kay. Richard was equally beguiled by the porn model's internet frankness — her confidence, her honesty, and her joy. In a surprise twist, Perrotta's book follows him further than just sniffing the panties he ordered online. "He could never get past the uncomfortable fact that she existed for him solely as a digital image," Perrotta notes, which leads Richard on a surreptitious flight to San Diego for a life-changing weekend retreat — with the Slutty Kay Fan Club.

It's at Beachfest 2001 that he calls his wife and tells her that he's never coming home.

This changes the dynamics of the film's crucial moment on the playground, when his wife must also grapple with the fact that she doesn't have a husband to go home to.

Larry's wife, the "fucking whore"

The mall security incident haunts former police officer Larry — but his life story casts a cynical light on the suburban town's morality.

His wife and he are devout Catholics — though he'd met her at a Miss Nipples contest at Kahlua's. After his own tragedies — the mall shooting was followed by the death of his father — Larry decides that "horrific things happened to good and bad people alike with no regard whatsoever for their goodness or badness." His Catholic beliefs evolve into some more profane. "[I]f some kind of God was in control of it all...then God was an asshole or at best an incompetent, and in either case was of absolutely no use to [anyone] who simply wanted to live a decent life..."

The mall shooting leaves him impotent, but it's his sacrilege that causes his wife to consider leaving him. Their final argument was ultimately about "a cleavage-baring dress she'd worn to mass during the July heat wave." During the week his wife wore the same nurse's uniform, and wanted Sunday to be a day when she looked nice.

After their separation Larry watches her bitterly at church, dressed "as if Dirty Dancing was the Eighth Sacrament." Which ultimately leads to a startling scene.

The Pedophile Among Us

Jackie Earle Haley was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of the unreformed pedophile. But in one of the book's most outrageous scenes, the character's ever-faithful mother actually convinces him to go to church. ("Say a prayer for your old sick mother.")

There, inevitably, he's spotted by Larry, the now-relentless neighborhood activist. The moral-minded community has already identified the disturbing pedophile in their midst — "whole families fleeing pews" — but Larry watches his estranged wife sitting blithely with their children. "Just two feet away from that shitbag!" Larry announces. Tension builds throughout a sermon about how Jesus loved everyone — but Larry finally loses control, confronting the smiling pervert and trying to eject him from the church.

The congregation watches as he attempts to pull him from the pew, the pedophile crouching and clutching the kneeler. Ultimately he succeeds only in pulling off his pants — revealing "the blasphemous pallor of his butt cheeks."

"'I'm sorry,' he explained. 'I wasn't trying to pull his pants down.'"

"Please," says the usher. "Please just leave."

Why, Brad, Why?

The film's plot centers around the forbidden attraction between a married woman and a married man. Their rebellious passion comes as a surprise, with only an intriguing outline of their motivations. But the novel grants the reader a look into Brad's pscyhe.

Named Todd in the book, he's still the neighborhood legend, dubbed "the prom king" by the housewives at the playground. He's a good-looking, stay-at-home dad who boyishly can't resist midnight football games or the cajoling of skateboarders. But Todd remembers the day his personality was frozen. ("The afternoon his mother died, Todd and his friend had been throwing snowballs at cars...") When his father comes to inform his son somberly about his mother's death, Todd asks "Is this about the car?"

"Did someone tell you?" his father asks?

The moment now hopelessly confused, he eventually tells his son "I want you to live your life as if this never happened." Todd plunges ahead with relentless adolescent success, falling into a pre-law career almost by accident (taking the LSAT as a show of support for a fraternity brother). The book savors his grown-up dilemma — and that of his career-minded wife Kathy, trying to hang on to her ideal husband.

Played by Jennifer Connelly in the movie, the book grants her an extra scene, when she lures her unfaithful husband onto a final weekend getaway in the hopes of saving their marriage. In the bedroom she delivers "an amazing performance, marred only by the slightest trace of smugness on her face, a cool erotic confidence that he couldn't help resenting."

Perotta savors their situation in truthful, cynical dialogue.

"Do you love her?" she asks?

"I don't know," Brad answers honestly. "That's what I'm trying to figure out."

See Also:
Lost "Horrors" Ending Found on YouTube
Hating Roger Ebert
Pulp Fiction Parodies on YouTube
David Sedaris Exaggerates For Us All

5 Freaky Muppet Videos

The Muppets exploded into worldwide popularity in the 1970s as regular performers on Sesame Street. But as pop culture changed, Jim Henson and his company found even stranger creatures to parody by mingling with real-world celebrities. The five-year run of The Muppet Show set the weird tone for a tradition they've continued to this day. These 5 online videos show what a long strange trip it's been.

1. Star Wars: the Muppets Strike Back

Just two years after the Stars Wars Christmas Special, and a forgotten appearance on the Donny and Marie variety show, the "stars of Star Wars" made a special guest appearance on the Muppet Show. (In one surreal moment, Mark Hamill attempts to do a Fozzie Bear impersonation, unintentionally reminding everyone how much Fozzie always sounded like Yoda.)

Kermit the Frog tries to lure Hamill and his droids into performing a musical number, noting to C-3PO that "your little garbage can friend wants to." But when the big finish arrives, it's a hunt for Darth Vader — assisted by the intrepid cast of "Pigs in Space." After a crash-landing ("You forgot to push the stoppy thing"), they discover a much shorter Darth Vader — played by Gonzo, with Miss Piggy standing in for Princess Leia. The spectacular dialogue about phasers is interrupted by an appearance by Angus McGonigle the Gargling Argyle Gargoyle, until — sure enough — the cast breaks into a poorly-explained music number.

2. Kermit meets Blondie?

Not only was Deborah Harry a punk rock singer and new wave pioneer — she was also a guest on The Muppet Show. In a surreal moment, Harry sings Call Me — the theme to American Gigolo — for an audience of cheering frogs, while new wave muppets with multi-colored hair lay down a background of synthesizers and electric guitars. Harry even performs One Way or Another with a muppet version of Blondie (wearing skinny ties and black and white suits), its chorus of "getcha getcha getcha getcha" dramatized by monsters behind doors (including a one-toothed blue fan named Mulch.)

The most inspiring moment was when the punk pioneer corrupted a band of boy scouts — played by frogs. ("The pogo? Would that get us our punk merit badges?!") They bop to muppetty punk rock until a concerned Kermit checks in on the troop. ("Does Mrs. Applebee know you're in here?")

After all the jokes about colored hair and safety pins, Deborah Harry joins Kermit in Rainbow Connection, acoustic banjo joining high new wave voice. Deborah Harry sings this one with sweet sleepy bewilderment. But maybe she's just surprised that she's harmonizing with a singing frog.

3. The Goo-Goo Dolls vs. Elmo

The Goo-Goo Dolls had two #1 songs on their 1998 album Dizzy up the Girl when they payed a call on Elmo's World, adapting the lyrics for Slide to the child-like muppet. ("Elmo whisper in my ear. I really want to hear / The things you did today / that satisfied you...") Inspired by their rock star cool, Elmo imagines himself in sunglasses and a black leather jacket — and bobs innocently in time to their catchy alterna-pop.

What's surprising is how well it works. The song's original cryptic lyrics finally make sense, and the tune's uplifting melody complements their message of self esteem. ("Let those good thoughts fill your head. You are furry proud and red...") Of course, probably the last thing Elmo needs is more people stroking his ego. His top-muppet status has already introduced him to an impressive string of celebrity A-listers, from Robert De Niro to Mike Huckabee, and even Norah Jones dropped by to sing a torch song to the letter of the day. (Y.) In 2004 Elmo topped it all off with a cameo on the West Wing.

When it comes to raw popularity, he's the king. Or as the Goo-Goo Dolls put it: "Elmo. No one can touch him..."

4. Love songs with Alice Cooper

Alice Cooper bit the head off a chicken and drank its blood onstage, the legend went. (And Frank Zappa advised him to never deny it.) The 70s shock rock star performed notorious live stage acts which included a boa constrictor and a guillotine — until his alcoholism led him to a stint in a sanitarium. And then he sang love songs to a muppet.

As a pioneer in music video, it was inevitable that Cooper would want to experiment with Jim Henson's creatures. Wearing his trademark "black snake-eye" makeup, he performed muppet-enhanced versions of his three biggest hits, and more than 25 years later, YouTube music videos have turned up to document the legendary meeting. During School's Out, a gang of giant, fanged monsters bully Cooper — wearing a cap and gown — in a bizarre dance number. During Welcome to My Nightmare, Cooper arises from a coffin (to the recorded sound of an applauding audience, followed soon by recorded laughter for the antics of a puppet skeleton).

When Cooper finally culminates his appearance with You and Me, his top ten love ballad, he's joined by an enormous green bird with rainbow hair and a studded beak. "I wanna take you and squeeze you til the passion starts to rise," Cooper sings, as they stare deeply and meaningfully into each others eyes. The strangeness works, ultimately emphasizing the song's message — that that's enough for a working man.

5. The Jim Henson connection

Looking back to the early days, probably the strangest thing of all is to see Kermit the frog with Jim Henson's arm attached, as he did in one of his last appearances ever on The Arsenio Hall Show. But in 1974, Henson had performed an even stranger trick— cycling through a series of different voices to throw off the panelists. (Which stumped Arlene Francis and Dr. Joyce Brothers — but not puppet enthusiast Soupy Sales.)

16 years later Henson was performing the same trick on Live with Regis and Kathy Lee, and it would be his last public performance with the frog before his death of pneumonia at age 54. So it's re-assuring to travel back in time and see the gentle puppeteer enjoying the reaction from delighted interviews — and showing just how much of his personality he projected into his work.

On "What's My Line," host Larry Blyden had jokingly addressed a question to Kermit the Frog, asking "How long did it take you to finally get Jim Henson right?"

Kermit replied that "The beard was the hardest part."

See also:
Lost "Horrors" Ending Found on YouTube
Pulp Fiction Parodies on YouTube

Leaving “Lost” Limbo

What's "Lost" are the viewers — down 10% this week, after dropping 20% the week before. In the last 6 months, 8 million people have stopped caring about those TV plane crash survivors on that island full of mysteries.

We've gone from laughing with the castaways to laughing at the writers. ("What if there's a magic turtle?") Those complex characters we loved and cared about are trapped in a limbo of ever-shifting plot lines and motivations.

Here's how to rescue them...

7 Things I Learned from Superbowl Ads

1. People who drink Bud Light are assholes

We knew this already, but during Sunday's Super Bowl, Anheuser-Busch broadcast footage into our living rooms to prove it. Bud Light drinkers are apparently chainsaw-wielding hitch-hikers, rock-throwing psychopaths, and take dating tips from Carlos Mencia. If they show up at your wedding they'll replace the chaplain with an auctioneer. Their unholy beer is coveted by gorillas and worshipped by crabs, in an ongoing attempt to inebriate the entire animal kingdom. Just remember — if Bud Light ruled the world — even dogs would lie.

Fortunately, Anheuser-Busch have also provided a solution. If a Bud Light drinker gives you a compliment, slap him in the face. (Says one iFilm viewer: "Can't wait to get to the office on Monday!")

2. Mechanics share food

Snickers wanted to ensure they had the most talked about ad of 2007. But for added effect they also hired Super Bowl players to watch their ads, so they could broadcast their reactions on their web site.
Marvin Harrison, Indianapolis Colts Wide Receiver
Mmm, mmm, mmm, mmm.

Mushin Muhammad, Chicago Bears Wide Receiver
Oh! (winces) Oh my god! (laughing and wincing) That was funny. When the lips touched — that was funny, right there.

Desmond Clark, Chicago Bears Tight End
Whoa. Whoa. Aw, no. (Laughs)

("They did 50 takes," an off-camera voice tells him.)

AfterThe Kiss.com promises to let viewers choose which of four endings will be broadcast during the Daytona 500. (For example, one mechanic whacks the other with a wrench, or they're joined by a third mechanic who asks "Is there room for three on this Love Boat?")

Ironically, the sexy ads appear above a hyperlink to the privacy policy for Snickers' web site, which promises parents that "We take special care with young children."

3. Coke has an amazing advertising budget

Who knew the inside of a Coke machine was an enchanted cloud kingdom where flying fish ferry your change to an artic wonderland and a celebratory party in a blimp-based ampitheatre? Coke is apparently dispensed from a hole in the sky, and though it no longer contains cocaine, it can give you hallucinations. It also takes a full minute from the time you put your money into the vending machine until the damn bottle comes out.

Another ad tells us that not only is there a fairy tale celebration in every bottle of Coke. It can also rejuvenate old people.

4. Your workplace is doomed

Showing up to work is an exercise in futility. Your new corporate headquarters are located on the moon, your manager implements new jungle-based torture rituals, and your cheating co-workers were just getting their sales leads off a web page anyways. But the ultimate insult is that if you actually manage to get something done, Robert Goulet will just show up and sabotage it.

Yes, it's true. If your blood sugar drops, you're visited by a 73-year-old lounge singer who can only be repelled by the "natural energy" in Emerald Nuts. It's a phenomenon "most decent people couldn't imagine," according to a redundant companion video at the company's web site.

No wonder America is losing ground to the Japanese.

5. Heavy metal stars will sing anything

Come on — "Mapasaurus?!" Grim Reaper's Steve Grimmett recorded the humiliating metal parody behind a cool retro ad in which an ersatz Ultraman takes on his greatest challenge: a map that's hard to fold.
"Evil Mapasaurus, prepare to meet your doom..
Our hero has the power, glove box is your tomb!"

But Grimmett not only recorded the soundtrack. He recorded a full-length music video for the company's web site.

Grimmett takes his place beside a list of other navigation-related super villains — Trafficdactyl, Wirerannosaurus Mess, and Congestodon. The hype-happy site also offers guitar tabs for the song, a Mapasaurus screensaver and a "making of" documentary for the 30-second ad, in which Grimmett acknowledges that satellite navigation systems are important because, as an aging headbanger, his eyesight is failing.

6. Flomax fights prostate problems and decreases your semen count

It always amazes me. A pharmaceutical company spends $2.6 million to buy one minute of Super Bowl air time — and then spends 30 seconds of it describing their drug's miserable side effects. Besides manly biking excursions with your friends and kayaking trips down a river, Flomax can also give you a runny nose, dizziness, or a decrease in semen. If you stand up, your blood pressure may drop suddenly, "rarely resulting in fainting... avoid situations where injury could result." But on the bright side: it does address those male urinary symptoms.

7. People who drink Snapple are stupid

But this goes without saying.

See Also:
10 Best Monster Ads
Five Druggiest High School Sitcom Scenes
The Cartoon Porn Shop Janitor — Carol Burnett vs Family Guy
Dustin Diamond vs. Sgt. Harvey

The Porn Star, the Diva, and the World Wide Web

"Mimi is miffed"
wrote Perez Hilton. Then he photoshopped an x-rated composite photo of Mariah Carey into his series of offensive pictures.

It's just one way web pages are getting involved in the ultimate celebrity showdown between a music diva and a porn star.

Wednesday legal documents were filed arguing that while porn star Mary Carey may exploit her body, the right to exploit the name Mariah Carey has already been sold. By Thursday TMZ.com had tracked down the porn star for an interview which plays on their site after a horribly mis-placed ad for a contest involving "Dove Cream Oil." ("Void where prohibited.") Catching her in a bizarrely candid moment, the adult film actress jokes that "I got pants on tonight... I'm a good girl... I'm going to rehab." She then takes a phone call about "the guy who's suing me because I wouldn't go out with him" — and angrily insists that Mary is, in fact, her real name. And the Carey part? "It rhymes, it was funny, it was goofy. It was a porno name!"

Meanwhile, Automatic Princess Holdings, LLC has identified themselves as the official and exclusively-licensed exploiter of the Mariah Carey name, arguing that public could confuse "the goods offered" by the 26-year-old porn star with the "goods and services offered" by the 36-year-old singer. (No pun intended.) By Thursday the Smoking Gun had also dug up the group's legal documents, where they admit that Mariah Carey's name became famous after they "invested a substantial amount of time, effort, and money in promoting the Mariah Carey mark." While Mary Carey may have applied to trademark her name a year ago, Mariah's team says they'd already notified her of their pre-existing trademark.

Elsewhere on the web, Mary Carey took a break from her busy schedule of teasing strangers at bus stops and running for Governor to address the controversy herself on her (not safe for work) site. "It makes me so sad that we can't just be friends and drink some champage this new year," she wrote earlier this month. (Adding that "I am dancing in philly next week and you can see me at Oasis and the 76ers games Wednesday and Saturday.") But she offered a longer analysis about Mariah on her MySpace page.

"I think she is dumb for causing all this drama."

Web surfers seeking a scathing online rebuttal from Mariah Carey found only this rejoinder on her web site: "You can purchase a Fan Club gift membership for all the Mariah fans in your life!" But fortunately YouTube rushed in to fill the void, when WXYZ Radio uploaded a video fulfilling the potential of these two media worlds colliding.

In "Mariah Carey vs. Mary Carey," they spliced together samples of both Careys at work to create the inevitable comparison. Using bath tub footage from Mariah's Shake it Off video and the sexy bed rolling filmed for We Belong Together, they showed the MTV diva as a music video vamp. But while the song Maneater plays in the background, the video switches to footage of Mary Carey performing her trademark girl-girl kissing and groping scenes. And there's more in Part Two, this time using Chris Brown's Gimme That as the accompanying track and more racy footage of both performers.

Other YouTube users uploaded their own bemused commentary. ("What is she afraid of?" asks a 37-year-old in Canada. "People might think that Mary Carey can sing...? This is just a ploy...to get her name in the paper.") Video blogger "Jewelry Man" weighed in with his own unique perspective. ("How 'bout we go back to them headlights?") And overlooked somewhere in YouTube's comments rests the perfect solution from user djbluu. "I say foxy box it out. Winner gets to keep the name..."

Mariah Carey may be thinking "Gotta do what's best for me, baby, and that means I gotta shake you off." But in the end porn star Mary Carey faces her own set of identity concerns too. "There are people using my images illegally," she posted on her blog, "such as the imposter Mary Carey's on MySpace, escort services and such."

Ironically, after all the legal fussing, Mary Carey considers herself a fan. "I love Mariah," she writes. "I have always respected her talent and beauty."

"I just wish she would let me use my name!"

See Also:
The Prince of Gonzo Porn
D.C. Sex Diarist Bares It All
Deep Throat, Big Brain
Pregnant Nympho Sex

George Bush vs. Spider-Man

Is Spider-Man's next super-villain going to be George Bush?

Spider-Man crashed into a newscast this month to criticize government policy on secret detentions. Granted this took place in a comic book — but it was clearly addressing specific policies of the Bush administration.

American politicians have already launched a preemptive strike on Spider-Man. For years conservatives have been justifying foreign imperialism by invoking the famous words of his kindly uncle Ben — that "with great power comes great responsibility." (Senators currently invoking the wisdom of Spider-Man comic books include Republican Deputy Whip Jim Demint, and Sam Brownback, whose web page still argues that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.) This month someone writing for Marvel Comics had apparently had enough. Specifically, contributing writer J. Michael Straczynski.

Straczynski — also the creator of Babylon 5 — crafted a story where Spider-Man reconsiders similarly controversial government actions in an alternate war on terror. Straczynski has been a frequent critic of the Bush administration, posting to internet newsgroups for years. And Marvel's characters were already bristling in a story about government roundups of anyone deemed too powerful and dangerous. So a showdown was probably inevitable.

In Straczynski's story, Spider-Man lays out a remarkably clear case against the government's secret detention program. The costumed superhero tackles the abstract good of a national identity while speaking simply, in what could easily be considered a plot to turn the youth of our nation against the President. Providing the ultimate "What if..." confrontation, we've taken Spider-Man's speech opposing the policies and given him a super-sized debating opponent — another simple speaker armed with equally powerful speech writers. In the spirit of comic book confrontations, we're pitting Spider-Man's challenging November arguments against a September speech by President Bush.

It's clobbering time! 'Nuff said! And for any politician thinking about politically exploiting the World Trade Center attacks, here's some advice. If you mess with New York City, you mess with Spider-Man.

People of New York, I've — well, I've got a confession to make. I was wrong. I made a mistake. I've seen the very concept of justice destroyed.
We had to wage an unprecedented war against an enemy unlike any we had fought before. I directed our government's senior national security officials to do everything in their power, within our laws, to prevent another attack. But another reason the terrorists have not succeeded is because our government has changed its policies — and given our military, intelligence, and law enforcement personnel the tools they need to fight this enemy.
I've seen heroes and bad guys alike — dangerous guys, no mistake, but still born in this country for the most part — denied due process and imprisoned, potentially for the rest of their lives, without a trial, without evidence.
They live quietly among their victims; they conspire in secret, and then they strike without warning. In this new war, the most important source of information on where the terrorists are hiding and what they are planning is the terrorists, themselves... This is intelligence that cannot be found any other place. And our security depends on getting this kind of information. To win the war on terror, we must be able to detain, question, and, when appropriate, prosecute terrorists captured here in America, and on the battlefields around the world.
They're held in inhumane conditions in a place called the negative zone. The negative zone is... Well, it's a lot like New Jersey. But...with fewer off-ramps.
The International Committee of the Red Cross is being advised of their detention, and will have the opportunity to meet with them... America has no interest in being the world's jailer. But one of the reasons we have not been able to close Guantanamo is that many countries have refused to take back their nationals held at the facility. Other countries have not provided adequate assurances that...they will not return to the battlefield, as more than a dozen people released from Guantanamo already have.
We all want to be safe. We all want to know we can go to bed at night and have a good chance of waking up without somebody in a costume blowing up the building. But there's a point where the end doesn't justify the means, if the means require us to give up not just our identities, but who and what we are as a country.
Like the struggles of the last century, today's war on terror is, above all, a struggle for freedom and liberty. The adversaries are different, but the stakes in this war are the same: We're fighting for our way of life, and our ability to live in freedom. We're fighting for the cause of humanity, against those who seek to impose the darkness of tyranny and terror upon the entire world. And we're fighting for a peaceful future for our children and our grandchildren.
When does the country we're living in stop being the country we were born in? Some people say the most important thing in the world is that we should be safe. But I was brought up to belive that some things are worth dying for. If the cost of the silence is the soul of the country... If the cost of tacit support is that we lose the very things that make this nation the greatest in human history — then the price is too high.
We have a right under the laws of war, and we have an obligation to the American people, to detain these enemies and stop them from rejoining the battle!
I cannot, in good conscience, continue to support this act as it has been created and enforced. I was wrong. And from this day on, I will do everything within my power to oppose the act and anyone attempting to intimidate and arrest those who also oppose the act, in the cause of freedom.
You heard him. Bring him in.

See Also:
Neil Gaiman has lost his clothes
The Ten Worst Spider-Man Tie-Ins
Is It Fascism Yet?

Ten Video Moments from 2006

The past year saw new issues around sex, privacy, media and politics — sometimes, all at the same time. But with TV on the web, and web users on TV, the boundaries melted into a swirl of media — ours, mine, and theirs. Accidental stars discovered they were soaking in it, at the center of a spinning globe that likes to watch.

And everyone else had a lot of fun.

1. Carl Monday is watching you masturbate

A 23-year-old masturbates with the public library's computer — but when he gets outside, there's someone waiting for him. It's Cleveland investigative reporter Carl Monday! "For some, pursuing the porn sites is a favorite past time at local libraries," Monday warned somberly in a news segment broadcast in May. (Monday even follows the "unemployed porn site user" to his parents' home, where he asks for their opinion on their son's public masturbation.) Video of Monday's disturbing ambush interview brought him interent fame, with one entrepreneur selling t-shirts with Monday's dour face (along with the words "Carl Monday is watching you masturbate.") Ultimately even The Daily Show got involved, leading to a surreal encounter in which Carl Monday interviewed Jason Jones interviewing Carl Monday. (Jones turns the tables by asking Monday the same question Monday asked the hapless library masturbator.)

And what happened to the library masturbator? He was sentenced to one year's probation and a promise to avoid all public libraries — and Carl Monday was there in the parking lot to ask for a comment.

Not surprisingly, the comment turned out to be: "Get the hell away from me."

2. "If I were one of those sick-o's..."

"We track library books better than we track pedophiles," Congressman Mark Foley told America's Most Wanted, adding "If I were one of these sick-os I'd be nervous with America's Most Wanted on my trail."

"Maybe this was an overt cry for help," John Walsh later told Larry King.

Shortly after running his last campaign ad (which touted "a record we can be proud of...") it was discovered that the Republican Congressman had been sending cybersex messages to underaged male Congressional pages. When the first hints of scandal surfaced, Foley tried brazening it out. ("Congressman Mark Foley's office says the e-mails were entirely appropriate," reported an ABC News blog, "and that their release is part of a smear campaign by his opponent.") But the flood of evidence was overwhelming, eventually revealing that Foley once even held up a vote on Emergency War Time supplemental appropriations for cybersex with a high school student. (A commenter on the gay South Florida blog
: "Where's Ken Starr, now that he's really needed?") Foley resigned — although his name remained on the ballot for the November elections. (He came within 1% of beating his opponent, though all votes for Foley were transferred to a replacement candidate.) While bloggers wondered whether Foley would ultimately be prosecuted under sex predator laws that he helped pass, the U.S. Attorney's office now appears unlikely to press charges. But the episode still left politicians stunned by the changing rules for privacy in an information-hungry world.

3. The head-butt heard round the world

Zinedine Zidane had already announced his retirement from the French soccer team after completing a five-year, $66 million contract. His last game would be the infamous match against Italy in the final round of the 2006 World Cup tournament. With the score tied after two hours of hard soccer, and the teams headed for a shootout of penalty kicks, Zidane got into an argument with Italian defender Marco Materazzi. From various news accounts their conversation went something like this.
Zidane: "If you're going to grab my shirt, why don't you just take it?"

Materazzi: "I'd rather have your sister."

There followed a fierce headbutt from Zidane — whose position, ironically, was "attacking midfielder". He was thrown from the game (which Italy ultimately won 5-3), achieving a second notoriety for his final-game foul. According to Wikipedia, French President Jacques Chirac congratulated Zidane for being a national hero and a "man of heart and conviction".

And inevitably, footage of Zidane's attack found it's way to the internet, where the career culminating moment was re-mixed again and again and again.

4. The yin and yang of Comedy Central

Virtually every news story of 2006 drew sardonic commentary from both Jon Stewart and his former correspondent Stephen Colbert. But in April they made a rare joint appearance to present the Emmy award for best reality TV.

"It's a pleasure to be here tonight," Stewart says innocuously.
"Good evening, godless sodomites," Colbert offers as a counterpoint.

The event gave a rare glimpse into a comedic yin and yang which challenges the way media outlets cover politics. While both men target the echo chamber of news shows, Stewart simply shares how bewildered he is by foolish politicians and the correspondents who cover them — while Colbert creates a walking caricature of the rabid ideologues he's targeting. (On the Emmys Colbert said he was reading from the teleprompter in his heart.)

In a final irony, both men have been given cable TV shows to attack other cable TV shows. But while their popularity continues to grow, this clip shows that there may be a limit. Colbert and Stewart's final jokes note that The Colbert Report lost earlier in the evening after being nominated as "best performance in a variety or music show". The ultimate winner? Barry Manilow.

5. Special comments

Keith Olbermann was entering his fourth year as an MSNBC prime-time commentator — but in August he discovered large audiences would tune in for his "Special Commentary" segments. Since the first one aired in August, his ratings have nearly doubled, and Olbermann is now reportedly asking MSNBC for a multi-million dollar increase in his contract.

In a memorable segment on September 11, Olbermann remembered working near Ground Zero and seeing fliers for colleagues who had perished in the towers. "All the time, I knew that the very air I breathed contained the remains of thousands of people, including four of my friends..." he said sternly. "For me this was, and is, and always shall be, personal.

"And anyone who claims that I and others like me are soft, or have forgotten the lessons of what happened here, is at best a grasping, opportunistic, dilettante, and at worst, an idiot — whether he is a commentator, or a Vice President, or a President."

6. The legend of Jihad Jerry

Meanwhile Devo shocked the world in March by joining Disney to create a new incarnation of their pioneering geek band using cute pre-teen Disney kids. ("If you're not upset...we haven't done our jobs," Devo's Gerry Casale told The New York Daily News.) But while the children sang and eventually toured as "Devo 2.0," 58-year-old Casale was plotting fresh subversions. Soon a mysterious new band appeared called "Jihad Jerry and the Evildoers" (including all the current members of Devo). The liner notes explain that a young Jerry turned to music when the Ayatollah declared his secular high school "evil" and he was "unwilling to finish his education without girls."

"You have the right to remain naked..." he sings in "Army Girls Gone Wild,"a subversive political commentary in the guise of a music video. "What happens in Abu Ghraib stays in Abu Ghraib."

Casale also surprised the online world in 2006 by paying a visit to two video blogs.

7. Code Monkey

Movie attendance is still lower than it was in 2004, partly because geeks would rather spend time playing massively multi-player games. One glorious moment combined everything into a shiny package — work, games, and music videos. Musician Jonathan Coulton had been writing a new song every week, and hit the jackpot with his ballad about an under-appreciated computer programmer who is also a monkey. When the song was released for a re-mix contest, Adobe employee Mike "Spiff" Booth then envisioned its evolution into a music video created with in-game footage from World of Warcraft. With poignant echoes of a real-world workplace, the gorilla stoicly endures his deskbound manager-goblin Rob, and pines for the company receptionist, a green-haired night-elf who is watching her weight. Besides being one of the best music videos of the year, it's playful proof that the online world is still curiously exploring new possibilities for collaborative creativity. And best of all: "No monkeys were harmed in the making of this film."

8. "This is NOT a joke!"

When you're being filmed in the Web 2.0 era, the worst thing you can do is over-react. Jason Holt, the student body vice president at the University of South Carolina, was the target of a standard-issue college prank. In April he returned from an appearance before Congress to discover his office filled with colorful balloons. His dramatic outburst was surreptitiously videotaped, capturing Holt's furious eyes burning with undergraduate intensity as he yells "It's not a joke! Look at me being serious...! I want to go to bed and you fucked up my office!!" Within two weeks the video had found an audience online at its new home — Look At Me Being Serious.com. And Holt had become a perfect example of how privacy is changing in a technology-enabled world.

The video was eventually broadcast on VH-1, and in a July letter Holt called the aftermath "bitterly painful". Saying he'd received over 100 "negative and demeaning" emails he wrote that he'd learned "humility" and the abiliity to "admit a mistake."

"[M]y actions in the video were rude, arrogant, and inconsiderate," he continued, wondering if his tantrum would cost him a career in public service, and asking for the student body's prayers "as I continue to deal with the consequences."

9. Brokeback Brady

At the Oscars in March, the most-nominated film was Brokeback Mountain — but overall movie receipts had fallen by six percent, with finicky consumers enjoying new entertainment choices which also included new gaming consoles and personal video recorders. This means Americans probably were more likely to discover a sympathetic same-sex relationship when they played back the May episode of That 70s Show where Greg and Peter Brady played a gay couple. Two actors from the 1970s family sitcom The Brady Bunch were transported back to the decade one more time as the new neighbors for hard-nosed Red Forman.

This snapshot of the way we were in 2006 was followed two weeks later with another TV-sized message of acceptance. That 70s Show culminated its eight-year run with a finale showing class-conscious Jackie falling for foreigner Fez.

10. The last joke of Louis Rukeyser

A television legend flashed his last smile — but not before getting the last laugh. In 2002 the producers of Wall Street Week ousted Louis Rukeyser for someone younger. But the wily 69-year-old used his last show to encourage viewers to follow him to a new network. "I'll let the market decide," the Wall Street commentator joked, knowing his audience would stay loyal after 32 years. His new show premiered with CNBC's highest ratings ever, while the old PBS show lost 84% of its audience, and was eventually canceled altogether.

Louis Rukeyser died on May 2 of a rare form of blood cancer at the age of 73. But if he could see how the web continues forcing old media to evolve, I'm sure he'd be smiling.

Just like the rest of us.

See Also:
Worst Vlogs of 2006
2007 Re-Mixed
Lawrence Welk vs. The Hippies
Five Druggiest High School Sitcom Scenes

5 Retarded Online Christmas Videos

1. Sam Brown's New York Christmas

Gritty New Yorkers know that dirt doesn't vanish on December 25. Comedian Sam Brown takes a realistic look at the city's holiday sights — panhandlers, domestic disturbances, losers cruising singles bars, and seasonal affective disorder — then sets it all to music. He's teamed up with Frank Santopadre, editor of New York's Jest magazine to create five slickly-produced, if off-key videos with an unsentimental twist.

A peaceful lawn full of Christmas lights turns into an episode of Cops, as the handcuffed man doing the faceplant sings his version of Silent Night. (Which becomes Violent Night.) Christmas Day requires an acknowledgment of the losers trapped in Singles bars, Singles bars, surrounded by other losers hoping to get laid. But the most demented video of all is probably The Worst Noel. It captures the magical Christmas that comes when you discover your girlfriend has been having sex with the entire neighborhood.

Yes, there's a music video, and yes it has Santa — plus an angel, a nun, and a fire-breathing midget.

2. Christmas With Janice Dickinson's Modeling Agency

Also celebrating Christmas is Janice Dickinson, the over-exposed star of The Surreal Life, America's Next Top Model, and a recent Los Angeles traffic accident.

By the first week of December a Christmas video had already turned up, and according to the New York Post, after you've heard it, "You'll be begging to hear the mellifluous sounds of second-graders singing 'Silent Night.'" Dickinson sings the familiar gift-counting song about the 12 Days of Christmas, but when you're a former supermodel who's slept with Mick Jagger and Sylvester Stallone, your taste in gifts runs beyond simple turtle doves. A fast-paced music video shows Janice claiming her Christmas booty, including "five naked man, four Italian suits, three former husbands, two giants breasts..." (Remember, she's also the author of the book Everything About Me Is Fake . . . And I'm Perfect.) In true supermodel fashion, the 12 gifts are received while wearing 12 different fashion ensembles - but the whole she-bang was just created by the Oxygen network as a promotion for her upcoming special and regular series.

If the New York Post is right, and it makes you want to hear the song sung by amateurs, video #3 offers a simple solution.

3. We Are the YouTube

From England, Canada, New York, and Pittsburgh, they answered a call to sing on your virtual doorstep. Transcending geography, "The YouTube Community Choir" celebrates Christmas like it's never been celebrated before.

It starts with Geriatic1927, the 79-year-old British widower who became one of YouTube's most popular users in August. He's followed by a 19-year-old in Utah named Mrspassic, who joined in June, and a 55-year-old named "PositiveSue" from England.

Nearly 30 YouTube users were chosen for the five-minute presentation, and nearly one million more have watched them, making it, amazingly enough, one of the site's most-viewed movies.

It all started with Matt5413, a 22-year-old in Boston who joined the site last July. In November he uploaded his idea for collaborating on the song, and 56-year-old Zipster08 loved the idea, From his home in Pennsylvania he uploaded an enthusiastic response called "THIS IS WHAT YOUTUBE IS ABOUT!" (explaining the video would be edited by together by "this dude from Kansas" named Silent Whistle.) YouTube users magically appeared, uploading their auditions in hopes they'd be edited into the final cut. "Proudyke" even sang a line from a remote island in the South Atlantic.

Not all the responses were positive. "Fungus the Boogeyman" simply uploaded a looping animation over a profanity-filled song by an Australian comic named Kevin Bloody Wilson. ("Ho ho, fucking ho, what a crock of shit..." Current average rating: 5 stars.)

But like a real Christmas card, it gives a glimpse into the YouTube community. Nearly all of the participants joined within the last four months, and many of the same figures turned up in the "OneTube For Orbvious" video — a more serious feel-good project lending moral support to an Australian couple grieving a child custody ruling by "the facist regime currently at work behind the scenes in the Australian illegal system."

"It is the beauty of the internets," joked one viewer, marvelling at how 2006 became the first collaboration-enabled Christmas. Whether you love it or hate it, Matt says he hopes to do another collaborative video soon. Oh, how we love sequels.

4. Revver Strikes Back

In a disturbing parallel universe, Revver users have recorded the song Jingle Bells in an apparent attempt to have each video played at the same time. Each holiday ham brings a twist to their individual recording.

There's one by smiley Rocketboom correspondent Steve Garfield. User "Imanartist" imagines a second verse of alternate lyrics by space alien Zandor. There's the Shatner-esque stylings of MarkDayComedy, and Marquisdejolie re-engineered the song into an echo-y, static-y, slowed-down Satan voice. TraveTV uses hand puppets, and three members of the "Revver Community Department" even wrote a skit which involved bouncing on a couch while throwing paper wads. But while some of the individual videos may be lame, they're all participating in a grand experiment, as the videos are blended together into a single cacophonic chorus of Christmas-y noise. A healthcare marketer and video collector apparently got the idea that all the videos should be hosted on a single web page — his. "We were founded to make money," says Kevin Nalty in a video parodying his site's origins. "Why else would you start a company?" Then he appears again as an another employee saying the site was founded "to make people laugh." Maybe it's both. Or maybe it's neither.

Lockergnome's Chris Pirillo ultimately came up with an even more deconstructive version of online carolling. He made one video, but then uploaded it to nine different video-sharing sites. (YouTube, Revver, iFilm, Soapbox...) "The idea is to press play so that they all stream at the same time," he writes. In the video he sings the first two lines of "Jingle Bells" over and over again while shaking the collars of two admirably-disinterested puppies. As each subsequent video loads, it's either an additional voice for the choir — or a round-like counterpoint.

Or a test of your computer's random access memory, and it's limitations for multiple video playbacks.

5. Herpes for Christmas

Ginger Kearns, who played "Pierced Girl" on The Sopranos, appears in the heart-warming classic from RagTag Productions called Merry Christmas, I Got You Herpes. Though it starts at an innocuous casual Christmas party with cookies, presents, and a Christmas tree, the title gives a strong hint of what the first plot twist will be. ("I didn't have to wrap it.") Two onlooking couples (and the lucky gift recipient) react with varying degrees of extremity. ("Next thing you know he'll be dry humping our furniture with his open sores!") Will it find its way to a happy ending, maybe a reminder that Jesus loves all the little children — even the little children with STDs?

Shake That Fro productions has also joined the fun, creating their own eight-minute film seeking a cathartic release from the purity of the season. After showing the snowfall on a white-bread suburban home, Best Christmas Ever cuts to a young couple innocently swapping gifts on the couch. (Let's just say the music changes when the vocalist sings "night of passion and light"....) Complications include a father who mutters obliviously "You better watch your manners with my daughter, there," but after five minutes of set up, it culminates with one bizarre twist after another.

And what Christmas would be complete without a condom joke?

See Also:
A Christmas Conspiracy
Christmas 2.0: Subverting the Holidays With Re-dubbing
Death at Christmas
They're Dreaming of a Boobs Christmas

Christmas 2.0: Subverting the Holidays With Re-dubbing


Yes, Christmas traditions pass from generation to generation. But this year finds Santa visiting some very naughty children playing with YouTube, digital editing software, and a wicked imagination. They're dreaming of a Christmas that's web 2.0 — with networked audiences re-interpreting all the classic holiday specials. Or maybe they're just returning the holiday to its pagan roots.

1. A Charlie Brown Christmas — the alternate ending

Charlie Brown is TV Christmas's ultimate icon. Which is probably why he's been targetted for an alternate ending that "they don't want you to see." Though his voice is now different, Charlie Brown still delivers his familiar down-hearted dialogue. ("I guess you were right, Linus. I shouldn't have picked this little tree...isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?") Also like before, Linus calls for lights, and patiently and gently promises to explain.

But the story he tells is not about shepherds. "When we were babies, our parents made a conscious decision to deceive us," Linus announces. "They created a bunch of fairy tales like Santa Claus and baby Jesus to give us kids false hope, and to comfort themselves as they approached death." And Linus is just getting warmed up. "It's all a bunch of bullshit. When we die, our bodies lie rotting in the earth, and worms and bugs eat at our remains, and shit us out into little bits of nothing."

Wait, wait, there's more. Linus is building up to the true true meaning of the holidays. "Christmas isn't about giving love or the birth of a savior. It's about moving merchandise, and false sentiment. It's about dumbass cocksuckers like Charlie Brown running around all night trying to buy a goddamn tree..."

One last time Linus savors the irony that Charlie Brown bought "a dead fucking tree" — and then it's a small step to "God is dead, hail Satan — Charlie Brown must die." The gang builds a pyre in front of Snoopy's house, and performs goddless sacrificial rites while singing "Loo loo loo..."

Like the original Peanuts special, it denounces commercialism. But unlike the original Peanuts special, it will probably never be sponsored by Zingers.

2. A Christmas Story — Ralphie's packin' a Red Ryder

"A disturbed young boy... On the edge of sanity...

Various attempts have been made to re-dub A Christmas Story. In one, as insinuating horror movie music plays, blood-red letters identified forgotten themes in a movie you thought you knew.
"A dangerous obsession... An emotionally empty Santa..."

The troubled boy with glasses raises his blue eyes, and stares at the ceiling, "Until finally the pain, the snowballs, and the soap become too much..."

Oh my god! The camera zooms in on his angry boy eyes, lips quivering angrily, as Ralphie the ticking timebomb explodes! Fists flying in boyhood fury, he bloodies the face of underserving bully Scut Parkus. His parents scream and flail helplessly. HE'S LEVELLING A RED RYDER B.B. GUN!!!

That revision of A Christmas Story was created by a now-defunct web site called "Lifeinthe80s," but they're just one of several groups re-editing favorite family movies into horror film trailers. (See also: Scary Mary.) Someone else had already imagined a movie trailer for the Yule Log DVD. But A Christmas Story, with its 94 minutes of pent-up frustration, cried out for something scarier...

Speaking of dangerous obsessions, the movie itself inspired a 30-year-old in San Diego to sell 7,500 replicas of the movie's famous leg-shaped lamp-with-a-fishnet-stocking. He used the money to buy the Cleveland house where the movie was filmed - then paid an additional $240,000 to re-model it exactly, watching the movie frame by frame.

Maybe he's a ticking timebomb too, just one snowball away from exploding into Christmas mayhem.

"Ralphie's packin' a Red Ryder. The holidays will never by the same."

3. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer — the unrated version

Burl Ives is probably glad he's dead. Someone with time on their hands re-worked the original 42-year-old Claymation story into something entirely different. Like the Rankin-Bass original, it opens when a kindly talking snowman discovers you haven't heard about the year Christmas almost wasn't.

"Well, sit your ass down," he says brusquely, and starts describing how children of the world suddenly lost their interest in toys. ("What the fuck?" Santa asks in a newspaper headline.) Santa leaves the North Pole to spy on the children, and discovers that it's because they're...masturbating.

Santa realizes they've discovered "the one toy better than any Santa can make" — and Christmas is canceled. But the frustrated re-dubbing artists at Liebography cling to their premise for nearly 10 minutes, filling the North pole with an unrelenting snowstorm of dirty dialogue. Santa develops an unwholesome interest in "a cute little deformed buck named Rudolph" who flees Santa's attentions with "another of Santa's special pole polishers" to — what else? — the Island of Misfit Sex Toys. ("How would you like to be a pocket vagina made out of abrasive sandpaper..." "I'm a homophobic strap-on!") Of course it ends with a very merry Christmas, but probably not the one you're expecting.

"C'mon Rudolph!" shouts jolly old Santa. "Let's go get some of those retarded dildos! Moms and dads love them too!"

4. Frosty the raging anarchist

Frosty the Snowman has always been one of the creepiest TV Christmas specials. Three children are stalked by their grade school's hired entertainer, and seek sanctuary with a deep-voiced simpleton who really likes children. A lot. Eventually he dies.

One re-dubber simply stripped out the implausible plot points in between, then also stripped out the innocent dialogue. And then replaced it with death metal.

"I want your soul," the cartoon snowman tells the children.

"I'll eat your soul." They look up in wide-eyed wonder...

With some simple editing, the snowy sentiment becomes salacious. "I want your soul," Frosty sings again, as a leapfrogging boy appears to be lingering over his ass. The blonde girl whispers something to a policeman, then looks down sadly. She's seen grinding against the floor of a refrigerator car — over and over and over — as an attentive Frosty looks on smiling.

The little blonde girl opens her eyes to find he's carrying her, smiling, into a sinister greenhouse. ("Come to Daddy," he sings.) Santa and the rabbit recoil in horror. A sad Frosty looks around guiltily as he's identified by witnesses — the children, the rabbit, and finally the policeman. This re-imagining is a little muddled, but it ends with five very clear words.

"And Frosty was never convicted."

But then again, there was always an easy target in the girl-snowman relationship. Elsewhere, nine minutes of the cartoon have been re-dubbed with the voice of "Danny the Tourettes Guy". (Frosty's first words are "Bitch, I love you.") Someone else has imagined him as a belligerent man in a costume heckling the credulous children. ("These kids are so fucking gullible. God damn it, I'm a fucking snow man.")

But it's worth remembering that even without any web-enabled commentary, the original cartoon made one blogger's list of the "Things About Christmas That Are Supposed to be Touching But Pretty Much Just Make Me Want to Lay Down and Die." The melting snowman had traumatized her as a child. "What's the lesson here? That someday everyone we love will die...?

"I still can't hear 'Frosty the Snowman knew the sun was hot that day...' without being overwhelmed with dread."

5. The Nightmare Before Christmas — Burton's little helpers

Tim Burton saw Christmas as the backdrop for another fable about a magical outsider. But just as his king of Halloweentown was re-imagining Christmas, Burton's fans dreamed up new ways of seeing his movie.

As Sally stares at her Christmas tree catching fire, Jack Skellington sang the histrionic song "Iris" by the Goo Goo Dolls. In another video the same scene showed the star-crossed Christmas outsiders with an alterna-goth soundtrack by Evanescence. One video even re-dubbed the movie's opening song, so its chorus of "This is Halloween" becomes the Tool song "Stinkfist" (from their album Aenima).
Something has to change,
undeniable dilemma.
Boredom's not a burden anyone should bear...

Burton's visual extravaganza lends an intensity to nearly anything, and musical synchronicity does the rest — creating the perfect gothic Christmas. They're not the only ones celebrating it. If you visit Disneyland's Haunted Mansion in December, the whole attraction has been converted into a special Christmas party for Jack Skellington, and one Youtube video even shows Marilyn Manson's new cover of "This is Halloween" synched with the scene where it occurs in The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Ultimately Christmas is what you make it — a jumble of gifts, memories, mandatory family gatherings and religion. But while there may or may not be something sacred in the holiday, there's an online audience that won't extend that reverence to Christmas's commercial counterparts. Maybe they're creating a new ritual, gathering together around a warm monitor and sharing catcalls instead of Christmas carols.

Maybe we've just seen the ghost of Christmas future.

See Also:
5 Retarded Online Christmas Videos
Death at Christmas
A Christmas Conspiracy
They're Dreaming of a Boobs Christmas

Google is Trying to Get Into Your Pants

Google doesn't make many mistakes. Google controls its image fiercely.

And according to a new radio spot, Google wants to get in your pants.

It's the latest marketing campaign from Helio, Earthlink's sassy new partnership with a South Korean wireless giant. In May the two companies teamed up to promote new wireless smartphones, then struck a deal with Google to use their GPS-enabled maps. But to promote their latest device — the Drift — they created a "provocative" radio campaign.
I got Google Maps
in my pants
in my pants
in my pants

Put Google Maps
in your pants (get a Helio)
in your pants
in your pants

We have to wonder if this move was officially sanctioned by Google's marketing team, or if it was, perhaps, the result of a third party ad company's over-zealousness.

Google's corporate web site specifies that their goal is to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible..." And how can it be universally accessible if it's not in your pants? It could be argued that Google's publicists should be thrilled that their mapping solution's mobile capabilities are getting widespread promotion in a major ad campaign for a cutting-edge smartphone. But damn if this spot isn't extremely cheesy. Sure, it's radio, but a jingle? This isn't 1975!

The Helio ad is set to a soulful lite-rock rap.
Tough boys are you ready to....

CHORUS: Harm-o-nize!

Girl you've got me all tied down
Now I never get around
Spend Friday nights on the couch
Girl I think I'm done with you (All done!)

Helio's lyrics cry out for some deconstruction. They describe a man apparently dumping his girlfriend in his newfound excitement over a $225 GPS-enabled smartphone. This seems implausible already — leaving aside the additional unlikely premises that he's a) someone who knows how to rap and b) has a girlfriend. But that's the image they're selling, trying to impress that elusive new market of device-enabled social networkers.
I got the whole world to see
I want to find the world's tallest tree
The bomb-est B.L.T.
Google maps will set me free

In the ad jingle, the marketer's message is made clear. The phone aids in his quest to travel the world searching for tall trees and sandwiches. It's a metaphor, of course, for the thrilling freedom that awaits the device-enabled social networkers when they escape the world of desk-bound monitors. Although all Helio really does is bundle GPS services into a slick consumer package.

This includes the ability to broadcast a map with your location to any friends with the same Helio device — and Helio is pitching it to a young demographic of early adopters. "Just turn on the Beacon and you'll show up on your buddy's Drift," Helio's web site explains. "Turn it off and you'll be... wait, where did you go? Stop. Seriously, I can't see you...."

The youth-targeted marketing attempts to convey social networking with the image of abandoning unhappy Friday nights spent on a couch. The lite-rock rap is just an additional marketer's cue for hip-ness, signaling their intention to create an advertising campaign that gets up in your face. (Or is that up in your crotch?)

Ultimately the real drawback to Helio's image-branding campaign is how little information is actually conveyed about the device itself and its monthly $65 service fee.
(Rap) I got a new toy
and it's really insane
It's called the Helio
and it's got a huge brain.
It knows where I am and
I tell it where to go. It's got
Google maps with the GPS

Wait, I'm confused. Bad rhyming aside, "Where to go" would presumably be "in my pocket". Or are there a few words deleted because they didn't scan?
I tell it where [it is that I want] to go [and am wirelessly provided with driving directions].

We'd dismiss this as a brief stumble by Google's marketing team if we weren't so impressed by Helio's aggressive marketing campaigns so far. In June they even created a MySpace page which has already accrued 163,980 friends and 9,131 comments. It offers handy promotional come-ons for trendy device-enabled social networkers — Helio ringtones, sticker patterns, icons, and wallpaper. And they're sponsoring concerts with Pharrel, Ludacris, Lupe Fiasco, and Snoop Dogg.

Perhaps we are all just pawns in Google's great game of global domination. But in a final irony, Google's next move may be brokering ads to radio stations.

Curse you, Google, and your clever, unbeatable marketing strategies. In a futile attempt to balance the scales, we'll strike back with one last impotent piece of media criticism:

CHORUS: Don't call it a phooooone

"’cuz it's got maps. Word. Peace out to all my gadget-slangin' homies."

See Also:
How the iPod Changes Culture
iPhone Debate: I'm a Mac vs. Bill Gates
Hype Smackdown: iPhone v. Paris Hilton
Steve Wozniak v. Stephen Colbert — and Other Pranks

Robert Altman’s 7 Secret Wars

Robert Altman's career started with corporate training films in Missouri. The experience landed him Hollywood work filming TV shows in the 1960s — but his personality rebelled against creating false fables of comfort. Before M*A*S*H and The Player, Altman had forced his fierce honesty onto unsuspecting television characters. It marked the beginning of a forgotten march through America's cherished archetypes, challenging one beloved hero after another.

For example, when network executives handed him the characters from Bonanza, his first impulse was to torture them.

1. Bonanza (1961)

Hoss, Adam and Little Joe were a happy all-male family on a Nevada ranch in that magical TV west. Altman opens his episode Silent Thunder with rednecks sexually harassing a deaf mute female (played by Stella Stevens). Good son Little Joe intervenes, and later teaches her how to read, but then she falls in love with him. In a series of painful scenes, Little Joe struggles to convey rejection to someone who doesn't understand, can't communicate, and is full of the rawest emotion.

Altman directed eight episodes of Bonanza, all but one in the show's second season — and they're some of the darkest in its 14-year run. In The Rival, gentle Hoss loves a woman, but she loves a fugitive. In a typical Bonanza plot, a showdown seems inevitable, but Hoss agonizes over the ambiguity. Is he hunting his rival because of his crimes — or to vindictively avenge his scorned heart? There's no easy answers as a lynch mob starts forming, and even before any triggers are pulled, a devastated Hoss knows that the woman he loves will never, ever be his. Altman heightens the episode's tension with evocative lighting tricks. In one scene, a gun emerges from the shadows for several agonizing seconds before the triggerman is revealed — Hoss himself.

2. Combat (1962)

Altman's dark style was better suited for the gritty war stories in the series Combat. In one episode the survival of the entire unit rests on a single captured prisoner not giving away their position. Pinned down in a chateau, the soldiers can escape by swimming down a river at night — but they can't haul their prisoner underwater. The commander faces an impossible choice. He can kill the young Nazi conscript before escaping — or risk all their lives on the soldier's pleas and promises of secrecy. Again — there's no easy answers. Altman used the chateau to good effect, including long shots to show the soldiers on its upper level with the lone Nazi below.

Altman's TV career would be short-lived. It was reportedly hobbled by his clashes with TV executives, but there were other controversies. Wikipedia notes that Congressional hearings were held over an episode of a forgotten TV show called Bus Stop which showed a murderer successfully escaping both capture and punishment — a favorite Altman theme.

3. Countdown (1968)

Even before M*A*S*H the maverick director took a special delight in confronting the media's traditional heroes with muddier dilemmas that exposed their all-too-human weakness, whether it was soldiers, cowboys — or astronauts.

In Countdown James Caan and Robert Duvall played astronauts challenging everything but outer space. There's jealous co-workers, organizational indecision, and the all-too-real friends who don't understand. If the astronaut makes it to space — alone, in his space capsule — will this din of endured opposition ultimately cloud his judgment? The final press conference is chaired by Ted Knight, who later played the vacuous newscaster Ted Baxter on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. In a friendly, empty TV voice, he's the one who delivers unsettling news about the mission's status. Would the astronaut successfully launch and reach the safety of a moon base? Or would Altman strand him alone on the moon, ending the film within maddening proximity to what could have been a happy ending.

This is considered Altman's first major feature film. A string of successes followed — including M*A*S*H and the critically-acclaimed Nashville. But after the disappointing box office for Popeye in 1980 (along with rumors of libertine excesses on the set), Altman was effectively exiled from major Hollywood productions.

4. Secret Honor (1984)

During these "wilderness years," Altman filmed a remarkable one-man show in which a lonely, drunken and suicidal Richard Nixon looks back over a secret plan he'd orchestrated to provoke his own impeachment and escape his war-mongering corporate handlers. ("Secret honor...public shame.")

As Nixon descends into drunken bitterness, he has trouble working the tape recorder, and rambles through an alternate history of his political career. As Nixon prowls the room, so does Altman's camera, and in one of the most disturbing moments, the screenplay revisits a famous story about young Nixon writing his mother a letter in the voice of Richard's pet dog (signing it, "Your faithful dog, Richard.") As he addresses his enemies, real and imagined, the disgraced and tortured ex-President roars out, "I'm not your dog, Mother!" Altman ultimately magnifies the image of a raging Nixon across multiplying TV screens responding to a nation he feels is urging him to suicide with a heroic, "Fuck ’em! Fuck ’em! Fuck ’em!"

5. Tanner '88 (1988)

Would Altman ever acknowledge a true act of goodness? He teamed with Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau to create a counter-candidate in the 1988 presidential race. In half-hour episodes on HBO, Jack Tanner interacted with real political figures like Bob Dole (during the New Hampshire primaries) and Kitty Dukakis (at the nominating convention) — but only to make the point that the primary process buries any meaningful passions with political consultants and sound bites. Tanner's true fervor is only visible when he privately addresses his campaign staff. In a rare happy twist, Tanner's private thoughts about what the 1960s had meant are surreptitiously taped, making him a viable candidate and bypassing the political consultants altogether.

But Altman still plagues Tanner with a bewildering array of opposing and arbitrary forces — both political and media — which come between Tanner and his friends, his wife, and his daughter. And like the characters in Nashville, Tanner's campaign strategist remains haunted by the ultimate arbitrary political event — the assassination of Robert Kennedy.

Future Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon plays Tanner's daughter (she was 22) — and the show ultimately received an Emmy.

6. The Gingerbread Man (1998)

When handed an unpublished John Grisham story, Altman gave the studios exactly what they didn't want. Robert Duvall's portrayal of a mentally challenged stalker fits Altman's unsettling world view too well. Though the womanizing lawyer (Kenneth Brannagh) tries to do the right thing, in an Altman world there's nothing but chaos — so the script's final redeeming fight on a rainy night becomes just one more turmoil of emotions. Dissatisfied studio executives tried to re-edit the film, but when test audiences didn't respond any better, they apparently decided to under-promote it.

The move was so little-known that when Internet Movie database listed the film, they mistook its title for a series of children's stories, and included this picture:

7. The Long Goodbye (1973)

When remembering Altman in his heyday, people point to his early 70s triumphs like McCabe and Mrs. Miller or M*A*S*H. (Someone once even uploaded the entirety of Altman's remarkable 1970 film Brewster McCloud onto YouTube in ten-minute installments.) But often overlooked is Altman's bold 1973 re-imagining of the ultimate American archetype — the lonely detective.

Philip Marlowe clings to a personal code of honor in a world that has gone wild — but Altman transplants the character into the 1970s, so his world includes protesters, feel-good health clinics, and topless neighbors sun-bathing. The detective becomes everyman Elliott Gould, who moves through a Raymond Chandler underworld still filled with cops and petty crooks, but ultimately reaching a dark irony in its dime store message about loyalty. The noir-ish jazz in its title theme works on many levels, seeming to acknowledge that people everywhere were changing and, like Altman himself, moving further and further away from the simple answers of the 1950s. It could almost be an epitaph.

"There's a long goodbye, and it happens every day..."

5 Lamest Charlie Brown Cartoons

I love Charlie Brown — but be honest. Cartoon producers led his Peanuts gang through some truly disturbing stories. As the cartoonist's manic-depressive imagination focussed on his newspaper comic strip, studio executives fumbled for new ways to fill the 40 years after A Charlie Brown Christmas. Now, even though Charles M. Schulz is dead — the cartoons keep coming.

If there's one thing Peanuts specials have taught us, it's that Charlie Brown was still loveable, even when he failed. So let's give that same appreciation to his five worst cartoons....

1. It's Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown

Disco had been dead for years, but in 1984 Snoopy suddenly discovered the joys of boogie fever. He slapped on a headband, sweats, and a bad case of 80s attitude, then did his best Stayin' Alive strut towards the discotheque, where he met Franklin — the cartoon's only black character — breakdancing on the sidewalk. In the creepiest scene of all, the discotheque is filled with adult-sized Peanuts spinning in narcissistic oblivion.

"All Flashbeagle really consists of is a foursome of thinly strung-together music videos," wrote one viewer, "with very little of the beloved Charles Schulz dialogue filling in between." And forget the familiar jazz soundtrack; this special is mostly dance loops and synthesizers.

This felt old the day it was released — but don't tell Charlie Brown's sister. After Snoopy spontaneously ignites her first grade classroom into a disco inferno, she insists Charlie Brown give his dog some credit. "That's the first time I've ever got an A in Show And Tell."

2. Linus's Towering Inferno

My uncle, the baron, hates strangers, and he will be very upset eef — ooh la la! He is back! He mustn't find you here!

We always knew Linus was a chick magnet, but his dalliance with a stereotypical French girl ends badly, as an overturned candle traps him in a burning Chateau.

Charles M. Schulz had served in World War II — his unit was behind the tanks that liberated Dachau — and he'd wanted to include his unit's village in a Charlie Brown cartoon. To reach this improbable moment, the entire Peanuts gang procures passports, then travels through Europe with Snoopy as their chauffeur. Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown is an artificially sweet travelogue that ends with a melodramatic fire sequence which consists mostly of Linus shouting "Help! Help! Help, Charlie Brown!" over and over again.

The baseball-challenged blockhead successfully rousts the villagers — including one token French Peanut — and as Snoopy wheels out a fire hose, Linus repels away from the flames using his blanket. After a particularly wooden reading of the line "Use my blanket! To catch us!" they all successfully escape a grisly death from smoke inhalation.

The only thing more depressing is the infamous Peanuts Memorial Day special in which Linus again visits World World II battlefields, then recites the poem "In Flanders Fields. " ("We are the Dead. Short days ago we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow...") He then turns to Charlie Brown and asks accusingly: "What have we learned?"

3. Why, Charlie Brown, Why?

Charlie Brown endorsed everything from Zingers to sandwich bread. In fact, the newspaper comic strip accounted for less than a fifth of all Charlie Brown-related revenue, most of which came from merchandising. (Case in point: the commercial in which an exhausted Charlie Brown suddenly perks up after eating "tasty low-sugar Cheerios" before facing certain doom in the boxing ring...)

But sometime in the 70s, Charles M. Schulz took a break from creating children's programming altogether, and began illustrating life insurance brochures. Those weird TV commercials in which Snoopy played a lawyer were only the beginning. The online version showed Charlie Brown illustrating the proper procedure for mourning the death of a family member. ("Immediate care of the body," it read, next to a picture of a very depressed Charlie Brown. "If the deceased has made provisions to donate his or her organs...")

Elsewhere Lucy proudly brandished her discharge papers in an essay about leaving the military, while Schroeder continued his Navy tour of duty and Snoopy continued his career as a Marine. (Complete with buzz cut). Two cute yellow birds were shown getting married, followed by a brochure illustrating the logistics of divorce. One page even showed Woodstock imprisoned for failure to pay child support. But no one really wanted to know why Lucy was carefully scrutinizing her health insurance's pre-natal coverage, and eventually it was replaced by a picture of Woodstock clipping out the phone numbers for an OB/GYN

Only after reading these disturbing brochures were you ready to watch Peanuts: Why Charlie Brown Why — the angstiest cartoon ever, in which a little girl fights leukemia. This 1990 special was nominated for an Emmy, but it's never been clear why Charles M. Schulz wanted to tackle the subject. (Although Charlie Brown was named after a boyhood friend who later died of cancer, a disease which also claimed Schulz's mother.) At one point the hymn "Farther Along" is sung gently in the background of this cartoon. "When death has come and taken our loved ones, It leaves our home so lonely and drear..."

In its tear-jerking conclusion, the little girl's baseball cap flies off her head, revealing that all her hair grew back after her chemotherapy.

4. Snoopy, Come Home

Umberto Eco once wrote about how Snoopy failed to bring Charlie Brown the tenderness he needed. "His solitude becomes an abyss," the deconstructive Italian novelist wrote. "...he proceeds always on the brink of suicide, or at least of nervous breakdown..."

That's the feeling you get watching Snoopy abandon Charlie Brown in Snoopy, Come Home. Charlie Brown stands alone, sad circles around his eyes, not just depressed but actually crying. He returns alone to his joyless room, as a 4-minute ballad chronicles his uncontrollable descent into depression with histrionic violins.

Someone named "TickleMeCthulhu" has uploaded the video to YouTube, along with another clip from the same movie — although it's not particularly cheery either. In the 1972 film the beagle's original owner, now confined to her sick bed, writes him a letter wondering if she's been forgotten. She cries, looking longingly out her window, then sends the letter to Snoopy.

"What could possibly be sadder," one commenter posted, "than a little girl in the hospital missing her dog?!"

5. Bring Me the Head of Charlie Brown

Family Guy isn't funny — except when it is — but you've got to acknowledge the audacity in their mean-spirited parody. A miserable grown-up Charlie Brown crashed a reunion of his old gang — sporting tattoos and piercings — then blusters, "What are you looking at? Yeah, it's me, your old punching bag, Charlie Brown. Everybody wish Snoopy and Woodstock were here? Well they're dead!"

The sweetness of Peanuts presents a too-obvious target, and even Simpsons director Jim Reardon took a whack at it. Back when he was an art student in 1986, he created "Bring me the head of Charlie Brown" — an underground three-minute short with the Great Pumpkin offering a bounty for the death of his arch nemesis. The bounty sends Lucy, Schroeder, Linus, and Snoopy on a hunt for Charlie Brown, so when watching the ultra-violent climax you'll probably want your security blanket.

If you search YouTube today for Charlie Brown, you'll find the top matches are amateurish re-dubs of the holiday specials into race-baiting parodies like A Charlie Brown Kwanzaa, or simply, Suck My Black Ass, Charlie Brown.

These parodies are useful only to demonstrate how the Peanuts cartoons would look if you threw away everything that made them so endearing — their gentleness, artfulness, and philosophical humor. Even at their worst, the real Charlie Brown cartoons always had a simple, bittersweet honesty. They didn't always end happily — but maybe that was the point.

The world is full of kite-eating trees.

See Also:

Six Freakiest Children's TV Rock Bands
The Cartoon Porn Shop Janitor: Carol Burnett vs. Family Guy
Five Freaky Muppet Videos
The Simpsons on Drugs: Six Trippiest Scenes

Where in the World is Nick Douglas?

Hours after the upheaval at Valleywag, recently-released blogger Nick Douglas issues his first comment. In fact, in an effort to learn the truth, we talked to all the players — Nick Denton, Nick Douglas, Rocketboom's Andrew Baron and Amanda Congdon, and even Dave Winer.

Nick Douglas by Thomas Hawk

Our story so far: Gawker hired Pennsylvania college student Nick Douglas in February to pen sexy gossip about Silicon Valley — until Monday, when Gawker's publisher Nick Denton took over the writing duties himself. Monday night blogger Douglas made a surprise appearance in the comments of that thread — but only to heckle commenter (and blog publisher) Jason Calacanis.
JasonCalacanis: Someone tell little Nicky that I have a job for him running NickDenton.net: all Denton all the time.

NickDouglas: Jason, calling me "little Nicky" is an AWESOME way to make me consider a professional relationship with you.

Was Douglas still considering new professional relationships? With snark flying in all directions, and the gossip columnist suddenly gossip fodder, we decided to track Nick down ourselves.


Let's start with where he's not. "I'll be 'on tour' until January 2, 2007," his cellphone told callers Monday, and — in case you're missing the hint — the voicemail message adds, "I'll be returning to the U.S. on January 2." But just last week he was spotted at a San Francisco Web 2.0 conference, and his Upcoming.org profile shows him attending a San Francisco party this Saturday.

"I'm working on a project," he'd told us in an interview published 11 days ago. "There's a sort of video news thing that I'd love to do..."

So theory #2 begins when Dave Winer posted a month ago that Douglas "was leaving Valleywag to do a web video show with one of the big video producers." We'd specifically asked Nick about the rumor.

"First off, I'm surprised that — if Winer is still blogging — that anyone reads him," Nick replied saucily. "And secondly, I'm surprised that people believe him!" Nick responded to Winer's post by saying cryptically that "Rocketboom is hiring, and so there are always rumors about that," adding that, "I'm working on a project..."

Ah-ha! Maybe Nick struck a deal with Rocketboom, the reputedly popular video blog. Monday we tracked down the site's creator Andrew Baron, and demanded that he spill the beans.

"Are you kidding?" he answered dismissively. "He hates Rocketboom."

Putting two and two together, we deduced that Nick may have struck a deal with former Rocketboom correspondent and producer Amanda Congdon. She recently left the popular video blog to create her own online video shows. So we located Amanda Congdon, who answered our query with an emphatic: no.

"Nick and I aren't working together," she emailed 10 Zen Monkeys. "He has never approached me and I have never approached him."

But in our earlier interview we'd learned significantly that Nick had at least reviewed the current online video offerings, and concluded, "There's not really a show out there yet for your average person who goes to Yahoo as their home page... The typical example is your mom, right, or the average guy on the street... There really needs to be one show that comes out that is like The Daily Show for the internet. I think if one show came out that was half as witty, and probably shorter — that would be good."

At this point Nick added, "It has to be short because it's like watching porn... You're really only interested for quick blips," which de-railed our train of thought altogether. But it's worth pondering Nick's final words on the need for a short summary of online news.

"If I did anything in video, it would probably be something short like that."

One commenter on Valleywag hinted (without evidence) that Nick may have gotten a deal with Adam Curry's Podshow network....


Enough is enough! We demanded Nick send us a comment — and sensing our frustration, he obligingly complied, although speaking in tantalizing gossip-columnist koans.
My only on-record comments are:
"I still like Nick Denton."
"I'm wide open for job and gig offers."

Sometimes the truth lies between the lines. But does this mean the blogger didn't leave the site because he'd already lined up a juicier gig? Our own network of sources tell us Gawker's publisher (Nick Denton) was already looking for a replacement writer last week.

There was only one thing to do. We asked Denton for the other side of the story. Late Monday he mailed us a comment, offering his own tight-lipped perspective on the incident.

"Valleywag was growing," he conceded. "But there's a bigger audience for tech news and gossip than we had tapped." But did he fire Nick? How was their relationship over those last months?

"Not saying anything more about Nick Douglas," he huffed, adding: "I think he may move to Wired."

Wired? Did Nick Douglas leave the Gawker media empire for Wired? At this point we realized there was an even bigger question. Was Nick Denton giving us firsthand information — or just repeating a rumor he read on someone else's site.

No matter how much you think you know, there's someone who still knows more. We asked Dave Winer today how he'd known Douglas was leaving over a month in advance, but he wasn't telling. "No comment on how I knew," he wrote, "other than I had an anonymous (good) source who shall remain anonymous." But he did offer his last thoughts on Nick's tenure at Valleywag. "I think overall Douglas did a good job."

Supporting sentiments echo from around the web. "I'm sure wherever Nick ends up next will have a similar rebellious feel," one blog commented, adding "i'm looking forward to signing up as a daily reader for the new gig, whatever it might be..."

The positive sentiments were echoed by Valleywag contributor Paul Boutin. He confided to us that he feels Douglas "is exceptionally talented, has a bright future, and most important he's nowhere near as mean as he pretends to be on Valleywag." (Adding that he was sure Gawker publisher Nick Denton feels the same way.) Sensing that his words would be carefully scrutinized, Boutin hinted only that "I think the enterprising Mr Douglas needs to join an A-team where he can get some direct mentoring rather than working alone. Wired did that for me when I first started writing and it made all the difference."


Meanwhile, Valleywag limps on. Over on the site, publisher Denton had mumbled the news Monday morning in a short blurb. ("Some changes, today...in design, personnel, and mission... Nick Douglas, editor since launch earlier this year, is leaving. And we're going to change the mix of stories, slightly.") With only a few additional remarks in a longer hyperlinked entry, Denton found his announcement receiving negative reviews.

"[Y]ou can do better than that," one reader complained in the comments, joining a mostly-negative chorus of 53 responses to the news. Another poster speculated that the Gawker publisher had been pushed to fire Douglas by a powerful Silicon Valley company like Google or Yahoo. And others simply carped about Denton's new look for the site. ("With all due respect, I am unthrilled with the new design." "IBM just called from 1955, they want their Courier font back.")

Denton promised he'd address all the comments by Monday evening — but then failed to show up. "I guess that plan didn't work out," posted technology blogger Thomas Hawk, agreeing that Denton should roll back his unpopular new design and give a better reckoning of his plans for Valleywag. But by Tuesday morning Denton was back in the thread, acknowledging the design criticisms, but saying he'd leave the mystery of Douglas's fate as something for Douglas to address. Although he did offer one last piece of gossip. "I know he's already had a few job offers."

Denton has already offered hints on the site's possibly-less-interesting new direction. "We're still going to break open secrets," he blustered in his Monday post. "However, I suspect we're going to tone down the personal coverage of civilians, because they haven't done anything to seek out attention, and their personal lives aren't that interesting. Unless they are." The site's new mantra for gossip?

"More money, a little less sex."

In Silicon Valley, personnel shuffles are just part of the territory. But after 9 months of dispensing trashy beat-downs to the tech industry's climbers and its falling stars, Nick finds himself at the center of a poignant irony. Even his targets seem to have recognized that it's all just part of the game.

Despite Nick's nasty commentary about Rocketboom, their former correspondent Amanda Congdon couldn't end her email to us without adding one last thought.

"I wish Nick the best."

That was where the story ended — until suddenly Tuesday afternoon, when Nick re-appeared on Valleywag like a Silicon Valley ghost.

Saying everything, saying nothing, he performed the traditional Gawker good-bye dance. "I don't have anything to get across, other than that I'm free for lunch and gig offers for the next few weeks..."

A gracious round of thank you's to his readers and tipsters ended with one last wisecrack.

"I guess what I really mean to say is — I prefer Italian, maybe a little sushi, and if you want any gossip about Nick Denton you'll have to pony up for some wine."

See Also:
Sorry 'Bout That, Nick!
Interview with Valleywag Nick Douglas

Election Fallout: 24 Hours Later

The drunken celebrations are over, with startled Democrats realizing that they've finally won. Now it's time to cast woozy eyes on the shimmering future ahead and the crazy campaign behind.

But a cautionary tale for celebrating Democrats: One Democrat got so happy that his night of celebrating "ended with pepper spray and handcuffs." The son of Florida Senator Bill Nelson was "involved" in a fight with 20 other people just before 3 in the morning in Orlando, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Using code words like "slurring his words," "poor balance," and "a strong smell of alcohol," the police report describes the apparently-drunk 30-year-old telling police officers, "No — you need to leave!"

"In the moments that followed, the police officer grabbed one of Bill Jr.'s arms and forced him onto the sidewalk in what's commonly called a 'face plant,'" the paper reports.


This cycle saw Americans elect their first Muslim Congressman, and a bunch of openly gay people. Nancy Pelosi becomes the first female speaker of the House, prompting blogger Bob Harris to dream, "Someday, we may even elect a gay Muslim black woman to something. I want to see this, just to watch Sean Hannity's forehead burst open and his demons scatter across the floor." (He then locates a female college student in Indiana who is black, Muslim, and bi-sexual.)

Amazingly, scandal-plagued Congressman Mark Foley still came within 1 point of his opponent — even though he'd already resigned. Foley's votes were conferred on the replacement candidate, Joe Negron — a Republican who had not been caught instant messaging under-aged male pages during House votes.

And remember Mark Reynolds' notorious press conference on the Foley scandal, when he surrounded himself with children to embarrass reporters out of asking any PG-13 questions. Before the press uncovered Foley's antics, Reynolds had already received Foley's emails, discussed them with House Speaker Hastert, and even received suspicious campaign contributions from Foley himself. Tuesday he was re-elected.

Then there's the case of Nevada governor candidate Jim Gibbons. Though he's tough on immigration, years ago he'd also hid an illegal immigrant maid in his basement. He was still elected Governor Tuesday — but an investigation is ongoing into allegations he attacked a cocktail waitress in a Vegas parking garage.

"Arizona's gay marriage ban seems to have been rejected by the voters," wrote Glenn Reynolds, adding, "Good for them. Too bad it's the only place where that happened." Seven of the eight states passed bans on gay marriage — Colorado, Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin. And in the midwest, Michigan banned affirmative action.

Californians voted on an initiative requiring sex offenders to wear a satellite tracking device for the rest of their lives. "This is one of the more cynical election-year moves we've seen in a while..." wrote a San Francisco alternative newspaper. "The GOP hoped that Democrats would oppose it and thus could be accused of being soft on the worst kind of criminals."

It passed with over 70% of the vote. Unfortunately, according to The Washington Post this initiative didn't last more than a few hours before it was challenged by "an unidentified sex offender," who filed a lawsuit arguing it should only apply to future sex offenders.


Where Republicans contacted 3 million voters, Democrats contacted 3.5 million, according to National Journal's Hotline — and Democrats also knocked on twice as many doors.

But Howard Dean also credited blogs for winning at least two House seats with their financial and political support — and applauded their work in uncovering campaign dirty tricks.

Or maybe when voters said they were tired of "corruption," it was just a conservative code word for Mark Foley. The AP gushed in alarm that in this election, "almost a third" of white evangelicals voted for Democrats. While it represents an increase, nearly 25% of white evangelicals have voted against the Republican in every election.

Bitch-slapped by voters, some conservatives whined that their losses meant they just hadn't been conservative enough. But Firedoglake blogger Jane Hamsher didn't want to hear that from her own party. "...this 'triumph of the centrists' meme is a Rahm Emanuel spittle-soaked fantasy. The country ran from conservatives like a bad case of crotch lice and no amount of PR spin can re-write that."

The author of Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South, predicted this election would be the start of a new era. "The regional realignment over the past 40 years, which slowly converted Dixiecrats into Republicans, has now entered its final stage, as voters north of the Mason-Dixon line and west of the Mississippi provide a countervailing response to the southern-led Republican majority. Rust Belt Republicans will be replaced by progressive Democrats... For the first time in 52 years, the party with a minority of House seats in the South will be the majority party chamberwide."

One DailyKos diarist saw this as a new era after a hundred-year war between liberalism and conservatism. "Like two heavy weight boxers stumbling into the 15th round of a championship fight, the two great ideologies of the 20th century stumble, exhausted, tattered and weakened, into a very dynamic and challenging 21st century..."


"I have said it before and I will say it again: Impeachment is off the table," Nancy Pelosi announced at a news conference. Yet 75% of poll respondents chose "Start impeachment proceedings" in an unscientific online poll at the San Francisco Chronicle. RawStory even celebrated the Democrats victory by republishing Congressman Waxman's wishlist of Congressional investigations. Waxman heads the Government Reform Committee, and noted in 2004 that Congress has not fully investigated "the role of the White House in promoting misleading intelligence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaeda." Other issues of concern to Waxman were detainee abuse, Cheney's role in contracts and energy regulations, and the outing of Valerie Plame.

"That's what this election is all about," a Georgetown professor told USA Today. "Subpoena power."

These giddy conversations lend new significance to old stories. Blogger Jonathan Schwarz pondered Donald Rumsfeld's departure with a passage from Bob Woodward's book. Vice President Cheney insisted that a Rumsfeld departure will be seen as hesitation. "It would give the war critics great heart and momentum, he confided to an aide, and soon they would be after him and then the president. He virtually insisted that Rumsfeld stay." And a British newspaper theorizes that the history of Rumsfeld's replacement, Robert Gates, means he's been selected to perform one clear mission. "Get American troops out of Iraq as quickly and cleanly as possible."

Meanwhile, Firedoglake blogger Jane Hamsher noted Gates' ties to the Reagan administration's Iran-Contra scandal, writing "GOP zombies go home". And Wonkette linked to a vandalized Wikipedia entry in which Roberts Gates's history was summarized as simply: "a fag."

Glenn Reynolds sees some good news for Republicans. "The economy is probably peaking, with record low unemployment, record high Dow averages, and low interest rates. If (when) things go downhill, there's somebody else to share the blame!" Rush Limbaugh actually said he'd been "carrying water" for people he didn't really believe in, and that he'd stop now. Feigning outrage, Stephen Colbert simply announced he was retiring.

The next few weeks could be interesting. In October a nonpartisan polling firm speculated that "There is a realistic possibility that if the Democrats pick up at least five Senate seats on Election Night, several current Republican Senators could switch to the Democratic side of the aisle.... Arlen Specter is shunned by the GOP leadership and White House for his views on domestic surveillance while Olympia Snowe, John Warner and Chuck Hagel are shunned for their views on Iraq."

Deep in the comments at TPM Cafe, someone whispered an interesting observation about 2008. "The Republicans have to defend 21 seats, the Democrats only 12. Considering likely retirements and state politics, I estimate at least 9 of the 'R' seats are contestable and only 2 of the Dems."

It's a sign of how much things changed in the 24 hours since Tuesday. Though Democrats were virtually shut out of the legislative process over the last four years, in just two more years Democrats could move beyond a simple majority to one that couldn't even be filibustered.

See Also:
Here Comes the Judge's Porn
War of the Candidate Music Videos
Is It Legal Porn or Illegal Porn?
5 Best Videos: Animals Attacking Reporters

Great Moments in the War Against DMCA

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act has inspired a whole helluva lot of abuse in its short tenure. But it's also inspired playful reactions meant to instruct, annoy and protest. Let's review...

In 1999, a 16-year-old in Norway had helped outwit the encryption on DVDs — but then a judge ruled his program violated the DMCA. DVD encryption wasn't particularly strong to begin with — according to Wikipedia hundreds of equivalent programs were created to do the same thing. (And in fact,the encryption's weird licensing scheme kept DVD-playing out of the reach of Linux users altogether.) But even worse, the judge ruled that the DMCA even prohibited linking to sites with the program.

But could movie-industry goons eliminate every copy? Not if "Mr. Bad" had anything to say about it. The online activist created an innocuous piece of decoy software using the same name as the original program — then urged netizens to scatter them across the internet. "I figure if we waste just FIVE MINUTES of some DVD-CCA Web flunkey's time...we've done some small service for The Cause."

"And a brief note for said Web flunkey: d00d, what are you DOING?" he added. "Send me email, and I'll personally help you to find a better job, with better pay, and WAY better karma."

Mr. Bad's prank successfully baited the MPAA into issuing a legal notice against a high school student's innocuous web page (which argued that Austin Powers was "quite possibly one of the greatest movies ever to be made.") And six years later, there's still dozens of web sites sporting badges supporting his crusade.

It's a general rule that if you tell a geek he can't say something, he'll make a point of saying it. In fact, geeks gleefully announced a "DVD Source Code Distribution Contest" searching for the most creative way of circumventing the restriction. One entrant copied the code to a CD, and then tied it to balloons launched randomly over Los Angeles, while several other protesters concealed it in tiny image files. (One even used an image of MPAA president Jack Valenti.

But a Carnegie-Mellon professor's web page still houses an online gallery preserving the most creative examples, showing the code hidden in everything from an audio tape file for a Commodore 64 to a screenshot of the game Minesweeper. (Or at least, an open source clone.) One activist group even printed it on t-shirts.

Joe Wecker may have found the most artistic outlet for his protest. He worked a chunk of the code into a 7-minute acoustic folk song — then uploaded it to mp3.com.

In 2002, when Google received a DMCA notice from the Church of Scientology, all hell broke loose. Scientologists had been channeling a very negative legal energy towards an anti-Scientology web site publishing criticism (and some of the group's written materials). But Google got drawn into the scuffle because its search results provided links to the site. Of course, free speech enthusiasts saw this as a classic geeks versus freaks confrontation.

In Round 1, much of the site disappeared from Google search results. But in Round 2, Google restored the site's main page to its search results. Round 3: outraged netizens linked to the troubled site, in a successful campaign to boost its Google page rank.

Now, four years later, the site has become Google's #1 search result for the sacred Scientology word, "Xenu," and even the #2 result for the word "Scientology." (Google's excerpt reads: "The Church of Scientology is a cult that destroys people, so it needs to be exposed...") On the site itself, curious web surfers will find an anti-Scientology information packet, and even a link to the South Park episode about Scientology.

I feel like I should say something sweeping here about the human spirit. I started writing a paragraph with five-dollar words like "future" and "passion" and "influence" and "civic debate." But maybe I should just leave it as a hypothetical question. There's nearly a billion people online; is there also a collective gut-level instinct about the "rightness" or "wrongness" of information sharing? Share your info in the comments.

See also:
The Great Wired Drug Non-Cotroversy
10 Zen Monkeys and EFF vs. Michael Crook and DMCA
Tucker Max deconstructs Crook

Haunted by Chipmunk Ghosts

America has a love-hate relationship with cute, fuzzy rodents. Not the scary kind that steal American flags, or attack from outer space. The kind that sing.

As absurdly meaningless as it seems, the last 50 years have seen Chipmunks darting in and out of the popular zeitgeist. My first podcast was about squirrels, and it culminated with the moment in 1961 when jazzman Don Elliott, along with partner Sascha Burland, convinced jazz legend Cannonball Adderley to do a duet with scat-singing squirrels. But his squirrels - The Nutty Squirrels - became casualties in a 50s-era culture war. ("Jazz was heroin, jazz was people dropping out of society," I riffed.) People weren't comfortable with the idea of nihilistic beatnik rodents, and ultimately America sought comfort in the familiarity of the Chipmunks.

Yet as 2006 began we'd seemed to have lost our faith in cheery cartoon animals altogether. The 1970s had already left both the Chipmunks and the Squirrels far behind, and Don Elliott moved on to writing the soundtrack for The Happy Hooker. Inexplicably, though, the Chipmunks made a brief comeback during the 80s with an album called Chipmunk Punk. Its Wikipedia entry argues that the album become "an integral and important part of the soundtrack of many Gen Xers' lives," and also claims — suspiciously — that Kurt Cobain modelled Nirvana's first album Bleach after the structure of Chipmunk Punk.

An indifferent world still left the Chipmunks facing an uphill climb. Glowing with Chipmunk-mimicking DNA, the son of the Chipmunks' original creator tried to spawn a revival of his father's characters. Sinking profits into a TV cartoon (which lasted for three years), Ross Bagdadsarian, Jr. then sunk his personal fortune into an ill-fated full-length feature movie which he wrote, directed, produced, and provided the voices for, along with his pregnant wife Janice. ("If rest and pampering were going to be the key to our child's intellect," he remembers on his site, "Janice was going to give birth to a melon.")

The 90s saw the franchise kept alive by unlikely novelty albums of club music, two country albums, and gimmicky specials like The Chipmunks meet Frankenstein. The corporate suits at Universal Studios ultimately bought a controlling stake in the Chipmunks in 1996, though Bagdadsarian claimed in a lawsuit that the studio "undertook the systematic destruction of a family owned and operated business," according to an article in L.A. Business Journal. They also reported the suit's claim that Chipmunk-related revenue dropped 98% under Universal, though Bagdadsarian told the business journal that, "Everything turned out great in the end."

Universal ultimately gave him the rights to the Chipmunks, and he then entered a five-year deal with Paramount.  Amazingly, American culture may see the Chipmunks yet again, as the article ends with talk of a 2008 Chipmunks movie written by Simpsons contributor John Vitti.

Meanwhile, Bagdasarian's lost Chipmunk movie from the 80s has finally been released on DVD, where it can delight and baffle a new generation of online hipsters. ("Diamond thieves? Interpol? Prepubescent chipmunk girls in belly-dancing outfits...? It's all here baby.") We can also expect new releases from the Chipmunks catalog, and even more Christmas specials.

And yet I had to wonder if Ross Bagdadsarian, Jr. feels haunted by the ghost of his father's 1950s success. If you slow down any Chipmunk record to half speed, you hear his father's voice, triple-tracked and performing as all three chipmunks. Of course, the ghost of jazzman Don Elliot can also be summoned by slowing down the Nutty Squirrels.

Music styles may change — jazz, punk, grunge, and dance mixes. But just like real infestations of vermin, the popularity of singing rodents is never really gone. 

The Cellphone Murders

They're cathartic, anti-social, and absurdeach capturing a moment in time which ends with someone chasing two giant cellphones down a street. "Run!" a giant cellphone shouts. "Keep running!" These strange, exhiliarating film clips are rather disturbing if you don't know the back story. But the context shifts tremendously when you do.

Cellphones were a strange and alien technology in 1999, with an adoption rate of less than 45%. Talking loudly on your mysterio-techno device provoked annoyance, distrust, and hostility — or a Top 20 hit single.

Ian Aitch reported that weird development for GettingIt.com in 1999. The British acid house movement spawned a band called KLF whose rogue provacateur Jimmy Cauty later sampled the ubiquitous ring-tone with a British comedian/musician (and sometime Pink Floyd contributor) named Guy Pratt. They morphed the cellphone jangle into a disturbingly catchy dance track — though according to Wikipedia BBC 1 radio then refused to play it. It was that annoying.

The British are insane, of course - or, they recognize that pop music is essentially a disposable glitz that should be dismissed, de-constructed, re-constructed, and mocked. (The sample-happy track competed with a rival song sampling the Hamster Dance called — what else? — Cognoscenti vs. Intelligentsia.) But then pumped up cellphone bashers decided it wasn't just a song; it was a movement.

"We have been looking for a fiendish project to get our teeth into for the past six months," they confided maliciously on their web site. It tells the tale of stealing two human-sized cellphone costumes from the filming of the song's music video. "After an evening of heavy drinking a plan was hatched and all concerned decided that this was a cause worth fighting for."

In guerilla movies that are reactionary, subversive, and gloriously futile, we see our heroes — dressed in giant cellphone costumes — surprising British cellphone users by snatching their phones out of their hands. Then stomping the cellphones to bits on the sidewalk. And then running.

And what did the record company think, when their music video's costumes turned up in online cellphone-smashing videos? "They have not recognised our existence," the tribal pranksters at PhoneBashing.com complain. But — graciously — they added that "We have decided to link to them even though they don't explain the true meaning of the song. Not one mention of how shit mobile phones are." This hastily-constructed knock-off web page included a link to the song's official site run by some combination of Virgin Records/EMI. "Very corporate," the cellphone-bashers chide. "All bells and whistles."

But before you cheer, you might want to check the registration for the cellphone-basher's own web site. Its administrative contact is EMI limited, and the site is administered by virginmusic.com. This site knocking the corporate suits at Virgin Records is in fact owned, run, and incorporated by Virgin Records.

This lends an aura of calculation to the enterprise — but it can't be fully assessed without witnessing one last spectacle. Described as the site's "mission statement" (on a web page named kill.html), it shows an unidentified spokesman for this unique moment in time trying frantically to convey human debasement - theirs, ours, or society's at large. Whether it was underground pranksters, a desperate record company, or just the magical spirit of cellphone-bashers past — they've captured their rage in a powerful five-second clip.

A manic man in a cell phone costume and white ski mask shouts "KILL MOBILE PHONES! KILL MOBILE PHONES!"