Posts from July 2007.

2007 New Year’s Resolution

Stop procrastinating.

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Transcript: CNN / Youtube Democratic Debate

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN host: Good evening, and welcome to the first CNN / Youtube democratic presidential debate. We asked people from all over the Internet to submit questions via youtube.com, and the response was overwhelming. So, without further ado, let’s jump right in.

Our first question tonight is Zach Kempf in Provo, Utah.

QUESTION: My question is: We have a bunch of leaders who can’t seem to do their job. And we pick people based on the issues they that they represent, but then they get in power and they don’t do anything about it anyway.

You’re going to spend this whole night talking about your views on issues, but the issues don’t matter if when you get in power nothing’s going to get done.

We have a Congress and a president with, like, a 30 percent approval rating, so clearly we don’t think they’re doing a good job. What’s going to make you any more effectual, beyond all the platitudes and the stuff we’re used to hearing? I mean, be honest with us. How are you going to be any different?

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: omg that video was totaly gay

SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Shut up Dodd thats offensive when u say gay like that.

FORMER SEN. MIKE GRAVEL: Check out my vids at youtube.com/user/gravel2008.

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: to answre your question bush is a facist who only wants more power. hes not even the president you knopw, cheny is. i would b different because i would have a vice presidant that doesnt just try and control everything from behind the seens/

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: CHENEY CANT BE PRESIDENT BECUZ THE CONSTITUTION SAYS THE VICE PRESIDENT IS NOT THE PRESIDENT WHY DON’T U TRY READING THE CONSTITUTION SOMETIME??????!!!!

KUCINICH: i have read thwe consititution which is probably more than youve ever read except maybe the back of a ceral box.

CLINTON: AT LEAST I EAT CEREAL AND NOT GRANOLA HIPPY!!!!!!!

SEN. JOE BIDEN: Ron Paul is the ONLY candidate with any integrity in this race. He’s a TRUE PATRIOT, not a republicrat sellout like the rest of us.

COOPER: Let’s move on to the next question.

QUESTION: Hey, I’m Mike Green from Lexington, South Carolina. And I was wanting to ask all the nominees whether they would send their kids to public school or private school.

GRAVEL: Check out my vids at youtube.com/user/gravel2008.

FORMER SEN. JOHN EDWARDS: When I’m president I will abolish school hehehe.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON: Private school, because if you have ever heard the Pink Floyd song “Another Brick In The Wall” you know that public schools are not very good.

CLINTON: THAT SONG IS ABOUT ENGLAND SCOOLS U MORON NOT US SCHOOLS AND PINK FLOYD SUCKS!!!!!!

RICHARDSON: Oh, I’m sure YOU like really good music. Like Pussycat Dolls or some other mass-marketed corporate crap you buy at Wal*Mart.

CLINTON: U ARE JUST SAYING PUSSYCAT DOLS BECAUSE I AM GIRL AND THATS MISSOGENISTIC!!!!!

COOPER: May I interject something here? That hour-long interview I had with Paris Hilton last month? The guys at CNN made me do that. Just so you know. I would have preferred to do a story on AIDS or drought or something, because I’m a respected journalist.

{Pause}

DODD: omg u r totaly gay

OBAMA: rotfl its so true

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LOLEDEN

I discovered something curious about Flickr while trying to remark upon this photo: if you leave a comment in ALL CAPS, all but the initial letters of each sentence are converted to lowercase. (Try it here.) I guess it’s the "email from your father-in-law" filter or something.

Since I couldn’t wisecrack in the original thread, I had no choice but to make this instead. Hey, that totally rhymed.

This in case you don’t recognize her, this is the lovely Mrs. Kennedy.

Update: Cardhouse figures out how to stick it to the Man.

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Forecast: Divorce

We in Seattle enjoyed torrential rains Saturday and Sunday.

This morning, in the elevator, I overheard this conversation:

Man: So, what did you do this weekend?

Woman: Went to a wedding. An outdoor wedding.

Man: Oh, god. That must have been fun.

Woman: Yeah, it was pretty bad. The bride was totally pissed at the groom because of the rain.

Man: Why? Wasn’t his fault.

Woman: I guess they had some indoor place all lined up to use, just in case, but he was sure that having it outside would be okay.

Man: Still, though. How was he supposed to know?

Woman: He’s a weatherman.

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Potter Errata

For the record, the Harry Potter post below contains no spoilers. (Or, if it does, they are inadvertent, as I know nothing about the book.)

Also, and just FYI: my review of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (which is also spoiler-free) tells you how to get caught up for Deathly Hallows without having to read all the books.

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Your Amazon.com Order is Being Prepared for Shipping

Greetings from Amazon.com.

We thought you would like to know that we are preparing the following items for shipment:

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Qty Item
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1 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
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Yes sir, tomorrow is the big day. July 21. The release of the final installment in the Harry Potter seventology, or whatever the hell it's called.

Oh man, you must be excited. I bet you can't wait to get your hands on this book.

Me, I've had my hands on the book pretty much continuously for the last week, preparing all these orders for shipment. In fact, I'm holding your copy as I write this.

It's kind of funny, when you think of it: you've been looking forward to this book for a decade, probably pre-ordered the thing a year ago; and here I am, some warehouse-working Muddle (or whatever you call us), who doesn't know Hogwarts from genital warts, with the book 24 hours before you.

That's a little something called irony. You'll appreciate it when you get older. Assuming you're not some 37-year old guy who lives with his parents and can recite the d20 stats for a gelatinous cube has off the top of his head.

Well, don't you worry. This book will be on your doorstep tomorrow afternoon, ready to read.

I, of course, could read the book--YOUR book--right now. And I gotta admit, it WOULD be fun to be one of the first people in the world to know how it all ends.

Hmm. So, maybe I'll just read the last page ...

OH MY GOD I CAN NOT BELIEVE IT!! IT WAS ALL A DREAM???!

Hah hah. I'm just yanking your chain. That's not how it ends. Or maybe it IS, and I'm just saying it's not so you'll be doubly surprised when you finish it. You never know.

I really did read the last page, though. The final word is "haberdashery." You can verify that when you get the book. Tomorrow. A full day after I had it.

I gotta tell ya, though: now that I know how it ends, I kind of want to read the whole thing. If I start right now, I could probably finish it and get this book in the mail to you by Wednesday. You wouldn't mind waiting a few extra days, would you?

Also, I dog-ear pages to save my place. I hope that's okay.

j/k. I wouldn't really read this book. 1000 words about fairies? Yeah, no. Besides, who has the time? Some of us have work for a living. For instance, I bust my hump 60 hours a week schlepping your books around.

Besides, I'd rather see the movie anyway. That chick who plays Hermoine is smoking hot. I'd quidditch, if you know what I'm sayin'.

All right, settle down. I'm putting your precious doorstop in the box now. If you've explored the links on the Your Account page but still need assistance with your order, you'll find links to e-mail or call Amazon.com Customer Service in our Help department at http://www.amazon.com/help/

Thank you for shopping with us.

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Amazon.com... and you're done!

http://www.amazon.com/

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P.s. Dobby dies.

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Research Day: The Difference Between Noir and Hardboiled

In a way, this post doesn’t really fit under the “Research Day” rubric. What typically happens on Research Day is that I identify a question about which I am ignorant, Google up some answers, and then report my findings here.

This, on the other hand, is an instance where I thought I knew something, and was informed otherwise.

I happened as I was interviewing people for my article on Web Noir. My original thesis was that online crime ezines were the modern equivalent of the pulps, though I was toying with the idea of writing the essay on the resurgent of interest in the pulp aesthetic. To that end, I decided to email to Charles Ardai of Hard Case Crime, to see if he had any thoughts on the matter. (Longtime readers will remember that I have previously professed my love for Hard Case Crime novels, and may suspect–perhaps correctly–that this entire project was an elaborate justification for me to send fan mail to Ardai).

After introducing myself, I posed a series of question to Ardai, the first of which was:

What are the hallmarks of hardboiled, noir stories?

His response, began like this:

To begin with, as I'm sure other folks either have told you or will tell you (people in this field love definitional arguments), the terms 'noir' and 'hardboiled' don't refer to the same thing. They describe orthogonal aspects of a story, in the sense that a given story can be either noir or hardboiled or both or neither -- one doesn't entail the other ...

Now, at this point, I was already writing my reply in my head, something along “oh jeeze, of course I know the difference between ‘noir’ and ‘hardboiled,’ I was just lumping the two together in the interest of brevity, etc. etc.”

Still, I know better than to stop reading someone who can nonchalantly work the phrase “orthogonal aspects” into a sentence, so I persevered. By the time I reached the end of his response … well, let’s just say that I was no longer entertaining fantasies of trying to impress Mr. Ardai with my worldweary, know-it-all attitude.

Here’s the kit & caboodle.

"Noir," though originally used to refer to a particular series of French paperbacks and then later to a category of black-and-white crime movie, is generally understood to refer to a story steeped in emotional (and often also literal) darkness. There is a feeling of dread and doom that suffuses the action; the story typically features a protagonist who's in trouble, who often doesn't deserve the trouble he's in (even if he's a bad guy, he often doesn't deserve the *particular* trouble he's in), and whose trouble just gets worse as the narrative grinds inexorably toward an unhappy -- often tragic -- ending. Once in a while, a book that's noir all the way through winds up having a happy or redemptive ending -- think David Goodis' THE WOUNDED AND THE SLAIN, which we just reprinted for the first time in ~50 years -- but those happy endings generally feel aberrant and tacked-on and untrue to the spirit of the enterprise. A noir story can be grim and suspenseful or grim and melancholy or grim and paranoid or grim and fatalistic -- but it's pretty much always grim. Its antecedents in literature include Oedipus, King Lear, and the work of Thomas Hardy; 'noir' posits a world in which either there is no god and men are left to make their way in a universe that's indifferent to justice and to their suffering or else a universe that is actively malign ("As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods: They kill us for their sport"). More modern practitioners in the literary sphere include Camus and the other existentialists; on the genre side, the masters were James M. Cain, Cornell Woolrich and David Goodis. The best description of noir I've ever read came from Woolrich: "I had that trapped feeling, like some sort of a poor insect that you've put inside a downturned glass, and it tries to climb up the sides, and it can't, and it can't, and it can't."

"Hardboiled," on the other hand, refers as much to style as to content -- it describes a story in which the characters and the dialogue are tough and colloquial, where there's usually plenty of action (gunfights, fistfights, guys getting knocked unconscious) and plenty of sex (leggy dames in seamed stockings, etc.) and plenty of atmosphere (smoky gin joints, exotic Chinatown opium dens, races across moody nightscapes). The distinction is between this sort of thing and the world of classic detective stories, which tended to take place in drawing rooms and manor houses, gardens and vicarages, and to involve quiet poisonings more often than fists to the adam's apple. After World War II, readers who had been exposed to the bracing realities of the Depression, Auschwitz and Hiroshima lost patience with dainty tales of violence-as-parlor-game and flocked to the work of authors like Chandler and (even more so) Spillane, the men who (in Chandler's words) "gave murder back to the kind of people who commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not with hand-wrought duelling pistols, curare, and tropical fish." Continues Chandler (he was writing about Dashiell Hammett): "He put these people down on paper as they are, and he made them talk and think in the language they customarily used for these purposes. He had style, but his audience didn't know it, because it was in a language not supposed to be capable of such refinements. They thought they were getting a good meaty melodrama written in the kind of lingo they imagined they spoke themselves. It was, in a sense, but it was much more. All language begins with speech, and the speech of common men at that, but when it develops to the point of becoming a literary medium it only looks like speech. Hammett's style at its worst was almost as formalized as a page of Marius the Epicurean; at its best it could say almost anything. I believe this style, which does not belong to Hammett or to anybody, but is the American language (and not even exclusively that any more), can say things he did not know how to say or feel the need of saying. In his hands it had no overtones, left no echo, evoked no image beyond a distant hill. He is said to have lacked heart, yet the story he thought most of himself is the record of a man's devotion to a friend. He was spare, frugal, hardboiled, but he did over and over again what only the best writers can ever do at all. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before."

Was this the first use of the term "hardboiled" to refer to this sort of writing? No -- but I think Chandler captures perfectly what the term means. A hardboiled novel is a plain-spoken, rough-hewn, unapologetically frank and crude and vibrant one, that tells a two-fisted tale of men and women at their worst -- and at their best. A hardboiled story can be gleeful and funny and entertaining, or it can be dark and tragic and grim. "Hardboiled" describes the comedies of Richard Prather and the lyrical tragedies of Chandler himself. A noir novel can be written in a hardboiled style, but a noir story can also be told in delicate or refined or purple prose. Again, the two qualities are entirely separate.

Which did you find in the pulps -- noir or hardboiled? Well, you found both...but you found hardboiled constantly and noir only some of the time. The crime pulps (as opposed to the science fiction or horror or romance pulps, which are a whole other story) pretty much only published hardboiled fiction -- that's what they existed to do. Some of the stories were rooting-tooting whizbangs just out to please the kiddies (of all ages) among the readership, while others were somber, moving, tortured stories of men swirling down the drain.

So: Not all noir is hardboiled, and not all hardboiled is noir; the old pulps published both, but more hardboiled; the new pulps (if you want to call them that) also publish both, but interestingly more noir than hardboiled. I believe this is because of the relative sophistication of the reading audiences -- or at least the current audience's sense of its own sophistication. A lot of readers today, I believe, feel is it is "cool" to like noir -- like black-outfitted, alienated teens, they relish embracing anything that seems dark and tortured -- while many feel they are "above" reading old-fashioned hardboiled yarns, which often aspired to nothing more than providing an evening's worth of what we'd now call "popcorn entertainment."

At Hard Case Crime, we publish both. Books like Richard Powell's SAY IT WITH BULLETS or Robert Terrall's KILL NOW, PAY LATER are hardboiled comedies; a book like Erle Stanley Gardner's TOP OF THE HEAP is a serious hardboiled novel; but none of them are noir. On the other hand, Woolrich's FRIGHT and Goodis' THE WOUNDED AND THE SLAIN are as noir as you can get, as are some of our originals, such as Seymour Shubin's outstanding WITNESS TO MYSELF, or my own SONGS OF INNOCENCE.

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Web Noir

Today at The Morning News I take a look at a number of online crime ezines, which are publishing some of the most powerful and provocative fiction being written today. Check it out: Web Noir.

In preparation for this article, I wrote six people about the topic, expecting to hear back from two, maybe three. Instead, every single person replied, and each was incredibly generous with their input and analysis. My thanks go out to:

Number six was Charles Ardai from Hard Case Crime, whose disquisition on the difference between “noir” and “hardboiled” was so eloquent and exhaustive that it merits its own post.

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Reflections On My Netflix Queue

Warning: minor spoilers for all of the movies and shows mentioned, below; possibility of major spoilers in the comments.

X-Men 3: The Last Stand: Based on some excoriating reviews I read of X3 around the time of its release, I was expecting this to be, like, Daredevil bad. Well, it’s kind of a mess, and contains a big, Brian Singer-shaped hole at its center, but doesn’t do too bad of a job of wrapping up the trilogy (especially since it makes it clear that the trilogy is, in fact, at an end). Plus, there’s worse ways to waste two hours than lookin’ at Famke Janssen.

The Station Agent: I promised to review this film back in 2003, and never did. Now I’ve seen it again on DVD, and … well, I guess I’m still not. But see it! It’s great. And, if you’ve already seen it, hell, see it again–it’s only 89 minutes. Worth it for Bobby Cannavale alone, who gives a such-a-good-actor-it-doesn’t-even-seem-like-he’s-acting caliber performance. The fact that everything else about the film is top notch is just gravy.

The Professional: WTF, did everyone who recommended this film to me see it when they were 11 and sugar high? Admittedly, if I had seen it in 1994 when it was in the theaters, and never again, it would almost certainly be in my personal pantheon of OMG GREATEST FILMS EVER!! But these days it just seems like the whole Hooker Hitman With a Heart of Gold thing is played out. Maybe I’ve been reading too much Thuglit.

Lost: Season 2: Yeah, I gotta admit–I thought this series had come off the rails, a few episodes into season 2. Bad enough that I found the hatch completely uncompelling, but it just seemed like they were going to keep launching new mysteries without ever resolving any of the old ones (kind of like (starting a bunch of parenthetical statements (without ever closing any (of the prior ones (this is driving you nuts, isn’t it? I vented some of my frustration with this, about halfway through the season. But then things started looking up, when they started focusing more on the “people” mysteries (The Others) instead of the Thing mysteries (the hatch). By the finale, I was totally hooked again. ALRIGHT YOU STUPID EPIDODIC TELEVISION PROGRAM, I’LL GIVE YOU ONE MORE YEAR.

After Innocence: A documentary about people having their entire lives ruined when they are unfairly locked into a prision, and later freed after being exonerated by DNA evidence.

Jesus Camp: Actually, pretty much the same documentary as After Innocence, with religious dogma taking the place of jail. And without the part about them ever getting free.

The Descent: Horror movie about a bunch of hott spelunkers who get trapped in a cave and then have to fight off fast-moving subterannian flesh-eating mutants. Ya gotta keep an vigilant eye on your Netflix queue, lest stuff like this percolate to the top. You know the obligatory Scary Movie scene where a girl is walking around the house in her underwear and the music is super tense and then, suddenly, her cat jumps out of nowhere, yowling? Imagine that scene looped for 90 minutes and you don’t have to see this. Basis for the hit TV sit-com: “The Smeagols.”

P.S. )))))

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Cliche Rotation Project, Round II

Submit your new cliches here.

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