Tuesday, January 26, 2010

DC20 Speech Check

Convicted murderer Kevin T. Singer has lost his bid to keep playing Dungeons & Dragons from his Wisconsin prison cell. In 2004, the prison banned all D&D playing because it promotes "gang activity". Which seems reasonable if you consider sitting around a bowl of stale, off-brand tortilla chips and bitching about a Beholder's armor class to be "gang activity". But Singer claimed a First Amendment right to keep D&D materials in his cell. Which also seems reasonable, since Singer has been known to express himself by reducing other people's HP to zero. The court, however, didn't buy it. He'll just have to switch to pre-first edition D&D. In other words, playing pretend. More details here. (And thanks to Brad for the link!)

Bang, Zoom

It's fun to send crap into space. Satellites help us find our way through unfamiliar terrain, and they also let me see your tits through your skylight. (Hi.) But it's also very expensive to send crap into space. The normal "strap it to a rocket and hope it doesn't blow up" method runs about $5,000 per pound of payload. And those cameras capable of zooming in on your nipples weigh a lot of pounds. But physicist John Hunter, formerly of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, may have come up with a cheaper and better way to send crap into orbit: shooting it out of a giant fucking gun. His plan involves a several hundred foot long tube attached to a floating rig somewhere in the equatorial ocean and supported underwater with a ballast system. Payloads would be fired from the tube using superheated hydrogen, reaching speeds of 13,000 miles per hour and launching the payloads into orbit. Total cost: $250 per pound. Well, that's after the cost of building the gun in the first place. Hunter estimates construction will run about $500 million over seven years. But the benefits seem worth the investment. More orbital cameras mean better chances that I'll catch a shot where the glare off your skylight isn't covering your pubes. More details here.

Bad Idea

Oh, scientists. When will you learn that just because you can do a thing, it doesn't mean you should? Thanks for the vaccines and the computers and the butt implants and everything else that makes life something more bearable than a constant attempt at not being eaten, but I don't need you bringing giant, horrible creatures back from the grave of extinction. Scientists don't listen to me, though. They're going ahead with plans to bring back the auroch, an elephantine type of cattle that terrified Europe with its massive horns for generations before finally being wiped out four hundred years ago. I can see the appeal in resurrecting some creatures. Woolly mammoths are mostly harmless. They just hang out in back alleys and explain to Big Bird where babies come from. But gargantuan bulls can't contribute anything to society other than the occasional closed casket funeral due to the body being gored beyond recognition. Not to invoke Hitler in this argument, but the last person to attempt reviving the auroch was HITLER! It's true. A pair of Nazi zoologists were tasked with breeding the auroch back into existence as a symbol of Aryan mastery of genetics. Plus, Herman Goering wanted to use them as stock for the hunting preserve he planned to build on top of Eastern Europe. So, you know, I'm just saying. More details here.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Descent with Stinkification

The new Charles Darwin biopic "Creation" is a well-acted, beautifully shot film that stumbles only when dealing with Darwin's oldest daughter, Annie. Unfortunately for the audience, this is most of the movie.

I call it a biopic, though the movie only focuses on the period of Darwin's life when he was finishing up work on "The Origin of Species", with a few flashbacks thrown in where necessary. This isn't a bad way to frame a movie about Darwin. It's certainly a welcome change from the normal birth-to-death biopic structure that tends to make many of them connect-the-dots slogs. There's supposedly high drama here in Darwin's struggles both with grief over the death of his daughter (spoiler alert) and his wife's disapproval of his work's anti-religious implications. As Toby Jones' Thomas Huxley puts it in one of those made-for-the-trailer moments, "You've killed God."

But in narrowing the film's focus like this, we lose any emotional scope we might have gained from following Darwin's scientific journey. The film begins with Darwin's mind already made up. His struggle is in putting these ideas to paper. Which makes it even more jarring when the narrative suddenly springs to life as Darwin tells his children about his adventures on the HMS Beagle. Anyone with access to science textbooks or even a remote curiosity about how the world works already knows why evolution is true, but "Creation" would have benefited from showing Darwin's process of discovery. It's not like he was cooped up in a lab his whole life. He visited a fantastic island complex full of weird, wonderful creatures. This is inherently more cinematic than simply watching him mope about his study for two hours.

Which brings me to this film's fatal flaw. Darwin's daughter Annie died when she was only ten years old. Darwin was devastated not only because he'd lost a child, but because he suspected his close relation to his wife (she was his first cousin) might have guaranteed Annie's genetic weakness. But although Paul Bettany does a fine job playing Darwin's despair, the audience can't feel that despair with him. As portrayed in the film, Annie isn't just a bright ray of scientifically curious sunshine in Darwin's life; she's downright creepy in her almost psychopathic optimism. I won't mention the name of the young actress who plays Annie for fear she might have set up a Google Alert. Maybe it's director Jon Amiel's fault that she maintains a weirdly inhuman, tooth-busting grin in almost every moment she's on screen. I sure hope so.

Annie's eerily intense good spirits are no more off-putting than in a scene where Darwin takes his children on a walk through the woods. They come upon a fox stalking an unaware rabbit. The fox leaps from its hiding spot and bites down on the rabbit's neck. One of Darwin's younger children cries out in horror, begging her father to interfere. But Annie leans down to her sister, Tom Cruise grin firmly in place, and cheerfully explains the necessary murder that creates balance in nature. It's a cold, weird moment made even weirder by a reaction shot of Darwin's grinning approval.

The impact of Annie's eventual death is also diluted by the far more effectively emotional relationship between Darwin and an orangutan he studies at the London Zoo. By way of a story Darwin tells to Annie, we see him bond with this young ape in such a way that he sees the humanity in the animal. Ultimately, this also helps him see the animal in humans. Maybe baby apes are just inherently cuter than baby children, but these brief, lyrical scenes are far more jolting than those of Annie slowly dying in the bed of a hydrotherapist's clinic. When the orangutan rests its head on its keeper's chest and falls into the permanent sleep of death, I choked up. When Annie finally resigned herself to mortality, I was just glad to be rid of her freakish, dead-eyed smile.

Worse, death doesn't even kill her. An endless succession of scenes have Annie pop up as a ghostly vision in Darwin's head. At first I thought this was just a clumsy, annoying dramatic conceit. Manifestations of the dead have been used successfully to suss out a character's psychological machinations. The HBO series "Six Feet Under" comes to mind. "Hamlet" seems to work. But Darwin's visions of Annie don't strike the audience as a man grappling with guilt and grief so much as a man going slowly insane. Darwin's wife (Jennifer Connelly) wanders into the room as her husband yells at the ghost of their dead daughter. This isn't mourning; it's schizophrenia. It's also simplistic and easy. Darwin doesn't just have his daughter on his mind. She's literally standing right in front of him, smiling like an idiot and telling him outright how he feels.

Speaking of Connelly's wandering, that's pretty much all she does. She floats from scene to scene looking dour, which is particularly disconcerting considering this is what she's been doing as an actress for most of the last decade. She may be doing the best she can with this script, but it's such a waste.

Aside from the unfortunate girl who plays Annie, all of the performances range from good to great. Bettany is solid despite having to wear a less than convincing bald cap. And every actor is shot beautifully. Cinematographer Jess Hall's work here borders on sublime at times, especially when he's shooting nature. One time-lapsed sequence of a baby bird falling out of its nest to eventually decay to a skeleton on the forest floor has more impact than any scene of dialogue in the entire film.

The blame ultimately must lie with director Jon Amiel, a respected British filmmaker with roots in Shakespearean theater. His BBC adaptation of "The Singing Detective" was fantastic television. But that was in 1986. Since then, he's been behind the camera on a string of stinkers. "Sommersby", "Copycat", "Entrapment", and "The Core" all bear his name. Yes, "The Core". "Armageddon" in reverse. So there you go. Perhaps John Collee's script just wasn't there, but Amiel should have wrestled a better performance for Annie, the movie's lynchpin. And a half dozen scenes of Darwin crying into his manuscript should have been left on the cutting room floor.

After showing at the 2009 Toronto Film Festival, "Creation" had a difficult time securing American distribution. It was sold in many other territories, but producer Jeremy Thomas famously claimed the Christian right scared U.S. buyers from picking up the movie, as it paints Charles Darwin as something less than a God-killing devil. "People have been saying this is the best film they've seen all year," an apoplectic Thomas told the "Telegraph". That may be true, but I can't imagine who those people would be. Though I can't say I blame Thomas for stirring up a little controversy. "Creation" needs all the help it can get.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Chicken Chup

Cesar Garcia knew there's was something strange stalking his Horizon City, Texas property when his rabbits suddenly came down with a case of the spooks, his cat wouldn't leave the roof of his house, and his dog and roosters went deathly silent. He woke up one morning to find thirty of his chickens had been killed. Their bodies were stacked in a pile, but there was no blood at the scene of the murder. Each of them had two small puncture wounds and nothing more. So, Mr. Garcia turned to the internet, which told him he'd probably been the victim of El Chupacabra, the legendary goat sucking monster that's alternately been described as a ghoulish black dog, a spiny alien humanoid, a monstrous bat-like creature, or "Joan Rivers-ish". There may not be any reputable photographs of the beast. There may not be any corpses or droppings or anything else approaching physical evidence of its existence. But something's happening here, right? And if it's not El Chupacabra, what could it be? Unfortunately for Mr. Garcia, there's really only one other option, and it's even more terrifying than a red-eyed nocturnal demon creature. If my sources are correct, this could be the work of a brooding teenage vampire with dreamy cheekbones, a preternatural power over personality-impaired human females, and a non-threatening habit of drinking only the blood of animals. I hope you don't have a daughter, Mr. Garcia. For God's sake, I hope you don't have a daughter. More details here.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Some say our very existence on this planet is proof that God created the universe just for us. Consider the odds that the earth would be positioned just so in the solar system. Closer to the sun, and we might burn up. Further away, and we might freeze to death. Creationists call this phenomenon "fine tuning", and they argue that all signs point to a reality tailor made for humans. But if we're going to follow that logic, then it seems likely that 89-year-old World War II veteran William Baines was personally murdered by the Lord. When Mr. Baines bent down one afternoon to start his lawnmower, a box of matches fell out of his pocket. He stepped on them accidentally, setting them ablaze. Because he'd just been gassing up his mower, the fire ignited the flammable vapor in the air, spreading to his gasoline-specked clothes. Mr. Baines kept his mower in an enclosed passageway, since thieves had previously tried to steal it from his shed. As he ran down the passageway in flames, he trotted through a puddle of gasoline on the floor, fueling the growing fireball that eventually burned him to death. What Mr. Baines did to enrage God is anyone's guess. I'm hoping this is just a tragic series of coincidences, but my gut tells me this can't be true. More details here.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Curbing Coke

Researchers are currently testing a vaccine meant to end cocaine addiction, but it might have the opposite effect. The drug, TA-CD, deadens the body's chemical response to cocaine after injection. In other words, it stops you from getting high. Which is good news for those of us who don't enjoy twitchy marathon dance sessions or Robin Williams' comedy. But it's potentially bad news for addicts, since many participating in the vaccine trials are drastically increasing their cocaine consumption in a desperate attempt to destroy the vaccine's defenses with brute force. Some test subjects were found to have ten times the normal level of cocaine in their system. Even those who didn't nearly overdose reported searching all over for new and different varieties of cocaine that might circumvent the vaccine. Which is really a sad situation, since the whole thing is so avoidable. Hey, guinea pigs: there's no vaccine for heroin yet. If you want, I know a guy who can hook you up. Better safe than sorry. More details here.

Half Animal, Half Plant, All Abomination

Scientists have confirmed that the sea slug Elysia chlorotica is the first animal known to use plant-like photosynthesis to create food from light. The unholy hybrids have incorporated genetic material from the algae they eat, which allows them to produce their own chlorophyll. This trait is passed on to their offspring, though they still have to eat enough algae to provide chloroplasts for the photosynthesis process. The implications of this discovery are quite troubling. For decades now, mad scientists have been kidnapping orphans and trying to crossbreed them with plants. Why? Sex, mostly. But there are also military applications. If plantmen should fall on the battlefield, it would be cheap and convenient just to grow some more from ready-to-plant seed pods. Fortunately, the long arm of the law has prevented these gene-drunk perverts from realizing their ultimate goal. But how are we to combat this kind of God-playing when nature herself is doing it right under our noses? It's time world leaders called out Mother Earth for her unnatural hobbies. If not, these slugs will just be the tip of the iceberg. More details here. (And thanks to Brad for the link!)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


The New York Knicks may have lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder recently, but it wasn't because they were less skilled at throwing balls into baskets or whatever. It's because they were spooked! For two days, the Knicks stayed in Oklahoma City's Skirvin Hilton hotel, which is supposed to be haunted. "It's scary," basketeer (is that a position?) Jared Jeffries said. Fellow baller Eddy Curry claims to have slept only two hours a night out of fear a ghost would enter his room and mess with him. It's obvious these guys aren't very familiar with how ghosts operate. Sure, they sometimes wrap their bony hands around your neck and squeeze until your eyes pop out of your sockets, but most of the time, they just wander around like vagrants and maybe slam a kitchen cabinet or two. Which, really, is no different than what Michael Jordan does just about every night these days. Minus the Hanes pajamas, of course. More details here.

Don't be Evil

In 2006, Google chose to launch a Chinese-based branch of their search engine at Google.cn. At the time, it was a controversial move, since Google agreed to abide by Chinese government demands and censor certain information from their searches, including information about Chinese human rights abuses. It's long been Google's unofficial corporate policy to not "be evil", and it seemed like kowtowing to enemies of free expression was skirting the line. I'd argue that it reached right under the line's skirt and started diddling its privates. And fortunately, it looks like Google has come to their senses. After discovering several malicious attacks on Chinese human rights activists' Gmail accounts coming from within the Chinese government, Google will now demand that the government allow uncensored searching on Google.cn, or they'll pull out of the country completely. Good for them. Not only for sticking by their non-evil principles, but also for making these malicious attacks public. It's nice to see China's huge piles of money losing to the forces of common decency for once. Full disclosure: this site is hosted on Google's servers, this blog post was originally written in Google Docs, all of my email goes through Gmail, and if my corporate overlords had a name, it would rhyme with "Scroogle". More details here.


New Mexico's Arthur Firstenberg is a very sensitive man. He believes many people, including himself, are susceptible to all sorts of medical problems due to radio waves floating through the air. He claims to be allergic to wi-fi, digital TV signals, and now, iPhones. In particular, his neighbor's iPhone, which he says has forced him from his home with its deadly emissions. Not content to just lock himself in a Faraday cage and live out the rest of his life in a slowly rising pool of his own filth, he's suing his neighbor to the tune of $530,000. Firstenberg's self-proclaimed radio hypersensitivity symptoms include nausea, vertigo, mud butt, tinnitus, headaches, cramps, joint pain, insomnia, partial blindness, muscle spasms. But most importantly, he's got the blues. Probably because there's nowhere he can hide from the radio signals flying through his head at any given moment. There's nowhere any of us can hide. Which makes it all the more suspicious that the last century or so hasn't been lousy with physically handicapped hypersensitives like Firstenberg. Unless... Could he be the new phase of human evolution? If so, he has to be the shittiest X-Man ever. Well, except for Cannonball. Or possibly Dazzler. Actually, Longshot was pretty lame. Anyway, the point is, Arthur Firstenberg would make a terrible superhero. More details here. (And thanks to Brad for the link.)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Gays vs. Creation

Joey Ratz (a.k.a. Ratzo, a.k.a. J-Rat, a.k.a. Pope Benedict XVI) recently gave a speech wherein he described the push to legalize gay marriage as a threat to creation itself. [Insert tired joke about Prada loafers and/or men wearing dresses.] The Rat Man says that humanity is made in God's image, so we must bend to the will of God. In addition to banning cotton/poly fabric blends (good call, God), this would also mean the prohibition of homosexual activity. He made a sort of strained correlation between moral endangerment and the endangerment of species due to climate change, but I guess his mind drifted off before he could wrap up those thoughts into anything like a coherent sentence. Meanwhile, new data show divorce rates are going down in the U.S. Well, in those states that allow gay marriage, that is. Everywhere else, divorce continues its upward march. God may hate gay marriage, but He sure is sending us mixed mathematical messages. More details here.

Exodus, Schmexodus

People with little working knowledge of history but a great love of spinning a good yarn (Dan Brown) often assume that the biblical story of Exodus really happened. Or at least, the Egyptians really held Hebrew slaves and forced them to construct wondrous ego boosts like the Great Pyramid. But there's never been any evidence proving the Egyptians kept Hebrew slaves. And the new discovery of swanky tombs around the pyramid construction site just adds to the growing pile of evidence that these things were built by skilled craftsmen, not slaves at all. These tombs were meant to store the bodies of those who died building the pyramids, and they're uncomfortably close to the tombs of kings. Which means the workers were higher class citizens than slaves, whose bodies were simply thrown into a holding pit before they could be mass-mummified and reanimated as soldiers in the pharaoh's magical necro-army. Of course, it's possible this discovery is simply false propaganda being disseminated by the Egyptian government. It's a matter of national pride that the pyramids are proven too complex to have been slapped together by a bunch of unpaid day laborers like so many Rite Aids. Or that evidence of buried workers might prove they weren't constructed with extraterrestrial anti-gravity guns. So take this all with a grain of salt. More details here.

Norris on Obama

Chuck Norris has had an interesting and varied career. He's gone from being that white guy who fought Bruce Lee one time to that white guy who ranks just below Steven Seagal on the list of compelling straight-to-video action stars of the '80s and '90s. His golden (beard) years have seen him play the part of internet meme alongside those weird little creatures who sing about how much they like the moon and that fat kid practicing his lightsaber moves with a stick. Now, Norris has become an icon of the aggressively uneducated Fox News conservative movement. As evidenced by the non-suicide of Saturday Night Live alum Victoria Jackson, they'll take whoever they can get. The only problem is that getting a hug from John McCain one time has made Norris think his opinions matter. He has a World Net Daily column that has recently become a dispenser for Glenn Beck-fueled conspiracy theories. On December 17th, President Obama signed an executive order granting new "privileges, exemptions, and immunities" to Interpol, the international police organization meant to facilitate communication between different countries' law enforcement agencies. It's likely these new powers don't involve anything like new jurisdiction to arrest foreign citizens, but who really knows? Well, Chuck Norris does. Citing little to no evidence, Norris says Obama signed the order specifically to exempt Interpol's New York office from Freedom of Information Act requests, so that he may use this office as a "secret vault" for documents about the war on terror that the president wants to hide from the public. Which seems a little far-fetched, considering the Bush administration successfully hid all of its questionable documents by invoking the executive privilege of "not telling". But to Norris, the coincidences are just too numerous to ignore. "Is it merely coincidental that Obama signed this executive Interpol order, and that the feds want to try these 9/11 terrorists in civilian courts rather than military courts?" Norris writes. I think what he's getting at here is that it's suspicious that the order exempts Interpol's New York office from FOIA requests while the trials of certain 9/11 suspects are planned to also take place in New York. Obviously, this logic is airtight. If anything, Norris doesn't go far enough. Why doesn't he say anything about David Letterrman's involvement in all this? Doesn't he realize Letterman's show is taped in New York? Seems like public knowledge to me. What's Chuck Norris trying to hide? We're through the looking glass here, people. More details here.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Swedish Ice Balls

Sweden is known for three things and three things only: competitive bikini-ing, rolling up wads of disparate meats, and being the prototype for a post-Final Solution society. But the country may have a new claim to fame: home of mysterious ice balls. No, I'm not talking about those useless pebbles dangling between the legs of Swedish men. These are literally balls of ice that have been found washed upon the shores. Some are as big as footballs ("soccer balls" to Americans; "fag balls" to Alabamans), and as many as 200 have been seen crowded together at one time. Meteorologists hypothesize that snow may be blown into freezing waters that haven't iced over due to winds. As the snow is sloshed around beneath the waves, it accumulated a spherical layer of ice, eventually growing so big that it floats back to shore. This hypothesis seems to be corroborated by the fact that the ice balls contain cores of slushy snow inside crusts of harder ice. But we shouldn't discount the theory that these are just failed attacks on the Swedish Empire made by the famous ice pirates of the Arctic Sea and their ice cannon-laden ice frigates. They've been riding high on the hog ever since they successfully destroyed the Titanic. More details here.

Two-Headed Omen

A two-headed calf has been born in the eastern Estonian city of Tartu. But let's repress our immediate urge to stab it to death, burn its corpse, and scatter its ashes at the four corners of the earth. For the moment, at least. Instead, let's ask ourselves what this means. Could it be a simple random genetic mutation? Sure. But it could also be a sign that Chernobyl truly is the gift that keeps on giving. Is Estonia anywhere near Chernobyl? Who can say for sure? But I'm not about to look it up on some kind of fancy map, as that would take all the fun out of mindless speculation. And speaking of mindlessness, the birth of two-headed animals has traditionally been seen as an omen of war in Estonian culture. But then again, most things that happen at all in eastern European countries are most likely omens of war. But the owner of the farm where this monstrosity was born poo-poos that notion. He believes it's a sign of the impending end of the global economic crisis. As long as we're bullshitting here, I'll toss my two cents on the pile and say it's a sign that there will be another "Alvin and the Chipmunks" squeakquel. Sadly, the truth is that this is an omen of another long period of history where no one pays any attention to Estonia. More details here.

G or No G

For years now, it's been a popular belief that women have an instant orgasm button called a "G-spot" somewhere in the delicate caverns of their luscious vaginae. This was probably a healthier alternative to the previously held belief that women can't experience orgasms at all due to demons blocking their genital nerve endings with tiny pitchforks. But the medical evidence for the existence of the G-spot has always been a little suspect. At first, it was thought to be an actual button of flesh, like a second clitoris. Others thought it was a particularly dense bundle of nerves. People tried to take pictures of it, but they all came out blurry or inconclusive. The most famous photograph of all was eventually revealed as a hoax taken by a British dentist in his bathtub. It wasn't really a G-spot at all, but simply the dome of his penis poking its way out of a small hill of soap bubbles. In hindsight, we all should have been a little more skeptical. And now, a team of scientists at King's College London have published a study that concludes the whole G-spot phenomenon is a lie. They interviewed sets of twins and found that identical twins were no more likely to both report having a G-spot than non-identical twins. Of course, this study may be flawed. For example, the researchers failed to ask these twins to search for each others' G-spots, film said search, and post the videos to RedTube for further study. How else do they expect to encourage peer review? Anyway, neurologist Dr. Steve Novella has a science-based breakdown of the study over at his blog, including a couple of hypotheses as to what the G-spot might really be all about. And you can find more details about the study here.