Thursday, August 26, 2004

Nerdy? Funny? Double positive!

Only a linguistics fan, an editor, or a hopeless nerd could enjoy this joke, which I ran across today via a leisurely Wikipedia-browsing marathon that eventually led me to the entry on philosophy professor Sidney Morgenbesser of Columbia University, who passed away at the beginning of this month. Fortunately, I am all three of these things.
A linguistics professor was lecturing to his class one day. "In English," he said, "A double negative forms a positive. In some languages, though, such as Russian, a double negative is still a negative. However, there is no language wherein a double positive can form a negative."

A voice from the back of the room piped up, "Yeah, right."

Monday, August 23, 2004

The Ultimate eBay auction

I've long been a fan of the Ultimate Warrior. Not for his wrestling -- God, no! It's wretched! -- but for his baffling, sesquipedalian prose style. Peruse his lunatic ramblings on his website. Study up on his philosophy of "destrucity". Note how he uses the nonword "foke" instead of "focus", because when you focus, you should concentrate on yourself, not "us". Let it dawn on you that he actually regards himself not just as a conservative commentator (read his screed about Michael Moore, in which he says, cuttingly, "he’s a liar and his films are just big lies"; refers, oddly, to "his magnet-infested [sic] deviant mind"; and refuses to "put pelf in Moore's pocket" -- because why say "money" when you can use an obscure word for obscurity's sake?), but as some sort of messianic figure.

And now you can have a piece (perhaps "relic" is the word) of this Christ of sports entertainment: He's selling a WWF Heavyweight Championship belt on eBay. (His eBay name is "conservativemind", which seems to be only about half-right.) the write-up for the item is quintessential Warrior. He rambles, he glorifies himself, and he calls out anyone who doesn't bid as "phonies and bluffs." Truly insane.

Always believe.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Who watches the Watchmen-watchers?

A thread about Watchmen, comic-book wizard Alan Moore's magnum opus, has popped up in the Fametracker forums recently. This has led to a number of interesting links:

  • Jude Law wants to star in Watchmen. Law is a huge fan of the comic and wants to play Ozymandias in the new Darren Aronofsky-directed film. Pretty good casting, I must say. Personally, I'd kind of like to see Alec Baldwin as Nite Owl. He's got that certain aging-leading-man-run-to fat quality. And someone in the forums floats the idea of Stacy Keach as The Comedian, which is an intriguing idea -- he's even already scarred, what with the hairlip. Best part: Law has a tattoo of Rorschach. Now that's a fan.
  • Sam Hamm's unproduced 1989 screenplay. This treatment of the story actually features an ending that would be releasable in a post 9/11 world. Best Part: Getting to see Captain Metropolis and The Comedian in action in the prelude.
  • Watchmen Funnies. From the depths of the Something Awful forums. Most aren't much good, but a couple work nicely, like the one featuring Rorschach as Japanese-schoolgirl-panty fetishist. Best Part: The original Nite Owl, suffering a case of explosive diarrhea, saying that his doctor told him he was "like Jackson Pollock with shit." I'm stealing that line.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

I've got a broken face!

I think I've finally solved a problem that's been bugging me for a while.

My landlord lives just around the corner, and likes to spend a lot of time just puttering around in my yard. Sometimes he waters the grass, sometimes he checks on some tomato plants he's growing, sometimes he just sits there. It's annoying to have this old Greek guy just lurking outside all the time, just wandering back and forth in front of my window, but I've never made an enormous issue of it because he's not actually in the house, and one of his daughters lives here as one of the tenants, so it's awkward to bring up. Also, his other daughter is incredibly irritating, and I feel sorry for him for having to live with her and don't blame him for wanting somewhere to escape to. But it's still galling when he sits on a lawn chair immediately outside my window, smoking cigarettes, because the smoke wafts into my room. He might as well be sitting in my room, smoking.

But today, I was putting together some playlists for my MP3 player, which I had connected to my computer, which was, in turn, connected to my stereo. I clicked on a song, and this old man sitting outside my window suddenly got blasted with the Pixies' "Broken Face" at eardrum-bursting volume -- raw, Steve Albini-produced, shrieking lunacy cranked up to eleven. The song's only 1:29 long, but within 15 seconds, he'd shot up out of his chair and out of the yard like Manuel Noriega being driven out of the Vatican embassy.

Moral #1: An open window is open both ways.
Moral #2: Old Greek people hate the Pixies.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

You have bad taste in music

How can one selfless crusader help people with bad taste in music? When you have a megaphone, the answer is obvious.*

But what if you have good taste in music? Chances are you still own at least an album's worth of material you can't stand. Bad songs happen to good bands and many an otherwise-listenable album contains at least one track of absolute shit. You can submit your own compilation of the most awful, skippable songs from your CD collection here.

* Note to Scott: The Ruben Studdard one contains a special guest appearance by KEM!

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

The past is stupid

In the mood to waste some time? Like, a lot of time? casts such meticulous scrutiny on the ephemera of 20th century popular culture that it's possible to relive the '50s, '60s, and '70s in real time while combing through the site. I meant to post about the site weeks ago, but I was waiting until I'd read everything. I still haven't finished.

Of particular note are the Gallery of Regrettable Food, the Orphanage of Cast-Off Mascots, and the archive of justly forgotten comics (particularly the hardboiled noir detective stories based on the comic Lance Lawson, and the violently overreacting flip-takes of Jerry on the Job). But that's just scratching the surface.

And while you ponder the weirdness of the past, here's your soundtrack, courtesy of Said The Gramophone: A slowed-down recording of "The Chipmunk Song" in which Alvin, Simon, and Theodore sound like three normal (well, only slightly crazed) adult men and Dave Seville sounds like an angry demon.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Reviews! Reviews! Reviews!

  • PopMatters has a decent review of Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot demos that comes just over two years after Neumu ran a similar article -- despite PopMatters' assertion that the YHF demos "have floated around cyberspace for about year. [sic]" Still, better late than never, and it's worth a read, especially if you've found A Ghost Is Born to be a bit of a letdown.

  • In a three-part series at X-Entertainment, a Spiderman action figure takes on the Herculean task of reviewing every colour in Crayola's 96-crayon box. The writing starts to run out of steam after the first part, but it's worth it just to look at the pictures of the Spidey action figure. I've never seen so many points of articulation.
    Part 1
    Part 2
    Part 3

  • Lastly, my review of the Taste of the Danforth street festival: tasty. And my review of my current waistline: bigger. If you're reading this by Sunday, August 8, and are anywhere near Toronto's Greektown, drop by for a few skewers of souvlaki. I can't remember when I've had so many sticks of hot, greasy meat in my mouth without a gloryhole being involved.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Another reason to hate the Mouse (or Copyright terms: Growing longer than Pinocchio's nose)

The Hall of Hate is my proposed name for a website detailing all the things and people that I detest. (Profiles in Loathing is the proposed subtitle.) If the ribbon is ever cut on the grand opening of this Hall, you can bet that Disney will be one of the inaugural entries.

I usually don't have to think too hard to come up with a reason to hate Disney. I thought of a specific one a couple of days back that I haven't ever seen framed quite this way. As we all know, Disney is one of the most vigorous defenders of its company's copyrights. And of course, Disney made its own reputation on animated films adapted from 19th century works that had passed into the public domain. Everybody knows that. I'm not telling you anything new. But here's the specific example I'm thinking of:

Disney's animated adaptation of Pinocchio was made in 1940, 50 years after the death of the book's author, Carlo Collodi. Was it public domain at this point? Not quite; although the Berne Convention (the prevailing international copyright law both then and now) set the term of copyright as 50 years after the death of the author, Collodi didn't die until late October of 1890, and the Disney film was out in early February of 1940. It's kind of a moot point, though; the US wasn't a signatory to the Berne Convention yet, and routinely allowed US authors to break foreign copyrights.

But for the sake of argument, let's say that Pinocchio followed all the rules and was free to avoid paying royalties to Collodi's estate, because at least as far as US copyright law of the time was concerned, it did and it was. Certainly, this is a sterling example of why copyrights should have a fixed length: To allow the creation of derivative works. Pinocchio, like a great many early Disney films, shows that a derivative work can be a great work of art in its own right, not to mention a milestone in animation and film in general.

So I've got no problem with Pinocchio. Maybe I ought to, since I've got a big problem with Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame for drastically changing the plot to make Quasimodo friends with everyone and give everyone a happy ending when, in the Victor Hugo book, everyone shunned Quasimodo and everybody dies in the end except the goat, who got the only happy ending. In the original Pinocchio, the eponymous puppet fatally crushes Jiminy Cricket underfoot and is eventually hanged for his sins. But I don't have as much of a problem with this, since I grew up with and am most familiar with the Disney version, so it doesn't seem as much like a perversion of the original. And yet, that's exactly my problem with Hunchback: A future generation of children will grow up thinking the Disney abomination is the real deal.

So in fact, I do have a problem with Disney's Pinocchio, at least in principle, but let's stick with the copyright thing. For the sake of argument, we're saying that Pinocchio stuck to the rules, or came close enough.

Enter the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998, which is commonly nicknamed "The Mickey Mouse Protection Act." Aghast at the prospect of Mickey Mouse and other beloved characters passing into the public domain -- and out of Disney's corporate clutches -- where a new generation of creators could base derivative works upon them without paying Disney a red cent, the company furiously and successfully lobbied for an extension of copyright by twenty years. The term of copyright in the US went from the author's life plus 50 years to life plus 70 years in the case of individual works (such as Collodi's Pinocchio, which still falls into the public domain under the new law) and from 75 years to 95 years in the case of works of corporate authorship (such as Disney's Pinocchio, which gets its due date extended from 2015 to 2035).

Let's go back to 1940. If the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act had been active then (and of course it would have had to have been called something else, as Bono wasn't as influential in congress at age 5), Collodi's copyright wouldn't have been due to expire until 1960. That means that, at best, Disney's film version couldn't have been made without paying royalties to the author's estate. At worst, Collodi's estate could have blocked Disney's version altogether.

Clearly, copyright is a good thing when it's in Disney's interest, but not when it's not. Happily, Mickey Mouse and all works created before 1970 are now public domain in Russia, at least. So if any Russian out there wants to create a vastly inventive derivative work based on any of this stuff, knock yourself out. And if you're not Russian, but you've got some real guts, a platoon of lawyers, and unlimited financial resources to battle Disney, feel free to create derivative works based on the original Mickey Mouse shorts; a recent law review journal article argues that despite the CTEA, they're in the public domain now and always were!

Sunday, August 01, 2004

I need you so much closer

I just caught an Olympic-themed television commercial for Bell that uses Death Cab for Cutie's "Transatlanticism" as the soundtrack. Someone's showing good taste -- it's a great song.

Also. there's probably a joke to be made linking the ongoing troubles the Greek organizers are having with getting the venue ready in time for the games with the song's refrain of "I need you so much closer", but I'm not quite sure how to make it.

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