Thursday, May 26, 2011

Poodle Bitch wonders about what life was like for Nazi dogs

Poodle Bitch briefly notes the presence of an article from, via yahoo, in which it is claimed that Adolf Hitler, the former leader of Germany, attempted to create an army of superior dogs that would do his bidding for him.
In his new book Amazing Dogs: A Cabinet of Canine Curiosities, Cardiff University historian Jan Bondeson mines obscure German periodicals to reveal the Nazis' failed attempt to breed an army of educated dogs that could read, write and talk. "In the 1920s, Germany had numerous 'new animal psychologists' who believed dogs were nearly as intelligent as humans, and capable of abstract thinking and communication," he writes. "When the Nazi party took over, one might have thought they would be building concentration camps to lock these fanatics up, but instead they were actually very interested in their ideas."

Poodle Bitch isn't sure why a human who believed that "dogs were nearly as intelligent as humans" should be considered a "fanatic," but his comment has prompted Poodle Bitch to scratch Mr. Bondeson's new book off her summer reading list.

Poodle Bitch found The Sun's much less dry take on the story, in particular some specifics about a school that was set up to train the dogs, more entertaining than Time's:
Star pupil at the school near Hanover, Germany, was Aire- dale terrier Rolf. He tapped out letters of the alphabet with his paws and was said to have speculated about religion and learnt POETRY.

He reportedly asked a visiting noblewoman: "Could you wag your tail?" Another mutt was said to have uttered the words "Mein Fuhrer" when asked who Hitler was - while another imitated a human voice to bark: "Hungry! Give me cakes" in German.

Other ludicrous experiments saw so-called scientists test telepathic communications between humans and dogs.

Poodle Bitch doubts very much that Rolf was anything more than a very clever canine who found himself in a difficult situation and made the best of it in order to survive. She has found that humans who want to believe in something -- who desperately want to believe in something -- can be made to believe in that something with only the barest of outside help. Poodle Bitch cites the allegedly "guilty" dog, Denver, who recently sent the internet into a tizzy, and Sonny, the dog who could supposedly "read."

These dogs were playing along for the benefit of their human companions. Dogs like to make their human companions feel good. And, Poodle Bitch dryly notes, to get rewards. Because humans are basically good, this is a mostly harmless exercise. However, Poodle Bitch notes with sadness that there are those who, for instance, run dog fighting rings, who exploit this feature of the canine personality for nefarious ends. Then there are the so-called "drug sniffing dogs," who are wrong more than half the time about the presence of drugs, but are right 100% of the time in trying to make their human co-workers happy.

But back to the Nazis: Rolf et al had no idea that these humans were working toward malefic ends. They just wanted to make them happy; so they followed the cues they were given. The humans, in turn, were part of a dangerous, powerful movement centered around a murderously deranged man who was apparently "a well-known dog lover," (as the TIME article ludicrously puts it) and a "barking-mad pet lover" (as the Sun article absurdly puts it) and very much wanted his silly program to succeed. So there were powerful motivations all around to show some measure of success.

She feels safe in declaring that the Nazi attempt to create a race of super dogs who would help them run their concentration camps was essentially a non-starter.

Some dogs will do anything for a treat.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Infernal nostalgia: I thought my generation would be different. And yet, here comes another Muppets movie.

Merriam Webster online has a rather depressing definition of the word "nostalgia."
1: the state of being homesick : homesickness
2: a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition; also : something that evokes nostalgia
An overwhelming desire to return to an idealized (non-existent) past. Ugh. You can't go back in time, you can't grow younger, and you can't return to a place that never existed.

A user at the Ursinus Wiki Project's online version of "The Devil's Dictionary" defines "nostalgia" as
The process by which, through advancement of age and dimming of memories, that which was ‘crappy’ becomes ‘cherished.’
That actually feels less editorialized than Merriam Webster's supposedly dispassionate definition.

I might add to that something about nostalgia being the extent to which a person congratulates himself on his previous good taste. Or, the extent to which a person defends his previous bad taste as if it were good. A lot of people have trouble admitting that they've ever made a mistake. Nostalgia is a symptom of that. Today, thanks to websites devoted to various strains of fandom, people have plenty of venues in which they can exercise their nostalgia.

The purveyors of popular entertainment have always made a lot of money pandering to nostalgia. I remember when I was a child, playing with my Star Wars action figures, watching the Muppets on television, reading my Conan the Barbarian and X-Men comic books, listening to my KISS records, and laughing at my parents for attending "rockin' reunion" concerts, listening to "oldies" radio stations, reading old Agatha Christie novels, and watching re-runs of "Leave it to Beaver" and "Star Trek."

You won't catch me trying to relive my past. I'm gonna be different. My whole entire generation is too savvy for that. Especially now with the internet, and our PoMo attitude. Whatever.

And yet, sadly, human beings do the same damn things, over and over again. Human beings, even those of us who came of age during the years of post modernism and self-awareness, are so predictable. We all just want to go home again. To a place that never existed.

I have already written of the importance of Sesame Street in my life. This isn't necessarily something of which I'm proud, nor am I defensive about it. I don't know if watching "Sesame Street" prevented me discovering other shows I would have liked better (I watched a lot of TV), and I don't know if the time I spent watching the show might have been better spent outside, playing at the sports. I was never good at the sports, but maybe I might have been.

I am not nostalgic for "Sesame Street."

Once I'd outgrown that particular show, I moved on to "The Muppet Show," which was another creation of Jim Henson. I really liked that show at the time it aired. I had several merchandised toys and t-shirts, and a lunchbox. I probably had even more than that, but I've forgotten them.

Some of these things I still have. Here's a photo of some the toys I've kept:

That is a large Animal puppet, and some smaller plastic versions of Animal, Rowlf, and Gonzo. Also, a Shogun Warrior sneaked into the picture, because he was angered by the fact that I was taking a photo of some of my Muppets-related childhood toys. (That particular Shogun Warrior, Gaiking, was the subject of a fan-made "teaser trailer" for a proposed film back in 2010 -- more nostalgia!)

I have posted this picture not just to embarrass myself. (But rest assured, I find this photo embarrassing.) I have posted this picture to show you that I once was a big fan of the Muppets. When I was nine. Then I moved on to something else. Probably "The Dark Crystal," Jim Henson's attempt at a more grown up fantasy story. I mention that because I still have a 1982 edition of Brian Froud's book The World of the Dark Crystal, which contains several beautiful illustrations of character and set designs from the film.

Gosh help me, I even watched a few episodes of "Fraggle Rock." Eventually, though, I outgrew the Muppets entirely. A few years ago, a friend started buying "The Muppet Show" DVDs, and I watched a couple of episodes with her. I had fond memories of the show. I was, you might say, nostalgic for the show. We both were.

Oh, how unentertaining were those episodes! Oh, what indefensible taste I had!

I kid myself of course. For a child, I had pretty decent taste, given the circumstances of the location and time in which I came of age. Bearing in mind that children are stupid and have very limited experiences and exposure to art. Their frames of reference are such that they can't know that "The Muppet Show" was a mildly diverting bit of disposable entertainment, not a profound cultural artifact.

Children don't know any better. Adults should. As you age and mature, your tastes change. You evolve. Don't you? Do you like the same things you liked as a child? Hey, childhood Muppets fans -- how many of the Muppets-related films have you seen since you became an adult?

Since "Follow that Bird," there have been at least six Muppets movies. I knew of one of them. Since the "Muppet Babies" animated TV show, there have been 19 other Muppets related television shows. I knew of two of them. I moved on.

But the Muppets are trying to draw me back. They're trying to draw us all back, by appealing to that weak, venal part of ourselves: Nostalgia. Forget fast food. Forget pornography. Forget heroin. Forget alcohol. Forget our addiction to oil. I submit that nostalgia is our worst, and most destructive vice.

What makes nostalgia all the more insidious is that there is no organized movement to combat it. There are millions of people who will hector you over your consumption of cigarettes and fast food oil and pornography and etc. But nostalgia? It's coddled, if not encouraged. Awww, ain't that sweet that the Muppets are back?

On yahoo's main page, we learn that the web is "delighted" by the trailer for the new Muppets film. Screen Rant goes even further, declaring that "'The Muppets' Teaser Trailer is Welcome Nostalgia."

Remember how Merriam Webster defines "nostalgia." I only just pasted it into the top of this post, and already I'm feeling a wistful sentimental yearning to read it again, so here it is:
1: the state of being homesick : homesickness
2: a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition; also : something that evokes nostalgia
Only a masochist would "welcome" nostalgia.

Speaking of masochism, here is the aforementioned "The Muppets" teaser trailer:

It starts out as an uninteresting, and uninviting generic romantic comedy, and then becomes -- a movie with Muppets! Doesn't that look great?

Here's a description of the film from the YouTube page:
On vacation in Los Angeles, Walter, the world's biggest Muppet fan, and his friends Gary (Jason Segel) and Mary (Amy Adams) from Smalltown, US, discover the nefarious plan of oilman Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) to raze the Muppet Theater and drill for the oil recently discovered beneath the Muppets' former stomping grounds. To stage The Greatest Muppet Telethon Ever and raise the $10-million needed to save the theater, Walter, Mary and Gary help Kermit the Frog reunite the Muppets, who have all gone their separate ways: Fozzie now performs with a Reno casino tribute band called the Moopets, Miss Piggy is a plus-size fashion editor at Vogue Paris, Animal is in a Santa Barbara clinic for anger management, and Gonzo is a high-powered plumbing magnate. With secret, signature, celebrity cameos, "The Muppets" hits the big screen November 23, 2011.
Look at that description carefully. The Muppets have moved on. The Muppet Theater is described as "the Muppets' former stomping grounds." It's the human fan of the Muppets -- a grown man -- who wants to prevent a part of his childhood being destroyed... an oilman? Do you know how difficult it is to get a permit to drill for oil anywhere in the United States, let alone in Los Angeles? And, even assuming this oilman (whose name is "Tex Richman," get it?) could get the permits, would $10 million really be enough to prevent the drilling taking place?

This is nostalgia with an extra layer of aggrandizement for those of us who drive hybrids. It flatters our childhood taste, and our conscientiousness as adults.

It also rather cynically exploits our weakness in an attempt to make money for a major corporation. You'll note that the teaser trailer opens with a shot of the famous Disney logo. The Muppets are a wholly owned subsidiary of the Walt Disney corporation. In other words, a big, evil corporation is exploiting your yearning to return to an idealized past in order to get money from you.

But at least they're not drilling for oil, am I right? Wocka wocka wocka!

I am picking on the Muppets because their new teaser trailer is supposedly delighting the web. But of course the weakness of nostalgia isn't unique to the felt puppets. It probably explains much of the success of modern superhero movies -- it definitely explains the early anticipation and "buzz" that surrounds those films. It's largely people who read the comics as children debating about some minutiae of continuity, and wondering just how "faithful" this iteration will be. Remember those people who stood in line waiting to see the fourth "Star Wars" movie (I can't remember the title and I won't look it up)? What motivated them?

Nostalgia. Infernal, nasty nostalgia.

I will admit that when I first saw the Muppet characters in the new "The Muppets" teaser trailer, I got a strange and sad stirring somewhere between my perineum and my soul. This was a purely involuntary reaction. Illogical. I couldn't help it.

But I have recovered. When I was a child, the Muppets were terrific. I appreciate the fact that they entertained me way back when. And I'm sure they appreciate all the money I spent on Muppets paraphernalia. But I'm a grown up now. Like Miss Piggy and Gonzo, I've moved on.

We need to build on our past, not plunder it for the purpose of generating more marketing revenue.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Is "The Skin I Live In" as horrifying as "Zany Dick!"? and, How should film critics handle "spoilers"?

Thanks to a contest sponsored by Stella Artois, a group of American beer drinkers won a trip to the Cannes Film Festival to attend the premiere of a new film featuring Antonio Banderas, the charming and dashingly good-looking performer who played Puss in Boots and Zorro in several family-friendly movies, and directed by the idiosyncratic director Pedro Almodovar, who brought us such whimsically twisted films as "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown," "Talk to Her," and "All About my Mother." Those movies all had a bit of a dark side, but still had a light touch.

Oh, how excited they must have been! A trip to France! A trip to the famous Cannes Film Festival! A chance to see a big time premiere of a movie featuring an internationally renowned actor, directed by an internationally renowned (and Academy Award winning) director! The anticipation must have been... downright sickening.
Spanish director Pedro Almodovar's latest thriller, "The Skin I Live In," had filmgoers fleeing the theater Thursday night at its gala premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, due to some aggressively violent and disturbing content.
There are a lot of "booing" at Cannes stories, along with "everyone left the theater" at Cannes stories, along with "the movie got a ten minute standing ovation" stories at Cannes, and who knows how exaggerated those are. But this particular story was too amusing to pass up.

Apparently, "This Skin I Live In" is a sort of let's say dark movie. Click over to read more in-depth descriptions of depravity and unpleasantness, if you're interested. I'm not cutting and pasting more from the story because I'm not sure how much of it qualifies as "spoilers." And I know how some people just hate "spoilers." In reading some other reviews of the film, it looks as though the Fox 411 story might have revealed some supersecret plot points.

Here's something from First Showing's review:
As much as I'd love to dive into a full discussion on this film, there are certain story elements which I dare not spoil and will stay away from ruining. The basic plot is that Antonio Banderas plays a rich, genius surgeon/doctor who is keeping a women locked up in his lavish home. He's not mean to her and is pretty much just holding her to keep her pure and untouched. At first we see he's attempting to develop skin so tough that it won't burn, but we soon discover he has darker intentions and we're thrown down the twisted Almodovar rabbit hole that is crazier than anyone could imagine.
How can a critic discuss a film without discussing it? Digital Spy's review pussyfoots even more:
Hopping back and forth in time, the film follows cosmetic surgeon Robert (Banderas) as he copes with the fallout of a car accident which left his wife horrifically burned and scarred. To say much more would be to give the game away, but as the twists and turns build up you find yourself occasionally gasping in disbelief or instead stifling giggles - most of them surely intentional - in your fist. There are some pleasingly dry nods to the surgical torture porn of Saw and Hostel, but there's nothing graphic or unpleasantly gratuitous here.
Wait -- "nothing graphic or unpleasantly gratuitous (as opposed, I assume, to pleasantly gratuitous) here"? Well then why did all those people supposedly walk out on it during its big premiere?

The Hollywood Reporter goes further in describing the plot of the film, but still gives us this:
To describe any further the story, written by Agustin and Pedro Almodóvar from a novel by Thierry Jonquet, would spoil several surprises. While Almodóvar is clearly rummaging through old films and film genres that by his own admission include Buñuel, Hitchcock, Lang and Franju as well as Hammer horror and Dario Argento kitsch, he mostly is going after the theme of identity. As the old saying goes, beauty is only skin deep, to which Almodóvar adds that skin can only encase one’s identity or soul. For the skin can change, the soul cannot.
There's a sort of a self-aggrandizement to these "I won't spoil the movie for you" statements. As if the critics are specifically doing us a favor, and want us to know about it. Oh, I could tell you more, but I won't. It's an affectation, and a cop-out. It's the type of thing you say to your friends when you're talking about a movie -- or something you might say on a film buff message board.

It is courteous to not "spoil" a movie, or to offer a warning at the top of a review that you're going to "spoil" it.

Over at the Guardian, Peter Bradshaw bravely bucks the "to reveal any more would spoil it" cliche (great art cannot be spoiled! conversely, if something is already rotten, it cannot be spoiled!), yet still manages to review the film without "spoiling" it.

Aside: How would the Stella Artois contest winners have reacted to being subjected to a screening of my own short animated horror masterpiece, "Zany Dick!"?

It never screened at Cannes, but it did screen at Dragon*con, and the Sydney Underground Film Festival. (Nobody left the screening in disgust -- the film is too short.)

A movie would have to be pretty distressing for me to walk out on it, especially if I'd won a trip to its Cannes Film Festival premiere. I'm not the most delicate consumer of films, but then again, I'm no masochist, either. The only movie I've ever walked out of was "Blade Runner," when I was about seven or eight, or however old I was when that movie came out. (I can't remember why I walked out on it -- maybe it scared me? I saw it years later and I couldn't figure out why I'd left; maybe my little sister wanted to leave?) I would have walked out on Dario Argento's "The Stendahl Syndrome," which I went to see at a midnight screening in Santa Monica in I think 1999, but I was with my friend Michael, and he was my ride. I didn't want to lean over and ask, "Hey, do you mind if I walk out on this movie? I don't need to watch another extended rape scene," without knowing if Michael wanted to walk out, himself. He's the type who would have teased me mercilessly. "Ooooooh, poor baby Ricky can't take another extended rape scene!"

He told me later he would have left if I'd asked. Lesson learned. Not long after that, he and I went to see "Eyes Wide Shut," and I almost asked him if he wanted to walk out on that, too. Because (spoiler alert!) it was effing boring.

Anyway I digress. Sorry that got a bit personal and I like to maintain some distance, in particular when I'm discussing art. Back to "The Skin I Live In." I would probably walk out on the film because its title ends with a preposition. I understand that there is no rule against ending sentences with prepositions. But I don't like it.

"The Skin in Which I Live" is a title of a film on which I would never walk out. In this case, however, I am going to ignore my grammatical concerns and see the film because I am a sucker for stories about mad surgeons, transplants, identity issues -- i.e., Santa Sangre, Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Mad Love, Eyes Without a Face, Choice Cuts, The Hands of Orlac, Sisters, The Lump, X-Files: I Want to Believe, etc.

The movie is based on a novel called Mygale (AKA Tarantula) by Thierry Jonquet. Here's a bit from a review of the English translation:
Mygale -- or Tarantula, as the British edition has it (a more familiar spider-name) -- is, appropriately enough, a spider web of a book, the different threads spun out until it all comes together in its very neat design. Jonquet serves up some extremely unlikely coincidences to get it to all fit together, but most of what he dishes up is so bizarre that one can almost overlook that. Especially in how he builds it up, Jonquet keeps the reader guessing just enough. And, in any case, it's a quick ride.
Perhaps one of the "threads" of the book's next edition could feature a group of contest-winning American tourists who find themselves sent to a French film festival, where they're forced to watch a deeply disturbing film that causes them to run screaming from the theater.

I am now intrigued enough to place the novel on my Project Child Murdering Robot Summer Reading list. So thank you, Stella Artois, for subjecting your contest "winners" to a painful filmgoing experience that led to a spoilerific and possibly exaggerated internet posting about the surprising horrors of attending a film festival. And to Sony Pictures Classics, the company releasing Mr. Almodovar's new film, for doing a fantastic job of promoting your film, by scaring a bunch of contest-winning beer drinkers.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Poodle Bitch admires May, the young poodle bitch who fought off a vicious eagle attack

Poodle Bitch does not consider herself to be a particularly athletic dog. Certainly she enjoys the occasional gambol, and has been known to chase a squirrel or two. But she's not much of a romper, and she deeply abhors violence.

Poodle Bitch understands that she is a domestic animal, and as such, her life has been much easier than the life of an animal that must fend for him/herself in the wild. She does not judge other animals doing what they must to survive.

Poodle Bitch's own experiences with "wild" animals have been fairly limited. Aside from the aforementioned squirrels, she might on occasion chase a bird that has lit upon the ground. Otherwise, she is fairly content to let other animals go their way, just as Poodle Bitch expects to be allowed to go her own way, unmolested.

But she has often wondered what she might do in a situation in which she was confronted by a hostile, wild animal, and there was no human there to defuse the situation. Would Poodle Bitch have the intestinal wherewithal to extricate herself from, say, the talons of a vicious, hungry bird of prey?

It is for that reason that Poodle Bitch has taken what might be an obsessive interest in the story of May, a toy poodle who recently found herself in just such a situation.

May fought, and fought hard. And taught a nasty eagle that poodles are not to be trifled with.
She’s a vagabond toy poodle named May by SPCA staff after she fell out of the sky earlier this month and landed on the grounds of the Shorncliffe Nursing Home in Sechelt, B.C.

And how she came to be flying over the nursing home is explained by the deep talon marks in her back and sides, showing she was probably the unwilling passenger of a hungry eagle that had picked her up but eventually found her 18 pounds too much to hold.

May — her ribs broken and her body lacerated — was found by nursing staff on May 2 and delivered to the Sunshine Coast SPCA.

Poodle Bitch is filled with wondering admiration for this dear little bitch -- not merely because May fought her way out of the talons of a ravening beast (Poodle Bitch admits she has filled in certain holes in the story using her own imagination -- for some reason, no journalists have seen fit to interview May, and so the full story might never be known), but because May's life has apparently been that of a wayward urchin, a little vagabond bitch searching for a place to call home:
“She’s been a stray. There’s been severe neglect, and who knows how long she’s been out there,” said [BC SPCA official Lorie] Chortyk. “We estimate she’s six years old but her nails were growing into her pads and her teeth are badly decayed.”

Oh, this poor little bitch's life has apparently been harder even than that of Precious, as depicted in the novel Push.

Poodle Bitch would also like to note that the little bitch May also managed to make her way to a healing center where she might be able to receive the help she needs to recover. This healing center is a nursing home. Poodle Bitch has heard that such institutions often employ the services of Therapy Dogs, which help to raise the spirits of those humans who reside within them.

Poodle Bitch likes to think that May, the stray bitch, was on her way to the nursing home to apply for work as a Therapy Dog, when she was snatched up by the nasty eagle that attempted to murder her. Perhaps an enterprising journalist will take the time to actually ask May for the circumstances of her attack.

Although May has already received some medical treatment, the Sunshine Coast branch of the BC SPCA is soliciting donations for the $4,000 required for May's dental work (doubtless young May damaged her teeth as she used them to tear into the hard, leathery flesh of the cruel nightmare beast that attacked her -- again, Poodle Bitch embellishes). Poodle Bitch very much hopes that May's story moves humans enough to actually donate to what she considers to be a most worthy cause.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I stand with Lakeysha Beard -- "rudeness" shouldn't be illegal

The internets are abuzz with the scandalous story of Lakeysha Beard, a woman who allegedly violated the sanctity of an Amtrak train's "quiet car" by talking on her cell phone for 16 hours. As yahoo news puts it, Ms. Beard was removed from said "quiet car" by police:
A woman who was escorted off an Amtrak train by police this weekend after she allegedly refused to stop talking loudly on her cell-phone has the Internet cheering her fate.
So we're clear: "the Internet" is "cheering" the fact that a woman was arrested for talking on a cell phone. Let's ignore the subliteracy of that sentence for a minute and instead look at the implications. Supposedly the sentence means that the majority of people using the internet are happy about the fact that a woman was arrested for distracting a few delicate people on a train.

There is absolutely nothing about this story to "cheer." A woman was charged with a crime because she was allegedly rude. Should rudeness be a crime?
KOMO News reports that Lakeysha Beard says she felt "disrespected" by the incident, though passengers said it was Beard who was being rude by refusing to stop yapping while sitting in one of the train's designated quiet cars. She had not stopped talking since the train pulled out of Oakland, California, 16 hours before it reached Salem, Oregon, when a passenger confronted her about the talking [sic]. That's when Beard got "aggressive," KATU reports, and conductors stopped the train so that police could remove her and charge her with disorderly conduct.
Again, the yahoo story is subliterately written. Is that second sentence supposed to convey that Ms. Beard was talking for 16 hours straight, or that the trip was 16 hours? It makes no sense. And, all we know is that she was "confronted" by another passenger, and then Ms. Beard "got 'aggressive.'" We don't know how she was confronted. We don't know if this person shouted vituperations at her, we don't know if this person spat on her, we don't know anything.

The internet, however, is cheering.

And for crying out loud, why does it take 16 hours to get from Oakland California to Salem, Oregon? Amtrak SUCKS, that is the real crime here. Arrest Amtrak.

MSNBC also has the story, under the totally impartial headline "Cops kick cellphone blabbermouth off train
After 16 hours blathering, woman doesn't understand why she got the boot":
In an epic incident of the pot calling the kettle rude, a Tigard, Oregon woman said she felt "disrespected" after police escorted her from an Amtrak train mostly because she refused to get off her cellphone — for 16 hours.
(Emphasis added because see below.)

It's an "epic incident." Of "blathering."

The article links to a story at KATU, in which we learn:
Lakeysha Beard of Tigard was charged with disorderly conduct after police said she got into a “verbal altercation” with passengers on the train. The other passengers complained she refused to put down her cell phone, even after train staff made repeated announcements for passengers to not use cell phones, according to police.
Hold on a second! Yahoo's story said that it was "a passenger" who confronted Ms. Beard. KATU tells us that it was "passengers" -- plural -- who were confronting her. If you had a group of people confronting you, might you get defensive? Might that lead to a verbal altercation?

According to MSNBC, Ms. Beard was "blathering." What the hell does that even mean? Was she on her cell phone shouting? Was she saying things that the other passengers didn't like hearing? Was she speaking in a way that offended the delicate sensibilities of the Amtrak passengers?

(By the way, I've been on Amtrak trains -- you know who rides them? Poor people who can't afford plane tickets, wealthy retirees who are in no hurry to get where they're going, train fetishists who just love the oh so romantic idea of "riding the rails," and oddball environmentalists who think they're superior to everyone else because they're willing to put up with the inconvenience of riding in a train that takes 16 mothereffing hours to get from Oakland California to Salem Oregon -- Who do you think were the people who were confronting Ms. Beard?)

Back to KATU:
[Amtrak spokeswoman Verae] Graham said Amtrak has no formal policy that bans people from talking on cell phones while the train is moving.
Wait another second -- yahoo said that Ms. Beard was in a designated "quiet car." The yahoo story also contains this passage:
Meanwhile writer Christopher Buckley, a self-described quiet car Nazi, wonders why there would be any confusion as to the correct behavior in that part of the train: "The Quiet Car does not hide its light under a bushel. Prominent and explicit signs hang from the ceiling at five-foot intervals. They declare, unequivocally, that NO CELL PHONES ARE PERMITTED and that conversation must be kept to a minimum and in hushed tones."
(Emphasis added because one person's "minimum" is another's "too damn much.")

But according to KATU, no less an authority than an Amtrak spokeswoman says that Amtrak has no formal policy banning people talking on their cell phones.

So why, exactly, was Ms. Beard removed from the train? For violating a non-existent policy? Or for saying something, or speaking in a way, that harmed the delicate sensibilities of the other Amtrak passengers?

Here is a video from the KATU website, showing the brave police officers arresting the "blathering" Ms. Beard:

And now, let's head back to yahoo. As of 8:28 PM PST on Wednesday May 17, there were three comments on the story. I took a screenshot of them:

Interesting. Ms. Beard is overweight, and African American (remember how MSNBC put it: "the pot calling the kettle rude"). I wonder if we could get a look at the passengers -- plural -- who were confronting Ms. Beard?

But it really doesn't matter who those people are, nor does it matter how they confronted her, since "the Internet" is "cheering" them. Back to MSNBC:
Just in case the severity of Beard's increasingly pervasive crime isn't obvious to all readers, also took the time to consult social etiquette expert and instructor Jodi Blackwood, who confirmed that "too many people don't exercise basic courtesy when it comes to using their phones."

According to, Blackwood went on to that when people speak too loudly and have personal conversations in public places they don't always realize the message they're sending.

"What does that say to them? It says that you're only thinking of yourself and that you are only aware of what you need and what you are doing and you are a less considerate person," Blackwood said.

Not for nothing, Beard doesn't seem like the sort to actually care what her cellphone screeching says to anyone but the person on the other end.

With all due respect to Blackwood's social etiquette expertise, Columbia University forensic psychiatrist Michael Stone might've made a more apt consultant for this particular crime. He's the dude who created the 22-point "Scale of Evil," which is further grouped into three distinctive tiers: Impulsive evil-doers, people who lack extreme psychopathic features, but may be psychotic, and finally, the profoundly psychopathic i.e. "They have no remorse for what they've done to other people."
This is breathtakingly nasty. MSNBC is accusing Ms. Beard of being a psychopath, because she allegedly blathered on her cell phone for 16 hours straight. (According to MSNBC, her "crime" is "obvious.") They make this assessment based on a story from a group of Amtrak train riders (again, a special group of people) who confronted -- ganged up on -- one other person. From that, a "social etiquette expert" alleges that Ms. Beard has no empathy for those around her -- because she has the temerity to talk on her cell phone in public.

Some people just don't know their place.

We don't know what happened on that train. We don't know how many people "confronted" Ms. Beard. We don't know how they confronted her. We don't know how Ms. Beard was talking on her cell phone. We don't know for how long she was talking on her cell phone. We don't know what's real about this story, what's exaggerated, and what's been made up entirely by a group of fantasists who are willing to spend 16 hours riding from Oakland, California to Salem, Oregon.

But "the Internet" is "cheering" the treatment of a woman who was arrested for talking on her cell phone.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Now I'm actually kinda looking forward to that new "Governator" TV show and comic book

"After leaving the governor's office I told my wife about this event, which occurred over a decade ago," Schwarzenegger told the Times in a statement that also was sent to The Associated Press early Tuesday.
The above quote was copied and pasted from an AP story via yahoo! regarding a certain "event" that occurred over a decade ago.

That "event"?
Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has acknowledged that he fathered a child with a member of his household staff, a revelation that apparently prompted wife Maria Shriver to leave the couple's home before they announced their separation last week.
Oh, that event. When he "evented" a member of his household staff. What kind of man is Mr. Schwaretc, that the act of copulation is for him an "event"? That's actually pretty impressive.

"This is going to be a real event," he probably says to the household staff members he seeks to seduce. "Something you'll tell your child about. The child that will result from our event."

I wonder if this "event" was anything like the World's Fair? Or Maybe the World Cup Soccer Tournament. Or do you think it was more like a sleazy carnival with a few dirty, rickety old rides that feel like they're about to break apart at any time, and a "petting zoo" that consists of houseflies, cockroaches, a stray cat, and a frog that might be dead?

According to the story, the "event" occurred over a decade ago, but the couple split up after Mr. Schwaretc revealed to his wife, Mrs. Schwaretc, that said "event" had occurred. They split up earlier this year. Which means that Mr. Schwaretc lived with his wife for ten years without telling her about, you know, that whole event thing.

Okay, so big deal, he evented someone else. He is a bigshot Hollywood celebrity a nd a politician, so excuse me whilst I suppress a yawn. What I'm most interested in now is how will this affect Mr. Schwaretc's new animated television program and comic book series "The Governator." Remember that Stan Lee said that series would incorporate elements of Mr. Schwaretc's life:
The animated TV show and comic book, being co-developed by no less a superhero authority than Spider-Man co-creator Stan Lee, won’t be out until next year, but this week EW offers an exclusive early look at Arnold’s cartoon alter-ego. “The Governator is going to be a great superhero, but he’ll also be Arnold Schwarzenegger,” Lee says of the semi-fictional character. “We’re using all the personal elements of Arnold’s life. We’re using his wife [Maria Shriver]. We’re using his kids. We’re using the fact that he used to be governor. Only after he leaves the governor’s office, Arnold decides to become a crime fighter and builds a secret high-tech crime-fighting center under his house in Brentwood.”
Emphasis added because, oh boy doesn't that seem like a poor choice of words now?

But I do have a couple of suggestions for using the child result of “THE EVENT”: A supervillain called “The Bastard,” who totally destroys The Governator’s great new merchandising empire. Or, maybe he could be a superhero called “Love Child,” who rescues the “Maria Shriver” character from falling off a bridge or something, and when he rescues her she’s all like, “I’m really glad you were born, otherwise I would have fallen off that bridge!”

How awesome does this show look?????

Cross-posted over at the Coliseum, because I was too lazy to write two posts in a single day.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Mockey Mouse Vs Superiorman

I have started working on a comic strip story about copyright law, US history, comic book history, animation, funny animals, superheroes, corporatism, big "event" comics, crossovers, etc. It's a lampoon entitled "Mockey Mouse Vs Superiorman," and I've posted the first 21 pages at Comic Fury, a webcomics hosting site.

Below is a look at the cover:

If you find that intriguing, you can read the first 21 pages here. Hopefully I'll be updating the story weekly (as opposed to weakly), but it's a lotta work, whine whine whine. I shall try my best.

If you're interested in some of the background on what got me riled up enough to actually start a comic book satirizing copyright law and parodying comic books and animation, here are some posts you can read.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Jimmy Kimmel hates the hoi polloi

Jimmy Kimmel is an irritating host of an antiquated-format "talk show" called "Jimmy Kimmel Live." He was at one time a co-host of a dull-witted program called "The Man Show." He also appeared on "Win Ben Stein's Money," which remains the highlight of his career.

He's the luckiest human being on the planet -- little talent, no charm, and yet famous and wealthy.

He's also got a nasty, venal streak. Recently he appeared on an ESPN radio program, during which he displayed open contempt and hostility for those of you who aren't as lucky or privileged as he is. If you're filled with self-loathing, you can listen to his remarks here. Or, you can just read the important line, via TVtattle:
Kimmel tells ESPN "Sports Guy" Bill Simmons, a former "Jimmy Kimmel Live" writer, that he and his writers have to scour Twitter after coming up with a joke to make sure it hasn't been told before, so they could avoid joke-theft accusations. "You can't do jokes now if you find out somebody posted some Twitter and they have 4,000 followers," he says. "Like oh, well, I can't do that joke on my television show now because some guy living in his parent's basement put it up on his Twitter feed."
Pity the poor network talk show host -- oppressed by "some guy living in his parent's basement."

With one sentence, he strikes at a technology that democratizes self-expression, and the members of the great unwashed who dare use it. These people are threatening his position as the host of a network television talk show -- a program that exists for the sole purpose of helping corporate entertainers (actors, musicians) promote their corporate products (movies, television programs, CDs).

Can you believe they're letting just anybody say anything they want on that Twitter? They're not even corporate-approved.

Jimmy Kimmel is the same man who once produced a television program called "Crank Yankers." This was a charming program in which famous celebrities made prank calls to the great unwashed, recorded them, and then used puppets to enact the "hilarious" result. As wikipedia puts it:
The performers are given a basic outline of a premise by the writers, and call telephone numbers from a list of selected targets (known as "marks"). Using the basic premises, the performers improvise most of their lines, playing off of the responses of their marks, with the intention to keep them on the phone as long as possible.

With the exception of a few outside sources (including previous material from Jim Florentine and the Touch-Tone Terrorists), all the calls are made from Nevada. The Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 makes it illegal in most states to record telephone calls without both parties' consent. Under Nevada law, only one of the parties has to give consent (i.e., the caller), so prank calls can be recorded without the consent of the prank victims. One result of this was the series' schedule of creating and airing new episodes was fairly sporadic due to most of the celebrities living in Los Angeles, having Los Angeles-based jobs, and so were only periodically able to go to Las Vegas to make calls. Adam Carolla, for example, took his radio program to Las Vegas once or twice a year, and while there would record new calls for the program.
There's truly nothing funnier than a group of well-to-do, privileged celebrities calling people, wasting their time, and then recording it for laughs. Har-de-har-har. Here's an adoring Slate review from 2002:
Which brings me to what might be the show's greatest revelation: how astonishingly accommodating people in customer service can be! From the point of view of the show, cust-serv people are the perfect victims because they are paid to answer the phone and deal with problems. But they are also paid not to get emotionally involved. So the challenge for the actors becomes: Can they get a rise out of these people? Very often, the answer is no. The Yanker puppets dial up, telling a fast-food place that their chicken came with beaks in it ("I don't want it if it's going to be all beaky"); or a tow yard that their car has human sh*t in the back seat; or a tech help line that "I've got mail! I've got mail! I've got mail! I've got mail! I've got mail! YAY!!!" The service people are the model of composure—and even humor. Sometimes their subtle observations end up being the best parts of the skits, as is the tech guy's, "You got mail. Yes, you do."
Have you ever worked in a call center, or on a customer service line? These are not the best-compensated workers. They have to deal with anyone and everyone who calls. They have to take a lot of abuse from people. Crank calling them shows breathtaking contempt -- recording them and using the results for a television show is pure as sholism.

This same person who showed no compunction about wasting the time of working-class people became indignant over something called "Gawker stalker." The idea that average, everyday citizens of New York and LA might report sightings of celebrities in public places was too much for the delicate Mr. Kimmel, who suddenly started worrying about privacy issues. So he went after Emily Gould, at one time a Gawker editor:

The internet allows just anyone, even some guy living in his parents' basement, to express themselves. What an inconvenience that is to Mr. Kimmel!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The cast of "Jersey Shore" might ruin Italy's reputation

Here is a video of the current prime minister of Italy, a man called Silvio Berlusconi, interacting with an Italian citizen:

Mr. Berlusconi is also currently on trial, accused of having sexual relations with a 17 year-old prostitute:
Mr Berlusconi, 74, is accused of paying a teenage nightclub dancer for sex and later abusing his power in an attempt to cover it up.
The trial opens a day after taped conversations that feature Berlusconi discussing Ruby's age were leaked

Prosecutors claim that he paid her for sexual relations on 13 occasions when she was working as a 17-year-old escort – a year below the legal age of prostitution in Italy – and that he then tried to cover up the relationship through an abuse of office.

Here is a photo of two women kissing at one of Mr. Berlusconi's "Bunga Bunga" Parties:

The above image is one of many that
were discovered on laptops and cameras seized by prosecutors from dozens of female guests as part of their investigation into the Italian prime minister.

The 74-year-old is alleged to have paid for sex with a 17-year-old belly dancer called Karima El Mahroug – as well as 32 other women – giving them cash and jewellery. Miss El Mahroug, it is alleged, was under the legal age for prostitution.
Other pictures show unidentified women about to kiss as well as women in provocative poses. They were all taken in the early hours of the morning at Mr Berlusconi's home in Arcore near Milan, one of the venues for the parties.
Mr Berlusconi is said to have used his power as prime minister to secure the release of Miss El Mahroug when she was arrested for theft last May by wrongly telling Milan police she was related to the then Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Oh, but filming an American reality television program would just be too much for this delicate country to handle.
In a list posted in Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera, [Florence mayor Matteo] Renzi noted that Nicole 'Snooki' Polizzi and her friends are not to be filmed being served alcohol in clubs or drinking alcohol in public places so as not to promote Florence as supportive of excessive alcohol intake.

While conceding that he cannot ban the reality show from filming in his city outright, the politician, who was elected in 2009, indicated he will prevent the stars from being granted access to several of Florence's historic facilities.
One would hate to think that word might get out that alcohol was available in Italy.

Poodle Bitch is unconcerned about "changes" to the Scrabble board game

To Poodle Bitch, most "board" games might as well be called "bored" games, although she does on occasion enjoy the camaraderie and fun engendered by some of them -- Trivial Pursuit, Beyond Balderdash, and Scrabble in particular. Games like these enable you to get a better sense of your friends' personalities by displaying their knowledge and interest in the world around them. Because Scrabble is one of her more favored games, Poodle Bitch has noted with interest that the game makers are adding 3,000 new words to its official dictionary.
The game's publishers say the additions make this the "most comprehensive Scrabble wordlist ever produced," but that's doing little to soothe some players' ruffled feathers.

"I don't like slang words at all, but if they are going to put them in we will have to use them," Jean Gallacher, of Scotland's Inverness Scrabble Club, told The Scotsman. "I think there is too much slang in the English language as it is, with the way young people are talking."

Poodle Bitch would like to point out that many words that we today take for granted as perfectly acceptable began their lives as "slang" terms that the "young people" used. In fact, she notes that very often attempts to keep "slang" terms out of wider usage were actually snobbish, veiled attempts to keep people of the "lower orders" in their place. Dictionaries are decidedly undemocratic, as they are put together by small groups of people who make decisions as to what words to include and what to leave out based on their own prejudices, and deference to what has been considered "proper" before. This mindset was put into words by Samuel Johnson in the preface to his Dictionary -- the first major dictionary and the standard dictionary from which all subsequent English dictionaries were based:
Of the laborious and mercantile part of the people, the diction is in a great measure casual and mutable; many of their terms are formed for some temporary or local convenience, and though current at certain times and places, are in others utterly unknown. This fugitive cant, which is always in a state of increase or decay, cannot be regarded as any part of the durable materials of a language, and therefore must be suffered to perish with other things unworthy of preservation.

For instance, regarding the word "shabby," which was originally defined by Dr. Johnson in his Dictionary as "mean; paltry," he wrote,

A word that has crept into conversation and low writing; but ought not to be admitted into the language.

Poodle Bitch notes with some amusement that Dr. Johnson wrote that such a low word "ought not to be admitted into the language"; not, "ought not to be admitted into my particular vocabulary."

Johnson was motivated to write his dictionary by a fear that people would be unable to read Shakespeare, or Victorian writers, because the words used in their works would fall into disuse. So his inclination was to "fix" the language so as to slow its natural progression, the change of which was often accelerated by the "fugitive cant." He wanted to emphasize what he considered to be "durable" -- for instance, words Shakespeare used -- and to marginalize that which he did not. Dr. Johnson was remarkably successful in this endeavor. Human language has evolved far less since he wrote his first Dictionary than it ever did before. As invaluable as Poodle Bitch considers Dr. Johnson's work to be, she cannot help but marvel at the venality of his motives.

Poodle Bitch wonders if it is the prevalence of this attitude that has led to the decline of interest in the dictionary as a tool of reference. These antiquated, quaint printed relics cannot keep up in an age in which, if Poodle Bitch has a question about a definition of a word, she is just as likely to check the Urban Dictionary as Merriam Webster online.

Poodle Bitch knows few children, but those she does know crack open their dictionaries solely because a teacher has specifically assigned it. And, as for Scrabble, Poodle Bitch is only a casual player, and only uses the "official" dictionary in online versions of the game.

As far as Poodle Bitch is concerned, the idea of an "official Scrabble dictionary" is as antiquated as the idea of "a dictionary." So it has added words such as "grrl" (why only two "r"'s, by the way?), "thang," "innit," and "MySpace" (there is a word that would have been relevant five years ago)? This will affect very few of us.

Poodle Bitch believes that is a good thing.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

How will Arnold Schwarzenegger's separation affect his new "Governator" program?

Sad news today. I had to type out the word "Schwarzenegger" again. From now on, I'm just going to copy and paste it. Or, better yet, I won't write about that boob anymore.

It was announced that Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver, are separating. According to TMZ:
We're told Maria moved out of the couple's L.A. mansion months ago. Sources tell us she's been extremely unhappy in her marriage for years, complaining about Arnold's out of control ego, as well as his womanizing.

We're also told Maria feels Arnold has ignored her for years and she's felt terribly unappreciated.
Oh, but they seemed so happy, didn't they? Here they are in a typical photograph:

Celebrities split all the time. It's as natural as flatulence. But what worries me is, How will this affect Mr. Schwarzenegger's new "Governator" program?

Per Entertainment Weekly:
The animated TV show and comic book, being co-developed by no less a superhero authority than Spider-Man co-creator Stan Lee (pictured, right), won’t be out until next year, but this week EW offers an exclusive early look at Arnold’s cartoon alter-ego. “The Governator is going to be a great superhero, but he’ll also be Arnold Schwarzenegger,” Lee says of the semi-fictional character. “We’re using all the personal elements of Arnold’s life. We’re using his wife [Maria Shriver]. We’re using his kids. We’re using the fact that he used to be governor. Only after he leaves the governor’s office, Arnold decides to become a crime fighter and builds a secret high-tech crime-fighting center under his house in Brentwood.”
Oh dear gosh are we going to get a comic book cartoon superhero going through a divorce? For crying out loud who would watch that?

I mean, no one was going to watch it anyway, but still.

Happy couple pic source.

"Sister Wives" vs "Police Women of Broward County"

On Sunday, TLC ran two Christmas-themed episodes of the program "Sister Wives," which follows the polygamist Brown family. The episodes were filmed four months after the Browns "came out," and were being investigated by the Lehigh County sheriff's department. It was this investigation that led to the Browns leaving Utah for Nevada, which is presumably less intolerant of polygamy, at least reality television polygamy.

Intercut with a montage of the numerous Brown children dressing their Christmas tree (at a treacherously placed cabin the middle of a forbidding area of snow-covered Utah), father Kody Brown tearfully explains that families convicted of committing the "crime" of polygamy are broken up. Third wife Christine tells us that her grandparents were jailed for polygamy, with the wives separated and children sent off to various foster families, with all contact broken off.

It was about as moving a scene as you can expect from a reality show, but imagine if the Browns lived in Broward County?

Another TLC program, "Police Women of Broward County," follows a group of tough, semiphotogenic women who work for the police force of Broward County, Florida. Here is how wikipedia describes one of the show's cast members:
* Andrea Penoyer

Andrea is the total package — a smart and spunky 26-year old with a passion for her job. She's the only woman on one of South Florida's most effective anti-crime units. Andrea and her colleagues sweep the streets, work undercover and conduct intensive drug busts. Fast on her feet, she is the runner on the team and pops out of the car to chase the bad guy and take him down. They use whatever tactical methods are necessary to make the streets safer.

During the first season Andrea was a single mother, spending all her time off working out and training with her 8-year-old son, Dominic, who's typically glued to her hip. She takes him running, boxing, to the gym and even to the gun range. She wants Dominic to be tough and pushes him to be the best — in the same way she pushes herself. Between seasons, she became engaged with a single father with four children.

Andrea is also studying for a B.A. in public administration.
You know, wikipedia, sometimes I wonder about the impartiality of your articles.

Anyway, here is a picture of Andrea "Total Package" Penoyer:

And here is the "Total Package" offering up her philosophy of law enforcement, in a trailer for the first season of the show:

(via Radley Balko's great agitator website.)

There is always a good time to use a Taser, she gloats. The one depicted in a bikini, sunbathing, claims that there is always a good time to use a Taser.

Always a good time to use a Taser:
An 18-year-old Northeast Philadelphia man died Thursday after police Tasered him twice, authorities said.

Family members identified the dead man as Patrick Johnson. He had the mental capacity of a child, family members said.

Always a good time to use a Taser:
A federal appeals court says three Seattle police officers did not employ excessive force when they repeatedly tasered a visibly pregnant woman for refusing to sign a speeding ticket.
Always a good time to use a Taser:
Deputy Chris Bieze stopped Winkfein for speeding. After he completed the paper work -- she refused to sign it. That's when things got ugly. According to the deputy, he shoved Winkfein so she would get away from the side of the highway.

The elderly woman started to tease the officer... "daring" him to use his taser on her. He warned her several times she was in danger of being tasered.

The officer eventually did use the device that delivers a shock. Winkfein wasn't hurt, but you can hear here moans of agony on the tape right after it happened.
Always a good time to use a Taser:
Police Tasered an 86-year-old disabled grandma in her bed and stepped on her oxygen hose until she couldn't breathe, after her grandson called 911 seeking medical assistance, the woman and her grandson claim in Oklahoma City Federal Court. Though the grandson said, "Don't Taze my granny!" an El Reno police officer told another cop to "Taser her!" and wrote in his police report that he did so because the old woman "took a more aggressive posture in her bed," according to the complaint.
Always a good time to use a Taser:
Police in Mobile, Alabama, used pepper spray and a Taser on a deaf, mentally disabled who they said wouldn't leave a store's bathroom.
Always a good time to use a Taser:
Donnell Williams, a Wichita man who is effectively deaf without his hearing aids, was tasered by police in his own bathroom while wearing nothing but a towel around his waist. Why were the cops in the mans bathroom? They had busted into the man's house chasing down a reported shooting, which turns out to have been a false report.
Always a good time to use a Taser:
The rate of deaths in Taser-related incidents is rising as police forces increasingly adapt the conducted energy weapons, a Raw Story analysis finds.

A 2008 report (PDF) from Amnesty International found 351 Taser-related deaths in the US between June, 2001 and August, 2008, a rate of just slightly above four deaths per month.

A database of Taser-related deaths maintained at the African-American issues blog Electronic Village counts 96 deaths related to the use of Tasers since January, 2009.
Most people think of Tasers as the "safe," "non-lethal" alternative to guns. Andrea "Total Package" Penoyer is a dangerous, misinformed authoritarian whose sense of entitlement has been amplified by the presence of cameras following and celebrating her every move.

"Police Women of Broward County" isn't the only reality program that follows corrections officers. It isn't even the only "Police Women of" series on TLC. Spinoffs include PWO Memphis, Maricopa County, and Dallas. At reason, Radley Balko lists at least eight others. In that same article, he distills the problem of law enforcement reality shows:
Cop reality shows glamorize all the wrong aspects of police work. Their trailers depict lots of gun pointing, door-busting, perp-chasing, and handcuffing. Forget the baton-twirling Officer Friendly. To the extent that the shows aid in the recruiting of new police officers, they're almost certainly pulling people attracted to the wrong parts of the job.
To keep people watching, the footage has to be sensational. Smashing in doors, Tasering, punching, pointing guns. By their very natures, these programs encourage a dangerous attitude among the people they follow.

There is always a good time to use a Taser

Let us not forget the case of seven year old Aiyana Stanley-Jones, who was killed by a SWAT team in Detroit as they attempted to serve a search warrant:
At the little girl's home to execute a search warrant in a homicide investigation, they threw a flash bang — also known as a stun grenade — through the front window of the crowded apartment ... onto the couch where Aiyana was sleeping. Aiyana caught fire. As her grandmother tried to put out the flames, police entered, and a gun went off. Aiyana was shot in the neck and pronounced dead at the hospital.
This SWAT team was trying to create exciting footage for one of those cable network law enforcement reality shows:
The day before, Fieger, who once represented Dr. Jack Kevorkian, claimed he had seen videotape of the incident filmed by a reality-TV crew that had accompanied the police. He alleged that police, moreover, may have raided the wrong side of the duplex, since the 34-year-old suspect was eventually arrested in another part of the building.
(By the way, the show was A&E's "The First 48.")

So, as bad as it is that the Browns have to uproot themselves, leave their friends and schools and their entire lives and start over in another state in order to escape prosecution for committing a non-violent and victimless crime, at least they're on "Sister Wives," and not on a TLC reality program in which they have to deal with the likes of Andrea "Total Package" Penoyer. The entire family might end up Tasered.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The 10 scariest films of all time

In honor of Mother’s Day, I thought I would impress you all with my knowledge of great scary films, but only as a way of offering my advice as to what you should watch to make yourself scared this Mother’s Day. Since I am an adult now, and I don’t get scared by movies (the only things that scare me now are (1) losing a limb, (2) human children, and (3) murder by enema), all of my choices are movies that I saw when I was a child. Most of these movies I haven’t seen since, so my memory of them is vague, but that’s okay, because I am trying to help you to find scary movies to watch on your own. You’re welcome, and here we go:

Number 10: Sammy Terry, the host of “Nightmare Theater,” the Friday night horror movie show on Indianapolis’s WTTV channel 4

For something like 30 years, channel 4 had this show called Nightmare Theater, in which a man appeared in weird nonsensical makeup, a cape and hood, and yellow dishwashing gloves and introduced horror films that were either in the public domain or could be obtained by the station on the cheap. His look was disconcerting, but even as a small child of five I was more befuddled than frightened by him (he sort of looked like Cthulu’s kitchen help). Moreover, he was always described on the show as a “ghoul,” and I didn’t know what a “ghoul” was. So one day I asked my mother what a ghoul was, and she explained, “A ghoul is someone who digs up dead bodies and has sex with them.”

Now I was scared of him. That is genuinely creepy. Why on earth would the independent Indianapolis station have as their host a man who digs up dead bodies and has sex with them? And exactly how did he do it? Did he dig up just any body, at any stage of decomposition? From that point on, any time I saw Sammy Terry, Ghoul, I wondered about his grave-digging and corpse copulation activities, and was genuinely terrified. They never actually showed him having sex with dead bodies, but often times horror lies in what is not seen, not what is seen.

Number 9: The episode of some show from the 1970s, I think it was “Starsky and Hutch,” in which the killer turned out to be some guy dressed as a woman.

I can’t remember all the specifics on this one, but there was something about a killer, and there was a scene toward the end of the episode where the killer is getting ready to go out, and he sits at a vanity and puts on makeup, and lipstick, and a wig. The room in which he was sitting was eerily lit, as if by candles. He was talking to himself, but I can’t remember what he was saying. I’m not even sure if it was actually “Starsky and Hutch” or not, but for some reason I’m remembering that the actor David Soul was in trouble, but maybe I’m conflating this terrifying 1970s television program with the ludicrous and decidedly unscary vampire movie, “Children of Iowa,” or something like that.

Anyway, I do remember watching this episode in the little pink dress that my mother used to make me wear. She had always wanted a girl, and was painfully disappointed by my birth. It would be a full three years before my sister was born, so I must have seen this killer-in-women’s-clothes show when I was around two or three. And because I was wearing girls’ clothes, I wondered if I, too, might one day turn out to be a killer. I am happy to report that I did not.

When I did a YouTube search for "Starsky and Hutch cross dressing," this video came up. I don't know if this is the actual episode I remember.

Number 8: The picture of Sissy Spacek covered in blood from the movie “Carrie.”

When I was very small, we had HBO, and every month they used to publish a small booklet which contained a programming guide, complete with descriptions of upcoming films, and some photos. The month before the film “Carrie” was to air, we received in the mail one such guide, featuring the aforementioned photo. Not having seen the film yet, I was filled with horrific questions. How did that blood get all over her? Did someone stab her in the head, and the blood leaked all the way down her body?

I asked my mother about it. “How did she get all that blood all over herself?” My mother just smiled, and told me to wait a month and we’d find out, together. See below.

This image, or something like it, appeared in HBO's programming guide. Way to go, HBO ("Human Body Odor").

Number 7: The scene in this movie, I think it might have been called “War of the Gargantuas,” but I’m not sure, in which a man floating out in the middle of a large body of water looks over the side of his small boat and sees a large, terrifying creature standing on the bottom of the water and reaching up his giant hand to grab the boat.

When I was a small child, there were only a few cable television stations. I think that TBS was one of them, but I might also have been watching WGN. These were called “superstations.” They used to show old movies on the weekend mornings and when my mother hadn’t come back from partying the night before I would get up, make myself some breakfast, and watch whatever happened to be on. One particular day I was watching a movie with the scene described above. Just as the hand was about to reach the boat and my anticipation had reached a painful fever pitch, the phone jangled horribly. I dropped my cereal bowl and got cereal all over the chair on which I was sitting.

On the phone was my mother, asking me to call my aunt to ask her to come and bail her out of jail (she’d forgotten my aunt’s number and she only got one phone call – I’m not sure where my Dad was). I never did find out if that fisherman got killed by that giant hand; I had to spend the next hour cleaning that chair. Mother hated it if I spilled anything, and I was such a nervous child. Oh, nevermind.

I think one of these creatures reached up out of the water and grabbed a fisherman's boat. Scary.

Number 6: The commercial for the National Enquirer tabloid, in which they suggested that Marilyn Monroe’s ghost claimed that she had been murdered.

I don’t know how many commercials the National Enquirer ever ran, but I do know that at least one of those commercials is among the most terrifying films of all time. The narrator said something about “Did Marilyn Monroe’s ghost cry murder from the grave?” and then a woman’s voice plaintively called out, “Murder!” It sounded very much like the voice that my mother used when she’d hide in my closet and cry out “Murder!” in an attempt to lull me to sleep.

This isn't the commercial I remember, but it does feature a horrible story about a mother who married her son.

Number 5: The cover of Meat Loaf’s “Bat out of Hell” album.

When I was a child, every single house I ever went to had two albums, always and without fail. The first was Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumors.” The cover of that album is fairly innocuous, although I certainly don’t want to spend any time gazing at it. The second was Meat Loaf’s “Bat out of Hell.” This terrifying image of an elegantly constructed blond man straddling a motorbike with a horse head on the handlebars that is exploding out of a grave while a demonic bat watches from his perch on a gravestone was hypnotic in its terror. It was so beautiful, so amazingly rendered that I could not bring myself to look away from it, even as I filled with terrible loathing. The man that my mother claimed was my father, a motorcycle enthusiast himself, eerily resembled the man on the bike – enough so that I wondered if the artist who painted the cover, the great Richard Corben, might have used this man as a model. He was away from home enough that it was plausible. Perhaps on one of those long “road trips” he wasn’t just staying with his other family, the one he really loved, as my mother used to tell me, but he was making a living posing for Richard Corben.

When I discovered Heavy Metal magazine and Mr. Corben’s great science fictional fantasy comic “Den,” it seemed this guess might be correct. Den, too, slightly resembled my father. In fact, all of Mr. Corben’s men slightly resembled my father. Come to think of it, the women slightly resembled my mother.

And I haven’t even mentioned the terrifying spoken prologue to the song “You Took the Words Right out of My Mouth.” And I won’t, either. It’s too terrifying.

Number 4: Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.

When I was around three or four, my favorite television show was “Fernwood 2Night.” This syndicated show was a parody of talk shows, in particular those one might find on independent stations (like WTTV channel 4 – see above), and featured Martin Mull and Fred Willard as the hosts of a talk show in Fernwood, Ohio. The show was hilarious. Unfortunately, it aired weeknights at 11:30, which was well past my bedtime. However, I had a deal with my parents: If I fell asleep on the couch before my 8:45 bedtime, I could sleep on the couch all night. So, I would pretend to fall asleep on the couch, and they would leave me alone, and watch TV.

This plan was completely flawless, except for one notable flaw: The show Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman ran at 11 pm. This program, which also took place in Fernwood, Ohio, was the show from which “Fernwood 2Night” was spun off. It was a parody of soap operas, and my mother’s favorite show. Although it was ostensibly a “comedy,” it was in fact the most horrible kind of horror, featuring as it did a man impaled on a Christmas tree (I think that character was a wife beater, and played by Martin Mull), kidnapping, and a child televangelist electrocuted when a television set fell into his bathtub. Also, one night my parents had sex on the living room floor while it was on, and I had to pretend to be asleep.

Number 3: Homebodies.

Why do the young fear the elderly? It because we see in the lines of their faces the mirror image of the decay that inevitably affects us all, despite our best efforts, the only cure for which is cold death? Could be. Or, it could be that the elderly are cold-blooded killers. That is the message of “Homebodies,” a film about elderly people whose apartment building is being seized by the government so that a private company can turn it into expensive condominiums, or something like that. The libertarian angle appealed to me, I admit, but that’s not really the point of the film.

The point of the film is that a bunch of old people go around killing normal people.

“Don’t they look like your grandparents?” my mother asked me.

“Yeah, that reminds me, you’re going to have to visit your grandparents for a couple of months this summer. Mommy and I are going to take some ‘us’ time,” my father added.

I was too sad and scared to make any reply.

“Oh, look, he likes this movie so much he can’t take his eyes off it,” my mother said.

“You like this movie, Ricky?” my father asked.

I mumbled something.

“We’ll be sure and let your grandparents know how much you love this movie, so you can watch it all summer long,” he said.

My grandparents appreciated that they had a movie to keep me occupied while they went to their nightly poker games. For myself, I was left to watch over my sister, and suffer through “Homebodies,” with its images of elderly murder, endlessly.

If you're interested, you can watch the film "Homebodies" on YouTube.

Number 2: The first ten minutes or so of the 1966 “Batman” movie, in which Batman is attacked by a shark.

Please don’t ask me to elaborate on this one. Mother loved sharks.

Number 1: The movie “Carrie.”

When I was a small child, HBO would show R-rated movies only at night:

My mother very much wanted to watch “Carrie,” but was too scared to watch it on her own, so she agreed to let me stay up and watch it with her. Actually, she forced me to stay up and watch it with her. I was four at the time, so I couldn’t resist her. She put some black cherry incense on, turned off all the lights, and we sat there together on the couch and watched the film. My mother, who had frizzy red hair, very much resembled Piper Laurie, the actress who played Carrie’s mother, and told Carrie that menstruation was god’s way of punishing her, or something. Whenever something bad would happen to the title character, my mother would laugh and laugh. Sometimes she’d say something like, “Take that, you little bitch!”

By the end of the movie, when Carrie goes crazy and starts destroying stuff, I was so scared that I wanted to go to my room, but mother wouldn’t let me. “The movie’s not over yet, and I’m not raising a quitter!” she said. Finally, mercifully, I passed out. When I awoke the next morning, I found a note taped to my forehead. Could I please take care of my sister, as my mother had gotten a call from someone and had to rush out to join him at two in the morning.

If Carrie were around today, she would probably be one of the X-Men.

These memories are what Mother’s Day is all about. I hope that you make some sweet memories yourself, today.

Carrie pic source.
War of the Gargantuas pic source.
Bat out of Hell pic source.