Friday, August 24, 2012

Bayonetta rules and you should care

 I wrote a guest post for my friend Alyssa's blog. You should read it, and her other stuff because she thinks more and harder about pop culture than anyone ever.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

In Defense of Boredom

"This beats the shit out of FarmVille."

Note: This post contains anecdotes about my personal life, and not many jokes. Both these things are atypical of the I Drop Things experience most loyal readers have come to expect. Sorries plural.

"You have to learn to entertain yourself."

These might be the most-repeated sentence spoken by my parents during my childhood. It's certainly up there with "Your dad's ponytail gets me so hot" and "Nobody can ever know Lauren was adopted." (Sorry, Sis! Ripping the Band-Aid off! You should have known when nobody else was blond!) Children are bored a lot. Part of this is an abundance of energy, but honestly most of it is the lack of freedom. You can't do what you want whenever you want: something I have to occasionally remind myself is AMAZING about adulthood.

Adults do things they don't want to do, but it's all in the service of other things we enjoy. I didn't want to get up early this morning, pick up my girlfriend from the auto shop and take her back home. But I did these things, because I like my girlfriend. I got to make a decision, and spice up that decision with blasting heavy metal in my car and detouring to get McDonald's breakfast. So adult errands feature the following bonuses: 1) you are doing this for a reason, 2) you get to drive, 3) Mickey D's whenever you goddamned want it. Which for me isn't often, but the freedom to make decisions is really the point.

As a child, you don't get to make decisions. Errands were always the worst, and I remember getting furious when my parents would tack on extra stops. "Mom, I have budgeted only enough surly attitude for the grocery store and the post office. The gas station I could manage, but only because you let me pump. But this right here, this hardware store? This is BULLSHIT.  You won't even let me come inside because of the nail-throwing incident! They were shitty darts, Mom. I figured that out pretty quick. It's done." I wasn't quite so eloquent at the time; nor was I allowed to say "shit" in front of my parents. But you get the idea, and if you're over the age of 20 this was your childhood too. There was a lot of time sitting around bored, especially during the summer. My summer days were spent at the marine lab where my dad worked, and the park adjacent to it. It was so boring I'd actually look forward to school starting again. As a 10-year-old, what do you do for six hours a day by yourself? And how much value is there in children entertaining themselves?

"Thank God we don't have to talk
to each other anymore."
I've been thinking about this since last week, when I was waiting at the local bagel shop along with a mother/son combo. The kid was about ten, and he was utterly engrossed with what appeared (from the case) to be his mother's smart phone. He was playing a video game; I don't know which, but apparently it was transfixing. I thought about my boredom-filled childhood, and how awesome it would have been to have easy portable access to cool video games. But then I wondered: what would I have done back then, in this kid's place? From where he sat, he could have turned his head to see out the glass back door. My dog Bella was tied up out there, radiating as much cuteness as possible to attract attention from passers-by. She is an unrepentant whore. Children love Bella once they're big enough to not be intimidated by non-trivial dogs, but this kid never even looked at her. He didn't even glance up when I came in the door. Maybe a child of this age doesn't like dogs. But I watched him the whole time, and he didn't even notice. His mom's order took forever--I came in later and left with my order earlier--and the game was everything. The mom talked to him once, about the game. If that kid had been me nearly 20 years ago, I'd definitely have checked out the dog. And the bagel shop itself was filled with some interesting things! I know this because, while waiting for many bagels over many visits to this shop, I  HAD EXPLORED THEM. I'm always reading the ingredients of hot sauce bottles, handling knickknacks and crap like that. So I, an adult, had explored the possibilities of this room more thoroughly than a bored child. Why? Because he had a smart phone with free video games, and I never have. This phone, while superficially enhancing this child's life, had compromised his natural inclination to explore his surroundings.

Since that incident, I've been keeping an eye out for children playing on cell phones. Turns out, it's everywhere. Grocery stores are the worst; kids trudge like zombies down the aisles in the metal cart's wake, narrowly avoiding collisions with other patrons. Kids are just absorbed with smart phones. This isn't a criticism of the child. I had a Game Boy as a kid, and if that thing had been around all the time (like a phone) it would have been my whole life. It's not even a criticism of the parent, who just wants her kid to shut up and behave for twenty minutes. My parents sent us on "missions" around the store to find items from a list. It probably didn't save any time, but it got two children out of their hair. Smart phones are the easiest way to distract your obnoxious whelps, so that's what you use. I think the latest wave of games should get some blame on their own; the free-to-play model dominating the mobile market doesn't lend itself to exploratory games. When I was a kid, we sat down and played Monkey Island, which at least had clever jokes and forced you to think outside the box. It wasn't the click-this-do-this-get-points compulsion/reward loop that fuels modern gaming.

But I think that's limiting. I don't think our society is improved by this phenomenon--children NOT spending hours each day bored out of their skulls. If I have one complaint about human beings in the Internet Age (as if I've really lived in any other age), it's their reliance on structure. The Internet is fun, but it's structured by nature. There are buttons; you push them and a limited selection of things will happen. Video games are fun, but they're rote pursuits of set rewards: almost the definition of structure. You know what I did when I was bored without a book or TV or game system? I explored my environment for possibilities. I would find the coolest thing in the room and come up with my own games. If I was outside in Kakaako Beach Park with nothing to do and nobody to go cardboard-sledding with (there were steep grassy hills but no snow), I'd come up with elaborate space-opera stories in my head. Every day I'd add a little more to the story, always keeping it between my ears, until I had been working on them for literally years. If I had a single friend available, we'd imagine ourselves heroes in amazing circumstances, conceiving problems to solve and talking each other through the solutions. These stories and characters also lasted years. These were role-playing games without pen, paper or dice. But I can still vividly recall the details. At the post office, I'd demand a number from my dad and run off to find that particular P.O. box among the thousands lining the walls. I'd imagine far-away fantasy lands and draw out their borders with a stick in the sand.
These are really shitty ways to entertain yourself. But I assert they're valuable, along with the boredom that produced them. With my Game Boy, would have made up all those things? Would I still compulsively make up games and counting systems and stories whenever there's a quiet moment? Creativity is inborn to a degree, but it will always be more a skill than a trait. Like all skills, it needs to be practiced. And at its most basic level, creativity is a response to emptiness. When a space is full, we enjoy it. When it's empty, we fill it. Children are particularly adept at filling imaginary spaces, and they're drawn in easily when those spaces are full. I submit the proliferation of mobile screens and computers is a negative thing for our youth, but also for our culture.

A question with more relevance to us twentysomething without kids: do I have enough quiet moments now? When's the last time I was truly bored? Personally, I've avoided getting a smart phone to this day. My flip phone is fine for calls, and I don't want to be "connected" full-time. Everyone I know with a smart phone is constantly distracted by it. At concerts, folks are more focused on recording the show than dancing. On trains, people play Angry Beavers while I people-watch. In line at the store, fellow patrons check their texts as I imagine the cashier's life story. Do I get anything out of it? Tangibly, no. But our brains are products of the work they do; neuroplasticity is well-established. Everything we do alters the wiring in our skulls, ever-so-slightly. Mental skills must be actively cultivated if you ever hope to accomplish anything with them, and childhood is obviously crucial to human development. If a society makes its children 50% less bored, denying them hundreds of boredom events each year, it's almost by definition making them less creative. There's simply no scientific way that smart phone proliferation isn't limiting and channeling the collective human mind. LOLcats are funny, but after a thousand LOLcats it's still just a cat picture with a funny caption. There is creativity, but it's so specific and narrow and prescriptive. What's the next creative step? I know! Condescending Willy Wonka! This is the progress of human civilization? Check out this humorous .gif compared with this one. Both those people felt creative as they submitted those to a website that will keep them locked up in perpetuity, unable to be downloaded or embedded. No, they must be LINKED! To generate traffic for QuickMeme, an aggregator of other people's unpaid "creativity." This is why human civilization is doomed. We're all more interested in eating each other than building things.

Maybe this piece has seemed curmudgeonly. I don't want to dump the Internet and go back to newspapers and novels. I just want us, as a society, to acknowledge the value of boredom. To step away from being Connected and ignore our texts and e-mails for stretches every day. You don't have to immerse yourself in the real world; imagination is fine. Just do something, think of something, CREATE something that didn't exist before. And let it flit away into the air; forget about it after you're done, if you don't like it. Maybe the next one will be better. Maybe, one day, one of them will be truly amazing. The biggest creative breakthroughs I've personally had came as the ultimate results of single, idle ideas. Those ideas didn't make it, but something similar did. Dozens of I Drop Things posts originated while I was out running--ideas I never would have come up in a gym on a treadmill in front of a muted ESPN broadcast. Fuck you, Around the Horn. You are killing human civilization. It was on a run this very day that I was inspired to finally write this post; that I was able to finally put together my thoughts and articulate (helpfully rather than rantingly) why these iPhone brats bother me.

I run on a bike trail along the San Francisco Bay. it's relatively cool, little-trafficked, and the scenery is gorgeous. California poppies grow on one side, orange blooms screaming for attention. On the other is a short incline and then a long tidal shallow. The tide was out at that point, exposing drenched stinking mud for a hundred yards. Two small children, maybe eight years old, squatted at the base of the incline. Wielding plastic shovels and buckets, they dug lamely in the mud, unwilling to play with anything so foul. No adults in sight. Disappointed little faces, because they were clearly looking for critters and not finding them. I thought back instantly to my own childhood, goofing around on the beach and unsure where the cool animals hid. "Turn the rocks over!" I bellowed down to the kids. They looked up at this shirtless sweaty hairy ape and his panting dog. "All the best stuff is under there!"

They reached down and flipped a stone between them. Recoiled a step, shrieking "CRABS" as a dozen little grey-green crustaceans skittered away in all directions. I kept running, since I knew what came next and had lived it all years before. The next time you flip the stone, you're expecting the crabs and you'll try to catch one. It'll escape, but by the third stone you've learned their movements and get your fingers on one. It pinches; you howl again and drop it. But the pain fades in seconds, and the next time you try to grab the claw itself.  It breaks off, along with the whole arm. Next time, a different approach. It probably took me a dozen flips to catch my first crab. The key is scooping from behind and gripping the back of its shell with fingertips, right where the egg clasp folds into the underside of its shell. Absolutely amazing. If I hadn't been bored out of my fucking mind, it never would have happened. "Let's go wallow in the mud and turn rocks over" doesn't appeal when you've got Angry Birds.

Just as responsible cat owners need to confuse the little shits, responsible parents are obliged to bore their children. They'll be a little more obnoxious, but so much more worthwhile.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Stupid Idea Making a Stupid Amount of Sense

"I'm just checking for lice."
Recently this publication announced its tentative support for the presidential candidacy of one Willard Mittens Romney. We may have jumped the gun. It turns out that one Willard Mittens Romney is in a logical, legal and political pickle for which he has no real response: specifically, he told the Massachusetts Electoral Commission in 2002 that he'd left Bain Capital in 2002, told the SEC the same, yet told the Federal Electoral Commission he'd left in 1999 in addition to the national media. These are three stories, all under penalty of perjury, and they can't all be true. This won't end his candidacy or even matter to 45% of the country because of THAT BLACK MUSLIM WITH THE SOCIALISM RUINING MEDICARE (sorry, Drew Magary), but Romney's getting pummeled and literally has no response. Because he committed the cardinal sin of lying: playing the short game. You need to plan out your longer path, including any possible runs to the presidency, before deciding which lies you'll tell at which points to cover up your shady dealings in the past. What you cannot do, under any circumstances, is simply tell whatever lie happens to be most convenient at that particular time. Eventually you're going to run into your own lies. Every child who tries to scam his parents at age 6 knows this. For the record, I don't think Willard did anything illegal while at Bain or in his tax filings. But he gamed the system the way billionaires game it, and that looks bad to normal human beings. Speaking of which:

I figured out Mitt Romney. I figured out the entire Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints of Wealth Gospel of Excessive Prepositional Phrases. Not everyone in the church, but its highest elites. Here's my thesis: they're vampires. Mitt Romney is a high-level vampire, but not the absolute highest. This seems stupid and contrived, I know. But as the great Nick Frost once said, "It's NOT ridiculous, Dad! It's very un-ridiculous. And the more I think about it, the more un-ridiculous it all is!" There's just too many coincidences for this to be a coincidence. Let's be clear: we're not talking about classical vampires. Mitt Romney is obviously not set aflame by sunlight. Nor are other top Mormons. They're more like Twilight vampires (Stephanie Meyer is a huge Mormon. COINCIDENCE?!), lacking any weaknesses or defining traits other than otherworldly hawtness.

At his inauguration, President Romney will place his metal claw
on the Book of Mormon and take the Oath of La Magra, the Blood God.
1) Impeccably-coiffed hair, silver at the temples
2) Effortlessly handsome, nearly-ageless face
3) Vast personal wealth
4) Mysterious sons rarely seen in daylight, certainly not the scorching heat of the Middle Eastern sun fighting the wars they and their father support
5) No evidence of normal bodily functions, wearing the same pair of blue jeans day after day and never appearing to sweat
6) Devotion to Austrian economics. To be fair, every policy stance Mitt holds is just a weak-kneed capitulation to the most powerful interest group concerning that issue. But if there's one demographic who'd be down for tight money policy and no inflation at any price, it'd be vampires. Think about it: inflation hurts incumbent creditors. Who's more "incumbent" than a vampire amassing wealth over centuries of unholy dominion? Mitt's gotta be PISSED the silver dollars originally minted by Johnny Tremaine can't each buy a slave family off the docks at Norfolk.

The entire organization stands for the unification of power. Think about it: for just about every religion in human civilization, the clergy stands apart from the normal populace. They don't engage in normal business; in many faiths they're bound to vows of poverty and chastity. The essence of true religion is un-achievement: separating enlightenment from the worldly concerns looking to pollute it. I think religion is ridiculous, but if you believe so fervently you're willing to take orders then my hat's off. I don't wear hats because they interfere with my satellite-dish ears, but imagine I wore a hat and took it off to a monk. But not to offer it to him as a gift or anything, because I like my hat and, you know...poverty. Monks can't be hoarding hats off the street. That's inappropriate.

Anyway, the un-worldliness of spiritual leaders has (at the best of times) been a counterweight to tyranny and oppression. See: King, Martin Luther, before he went back in time to fight Lucifer's giant robot avatar. But in the LDS church, lay members assume the role of spiritual leaders. This might sound good in theory. In reality, the richest and most socially/economically powerful men become spiritual leaders. See: Romney, Willard Mittens, a high-ranking bishop or something in the wacky-ass hierarchy Mormons invented. So you end up with power concentrated in the hands of only a few men, who JUST SO HAPPEN to have been granted the right to take tons of wives. So these men now wield a monopoly over every type of power in society: social, economic, spiritual, and sexual. Sounds like...VAMPIRES.  What do vampires do?

--They amass huge wealth, using it to insulate themselves and become unattached to normal human society. If you've ever met a Mormon man, you probably wondered "why was that interaction so weird?' Because he's been raised by vampires and is preparing himself for the cult. Incidentally, I know many Mormon women who are lovely and intelligent and completely wasted on the weirdos they will eventually marry for lack of other options. Sorry ladies, we all have to make choices.
--They amass harems of women, as young and virginal as possible, for crazy vampire blood sex. I don't really know how it works, because my tastes in pornography are pretty vanilla. Reverse cowgirl puts my needle at red, and NOT in the sexual way that sounds like. The exact opposite, in fact. And nobody should spit on anyone else, or do stuff with his/her butt.
--They build huge palaces that are at once extravagant and austere. Check out the LDS super mega space temple in San Diego--paint it black (wanted to make a Rolling Stones joke but it's too much work for such a middling band) and you've got a vampire fortress. But these are shiny sparkle vampires, so it makes extra sense that the temple would be white:

--Having built said palaces, they don't let anyone inside them.
--Did I mention Stephanie Meyer is super-Mormon and the entire Twilight series is a plea for young girls to exalt the sexual power of older, stronger men?
--Eventually, all powerful Mormon men (the ones who've been inducted into the vampire blood cult) start to look alike. Observe Mittens versus Jon Huntsman, who missed out on the nomination because he didn't have as many vampire-gold vaults. Two hundred years and he'll be ready to contend.

The most obvious one: maybe you know plenty of Mormons and you're very certain (HOW CERTAIN?!) they aren't vampires. Maybe you are yourself a Mormon and know more about the church than I do. Maybe--and this is crazy--maybe you don't even believe in vampires. If any of these things are the case, then please accept my apologies as the proprietor of this Laughing Establishment. Please don't post indignant or offended comments, unless you are also forwarding this story to your entire LDS church and creating a flashpoint of condemnation. That would be fine, because angry Mormon traffic is preferable to guys in Finland searching for pictures of I Need Money, or large numbers of people searching for "tits."

Anyway, if you're really super-offended, just do what Mitt Romney did when it turned out three years' worth of his business record would impede his political future: go back in time and retro-actively NOT read this post.

Mormon men are vampires the end.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Movie Pitch: "Martin Luther"

Pew pew, mah brothuhs and sistuhs.
Nick and I do a lot of drinking. Most of it happens standing around the kitchen/living room area on The Humboldt's ground floor. This being a phenomenal venue for Intellectual Discussions of Great Rigor and Turgidity, we have some highly productive sessions. Others are spent laughing at foul-mouthed cartoons. We contain volumes. But our movie discussions are the best; something about that second drunk person in the room does wonders for the creative process. What follows isn't our first idea or necessarily the best, but it's the most immediately marketable. It's my take on these recent "wacky historical bullshit action movies." Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter would be the most topical example. The 1860s were arguably our nation's most fascinating decade and the public seems to have limitless appetites for Civil War material. The 1960s were also up there for fraught decades, so why not bring them together?

Working Title: "Martin Luther"
Oh hey, it's Stringer Bell!

One-sentence synopsis:  The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. goes back in time to fight the Civil War.

Character List With Ideal Actors, in order of appearance:
MARTIN LUTHER KING: Idris Elba (perfect mix of gravitas and action-hero believability. Also, being English, his Mississippi-inflected public speaking will be amazing)

GOD: this is the easiest, most obvious casting choice of all time. Morgan Freeman. Book it.

CAPTAIN RODERICK VAN STUNTINGWOOD, leader of a U.S. Marshal team. He's a nice fellow, but got his post through family and is so hopelessly patrician that nobody will mind when we kill him off at the end of Act 1. The part will be played by Shia LeBoeuf, who needs to play more onscreen characters who suffer violent deaths.

MUNCIE COLLINS, "CHICKEN" MACTEETERS, AND ALDO BUCADIBEPPO, three other U.S. Marshals. Muncie is a slow West Virginian, Chicken is a fast-talking Boston Mickhead, and Aldo is a wacky gregarious Italian immigrant with a penchant for circus knife tricks and fine cooking. They are a blend of ethnic and national stereotypes, particularly Aldo because I'm a sucker for ridiculous Italian people. I don't actually care who plays these guys; just nail the stereotypes and they'll be fine for comic relief.

"'Supporting Actor,' my ass."
GENERAL ULYSSES S. GRANT: Denzel Washington. "But Tony, that makes no sense! There were no black generals in the Civil War, and this man went on to be President! Making him black just throws the United States' history out the window!" Oh noes, I've pierced the fragile bubble of historical authenticity that previously surrounded my "MLK battles Satan in the Civil War" story. Would you like to see Denzel play Ulysses Grant and get a bunch of action scenes? Yes, of course you would. Everyone would. Let's move on.

FOXY YOUNG WIDOW WHO TEMPTS OUR HERO: Megan Fox. She's hot, white, believable as a jezebel figure, and isn't too proud to take minor demeaning roles in big action movies about The Doings of Men. See: every single role of her career.

JOHN FITZGERALD KENNEDY: Chris Pine. He's got the looks, action-movie cred, and comedic timing. Dunno if he could pull off the strange way JFK talks, but a professional Hollywood diction coach should get us to a passable Mayor Quimby rip-off by the time shooting starts.

"And a capital evening
to ALL Y'ALL."

GENERAL NATHAN BEDFORD FORREST/VOICE OF SATAN: Benedict Cumberbatch. Ghostly-white, weird, aloof and sinister. I bet the guy would do a great Satan, and as General Forrest he'd give us the greatest/most awful English-to-Southern accent transplant since Kenneth Branaugh in "Wild Wild West." Which will come up again before this pitch is over, I promise you.

Note: You may notice I've reunited two of the three stars from Glory, the fantastic 1988 film about the Union's first all-black regiment. To that, I say: it's Morgan and Denzel. Fuck you.

Plot Outline:
We open in 1968, with a montage of contemporary TV stock footage of the King assassination. Zoom out to a shot of an actual TV playing this footage in a stark white room. MLK is watching it, as if in a dream, wearing a white suit. Looking around, he sees he's in Heaven's waiting room and realizes he's died. God enters the room and tells MLK he has a problem: Satan is intervening in the Civil War on the side of the South, by possessing General Nathan Bedford Forrest (later the founder of the KKK) and using demon magic. Before MLK can go to his eternal rest, he has to go back in time and save America from falling into darkness.

The religious angle is necessary for the integrity of MLK's character. We need to overcome MLK's famous pacifism rooted in Christian tradition: only God could ask him to own faces like this. As for Satan's influence on General Forrest, keep in mind that people in the South actually have fond feelings for the Confederacy. They're rooted in a wacky backwards-ass tribalism, but that's why it's the South. You can't portray folk heroes as tools of Satan, so we have to pick someone already renowned as an evil motherfucker. Finally, the religious angle lets us explain away time travel, gives MLK a soft landing in the past because God can hook him up, and lets God grant MLK superhuman combat powers like Denzel's character in "The Book of Eli." But God's power isn't limitless in the Satan-tainted past, so if MLK dies in the past he'll fall straight to Hell where Satan wants him for his life of adultery.

Appearing in 1863 at the height of the Civil War, MLK is given (by God) a background story and position in Lincoln's government. He's a U.S. Marshal, placed on a small team of Marshals sent into enemy territory in pursuit of Confederate paramilitary raiders. On the way south, MLK and company meet up with General Ulysses Grant and some of his men. Near its destination, the train comes under attack from the very same raiders MLK is hunting. After an awesome battle across the train (horses can be used as well), the raiders are driven off by MLK and General Grant. Captain Stuntingwood is killed in the battle and MLK's God-infused combat prowess (and awesome public speaking!) makes him the natural leader. They go their separate ways, and the band of Marshals journeys deep into the woods of Tennessee.

MLK and the Marshals discover a raider camp and jump them for questioning. They learn about a large secret base where General Bedford is pursuing an important project. Before they can act on this information, the Marshals are jumped by raider reinforcements. MLK manages to escape, but his comrades are taken prisoner. Alone and wounded, he hikes through the woods looking for help. Being in Confederate Tennessee, MLK needs to avoid both the raiders and the civilians. He eventually collapses, and is taken in by a foxy white lady who's recently widowed and lives alone. MLK recovers but refuses to sleep with the white lady when she wants his business. He feels guilty about his past indiscretions, but she accuses him of being a racist and kicks him out. Wandering down the road, MLK finds a disoriented white man. Recognizing him as JFK, MLK greets him and discovers he's been sent by God as aid, and as punishment for his own life of adultery. "But you died years before me!" "God said not to ask dumb questions. He's God." The two inveterate poonhounds go off in search of the secret base.

They track some raiders to the base entrance. JFK steals a uniform and pretends to be bringing MLK in for questioning. Once inside, they sneak to the heart of the base where a giant 19th-century steampunk 'mech is being built. You read that right: a mech, a bipedal combat robot. Think the giant walking spider machine from "Wild Wild West," only slightly less ostentatious and more purposeful. MLK and JFK split up, the former going to rescue the Marshals while the latter keeps searching. JFK finds a secret Satanist ritual chamber below the mech construction pit, and learns that Satan is planning to transfer his essence from General Forrest's body into the mech itself. From there, he will have a new body to become a god on Earth and eventually dominate all of man. But JFK is caught by Forrest himself, who mortally wounds the Prince of Camelot and completes the ritual. MLK rescues his fellow Marshals, but is powerless to stop the new Satanbot from destroying the base and tromping away. MLK fights his way through the raiders to JFK, who tells him the whole plot and dies. Last words: "Ask not what your country can do for you...(cough)(retch)(grabbing MLK's lapels and pulling him close)...ask...what you can do...for your country!"  BOOM. Emotional moment.

Enraged and sick with grief, MLK owns the shit out of a dozen raiders with a cavalry saber. He's yelling Revelation verses or some cool Old Testament stuff. Towards the end, as his rage is at its peak, the saber bursts into flames and starts glowing. The effect fades afterwards, but the sword remains inscribed with Heavenly runes. Our man's got a flaming sword: belee dat. With the rest of the Marshals, he hijacks a freight train and rushes back to Union territory ahead of the relatively slow-moving Satanbot. Before long, MLK re-unites with General Grant who is about to commence the Battle of Chatanooga (November 1863, the major victory that made Grant famous across the Union. I've already put more thought into this outline than went into the entirety of "Prometheus." Ugh, that was a disappointing flick).

MLK explains the situation to Grant, who's naturally skeptical. The Battle of Chatanooga starts, and the Satanbot arrives. The Union forces are on the verge of all-out retreat and desertion. MLK delivers a ridiculously awesome MLK-style speech, though we probably shouldn't use any of his actual famous lines because that would be offensive (unlike, say, making Dr. King a character in your absurd Hollywood time-traveling action movie with undertones of blaxploitation). The Union soldiers charge into battle, and give MLK the time he needs to battle the Satanbot. The flaming sword is the only weapon that will damage the unholy-enchanted machine, so we're gonna have a sweet "Shadow of the Colossus"-style boss fight. MLK will have to make his way up the massive machine, slowly but surely, destroying crucial components with the flaming sword as he goes. Eventually he's able to bring the Satanbot down, but The Foe of Mankind isn't so easily vanquished! Satan appears as a shapeshifting apparition, warping between the appearances of all the people who dogged MLK from Bull Connor to James Earl Ray and eventually...HIMSELF with a violet glowing sword. (horns and strings crescendo)

Glowing sword duel ensues, and the real MLK is victorious. Falling to his knees, MLK apologizes for plowing all those skanks. God appears, though only MLK can see him, and tells him order is restored to time and space. MLK asks about JFK, who appears on cue as an angel. "I was an angel all along," he says, "I just wanted to motivate you, to help you when you needed it most." But why, MLK wants to know, did JFK go directly to Heaven while he had to endure this terrible trial?

The answer: "Because I'm Catholic, obviously." CREDITS. Skrillex.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Bridging Your Summer Sports Gulf

The NBA Finals are over, and suddenly it's upon us. The Summer Sports Gulf--like bankruptcy, death, and drug crashes--happens slowly, and then all at once. Sticking with the drug metaphor, the NBA playoffs are one of the country's annual sporting "highs:" spots on the calendar where awesome and important sporting events are concentrated. Two questions to ask when evaluating sporting highs: 1) Is at least one major American sport in elimination/playoff mode? 2) Are there games on TV at least four nights per week?

Under these criteria and using large volumes of science, we see that American sports culture peaks during two six-week periods. The first comprises NFL Weeks 15-20: the last three weeks of the regular season and the first three of the playoffs. Games are on four nights per week (NFL on Monday/Thursday/Sunday and college football on Saturday). Sunday becomes a truly special ritual, where grown men will get up early and don ridiculous jerseys better suited for children. They (we) check their (our) fantasy teams, monitoring injuries and tweaking lineups in the precious hour before games get rolling. Woe betide he who starts Ben Tate behind a healthy Arian Foster. And when college dies down, oh hey! Wall-to-wall NFL playoff games on Saturday AND Sunday for three weeks before the Super Bowl Chattering Bullshit Week. Or, as it's known in the Palumbi household, the Week of Rumination On How The Pats Might Blow This Game And Break My Heart. Yes, I know we won a bunch earlier. IT'S NEVER ENOUGH FOR DON DRAPER. Sorry, scratch that. I don't watch "Mad Men" and Drew Magary has really staked out the all-caps sentence territory. He's like the dude in your crew who maybe didn't wear the fedora first, but he's rocking it best and everyone else needs to put their stupid hats in the closet for now.

The second "high" is, more or less, the entirety of the NBA playoffs. There are playoff games every single night, and the NBA's talent level is so high right now that even the blowout series produce some quality moments. Meanwhile, baseball is fresh and new in the background. We haven't yet learned that our teams are dreadful go-nowhere crockpots of mediocrity (2011 Giants, 2012 Red Sox). And while the NFL playoffs are uniquely intense, the NBA produces the best stories. We see the players make faces and react on the court, the stars are more important, we identify more with them and the drama is more pronounced. Football is an industrial game, basketball is a beautiful game, and that's what makes this second period so amazing. But like the best highs, it carries a brutal crash. You start to notice the comedown before Game 3 of the Finals, where they take a two-day travel break. Suddenly, when you've been used to basketball every other night (at least!), there's two days without. "Whoa," your brain says. "This is less fun than we were having a minute ago." Yes, brain, but you see, we're running out of sweet sweet basketball cocaine to put up our eye-nostrils. Enjoy these last bumps while you can! And I did, though the Thunder collapsed and didn't give us the Finals we really deserved (take it to six at least, guys! Come on! Daddy's got a sandwich bet on this!) But now it's all gone.

So what to do now? Baseball's in full swing and it's on every night, more or less. But it's baseball--great to watch every night through the end of June, but the innings start to blend together. Like the fantastic South Park episode, "The Losing Edge," wherein the prospect of an entire summer playing baseball makes the boys conspire to lose. Baseball is fun for a while; after a certain point it's just an endless succession of set pieces and guys standing around. It is, for all its various joys (there are many!), a game of standing. And I just can't do it all summer long. So I'm assembled some suggestions on how to spend your annual involuntary vacation from Awesome Televised Sports.

Get A Life
I'm going to get this out of the way quickly. There are people out there who compulsively fill their schedules with things like hiking and barbeques and non-court-mandated community service. My sister is one of those people; she says "yes" to everything because--get this--she actually ENJOYS large segments of the human experience. My sister does not watch sports on TV, because she has other things to do. So if you're one of THOSE people, this might not be the article for you and frankly I don't know how you made it this far.

Tour European Music Festivals
These things rule pretty hard. Whether it's the population density or the culture or whatever, Europe has a ton of enormous annual music festivals with, like...GOOD lineups. Folks around the Bay Area go nuts for the various festivals that come through here, but the Euro venues are larger and the lineups just wreck their American counterparts. The Treasure Island Music Festival just announced its lineup for this year, and the Saturday headliner is...Girl Talk. A fucking hippie with a laptop, playing other people's music through a PA system by hitting buttons on said laptop. I assumed this dude's star would fade to "mid-range Youtube celebrity" about five years ago, but apparently some people's lives are so boring that they'd rather hear mash-ups of familiar songs than actual creativity. The Sunday headliner is a band called "The XX," who appear to be a pack of mumbly limeys who use synthesizers but aren't danceable. If this video is any indication ("Guys, nobody move! Ever!") they will be about as exciting live as the somnolent Silversun Pickups.

In contrast, I was awake at 8am last Saturday and managed to catch a fantastic live set from Trivium, playing at Graspop in Belgium. They were playing a mediocre time slot on a side stage, because even Trivium (the best American hard rock act since Metallica) can't get good booking when Judas Priest is playing the main stage. You see the difference from Treasure Island? Judas Priest are legends. Girl Talk is a gimmicky loser. The XX are sullen teenagers without even the testosterone to play loud music.

Get Yourself In Shape
With the Supreme Court about to punch a Scalia-sized hole in Obamacare (known to literate human beings as the Affordable Care Act), one thing is clear for our generation: we are fucked. I mean, anyone under the age of 35 who's been paying attention to the world instead of acquiring iPhone apps and expensive sipping liquors already knows this. But if you are lucky enough to have health care now, it's not going to be the same in ten years. The purchasing power you THINK you have is eroding by the day; America is currently a two-class landscape where either you have employer-sponsored insurance, or you don't. It is compelling, when you have health care, to assume you always will. The last thirty years of rolled-back worker compensation and protections, however, shows us the opposite. So enjoy yours while you have it, Jack, and ignore the plight of the rest of us until you become the rest of us. BUT I DIGRESS (sorry, Drew).

In a landscape without health care, you have to take care of yourself. I've never been offered employer-sponsored health insurance in my life, and it's unlikely to happen any time soon. I've developed a lifestyle conducive to health and preventative medicine, because you must understand: if you get seriously ill, you are going to bankrupt yourself and possibly your family. With your Summer TV freedom, it's time to apply these changes. Here's how I roll, as somebody who has not received medical care since a round of antibiotics in 2005 (and rehabbed a fractured ankle on his own without professional medical care!):

--Eat a lot of spinach. Another cheap green might suffice, but the iron, fiber and other nutrients in spinach are hard to beat at that price range. And remember, the economy is probably going to get worse as the filthy Euros spend their time at music festivals instead of paying taxes.

--Exercise by running. Maybe you've got a gym membership, but gyms are lousy wastes of money and centers of VENEREAL DISEASE. Also, nude old men in the locker room. Our ancestors didn't have gyms, so we don't need them either. Push-ups, crunches, and running is all you really need. Running in particular is key: burns calories, boosts energy, and it's the natural way our human forbears got their exercise. Because their food didn't sit still.

--If you get hurt, use the Internet for rehab. What do doctors know, anyway? Orthopedic injuries can basically be separated into two groups: serious structural damage, and Other. If you've got the former, fine: you'll probably need a medical pro. But if it's the latter, like my ankle (minor structural damage), that x-ray isn't showing shit. You'll need an MRI to really see what's going on, and that's about three times pricier. What's more, nobody will give you an MRI without first x-raying the region, so you're paying for that x-ray too. Point is, medicine is for when something is seriously wrong. Otherwise, you can probably take care of it. People used to survive smallpox (okay, most of them died) without anyone knowing anything about the human body! They'd just drain your "humours" and send you back into the Factory of Tuberculosis and Finger-Slicing Looms.

Become Involved Politically
Our country faces an enormous choice in November. On the one hand, we've got the sitting incumbent who muddled his way through enormous crises and opposition so intransigent a less-gentle nation would have bludgeoned them with baguettes and sent them to the guillotine. On the other, we have a man whose primary qualification for the office is being richer, more ambitious and less principled than anyone else he faced in the primaries. I'm sure rank-and-file Mormons aren't happy that the country's most prominent LDS member is a shameless liar in the pursuit of worldly power; a phony so transparent that it's not even considered a criticism any more. I'm sure they are embarrassed about that, just like they were embarrassed by the hateful scam that was California's Prop 8. They're just not embarrassed enough to say a word or lift a finger to oppose this man who daily exposes their faith as a cult in the pursuit of riches and sexual dominion. But hey, maybe God will come around on that whole "bearing false witness" thing. Just like He changed His mind about black people in 1978!

I'm an Obama supporter, but we have to be real about this: the circumstances (SCOTUS using Fox News talking points to strike down the ACA, Europe imploding because of the very austerity the GOP wants to impose) might end up making that November hill too steep. That's why we have to hedge our bets, and start supporting Mitt Romney.

The mighty Jon Chait gave me this idea when he pointed out that the economy might actually fare better under Romney, because Romney doesn't actually believe his anti-government rhetoric. Once the GOP is on the hook for economic performance, they'll swiftly return to the classic neo-Keynesian framework used by sane people everywhere. They don't actually oppose government aid to the economy; they just opposed it when it might benefit Barack Hussein Obama. So we need, as a people, to harness Mitt Romney's utter lack of convictions for our own purpose. The man doesn't actually care about public policy; he just wants to be president (similar to the way the LDS leadership agreed to stay silent on his temporary pro-life stance in Massachusetts--having a Mormon in power was more important than upholding dearly-held principles. Very Christian). He'll do and say whatever will gain him the most.

Downside: an Etch-A-Sketch president lacking any convictions or discernible human soul (the human-soul thing is a problem for Mormon men, I've noticed). Upside: potentially the most responsive public figure in the history of democracy! Pump up Pericles all you want, but that man had a lot of his own ideas. Mitt labors under no such burdens. If we really get behind the Romneybot and throw our cash into electing him, how can he refuse We The People? Billionaires can shill for him (thanks, John Roberts!) but once Mitt's in office popular support will be more valuable than campaign funds. And it's not as though he's got his own convictions with which to oppose us. So let's get on board for Mittens and take back America by (indirect) force! It might feel dirty, but this is clearly something to file under "hate the player, not the game."

Wrap-up paragraphs suck; you read the piece, right? Thanks for doing that. I'm going to try and update this more, because one of my part-time gigs dried up! *economytrollface*

Monday, June 18, 2012

Rejected: Extreme Fatherhood

Extreme Fatherhood
"Rejected" is a new series wherein I post things that have been utterly rejected by reputable publications, but remain too cool for consignment to oblivion. This was a Father's Day piece written by my father and myself, and intended as a newspaper column. I have added some crude jokes because this is the Internet.

Leo Tolstoy wrote that all happy families are alike; unhappy families are each unhappy in their own ways. While celebrating the human conception of fatherhood, we can also look to the natural world for perspective. Most land animals parent their young in familiar ways. But those in the ocean, more diverse by far, have thrown out all the rules.  Like miserable Russian aristocrats, each has constructed its own hair-raising family structure. Seahorse males do the single-dad routine, trucking their offspring in a belly pouch like an underwater kangaroo. But their genetic relatives, the pipefish, are incorrigible cads. If they spy a more attractive mate, they’ll simply abort their own embryos for a better roll of the genetic dice.

The first step towards becoming a father is finding a prospective mom. Conspicuous consumption is popular among both humans and fish. Tropical damselfish work to clear patches of the reef, scrubbing them clean and aggressively claiming the territory. Females peruse the offerings, and lay their eggs on the best before departing forever. The males stay behind, guarding the eggs and trying to accumulate more. Just like in high school, ugly men have to cultivate other talents.  A bottom-dwelling toadfish called the “singing midshipman” projects humming tones through the murky water, singing to attract females to his nest. Toadfish are hideous, male and female alike, but they’re able to tolerate each other through magic of music.

Some fathers are too successful, accumulating mates like Antonio Cromartie on a Vegas bender. Caribbean Blue-Headed Wrasses lead harems of up to a hundred females, mating daily until they’re exhausted. So dominant is the patriarch that smaller males have no chance. Female wrasses are insatiable, and will abide no interruptions in their breeding. Should the patriarch die, the biggest female in the harem changes sex at shocking speed. Within a day she’s acting like a male, driving off smaller interlopers, and can produce sperm in two weeks. But there is a ray of hope for the weak, nerdy males. They can charge into the harem, launching sperm at fertile females in a kind of sexual strafing run before the patriarch chases them off.

Some regions of the sea are horrible dating markets, like Nebraska in the winter or Stanford University in any season. The deep sea is the world’s biggest habitat: millions of square miles of deep, dark ocean with little food and less light. It’s rare to find a prospective mate, between the darkness and empty expanses of water. Deep-sea angler fish cruise with huge jaws agape and needle-like teeth exposed. Marine biologists were puzzled never to find an adult male; just females sporting curious fleshy parasites. As it turned out, those parasites were the fathers. Young male anglers, should they be lucky enough to spot a female, sneak in from behind and bite her flank. He never lets go, fusing instead with the female’s body. Powerful enzymes break down his jaws, gut, fins, and finally his brain. Eventually he is nothing more than a set of gonads, attached to the female forever. It is ever the dream of nerds to marry their first girlfriends; anglerfish have no choice in the matter.

How do you find a mate if you have no eyes or even a brain? Sea urchins and corals are in this predicament, blindly launching sperm and eggs into the water to form the next generation without the parents ever meeting. The gametes even decide which combinations are the right species: when they touch, proteins on their surfaces do some speed dating and exchange DNA within milliseconds. Sponges further remove parenting from fatherhood. Males jettison sperm into the sea, and females swallow it like food. They eat the sperm but don’t digest it; neither do they spit it into the basins of public bathroom sinks. Instead, the female pipes the sperm through her own body, leaving it to a crew of mobile amoebas that scour her tissues for unfertilized eggs. These rovers do their own matchmaking, manually adhering sperm to their egg counterparts.

Detachment takes many forms, and males will generally do as little fathering as possible. The Sperm whale is the world’s largest oblivious father, spending his years on a bachelor lifestyle while distributing sperm to mates half his size. Sperm whale mothers rely on each other for protection, forming bands of mature females and their young. When predators attack the babies, the females form three-dimensional defense grids: the young in the center, mothers arrayed tail-first towards the exterior to beat off attackers with their flukes. If you played the superb RTS game "Homeworld," you're familiar with the formation. Humpback fathers are more involved,  migrating thousands of miles along with their mates and calves while they sing slow mournful tunes. Floating deep in the clear blue waters of Hawaii, a male’s song reverberates for miles. Males as far apart as Hawaii and Baja change their songs seasonally, but do it in unspoken unison. Somehow, the season’s biggest hits traverse the entire ocean. It is the hipster's fever dream: new music traversing the globe without, like, interference from THE MAN.

If you’re reading these words, your parents probably worked hard at nurturing.  Human beings have a hard time succeeding without that care. We are a race of nest-builders, with fragile young demanding decades of attention. Whatever the challenges of being a modern-day father, the ocean reassures us there are as many ways of succeeding as there are fish in the sea. Fatherhood in nature obeys no particular rules. Yet, every strategy has one thing in common: a maze of contortions, uncertainty and sacrifices. Our offspring are their own creatures; they don’t come with a road map. We can only hope we get it right. And try to avoid $8 drinks in the process.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Orcs Don't Play Trumpets

Or, how I learned to stop worrying and love Mariachi

I fell out of sleep when the car stopped. The fluorescent glare of gas-station floodlights poured in, brewing muttered conversation and the acrid bite of tobacco smoke into a slurry of disorientation. The windows were down and even at four in the morning, the Texas air hung warm and dark and damp from our shoulders. The car emptied, three grown men unfolding themselves from the bench seat in the back. I had the foresight to call “shotgun” back in Houston. A battered passenger van sat alongside us at the pump; a dozen laborers milled about, crunching on bags of Doritos and speaking softly in Spanish. The curses, I understood.

* * *

Ten hours and a hundred dollars in bribes later, Eric’s dusty red Rav4 soldiered along beneath a 115-degree Sun. Shrubs, grasses and stunted trees hugged the ground around us—all shockingly green for a murderous Mexican August. The air conditioner fan roared, but it wasn’t near enough. Heat had long since pacified the conversation when the car swerved dramatically to the right. We flailed about and were pulled left again, correcting back to the center of the road as Eric cut loose with a stream of incredulous profanity. “The dogs,” he bellowed. “Dogs in the road!” And suddenly we were turning around, pulling a U-turn on the two-lane highway. “Horns?” asked Tim from the front, too distressed to recall his real name. “Look at this!” Eric insisted as we roared onward. The hazard came into view: three dogs in the center of the highway.

The one with the white-blonde coat was the biggest. She was dead in the road, the victim of a passing motorist. The others, black and brown, had discovered the body and were attempting to mate with it. The black one had summited the corpse and was working furiously. The last sat patiently in the median, intently focused on the proceedings. He was excited about the opportunity and didn’t seem to mind waiting. The asphalt’s heat rose around them in shimmering waves, and the iron-grey mountains of Monterrey lent a regal air to the proceedings. In the car, pot resin mingled with hours-old sweat. Brett insisted the little black dog was “lined up wrong.” I’ve chosen to believe him.

* * *

The house outside Cadereyta was all blinding white stucco and pastoral dreams. A fountain loomed by the front door, dry and spattered with road dust. Storm clouds had begun to churn in the distance. Our hosts came out, and we exchanged greetings in the withering heat. They introduced themselves with the names we knew; names attached to a lattice of ones and zeroes. This man was Modu; this one Plastico. We responded in kind, discarding the given names we’d used in the car. It was instantly comfortable. Snacks appeared in our hands: branded Mexican corn chips, all salt and chile and salt and lime and salt. There would be a mariachi band at dinner, they told us. When your World of Warcraft guild holds a retreat in Mexico, the focus is not on video games.

Twenty young men waited in the air-conditioned paradise past the iron doors, each sober and rowdy to his tastes. A few assembled a battery of computers against the wall; others napped on a flotilla of mattresses arrayed on the cool tile floor. We’d never met, but knew each other well. Someone pressed a cold Tecate into my hand and I sucked it down. A man from Singapore (by way of Malaysia, he explained, in a laser-etched English accent) introduced himself as Malicia. Not wanting to use a woman’s handle for the next week, I asked his real name. He wouldn’t tell me. Once, I said some intemperate things to Malicia. Feelings were hurt, so one man was my friend and the other my other awkward comrade. The second Tecate dripped from brown glass bottle to throat. I was feeling queasy.

Stepping out the back, I took in the expansive coral-painted deck. There was a pool, its bottom striated with dark blue tiles. Leaning against a tree, breathing deep to settle my stomach, I felt a hard wind pulling. A pair of threadbare ranch dogs sprinted past, nipping at each others’ flanks. The clouds had descended; tall trees with only a few penthouse leaves thrashed and screamed in the gale. I didn’t know the time of day. My stomach surrendered to the last sixteen hours of driving and heat and hunger, all of it capped off with two budget-priced beers. A peal of thunder sounded as I was on my hands and knees, and the dogs started yelping. The smell of rain was in the air and I stumbled inside. The mattresses were prepared to save my life.

* * *

Memo woke me up; a snaggletoothed young man with an easy smile and wide white eyes. Time to eat, pendejo. I stumbled after him towards the back door, peeling my eyelids back with fingertips to moisten my sandpaper contacts. The rain had come and gone, though giants stirred above us. Tables were set, with all the deck illuminated and coals smoldering in an enormous grill. The iron was raised with a hand crank, and Plastico rubbed it down with two halves of an onion. “It’s the best,” he declared. My guild was scattered between the tables, all adorned with bottles of tequila and more Tecate. ”Drinking Tecate is a must,” Plas explained. I said I’d already had some.

The guild leader—-a rich man, bankrolling this teenager's Valhalla—-stood up at the start of dinner to introduce the band. I am a Grinch when it comes to mariachi, all the noise noise NOISE. But with a gutload of corn and cheese to protect me, drinks kicked up with the music kicked. It was unlike any mariachi I’d heard before: soothing and busy, all jangling and buzzing strings beneath a brass-smooth tenor. The singer’s ululations bound up time like leaves of paper. Plas and Eric threw Memo in the pool about an hour later. The deck buzzed with light, and tiny insects cavorted overhead. The band played with barely a breath between songs, but never for a moment did they rush.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Something I didn't drop

I was privileged to interview Curt Schilling, former MLB pitcher and current head of 38 Studios--a video game developer. I was even more privileged to do it for The Atlantic, one of my favorite publications and someplace I've always wanted to work for. Hopefully I'll follow this up with more good ideas. Big thanks to my longtime friend Alyssa Rosenberg, who greased the wheels with the Atlantic and lent tremendous support while I was putting the piece together. Without further ado, A LINK TO ANOTHER WEBSITE:

Curt Schilling: From World-Series Pitcher to Video-Game Entrepreneur