Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Synthetic Biology and the New Fruit: Reflections on Modern Equipment

Ol' Smyles and Fish has my new column up, and I think you will all enjoy the heck out of it.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Neu Columne

A typical scene from my dissertation fieldwork

Tune, if you will, your internet browsers to Smyles and Fish, where you will find my new column, which reviews the evil Druids of New Hampshire.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Abdominate your Abs with the Abreactor!

Read, if you will, this excellent New York Times Book Review essay on conservative conversion narratives. In it Stephen Metcalf dissects a collection of essays that describe how their authors became conservatives. Metcalf precisely likens their conservativism to obsessional neurosis - it is rooted in a primal trauma (caused, in these accounts, by liberal academics or feminists or both) which the conservative constantly re-experiences. This always fresh trauma lends to their political arguments the raw personal heat that speaks so persuasively to ordinary American people (despite the fact that their authors are invariably extremely privileged elites). Basically, Metcalf claims that conservatives are a bunch effete nerds who never got laid in college, an argument which I myself have championed on this very blog.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

My Original Carnivàle Novella [NOT Fanfiction!]

Ben Hawkins was feeling depressed. He was so sad that he could barely get up from under the truck in the morning and pull on one of his collection of grimy undershirts. He sat in the chow tent toying with his tin dish of carny beans. "Hmmm," he said to himself, "I sure hope I get some kind of artistically filmed horrifying vision soon, otherwise I'll never find my grimy weirdo father Henry 'Hack' Scudder or my lady friend Sofie with whom I had sexual intercourse in a truck."

Meanwhile, Lila said or did something disgusting.

Ben Hawkins was having an eerie vision of Scudder's Navy days; Scudder had been an ensign aboard the U.S.S. Casual Elegance during World War I. Scudder was grooming a bear which had been smuggled aboard in a false torpedo by Dr. Lodz. The bear's hair began sticking to Scudder's shedding comb, coming out in nasty clumps. It revealed that the bear had a mystical tattoo: a muscular male centaur with a busty barbarian maiden riding him, each hand holding aloft a sanguinary battle axe. "Every prophet in his house!" said the bear, facing directly into the camera. Ben Hawkins, back in the chow tent, got a nosebleed and was asked to leave because of health code strictures. He staggered over to the Management trailer to meet with Samson.
"What's the good word, kid?" Samson asked him. "I think I know where Scudder is," Hawkins replied, taking a seat in the cluttered trailer.

Meanwhile, Samson was a dwarf.

Ben Hawkins stepped out of the truck, shading his eyes against the descending sun. Atop a nearby hill crouched a scabrous shack, its front door gaping open on its leather hinges. Hawkins climbed the hill. A wizard emerged from the shack.
"I foresaw your coming, Ben Hawkins," he boomed, stroking his long white beard. "I am Lord Fluffheart, tenth level animagus and Wizard of the Faerie Grove. I can also turn into a busty anthropomorphic female fox."
"It looks like my erotic adventures are only beginning!" said Ben Hawkins.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Wingardium Leviosa!

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Spoilers!

  • In the final scene, Voldemort seals Harry in an envelope of Impolex-G and launches him on an uncertain trajectory in a V-2 rocket...or DOES he?
  • Sirius Black re-appears and explains to Harry that he was "just resting" during book 6; Bellatrix Lestrange kills him AGAIN by tricking him into eating a tack.
  • Harry transfers to Simon's Rock College of Bard and gets his own radio show "Untitled Monday Rock Arriba."
  • Hermione's cat Crookshanks revealed to be a Death Eater/animagus/furry named Lord Fluffheart.
  • [MAJOR SPOILER] In at least one scene, the characters will eat wacky-sounding food.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A non-funny and distinctly unhappy post

Many of you may have read or heard about Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, who apparently was running a dog-fighting ring out of a home he owned in Virginia (he has yet to be convicted, but the evidence looks very strong). I urge all my readers to visit the American Humane Society webpage and send a letter to the NFL commissioner through their form. The letter urges the NFL to suspend Vick. I will not repeat the details of the investigation here, but they are readily available (through the New York Times for instance), and you should probably learn them before sending the letter.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Whine Dining

Gentle reader, my new column over at Smyles and Fish contains reviews of several Newport, RI restaurants. I do not in the least exaggerate when I write that these reviews could save your life.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Movie Time means Time for the Movies Time

Oh, hello there! I didn't see you come in! I know I've been neglecting the ol' blog recently, but that's because I've been suffering from


which is a condition in the same family as being boy-crazy or reet petite.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Salty Brine Chest Tropical Island
Well, we all knew what we were getting with this one. The entire cast of the previous two movies returns for another overlong, sumptuous swashbuckling adventure. The plot starts off incomprehensible (does anyone actually remember what happened to Johnny Depp at the end of the last film? And who exactly is the East India Company rep who has snatched Davy Jones' heart?) and gradually fades into obscurity as the films debarks into a series of silly set-pieces. The best scene is doubtless the pirate's council on Murderous Blood Island (or wherever), in which a large group of racial caricatures brawl over the arcana of the pirate's code. Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom gamely recite their incredibly stupid Hallmark-card dialogue, and Geoffrey Rush pulls out ALL the stops and delivers a scenery-chewing but extremely entertaining performance as Famous Pirate #3. Fun drivel.

28 Weeks Later
The first ten minutes of this movie are the most harrowing, frightening images ever set to film. The rest of it lags on a little long and delivers some rather heavy-handed digs at the United States Army; ultimately, it fails to live up to the lonely, Heart of Darkness style psychological terror of its predecessor, but it's certainly frightening and entertaining. Robert Carlyle gets to reveal his inner Begbie and the child stars are capable and not annoying.

"I killed my wife untraceably with some fava beans and a nice Chianti! FLPLPLPFLLLLFLPPPPLFFFFPPPPPP!" Ryan Gosling is great, and this movie has the World's Fastest Relationship ("Hi I'm your boss call me later can we not do this at dinner I don't think it's working out"). The central puzzle is very interesting until about an hour out from the end, when it's possible to figure it out and get hella bored. Probably worth seeing.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

New Column at Smyles and Fish

Gentle reader, tune your internet browser to the columns section of Smyles and Fish and there imbibe the delight of a review which makes sarcastic and polemical reference to that titan of bathos Megatokyo.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Book of Laughter and Forgetting: Nerd Edition

Oh Internet, they have restored Starbuck to us, and in ten short months we'll get to thrill again to her wacky adventures with her fellow pilots Corndog, Scooter and Jumblo!

ALSO Rome has ended without any poisoned figs or amphitheaters filled with wine. A bittersweet finale, made especially poignant by the scene in which Pullo slays a cockatrice while Vorenus takes pictures on his camera phone.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Tears of a Nerd

Oh Internet, did they really just kill off Starbuck? WHATEVER THE OPPOSITE OF "LOL" IS, THAT IS WHAT I'M DOING!

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Some Rebranding

From now on, graduate school is to be known as Thunder Quest. Grad students will be called Thunder Warriors. GREs become TQREs, etc. Please update your agendas, palm pilots, Wikis etc.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Notes from my Literary Career

Good ol' segrant recently got me a gig writing a column for a new experimental literary magazine, Smyles and Fish. The magazine does not focus on aquaculture or marine heritage preservation, which I know will turn off some of my early readers who stuck around hoping for more colossal squid reporting, but it does feature a pretty impressive corps of contributors, and should have a new column from me every other week. I'm writing The Capricious Critic, in which I capriciously criticize whatever idiotic passion has possessed me at the time of writing. The first column covers the lute (unfortunately, I couldn't get a sailor's hornpipe, nautical readers). Read and enjoy!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

They Should have Stuck to Cuckoo Clocks and Getting Bombed

A review of Storm Front, by Jim Butcher

As many of my more nerdy readers may know (and I can’t imagine that I have any non-nerdy readers at this point) the Sci-Fi channel recently debuted “The Dresden Files”, one of their signature fun, lo-fi shows about the supernatural. I’ve only seen two episodes, both of which were essentially boring, but the setup and the characters are robust and it may get better if they can avoid stretching thin and brittle plots out to an hour. The basic premise is that Harry Dresden is a wizard (of the potions and wands variety) who consults for hot police detective Murphy in Chicago. He lives in a nice loft with his idiotically dressed French ghost roommate and has romantic tension with detective Murphy, who is a Lady. So the show may very well be worth watching.

After seeing that the show was based on a series of novels, I thought to myself “Hey, I will read almost any egregious crap as long as it has vampires or some shit in it, why not try these?” Well, Storm Front has one vampire in it. It has almost no other merits. It’s a conventional detective story, so conventional in fact that I wonder if Mr. Butcher wrote it using some kind of system. It takes two seemingly unrelated cases and resolves them together in the end, with what feels like a carefully numbered set of red herrings and obstacles in between. Sound familiar? This may be a problem inherent to detective novels, but Butcher handles it especially poorly.

The novel’s Dresden the wizard is supposed to be a wounded loner but comes off as more of an antisocial nerd. He constantly wears a long waxed cotton duster, of the type favored by child molesters and D&D enthusiasts, and he attends the formulaic final confrontation wearing sweatpants. He spits out unfunny wisecracks constantly, as if he attended a detective novel protagonist public speaking seminar. He generally handles every confrontation so incompetently that it’s even more annoying that he keeps mentioning that he is a powerful wizard.

The novel has the slightly embarrassing odor of a personal male empowerment fantasy made public. The book is written in the first person, and Dresden pretty clearly stands in for the author – the other characters, to the extent that they exist at all, do so only to serve Dresden. Despite the fact that every single woman that Dresden meets is described as strikingly beautiful, there are no attractive men at all in Chicago. All the women obviously want to fuck Dresden (a few of them come right out and say it), but he is sexless and nerdy enough to make it through the whole book without sealing the deal. This is fortunate, since I would dread cringing my way through a Butcher-penned sex scene.

The novel is not long but consists almost entirely of padding. Each chapter, again in an intensely formulaic way, contains one conflict and a hook to the next conflict; the rest of the chapter usually consists of Dresden driving somewhere or thinking about and carefully summarizing the events that just happened. I really can’t stress how boring this is: Dresden doesn’t usually put the pieces of the mystery together, he just lays them out, again and again. Excruciating. It’s all especially frustrating given that Butcher actually seems to be a decent writer, just lazy and unimaginative. He also uses the word “quirk” as a verb, as in “her lips quirked into a smile.” Obnoxious, and something that I remember seeing in another terrible novel recently (I’ll edit its name in as soon as I think of it*). A big disappointment.

* It was A Walk on the Nightside by Simon R. Green. It's actually very similar to Butcher's work, but British and a lot more imaginative, and with more interesting characters.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

I hope you can see this, because I'm doing it as hard as I can

Finally, Homeland Security has the right idea: protecting us from the depredations of the Mooninites.

(A more permanent news story)
(And another)
(And a Boston TV channel goes the extra mile to protect us from Err's pixelated bird)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


White Elephant Reviews: The Amityville Horror (2005)

Really, and in a totally non-homoerotic way, I will watch anything with Ryan Reynolds in it, especially if it’s on OnDemand. I expected little, but this widely despised remake of the simultaneously boring and nerve-wracking original Amityville Horror pleasantly surprised me. It also made sure that I couldn’t get to sleep until 2:00AM. I had to eat a whole container of wintergreen mints and read The Sunset Limited by Cormac McCarthy. It’s a pretty short book.

The basic plot is: the Lutz family gets a real bargain on a house in Amityville because the previous tenants were all murdered up real good. The Lutzeses move in undaunted, get somewhat daunted by the house's weird noises and unearthly visions, then eventually get very daunted but too hypnotized by the house's evil to leave. The local spirits work especially hard on Ryan Reynolds, turning him from a happy-go-lucky contractor into an embittered shut in child hating weirdo (perhaps this explains why he teamed up with Jessica Biehl to hunt vampires). This takes about a month. Then they move out, leaving all their worldly, 1970s-era goods behind. In between, some black goop oozes out of various parts of the house and a slutty babysitter gets really, really scared.

Anyway, if we judge horror movies by whether they inspire fear (or its more sophisticated and rarer cousin, horror), this one’s a winner. The movie was genuinely horrifying, in that it created a long-burning and hideous dread without having to actually supply too many scares. The director uses surprise cuts sparingly and very clumsily, since none of them are in the least scary. They’re about on par with a well funded haunted hayride and they consist mostly of actors in lots of white makeup drooling Hershey’s syrup out of their mouths. But the moaning sounds of the old house and Ryan Reynolds' against-type performance load on the tension big-style.

So the movie is pretty good. But the story is classic (and its structure is of course literally true, even if the haunting is disputed). Bear with me here: we have a man marrying a woman who already has children, so he’s a stranger and so are they. They buy a house (the scene in the movie in which they tour the house and make their decision is very finely done - the Amityville story is of course a real estate nightmare). The movie is in some ways also about the fact that you really don’t know what you’re getting with either house or marriage.

It kept reminding me of the Roman wedding ceremony. The Roman bride wore red and carried a torch, a strange fire which could kindle the hearth OR burn the house down. She was marked always as a stranger: her children were members of her husband’s family but she never really was. In the movie this is quite sensibly reversed with the husband as stranger, a vile torch ignited by a chthonic spark.

This is especially sinister given that the movie is in many ways so everday. It's just a family unhappy with its new house. They don't really even need an evil spirit to tear themselves to pieces.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

"All roads lead to the same place"

Brutus prepares to cast Expelliarmus and defeat Snape once and for all.

As loyal Moonsash readers know I'm a huge fan of Rome on HBO, and this season is pleasing whatever faculty I have that responds favorably to sex and violence drenched historical dramas. The first episode was a little rocky but the second one is an unparalleled delight: the return of Cleopatra, Vorenus' midlife crisis coming to a gothy head, and a prolonged, delightful brawl-for-all between Marc Antony, Atia and Octavian (Octavian decks Antony with some kind of ancient Roman bookend). We see none other than Lucius Vorenus come into possession of the ancient Roman version of the Gem Saloon, which should be utterly unbelievable and delightful in every way. Fixin' towards a bloody outcome indeed.

Extras has been a little different; the first episode was great but the second one felt like a huge and pointless setup for a moderately funny song by David Bowie. I worry that the celebrity guest stars will begin to overwhelm the tender and complicated overarching plot. It also looks a little like Ricky Gervais is repeating The Office's first to second season change: these two episodes have been decidedly heavy on drama and light on comedy. Gervais handled it well in The Office but who knows how it will pan out this time.

ALSO HOLY SHIT ON BATTLESTAR GALACTICA HELO JUST SHOT ATHENA/BOOMER/SHARON/PRETTY KOREAN ACTRESS whose character has gone through so many name changes I can no longer keep track. This blog post is OVER.

Friday, January 12, 2007

An Incoherent Sound of Rage

A Seattle school has put a moratorium on viewings of An Inconvenient Truth because a bible-believing parent named Frosty objects to the presentation of science (It's worth noting that it seems that neither he nor his wife has actually seen the objectionable film). If this were a video blog, you could see me sputtering and bulging out my neck-veins with fury. The school has an official policy on "controversial issues," indicating that teachers must strive to present both sides of anything that invites heated debate. Shall we assume that the Holocaust will get the same rigorously impartial treatment [heavy sarcasm here, O People of the Internet]? Just read the article, which shows how religion and patriotism are bound up in a willful rejection of anything that might show a flaw in America.