Published on 26 Dec 2014
Narrated by ORSON WELLES (O.W. bonus: voice of Christ)
May 17, 2015
May 10, 2015
In The Atlantic, Julie Beck wonders “What has it got in its academic journals, precious?”
Though at first glance, science and fantasy seem to be polar opposites, the Venn diagram circles of “scientists” and “Lord of the Rings fans” have a large overlap. One could (lovingly!) label that region “nerds.”
Fight me on that if you want, but there’s plenty of evidence that suggests scientists love J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic. Several newly discovered animal species have been named after characters from the books — a genus of wasps in New Zealand is now called Shireplitis, with species S. bilboi, S. frodoi, S. meriadoci, S. peregrini, S. samwisei and S. tolkieni. The wasps bear the names of the hobbits because they too are “small, short, and stout,” according to a press release. On the other side of the size spectrum, paleontologists named a 900-pound ancient crocodile Anthracosuchus balrogus, after the Balrog, a giant whip-wielding fire monster from The Lord of the Rings. There is also a dinosaur named after Sauron, which seems kinda harsh to me. And many, many more, if the website “Curious Taxonomy” is to be believed.
“Given Tolkien’s passion for nomenclature, his coinage, over decades, of enormous numbers of euphonious names — not to mention scientists’ fondness for Tolkien — it is perhaps inevitable that Tolkien has been accorded formal taxonomic commemoration like no other author,” writes Henry Gee in his book The Science of Middle Earth.
May 3, 2015
He’s quite right … and he drives home the point in a recent blog post:
Desmodus rotundis isn’t sexy. (Except insofar as small furry rodents that carry rabies aren’t as un-sexy as some other obligate haemophages.) Bed bugs are really not sexy. But if you want maximally not-sexy, it’s hard to top Placobdelloides jaegerskioeldi, the Hippo Arse Leech.
The Hippo Arse Leech is a leech; it sucks blood. Like most leeches, its mouth parts aren’t really up to drilling through the armour-tough skin of a hippopotamus, so it seeks out an exposed surface with a much more porous barrier separating it from the juicy red stuff: the lining of the hippo rectum. When arse leeches find somewhere to feed, in due course happy fun times ensue — for hermaphrodite values of happy fun times that involve traumatic insemination. Once pregnant, the leeches allow themselves to be expelled by the hippo (it’s noteworthy that hippopotami spin their tails when they defecate, to sling the crap as far away as possible — possibly because the leeches itch — we’re into self-propelled-hemorrhoids-with-teeth territory here), whereupon in the due fullness of time they find another hippo, force their way through it’s arse crack, and find somewhere to chow down. Oh, did I mention that this delightful critter nurtures its young? Yep, the mother feeds her brood until they’re mature enough to find a hippo of their own. (Guess what she feeds them with.)
Here ‘s a video by Mark Siddall, professor of invertebrate zoology at the American Natural History Museum, a noted expert on leeches, describing how he discovered P. Jaegerskioeldi, just in case you think I’m making this up.
By the end of my description Jim and Freda were both … well, I wish I’d thought to photograph their faces for posterity. So were the audience. And that’s when I got to the money shot: the thing about fictional vampires is, vampires are only sexy when they’re anthropomorphic.
May 2, 2015
An older article from Lesley McDowell at The Independent, discussing the relationship between Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett:
When Mary McCarthy said of Lillian Hellman, “every word she says is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the'”, a certain attitude was fostered. Not only to the celebrated playwright’s experiences in war-torn Spain during the 1930s or before the House Un-American Activities Committee during the 1950s, but also to her personal life. Hellmann, this attitude said, was a myth-maker of the worst kind. She couldn’t be trusted to tell the truth, not even about those she loved. So what if she wrote in her memoirs that crime writer Dashiell Hammett, with whom she lived on-and-off for 30 years, was the most important person in her life? “Did anyone ever see them together?” queried Gore Vidal.
Writers make myths out of people’s lives, especially their own. And when writers become embroiled with other writers, the opportunity increases ten-fold. It was to Hammett, the pulp magazine writer turned detective novelist, that she always owed a debt, Hellman insisted. The completion of her first play, The Children’s Hour, in 1934, just four years after they met at a Hollywood party, was all thanks to “help from Hammett.” She “worked better if Hammett was in the room.” Yet Hellman’s words about this crucial relationship have been doubted too. Perhaps it didn’t help that she wrote in her 1969 memoir, An Unfinished Woman, “what a word is truth. Slippery, tricky, unreliable. I tried in these books to tell the truth…I see now, in re-reading, that I kept much from myself, not always, but sometimes.”
Lillian Hellman was married to a writer, Arthur Kober, when they wound up in Hollywood in 1930. Kober had a script-writing job and Hellman was a script-reader. She was 25, bored in her five-year marriage and had writing ambitions. When she met Hammett at a party, he was 36 and famous, the bestselling author of Red Harvest and The Maltese Falcon. Different accounts of their first meeting don’t help Hellman’s case for truth-telling, but there is a nastier undercurrent to those who doubted Hellman’s version of the subsequent relationship.
Hammett was extremely handsome and rich, thanks to his books. Hellman was never a pretty girl, and had a forthright manner that scared people. Some doubted Hammett’s interest in her: why should such a successful writer take up with an unattractive nobody?
April 28, 2015
Last week, Michael Geist pointed out that the tax credits and other inducements offered by state and provincial governments to attract TV and movie business are a bad deal for everyone except the media companies:
The widespread use of film and television production tax subsidies dates back more than two decades as states and provinces used them to lure productions with the promise of new jobs and increased economic activity. The proliferation of subsidies and tax credits created a race to the bottom, where ever-increasing incentives were required to distinguish one province or state from the other.
In recent years, governments have begun to rethink the strategy. States such as Arizona, Michigan, New Mexico, and Iowa suspended or capped their programs. Louisiana found that it lost $170 million in tax revenue in a single year. In Canada, the Quebec government’s taxation review committee recently admitted that its provincial film production tax credit was not profitable and that numerous studies find that there is little economic spinoff activity.
But the most notable Canadian study on the issue has never been publicly released and is rarely discussed. The Ontario government’s Ministry of Finance conducted a detailed review of the issue in 2011, delivering a sharply negative verdict on the benefits associated with spending hundreds of millions of dollars each year in tax credits. It recommended eliminating a 25 per cent tax credit for foreign and non-certified domestic productions that would have saved $155 million per year.
April 18, 2015
In L.A. Weekly, Amy Nicholson looks at a new documentary:
It’s never simple when science suffers a shakeup. The road to the truth is littered with fallen experts who were disgraced when they tried to disprove — or prove — the common wisdom, be it that the earth revolves around the sun or that witches float. Today’s researchers are fighting to restore logic in the debate over vaccinations, global warming, and the increasingly hazy medical condition called Shaken Baby Syndrome, whose adherents accuse, pursue and prosecute an estimated 250 parents, babysitters and other caretakers each year.
Veteran investigative journalist Susan Goldsmith has spent years examining the medical and legal industry that has arisen to promote its belief that vicious baby-shaking by enraged adults has killed thousands of infants, the subject of the new documentary, The Syndrome, researched by Goldsmith and directed by her cousin Meryl Goldsmith.
“I made a career writing about child abuse,” she says. Her child abuse investigations as a reporter for The Oregonian led to two new laws designed to better protect kids in foster care. Yet, she also sees extreme, unfounded reactions by well-meaning people when children are involved. Says Goldsmith, “When people hear ‘child abuse,’ all thinking just goes into shutdown mode.”
A diagnosis of Shaken Baby Syndrome was supposed to explain mysterious deaths in babies without bone fractures, bumps, bruises or neck injuries. How did they die? A theory arose that babies were under attack by loved ones. For decades, doctors in the U.S., and dozens of other countries were trained to look for three internal symptoms that experts claimed were proof of a powerful shaking assault on a tiny child: brain swelling, blood on the surface of the brain, and blood behind the eyes. Well-meaning doctors were instructed that these symptoms could only occur due to intense shaking — if a parent or babysitter said the child had fallen or suddenly fell ill, that was a lie.
Proponents of the theory grew so powerful in political circles, where elected officials were keen to show they supported helpless children, that laws were passed across the U.S. requiring a doctor who spotted any of the three symptom to alert authorities. Failure to report symptoms, even if a doctor found the parents’ explanation made sense, could result in fines, civil lawsuits, or even jail time.
We’ve been here before. The Syndrome rewinds back to the 1980s when the big public panic on behalf of children was Satanic Ritual Abuse, a Salem-like national frenzy in which prosecutors and juries in big cities and small towns sent daycare employees to jail for years for crimes as implausible as cutting off a gorilla’s finger while at the zoo, then flying the children over Mexico to molest them.
H/T to Amy Alkon for the link.
April 6, 2015
Published on 1 Apr 2015
In this Trekspertise special, David Brin lays out the qualities that help science fiction stand out from other genres. This is a re-edit of David Brin’s original video, “Science Fiction: The Literature Of Change”. Be sure to check out Mr. Brin’s excellent books, as well =)
March 27, 2015
It’s all so subjective, you know? I guess I shouldn’t complain. I’ve learned over the years that people get upset when they tell you something is their favorite movie and you go, “Really? You liked that piece of shit?” That’s the sort of thing Sean Penn would say. So I now tell people, “Thank you, that’s great,” and move on. But you know, I remember John Lennon saying that if he could, he’d go back and burn most of the work the Beatles did. He said he’d rerecord all the fucking songs, and I get that. Most of my work I would just stomp into the ground and start over again.
Gary Oldman, interviewed by David Hochman, “Playboy Interview: Gary Oldman”, Playboy, 2014-06-23.
March 15, 2015
In Spiked, Stephanie Gutmann looks at what the immense popularity of the Fifty Shades franchise might say about modern women’s views of feminism:
Are you sick of Fifty Shades of Grey yet? Not completely? Okay, well maybe this can be the last word. I should be qualified to deliver the last word because (there are going to be a lot of lists here): 1) I’m female, so I can start this piece with the all-important ‘As a woman’ clause; and 2) I’ve actually slogged through most of it.
Can we please dispense with all the faux handwringing about what it means for civilisation that a very long (514 pages) piece of crap sold 100 million copies? The answer is gorilla-in-the-living-room simple. As a woman, I’m here to tell you that: 1) many women like porn — particularly if it’s jiggered for the female taste (made a little prettier with a little more plot set-up; foreplay, so to speak); 2) women will buy lots of porn if it’s packaged, and sold, correctly; and 3) in particular, what women have always longed for, at least in fantasy, is the alpha male (actually he doesn’t even have to be that alpha, just attractive) who will pursue them and then sweep them off their delicate feet. After nearly 50 years of the systematic bludgeoning of male aggressiveness in every form by feminism, women under the age of 50 have had very little contact in their actual lives with men who pursue, who grasp, who dominate. Still, many women have a vague, inchoate sense that this might be very pleasant.
Nevertheless, Fifty Shades is only the repackaging of an old-as-the-hills formula. Filthy books have always sold billions of copies — there just wasn’t much acknowledgement of this because the books were too downmarket, and the soccer moms of New York’s suburbs didn’t buy them. A company called Harlequin Romance has built a $1.5 billion empire (‘110 titles a month in 34 languages in 110 international markets on six continents’) over the past 20 years, selling so-called romance novels every bit as sexually explicit as Fifty Shades. The problem has always been that, until lately, you had to go to places like a K-Mart (kind of like a Tesco) to buy them. They also had embarrassingly florid covers featuring Dolly Parton-like babes having their blouses ripped open by Fabio-like men on the decks of sailing ships. Into this market came Fifty Shades, with a subdued cover, that you could buy discreetly online.
March 12, 2015
Wonder Woman creator William Marston wrote the comic as pop-culture propaganda for men, to train men for the coming female dominance through themes of sexual bondage. Marston sought to entice men with a smart and scantily clad warrior woman, whom villains repeatedly bind and punish but who always breaks free and binds them, to their ultimate pleasure. Wonder Woman’s kryptonite was a man binding her hands, which drained her of all will and super strength. She would use her wits and feminine wiles to escape and then bind them back with her golden lasso of truth, which made them happier people. The repeated lesson: men can rule women physically, but are better men when women bind them.
In short, Wonder Woman is a heroine for matriarchy — rule by women. This is enough to complicate culture’s current feminist battles. Declared feminists prefer to keep hidden the question of whether feminism strives for equality of women or superiority of women. There is a clear majority only for equality, so the declared feminist movement tries to claim superiority by speaking popular lines about equality. The resulting confusion has reduced the movement to rubble, and reviving the “Wonder Woman” franchise will only accelerate the remaining demolition. (That link is merely an example, not a history. The relevant part starts at: “I also learned that when you’re a committed feminist, it’s sometimes confusing to reconcile your ideals with your desires.”)
Marston wanted Wonder Woman to prepare society for rule by women, but he did not succeed, mainly because the facts are not in his favor. Rule by women is just as bad an idea as rule by men; it is just bad in other ways. Marston did not realize this logical truth because his understandings about women and truth was shallow, naive, and preoccupied with his own pleasure.
Among fans, the basics of Marston’s story are commonly known. Lately, however, in part to fuel more “Wonder Woman” projects, books on Marston and his creation have appeared. The two best known: The Secret History of Wonder Woman, by Harvard professor Jill Lepore, and Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine, by Tim Hanley.
The sum up: Marston was a psychologist otherwise well known for his invention of the lie detector test. He was also a common-law polygamist with a bondage fetish, most likely as a submissive. He lived with three women, one his legal wife. He had children by two of them, his wife and a younger woman who raised the children. He had a bondage relationship with the third woman. He apparently used Margaret Sanger, eugenicist and founder of Planned Parenthood, as one of his inspirations for the heroine (she is the daughter of the queen of an all-female island, which makes for more than a hint that only the elite reproduce sparingly) and the bracelets that bind Wonder Woman were inspired by the bracelets that the woman who raised his children wore.
Leslie Loftis, “Here’s Why Wonder Woman Isn’t Getting A Movie Any Time Soon”, The Federalist, 2015-02-24.
March 11, 2015
Kevin D. Williamson looks to the not-too-distant past to see how Venezuela got into the economic disaster they’re currently facing:
Venezuela had a good run of it for about five minutes there, at least in public-relations terms. When petroleum prices were booming, all it took was a few gallons of heating oil from Hugo Chávez to buy the extravagant praise of House members, with Representative Chaka Fattah (D., Philadelphia) issuing statements praising Venezuela’s state-run oil company “and the Venezuelan people for their benevolence.” Lest anybody feel creeped out by running political errands for a brutal and repressive caudillo, Joseph Kennedy — son of Senator Robert Kennedy — proclaimed that refusing the strongman’s patronage would be “a crime against humanity.” Kennedy was at the time the director of Citizens Energy, which had a contract to help distribute that Venezuelan heating oil — Boss Hugo was a brute, but he understood American politics.
Celebrities came to sit at his feet, with Sean Penn calling him a “champion” of the world’s poor, Oliver Stone celebrating him as “a great hero,” Antonio Banderas citing his seizure of private businesses as a model to be emulated in the rest of the world, Michael Moore praising his use of oil for political purposes, Danny Glover celebrating him as a “champion of democracy.” His successor, Nicolás Maduro, continued in the Chávez vein, and even as basics such as food and toilet paper disappeared the American Left hailed him as a hero, with Jesse Myerson, Rolling Stone’s fashionable uptown communist, calling his economic program “basically terrific.” Some of the more old-fashioned liberals at The New Republic voiced concern about Venezuela’s sham democracy, its unlimited executive authority, political repression, the hunting down of government critics, the stacking of elections and the government’s perpetrating violence inside polling places — but Myerson insisted that Venezuela’s “electoral system’s integrity puts the U.S.’s to abject shame.” Never mind that opposition leaders there are hauled off to military prison after midnight raids.
Vice President Biden, who can always be counted on to cut straight to the heart of any political question, ran into Maduro in Brazil and, noting the potentate’s thick mane, commented: “If I had your hair, I’d be president of the United States.” Tragically for the Sage of Delaware, hair transplants don’t work that way.
That is all going down the memory hole. The Obama administration has announced economic sanctions on Venezuela’s rulers and its intelligence agents, citing the “erosion of human-rights guarantees” – erosion, as though this were something new, as though Hugo Chávez hadn’t been a tyrant back when President Obama’s ally Representative Fattah was carrying his political water all over the eastern seaboard. In the New York Times’ account of Venezuela’s woes and Maduro’s misrule, there is no mention at all of the critical role the American Left played in lending legitimacy to Chavismo, of the so-called liberals and progressives who denounced legitimate protests against Maduro’s brutality as nefarious U.S.-backed coup attempts, who remained — and remain — silent on the regime’s censorship, political repression, torture, and economic incompetence. William Neuman of the Times did find an economist — a leftist economist, he assures us — who went so far as to say that certain aspects of the Chávez program “needed to be revised or even discarded to set the nation’s economy on the right track.”
March 7, 2015
The BBC made a film called India’s Daughter. The Indian government decided that the film made them look bad, so they banned the film in India and attempted to force the film out of worldwide circulation. In the internet age. It hasn’t been going well for the would-be censors so far:
The Indian government has remained defiant over its ban on a BBC documentary about the 2012 fatal gang-rape of a student in Delhi despite a groundswell of acclaim for the film from prominent Indians who watched it online.
After India’s Daughter broadcast in the UK on Wednesday night, the hour-long film surfaced on YouTube, where the Guardian was able to view it on Thursday afternoon despite reports in Indian media that the government had ordered it be taken down.
India’s home minister, Rajnath Singh, has threatened to take action against the BBC, though did not elaborate on what form this may take, save that “all options are open”.
Police in Delhi continue to pursue the investigation against filmmaker Leslee Udwin, who has left the country, and her Indian crew. Officers visited the homes and offices of Indian crew members on Thursday in a bid to collect the entire footage of the film.
Though online viewing figures for the documentary about Jyoti Singh’s death remained in the low thousands, there was much acclaim from influential literary and Bollywood figures who questioned the necessity of the government’s ban.
“It’s one of the best documentaries I’ve seen – it’s moving and makes you think,” said the novelist Chetan Bhagat. “It’s bone-chilling, yet it shakes you up – it’s a must-watch film.”
H/T to Perry de Havilland for the link.
March 6, 2015
At Coyote Blog, Warren Meyer wonders why so many states and cities are so eager to throw taxpayer money at movie and TV productions:
I am always amazed that the media will credulously run stories against “corporate welfare” for oil companies (which usually mostly includes things like LIFO accounting and investment tax credits that are not oil industry specific) but then beg and plead for us taxpayers to subsidize movie producers.
I wish I understood the reason for the proliferation of government subsidies for film production. Is it as simple as politicians wanting to hobnob with Hollywood types? Our local papers often go into full sales mode for sports team subsidies, but that is understandable from a bottom-line perspective — sports are about the only thing that sells dead-tree papers any more, and so more local sports has a direct benefit on local newspapers. Is it the same reasoning for proposed subsidies for Hollywood moguls?
Whatever the reason, our local paper made yet another pitch for throwing tax dollars at movie producers
Notwithstanding a recent flurry of Super Bowl-related documentaries and commercials that got 2015 off to a good start, Arizona appears to be falling behind in a competitive and lucrative business. The entertainment industry pays well, supports considerable indirect employment and offers the chance for cities and states to shine on a global stage.
Seriously? I am sure setting up the craft table pays better than catering a party at my home, but it is a job that lasts 2 months and is then gone. Ditto everything else on the production. And I am sick of the “shines on the world stage thing.” Who cares? And is this really even true? The movie Chicago was filmed in Toronto — did everyone who watched Chicago suddenly want to go to Toronto? The TV animated series Archer gets a big subsidy from the state of Georgia. Have they even mentioned Georgia in the series? Given the tone of the show, would they even want to be mentioned?
When government subsidizes an industry, it is explicitly saying that resources are better and more productively invested in the subsidized industry than in other industries in which the money would have been spent in a free market. Does the author really have evidence that the money I would have spent to improve the campgrounds we operate in Arizona is better taken from me and spent to get a Hollywood movie shot here instead? Which investment will still be here 6 months from now?
March 2, 2015
Gavin McInnes makes the contrarian case that men were the driving force behind the feminist movement:
Men are the original feminists. Female men’s rights activist Karen Straughan talks about this a lot, and points out that before women could vote, it was men who wanted to bring back the whipping post to punish guys who hit their wives. A man sees a woman getting abused and thinks “Beat him!” — whereas a woman would be more likely to want to work it out. I no longer believe the suffragette movement was made up of women who were mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. I now think it was men pushing them from behind while saying, “Aren’t you mad as hell? You shouldn’t take this anymore.”
Women aren’t fighters by nature. They aren’t “kick-ass.” They’re more about their immediate surroundings than changing the world. Studies show young male chimps are drawn to toy trucks while young females like dolls. It is inherently male to want to control things across the world and run over anything that stands in our way. It is inherently female to want to nest and nurture and make the home a safe place to be. When male chimps write parts for women, they put a truck in her hand and say she’s in the driver’s seat. This is what girl power has always been about.
You see the same character played by Sarah Silverman in Wreck-It Ralph. Women don’t do this in real life. No woman has ever won NASCAR. They can barely drive a motorbike over a log. Yet we keep telling them they’re kick-ass and sticking them in the driver’s seat. This is because we love looking at fast cars and we love looking at hot chicks. Ford Mustang recently released a prank video where some “dumb blonde” pretends she can’t drive but reveals she is actually a stunt driver after blowing everyone’s minds with some intense burnouts. This is presented as a feminist statement that shatters stereotypes, but it’s just men making women do man stuff because they like both.
On a recent episode of Mob Wives, one of the loudmouthed sluts yells, “It takes balls to admit you’re wrong, and if she doesn’t apologize to me, SHE HAS NO BALLS!” I don’t want women to have balls. I want them to have vaginas. I’m not saying I want them to stay at home fluttering their lashes and handing me a steak while wearing high heels (though I wouldn’t complain if my wife gave that a try). I’m saying being kick-ass only appeals to the nerds who play video games and want the Tomb Raider they’re looking at to also have big tits. It’s not feminist to see a chick do a backflip and blow a monster’s head off. It’s male-ist.
We tell women they’re men and they should fuck like men. This leads them to march down the street in Slut Walks baring their breasts and demanding they be allowed to do so. (It’s already legal in New York, yet they keep doing this protest with no complaints from any men whatsoever.) They demanded we let them burn their bras so we can see their tits better. They insisted we stop seeing them as baby machines, so we banged them until their ovaries dried up and then kicked them to the curb. We’ve got them so brainwashed, they think “vagina” is a sexist term because it excludes women with a penis. We say feminism is empowering, but kick-ass chicks end up 40 and alone with their dog, while you’ll rarely see a happier woman than a young married Catholic chick with three or more kids.