Uzbekistan: The United States’ Dirty Little Secret

In an effort to protest the United States government’s recognition of Uzbekistan, a nation that specializes in torturing prisoners to death with boiling water (their names were Elena Urlaeva and Larissa Vdovna) as well as torturing children in front of their parents, I mirror the following documents, as per the viral stratagems of Blairwatch, in an effort to draw attention to Craig Murray‘s memos, information that the UK government is currently trying to oppress:

Series of telegrams sent by Craig Murray to UK Foreign Office
Copy of legal advice the UK Foreign Office sought

Despite all this, the United States has remained one of Uzbekistan’s largest trade partners. We’re talking half a billion dollars (largely weapons) in 2003 and 2004, and some $2.383 billion in investment projects involving American companies and financial institutions.

Of Course, It Could Also Be That Midlist Literary Writers Need Something on the Mantle to Justify Their Poverty

Louis Menand offers this interesting overview of book award circlejerks-cum-review of James English’s The Economy of Prestige: “What makes them valuable is the recognition that they are valuable. This recognition is not automatic and intuitive; it has to be constructed. A work of art has to circulate through a sub-economy of exchange operated by a large and growing class of middlemen: publishers, curators, producers, publicists, philanthropists, foundation officers, critics, professors, and so on. The prize system, with its own cadre of career administrators and judges, is one of the ways in which value gets ‘added on’ to a work. Of course, we like to think that the recognition of artistic excellence is intuitive. We don’t like to think of cultural value as something that requires middlemen—people who are not artists themselves—in order to emerge. We prefer to believe that truly good literature or music or film announces itself. Which is another reason that we need prizes: so that we can insist that we don’t really need them. “

Blind Zeal as Expertise

Timothy Naftali, a so-called “expert” in the history of intelligence and spying, has no clue what he’s talking about. The following interview is intended to be a discussion attempting to understand the complexities on why the U.S. government would need to skirt around the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, but Naftali’s gushing tone, to say nothing of his lack of nuance in examining the issue in question is baffling in its stupidity. Coming across as a big-time NSA booster on Morning Edition, Naftali let loose the following priapic monomania this morning. Amazingly, he’s an associate professor.

A: If you accept, and I do, that there is the possibility of al Qaeda or its affiiates having cells in this country, how do you monitor these people? If they’re changing their cell phones and if they’re moving from computer to computer. How do you do that?

Q: The PATRIOT Act appeared to address that very problem.

A: No, it didn’t.

Q: Made it possible to give a warrant that will follow an individual from one telephone to ano–

A: But what if you don’t know the individual, Steve? What if you’re looking for patterns of behavior? What if you don’t know the individual’s name?

Q: What if you don’t know the number? How do you follow one person around? From going into Wal-Mart and buying a cell phone?

A: You don’t follow one person around. What you do is you listen to conversations.

Q: You mean you listen to a million random conversations hoping to hear this guy?

A: The White House is saying that it is very careful not to listen to point-to-point conversations in the United States. From one point in the United States to another. But there is a way through data mining to analyze where calls originate and where they go. This is a — basically an attempt to look for patterns, use of words, length of telephone calls, length of email, frequency of these communications, both voice and data, and then to look for suspicious patterns. And how do you define suspicious? I don’t know. But the now Deputy Director of National Intelligence, Michael Hayden, has talked about there being a subtle soft trigger. A computer learns what’s suspicious and then it will act on its own. So what we’re talking about is a higher order — a smarter Google if you will.

* * *

In other words, the hard line being espoused here is a technological miracle for an unspecified and unproven pattern for unspecified profiles. Not even Naftali can determine what patterns might constitute “suspicious” behavior and yet he’s gung-ho to micturate on the Fourth Amendment entirely on speculation. I mean, am I suspicious because I happen to enjoy shopping for groceries at 3 AM? Or because I send emails at odd hours? Or, for that matter, have the courtesy to reply to people with lengthy emails? (Insomniacs, of course, are the most suspicious Americans of all.)

What makes Naftali sound even more like an insouciant fundamentalist is his notion that a self-learning computer that will magically stumble upon the right formula. In the interview, he doesn’t cite a single example why we should subscribe to this methodology, although he offers oblique references to John Poindexter’s TIA project (addressed in this letter).

Make no mistake: this is blind zeal masquerading poorly as analysis. It fails to offer a multilateral take on the subject. It fails to offer a solid benchmark on the current state of intelligence, whether there’s too much spying or not enough. It fails to consider the American concern for privacy or Plamegate or the considerable intelligence that the Bush administration failed to check up on before 9/11, well before the PATRIOT Act. (Could it be that the DOJ, the FBI and the CIA was doing just fine before any of this craziness went down and that the incompetence from top-level administration is the cause? Why is it that nobody bothers to dwell on this question?) It is exactly the kind of dangerous “expertise” that doesn’t even scratch the surface of what’s wrong.

BREAKING NEWS! Long Bouts of Day of Defeat: Source Decrease Homicide Rate

SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 29 /PRNewswire/ — While our colleagues at Popcap have announced that their video game products can, to paraphrase their words, keep you casual, we here at Valve Software wish to weigh in on the dramatic sociological effects that our titles, Day of Defeat: Source and Counterstrike: Source, are having upon the online population at large. As everyone in the gaming industry knows, empirical evidence, meaning data that is not accepted in a scientific environment, is the lifeblood of marketing spin. It’s the Flying Spaghetti Monster that floats any multimillion dollar industry. Or to put it another way, sixty thousand coders can’t be wrong.

Some reactionaries may decry the levels of violence within our respective games, the frightening accuracy of the preteens who snipe you as you spawn, and the enduring popularity of the Axis team which permits everyone from a forty-two year old shut-in to an adolescent pariah to get in touch with their inner Adolf. Let us not place blame for these realities. This is only the natural extension of a certain Freudian term representing a base psychological component that we will not name — for it will unfurl a certain competitor we are hoping you will ignore. In fact, forget we said that. The important thing to know here is that the mutliplayer first-person shooter environment is inhabited for the most part by thugs, potential ROTC recruits, and other everyday people with a penchant for vicarious violence.

Let’s pay attention to the national homicide rate. Since our Half-Life technology was unleashed in the mid-1990s, the homicide rate has steadily dropped. Have you ever wondered just why this is?

“I think it’s perfectly obvious,” says Dr. Calvert Defraudio, a New York-based psychologist and motivational speaker who can often be found on UHF stations at 3 AM. “Great products are helping to keep violent criminals in the house, lonely and trigger-happy. The potential pathological killer is kept at bay by violently murdering some random 14 year old in a first-person shooter environment.”

Take the case of Jimmy Studebaker (we use a psuedonym to respect his privacy). Studebaker was a ninth grader overly fond of dissecting frogs and very adept with the mitre saw in metal shop. “Had I not found friends who I could repeatedly kill in Counterstrike: Source, it’s likely I would have gone a little crazy.”

And parents, we all know that it’s a five minute fox trot from “going a little crazy” to pulling a Columbine at your neighborhood ! Had not Studebaker found the solace of blowing his fellow peers to smithereens, who is to say what he would have become? A pickpocket? The leader of a Branch Davidian splinter group?

Instead, Studebaker is an antisocial student earning a C average. Every now and then, he gets tied up and thrown into a dumpster by malicious seniors. But this hasn’t stopped him from perfecting his assault rifle skills just after loading up Steam. The important thing is that Studebaker is in his element while experiencing Valve’s products. And it’s all thanks to Valve that he’s off the streets!

So remember folks, the next time you , think about Jimmy Studebaker, the kid who transferred his rage to his mouse and keyboard.

Valve Software. Keeping hoodlums off the streets, one delinquent at a time.

The Not So Magnificent Seven

J.K. Rowling: “For 2006 will be the year when I write the final book in the Harry Potter series….I have been fine-tuning the fine-tuned plan of seven during the past few weeks so that I can really set to work in January. Reading through the plan is like contemplating the map of an unknown country in which I will soon find myself.”

Translation: “Holy shit! The cash cow’s running out. Will they even take me seriously as a writers once Harry Potter’s done? Did they take me seriously? Better make sure I’m set for life. Note to self: call Herb my investment banker. Keep the red phone humming and the hype machine on overdrive.”

Why Current MTA Procedures Operating In Clear Violation of the Fourth Amendment Are a Terrible and Invasive Idea

Languor Management: “He was getting more and more suspicious of me, and aggressive. I couldn’t for the life of me think of anything I could have possibly done but I was scared to death about what would happen to me. I didn’t even want to move because I thought any sudden movement might give him a reason to shoot me….Why was he putting me through this? Why should I have to tell him that I hoping to have sex tonight? “

Write Ghettoized Fiction or Die Tryin’

In the latest edition of Emerald City, Matthew Cheney offers us “Literary Fiction for People Who Hate Literary Fiction.” Cheney writes, “A reader only interested in a narrow type of writing (hard SF, for instance) is not going to find much pleasure from any literary fiction, but a reader who is interested in experiencing new realities, strange visions, visceral horror, and supernatural events has plenty to choose from,” and proceeds to offer a helpful list of authors for those who’d like to experience some of these alternative visions.

I think, however, it goes without saying that there’s a similar stigma working in reverse. I’m talking about a certain type of literary person who simply will not pick up a book penned by Arturo Perez-Reverte, Octavia Butler, China Mieville, Rupert Thompson, Gene Wolfe or Donald Westlake, precisely because the book is categorized in the mystery or science fiction sections of the bookstore. Sure, the literary person will pick up Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go and go nuts over it because it is categorized in the fiction section or in some sense crowned by the tastemakers as “literary,” little realizing that Philip K. Dick explored similar ethical questions about cloning in his 1968 novella, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” (later turned into Blade Runner), as did Kate Wilhelm in Where Late the Sweet Birds Sing and David Brin in Glory Season. The list goes on.

In fact, when we examine the rave reviews given to Ishiguro, we find a profound misunderstanding, if not an outright belittling, of science fiction:

Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times: “So subtle is Mr. Ishiguro’s depiction of this alternate world that it never feels like a cheesy set from ”The Twilight Zone,” but rather a warped but recognizable version of our own.”

Louis Menand, The New Yorker, on the book’s ending: “It’s a little Hollywood, and the elucidation is purchased at too high a price. The scene pushes the novel over into science fiction, and this is not, at heart, where it seems to want to be.”

Siddhartha Deb, The New Statesman: “This unusual premise, emerging through Kathy’s memories, does not lead us into the realm of speculative science fiction. Unlike Margaret Atwood in Oryx and Crake (2003), Ishiguro is not interested in using the idea of cloning to conjure up a panoramic dystopia.”

These all come from non-academic publications which might be considered “of value” to the literary enthusiast. And yet note the way that Kakutani is relieved that Ishiguro’s book doesn’t inhabit the realm of science fiction (indeed, failing to cite a specific science fiction book in her comparison). Or the way that Menand suggests that the novel’s ending is “pushed over into science fiction.” (Never mind that, by way of its story, Never Let You Go, with its premise of engineered clones, its near-future setting, and its shadowy governments, is indisputably a science fiction novel. So the idea that it would be pushed into a genre it already inhabits is absurd and contradictory.) Meanwhile Deb praises the novel’s “unusual premise” but, despite Ishiguro’s science fiction elements, it somehow does not fall into the redundant term of “speculative science fiction.”

What we have here is a strange reviewing climate transmitting a clear and resounding message to the literary enthusiasts who read the reviews. If a novel manages to convince a sophisticate or a literary enthusiast that it does not inhabit a genre, then it is, in fact, literature. If, however, there is a single experiential passage reminiscent of or explicitly describing bug-eyed monsters or aliens or clones, then sorry, but you’re taking a gritty stroll in the ghetto and you should be ashamed of yourself for taking off your evening gown and putting on some old sweats. Is this really so different from the backlash Dan Green recently identified against experimental fiction?

Of course, M. John Harrison, himself a fantastic science fiction writer, was one of the few to observe, “[Y]ou’re thrown back on the obvious explanation: the novel is about its own moral position on cloning. But that position has been visited before (one thinks immediately of Michael Marshall Smith’s savage 1996 offering, Spares). There’s nothing new here; there’s nothing all that startling; and there certainly isn’t anything to argue with.”

The fact that the literary climate refuses to examine, much less acknowledge, Ishiguro’s antecedents suggests not only that the genre stigma holds true, but that today’s reviewers operate with a deliberate myopia towards those authors who would innovate along similar lines in other genres. For the genre-snubbing literary enthusiast, there is something new in Ishiguro. The new realities, the visceral horror — all presented in a seemingly fresh way. But the very lack of inclusiveness in this approach is not only unfair, but critically unsound.

Could It Be That People Are Tired of Walking Away with Nothing?

If, like me, you spent large chunks of your twenties meeting for five-card stud poker, which generally involved getting together with a bunch of friends with some pennies and some suds, and using the whole exercise as a pretext to shoot the shit with oddball conversationalists who didn’t mind congregating in oddly decorated and often smoky dens, then you were probably somewhat annoyed by the rise of Texas Hold ‘Em. The winner-take-all approach changed everything. People no longer wanted to converse. They wanted to win. Even if it was some measly $60 pot. And the emphasis shifted entirely to money. No longer could a ridiculous bluff be thrown into the fray to remind people that it was only a game. For it was always clear that this version of poker hardly reprsented the kind of brash, seemingly Iacocca-inspired intensity that seems to fuel today’s young poker-playing pipsqueaks.

What was particularly annoying about all this is that when Texas Hold ‘Em became the jeu du jour, everyone wanted to play nothing but Texas Hold ‘Em, which left the five-card stud afficionados (well, really those of us who enjoyed conversing while playing) left in the dust, forced to move on to some nonexistent territory like a Cherokee pushed west.

But it turns out that we five-card studders may have the last laugh. CNN reports that poker-themed television shows and merchandise sales are plummeting. Curiously, Teaxs Hold ‘Em (and this shift in rules) isn’t even mentioned in the article. But when you perpetuate a game in which you can’t walk away with anything if you lose and the level of playing is amped up to an intensity that precludes socialization, it’s no surprise that “macho-man type of people” are the only ones left.

But five-card stud is still there for the rest of us. Who knows? Maybe it will be to the 2000s what bridge was to the 1950s. But I think we can keep poker somewhat illicit by reminding people of another form of five-card stud. I can confirm from personal experience that it is quite enjoyable (and, in fact, if you apply Texas Hold ‘Em rules to it, it isn’t any fun at all). It’s a little thing called strip poker.

Amazon Author Blogs

I suppose the move was inevitable, but Amazon has started hosting author blogs. The highest profile name on the list is Meg Wolitzer, whose posts can be found here. But I can’t buy into the ethics of a retailer pushing a blog while simultaneously encouarging people to buy things. Whatever the merits of Wolitzer’s posts, however much she feels that “Anything that can get fiction on people’s radar is good,” I get the unsettling aura of Shirley Maclaine talking with the dead during an infomercial.

Even the language of Wolitzer’s posts sounds as if it’s been lifted from a sleep-inducing MBA seminar. One reads, “I feel that writers need to remind readers why they ought to read novels. Fiction writers need to put the truth about the world into their books. Actually, in some sense, they need to put the world into their books.”

If we switch “readers” with “consumers,” “writers” with “corporations” and books with “Coca-Cola,” we get the following entry: “I feel that corporations need to remind consumers why they ought to drink Coca-Cola. Corporations need to put the truth about the world into their products. Actualy, in some sense they need to put the world into their Coca-Cola.” We’re clearly leagues away from Paris Review-style insight.

Granted, it’s easy to argue that 90% of blogs are vapid. But even a lousy LiveJournal is written with a voice of integrity and authenticity, likely because the shady influence of advertising is far from the impetus.

I understand the need to market books, particularly given the oversaturated fiction market. But author websites seem to me a better way to do this. Not only do they serve as a reference point which is compatible with both buying the book (if desired) and finding out about an author, but in the case of such authors as Michelle Richmond, John Scalzi, Tayari Jones and Jennifer Weiner, they become blossoming entities which emerge from their initial purpose, leading to impassioned discussions about plagiarism, race and the stigma against chick lit. But I doubt very highly that these conversations could have developed had these respective sites been hosted by Amazon (let alone any monolithic sponsor) because the concerns of offending the boys upstairs or attracting a broad readership tainted the posts.

And here’s a question someone should ask: does Amazon “place” blogs the same way that Barnes & Noble cuts deals with publishers for placement? Is there some clickthrough rate tied into whether or not Meg Wolitzer, for example, will get placement on the main page? When the overwhelming reason to blog is to move product, surely the motivation behind the posts will be moulded to ensure presence and survival.

In the end, I think the Amazon blog is going to hurt Wolitzer more than it’s going to help her. What could have been a way for readers to elicit honest feedback from Wolitzer has turned instead into one of those Gap Kids commercials. Initially, you’re dazzled by the performance. But as the initial allure wears off, you begin cluing into the fact that it’s a commercial (in this case, the realization that Wolitzer isn’t going to rock the boat, much less provide anything even slightly subversive). My guess is that Wolitzer will be communicating with the dead, blogwise at least. Sooner than she thinks.

[UPDATE: Galleycat’s Ron Hogan challenges my assumption, suggesting, for example, that a Uzodinma Iweala essay (by comparison, a one-shot deal rather than a continuous commitment) appearing at Powell’s might be reified as “too corporate.” I should point out that, although Iweala’s essay appears on a major retailer’s site, at least Powell’s has made more of an effort to distinguish its content from its marketing, confining all marketing links in rounded yellow boxes. In other words, we have a clear separation between marketing and editorial rather than Amazon’s “anything goes” principle, with its links just under “Meg Wolitzer’s Amazon Blog” going directly to “buy this book” links. Ron is misconstruing my argument. Again, as I pointed out above, I raise no objection to the need to sell books (in fact, while I’m not a fan of advertising, I nevertheless applaud Media Bistro for placing its advertisements in clearly delineated squares so as not to mislead readers). My concern here is over the blurring of marketing and editorial and the impact this is likely to have on worthwhile content (meaning that Wolitzer’s blog is not so much about Wolitzer the author but Wolitzer the book merchant, for her books, without the pivotal distinction, are now contextualized as laundry detergent rather than as works of art). It is no less invalid an argument than the concerns raised earlier in the year over the Target-sponsored New Yorker or what’s referred to in the MeFi world as Pepsi Blue. (See also this OJR article about ethical standards in the blogosphere.)]

Of Course Cut Into the Major Bank That Golden’s Making Off the Movie Rights and the Pride Will Dramatically Shift

Arthur Golden writes the Washington Post about the film version of Memoirs of a Geisha: “The criticism of experts in the geisha world, as recounted in Sarah Kaufman’s Dec. 15 Style article…had little effect on the pride I feel in Rob Marshall’s beautiful and moving film based upon my novel ‘Memoirs of a Geisha.'”

Full List of Things That Benjamin Kunkel is Angry About

Culled from Mr. Sarvas’s painstaking retyping of a TLS article: “‘We’re angrier than Dave Eggers and his crowd,’ he told the Observer. Well, that’s promising, kind of. Angry about what? The war? Religious fundamentalism at home and abroad? Race and its discontents? – the big, Mailerite subejcts. No. Kunkel is angry about dating.”

For the benefit of those who follow n+1, here is a full list of issues that Ben Kunkel is angry about:

  1. The whole hot dog to hot dog bun ratio. Standup comedians have been mining this territory for years, but with Kunkel, it’s personal. A veritable supermarket jihad. A future issue of n+1 will try and track down the appropriate people responsible for this catastrophe, imagining a judicious world in which disreputable hot dog bun manufacturers are executed for their crimes against humanity.
  2. The bastards who cut you off on the freeway. While most commuters inevitably shake off the momentary fury of someone merging into a lane without checking their blind spots, Kunkel’s been keeping score. License plate numbers and full dossiers of car owners will be printed in future issues to come.
  3. Those call banks in India. Surely not enough has been said on the subject!
  4. Those who would decry beating a dead horse.
  5. How acid wash jeans are misunderstood.
  6. While competitor Eggers has frequently bemoaned men who don’t subscribe to the metrosexual code of shaving the neck, Kunkel has his own millstone: men who selfishly wear black socks to bed when their girlfriends aren’t around. Kunkel considers this sartorial gaffe to be a full-blown deception! In order for humanity to thrive, a certain dining out consistency, far from foolish, should be maintained. It is the American way.
  7. The charges leveled at Tony Danza.
  8. The guilt of illegally tearing a mattress tag off.
  9. People who bring in bag lunches (and, even wore, those Tupperware containers of last night’s leftovers) to work. Kunkel, awash in his own brilliance, has figured out the economic effect on small mom ‘n pop eateries, who rely upon office drones and their unassuming palates for their bread and butter.
  10. The avaricious impulse encouraged by the unlimited refill.
  11. The popularity of Jason Kottke.
  12. Men who wear Speedos in locker rooms.
  13. Women who don’t put out by the third date and the saps who love them.

[UPDATE: My colleague Scott Esposito also has some thoughts on the subject.]

The Chair Update

We are pleased to report that the chair that was wounded during the course of engineering The Bat Segundo Show #16 has been replaced. (We had sentimental attachments for that chair, but it had a solid six year run and it was probably due for a replacement anyway.) The new chair is a large and quite comfy leather chair that we almost fell asleep on yesterday evening. Further, this chair has a five year warranty and reliable casters to boot. In short, the upshot here is that the chair’s comfort and durability (to say nothing of its easy assembly) will likely fuel us for quite some time. (To give you a sense of how nifty this chair is, when you stand up, the cushion emits a noticable whoosh, as if to suggest that it’s had your bottom’s interest at heart all along. How many chairs have the courtesy to do that?) So expect a new Segundo podcast (or two) in the week. We assure you that these are some pretty exciting interviews. Also, Mr. Segundo has been located and he will explain his disappearance in Segundo #17.

Further, we cannot say enough good things about Rupert Thompson’s Divided Thompson, which kept us up until 3:30 AM the other night. While we’re not yet finished with it (though close!), we’re thinking that it might have made our Top 10 List had we read it earlier in the year. If you like your dystopian spec-fic novels sprinkled with goofball humor (we’re talking surfing and pole vaulting, peeps!) and a strange obsession with curlicue imagery, then we whole-heartedly recommend it.

We’ve also dug our claws into Black Swan Green and will have some things to say about that in the emerging week (though, to be perfectly clear, not a review!). Our immediate impression is that this so-called “departure” is probably the right thing for our man, David Mitchell, although we’ll say more once we’ve reached the apex.

Schlotts and Coupling: An Uncredentialed Take on Human Relationships

If, like me, you are a Single Bipedal and Sentient Mammal Over Thirty (to which I shall apply the term “schlott,” if only to abridge such a pesky mouthful to a clearly ridiculous and monosyllabic term), inevitably there comes a point where a certain fatigue sets in. Schlotts of all ages experience a certain malaise, not exactly a hopelessness per se, but a lengthy moment in which the warm, witty and wonderful entity that a schlott has established themselves to be is compromised by the fact that their warm, witty and wonderful advances are wholly incompatible (often mistakenly perceived as incorrigible) with the fellow schlotts they flirt with – in short, the act of being rebuffed despite multiple attempts. This is what’s known in the retail world as the law of averages: the expectation that 10% of everyone you pitch will in fact buy something (read: go out with you) regardless of what you have to say. (See Figure 1.)

But what happens in the dating world, alas, is something more diabolical and complex. The law of averages does, in fact, apply. But what often happens is that, no matter how soundly hygienic, complimentary, scented, or scintillating you are, the fish, so to speak, often do not bite in any predetermined order. Meaning that it is possible for a schlott to flirt with 90 prospects, only to discover that the remaining 10% who will inevitably fall for the pitch, regardless of how frequently you flub your compliments or mangle your language (aided, no doubt, by nervousness and the ascension of intoxicants in some settings), resides at the end of the long and winding road. It is the inevitable moment of success which cannot be accounted for. Or the moment that arrives when a schlott finds someone, only to see his voicemails runneth over with other prospective ex-schlotts and somewhat embarrassed explanations to the compatible spirit and warm body who was kind and/or attracted enough to lie next to the initial schlott that the relationship is still nascent and exclusive, that there’s nothing here to worry about, and that the recently ex-schlott in question is the apple of the eye, the cat’s pajamas, the cream in the coffee, insert your affectionate term of art here.

But where the salesman often has a carefully selected list of leads at his disposal, the schlott, by contrast, only has eyes for the type of schlott he’d like to mate and cohabitate with at any particular moment. And his targets are often occluded by any number of failings (the amount of liquor imbibed, the veritable randiness which shows no sign of abating, and, in some schlotts, a telltale desperation) – in short, an arbitrary concern for aesthetics which often overrides the more common goal of finding someone nice to be with for a while or more.

Indeed, with a schlott, there exists a certain question of standards. If the schlott has sufficiently rebounded and pulled his act together after a bad breakup, then initially these standards work against the law of averages, while simultaneously operating in tandem with them. This may sound somewhat self-defeating of my basic hypothesis, but allow me to explain. As Figure 2 illustrates, in the early stages, where the schlott has perched his head like an groundhog affably surveying his surroundings on February 2, he may feel initially quite confident, settling for only the very best (i.e., to carry the metaphor further, the lingering shadow of his confidence may in fact allow that initial drop between the 10 and the 7 to abstain from effect for about six weeks or so; this is assuming, of course, that the schlott does indeed see his shadow). But perhaps the groundhog…er…schlott is possessed of certain delusions of grandeur. Rising above and beyond the sensible all of realistic expectations, he looks only for the potential 10 and completely abandons the more reasonable 7.

But in settling for the 10, the schlott precipitates his drop into the 2s. Because he is only setting himself up for disaster. Further, there is the question of whether the schlott’s overestimation of his own appeal may contribute to his decline and inevitable desperation. This certainly goes against the established law of averages. Thus, we have a situation in which the groundschlott should probably be more reasonable in his expectations or thus fall asunder.

But enough of these moribund dating projections! I am an uncredentialed scientist and I am already contemplating my own potential slide into the abyss. I blame the people who encouraged me to probe deeper into human coupling. And frankly, I try to leave my feelings out of these analyses. No doubt someone is having a laugh at my expense! Let us turn briefly then to the process of attraction.

Figure 3 illustrates the importance of first impressions. In some cases, a schlott may approach another schlott and fail to consider that his aesthetics should be thoroughly optimized to ensure maximum conversational potential. If the schlott has had too much to drink or is allowing a minor depression or abstraction to interfere from his initial conversational approach (sometimes referred to as “a pickup line”), then his likelihood of meeting the schlott law of averages will dramatically decrease.

Such is considered the norm at any rate. But there are often fluke scenarios whereby the “bad” impression may in fact yield a positive outcome, particularly if the other schlott shares in common the abstraction, depression, or, most likely, a high inebriation level. Experts in schlott social dynamics often refer to this as “the drunken rebound one-night stand” or the “mercy fuck,” but, more often than not, the sheer preternatural outcome of it all cannot be appropriately accounted or tabulated, save through the carnal biological impulses embedded within schlotts (and often married bipedals) which cause them to consummate with anything that moves.

Indeed, it goes without saying that the schlott dilemma is an overlooked and often depressing subject to dwell upon. Which is why the Society to Further Schlottism has asked me to not only produce these statistics, but provide a rosy bow with which to wrap this informational bauble. Yes, human beings need to procreate. Yes, they need companionship and affection. Yes, they need to break out of the misanthropic isolation chronicled in Mr. Putnam’s book, Bowling Alone. But for the schlott who is inhabiting the lower-right hand area of Figure 2, we have one bona-fide piece of advice to offer: Never underestimate the immediate benefits of masturbation. Also, if it’s time to lean, it’s time to clean.

(NOTE: This study has been paid for by the Society to Further Schlottism, in collusion with a grant from the Department of Half-Baked Empirical Research.)

Another Crime, Another Cultural Scapegoat

So now we have a case where Stanley Kubrick is going to be blamed for a violent crime. Three teenagers, obsessed by A Clockwork Orange, set fire to a homeless woman. The woman died in a hospital. Here are the questions that I would like to know and that should be asked of the 16 year old referred to as Juan Jose and the two 18 year old kids, Ricard Pinilla and Onol Pinilla.

  • How were they raised by their parents? And why is there nothing here in the article on this?
  • Do these three kids have any history of violent behavior? Given the fact that they publicly boasted about the crime, was this a savage cry for attention?
  • How does recording violent attacks on a mobile phone and exchanging pictures by email have anything to do with A Clockwork Orange or Counterstrike? It suggests to me instead a pathological impulse that originates from within. (Further, the homeless man in A Clockwork Orange is stabbed and beaten up and there is no gasoline poured on anyone throughout the movie. Could it be that they developed the burn-someone-with-solvent idea from their own minds?)
  • Why even have a sidebar devoted to Kubrick’s wishes to withdraw the film when the crime is still being investigated and the corollaries are so flimsy?

Have today’s journalists removed themselves from doing the proper legwork? Here, not even the London Times can support the thesis, much less shine the arc into some of those pivotal gray areas. Or maybe the Times would rather sell papers than perform an investigation into the factors that cause juveniles to commit crimes.

“Wish List! No More Sweaters” by Joe Queenan

A few months ago, an acquaintance of mine, whom I tolerate more than those clearly horrible people who give me Navajo books, spent about twenty hours knitting me a sweater. She had gone out of her way to use very specific yarn imported from Guatemala with what she called “good weave” and had designed the sweater pattern herself. Apparently, the bitch actually expected me to wear the thing. Of course, I was gracious and took the sweater, even as the tears flowed down her cheeks after she saw that I clearly loathed it. And while this acquaintance and I are no longer on speaking terms, I called Sam Tanenhaus up and told him this story. And he said, “Joe, that would make a fantastic essay! You know I’ll print anything you write. Even your shopping list!”

Since I’ve spent the majority of my writing career belittling things without expressing so much as an ounce of joy about anything that inhabits this miserable planet, I figured I’d give it a shot. So here goes: the people who knit and hand you sweaters (mostly grandmothers, apparently) are evil sadists who should be flayed alive in front of a paying public. After all, any reasonable man knows that the universe revolves exclusively around him. First and foremost. Or failing that, Joe Queenan.

Gift management is not the only issue here. The idea that other people could even contribute to your well-being by hand-knitting you a gift is outside any red-blooded male’s paradigm. We shouldn’t even have to open the carefully packaged box that contains the sweater. We should dismiss the gift simply because thumbing down the cardboard reveals the unmistakable trappings of a sweater. Who really knows how to knit things anyway save those starving workers toiling in an export processing zone? No, let the machines do all the knitting work for us.

Some people may wonder, “Well, why don’t you simply lie when people give you a sweater?” There are two problems with such duplicity. One, I’m an asshole and a pompous windbag. And people should know that in advance when they give me a gift. Two, while graciously receiving another person’s gift or perspective might have prevented my divorce, see point number one. As the old saying goes, you only live once. And when you have a guy like Joe Queenan as the center of your universe (meaning me or fawning and unquestioning admirers), life’s too short to pay even the smallest suggestion any heed. Joe Queenan takes no lip from nobody. Not even those septuagenarians who have taken several hours out of their shortening lives to try and make me happy.

Nextbus MUNI Secret Links

Tipped off by the fine folks at the SFist, I’ve learned that there are “secret” links to MUNI routes not listed in the main Nextbus directory, meaning that for a good chunk of MUNI’s routes, you can see exactly where the buses are in real time. (This will probably mean nothing to you if (a) you do not live in San Francisco or (b) are not a hard-core public transportation zealot. You have been warned in advance that this post contains some frighteningly pedantic information.)

This is fantastic because, at long last, MUNI riders can now capture irrefutable evidence of those two hour minute driver breaks at the end of the line. (I can second Mattymatt’s observation that the standard MUNI driver response: “Another bus will be along in a minute,” is pretty much the norm.)

Some bus lines are wired; some are not. In fact, when we examine this list, it’s interesting that nearly every route which limns the rich and superficial pockets of the Marina is listed (including the rinky-dink 41!), while the crosstown routes that serve the people who don’t wear overpriced Hugo Boss suits on a regular basis (the 29, the 38 — at 54,000 daily passengers, the nation’s busiest bus line, and the 71) aren’t wired up yet. Nor are any of the Owl lines. The latter, in particular, would be helpful for those who need to catch the only damn buses running at 3 AM and stand waiting in the shivering cold with an empty wallet and a dead cell phone (thus precluding a taxi) for 90 minutes hoping to hell the bus in question will actually stop for them.

But here’s a list of functioning links I’ve been able to find, compared against the MUNI route checklist:

F Market
J Church
K Ingleside
L Taraval
M Oceanview
N Judah
S Castro Shuttle
California Street Cable Car: Not available.
Powell-Hyde Street Cable Car: Not available.
Powell-Mason Cable Car: Not available.
1 California
1AX: Not available.
2AX: Not available.
3 Jackson
4 Sutter
5 Fulton
6 Parnassus
7 Haight
9 San Bruno: Not available.
9AX San Bruno Express: Not available.
9BX San Bruno Express: Not available.
10 Townsend: Not available.
12 Folsom: Not available.
14 Mission
14 Limited: Not available.
14 Express: Not available.
15 Third Street: Not available.
16AX Noriega Express: Not available.
16BX Noriega Express: Not available.
17 Parkmerced: Not available.
18 46th Avenue: Not available.
19 Polk: Not available.
21 Hayes
22 Fillmore
23 Monterey: Not available.
24 Divisadero
26 Valencia: Not available.
27 Bryant: Not available.
28 19th Avenue: Not available.
28L 19th Avenue Limited: Not available.
29 Sunset: Not available.
30 Stockton
30X Marina Express: Not available.
31 Balboa
31AX Balboa A Express: Not available.
31BX Balboa B Express: Not available.
33 Stanyan
35 Eureka: Not available.
36 Teresita: Not available.
37 Corbett: Not available.
38 Geary: Not available.
38 Geary Limited: Not available.
38AX Geary A Express: Not available.
38BX Geary B Express: Not available.
39 Colt: Not available.
41 Union
43 Masonic: Not available.
44 O’Shaughnessy: Not available.
45 Union-Stockton
47 Van Ness: Not available.
48 Quintara-24th Street: Not available.
49 Van Ness-Mission
52 Excelsior: Not available.
53 Southern Heights: Not available.
54 Felton: Not available.
56 Rutland: Not available.
66 Quintara: Not available.
67 Bernal Heights: Not available.
71 Haight Noriega: Not available.
71L Haight Noriega Limited: Not available.
76 Marin Headlands: Not available.
80X Gateway Express: Not available.
81X Caltrain Express: Not available.
82X Presidio & Wharves Express: Not available.
88 BART Shuttle: Not available.
89 Laguna Honda: Not available.
90 Owl: Not available.
91 Owl: Not available.
108 Treasure Island: Not available.

Can Actors Get Fired for Blogging on the Clock?

From a Rainn Wilson interview: “Yeah, we have working computers on the set, though the internet connection can be really bad. A lot of times, if we’re just doing background work, if they’re shooting a scene with Steve Carell [in the foreground], we have time to play around with [our web sites]. I’ll try to think of something from an upcoming episode, or just keep track of funny observations that I write as Dwight. Yeah. It’s a virtual reality set, people are working on their Web sites all the time. Everyone has their MySpace thing going.”

The Dwight blog is here.