Thursday, January 29, 2009

'The Ayatollah Begs to Differ'

Many fans of Iranian-American writer Hooman Majd doubtless became familiar with him when he plugged his book on The Daily Show. During an amusing back-and-forth with host Jon Stewart, Majd outlined parallels between misperceptions of the U.S. abroad and of Iran in the U.S. and between religious conservatives in both countries. While Stewart riffed off the comparisons, Majd came off as funny, knowledgeable and urbane and, as is often the case, there for much too little time. The same can be said for his book, The Ayatollah Begs to Differ.It's smart, funny and sophisticated; reading it is a pleasure. But it's a shame to finish it and wonder what else could be written.

Majd was born and raised in Iran before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. He was a student in England during Ayatollah Khomeini's rise to power, and he now lives in New York, where he has served as the translator for both former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami (he and Khatami are distant cousins whose families come from the same small village) and current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In sum, Majd is something of a native son and a western cosmopolite. He's fluent in both languages and worlds, in both liberal secular democracy and in Islamic Iran.

His background and current life seem to inform the structure of The Ayatollah Begs to Differ. It's written in a breezy style that dips periodically into broader thematic aspects of Iran but mostly flits in and out of revealing — but not necessarily fully anchored and thematically explored — anecdotes. The reader can envision Majd the Raconteur, telling these stories while at table with a dozen Americans, holding a glass of burgundy and tilting his head back to remember detail.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I Can't Stop Watching This Dog

I can't quite put my finger on why. In one moment, it's because the dog's expression is legitimately hysterical. I can't stop laughing. In another moment, it's because I feel a great rush of pity and think that this is the most adorable dog I've ever looked at. I've honestly started to wonder if I'm doing something cruel by laughing at this. In another, it's because I'm secretly hoping that this viewing is the one where he just flips out and starts gnawing that horrible Victoria Stilwell woman's butt. I actually have no qualms about this fantasy. Either way, dogs are awesome; Stains the Dog is absolutely awesome. Dogs rule. Stains rules. This video rules.

Friday, January 23, 2009

'Mind Game': Baseball Saga and Stats

Part of the problem for any fan of the new analysis of baseball is that it's dorky. There's math involved. A lot of it. Picking up any book on sabermetrics (a term inspired by SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research) or clicking on an article from Baseball Prospectus (BP) feels a lot like one of those dreams where you think you're going to make a You Sandwich between Kate Winslet and Rachel Weisz and — as you push the doors open to what you know will be a Sexeteria with an indoor champagne pool and high-def recording devices to prove that, yes, this happened — you instead stumble into a room where someone's administering a mandatory Advanced Calculus SAT II exam.

Also, you're naked and your penis is missing, and you're holding a TI-81 calculator that, regardless of what input you give it, keeps coming up, "DUDE YOUR PENIS IS MISSING," and, "LOL."

Despite my robust and even intimidating masculinity, I feel like this all the time when I turn the page or scroll down the BP site to discover another one of those statistical charts that looks like Arsenio's autograph at the beginning of his show, superimposed on another Arsenio autograph, and another, and all curiously dotted a lot like his name had twenty-seven I's in it. I should be about to have fun, but all I've got is this very intelligent stuff I don't get. It's dispiriting. It makes you feel like a moron, like there's a whole other level of the book slipping past you.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Youtube Doubler: In the Right Hands, It's Art

My stomach feels like it's ripping in two, but I can't stop watching a youtubedoubler. (Click the image below to view.) I didn't make it, so I can't take credit for it. There you go.

And, since this entry feels a little empty, see if you can figure out what the fuck is happening in the picture itself.

Post explanations, please:


'Lie to Me': All the Deceit, None of the Vicodin

The pilot for FOX's new detective drama aired tonight, after months of relentless promos and probably just minutes before anyone interested in it finally decided to turn the TV off, out of spite. Thousands have surely been lost already to the same impulse, and in a peculiar quirk of sadism or pig ignorance, FOX's solution to getting these people back will probably be more promos. Whatever they do, hopefully it works, because Lie to Me has the potential to be a very good show.

Its premise is pretty simple: Cal Lightman (Tim Roth) works for the Department of Defense and local law enforcement, detecting evasion and falsehood. Allegedly, this eccentric with a spotty past spent years living in far-flung regions of the globe, studying human facial expressions and physiological reaction. Today, when not solving crimes or interacting with his team — including a gifted naif, a smart older woman and a frank young man — he misanthropically uses his gifts to correct minor injustices, either vengefully or for the hell of it.

It's a fun show. It seems pretty good. Because it's House. And House is a great show. If it weren't fun or pretty good, the similarities would almost be insulting. Consider:

Monday, January 19, 2009

'You Suck' — Well, Actually You're Just Disappointing

As is the case with Carl Hiaasen novels, pizza and sex, even when Christopher Moore novels are bad, they're still pretty great. His latest, You Suck: A Love Story is a sequel that picks up where 1995's Bloodsucking Fiends left off and incorporates characters and scenes from 2006's A Dirty Job. Unfortunately, in coasting off the goodwill and familiar faces from both, the book doesn't create enough on its own.

Much like Hiaasen, all Moore books hew pretty closely to a standard formula:

They're Funny
It's important to mention this because without it, people probably wouldn't be nuts for his books. Strip away all the ideas and the supernatural booty, and all his books generally provide a few genuine laugh-out-loud moments and a lot of good cynical one-liners per page. Even better, that cynicism is always the product of a jaded and weary goodhearted person, someone who's turned to the bitter line as a defense but who also wants to believe in whatever big idea comes next around the corner.

Mundane Into the Mystic
Probably the best part of all his novels is Moore's dedication to exploring an eggheaded or abstract concept through everyday people, making each book a kind of romping feel-your-way-through primer on something that interested him and that he researched. A lot of his texts seem to have an almost anthropological quality examined through the lens of wisecracking cynical modernity. A Dirty Job plumbed ideas of the folkways of death and the location of the soul. Coyote Blue tackled American Indian spiritual practices and the modern indian diaspora in America. Fluke: or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings addressed both environmentalism and the meme theory of knowledge. His best book by far, Lamb: or, The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal, is practically an informal survey text of both apocrypha studies and comparative religions, especially as regards Christianity's incorporation of eastern mystical concepts. Since the narrator invariably approaches these concepts from a genially ignorant point of view, the studious aspect is minimized, drawing in the reader relatively painlessly.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Action Camus!

Found this today. I haven't read The Stranger since high school, but thankfully this works even on the recognition level of reference comedy. It's hysterical. No other words are necessary

Friday, January 16, 2009

Please: Some Awful Aid for Palestine

People like to crap on the website SomethingAwful.com because — heh — it can really be something awful. The non-witticism is neither uncommon nor, upon occasion, inapt. This is, after all, the website that told one of those nuttily self-absorbed ladies who make fake biography pages for their precious-angel stillborn fetuses (in this case, four of them) that her "poison womb [was] making heaven too fucking crowded."

Still, despite the name and the cruel satire, it's a decent place. It's outed probably half a dozen internet pedophiles. When news reports in 2003 or 2004 disclosed that we were sending troops to Iraq without sufficient body armor, message board members — who have to pay $10 to join and, if they choose, $5 per avatar, $10 to be able to use the search and private message functions and $10 to view the inactive/archive section of the forums — donated over $20,000 to protect our troops. Racists are banned, costing them their registration fees and whatever bonuses they added to their accounts. They're also internet-detectived and mocked on other sites, exposed for their virulent and disgusting opinions.

Lately, members of the site have been doing something singularly generous and creditable. In seven days, they have raised $20,273 for the victims in Gaza. These are mostly high school and college students and young professionals without large salaries. Granted, there have been one or two magnanimous $500 donations here or there, but the rest of it has been collected from hundreds of $10 or $25 donations.

These donations have gone to:

What reason do you need to die?

Like most other people who've been alive this long, I've heard the Boomtown Rats' song "I Don't Like Mondays" for nearly 30 years. Perhaps I'm different, but I've never listened to it until now. It's always been the song some drunk was playing on his stereo, the song at a party or in a bar when I was trying to listen to what someone was saying, the song that appeared in the background of a soundtrack or something else that commanded my attention first.

In the last few weeks, it's featured in the background for promos about the TV show House and its move to Monday nights. And it's stuck in my head. It's been there for two weeks.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

CNN: A Slightly More Polished "LetMeGoogleThatForYou.Com" That You Can Also Watch on the TeeVee

In 1967, actor Patrick McGoohan created The Prisoner, a seventeen-episode sci-fi series that has never since left reruns, furious internet debates, the nerd consciousness and the intelligent pop-culture consciousness. Its meditations on identity, authority, individuality, dis/misinformation and the ever greater loss of liberty and self at the hands of more pervasive surveillance and recording technology have only grown more poignant and chilling with the passage of time. From shows like The X-Files and LOST to the conduct of the Bush administration, eerie callbacks to McGoohan's series can be seen everywhere.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Scott Raab and the Celebrity Profile

Three hundred years ago when Addison and Steele founded The Tatler and, with it, modern journalism, neither could have envisioned something as shamefully entertaining, intellectually empty and only infrequently artistic as the "celebrity profile." If they had, perhaps they'd have killed themselves.

These pieces exist solely because some vacuous turd from the entertainment industry has achieved just enough of a Q rating that his mug will move an extra dozen units of magazines. His selection for that purpose means that, by intent, almost anything about him or what he has to say doesn't have to be anything other than meaningless. It will still sell magazines. In fact, he can really only achieve the absence of meaninglessness by derailing the gravy train of vapidity with a massive, unintentional fuckup.

In pursuit of people like him run the celebrity profilers, who fall into one of three categories:

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Weekly Standard Does Something Awful

Every politics wonk knows The Weekly Standard, or should know it. Founded by Bill Kristol and never once operating at a profit, it perfectly espouses two foundational concepts of neoconservatism:
1. The Free Market and the Free Market of Ideas are always right — except when you're a conservative, and they demonstrably prove that everyone thinks your shit's all retarded and have no interest in buying what you're selling. In which case, here are coupla million dollars in entitlement checks to make sure you and your college 'zine about killing brown people get back on your feet and can keep yourself in some Brooks Brothers and Hickey Freeman. Come on, you look sowww saaaad. Who wants some giiiiiiiin??? Atta boy!
2. It doesn't matter if you're totally worthless at your job. Keep it. We knew your dad.
If this last comment seems a bit nebulous, perhaps the TV can help. On The Daily Show, host Jon Stewart narrates a recurring segment, "O, Bill Kristol. Are You Ever Right?" The answer is no. Still, he's managed to parlay a career of quotidian observations and methodical, relentless failure into TV appearances and even a ruthlessly stupid New York Times column that tends to make sense only after Wonkette ridicules it.

I mention Billy boy only because he's diversified his ignorance to include both internet comedy and his own base. For weeks now, members of the SomethingAwful.com message board have been posting as dedicated Palinite members of the Team Sarah message board. Team Sarah describes itself as "a coalition of women dedicated to advancing the values that Sarah Palin represents in the political process." I would describe it as "a coalition of borderline racist suburban and agrarian fatty catladies bonding over their hatred of books, gooks and gays and gook bookgays who use their ivory towers and books in their anuses when not aborting babies."