Thursday, June 29, 2006

Just Like the Morton's Salt Girl

Excuse the downpour of bloggery. Take what you can get.

So on my birthday — which, admittedly, was nearly a month ago — I took Spencer and Holly up to Seven Falls. Spencer had never been before. Holly had tried and, being unable to find it, declared it mythical. We found it and had a good time, despite a swarm of hundreds of ladybugs — literally hundreds, angry and biting, no less. And Holly took some pictures to prove that we were there.

Here's me, straddling a tree and looking like an asshole. It was my birthday, okay?

Here are Spencer and I, doing a reasonable impression of frat guys, what with the head rag and all. (It was hot. The temperature.)

And here's me with a butterfly on my head.

In the process of overcoming one of the larger rocks in our path, Holly cracked the very fancypants phone that took these pictures. To that, I say "Thank you, Holly's phone. Through your death, I have achieved long-lasting birthday memories."

The ladybug brigade, I'm sad to say, was not photographed.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Love You Like I Love Myself

If a word doesn’t already exist for the phenomenon of cartoon couples looking like male-female fraternal twins, then the Germans aren’t on top of their game. A few examples:

Porky Pig and Petunia Pig

The entire Disney crew (Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy et al.) but most notably supporting characters Clarabelle Cow and Horace Horsecollar, who look related despite the fact that they're different species

Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man

Chief Wiggum and his wife, Sarah

Kirk and Luann Van Houten

Mort and Muriel Goldman

And Toad and Toadette

Just to name a few.

As you can see, animators have been creating love interests for pre-existing characters and routinely making these sweethearts look like they share way too much DNA to be dating — or worse, mating. They really do look like brother and sister, all of these folks. It’s interesting that cartoonists would want to make these characters — most of them intended for young audiences — look like they’re committing incest. However, it’s more probable that the resemblance stems from (a) the animators’ lazy reluctance to create an entirely new model for a second-tier character and (b) the fact that having the characters look alike helps to tie them together. You see Daisy Duck waltz onto the scene, and even if you’ve never seen a Disney cartoon before, you know straight away that she’s involved with Donald in some way.

It’s like the Skeeter Syndome. As the people who made “Muppet Babies” clearly realized, a dearth of female characters can easily be remedied by making a female twist on a male character. That’s how the show got Skeeter, the girl counterpart to Scooter, who had existed in the regular, non-animated “Muppet Show” for years. (Granted, Skeeter was Scooter’s twin, not his love interest, but the idea still holds water.) In the end, any given group of characters gets to even out the gender ratio, but at the expense of looking like a bunch of inbreeders. And it’s been happening, apparently, since cartoon characters have been around.

An interesting note, however, is Kirk and Luann Van Houten. Since they’re on a show that seems to be conscious of trends on TV shows — especially animated shows — they’re resemblance could be intentional. How else could somebody explain why Milhouse is the way he is? What’s more, “The Simpsons” has featured both Kirk’s dad and Luann’s mom, who are on opposite sides of the family but nonetheless bear the resemblance. The twist comes in that the Van Houtens have been divorced for nearly as long as the show has featured them as a married couple. This, to me, is an interesting twist on the whole look-alike couple, and the kind of twist on a standard formula that once made “The Simpsons” a good show. The ones who look like they must belong together actually don’t and now hate each other.

And as for the Goldmans from “Family Guy,” I can only guess that they — being the awkward, bespectacled parents of an equally awkward, bespectacled son — are a Van Houten family knock-off, at least in a broad sense. But hey — “Family Guy” has to owe something to “The Simpsons,” right?

Monday, June 26, 2006

At Least You're Not Born on Hairy Vetchling Day

In the spirit of the great Egyptian king Ankhenaten — the ruler who switched the empire’s political capitol to Amarna and overhauled the national religion to worship a solar disc in lieu of Ra, the longstanding deity primo — and other such botched attempts at renovation, I present to you something that I only recently learned of: the French Revolutionary calendar. See, Ankhenaten’s new religion failed, and immediately upon his death, his successor moved the capital back to Thebes and the solar disc was abolished, despite all the king’s efforts.

I enjoy this, the idea that no matter how hard you work for something, it can be undone easily the moment you leave town.

As I understand it, the French Revolutionary calendar was the result of the revolutionaries’ desire to burn the establishment to the ground and start over. Apparently, the rebellion included the the destruction of the seven-day week. The changes included the following:
  • Twelve new months, each divided into three ten-day weeks
  • The ten days were called “Primidi,” “Duodi,” and so forth in a numerical fashion
  • A period called the “Franciade” that occurred at the end of the twelve-month schedule, to make up for the extra days that would otherwise force the calendar off-schedule
  • A wacky base-ten invention called “decimal time” to replace our base-six clock
The months were divided into seasonal units, as follows, beginning in the calendar start at the autumnal equinox. As the Wikipedia explains it:
  1. Vendémiaire (from Latin vindemia, “vintage”)
  2. Brumaire (from French brume, “mist”)
  3. Frimaire (From French frimas, “frost”)
  4. Nivôse (from Latin nivosus, “snowy”)
  5. Pluviôse (from Latin pluviosus, “rainy”)
  6. Ventôse (from Latin ventosus, “windy”)
  7. Germinal (from Latin germen, “seed”)
  8. Floréal (from Latin flos, “flower”)
  9. Prairial (from French prairie, “meadow”)
  10. Messidor (from Latin messis, “harvest”)
  11. Thermidor (from Greek thermos, “hot”)
  12. Fructidor (from Latin fructus, “fruit”)
(Wikipedia also notes that Britons mocked the months by calling them Wheezy, Sneezy and Freezy; Slippy, Drippy and Nippy; Showery, Flowery and Bowery; Wheaty, Heaty and Sweety. Ha.)

Even better, in lieu of the Catholic calendar of saints, the French Revolutionary Calendar attached everyday objects to the days of the year. Every tenth day was named in honor of a household object, while every fifth days (excluding multiples of ten) was named for an animal. The remaining ones were plants and minerals. This is where is gets fun. For example, my birthday is June 4. On the FRC, this would correspond to the 16th day of Prairial, or "Oeillet," Carnation Day.

Happy Carnation Day, me!

Conversely, other holidays on the Gregorian calendar are worse off. Christmas, for example, is the 5th day of Nivôse, “Chien” — Dog Day. So decorate your Dog Day tree. Halloween would be the 10th day of Brumaire, Plough Day, which sounds just as fun as the holiday currently celebrated on that day. Don’t get drunk on St. Patrick’s Day, because that’s now Ventôse 27th, Forest Day. And our friends in Mexico can join us in celebration of the 17th day of Floréal instead of Cinco de Mayo. And we’ll all call it “Pimprenelle” — or Salad Burnet Day!

The program was abandoned by Napoleon in 1806, though it still crops in randomly — for example, in the name of the dish Lobster Thermidor. I think the whole thing is funny, really. Come on, French people. The whole Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday thing is not worth rebelling against. Norse gods are not the man. It’s still good for a laugh, however. So I encourage everyone to go see what lame mascot they get affixed to their birthday by checking out this handy-dandy table.

And please, have a great Shallot Day!

[ source: Prance Closer ]

EDIT: As Nate and Spence have now both pointed out to me, my day is, in fact, Carnation Day — not Quail Day. The correction has been made above. It turns out I'm bad at reading the French Revolutionary Calendar. But as I said before, at least I'm not born on Hairy Vetchling Day.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Whither the Blue-Haired One?

In an effort to back up the hard copies of my clips with soft copies, I headed back into that womb of a college newspaper office to use the scanner. While there, I stumbled onto one of the many pieces of office clutter I added to the wall: a surreal, dadaist cartoon that I drew of my assistants at the time, Daniel and Kristina. I can't imagine why I thought this was a good idea, but I can only imagine it had something to do with copy being slow that night. Fucking copy.

Yeah, I scanned it.

It's large, so I decided the best way to show it one the website would be to just link to it and have it open in its own window.
[ click it! click it now! ]
In retrospect, Daniel looks like Hobbes and Kristina like Angelica from "Rugrats." The resemblance wasn't intentional, but it's nonetheless there. For those of you adverse to clicking links, the story tells of Angelica-Kristina and Hobbes-Daniel going on an adventure in a soda factory, which is also a forest where it's snowing. Or something. The two promptly become lost in an abyss of newspaper clippings. Finland is recalled fondly. Following that, they climb some skyscrapers, whereupon Kristina develops lobster claws. In the last panel, the two are on the moon. Kristina's feet are in Howard Hughes-style Kleenex boxes. Daniel, who has devolved into a large single-celled organism, again recalls Finland fondly.

I don't care what anybody says. It takes a certain talent to be truly nonsensical.

The whole image has also been posted on my Flickr account. I'm interested to see what kind of attention it draws.

[ my legs are weak but resolute ]

Monday, June 19, 2006

Blathers Said So

Amazing but true. Those little bugs that we called "roly polies" as children — known as "pill bugs" to some Americans but which are more properly called "woodlice," it turns out — are not insects. They are, in fact, terrestrial crustaceans more closely related to crabs and crayfish than anything else that was crawling around our backyards.

[ source: Animal Crossing, actually, while I was in New Zealand ]

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Attractive Li'l Honey Pie and the Ill-Fated Venture on Public Transportation of Doom

During the golden technological age when Audiogalaxy was my personal cultural savior and mp3s flowed freely from one dorm network to the next, I encountered a slew of bands heretofore unknown to me. The music I was listening to surpassed what I had listened to in high school — and the bands had these unusual names that, to me, spoke of their members’ creativity. Neutral Milk Hotel. The Clinic. Olivia Tremor Control. Belle and Sebastian. The Apples in Stereo. What was new then still directs what I seek out today, and for that I’m very grateful.

However, in the pursuit of a breadth-over-depth survey of the indie music I’d been missing out on, I came upon a then little-known band with a name I couldn’t stand. Little of what I downloaded from this particular band stayed on the hard drive very long, and the only track whose title I can actually remember was called “Fake Frowns.”

The band in question, for those of you who only have experienced Transatlanticism and Plans, is Death Cab for Cutie. I actually still can’t stand the name, though I feel better about the band’s music. In any case, the only question I wanted answered more than “Who would name a band that, anyway?” was “Where the hell did they get that name?” The question went unanswered and generally disregarded until the last year, when that damn show made everyone with a desire for indie credibility like Death Cab — and made Death Cab a huge success.

Just a few days ago — or months ago, depending on whom you ask — Spencer pointed me in the direction of an answer. “Death Cab for Cutie” was a song long before it was a band. Written by Vivian Stanshall and initially performed by the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band in 1967, it is best known for having been featured in Beatles film “Magical Mystery Tour.” To a striptease, no less. I was a little amused to find that the title is quite literal — the lyrics tell the story of a woman, Cutie, who dies in an ill-fated taxi cab ride. Apparently Stanshall, the Bonzo Band’s lead vocalist, sang it in an Elvis Presley style in mockery of 50s sob songs.

The final step in determining just where this annoying and now-omnipresent string of words comes from goes back even farther to a book — a collection Richard Hoggart’s essays on British popular culture called The Uses of Literacy. In this book, Hoggart discusses “sex and violence novels” and provides faux titles that represent the genre’s tendency towards a very specific kind of phrasing. Among the other examples — many of which I like better than “Death Cab for Cutie” — are “Sweetie, Take it Hot,” “The Lady Takes a Dive,” “Aim Low, Angel” and “Sweetheart, Curves Can Kill.” The original Death Cab, by the way, was hyphenated. I must admit I like “Death-Cab for Cutie” least of all.
[ link ]
The funny part of all this is that I’d bet the song’s title makes it nigh impossible to download on most systems, since the band of the same name is vastly more popular. Or not. I’m actually not going to try, but I’d like to hear if anyone has luck with it. If it’s as hard as I imagine, you all will just end up downloading Plans again anyway. More power to you.

Friday, June 9, 2006

Mr. and Mrs. Snow Dragon

So I played through Super Princess Peach, a game that caught for two reasons: It’s a standard, two-dimensional Super Mario Bros.-style platformer the likes of which we just don’t see all that much these days and it also happens to offer Peach, that doily of a monarch, in the role of crusading hero. It’s not great. It seems like Nintendo envisioned a “game for girls” and made it a lot easier than a game that might have been intended for the more typical video game audience, dudes.

One note worth noting, however: the boss of the sixth world.

Its name is, unfortunately, Blizzaurus, this snow-loving dragon and, like the rest of the game’s lesser big bads, it’s none to hard to put the heat to it. When Peach has thwacked the thing enough, however, layers of frosty, frisky monster melt away to revel — (dramatic pause) — a lady.

And not just any lady, neither: a fairy.

In a game that mostly seems to endorse female stereotypes, good ol’ gender-bending Blizzaurus stands up as a nice little twist. So thanks for that, Nintendo.

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

I Lived Alone / My Mind Was Blank

So I meant to be productive this morning, but Old Roommate Daniel and his New Spouse Maggi dropped by with their puppy in tow. She’s five pounds of adorable if I ever saw it. (The puppy.) Pictures were taken. That being done, I decided it was time to get my backlog of photos up on my Flickr account.

The dog parade was exactly what you'd expect a bunch of dogs in costumes to be like: bliss. Pure fucking bliss. I took lots of pictures, but none that I like all that much. It's hard to capture the movement of a big parade into a little camera, you know. You can see all the dog show pics here. And as a special shout-out to a reader: Bri, if you're reading this then I strongly suggest you look at this photo.

The sole standout from the dog parade pictures, I think, is this one:

And here's the best of the rest of the weekend. I can't explain exactly why this one appeals to me so much, but it does.

The best of possible weather on State Street. When it works out, it can't be beat. And then of course you have Spencer and Betsy walking a good twenty paces in front of me.

And finally, the aforementioned puppy, Penny. Don't get lost in her eyes, which at this stage of development are a good eight times bigger than any other organ in her body. In the first picture, she's chewing on the brown stuffed bunny I found and rescued from the trash. (I cleaned it.)

And then in this picture, she's licking the bunny's bottom. Yeah, she's that kind of girl, that Penny.

Be sure to see the rest of the new photos at my Flickr account.

[ I needed time to think to get the memories from my mind. ]

Monday, June 5, 2006

You Make Me Want to Hara-Kiri

So as I write this, Ashlee Simpson's voice is bouncing around the hills of Santa Barbara. I can hear it from my bedroom. To me, this is too funny: a bunch of people who spent a lot of money for prime Santa Barbara real estate but who live unfortunately close to the Santa Barbara Bowl and thusly cannot escape the range of this stupid girl, who can’t sing and has the stage presence of a bucket of pig meat.

I can just imagine some retired Santa Barbara businessman leaning out his window in an effort to hear better. He shakes his head after a few verses. “That girl must be having a bad night.” No, Mr. J. Alfred Pennypacker. No. Everything you’re hearing is pre-recorded. And she was probably having a good day when she pre-recorded.

Thanks, Ashlee, for getting the greater chunk of this side of State Street to close their windows and, just maybe, in an effort to drown out your warbles, converse and consequently reconnect with their loved ones.

Scary, Even for Muppets

One of the joys of having around someone who wasn’t raised with American popular culture is that they are frequently baffled by it. For example, a lot of animated TV shows today — “Family Guy” and “South Park” foremost among them — reference the popular culture of the past thirty years at the rate of approximately one per every six frames of animation. Go ahead. Check yourself.

That being said, Spencer and I were watching an episode of “Drawn Together” a while back. (And don’t knock it — it’s funnier than you think and now available for download on iTunes at the reasonable price of $1.99 per episode.) Anyhow, they episode involved the housemates starting a suicide hotline. When the phone rings for the first time, the shot goes to a close-up of the phone surrounded by the housemates’ faces, each contorted into wide-mouth versions of their normal selves. The housemates jabber nonsensically and imitate the sound of the ringing phone.

Here’s a screengrab in case my description doesn’t do the scene justice:

(Why they’re all wearing lingerie is another story entirely. Ask later.)

Spencer was baffled, but to anybody weaned on PBS as a child, this is an obvious parody of the Yip-Yips, those weird, floppy alien characters from “Sesame Street.” If you’ll remember, each skit featuring the Yip-Yips concerned them sniffing around some common household object — a telephone, a grandfather clock, whatever — and being initially frightened by it. They speak very little, occasionally saying the name of the thing they’re encountering, and filling the rest of their dialogue with “yip-yip-yip-yip-yip-yip-yip-yip.” (Hence the name.) I almost didn’t remember the Yip-Yips, actually. My memory was jogged shortly, of course, but I had almost forgotten these odd characters.

We went, of course, to the Wikipedia to investigate. Sure enough, the site offers a healthy profile on these pop culture footnotes, including a full list of the various objects the Yip-Yips have encountered. (I could have sworn there was one where they meet a dog, but I guess I could be wrong about that.)

Most helpfully, the Wikipedia page offers an image of the Yip-Yips, in all their glorious weirdness. Funny that I almost forgot these alien characters existed, because seeing their misshapen mouths and raggy bodies, I realize that I used to be terrified of these things and would run out of the room whenever I saw them while watching one of the various Beta taps that my mom had recorded “Sesame Street” on for me. (Of course, the episodes with the Yip-Yips were the ones that got recorded.) They’re truly frightening creatures, even for Muppets. Whoever thought they’d be appropriate aides in the education of young children was certainly a sick, sick person

The Wikipedia page also reminded me that the aliens had a tendency to cover their eyes with their bottom lips when frightened. And that, even when done by a horrifying monster, is a little cute, I have to admit.