Tuesday, April 29, 2014

In Defense of Betty Draper

It may be easy to criticize Betty Draper.

That’s it. There’s no “but” there. That is just a simple fact. The woman has her faults, even in the rogues gallery that is the cast of Mad Men. However, the lady also never gets a break from people who might be persuaded to write off Don’s sociopathy (“He just wants love!”) or Peggy’s pettiness (“She’s trying to make it in a world she doesn’t know how to survive in!”) or even Joan’s recent betrayal of Don, whom she didn’t want back at the agency (“Joan looks cute in that dress!”). I feel like when people realize that a new episode of the show happens to focus on Betty, they breathe a sigh of relief. “Finally!” they collectively say, “Time to Betty bash!”

The most recent episode of the show underscored how Betty simply doesn’t have the skill set necessary to be a good mother — to Sally or to anyone. And while that isn’t news — again, to Sally or to anyone — I’m going to play the ogress’s advocate and point out that she at least tried. She also failed, but there’s the desire there to do what she thinks constitutes good mothering. To her credit, she did deign to interact with Bobby on his level and talk about Wolfman. She did volunteer to be the first to sip of the fresh milk, and she acted like it’s somehow not disgusting to be drinking body-temperature animal fluid in front of her son’s entire class. She wasn’t even the one who initiates the mean-girling of the bra-less tour guide.

It all falls to pieces, of course, when the field trip breaks for lunch and Bobby reveals that he traded Betty’s sandwich for a bag of gumdrops, at which point she clamps down into “cold Betty” mode. Yeah, yeah — everyone says “boo!” and throws garbage at the TV screen, but can we please focus on the fact that her child gave away her lunch. She was expecting a sandwich, and she did not get one.

A few admissions:
  • I am not a parent, and I do not plan to become one.
  • In general, I hesitate to say that I relate to Betty Draper sometimes.
  • I suffer from low blood sugar.
Now, had I been the adult chaperone on a field trip and I found that my child gave away my lunch in exchange for gumdrops, I would have been at least as angry as Betty was.

Me, as Betty (an imagined dialogue that I hope will not come to pass):
“You what? You WHAT? You gave away my lunch to some other child for gumdrops? GUMDROPS? Bobby, your father lied about his identify to me for years, and this is the most disappointing thing that has ever happened to me. Not only did you deprive me of a lunch that I need because I’ve been forced to spend the day with draining children such as yourself, but I’m understanding that you gave my lunch to someone else in exchange for literally the worst candy. Have you ever had gumdrops? They don’t taste good. Red does not taste like cherry. It tastes like cinnamon. Purple does not taste like grape. It tastes like clove. Gumdrops are literally a candy that exists to remind us how much better candy has gotten since we started having fruit flavors. And so you just assumed that I wouldn’t want my sandwich and also that I would be okay sitting here, watching you eat your sandwich and then eating all your gumdrops, because I will never eat gumdrops. Where is this girl? Why didn’t she come to the field trip with her own sandwich? Did she need two sandwiches? Or did she just want to divest herself of these terrible candies that someone thought were appropriate to put in a child’s lunch? Really. A. Whole. Bag. Is she the heiress to Brach’s? Is her name Susie Brach? Do they have gumdrops and other antiquated candies flowing out of their pantries and cupboards to the point that they have their children bring the surplus to school for crude barter? At the very least, Bobby, you should have asked me, ‘Mom, do you want the sandwich that is your only form of sustenance aside from the piping hot cow foam you drank earlier? Or would you rather have nothing and because I made the school lunchyard equivalent of a magic beans deal? Huh, Mom? Also, would you rather I gave you a thoughtful present or a disfiguring scar? I can’t imagine which you’d rather have, because I’m that bad at critical thinking.”

Well, that’s what I would have said.

(This is why Betty shouldn’t have kids.)

(This is also maybe why I shouldn’t have kids either.)

A miscellaneous Mad Man point: Missing from my list of characters that viewers will cut a break for? Pete Campbell. No one loves Pete. He’s sub-Betty.And in case Warm Betty / Cold Better isn’t enough of a contrast for you, check her out in literal black and white.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Swinging Doors of Death

My big conclusion? People underplay the implications of suicide when they talk about suicide doors.

a regrettable visual aid — apologies
It’s the kind of immediately Google-able question you’d normally have while alone in the car, but fortunately it occurred to me while I had a navigator present, and so we searched out the origin of the phrase “suicide doors” in order to figure out what about these doors was so inherently self-life-ending.

According to Wikipedia, the term presumably originated as a result of two facts:
  1. The danger of the suicide door is the possibility of it opening in transit. A car occupant trying to catch the door by the handle to prevent its opening risks being jettisoned out of the car as the door is slammed open by the oncoming airflow. … In the era before seat belts, the accidental opening of such doors meant that there was a greater risk of falling out of the vehicle compared to front-hinged doors, where airflow pushed the doors closed rather than opening them further.
  2. Suicide doors were especially popular with mobsters in the gangster era of the 1930s, supposedly due to the ease of pushing passengers out of moving vehicles, according to Dave Brownell, the former editor of Hemmings Motor News.
This is great historical information, but it’s nonetheless problematic that neither of these car-caused death scenarios constitutes suicide in the typical sense. In the former, it’s more accidental self-killing, which might technically be considered suicide but which more broadly might be considered death as a result of the worst human carelessness. (Other examples: mixing ammonia and bleach and making that toxic gas, trying to hug a bear because it looks sad, or using a handgun to drive a bee away from your face.) In the latter, it’s explicitly homicide — people don’t generally choose to have gangsters plug them and then shove them out of moving cars, unless human motivations have evolved that much since the 1930s.

However, in the same way that the English-speaking world has slowly realized how awful it sounds to refer to sleeveless undershirts as “wife-beaters,” the automobile industry seems to have veered away from “suicide doors.” Wikipedia notes that suicide doors are now officially referred to by various auto makers as coach doors, FlexDoors, freestyle doors to simply rear-access doors, the last of these being the most descriptive but also the move provocative. It’s also noticed that in recent years, cars have been made with rear-hinged doors that can only be opened when the front doors are opened, to decrease the awful trend of passenger fall-out. It does make you wonder, however: What the hell was happening in early twentieth-century cars that doors were flying open and people were tumbling out? What advancements in door-shutting technology have slowed this trend?

There’s a second suicide-related phrase that motorists should know, and this one make s a lot more sense: suicide lanes. Here, the name makes sense, even if the lanes themselves exist in order to prevent you from offing yourself. If you meet another car head-on, that could be the end of your story. Personally, I’d prefer not to think about killing myself while driving, but cheers to keeping you alert.

In closing, I motion we drop the phrase “suicide doors” in favor of “danger doors” (which, accurate) or “gangster doors” (which, cool and exciting and also accurate) and also make a group effort to stop falling out of cars (which, obvious).

Be clean and nice. Take your parents’ advice.

Cars, previously:

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Best Worst Names in Superhero Comics

Superheroes and supervillains can literally be named anything — for better and for worse. Bands can also be named anything, I realize, and this has done nothing to prevent terrible band names, so I suppose it follows then that more than a few characters on comic book pages have been dealt some clunkers, name-wise.


I list these not to mock them. After all, I love crappy superhero names. Instead, I make this list just to give us a moment to ponder the fact that someone had an idea and everyone else down the line just nodded and said, “Sure, that seems good enough. I can’t think of anything better.” Some of these are outright lame. Some transcend clunkiness to become kind of backwardsly awesome. Some are intentionally dumb. Some intend to be funny but fall short. These are just the ones I thought deserved a shout-out. And yes, they’re all real.
Of course, I’m curious to know who I’ve left off and why I’m an asshole for dinging one or another character that you love and cherish.

“Sure, that seems good enough. I can’t think of anything better.”

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Twenty Things About Bones That You Didn’t Know and Also Probably Don’t Care About But Here I Go Anyway

There’s this funny, quirky thing I do where I watch Bones. Isn’t that hilarious? Aren’t I such a unique little diamond?

I started watching it for reasons I can’t quite remember, and now I just continue to watch it. I won’t say that it’s on the level of the great shows that everyone’s always suggesting have created a New Golden Age of Television. In fact, it’s a weekly procedural, which a lot of TV people would probably say makes it the opposite of deep, universe-building dramas such as Mad Men and Breaking Bad. But as far as procedurals go, Bones is at least better than your NCISes and CSIs and SVUs and the rest of the letter shows that have blank slate law enforcement officers solving crimes without enough room to allow actual character growth.

But I assume you don’t watch Bones, and I also assume you mentally shut down when your parents try to talk to you about it, so I figured I’d do you a solid and tell you twenty things that I think you should know about the show.
  1. Bones takes place in a bizarre universe where people are almost never murdered with traditional weapons. It’s always something irregular or makeshift — the propeller blade from an antique motorboat or a scrimshaw fishing knife — that delays the investigation. I don’t know why I skewed maritime with my examples, but you get the idea.
  2. The show takes place in the greater D.C. area, generally, but the vast majority of wilderness locations look remarkably like Griffith Park.
  3. And while the central setting of the show is the Jeffersonian Institute, the exteriors of this supposed building are actually the L.A. County Natural History Museum. (The staff are not amused if you ask where Bones is.) This creates the neat situation where Dr. Temperance Brennan works in the same building as where Sally Draper got her period for the first time.
  4. Despite what you might initially guess, the show is not a spin-off of Small Wonder and the central character is not a grown-up version of V.I.C.I. the robot girl. No, despite the way she talks and acts, Dr. Brennan is a human woman. (Though like Small Wonder, weirdly few people suspect that the person who talks and acts like a robot actually is a robot.)
  5. Dr. Brennan is played by Emily Deschanel, the sister of Zooey Deschanel, who appeared in a Christmas episode as Dr. Brennan’s equally deadpan cousin. (“On Planet Deschanel, Emotion Is Forbidden.”) This character seems to suffer from an obsessive-compulsive disorder rooted in Benjamin Franklin trivia. Shortly thereafter, Zooey Deschanel scored the lead in another Fox show, New Girl. So there you go.
  6. Despite the fact that Dr. Brennan has trouble expressing and understanding basic emotional motivations, she is also the author of a best-selling series of books. That seems strange but also prescient.
  7. To expand on a tweet by Jules Klausner, the show is called Bones because Dr. Brennan specializes in analyzing bones and also everyone calls her Bones and also she has sex with multiple partners.
  8. Even though the show is chiefly concerned with the analysis of dead bodies — and we’re talking about humans reduced to bug-ridden glop here — every single major character falls in love with someone who works in the office. Even Cam’s daughter dated one of the interns for a while, until the writers were all “No, not that anymore. No.”
  9. One of the characters is named Angela Montenegro, and she is an artist who is magic and owns a magic computer that can do anything. Like, Cam will say, “Angela, can you show what it would look like if a ferret ate the victim’s genitals and then burrowed through his genitals-hole into his chest cavity and then exploded out his face?” And then Angela is all “beep beep boop” and then she makes a computer animation that looks early 2000s of that thing happening. She is magic.
  10. No one ever just tells anyone anything. They say something like “I need to show you something,” and then the whole cast assembles in their room — it’s usually Angela’s office — and then they explain everything.
  11. In the show’s third season, they had a recurring villain whose name was Gormogon, which is a slightly better name than TKTK Weird Serial Killer Name Will Fix Later TKTK.
  12. There was an episode where Stewie Griffin was a guest star.
  13. Patricia Belcher (perhaps best known as the ineffective psychic in Jeepers Creepers) plays Caroline Julian, a criminal prosecutor with the U.S. attorney’s office who has appeared in 39 episodes of the show and who has exactly two personality characteristics: (1) gruff but loving and (2) calls people “cher” and “cherie.”
  14. Bones and her team are assisted by a rotating cast of interns that basically functions like the lesser members of Super Friends — personality types and ethnic types not represented in the main cast. We’ve got a white guy, a black guy, a depressed white guy, a Muslim, a rednecky white guy and exactly one woman. No East Asians or gays yet, but hey — Bones got renewed for another season.
  15. That female intern, Daisy Wick, is noted in the IMDb trivia for the show: “Daisy Wick is the name of one of the secondary characters. Daisy Zick is the name of a real-life murder victim from Battle Creek, Michigan in 1963. The crime remains unsolved.” So that’s fun.
  16. There was a kinda-sorta-but-notta Veronica Mars reunion in a 2010 episode that featured both Enrico Colatoni and Francis Capra. They did not get to interact, sadly, to say nothing of them getting to wink at each other.
  17. ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons has a recurring role on the show, playing himself — and Angela’s father. I want there to be a “She’s Got Legs” joke in an episode about a corpse who had her legs sawed off.
  18. It’s possible that Bones currently takes place in the future. The fifth season ended with the major characters departing D.C. for a year and then reuniting at the start of the sixth season. If the show took place in the current year when it started in 2005 — and why wouldn’t it? — that time jump means that Booth and Brennan are solving crimes in the year 2015 already.
  19. I frequently watch Bones while I’m doing other things — say, washing dishes or cooking or exercising but not eating anymore. I have a good reason. One specific episode, “The Gamer in the Grease,” featured a decomposed human body being found in a grease reclamation truck. It took glop to new levels and I actually had to stop eating for the night. The episode, oddly enough, was directly inspired by the documentary The King of Kong, which was weird for a number of reasons.
  20. Finally, the staff psychologist, Lance Sweets, is played by John Francis Daley, whose post-Freaks and Geeks existence is proof that puberty, like Angela’s computer, is magic.

Get it? Bones? BONES?

Friday, April 18, 2014

Abstract Sunset

I made this today, for reasons I am not clear about. I actually don’t feel like going into it, but I have to say that this might be more meaningful if interpreted on its own, free of its original context, which I’m not telling you about anyway.

In my head, this sounds something like this. This concludes an unusually busy week.

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Vision of Howling Death to Kick Off Your Monday

Modified an image from the Wikipedia page on the Gardens of Bomarzo:

The unpleasant restaurant customer depicted is Ocrus, an early Roman death god, whose name shares an etymological history with ogre, orc and orca. That last one is especially interesting, considering the movement to use call these sea mammals orcas rather than killer whales. The former may sound less predatory, but on the etymological level, it's just as bad.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Fire Flowers

This is what I do when I’m bored, when I’m suffering from writer’s block, when I’m waiting for programs to download, when I’m wanting to see something I should have seen back when eight-bit graphics were considered very of-the-moment.

Pixel art, previously:

Friday, April 11, 2014

How This National Geographic Cover Came to Be (A Work of Fiction)

First, the cover in question:

And now the scene: an editorial meeting in the main office of National Geographic’s headquarters in Washington D.C. All relevant departments direct their attention to the editor in chief, who asks what species could most deserve the cover of the long-awaited exotic pets issue. The room immediately erupts into frenzied suggestions. “Lions!” “Antelopes!” “Perhaps a lemur wearing a dog collar?” “I like ibexes!” But eventually, the rumble dies down, as each attendee realizes that his or her idea doesn’t perfect capture the spirit of the issue. A timid voice from emerges from the back of the room.

“What about hedgehogs?”

The rumble returns, but with a different focus. “Oh, there she goes again.” “Sit the fuck down, Nedra.” “She’s always talking about fucking hedgehogs.” “Who hired Nedra, anyway?” The editor-in-chief indulges her: “What is it about hedgehogs that makes you think they deserve the cover, Nedra?”

Right hand tugging nervously at her left elbow, Nedra begins. “Well, I’ve always thought they were neat. They are kind. They are clean. And I know it’s an unpopular opinion, but there’s more National Geographic could be doings for them…”

The editor-in-chief nods cautiously.

“And also my hedgehog’s name is Mrs. Bananas and she eats bananas and I have to keep the lights off in my house so she feels safe and she also likes peas.”

The rumble begins again. “Fuck this idiot.” “She’s insane!” “I think she’s simple.” “I’ll bet she doesn’t even own a fucking hedgehog, this dumb, crazy liar.” Realizing she’s losing her chance, Nedra gives it one last shot, her voice no longer timid.

“And also sometimes Mrs. Bananas rolls into a ball and it makes her sneeze and it’s cute and also I disposed of all the photo files.”

The room quiets. The EIC: “What did you say, Nedra? You got rid of our photos?”

“Umm. Maybe.”

“Young lady, are you saying you got rid of each and every photo that National Geographic has or ever will run of a wild animal?”

“… Yes. I threw them all into the Potomac last night. Mrs. Bananas and I broke in. No one notices us. You have no other options now.”

“But why would you do that?”

“Well… because now you have no choice but to acknowledge Mrs. Bananas. And hedgehogs everywhere.”

The editor-in-chief looks sternly at Nedra for a few moments before once again nodding his head. “Well-played, Nedra. Mrs. Bananas shall have her day.” And then the rest of the National Geographic begins a begrudging slow clap. As the EIC walks over and puts his hand on Nedra’s shoulder, she scoops Mrs. Bananas out from the pocket of her olive-green blazer. She cuddles the little critter next to her face,weeping tears of joy. And in a voice almost too quiet to be heard, she says, “We did, Mrs. Bananas. We did it.”

{ FIN }

And that, my friends, is the only way I can imagine how anyone thought that the wildest, most exotic animal National Geographic could put on the cover of this issue was a fucking hedgehog.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Encyclopedia Drew and the Confounding Cleanser

Below appears an advertisement for soap. I’m not sure when it comes from, and I’m not sure where it began its second life online as a quaint, re-postable novelty. (I first saw it on Tumblr, and the original Tumblr-er didn’t see fit to include details.) The advertisement is a rebus that I think I’ve solved, though I’m not sure. Your input is appreciated.

The mystery crew’s best stab at it: “Trying to be wise, you / don’t at once succeed / You won’t be long before you do if you this information read / All use Davids Prize Soap, for thus they save in many ways / They use no other / Finding that no one other pays.”

Of course, that doesn’t entirely make sense, though we can maybe forgive the demands of the rebus for some of the more awkward constructions. I’m bothered by that dented “U” in the second line. It seems like it should actually represent the word it, but I can’t for the life of me imagine what that symbol is supposed to be.

Also mysterious? That brand name: Davids Prize Soap. Thought apparently spelled with the apostrophe elsewhere, searching online for more info on the subject may in fact lead you to the Wikipedia page for King David, where it describes a very unusual sort of prize. “Saul made David a commander over his armies and offered him his daughter Michal in marriage for bringing one hundred foreskins of the Philistines but David brought back two hundred, saying ‘God was with me.’” So there you go. David’s prize was foreskins. Maybe you can use this old-timey soap to clean your two hundred foreskins.


Sunday, April 6, 2014

Hootbot’s Big Adventure

You may remember that some time ago I did what many high-rollers do and purchased a robot owl. It’s been perched on my dining room table ever since, spying on me with its glowing, red eyes. In my post about Hootbot, I expressed some frustration about how he doesn’t perform most of the activities I associate with owls. He doesn’t hoot or screech, but just kind of dumbly whistles. He doesn’t fly so much as flutter this plastic wings. And he surely doesn’t impart wisdom, which I could really use, seeing as how I spent money on a robot owl. It turns out I’d sold Hootbot short, however, because he can do one thing I wasn’t aware of.

A comment on the previous post alleged that Hootbots could scuttle around if removed from their pedestals. I immediately tried. This would have explained the wheels on his bottom, after all, but he didn’t act any differently on the floor than he did on the pedestal. It was only when someone else tried did he bop about aimlessly, Roomba-style. I felt betrayed, to be honest. It was a reverse Michigan J. Frog moment, initially, but I eventually figured out Hootbot’s hang-up: He needs perfectly smooth surfaces, for his wheels are a little jacked, a little needy, and he simply can’t navigate the subtle grooves of my floorboards.

So here, then, is Hootbot doing his thing, charging toward the camera at a leisurely pace but with menace in his heart nonetheless.

Trigger warning: Robots, owls, robot owls, death as a result of antiquated technology, atonal whistling. I won’t say it escalates quickly, but it does escalate over the course of two minutes.

It goes without saying, but now I can appreciate the joys of parenthood.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Attack of the Tan, Dozing Dog

As I rolled into work, I spotted the Animal Control van also entering my office parking lot. "Oh, today will be fun," I said to myself, as I wondered how I would react to a bunch of angry monkeys occupying the garage, stripping windshield-wipers off cars and using them like swords. Alas, there were no monkeys — there never are — and when I reached the exit stairs, I saw the Animal Control officer heading toward the back of the garage, which overlooks a grassy hillside that approximates actual nature, at least by the standards of the 134-adjacent Burbank.

And then, about at eye level, sitting placidly on the hillside was a single coyote. The officer clapped his hands twice. "Go on! You go!" The coyote stood up and walked a few paces. Two more claps. "Go on! You go!" The coyote calmly ascended the hill and trotted into the nearby park. The cop turned around and headed toward the van.

Me: "Did you just come here to shoo away a coyote?"

Him: "Yeah, someone saw him and got scared."

Me: "But he was just sitting there. He wouldn't have bothered anyone."

Him: "Honestly, the coyotes help control the squirrels and rats that live here. So you're better off with them."

Me: "Oh, totally. Couldn't you have told the person who called that they're dumb?"

Him: "People just don’t know." He shrugged.

I'd like to think that the coyote left the scene with the same take-away the cop and I did: "That was kind of pointless."

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Video Game That Gregor Mendel Never Asked For

I stumbled across the box art for a 1989 Nintendo game that I barely remember — I only rented it, just the one time — but the sight of the cover graphics took me back. Really, 1989 marked an aesthetic sweet spot: when the brightness of the 80s was beginning to give way to the grittier 90s.

via game abyss
I may even prefer the in-game rendering of the box art — or at least the Japanese art that clearly inspired the American box art.

via hardcore gaming 101
You can see how the American artist tweaked the original characters in an effort to better suit American gamers. It’s funny now to consider how “Japanese-looking” art would ever be considered a minus, as far as marketing to video game nerds goes. 

The Mendel Palace art, in either form, takes me back. It will never fail to take me back. There’s even something to be said for the TV commercial.

It’s actually surprising to me that this game actually got an on-air commercial. I don’t think I ever saw it back at the time Hudson Soft was rooting for Mendel Palace to become a big hit. It wasn’t enough of a success to spawn a sequel, but the game’s developer, Game Freak, kept at it and eventually created the Pokemon franchise, and now grown people wear Pikachu hoodies out and about as if that were a normal thing to do.

The game had you solving puzzles by skittering around a grid of squares, and I have to wonder if the game’s title comes from the vague resemblance to Mendel squares. (Hardcore Gaming 101 points out that the original Japanese title was Quinty and that the original aesthetic skews way more cutesy.) With a six-by-five grid, these aren’t squares, however. Yeah, these kids are going to come out looking funny.

via hardcore gaming 101
Cute and colorful, but funny-looking nonetheless.