"Laughter" by concrete jungler 101
"Laughter" by concrete jungler 101

I have quite a few Internet sites that I follow for humor.  Here are my favorites:

Spring Break

"Sunset Beach" by canlasa
"Sunset Beach" by canlasa

So we’re taking a Spring break.  We’ll be driving North for some of it (where the beaches look like this, really!), and in town for some of it.  But either way, I’m not going to be blogging.  So on the days when I don’t have automated posts (Wed and Sun), I’ve pre-prepared posts about some of my favorite websites, just in case you want to go check them out.  Anyhow, have a great week!

I get my news from two main sites — one for general news and one for geeky news.  The Chicago Tribune still does excellent investigative journalism and regularly exposes corruption and chicanery here in Illinois.  The editorial board consistently endorses Rethuglians, but it’s not nearly so right wing as the Chicago Sun-Times

I get my internet/geek news from Boingboing, a collection of both news and arcana, flotsam and high quality indie reporting. 

The igNobel Prizes 2

The IgNobel Prizes 2: An all-new collection of the world’s unlikeliest research, by Marc Abrahams

The ignobel prizes are a parody of the Nobel prizes, awarded to researchers whose work makes us laugh first, and perhaps ponder the world a little differently second.  The book is a nice sampler, one we kept as a bathroom reader for a while, that mixes humor and interesting science facts.  A few of the memorable awards:

  • One award went to a Scandanavian scientist who recorded the first documented case of male homosexual necrophiliac duck rape.  Seriously.
  • They also awarded an ignobel to the inventor of BEANO, a product that allows you to eat all the, ahem, flatulence-causing food you want without stinkin’ up the joint.
  • A few of the ignobel awards go to people in a mocking way, such as scientists who propegate young Earth creationist ideas or other similar sillyness.  Usually these people are unwilling to accept the ignobel awards.  So much the sadder for us.

It’s a fine book, but probably not worth buying.  Definitely worth a perusal if you find it somewhere, though.

2011-03-27 Tweets

  • Dammit! It's snowing. #
  • I just saw a CFP for a Spenser Roundtable at a 16th century conference. It would be funny to present a paper on the iconic Robert Parker PI #
  • the kids are watching PONYO, a really trippy japanese movie whose english translation features, I think, #liamneeson and #bettywhite #
  • #kohlschildrensmuseum the Potbelly simulation is WAY more popular than the "take care of babies" exhibit. Whole museum is #crowded though. #
  • #kohlschildrensmuseum dear museum designers: please endeavor to create a kids' music room that doesn't also double for a migraine inducer. #

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Driveway moments?

NPR’s More Funniest Driveway Moments

Driveway moments are supposed to be news stories that keep you in your car, listening with rapt attention, instead of going in to your home.  Too good to turn off.  I checked out the “More Funniest” driveway moments from my local library and found that I’d heard 25% of them because I listen to Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me and This American Life and other amusing bits of the NPRniverse.

That said, these stories are generally funny without being gripping, and while I respect the skill involved in creating them, I wouldn’t generally call them driveway moments.  The one exception in the first collection is, for me, the interview with Joan Rivers, which was both funny and very enlightening.

I also enjoyed, as usual, Robert Krulwich as the narrator, because his folksy, friendly voice is just, well, awesome.

NPR’s Driveway Moments: Baseball

Those of you who know me understand that I generally can’t give a flying rat’s ass about sports.  I don’t watch them, don’t follow them, and generally ignore them  (though I do enjoy Olympic swimming, go figure).  That said, I really like sports writing, particularly about baseball.  It’s as though the intellectual part of me recognizes that the sport holds some possibility of real mind-bending pleasure and I can feed off that pleasure vicariously without having to sit through the mind-numbing tedium of actually watching baseball.

It’s not dissimilar from certain kinds of fandom scraps, which provide much more human drama and amusement than do the texts around which they resolve.

So it’s not surprising that I enjoyed the NPR Baseball moments quite a bit.  The amusing little tidbits of baseball life give insight into what’s going on with the game and what fans get out of it.  As with all good sports writing, it made me want to start following the sport.  For a few minutes any way.

See also: My Socks are White, Indiscretions of Archie, Emperors and Idiots

Red Leaves

Red Leaves
Red Leaves

Red Leaves, by Thomas H. Cook

Cook, most famous for his novel The Chatham School Affair, writes grim one-shots that look at murder through blood-colored lenses.  Red Leaves tells the story of Eric Moore, a photo-shop owner who finds his family embroiled in the case of a young girl who went missing from her bedroom sometime during or in the night after his son babysat for her.  The suspicion and pressure of the investigation puts pressure on the seams of Eric’s life, both past and present, and those seams don’t hold.  It’s a dark but haunting world, with skillfully-crafted prose and heartbreaking storytelling.  Definitely worth a read.  I’ve added all Cook’s other books to my wishlist.

A few other thoughts:

  • This book does an excellent job setting up the tragedy it will tell.  The reader knows from the beginning that things will turn out badly, but we don’t know exactly how or why.  Grim grim grim, but gripping.
  • Cook’s writing is spare and precise, which fits the story well.  It reads quickly but deeply, and it’s hard not to enjoy thoroughly.
  • The book turns a lot on the corrosive effect of suspicion, of ourselves, our loved ones, and our neighbors.  Cook hits on the fact that suspicion causes trouble of itself — once you start suspecting people of things, it’s hard to chase that away.
  • The story also hits on the tales we tell ourselves about our lives.  Moore thinks he has an excellent life and a happy family, but as the pressure of the story comes to bear, we realize that he hasn’t got either and that his life is looking much more shabby than we’d originally suspected.
  • The payoff at the end of the book is great, even if you can see it coming (as with Shakespearean tragedies, for instance).  Here, however, there’s no Iago.

On Sick Kids

"Temperamental" by Cati Kaoe
"Temperamental" by Cati Kaoe

Finn has been sick the last couple days, with a stomach bug that’s kept him pretty lethargic.  He seems to be coming out of it, still tired but eating today (and not barfing).  It occurred to me to write up a few short words about parenting young kids (and the illnesses they get):

  • If you have energetic kids, as I do, you feel a little guilty pleasure about their willingness to cuddle when they’re feeling poorly, since they avoid cuddling at other times.  This pleasure slips away as they get so lethargic they don’t want to talk.  Then you become inordinately obsessed with whether they have (or will) drink that next sip of water, and whether they can keep it down.
  • You thank your stars for the friend who advised you to buy a twin bed rather than a toddler bed for your toddler because there’s somewhere for you to lay when you sleep in their room.
  • You also find yourself willingly doing those things you would normally abhor–letting love, paper towels, and the washing machine overwhelm revulsion.
  • You notice every jot and tittle of discomfort in your body, hoping that you don’t catch whatever they have, because it’s only marginally better to have to watch healthy kids while you’re ill.
  • In between, you reflect on the fragility of life and count your blessings that the worst you have to deal with today is a fever and a little retroperistalsis.


Boy that Andre is talkative

My Dinner with Andre, starring Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory (1981)

My Dinner with Andre

My Dinner with Andre is a famous independent film about two theater people having dinner at a fancy restaurant. Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory play themselves (kind of) having a chat about the life of the theater, art, death, living and so on. A few thoughts:

  • The story behind the film is that Shawn and Gregory play themselves, kind of, as they talk over dinner.  But Gregory’s story about his life is, well, batshit crazy.  It really made me wonder how much of this has to do with his real life and how much is just Wallace Shawn making up stuff.  If the latter, why do people say they’re playing “themselves.”
  • Listening to Gregory’s stories really made me start to wonder about art and artistic people.  He seems completely out there, but not necessarily any moreso than someone who chooses an ascetic life as a religious or spiritual hermit.  That said, the kinds of group events he describes are also entirely possible and, as far as I can see, not unlikely.  Just weird to someone in my position.
  • Is it just me, or does the waiter in the restaurant seem angry at Shawn and Gregory the whole time?  He really doesn’t seem to like them.  (Of course, by the end of the film they’ve closed down the restaurant, so maybe that’s what he’s supposed to feel.)
  • Minor spoiler: my favorite part of the film comes toward the end, when Gregory has spent the first 60 minutes or so spinning these ever-more elaborate stories about his search for meaning in art and life.  He goes on and on about really living, and even talks about going into the desert, where he ate sand at one point.  Wallace Shawn says, essentially, “I think this is all artistic bullshit.”  It’s an awesome turnaround that makes the last quarter of the movie really zing.  Great payoff.

I’d heard of My Dinner with Andre years ago, when I was going through my “I should see more unusual films” phase in High School.  A bunch of us gathered at a local video store and rochambeauxed to see who would pick the video.  I won, so I picked what I thought was My Dinner with Andre. Or rather, I knew about the movie’s title, that it was a well-known weird indie film with something about dinner and an uncommon name.  So, intending to rent My Dinner with Andre, I rented Eating Raoul.   Oops.

(Eating Raoul is a 1970s comedy about two straight-laced homebodies who get embroiled with a mischievous entrepreneur, Raoul, who has found a great new enterprise: murdering housefuls of swingers and selling their bodies to a dogfood company.  When the two homebodies discover that Raoul has also been selling the swingers’ cars, and cutting them out of this more profitable sideline, they kill and eat him.  Yikes.)

Anyhow, a year or two later, I reconnected with My Dinner with Andre while watching Waiting for Guffman.  You will remember that Corky St.Clair moves back to New York after the Guffman affair and opens a memorabilia shop.  One of the many gags in that last moment is the My Dinner with Andre action figures.  Awesome.

The Atrocity Archives

The Atrocity Archives
The Atrocity Archives

The Atrocity Archives, by Charles Stross

Collecting the first two novellas in Stross’ successful “Laundry” series, The Atrocity Archives follows the early adventures of Bob Howard, operative in Britain’s secret occult investigation squad.  The storyworld turns on the premise that ancient magics function like high-end physics, allowing practitioners to open gates to other universes that, for one reason or another, contain lots of terrible and dark things.  Imagine Lovecraft through a hard-sf lens with a lot of computer talk.

We read this book for my SF book club.  The group enjoyed it immensely.  I did too.

A few thoughts:

  • I love the creepy aspect of the book, particularly the eponymous secret holdings of the Netherlander museum where the occult Nazi artifacts were held.  The table made of human bones was a particularly gruesome image.  Yucko!
  • The mix of technobabble, magic, and bureaucratic machinations works really well; it exemplifies the modern corporate government structure very well.  Yikes.
  • I thought the Concrete Jungle was a better story than the Atrocity Archives, if only because the narrative wasn’t so complex.  The latter crossed some secret line in my psyche that made it too articulated for my taste.
  • Along those same lines, my only complaint about the book is that sometimes Stross gets a bit too deep in his descriptions, making parts of the novel a bit of a slog.
  • By contrast, the burgeoning relationship between Howard and the scientist he rescues from the terrorists works really well: it feels honest and amusing without being forced.

Overall, I enjoyed it a lot.  I’ll definitely be checking out later books in the series.


2011-03-20 Tweets

  • Hey Chicagolanders! Today's groupon is a $24/2 tickets at Circle theater in Oak Park. #
  • There is something compulsive about a telephone. The gadget-ridden man of our age loves it, loathes it, and is afraid of it… #
  • But he always treats it with respect, even when he is drunk. The telephone is a fetish. #RaymondChandler #TheLongGoodbye #
  • I went out to the kitchen to make coffee. Rich, strong, bitter, boiling hot, ruthless, depraved.The lifeblood of tired men. #TheLongGoodbye #
  • Ada Lovelace Day has been moved to 7 October 2011. It used to be in March. Strange. #
  • Greg proops on raw dog radio right now. YAY. #
  • wicked! first person Super Mario Bros: #boingboing #
  • Kids on the playground: if you have U-verse, you can record! #
  • Kids on the playground: If you have U-verse, you can record. Not on my tv, it's old! Yes you can, I have tV from the 80's and I can record. #
  • Just saw a guy at starbucks paying his bills. #

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I Know I Am a Touch of Frost, But what Are You?

Double Review: I Know I Am, But What Are You? written and narrated by Samantha Bee
and A Touch of Frost, season 1 from BBC television (1993)

Samantha Bee A Touch of Frost

Samantha Bee’s humor memoir recounts, David Sedaris style, many humorous events in the life of everyone’s favorite sarcastic Daily Show reporter.  There are creepy tales of romance gone bad, sad tales of strange obsessions as a child, and a general misanthropy that one imagines to be facade, but one can’t be sure.  A Touch of Frost (season 1) follows the gloomy and depressing work of CI Frost, of the Denton CID.  There are creepy tales of romance gone bad, sad tales of strange obsessions, and a cranky detective who grumps his way from one crime to the next.  A few thoughts:

  • Frost and Bee both approach the world with an outwardly cynical and sarcastic attitude, but also harbor a moral core that gives the audience a place to connect with them.  Both also make regular comments about their own slovenly appearance.
  • The tales in each story are, when recounted as bare facts, pretty awful.  Bee tells some unpleasant stories about the near-misses she had as a rebellious teen jousting with the thirtysomething creepos in whatever Canadian town she comes from.  Frost’s mysteries are generally just as unpleasant.  In fact, both works include stories about children in peril and creepy adults.
  • Bee describes herself (during college) and her mother (all along) as cat people.  I don’t mean people who enjoy cats, I mean people who have LOTS of cats, people that get called crazy as they get older.  One of the mysteries in Frost turns on just such a cat person.
  • Both texts are pretty funny, though Bee’s work is more obviously funny, while David Jason’s humor comes through sly looks and clever lines.
  • Both stories include brief but crucial bits about the main characters’ marriage.  In Bee’s case, her marriage to Jason Jones stands out as loving and lucky (she continually describes him in glowing terms that make herself out to be a buffoon or worse).  By contrast, Frost’s marriage emerges entirely as back story, since his wife is dying in hospice at the beginning of the first episode.  He was all ready to leave his wife when he learned she had cancer, and he stuck with her instead of pursuing his new love.

A Touch of Frost is worth watching if you’re a brit mystery fan, but it’s got the slow pacing of 1990s British television, so be wary of that.

Random mid-March bullets

  • Staying on Sabbatical schedule has been HARD in the last couple weeks.  I’m back on task, but you’ll notice I’ve stopped posting my word counts out of shame.  Sigh.
  • Finally the weather in Chicago is climbing a bit.  The kids have actually gone outside this week, drawing on the sidewalk in chalk and a visit to the park.  I guess this means I should clean the dog poop out of the backyard.
  • Afternoon work time has been mostly focused on MPCA stuff and updating my C.V. as part of our yearly “Faculty Annual Activity Report.”  Two articles to put in the published column this year.  Plus the work I did for the World Book encyclopedia.  Woot. That’s more than usual.
  • Did you notice that Ada Lovelace day has moved to 7 October 2011 instead of March 24 as usual?  Weirdly, it turns out that neither date is significant in Lovelace’s life.  They’re arbitrary days.  Kinda disappointing if you ask me.
  • No matter how many times I resolve to change things, my office collects detritus like the lint trap in the dryer.

Cedar Rapids

Cedar Rapids

Cedar Rapids, Starring Ed Helms, John. C. Reilly, Anne Heche, Isiah Witlock Jr.

When small-town insurance superstar Roger Lemke (long e at the end) dies in a tragic “accident,” Tom Lippe (another long e) gets the tap to move up to the big leagues, and take the agency’s presentation for the prestigious “two diamonds” award to the insurance convention in Cedar Rapids.  It’s a fish out of water story where the pond is laughably small and the fish is incredibly naive.  A few thoughts:

  • Ed Helms’ character is both ludicrously naive and lovable for it.  He’s got very narrow ideas about how the world works that come, mostly, from his lack of exposure to any other ideas.  He doesn’t drink and holds tightly to a narrow set of morality without much perspective.  He’s also very nice to everyone and a very ethical person.
  • At the same time, he’s almost ludicrously provincial.  For someone so concerned with moral behavior, he has pretty much no self-control.  Until his trip to Cedar Rapids, he hasn’t been a drinker, but once there, he decides to drink with his new friends.  Knowing what I do about small towns, I find it unlikely that Tim would not have been faced with the drinking conundrum before, so it’s unlikely he would suddenly give in.  That said, we can see his desperation for being liked and perhaps credit his lapse to that.
  • John C. Reilly’s character takes the show, though Isiah Witlock’s scenes are always awesome, especially the sequence when he confronts a bunch of stoners at a house party in the woods.
  • The delight of the movie is its surprising depths.  In between the rowdy behavior and fart jokes, Cedar Rapids gives us a story of ethics and complicated decisions, of character development and heart.  It’s a really nice movie.
  • Minor spoiler: Anne Heche’s character, Joan, has the pop-culture stereotypical approach to conferences, that they’re a place to be someone else (read: have a fling).  While the movie gives us one little sequence to imply that her marriage is difficult, it’s not enough to justify that she regularly cheats on her husband.  Perhaps there’s a deleted scene that shows more remorse on her part or a decision to do things differently, but as the movie stands now, there’s too little growth for that character, and I’m not happy to see such a blithe approach to fidelity and sex.  (We may suppose that John. C. Reilly’s character also cheated on his wife when he was married, but we have no confirmation of that.)

Overall, it’s a nice bildungsroman and heartwarming comedy.  If you liked 40-year old virgin, this film will probably suit you (though Cedar Rapids has fewer sex jokes).