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Saturday, January 07, 2006

Ghost Pictures

I experienced a strange sensation upon waking this morning. I was transparent.


Actually, what you're looking at it are some creepy self-portraits inspired by (and parodying) old-timey ghost pictures. You've seen some of them, I'm sure. The black and white daguerrotypes with a ghostly face hovering in the corner. Many of these ghostly images can be attributed to the cameras back then, which had long exposure times in place of a flash. So if you wanted your picture taken you had to be prepared to hold your pose for a while, as any movement would create a blur in the final picture. The above picture was taken with that technique. I set my exposure time to four seconds, looking into the camera for two, and simply stood up and walked out of the room.

Voila. I'm a ghost. This picture was taken the same way, only I stayed in frame and just moved about.


In this picture, I set my camera to its Night setting. I'm not sure how that works; it certainly doesn't work too great at night, but it does result in vivid colors and blurry pictures. It's almost useless for any practical purpose, but you can create weird astral effects like the creepy aura emanating from my hand.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Poker Drama


Last Wednesday I entered a poker tournament down at Bender's, a new bar in Captiol Hill off 13th and Grant. Cap Hill used to be my stomping grounds back in the late 90s and there's a part of me that wishes I was still down there. One of these days, finances permitting, I'm going to rent a little studio apartment and make that my office-away-from-home. I've always wanted to do that.

But back to poker. Last week, the first time I've ever played poker in a bar, I did pretty good. Actually, scratch that. I did awesome. Out of probably 50 people, I won Third Place, my reward: a $10 bar tab.

It's not real money, of course, so some people play big when they shouldn't have. Me, I have my set strategy and I like to stick to it. I'm not one of those guys who calculates the odds or knows all the outs. To me, that stuff might have some mathematical benefits, but it ignores instinct and luck.

This week I could have used a little luck. I got drawn into a bad hand and lost half my chips in one shot. After that, I had no choice but to play aggressive, but I wasn't getting the cards to back me up. I didn't even make it to the top 40. I was sent back to brood over my beer and watch the Nuggets and the Texas-USC game on the TVs over the bar.

Next week, pocket rockets. I just know it!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Al Qaeda's Unwitting Allies: The Bush Administration

Someone needs to muzzle Cheney. Better yet, remove his dumb paranoid ass out of office. Every time he opens his mouth, you hear only one word: 9-11. 9-11. 9-11. It's his favorite justification for everything. In his eyes, 9-11 proved that this democracy thing we have is outdated. Sure, it may be a great way to organize a society, but can it stop terrorists?

Obviously this line of thinking is absurd and dangerous, more dangerous than the nutbags who blow themselves up for some warped religio-political idealogy. Oh, don't get me wrong. Terrorists are dangerous, for sure. But they're cowards.

They say "I want to kill a bunch of innocent people...but I'm too much of a pussy to take the consequences, so I'll kill myself too. Boo-yah!" They convince themselves that they'll be rewarded in the afterlife, but what reward is worth becoming evil? Neither balls nor brains are required here.

Besides suicide bombing as a tactic doesn't work in the long run. It's incredibly difficult to make a serious run at toppling Western Civilization when you're dead. Suicide attacks are the desperate last gasps of a dying movement. It's as counter-productive as torture, and most intelligent people know this.

But no doubt that these kinds of attacks are a threat. You only need to look at the latest suicide bombings in Iraq to see that. (Almost 150 dead in two days, many of them women and children.)

But are they a bigger "threat" than the United States Government?

I don't mean to sound un-American here, but I'm going to say something that no one really wants to admit. The United States is stronger than Islamic terrorism. Our military is the best in the world. Our economy dwarfs the cumulative economies of most of the world. Our culture has spread across the globe like a virus. We are not invincible, but we are certainly not weak.

And we are certainly in no collective danger from Islamic terrorists. Even if we suffered another 9-11, as horrible as that would be, our country would thrive and prosper. We would rebuild, repopulate, do whatever we have to do. These delusional killers and their cowardly handlers can kill and maim, but they can't bring us down. The only thing that can is ourselves: by devolving into a totalitarian government, unbound by law, engaged in war without end against an enemy we constantly redefine.

These fuckers in Washington just don't get that part. Or maybe they do. I don't think Bush and Cheney believe all this crap they're spewing about terrorists and "another 9-11." I'm going to go out on the cynical edge and say that they are using 9-11 and the hypothetical of another terrorist attack to fan the flames of fear in search of greater and greater power. In so doing, they are doing what sleeper cells can't: ripping the very fabric of American society apart.

Okay, I got that out of my system. I feel better.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Bought and Paid For

Jack Abramoff, Republican lobbyist extraordinaire, admitted that he's a crook and may spend the next decade in prison. But he'll have something to do while he's in lockdown; testifying against crooks in Congress. It's almost a given that most of those implicated will be Republicans. They're pointing the fingers at some Democrats who may fall, using that old school yard trick we call he-did-it-too, and that may be true. I believe politicians and lobbyists when they say that what Abramoff and his influence-peddling is normal. It's part of workaday Washington, politics as usual. That is no surprise.

And it is no excuse. American politics should not be about money, but what is American politics but the unending quest for money and power? You need the money to get the power. You use the power to get the money. It's how it goes. It's a scam and we don't realize it until people are getting destroyed by the abuse of power.

In case you were wondering, here's a list of contributions made in Jack Abramoff's name. I assume this is a comprehensive list, although I of course didn't compile it. Check it out though, almost a quarter mill since 92 given to...you guessed it, Republicans, including our esteemed Commander in Chief. Some of these politicians now are desperately trying to ditch the money off the charity, as if that were going to undo any past improprieties. There's more here.

I really want to be snarky and say something like, Thank God he sent George W Bush to clean up Washington for us. But the truth is, Bush is president because of the dirty way Washington does "business." He's their guy, bought and paid for. So we may not be just watching the fall of a powerful lobbyist or some crooked congressmen. We may be watching the fall of a president, and the whole political party behind him.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Running Back Clarett Runs From the Law

In the "Dodged a Bullet" category, the Broncos are incredibly relieved that they cut Maurice Clarett before the season started.

Note to famous athletes. It's not a good idea to start a career in robbery when your playing days are over. Better to just get a job like the rest of us shlubs who have never had their picture in the paper.

Iron Man

For our lookey-what-I-made moment this week, I offer up some T-shirts Scotty and I made this weekend. Creativity is big with me and it's something I'm trying to pass on to the little one. I think that the creative principle is what gives humanity its soul. Without waxing too philosophic about it, mankind's creativity is one of the things that distinguishes us as a species. Beavers build dams. Ants build anthills. But mankind, we built the Great Pyramid.

Before I get too grand comparing my T-shirts to the pyramids, lookey-what-I-made:

All of these shirts were made with iron-on paper specially made for inkjet printers. You design your shirt, print it out, trim the image, and then iron it on. It's very simple, and the results are surprisingly good. Depending on the image quality and your ironing skill, they can almost look like professionally produced commercial quality shirts.
This is my Sexy Beast shirt, and as far as I know, it's the only Sexy Beast t-shirt in the world. As funny as it is horrifying, this cult movie remains my favorite Ray Winstone picture. (That's Ray in the yellow banana hammock, by the way.) If you haven't seen the movie, you're probably looking at this shirt, thinking "WTF?" but if you have seen the movie, you're probably jealous because you want this shirt too. Sorry folks, this baby is one of a kind. (The image is a capture from the film's opening scene. The "Sexy Beast" logo is a scan from the DVD sleeve. No permission was obtained before I co-opted these images for my own amusement.)
The season before last, Scott played for the Packers in his junior football league and ever since then has been a hardcore Packers fan. Brett Favre is his god. I'm orange and blue through and through, so I don't share the sentiment, but he could have picked a worse team and QB combo to worship. (Like the Raiders....blegh!) I got him this Packer colored shirt for Christmas (finding Packer gear in Bronco country is harder than you'd think), and adorned it with a good picture of Scotty's hero. Now all he needs is a big 4 on the back.
I have this Star Wars photo hanging on my movie-wall. It's a classic 70s style painting, and now transferred to a t-shirt, it's a classic 70s style shirt. It could almost pass for vintage, but Scotty doesn't care about that. He just knows it looks cool and he wants to wear it.
Here's another shirt I made for Scotty. The picture is an actual Frank Miller drawing scanned right out of one of the Sin City books. Dwight is one of Scott's favorite characters in the Sin City universe, so that's who he wanted. Jessica Alba is on the front, and I gotta say, she looks good!

That girl is ungodly beautiful.

The Mighty Kong (the Remake)

I saw King Kong again this weekend. After listening to me talk about it for a week, my nephew wanted to see it. Plus my friend Stace just got home from a Seinfeldian week long trip down to Florida, which sounds good on paper, but turned out to be nearly unbearable because of her grandmother. She needed something to cheer her up, and Scotty needed something to do. I needed to gaze into the sea blue eyes of Naomi Watts. Or maybe I just wanted to see Kong kill a T-Rex with his bare hands again.

Either way, we spent Friday afternoon at the theater, transported to (as the song says) a dream world of magic. I'm happy to report the viewing experience was much better this time. No near-fights and only one fussy kid who made a little noise before being corked by his adult supervision.

As predicted, Scotty did not like the Skull Island people. I told him to fetch us a refill on the popcorn when that part came on, but the poor kid returned halfway through that scene. He came into the theater, started walking up the stairs but couldn't find me or Stace in the crowd. He took one look at the screen, saw the scary Skull Island people, and he was gone!

I found him near the concession stand, still getting the popcorn. It took some cajoling to get him back into the theater, but after I assured him that the Skull People has made their last appearance in the movie, it was somewhat easier.

In the end, everyone loved the movie. Perhaps because I knew what to expect, I didn't mind the extra ten minutes spent fleshing out the minor Jimmy character. I had already accepted the captain's deus-ex-machina moments. (He has at least two, and well, maybe two isn't so bad.) I didn't even mind when Kong stops tearing up NY long enough to take Ann Darrow ice-skating. How could you think that doesn't fit in the pacing when that scene is so brilliantly conceived and executed?

I can't wait for it to come out on DVD. It's only a few weeks old, but it's already a classic.

On a related note, because I'm on this Kong kick, I Netflixed the 1978 Dino DeLaurentis remake last week. Starring Jeff Bridges, Jessica Lange, and Charles Grodin, it's a semi-faithful but updated remake. Instead of some kind of animated (either stop-motion or CGI, which didn't really exist in 1978) Kong, the 70s version saw Kenny Baker in an ape suit. Trick photography was used to tackle scale problems, but it still doesn't change the fact that you're looking at a man in an ape suit.

It wasn't as bad or as campy as everyone says it is. Jessica Lange's character is a girly-girl ditz, oozing sensuality with every word or motion. Jeff Bridges is a hippie, complete with long hair, beard, and worldly sensitivity. Charles Grodin, not even trying to play it straight, goes for pure caricature.

The climactic final scene in this version is set at the twin towers of the World Trade Center, which seemed like a good idea at the time. The film makers wanted something as iconic as the Empire State Building, but something arguably more modern. There was no way they could have known that the twin towers might distract 21st Century audiences. It's chilling to see the Towers intact, to see Jeff Bridges running through the lobby that eventually became Ground Zero, to see Kong jumping from one tower to the other and fighting helicopters, one of which smashes into the side of the building in a fireball.

A giant ape swatting at bi-planes on the top of the Empire State Building is pure fantasy. Watching a monster hurl aircraft into the side of the World Trade Center is too close to stark reality. So too is Kong's eventual fall, which echoes the unfortunates who lept to their death as the towers burned on 9-11. It's downright eerie.

Does the old King Kong hold up? Nope. The performances are hammy. The special effects crude. The politics dated. The imagery unintentionally disturbing.

But I will say this...Jessica Lange was HOT! Witness:

An impromptu photo shoot. The dynamic in this scene: Jessica Lange, on all fours, purring like a sex kitten; Jeff Bridges, luckiest man alive.

Wow. I don't know what I like best about this picture. The waterfall, the beautiful greenery, or those legs.

She looks good in native couture, doesn't she?

Hubba hubba. Or, as they say on Skull Island, Ooga Booga.

Happy New Year

Happy New Year!!!! It's January 1st. What the hell am I doing up so damn early? Oh yeah, I'm working. Yep, working the holiday, again!!!! Let's see. I worked Thanksgiving. I worked Christmas. And now I'm working New Years. Gotta love it.

Thanksgiving was my fault. I thought that by volunteering for one holiday, it would grant me immunity from the others. That's what I get for thinking. Despite how things shook out, my boss really is nice. She told everyone on my team that she would take volunteers for the holidays and then if she didn't get enough volunteers, she would draw names out of a hat. And wouldn't ya know, December 25th rolled around and there weren't enough volunteers (not even from our team's two Muslims!). Whose name came out of that hat? Yep, yours truly.

As for New Years, my boss neglected to put together our stream-lined "holiday" schedule. Her solution was "if you're scheduled those days, you're working." And being a Sunday, I'm scheduled. What's worse is that tomorrow is the day that New Years is technically observed and I'm working then too.

This working on the holidays crap is for the birds!