Drunken Debates

By Ann

Because Katie and I have nothing better to do with our lives than to drink and happily bicker about nonsense, we decided to make a Youtube series out of it. Introducing… Drunken Debates!

The premise is that we pick a random topic, get drunk, and then flip a coin and argue for whatever it tells us to. As you can well imagine, things get weird fast.

Also, I got super sick the next day, so I hope this fills you with jubilance and that my sacrifice was not in vain.

After you watch, let us know who you think won. And, as you make your decisions, be sure to bear in mind that Katie is a baby-stabber.

Tween Novel Ideas

By Shawn

A while back, the girlfriend and I were discussing ideas for the next hot tween novel and came up with Withholding Vampire, the story of a young girl and an erratic vampire who can be changed if she loves him hard enough. But just in case the whole vampire thing is over by the time we’re ready to publish, I’ve come up with some other tween novel ideas I thought I’d share:

(1)   Emotionally Distant Mummy
(2)   Troubled Past Werewolf
(3)   Kind of a Dick Sometimes Yeti
(4)   Drinking Problem Ghost
(5)   Hidden Cocaine Habit Leprechaun
(6)   Sadomasochistic Unicorn
(7)   Abusive Werebadger
(8)   Meth-making Merman (think Splash + Breaking Bad)
(9)   Has a Secret Second Family Ogre
(10)   Commitmentphobic Zombie Cat
(11)   Already Had His Heart Broken Once Human Jellyfish
(12)   Lives With His Mother Cave Troll
(13)   Basically Nice But Doesn’t Get Along with Your Friends Skeleton
(14)   Napoleon-Complex Gnome
(15)   Fifty Shades of Guy Who Thinks He’s a Zebra

I feel like all of those would sell. And/or make a moving film starring Rob Pattinson.

Getting Sick, and the Problem of Acclimation con.

By Ann

A couple weeks ago, Shawn wrote a post entitled Home Repair, and the Problem of Acclimation. You know, about how as long as your appliances fall apart gradually, you slip into tolerating worse and worse living conditions. Eventually, you wake up one day and find yourself living in a trash can with a blender that only works if you clap three times, say a prayer over it, and stick your finger in the nearest electrical outlet.

Yes, reader, I too suffer from this condition. But I also suffer from its uglier cousin: getting sick, and the problem of acclimation. If I get really sick fast, I’ll go to a doctor. If, however, the illness takes its time and lets me get use to its symptoms one by one, for some reason, I simply can’t be bothered to seek medical attention.

You know what I’m talking about. It starts off like this:

You wake up one day and you don’t feel quite right. It’s something innocent enough, like the sniffles, and you think, “Hmm, might be getting a cold. If it gets worse, maybe I’ll see a doctor.”

Flash forward to three days later:

You still have the sniffles, and your throat kind of hurts. Also, there are three mysterious red bumps on your neck. They itch. You think, “Hmm. Still have that cold. Maybe there are spiders in my bed. If that rash gets worse, I should probably call a doctor.”

Five days later:

The fever sets in. The red bumps now cover your neck and both of your arms. You think, “Hmm, that cold is pretty stubborn. So are the spiders. Oh well, if it gets really unbearable, I’ll definitely call the doctor.”

One month later:

The rash has gained sentience, taken over your brain, and now controls your mind and body. You try to think, “Doctor?” and instead find yourself thinking, “ALL HAIL TO RASH-KING, ITCHTHOR.”

Granted, this is a worst case scenario. As I write this, I’m somewhere between the three and five day mark.

Don’t worry, though. I’ll call a doctor.

If it gets worse.

Zero Dark Thirty, or, How Not to Make a Movie About Torture

By Shawn

Head Torturer Guy: Hey, Jessica Chastain, do you know what’s totally a great way to get information from detainees? Torture.

Jessica Chastain: That’s totally true. But let’s not come out and say that torture actually produced useful intelligence that led to bin Laden’s capture, because that’s a problematic claim that’s been debunked repeatedly. Instead, let’s just strongly imply it.

Head Torturer Guy: That sounds good. Also, it’d be great if we could spend a few scenes developing our characters in ways that humanized us, without any corresponding attempt to challenge our audience by asking them to recognize the humanity of the detainees we’re torturing.

Jessica Chastain: You know what would help with that? Lots of montages of brown people looking around as though they might be up to something, with ominous brown people music playing.

Head Torture Guy: Perfect. Let’s just grab the first thing we find on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EAvlimEYEpQ

Jessica Chastain: That’ll do, pig. Let’s also have a scene in which Obama’s on TV condemning the CIA’s torture program, but let’s not engage that in any way beyond rolling our eyes.

Head Torture Guy: That sounds like a truly terrific and lazy way to deal with a troubling episode in our nation’s history.

Jessica Chastain: Ready?

Head Torture Guy: Ready.

Obama: (on TV) I think that probably torture is bad and hurts America’s image. Not that I’m going to punish or hold anyone accountable for it—that might make David Brooks sad.

Jessica Chastain: (eye roll) Obama, gosh!

Head Torture Guy: (eye roll) Yeah, pssh, Obama!

Jessica Chastain: The best part about how we just implicitly criticized Obama is how it positions the national security debate as though it were between liberals who aren’t willing to do what it takes to make the nation safe and conservatives who are. But in fact, people who are genuinely concerned about civil liberties and want to place limits on the way the national security establishment deals with terrorism have almost no influence on anything the government does, and Obama and the Democrats seem to have no problem assassinating American citizens abroad, violating the territorial sovereignty of other states to capture or kill high value targets, and allowing the CIA to operate a clandestine drone program with minimal oversight.

Head Torture Guy: Yeah. Pssh, Obama! So weak on national security!

Jessica Chastain: Pssh!

Head Torture Guy: So far I think we’ve got a pretty good movie going here. There’s just one thing I’m worried about. What happens if people who know something about what actually happened criticize our account?

Jessica Chastain: Oh, that’s no problem at all. We’ll just say it’s fictionalized.

Head Torture Guy: But if it’s fiction, won’t audiences who want to know what really took place be less interested in seeing it?

Jessica Chastain: That’s why we’ll say it’s a fictionalized account “based on real events,” and then provide the audience with no information about what actually occurred versus what we made up.

Head Torture Guy: That sounds like a perfect way of handling our obligation to deal with this subject matter responsibly.

Jessica Chastain: Yep! So, just to review—we’ve successfully created a fake account of a real event with minimal character development that depicts torture without providing any analysis; implies that it led to the capture of bin Laden; and barely even bothers to bring up in passing the argument that torture is immoral and outrageous, and that whatever modest intelligence gains it might have produced aren’t nearly enough to justify the harm it inflicted on the bodies and minds of the victims, the tremendous cost to this nation’s reputation, and the damage it’s done to our collective moral compass. In fact, practically no one in this movie will make any arguments at all or engage in any critical reflection to speak of.  And when people call us on that, we can just say that all we wanted to do was depict what actually happened, even though that’s not what we did.

Head Torture Guy: Not too shabby! I just have one last concern. Won’t people be put off unless there’s at least a token acknowledgement of the moral ambiguity of the events that transpired in the film, and won’t that require us to critically reflect on what took place in some way?

Jessica Chastain: Don’t worry about that. We’ll just show a scene of me getting into a plane and crying at the end.

Head Torture Guy: What will that mean?

Jessica Chastain: Nothing at all. Or everything. Who knows?

Head Torture Guy: Wow. That’s so profound.

Jessica Chastain: Absolutely. Also: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UlLaUCAQlQQ

Head Torture Guy: My gosh, brown people music is ominous! It’s like, what are they planning?

Jessica Chastain: Well, there’s only one horrible way to find out! Think about that, opponents of torture.

Head Torture Guy: Anti-torture arguments, pssh!

Jessica Chastain: Psssh!

Head Torture Guy: Pssssssh!

Another Reason Why I Love the Onion

By Ann

Happy MLK/inauguration day, ya’ll. Shawn and I just had a very productive playwriting weekend and are all written out at the moment. But that’s okay because, given my rants in the past about Cosmo, I couldn’t help resharing this delightful Onion article:

Investigation Finds Appalling Conditions in ‘Cosmopolitan’ Magazine’s Male-Pleasure Laboratory

http://www.theonion.com/articles/investigation-finds-appalling-conditions-in-cosmop,30869/

I don’t know about you, but when I read their sex tips, this is exactly what I envision.

Home Repair and the Problem of Acclimation

By Shawn

There’s an old myth to the effect that a frog won’t jump out of a pot of boiling water if the water is heated up gradually. I’m told that this isn’t actually true about frogs (note: please do not test this), but the basic insight here certainly applies to human beings—introduce changes gradually enough, and you’ll be amazed what people will put up with. In particular, I am perpetually amazed by people’s ability to get used to shit in their house/apartment not really working properly and adapt to it in crazy ways.

And I am a perfect example of this. If something important in my apartment (e.g., a light, a chair, the dishwasher) breaks all at once, I will do something about it. But if something only kind of gradually breaks over a long period of time, there is absolutely no chance that I will do anything meaningful to fix it. What I will do is devise lazy workarounds that become increasingly convoluted as the condition of the important thing in question deteriorates further. And it won’t be until someone else comes over and points it out to me that I realize I’ve inadvertently worked up a system as complicated as anything Hegel ever came up with just to get the stupid toilet to work without calling a plumber.

Case in point—the overhead light in the kitchen. Here’s how things stood with the overhead light in the kitchen about six months ago:

Friend: Hey, I think this light is out.
Me: Nah, it’s fine; you just gotta flick the switch twice and it’ll come on.
Friend: Oh yeah, you’re right. Huh, you should probably get an electrician to look at that.
Me: Yeah, I’m probably gonna at some point. You know, if it gets worse.

And here’s how things stand with the overhead light in the kitchen as of the other day:

Friend: Hey, I think this light is out.
Me: Nah, it’s fine; you just gotta flick the switch ten times or so until you start to hear a buzzing.
Friend: That doesn’t seem to be doing anything.
Me: Well, you’re not really staggering it right. You gotta do it like, flick, pause, flick, flick, pause, flick, pause, and so on.
Friend: That’s—
Me: Also, turn off the other lights when you’re trying to get it going, and then turn ‘em back on once you’ve got it glowing steadily.  Except for the bathroom light, of course—if they’re on at the same time it trips the circuit breaker.
Friend: … You need to get this fixed immediately.
Me: Well, obviously, I’m going to. Just as soon as it gets worse.

I think what happens psychologically is that the object slowly trains you to revise your conception of what it means for it to “work,” up to the point where it gets a complete pass from you on the whole does-it-perform-its-basic-function question; then eventually, you find yourself making excuses for it like you’re in an abusive relationship, actually uttering sentences like, “Shut-up, that chair is great, you just can’t sit in it.” So my New Year’s resolution is to adopt a no tolerance policy. I’m fixing shit immediately, no matter what, just as long as it’s really broken, ‘cause if I can make it work without going to the store or calling somebody, I don’t see why I should since it only really affects me and I’m used to it this way and the toilet still works fine if you just pull the shoestring at the right angle.

What I’m Doing When I’m Supposed to be Writing

By Ann

Every year, my Dad makes the same New Year’s resolution: to have more fun. His optimism made a strong impact on me when I was in middle school and my resolution was to be less fat.

From that time on, I resolved to adopt my dad’s positive attitude in all future resolutions. Generally, I make my deepest resolutions on Yom Kippur, or as a friend so lovingly dubbed it, “Jew Year’s.” (Yes, I know Rosh Hashanah is the actual Jewish New Year. But come on. Jew Year’s.) But I do have an additional New Year’s resolution for 2013.

I want to make good progress on my book this year. Should be easy, right? Well, I thought so, until I realized that I’ve been working on it for over a year and only have 90 pages. So where was the time spent parked in front of my laptop going?

I decided to puzzle it out the only way I could trust—a painstakingly constructed infographic.

So here that goes:

When I'm Supposed to Be Writing

There you have it. Mystery solved. This not only explains my lack of progress, but also why I’ve gotten so good at Bejeweled.

I also find that the infographic makes a stellar point about the amount of time spent generating useless infographics about writing, which could be instead used for actual writing.

So, on that note, I’m off to achieve my New Year’s Resolution of 2013!  Or, barring that, to continue playing Bejeweled.

How are your New Year’s resolutions going so far?

Reflections on Cloud Atlas, the Movie

By Shawn

Major intended lessons of Cloud Atlas, the movie:

(1) Love unites the weak. Our individual efforts are but a drop in the ocean, but together are able to stand up against the strong in a pattern that recurs throughout history because “we keep on making the same mistakes.” Or something

(2) EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED BECAUSE ???. COMET BIRTHMARK + OBSCURITY = PROFUNDITY.

Major unintended lessons of Cloud Atlas, the movie:

(1) Never put a white actor in yellow face.

(2) Tom Hanks can act, but he really doesn’t want to, and will revert to being Tom Hanks if you drop your guard for even a second.

(3) Hugh Grant’s idea of putting on an American accent is just trying to sound like even more of a dick.

(4) Halle Berry. I don’t know what I think of you. But I am pretty sure you had no idea why you were speaking gibberish to Tom Hanks in a post-apocalyptic setting. I don’t blame you. No one else did either.

(5) Jim Broadbent is the only one in this cast who’s really trying. Put him in more things, Hollywood.

(6) Well, let me amend that. The guy who played the aspiring composer was trying too. Nice work, that guy.

(7) For all of its flaws, Cloud Atlas does demonstrate that it is possible, albeit very difficult, to make a movie without Joseph Gordon-Levitt. This is an important thing formovie executives to remember. You don’t have to cast him. He is optional.

(8) Seriously, I was reading somewhere that they even tried to cast Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Django, but Joseph Gordon-Levitt had a scheduling conflict, probably because he was too busy appearing in everything. Why are we doing this? I mean, I like him as much as the next guy, but did he really need to be in Lincoln?

(9) Well, actually, scratch that. Joseph Gordon-Levitt probably would have been way better than Tom Hanks or Hugh Grant or Jim Sturgess. They should’ve cast him.

(10) Yeah, upon reflection, I see why this happens now. You’re casting the film, and you get to thinking, “I could cast so-and-so, but why not Joseph Gordon-Levitt? He’d do a solid job. He’s a good ensemble player. Everybody likes him fine.” Alright, I’ve made my peace with this.

(11) Seriously though, NEVER put a white actor in yellow face. Not even if he’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt. All anyone can think of is Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. No one needs that flashback.

Bringing Home the Bacon, Part II

By Shawn

As some readers may recall, I have a friend–let’s go ahead and call her “Cathy” again even though she hates that–who’s been on the receiving end of a number of good-natured pranks. One of these, and by far the most complicated, happens to involve a large  jar of bacon grease.

As I explained in a post last May, titled Bringing Home the Bacon, Part I, Bacon Jar started as a receptacle for all the bacon fat we’d create whenever my friends and I would cook together at Cathy’s house. We used to store him in Cathy’s fridge, but after an incident in which Bacon Jar was quietly hidden under Cathy’s pillow for her to discover in the middle of the night, I was instructed to get that jar “out of [her] house immediately.” I did as I was told, but with a warning: one day, Bacon Jar would return.

Bacon Jar’s homecoming would not take place immediately. No, that would be far too easy. Instead, his return was built up to in a series of horrible steps. Allow me to share them with you.

Step 1: Give Him a Little Face

First things first. If we were gonna do this right, Bacon Jar was gonna need a little face.

baconjar1

Bam.

Step 2: Takin’ Pictures

Especially now that Bacon Jar had become so photogenic, my friends and I decided that Cathy’s Bacon Jar experience wouldn’t be complete without photographs to remember it by. That’s why, unbeknownst to her, we followed her around with the Bacon Jar for months, taking pictures of it with her stuff.

baconjar2

Hooray! He’s so cute.

Step 3: Makin’ Friends

Now it was time to put the two of them in touch. Because Cathy was unaware that she was being perpetually stalked by a jar of bacon grease, imagine her surprise a few months later when she got a Facebook friend request from a certain special someone.

baconjarfacebook

Then imagine her surprise once she proceeded to look through his photo albums.

baconjarfacebook2

Bacon Jar, pictured above with everything you know, everything you’ve ever loved.

Step 4: Makin’ Memories

All of this was in the service of creating what is commonly referred to as “a landscape of fear,” and given the hysterical text messages I received, it appeared to have worked. Yet, unless something was done, that fear would soon subside–how often was she gonna check his Facebook page? What Cathy needed was a physical reminder of Bacon Jar’s existence, something she could keep in her home.

There was only one obvious solution. Say it with me now. “Waterfall picture frame. ”

baconjarwaterfall

This was surreptitiously installed on her mantelpiece. You just plug it in, and the water continuously flows around the outside of the frame. A truly classy way to commemorate a truly classy jar. The box even claims that it gently humidifies the room. Best of all, it’s surprisingly easy to smuggle into and set up in someone else’s house when they’re not looking.

Step 5: Bringin’ Him Home

The waterfall picture frame worked wonders. Alas, however, all good things must come to an end, so a week ago it was decided that it was finally time for Bacon Jar’s triumphant homecoming. And what better way to wrap things up, we thought, than with a loving homage to Psycho? I left him where I was sure Cathy would find him. And as she climbed in the shower the next morning, find him she did.

baconjarinshower

One of these things is not like other. Because one of these things is a jar of bacon fat.

This occasioned the following email.

Sender: Cathy

Date: Fri, Dec 7, 2012 at 8:43 AM

Subject: when I got in my shower this morning

Body:

BACON JAR WAS STARING AT ME.

YOU PEOPLE ARE SO CRAZY.
I mean, I do appreciate your love, although it bears a strikingly similarity to the affections of a deranged stalker.
You guys.  Really.

I know. I’ll be the first to admit we maybe carried things a little far. After all, this prank started over a year ago, required the ongoing, active complicity of six people, and was carried out in multiple media. If it’s any comfort, Cathy, at least you can rest assured that he’s in your possession now, resting quietly on your dresser where he can’t bother anyone.

… Or is he. I wonder, when’s the last time you checked to see if he was still there? Is there a chance someone might have removed him? Might he be at large once again? Here’s a hint:

baconjarandshawn

For Cathy and Bacon Jar, the saga continues. And this is how she’s finding out.