Great lede, or GREATEST lede?

Time’s obit for Fred Phelps begins:

Fred Phelps, a colossal jerk, died Thursday in Topeka, Kansas, at 84, after a long life in which even his few admirable achievements (a series of civil rights cases that he filed as an attorney) stemmed from a deeply disagreeable personality (he loved to pick fights with his neighbors). He was the kind of person no one wanted to be around: a lawyer disbarred by his colleagues, a preacher disowned by every denomination he ever espoused, a father rejected by his children—even, in the end, the children who emulate his worst characteristics.


Back in the 1980s, when Dungeons and Dragons was fairly young, it was frequently attacked by religious nutjobs (along with pop music, dancing, etc.) as a gateway to the occult, or at least something likely to brainwash your kid into believing he really was an adventurer!

Today, this sounds kind of bizarre, but it really was a Thing. Two pieces of pop culture ephemera survive to tell the tale: Rona Jaffee’s terrible 1981 novel Mazes and Monsters, which was turned into an equally bad made-for-TV movie starring Tom Hanks a year later; and the inevitable Jack Chick tract first published in 1984, “Dark Dungeons“.

Seriously, take a minute and click through to read the TERRIBLE TALE of an innocent young co-ed seduced into the occult via polyhedral dice and graph paper!

Don’t you sort of wish there was MORE to the tale? Well, wish no more, gentle heathen, because someone’s turned that tract into a movie — with Chick’s blessing, amazingly.

Here’s the trailer.

(H/T: MeFi.)

There’s no two ways about this: If you buy one of these, you are a goddamn idiot

I’m all for classic and throwback style, but this is fucking ridiculous.

Some hipster company is selling a canvas, center-pole tent. You know, the kind that needs a dozen or more stakes and probably external support to stay up (or stay what passes for up), and that will fall down at the slightest insult. It’s the kind of tent that has a HOLE IN THE ROOF for its support pole, and therefore allows an inappropriately intimate relationship with any rain.

It’s the kind of tent that lurked in the very back of our troop gear closet when I was a Scout, that the only the doubly unlucky kids got stuck with because (a) they didn’t have their own tent and (b) they didn’t get to the campout quickly enough to snag one of the modern ones. BECAUSE EVEN IN 1981 YOU COULD BY A NYLON TENT FOR ALMOST NOTHING, so there was no need to deal with overtly shitty leftovers from the Boer War.

These godless fashion-victim goatfuckers are charging one thousand dollars for this abomination.

I remind you all that we live in the year of our Lord two thousand and goddamn FOURTEEN, and that you can get a completely awesome tent at REI for about a hundred bucks. You could probably go cheaper at Academy or CampMor or Sierra. These modern tents will keep you dry and out of the elements, and will withstand clumsy campmates, wind, rain, and will not require you to carry a fucking hammer to nail it down. Oh, and they’ll weigh substantially less, and can be pitched all by yourself.

Jesus, Mary, and Batman, these people are absurd.

Absolutely the happiest video you’ll watch today

You may have heard that physicists have found “fingerprints” of the Big Bang; it’s now more or less indisputable evidence that this theory, and the related idea of cosmological inflation, are in fact correct.

Over the weekend, one of the Stanford physicists who ran the new experiment, a man named Chao-Lin Kuo, went to visit one of the key authors of the inflation theory (Andrei Linde) to surprise him with the news.


Because a movie studio could fuck up a wet dream, that’s why

Faced with amazing fan response, uncontestable financial success, and unprecedented goodwill following the Kickerstar-backed Veronica Mars movie, Warner Bros. managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by completely ruining the digital download of the film they’d promised the Kickstarter backers.

The movie came out last week to very good reviews… but leave it to Warner Bros. to totally muck it up, screw over the goodwill from all those backers and scare people off from such future collaborations. That’s because one of the popular tiers promised supporters that they would get a digital download of the movie within days of it opening. But, of course, this is a major Hollywood studio, and due to their irrational fear of (oh noes!) “piracy” they had to lock things down completely. That means that backers were shunted off to a crappy and inconvenient service owned by Warner Bros called Flixster, which very few people use, and then forced to use Hollywood’s super hyped up but dreadful DRM known as UltraViolet.

Nice job, fuckheads.

So terribly proud

The idiot represesntive being aggressively, arrogantly wrong in this story about copyright infringement hearings in Washington is, of course, our own.

The ignorant right-wing anti-gay Poe, by way of a truly shameful degree of gerrymandering, represents both distant exurbs AND most of Montrose, i.e. one of Texas’ oldest “gayborhoods.”

We’re completely sure that district was rationally determined and not constructed to minimize the Democratic vote bloc that is Montrose.

In conclusion: Fuck Ted Poe.

Just so we’re clear: the anti-choice right is objectively anti-birth control

This should be obvious, since they want to both ban abortion AND make it harder to get access to any family planning services — hence the hostility to Planned Parenthood, and their ongoing support for folks like Hobby Lobby, who are suing to avoid having their insurance plan cover contraception at all.

You’d think that, if their actual desire was to reduce the incidence of abortion, they’d work super, super hard to make sure all women had access to highly effective means of birth control. But that’s not what they want. What they want is for sex to always carry the significant risk of pregnancy, for everyone, all the time. They see the fact that we’ve decoupled sex and childbearing as a problem, not an advance, and they’re desperate to roll back the clock.

Cases like Hobby Lobby’s force them to drop their veil just a bit, so we can see what they want more clearly. My guess is that even the notoriously halfwitted American public don’t really agree with them here; the Democrats should remember this issue come fall.

Right, so…

…it’s my birthday. I’m 44, which is my first palindromic age since 2003.

Pretty sure this won’t happen again, as it did fourteen years ago when my attorney ran down Heights Boulevard with a shopping cart full of fire:

Edgar cart2

And I’m pretty sure there will be no need to subdue needlessly cheery meat-and-whiskey-filled piñatas, as we did four years ago:

IMG 5053

But some tomfoolery, either today or tomorrow, is more or less guaranteed.

Books of 2014, #6: A Feast of Snakes, by Harry Crews

Harry Crews has been on my radar for a long time, but for some reason I never actually took the plunge. I was shocked this was still the case when he died last year, but it still took me until this month to read one of his books. I picked this one because, honestly, it was for sale in a local bookshop when David MacLean was in town reading from The Answer to the Riddle is Me. I felt bad about the fact that I’d pre-ordered MacLean’s book from Amazon, so I spent about $80 on other books while I was there for the reading, and so Crews found his way into my bag.

I can’t speak to Crews’ entire output, but Feast is something I might call “Faulknerian Modern.” If you read books like As I Lay Dying, or generally other books that touch on the Snopeses, it’s hard to miss the utter disdain and disgust Faulkner holds for most of his characters. Anse Bundren is a horrible, ignorant jackass of a man; of that there can be no question. It’s impossible not to read it and see a harsh critique of the South Faulkner knew well.

When I read Faulkner, that South is, temporally at least, far from me. I don’t react viscerally to the ignorance and general embrace of brutality, because I live in a more modern world, and his people don’t. I see them as awful, but they don’t make me HATE.

With Crews, though, it’s different. He’s doing much of the same thing here in Mystic, Georgia with Feast, except it’s set in 1975, and consequently resonates a great deal more. Frankly, I hate every one of these ignorant fucks, and by the end of the book sort of wished for a massive cataclysm to wipe Mystic off the map.

I”m not sure that Crews has the same sneering contempt for his characters that we see in some of Faulkner’s work, but it seems likely. Writers, like any other kind of intellectual, are generally unwelcome in the poor, rural south, and I’m sure Crews had some of the same scars that Faulkner had. At the same time, Crews includes a single learned character — the new boyfriend of a local girl come home from the University of Georgia — and treats him just as poorly, so there’s something in the rural south’s ignorant brutality that Crews seems to think as justified, too.

All that said, the book is solid. Despite my feelings about Joe Lon Mackey himself, I followed his story with the same horrified attention you’d give a train wreck (and, in that sense, was not disappointed). He’s the sort of person we have all seen: ignorant as fuck, but a star football player in a rural high school, so worshiped as a god until he graduated. College was never going to happen, so he is stuck in his backwater shithole town forever, endlessly revisiting his past while a profoundly shitty future stretches before him. No one we encounter is any less fucked up, or any less hopeless.

Should you read it? That, I’m not sure of. It’s harsh and brutal. There is endless violence. There is a brutal dogfighting subplot, the details of which make it clear Crews has been exposed to it in some detail. There is sexual assault. My takeaway was really just to be thankful that I do not have to live in a shithole like Mystic, or be around ignorant, ruined people like Joe Lon.

So that’s something.

Update: Apparently you don’t have to go all the way to Georgia for a ridiculous snake festival.

Books of 2014, #5: The King in Yellow, by Robert W. Chambers

There’s not really much to say here other than that Nic Pizzolatto and HBO have done more interesting things with the material than the original author.

I only heard about this because it turns out to be part of the mythos, if you will, for HBO’s True Detective; Amazon jumped on the bandwagon and made the Kindle edition of The King in Yellow free a few weeks back, and so I snagged it to read on vacation. (It’s still free, if you want to sample it.)

Honestly, it’s kind of bland, and not really worth your time. Only the first few stories even reference the titular King, and in those it’s generally in a very Lovecraftian thing-you-should-not-know sense. My advice: skip it.

Frankly, you pod-coffee freaks deserve what you get

Those goofballs who make the execrable Keurig machines are annoyed that people make “compatible” pods, so they’re working out a way to keep them from working by using something akin to DRM.

But since people aren’t generally very excited about reduced functionality, they’re lying about why they’re doing it. What tools.

But, as the title says, you pod-coffee people deserve whatever you get. Grind your own, use a pour-over device, and be done with it. Cheap AND delicious!

In which we quote wisdom from, of all places, Tumblr

I think the most important thing that facebook is going to do for humanity in general and the United States in particular, as a society, is inform us which of our friends/relatives/acquaintances are fucking idiots that we really should not associate with at all.

From Will’s Tumblr.

This maps closely to another quote, the specifics and citation for which I’ve lost, to the effect of “Twitter makes me want to buy drinks for people I don’t know, and Facebook makes me want to punch my friends and family.”

911: Stuff you need to do RIGHT NOW if you haven’t already

Use an Apple device? And by this I mean any iPad, iPhone, or Mac?

Then you need to install all available OS updates with a furious quickness, for there is a security bug to end all security bugs in the SSL code on your device. All platforms are affected.

It’s a seriously bad, bad, bad bug. It may be the worse security bug of all time. No certificate validation is happening, which means that site you think you have an encrypted connection to might not be who they say they are. That’s an ID thief’s dream come true.

This bug is bad enough that it’s entirely possible that it was deliberately introduced at the behest of the NSA. The crypto we use daily relies on provably unbreakable encryption, so the only vulnerabilities they can exploit rely on broken implementations; this is a known tactic that the NSA and similar organizations have used. The timing certainly works.

More here.

You can check to see if you’re vulnerable using this site. On a Mac, you’ll need to use Safari to get the best possible reading, but it’ll mostly work with other browsers.

Shoring up the argument that it’s part of a deliberate effort: an even worse bug has subsequently been discovered in the Linux GnuTLS code.

Skipping the technical stuff, the takeway for you, the Heathen reader, is that you absolutely MUST upgrade your iOS devices and Macs today, right the fuck now. Full stop.

Fortunately, Apple makes this pretty easy. Just go to Settings -> General -> Software Update on an iPhone or iPad, or to (Black Apple) -> Software Update on a Mac.

Here’s something I didn’t know that’s awesome

When Bruce Springsteen toured Australia last year, he needed an extra guitar man because Little Steven couldn’t make the trip.

He tapped Tom Morello, with whom he’d apparently become friends since a performance together in LA in 2008.

Here they are, doing “The Ghost of Tom Joad” (from the Hall of Fame in 2009, not the Aussie tour).

I think it’s safe to say the collaboration works. Play it loud.

(Via this Rolling Stone interview with Morello, which is worth reading for lots of reasons.)


In the “that settles it” department, looks like I’m buying tickets to see Bruce in the Woodlands in May, because Morello is with him for the whole tour owing at least partly to Van Zandt’s shooting schedule on Lilyhammer.

“The Internet is Fucked.”

Without network neutrality, it may well be. N.B. that Netflix is already paying Comcast for the privilege of not being throttled. This should alarm you.

The Verge has more.

The communications networks have been built largely by government-protected monopolies, but those monopolies are now trying to extract every single dime from their customers they can. We have to stop this. The FCC needs to treat them as common carriers, and we need to realize that the net is a basic utility, like water or power.

If we don’t fix this, then the net as we’ve enjoyed it for the last 15 years is going to die.

The best lede in the history of journalism, bar none

Seriously, beat this, from the Atlantic’s new feature on fraternities:

Oe warm spring night in 2011, a young man named Travis Hughes stood on the back deck of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity house at Marshall University, in West Virginia, and was struck by what seemed to him—under the influence of powerful inebriants, not least among them the clear ether of youth itself—to be an excellent idea: he would shove a bottle rocket up his ass and blast it into the sweet night air. And perhaps it was an excellent idea. What was not an excellent idea, however, was to misjudge the relative tightness of a 20-year-old sphincter and the propulsive reliability of a 20-cent bottle rocket. What followed ignition was not the bright report of a successful blastoff, but the muffled thud of fire in the hole.

Books of 2014, #4: Use of Weapons, by Iain M. Banks (19 Feb)

Well, darn.

The first Culture book I read was the the awful Consider Phlebas a couple years ago. Honestly, it’s such crap that it nearly put me off the whole series. It wasn’t until last year that I bothered with the next volume of the series, Player of Games, largely due to the number of people I found who agreed that Phlebas was crap and that a better place to start was Games.

Ok, fine. Turns out, they were right; Games was a fun book. With Banks inconveniently promoted to the choir invisible, though, I didn’t want to run right into another Culture book, so I paced myself, and didn’t start the third book until this month. And now, having finished it, I think I’m done with Culture.

Weapons is a mess. Banks is trying an ambitious interleaved structure here, but it didn’t really work for me — largely because I never really gave a shit what happened, or had happened, to the protagonist. This is further reflected by the enormous gap between the last book and this one; by the end I was really finding this a slog.

It’s entirely possible Banks just isn’t for me.