Dear George Lucas

FUCK YOU.

It’s sad, but I must accept the fact that it is impossible for me to see the movies I saw in the 70s and early 80s again. They’re gone. Lucas has destroyed them, and made it clear they’ll never be available again. And I’ll be damned if I’ll give that goatfucker any more money for ham-handedly re-edited versions.

Dept. of Computer-Aided Campfire Games

When I was a kid on Boy Scout campouts, we’d sometimes play a game called “telephone,” which I’m sure you know: With everyone in a big circle, a leader tells one kid a secret, who whispers it to the next person, who whispers it to the next, etc. Amusement arises at the way in which the phrase has mutated by the time it reaches the origin point again.

Via MeFi, we find two Internet personalities who have leveraged Youtube’s new “automatic closed captioning” feature to play the same game.

Dept. of YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME

A friend just sent me the mail the Red Cross’s Charley Shimanski is circulating to drum up donations in light of the East Coast’s hurricane panic. Here’s the lede:

Hurricane Irene, potentially the worst U.S. storm in 70 years, is now heading toward the East Coast, and thousands of Americans in its path are preparing for the worst.

Dear Red Cross: Give me a fucking break. Heathen HQ is on the Gulf Coast, buddy boy, we know a little about hurricanes, and your little embellishment is ridiculous. Don’t believe me? Let me introduce you, Charley Shimanski, to a few folks who’ve come to visit me and mine:

and a bitch called Katrina that erased the Mississippi Gulf Coast and damn near killed New Orleans.

Maybe you’ve heard about one or two of these, Charley. Maybe if you’d been thinking, you wouldn’t have resorted to this kind of hyperbole. Sure, the good folks of the East Coast need to take appropriate precautions. People in flood-prone or low-lying areas in danger of the surge should evacuate. Further inland, people in permanent buildings just need to hunker down and wait it out.

Irene is a category TWO, people. Jesus.

An excellent idea

Writers should be more like rock stars:

Oscar Wilde. Ernest Hemingway. Hunter S. Thompson.

Each, a rock star in his own right. Oscar Wilde was put on trial for sodomy and indecency. Hemingway killed bears, fought in wars, crashed planes, had an FBI file on him. Hunter S. Thompson consumed every drug known to man, was a certified gun nut, and started FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS as a piece for fucking Sports Illustrated. Oh! And had his ashes shot out of a cannon made to look like a fist.

Who do we have like that these days? Neil Gaiman? He’s close, but let’s be honest — he’s just too nice. Too normal. A positively lovely human being by all reports. You never hear, “Famous author Neil Gaiman caught with seven stewardesses in a Wichita bus depot.” He doesn’t throw Bibles through stained glass windows or get into drunken beefs with other speculative fiction writers. You won’t see him roving about in public with exotic swords bought at a flea market looking to cut any dude who looks at him sideways.

Go read the whole thing.

ALERT: New Heathen

This is Norah Anne. She joined planet Earth yesterday, August 23, 2011. She lives in Louisville, and joins two other miniHeathen in the care of Mrs Heathen’s sister and her delightful husband. Everybody’s doing fine, but Mrs Heathen is beside herself to meet Norah, and I’d be lying if I suggested I wasn’t kinda jazzed about it myself.

norah-anne.jpg

Speaking of Wallace

After reading this rambling blogger broadside about Wallace (from someone who should, really know better) in yesterday’s Times, it seems like a good moment to point something out:

People can bitch and moan and whine about David Foster Wallace being to blame for this-or-that trend in the written word, or for being impenetrable, or for being long-winded, or whatever, but pretty much none of those people will write anything as inventive or as widely read as Infinite Jest, either.

Obviously writing about books involves criticism (that’s why they call it “criticism”), but now that we have some distance from his suicide I’m perceiving a bit of piling-on by wannabe pseudotransgressive pundits. Put simply, snarking about Infinite Jest or his other work now that he’s gone is kind of tiny. My thinking is that, just as with any other serious work, you need to have something genuinely interesting to say. Noting that Wallace wrote in a very conversational style, and that — holy cats! — this has become the norm online isn’t a particularly sharp observation. Newton and the Times both know better.

Warren Buffett isn’t the only wildly successful billionaire who thinks Republicans are full of it

Anil Dash points out something hilarious; I’m quoting the whole thing because it’s brilliant:

For the past several days, Apple’s stock has been rising high enough that the company has flitted between being the first and second most valuable company in the world. Regardless of the final value of the stock on any given day, it is without a doubt the greatest comeback or turnaround story in the history of American business: A single company has gone from being just 90 days away from shutting down to becoming the unequivocal leader in innovation, design, branding and now valuation, and the transformation happened in less than a decade and a half.

Most interestingly, there’s a unanimous consensus, from fans and detractors alike, both within and outside the company, that a single man bears the lion’s share of the credit for the vision, leadership and execution that’s made this achievement possible.

So, who is this man? He’s the anchor baby of an activist Arab muslim who came to the U.S. on a student visa and had a child out of wedlock. He’s a non-Christian, arugula-eating, drug-using follower of unabashedly old-fashioned liberal teachings from the hippies and folk music stars of the 60s. And he believes in science, in things that science can demonstrate like climate change and Pi having a value more specific than “3″, and in extending responsible benefits to his employees while encouraging his company to lead by being environmentally responsible.

Every single person who’d attack Steve Jobs on any of these grounds is, demonstrably, worse at business than Jobs. They’re unqualified to assert that liberal values are bad for business, when the demonstrable, factual, obvious evidence contradicts those assertions.

It’s a choice whether you, or anyone else, wants to accept the falsehood that liberal values are somehow in contradiction with business success at a global scale. Indeed, it would seem that many who claim to be pro-business are trying to “save” us from exactly the inclusive, creative, tolerant values that have made America’s most successful company possible. I side with the makers, the creators, and the inventors, and it’s about time that the pack of clamoring would-be politicians be put on the defensive for attacking the values of those of us on this side.

By the way, before people whine about Apple stock being expensive, there’s a case to be made that AAPL is actually undervalued. Put simply, they’re just about printing money in Cupertino, get great return on what they spend, and don’t make stupid choices like some companies we could name.

Class Warfare, Fox News Style

So Warren Buffett got shouted down this week by the chattering right wingers for his utterly reasonable op-ed noting that he pays too little in taxes. Fox was, of course, livid, and called Buffett a socialist, among other things.

Thank God for Jon Stewart. Just go over and watch.

Look! MORE Evil Prosecutors!

Over at the Agitator, we find this:

Back in 2007, the Grits for Breakfast blog noted that Williamson County, Texas, District Attorney John Bradley gave some curious advice on a discussion board to another prosecutor. The other prosecutor was asking about how to construct a plea agreement in a way that would forfeit any future right to DNA testing. Bradley responded, “Innocence, though, has proven to trump most anything.” How unfortunate! He then added:

A better approach might be to get a written agreement that all the evidence can be destroyed after the conviction and sentence. Then, there is nothing to test or retest. Harris County regularly seeks such agreements.

Destroying evidence is an odd way to seek justice, especially given how many “slam dunk” cases and convictions based on false confessions have later been overturned after DNA testing.

How completely fucked up is that? No prosecutor who seeks to prevent DNA exoneration should ever be allowed in a courtroom again; that’s madness.

More madness: Rick Perry just loves this guy:

If you’ll remember, just before the Texas Forensic Science Commission was set to open up an investigation into the Cameron Todd Willingham case, Perry abruptly replaced three of the commissioners with nominees who were more friendly to prosecutors, all of whom opposed reopening the case.

One of the replacements Perry nominated was . . . you guessed it . . . Williamson County, Texas, District Attorney John Bradley.

In which we discuss very, very precise rifles

The rifle being used by more elite sniper units today than any other is actually made by a British firm called AI, for Accuracy International. Wired has a great piece about them. Go read it. In 2009, Craig Harrison was using an AI rifle (in .338) when he made two consecutive kill shots in Helmand Province at 2,475 meters.

That’s a mile and a half. Twice. In a row. My guess is that you can’t do that with a deer rifle.

Read it even if you loathe baseball

This account of the best at-bat ever is a complete delight.

If you’re not a fan, all you really need to know is that the guy holding the bat in this story — Casilla — went to the plate with no intention whatsoever of swinging, made no secret of it, and the other team still managed to walk him for no good reason. (The hows and whys of the situation are in the article, but you can just accept it as the Argument and still enjoy the writing.)

Casilla had pitched in the eighth inning of a close game because Casilla is a pitcher. Specifically, Casilla is a reliever. A decent reliever, but still a reliever, and a reliever who had never batted in the major leagues. It’s weird when relievers go up to hit. But what happened with Casilla turned out even weirder.

(Yes, a veteran relief pitcher like Casilla might never, ever bat. Mrs. Heathen can explain why.)

Casilla walked to the batter’s box under strict orders not to swing. Why would he swing? Nothing good could come of Santiago Casilla swinging, and if he took a bad swing, he could hurt himself. Casilla was batting not because [Giants manager] Bochy cared about the at bat, but because Bochy cared about keeping Casilla on the mound, and if Casilla were to watch three strikes and turn around, it wouldn’t matter. The at bat didn’t matter

Now, it’s one thing to bat with no intention of swinging. If the catcher and pitcher don’t know you have no intention of swinging, they’ll attack you like usual. But Casilla didn’t even try to hide his approach. [...] For the Marlins, there was absolutely no mistaking what Casilla was going to do: he was going to stand there and not do anything. [...]

Casilla, then, made himself the equivalent of a tall plant. Marlins reliever Jose Ceda was, for all intents and purposes, pitching to a tall plant in a major league baseball game. His only challenge was to throw three strikes to a plant that posed zero threat on account of its plantness.

Ceda should been able to connect with the middle-of-the-box catcher’s mitt 3 times in a completely casual manner, no muss or fuss, and retire Casilla. And yet three pitches in:

Think about this for a minute. Jose Ceda is a pitcher in the major leagues. It stands to reason, then, that Jose Ceda is one of the very best pitchers in the entire world. Sunday afternoon, he was tasked with throwing three strikes to a tall potted plant, and he fell behind 3-0.

There’s bad video.

(Via MeFi.)

Texas Court: Cops delete dash cam footage? No problem.

Via Balko:

Drivers have no recourse if police say the tape from a dashboard-mounted video camera is not available, according to a ruling Wednesday from the Texas Court of Appeals. Mark Lee Martin wanted to defend himself against drug possession charges filed in the wake of an August 29, 2008 traffic stop, but he was told no video was available.

and

“The officers intentionally destroyed the video and thereby put exculpatory evidence as far as the search is concerned or evidence favorable to the accused out of the reach of the accused,” Martin’s attorney claimed. “We feel that for no other reason the search is invalid and any evidence found as a result of that search should be suppressed.”

The appellate court found no merit in this argument.

“We agree with the state that the record supports a finding by the district court that the police did not act in bad faith,” Justice Bob Pemberton wrote. “The United States Supreme Court has held that ‘unless a criminal defendant can show bad faith on the part of the police, failure to preserve potentially useful evidence does not constitute a denial of due process of law.’”

In case this isn’t clear: this ruling means cops can alter or delete the dashcam footage if the video might contain something they don’t want the courts to see, and there will be no recourse for the defendant. “Gee, sorry, must’ve been broken” is the new mantra.

More on this here.

Lines that made us plotz today

In the Houston Press’ Rocks Off music blog, there’s an entry from a few days ago about “10 semi-obscure Led Zeppelin facts,” presumably run to coincide with Bonham the Younger’s band being in town. Said entry includes this bit:

At the beginning of “Immigrant Song,” the weird series of clipped noises are the sounds of the count in and the tapes beginning to record the tracks for the song. We always thought it was a bad rip when we first heard it online when we were young.

Emphasis added. I submit that the notion that there exists someone writing about music for a living who first encountered Zep not on scratchy vinyl or warped cassettes, but in pirated online rips may well be enough to put 99% of Heathen Nation into a full-blown, “You Kids Get Offa My Lawn” conniption fit.

Astros Failure Update

Over the weekend, the Giants of Enron Field crossed an important milestone. When we started this process, I noted that they could still theoretically reach a playoff-worthy record if they won all the rest of their games. Nobody thought that could happen, of course, but it was technically possible at the time.

Back then, too, it was of course even MORE possible that they might finish above .500 — but this weekend, those Mighty Astros dropped their 81st, 82nd, and 83rd games. Should they win out from here — in an unprecedented 41-game streak — they’ll still only be at .488.

Their current record is 38-83, or .314 — which represents a slide from the .330 they boasted when I first started this sequence of posts. Since then, they’ve lost 18 of 24, which is not QUITE as bad as the 28 of 35 they dropped before the break, but give them time. They start a three-game home stand against the Cubbies (.438) tonight, and then play three at home against defending champs San Francisco (.545) this weekend. They’ll play SF four more times before we get to September.

Frankly, a final record of under .300 is looking increasingly possible.

In which we find the TSA screwing up again

Bruce Schneier points out that apparently, all you have to do to get weapons onto an airplane is dress like a pilot.

I agree that it doesn’t make sense to screen pilots, that they’re at the controls of the plane and can crash it if they want to. But the TSA isn’t in a position to screen pilots; all they can decide to do is to not screen people who are in pilot uniforms with pilot IDs. And it’s far safer to just screen everybody than to trust that TSA agents will be able figure out who is a real pilot and who is someone just pretending to be a pilot.

He’s right. Make the screening sane, of course, but we screened folks before 9/11 just fine. Security is all about unintended consequences. Putting TSA in charge of figuring out which people are legitimate pilots is a really bad idea.

How to decide what to watch, or, how regular networks can DIAGF

Here at Heathen HQ, we’re big on algorithms. Years ago, I worked out a very detailed system to help me decide if I should order a crab cake entree in a given restaurant. Here it is:

  1. Am I in Baltimore?

If so, proceed. If not, eat something else. Done!

I’ve developed a similarly finely tuned algorithm to determine if a given TV drama is worth watching on first run. It works across the board, but is doubly effective, by the way, for anything with any science fictiony angles.

Here’s the test:

  1. Is it running on a network that has commercials?

That’s it. If the answer is yes, it’s probably going to disappoint you or get clobbered very, very quickly. Genuinely good programming that surfaces on advertisement-driven TV is a complete fucking accident (I’m looking at you, Mad Men). On the other hand, can you imagine anyone but a premium channel doing something like The Wire, Carnivale, Deadwood, or Game of Thrones? No chance. How about Dexter or Weeds? Nope. Pay cable’s batting average is seriously solid. Basic cable? Not so much. Legacy broadcast outfits like NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox? Pretty much never.

I think of this every year, when some hopeful type from Geek culture will suggest we have reason to be hopeful about any show produced by one of the legacy broadcast networks (verdict: NEVER — Christ, look what they did to Firefly). If something good DOES happen on one of those networks, I’ll happily pick it up online or on DVD later, but there’s just too many examples of shows sucking outright, or starting good but going south, or being actively screwed by the network, for me to make a point of watching them without some real promise of a reasonable story arc or two.

What’s got me talking about this today? Mostly this news, about how AMC — the network that, thus far, hasn’t fucked up Mad Men — is nevertheless going out of its way to ensure the second season of Walking Dead is nowhere nearly as good as the first:

Just days after AMC trotted out [show runner Frank] Darabont at Comic-Con, who not only revved up thousands Walking Dead fans but also delivered one hell of a season two trailer, the studio allegedly fired the director, producer and writer of the most successful show they’ve ever had. What the hell happened?

And from the linked Hollywood Reporter article:

The show shoots for eight days per episode, and the network suggested that half should be indoors. “Four days inside and four days out? That’s not Walking Dead,” says this insider. “This is not a show that takes place around the dinner table.” That was just one of what this person describes as “silly notes” from AMC. Couldn’t the audience hear the zombies sometimes and not see them, to save on makeup? The source says Darabont fought “a constant battle to keep the show big in scope and style.”

This, of course, comes on the heels of SyFy’s decision to cancel Eureka, which was among their highest rated programs, to say nothing of the broad disappointment with various other offerings this year. The legacy networks and their cash-grabby cable cousins are way, way, way too into shitty reality game shows and throwaway sitcoms to bother with quality television. Thank God for pay cable; it’s the only place on the dial anyone is even trying to make something good.

Twenty Five

I don’t write about him much, but it would feel weird not to note this somehow: today is the 25th anniversary of my dad’s passing. I was 16 then (Frank had just turned 11). I’m 41 now, or only a few years younger than he was.

I don’t have lots of pictures of him worth scanning, but here’s one my cousin put on Facebook. My guess is that it’s from 1975 or ’76, taken in our grandparents’ house in Laurel, Mississippi. Short sleeves and shorts suggests summer, so I’d be 5 or 6, and Dad would be approaching 35 or 36. I probably still have that comic book somewhere, to say nothing of the GI Joe on the table:

me-and-dad.jpg

He’s missed a lot of cool things since 1986, obviously, but the biggest part is Layla. My brother’s daughter is a complete joy, nearly always bubbly and happy in a way that only a child can sustain, and full of love for her friends and family. She’s gotten old enough that even though I only get over there a few times a year, she remembers and immediately hugs me, and becomes obsessed with Uncle Chet reading stories, or putting on her shoes, or going with her places until I have to come back home (actually, I’m usually just the opening act for Aunt Erin). I of course always oblige. She loves our mom to distraction, and would I’m sure be just as fond of the grandfather she never got to meet. Imagining him beaming over her is the first new pang of regret I’ve felt over his loss in a long time.

We have no real shortage of Farmers — Dad’s uncles produced offspring, one of which even lives in Houston with his family; Dad’s sister has two daughters with children of their own — but his absence leaves a hole in the tree that still seems weird despite the fact that it’s utterly normal for parents to die. It’s sad and breaks your heart, sure, but they’re older than we are; they’ll get to threescore and ten well before we will. The difference is timing. It is increasingly less weird that my father is dead, but it will always be weird that he died when he did, at the age he was, and when Frank and I were as young as we were. It’s weird that neither of us ever got to have an adult conversation with him, about women or football or college or anxiety about Vietnam or any of a thousand other things a guy born in 1940 could talk about. Hell, he went to Auburn for veterinary school; imagine the fun that could’ve produced every November.

I do not idealize my Dad. He wasn’t very good at “happy,” but he was probably better at it than his father was. He held ideas about race in the South that were common to men of his age and class, and probably still are. He worked too much, but he did happen to be very good at what he did, and what he did touched a whole lot of small, furry lives in south Mississippi for the 22 years he practiced veterinary medicine there. Lots of those animals belonged to people who could not pay, or who did not look like he did, and near as I could tell he didn’t care.

He did his best with Frank and I, and taught us important lessons in the time he had. We learned to drive from him, in an old Chevy pickup, and to do a job right, and take care of the tools when you finish. He taught us both to shoot, and to be safe with firearms, to take care of them, too. Above all, his example taught us to love and care for those my friend Igor charmingly calls “quadruped-Americans.” More subtly, his support of the Humane Society showed us how to give quietly what we could when we could, and to share skills as well as money.

He was a good dad, and it’s sad that he’s been gone as long as he has. Forty-six seemed pretty young when I was 16; it’s safe to say I think of it as a whole lot younger now that I can see it from here.

So much for that dream

The Astros blew their shot at the record last night with an unexpected (and dominant) win over the Diamondbacks, improving to 38-77 and .330, mostly on the strength of Wandy’s pitching. Expect him to be snatched up post haste.

The record in question is, of course, “Worst Major League Season of the Modern Era,” and was set by the Athletics in 1916, who finished at .235. If the Astros win no other games, they’ll tie it, but a tie, Bear tells us, is like kissing your sister. True glory has escaped them.

A few stats for fun:

  • As stated, a 0-47 record going forward leaves them at .235. Close, but no cigar.
  • They’re currently at .330; if they hold that, they’ll finish at 54-108. That’s enough for one record: Worst Astros Season Ever. But there was never really any doubt on that one.
  • Of course, it’s possible they could evade the 100 loss mark — but they have to go 25-22 to finish out the year to do it.
  • Improbable though it may seem, they could still finish over .500 if they win all the rest of their games. Ha!

The second option is by far the most likely; that’s where they’ve been all year. Their record at my first post was .330, and they’ve split the games since in more or less exactly that proportion.

Astros Failure Update

With an unexpected W last night, the Astros teeter on the edge; their only possible chance for greatness this season is about to slip away.

Let me explain: The ’16 Athletics went 36-117, for .235. With modern schedule lengths, the Astros need to lose 125 games to beat this mark (for a season-ending .228), but it becomes impossible if they win 38 games.

Last night puts the Giants of Enron Field at 37-74, or .333. To “beat” the 1916 record, they can win no more games. I believe in Astro Collapse, but this may be beyond them. Sure, this team will notch between 105 and 110 losses, but that’s only exceptional because the Astros have never been that bad before. I was hoping for true brilliance.

Frankly, this is all due to a mild improvement since the pre-break skid; they’ve gone .357 since my first post, though I’m sure that will change. It is, after all, the Astros we’re talking about here.

The Onion, spot on, again

Obama: Debt Ceiling Deal Required Tough Concessions By Both Democrats And Democrats Alike:

WASHINGTON — A day after signing legislation that raised the government debt ceiling and authorized steep budget cuts, President Obama thanked Democrats as well as Democrats for their willingness to make tough, but necessary, concessions during negotiations. “I’m truly grateful that both Democrats and their Democratic counterparts were able to reach this consensus, accepting an agreement that is far from perfect not just for Democrats, but also for Democrats,” Obama said Wednesday of the deal that cut federal spending $2.1 trillion over 10 years but included no revenue increases of any kind. “Lawmakers from across the political spectrum — from moderate Democrats to the more liberal members of the party to dyed-in-the-wool progressives — reached within the aisle and showed the nation that compromise requires real sacrifice from everyone.” Obama added that while it may look ugly at times, politics is about Democrats giving up what they want, as well as Democrats giving up what they want, until an agreement can ultimately be reached.