Saturday, March 31, 2012

High jinks, wacky and otherwise

Part of a very occasional series in which we improve odd descriptions of vanity press books advertised in The New York Times Book Review by adding the phrase "Wacky high jinks ensue" at the end of them. Why? Because we just want to help. Ad copy verbatim (except for the high jinks) from the April 1 issue. Typos and odd punctuation should be considered (sic):
Megan Riley and her three best friends retaliate against their cheating husbands by searching for a time-share boy toy. They hire hunky stripper Michael Harrington, unaware he is the prime suspect in a series of gruesome bondage murders. Wacky high jinks ensue.

This just proves what I've always said: Time shares are never a good idea.
Martha, a London prostitute is left a condemned prisoner's fortune. This angers the Church and resulted events that lead to a prelate death, a bishop's disgrace and Martha having to immigrate to America after failed relationship and poisoning attempt. Wacky high jinks ensue.

You don't want to get the Church angry. You wouldn't like the Church when it's angry.
Audacious Mormon bishop forcefully baptizes a gambler; pulls a gun to save a Catholic; steals a prisoner; gets drunk for a cause; chastises, punches Butch Cassidy. There's also a poignant love story in this tale of the old Southwest. Wacky high jinks ensue.

AKA, The Mitt Romney Story.

Incidentally, kids are now getting into the self-publishing game.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Advertising fail

This ad has been appearing on my Facebook page all morning:

You know, Symphony Space, referring to the episode of This American Life that had to be retracted because of Mike Daisey's fibbing might not be the best way to advertise your upcoming Evening With Mike Daisey.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Postcard of the day

Aug. 11, 1908

Spending the night here going down the Hudson tomorrow may be home Wednesday.


Click image to embiggen. More vintage postcards at the end of this link.

Also, a reader advisory: You may have noticed that I'm posting less often these days. That's because, um, I'm posting less often these days. I don't want to kill The Velvet Blog, as I have attempted to do in the past, but don't be surprised if weeks go by between posts.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

My So-Called American Life

I've been a fan of This American Life, the public-radio mainstay, for many years, so I've found the recent Mike Daisey dust-up to be pretty upsetting.

In case you missed it: Daisey's been doing a theatrical piece based on his trip to China to check out the manufacturing process of Apple products. In short, the human toll is deplorable: Unreasonable demands on the assembly line, high suicide rates, etc.--most of which has been sort-of covered elsewhere in the media, but Daisey's work gave it a personal edge.

This American Life broadcast a one-hour excerpt, which quickly became of the show's most popular episodes ever. The problem is, Daisey made up a lot of the details.

When this came to light, TAL retracted the episode, explained how the show was vetted, and even did a follow-up show explaining what went wrong. Admirable, though, as Poynter--the media website affiliated with the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit journalism school--points out, what TAL did wasn't really vetting in the way it's practiced at most news organizations. Basically, TAL staffers checked what they could and shrugged their shoulders when Daisey said that his translator--the best witness for the stories contained in the episode--was "unreachable," which wasn't true. That's not really vetting.

And I think that's basically the problem--This American Life isn't really a news show. It's a difficult-to-describe hybrid of personal stories, fiction (explicitly labeled as such), humor, ... and, oh yeah, reporting. The episodes it did on the financial crisis were great, boiling down really complicated financial reporting in an easy-to-understand way. Likewise, the episode on an out-of-control Georgia drug court was amazing work.

Still, when I think about the show, I think mainly about the more personal episodes, with people talking about their lives. They are what turned me into a big fan. More episodes fall in that category than under "journalism." And, honestly, I don't hold that sort of thing to the same standard. I don't expect, say, David Sedaris to be held to the same standards when talking about his time spent playing an elf at Macy's as I do Mike Daisey when recounting interviewing Chinese factory workers. Did Sedaris exaggerate for comic effect? Yes, I assume he did, and I'm OK with that. He is a humorist, not a reporter. I wouldn't even hold him to James Frey standards. (When The New Republic tried to hold Sedaris to reporting standards in 2008, the result was, I thought, rather silly. Am I being inconsistent because of my fondness for Sedaris? Yeah, possibly.)

Basically, what TAL does is kind of problematic. When you mix fiction and nonfiction on a regular basis, the boundaries are inevitably going to get blurry. It might make sense to spin off TAL's journalistic episodes to a totally separate program.

PS: This American Life's truthiness problem goes back a ways.

UPDATE ON 3/26: That P.S. above links to a blog post that pointed out TAL had a few pieces by discgraced fabricator Stephen Glass in its archives. In an email that went around last week (I'm on TAL's mailing list), this note appeared:
One upshot of the recent news coverage about our show: we learned that stories by Stephen Glass were in our online archive. We'd taken these down years ago and then they went back up without any of us noting it when we did a redesign of the website in 2010. (The people executing the new design didn't know we'd removed those shows and Ira and the radio producers on staff didn't think to inform them; they hadn't thought about those stories in years.)

The pieces have been removed again.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

You asked for it! Again!

Recent searches that brought visitors to The Velvet Blog, with commentary:

scary face in living room
Try changing the channel away from Fox News.

pros and cons of wind tunnels
Pro: They blow. Con: They suck.

does anyone else hate automatic toilets?
I think someone is trying out their "observational humor" standup act. Is that you, Seinfeld?

velvet sky buttock
Other people see ponies or Mickey Mouse, but, sure, why not? That cloud does look like a velvet sky buttock.

how much does a gorilla's leg weigh?
The right one or the left one?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Schatlas Schrugged

So, I finally watched part 1 of the film version of Atlas Shrugged (some links to previous coverage here), as it has made its way to Netflix streaming.

I wouldn't call it a fiasco. It's more a D than an F. (Let's be clear: It's no After Last Season. But because I've seen things like ALS, what constitutes an F for me may not be the same for you.) The biggest problem is that it's just so ham-handed about EVERYTHING. All the villains might as well be twirling their handlebar mustaches. And the heroes are, of course, ridiculously good--or rather, the movie sees them as ridiculously good, even though someone like, say, me might have a different opinion when the characters say things along the lines of "What's with all the altruism? It's so stupid!"

The film's viewpoint is so black/white, good/evil, that the script seemed to be written by a precocious high school student who thinks he's figured out everything, and everyone else is stupid, stupid, stupid for not letting him sit at their lunchroom table.

The acting is either flat (the heroes) or overwrought (the villains). Visually, it looks more like a TV movie than a feature. There's unconvincing CGI in many shots, and crowd scenes are underpopulated. There are also some weird choices made. We're told that gas prices are through the roof and everyone's taking the train, yet our heroes drive all over the country, despite the fact that one of them owns a train company. And why consistently shroud the John Galt character in shadows, as if finally shining a light on him will be some sort of surprise reveal? It won't--we haven't otherwise seen the actor playing him. (I assume he'll be seen in the sequels, which the producers swear will happen--perhaps in musical form!--despite the poor returns of part 1.)

So, in short: I didn't fall asleep or laugh at it. Neither am I now a Galtian. It's mostly just dull and exasperatingly wrong-headed.

UPDATE: You know, I'd actually prefer to see a version of Atlas Shrugged done in the style of After Last Season. All the problems with the story would make more sense. Or, I guess, "sense."

Monday, March 12, 2012

"My inner goddess is doing the dance of the seven veils"

As noted previously, sometimes the Kindle best-seller list is a bit wacky. Some out-of-left-field book, often erotica, zooms to the top of Kindle's list, and other lists don't even blink. Usually, it boils down to: Cheap e-books, even weird, self-published e-books, seem to have an advantage on Kindle's list.

So when I noticed three e-books of erotica in the top 10 of Kindle's best-seller list a week or so ago--Fifty Shades of Grey and its two sequels--I figured that was the story. They appeared to be self-published (not true, as it turned out--they were published by some small outfit in Australia) and were definitely kinky. Then I looked a little closer, and noticed they all sold for around $10, not the 99 cents I was expecting. Hmmm. Mysterious.

All was cleared up this weekend in a story in The New York Times, headlined Discreetly Digital, Erotic Novel Sets American Women Abuzz:
“Fifty Shades of Grey,” an erotic novel by an obscure author that has been described as “Mommy porn” and “Twilight” for grown-ups, has electrified women across the country, who have spread the word like gospel on Facebook pages, at school functions and in spin classes.

In fact, the books have become so popular that last week, Vintage came out on top in a bidding war for the U.S. rights, and will pay "a seven-figure sum" for the trilogy. And the first volume is No. 1 on the Times e-book best-seller list.

The books seem to have had quite an effect on some readers:
“It’s relighting a fire under a lot of marriages,” said Lyss Stern, the founder of and one of the early fans of the series. “I think it makes you feel sexy again, reading the books.”

To break through like this, you'd expect the books to be groundbreaking in some way, right? Well, not quite:
The trilogy has its detractors. Commentators have shredded the books for their explicit violence and antiquated treatment of women, made especially clear in the character of Anastasia, an awkward naif who consents to being stalked, slapped and whipped with a leather riding crop.

Seriously, I do NOT want to know what's going on in the bedrooms of my suburban neighbors.

And yes, the subject line of this post is a quotation from the book.

Perhaps I should just retire my "wacky high-jinks ensue" posts. I think I might be a little out of step with the book-buying public.

UPDATE ON 3/26: Now the movie rights have been sold for a reported $4 million.

Friday, March 09, 2012

The Velvet Blog Adorableness Scale

10 on The Velvet Blog Adorableness Scale: Baby otters.

0 on The Velvet Blog Adorableness Scale: Andrew Breitbart t-shirt. (Only $31.95--and sure to get you noticed when you venture out of Mom's basement!)

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast

From the AP:
PHOENIX (AP) - The Arizona Senate has approved a bill that would shield doctors and others from so-called "wrongful birth" lawsuits.

Those are lawsuits that can arise if physicians don't inform pregnant women of prenatal problems that could lead to the decision to have an abortion.

The Senate's 20-9 vote Tuesday sends the bill to the state House.

The bill's sponsor is Republican Nancy Barto of Phoenix. She says allowing the medical malpractice lawsuits endorses the idea that if a child is born with a disability, someone is to blame.

Barto said the bill will still allow "true malpractice suits" to proceed.

Bolding mine.

That's right--State Sen. Barto wants a law to protect doctors who "don't inform pregnant women of prenatal problems," because that's not malpractice.

And what else is Barto up to?

Well, according to this press release I found:
Arizona State Sen. Nancy Barto, National Healthcare Experts to Speak at Healthcare Delivery Innovation Alliance Forum in Phoenix, March 1

Forum to focus on innovative ways employers can break their rising healthcare cost trend

PHOENIX, Feb 27, 2012 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- The Healthcare Delivery Innovation Alliance (HDIA) will host a forum focusing on innovative ways employers can address rising healthcare costs and employee satisfaction in the delivery of healthcare services. The forum, which will feature national and state experts in healthcare is being held Thursday, March 1, from 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. in Phoenix at the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel.

Speakers will advise on best practices to improve healthcare cost effect on a company's bottom line, and will address a variety of healthcare reform topics. Executives from employers, healthcare organizations, insurance companies, benefits brokers/consultants, and the media are welcome to join.

But pregnant women who'd like to know if the kid they're carrying has some prenatal problem are not so welcome, I guess.

This is what I just don't understand about the far-right mindset--how they're able to keep they ideas "women shouldn't necessarily know their fetus has a problem" and "best practices for healthcare" in their heads at same time, and not see a contradiction.

Oh, wait--I get it. It's not "best practices for healthcare" that concern her, it's "best practices to improve healthcare [costs and their effect on a] company's bottom line" that matters.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Rush Limbaugh fun facts

Politico has posted an article entitled "10 little-known Rush Limbaugh facts." Oddly, the site has left out the best parts. The italicized items below are--I swear--from the Politico article:

Enjoys scented candles, and has them lit daily in his Palm Beach home.

Even littler-known fun fact: His favorite candle scent is "bile."

During the Vietnam War, after initially holding a 2-S college deferment, he was reclassified as 1-Y--qualified for military service only in time of national emergency--for a pilonidal cyst on or near the cleft of his buttocks.

Even littler-known fun fact: This cyst currently hosts "The Rush Limbaugh Show."

Due to his loss of hearing and the need for a cochlear implant, Limbaugh cannot listen to music he wasn’t familiar with before 2001.

Even littler-known fun fact: He also cannot consider attitudes about women and minorities from after 1950.

First job was shining shoes at the Varsity Barber Shop in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, where he was born.

Even littler-known fun fact: This has given him an uncommon insight into the problems of the working man. Hahahahahaha! I kid! I kid!

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas officiated his third wedding. (Limbaugh is currently married to his fourth wife, Kathryn Rogers.)

Even littler-known fun fact: Wife number five is currently being bred in a laboratory. Rush's pilonidal cyst will officiate.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Link dump

Odds and ends I've linked to off my Facebook account, but not here:

Rather than link to the obvious Monkees tracks in honor of Davy Jones, I went with a deep track: Cuddly Toy. (Bonus: Songwriter Nilsson's demo for the band.

Now a couple of days late: Leap day postcards celebrating the idea the women could propose on that day.

Also a tad late, clips from notorious bomb The Oscar. Oh, my. (Bonus: SCTV's takeoff, The Nobel.)

Apes using iPads. Surely, a preview of the next Planet of the Apes movie.

Really, really bad way to become an Internet pitchman.

Very odd, Muppet-free Jim Henson TV show, "The Cube," which plays like an especially psychodelic Twilight Zone ep. And it aired in prime time on NBC. Really.

If you're a regular here and want to connect on Facebook, look me up. (I'm the Jim Donahue whose icon is a chimp sitting at a typewriter.)