2010: Week 25 Blots

BLOT: (27 Jun 2010 - 01:11:27 AM)

Atom Age Vampire [1960 Italian Horror Film. Public Domain.]

Let's start with three our four basic facts. (a) The real name of this film should translate to something like Seddock: The Heir of Satan (Atom Age Vampire was likely an attempt to recast it in light of the recent Hammer Dracula as well as to capitalize on Nuclear fears). (b) The version of the film I am reviewing is obviously a mediocre dub from the original Italian. (c) The version reviewed is missing about 20min of footage: nevertheless it might be one of the more complete versions available. (d) The missing scenes do overall impact the flow of the film.

I am not sure why Atom Age Vampire leapt out at me the schlock for the night, but I originally noticed it a few days ago when scrounging the ACM podcast via iTunes and then, after buying one of Mill Creek's 50-movie packs with a gift-card, noticed it on the first disk. The description reads something like "yadda yadda yadda...disfigured woman made beautiful...yadda...consumes the life of other young women." It's like they were unable to reconcile the fact that this movie has nothing to do with vampires with the fact that the word "vampire" shows up in the title. What it does have to deal with is a woman—Jeanette—who gets into a car-crash and is disfigured. Convinced she will be scarred for life, at the point of suicide, she is approached by a woman—Monique—who tells her of an experiment that can cure her. I'll be honest, the sound wasn't super so I missed some dialogue, but it seems to come down to Monique saying "Of course you'll come, no way would you allow yourself to miss this." Jeanette goes to the house of Dr. Albeto Levin, who has been working with a chemical: Derma 28. D-28, you see, is a refined version of D-25 which was designed to cure radiation burns but turns the taker into a hideous monstrosity (that is somehow cured by radiation). Levin begins experimenting on Jeanette, but falls in love with her, and eventually kills Monique so that he can do what is necessary to keep her alive (and unscarred): removing some gland/hormone from like aged women. In order to carry this out, he has injected himself with Derma 25, becoming something of a Doctor Jekyll sort, a transformation he eventually loses control over.

I've left out the character of Pierre, the bumbling boyfriend who dumped Jeanette at the beginning because of her profession (I don't think it says, but it could either be a stripper or singer or performer or maybe even prozzie). Also, more importantly, I left out the police officer who is investigating the incidents in the movie. He is mostly ineffectual, but manages to take part in most of the meaningful dialogue, sort of a Porfiry Petrovich to Levin's Raskolnikov. And there is a subplot involving Hiroshima, where Levin worked, as well as some Japanese fishermen in Italy, but it seems like most of that subplot was excised.

The final package feels like a passibly decent movie wrapped in a shroud of inept editing and worse spacing. Due, perhaps, to the footage cut out, there are a number of scenes that no longer make sense: why did the professor go into the damp underhang of his basement, why was there blood on the movie theater floor, where the women at the bar some sort of prostitutes, and etc. A few scenes seem to jump dialogue, explanatory bits bounce around, and what potential redemption there could have been for the professor/Jeanette love angle has been burned out in favor of a demented captor one. Then, in its absence, the best we get from the Pierre/Jeanette relationship is simpering "Oh, Peee-AIR!" and such. The climatic battle where he might have saved the woman he loved is reduced to a milksop of a man having the tar beat out of him by a heavily mutated "Seddock". What's more, the overdubbing is inconsisent, with some characters sounding out like bullhorns and others barely registring on the ear. This is especially true when it comes to screams, most of which degrade into some sort of strange, flat, rasping noise. The tragic irony of the whole thing is that even with the cuts, the plot takes too long to develop and fails to pay off what time it borrowed.

As given, the movie earns a Meh (-1.2). The movie that might have been, underneath, is possibly closer to Fair; but don't go watching this one just to find it. However, fans of schlock or something just looking for a little pre-70s Italian horror can get it for free via the Internet Archives. If you dare...dun dun dunnnnnnnnn.


BLOT: (26 Jun 2010 - 10:51:31 AM)

Serendipity: Saving my mom from scams since...

Ok, maybe this isn't serendipity, just fortuitous...um...ness, but Sarah and I got up early this morning to go hiking. After a mixture of South Loop and Bog Trail (now with actual bog!) and Fire Trail up on Monte Sano, came back down about 10am or so. I decided, out of the blue, to call my mom. Right as I am calling her, she is checking the mail, so I am still on the phone when she starts reading out a letter. The letter claims that she has won $250,000 from an Australian lottery and that they will serve through from a London office by way of a New York exchange. I, of course, tell her that it's a scam. Since she isn't e-mail savvy, then it's hard to point out that I get 2-3 e-mails a week with that exact same wording, but I try the standards:

In the end, it wasn't until I found a blog entry about the same scam that she listened. That LJ entry even has the name of the company, the people "in charge of her prize money", the phone numbers they are claiming, and so forth. She isn't going to do it, but she sounded disappointed. Who knows? Maybe in a day or two she'll decide that I'm just being paranoid. Still, had I not called when I did she might have called the number back right away. As she was reading it to me, she was really excited. I told her that she might can take the check, and then convince some other sap to try and cash it in exchange for something. Like, "Oh, I really like this house...but I don't have $150,000...I do have this check, though..." That's my good deed for the day.

Now its time to get some lunch, and then prepare to watch US v Ghana this afternoon and the new (and last) episode of the current Doctor Who season.

Me in 2010

BLOT: (25 Jun 2010 - 02:26:35 AM)

An idea for a student experiment: scattered tennis balls as introduction to data and error

The idea for the experiment goes something like follows. Put a target, something like an upside down very light plastic bucket or a piece of paper weighed down just enough to stop it from blowing off, about 20-30 feet away from a designated throwing area. Give 50-100 balls to 10-20 students (divided roughly evenly) and through some sort of turn-system, allow them to earnestly try and hit the target. If the ground is hard (i.e. if balls have high chance of rolling off) then something like small bean-bags will work. Once all the bags/balls have been thrown, remove the target. Now, using the scatter plot of the throws, have another team try to determine the likely spot for the target. Introduce them to concepts of mean, normalization, outliers, and so forth.


BLOT: (24 Jun 2010 - 07:16:29 PM)

Help me to understand something: what are the arguments towards not banning texting while driving?

Ok, so there's going to be a city council meeting where Mayor Battle is going to talk about banning texts while driving in the city of Huntsville. Don't know how they will enforce it. More importantly, I don't like that it seems to be written by someone who only barely understands technology, as evidenced by these lines...

It would make it illegal to operate a vehicle while sending, receiving, downloading or viewing any "electronic or digital music, video, picture or communication including ... electronic mail, instant messaging or text messaging."
Trent Willis, Battle's chief of staff, said the ban would cover texting with any wireless handheld device, including cell phones, iPhones, Blackberrys and MP3 players.

I'm not sure how one "texts" with their mp3 player, or what the differences between digital and electronic music/video might be. Nor am I comfortable about the way that this seems to make it illegal to adjust your iPod while driving but not your CD player. Or, the way it includes downloading (and receiving, separated out from viewing) in the same category as texting. I know what they mean, but what they are saying is that if I start downloading a file to my Kindle, and then ignore it while actually on the road, I am still violating the law. Likewise, the law fails to punish people for reading while driving, putting on make-up, eating, and so forth. It's full of buzz-words and technical gaffes, but it might be a start. Might be...

I'm curious, though, outside of convenience: what are the reasons for texting while driving? Why shouldn't it be illegal? Just because it would be hard to enforce? Where in the history of a multi-ton vehicle on a busy road does it make sense to look away for a few seconds to a minute to check a 160 character SMS by a friend talking about a sale at Target?


BLOT: (24 Jun 2010 - 04:38:44 PM)

Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies [1999 Horror Movie]

Something like a sequel to the first one, now that the statue was never dropped the gem is back inside the statue and ready to be plucked out again. Which is accomplished thanks to some museum thieves. Idiots, mind you, one of which steals a painting that looks like a piece of crap you might get at a particular cheesy flea market and another who decides to bypass security on a glass case by breaking it especially hard. Security guards show up, start shooting. The gem is blasted out of the statue by a gunshot, and gets broken a few minutes after being picked up by Morgana, this movie's chick-in-residence, a character practically redolent of a discarded Winona Ryder character. The djinn, newly freed in an homage/rip-off of the rebirth scene in Hellraiser, opts to go to prison rather than escape. Because people in prison are always looking for something. This time, he has to collect 1001 souls before he can power up to grant three "real" wishes (I guess?) and so the wishes-as-puzzle-solvers are replaced with a more straightforward wishes-by-a-dick-genie. Toss in some priest on bad-girl action, some sort of bizarre mismatch of Russian Orthodoxy and Yakuza soul purification, and a woman shatting casino tokens: and you have the salad that is Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies.

Rather than review of the movie, directly, and talk much about how it occasionally crawls out of the soup of Meh to bask in moments of gleeful ghastliness, only to crash back into a full bowl of Blech as Divoff (back, again, to play the djinn) says words like "sex" in such a way as to make us all need a good, scrubbingshower; I'm going to ask some questions:

That about sums it up: a movie made in 1999 that looks like it was made in the late 80s, running on whatever logic it needs to make a scene particularly giggly (see lawyer fucking self, above), and with a returning baddie retooled to be a tad more catch-phrasy. The djinn is now more a blend of Pin-head, Freddy, and Candyman sporting a strange intonation and pedophile smile. Potential fodder for a "Friday night with friends" but both a little too intentional and little too half-assed to fully make it. If you dug the Divoff performance in the first one, the slightly more "best buddy to sell your soul to" approach in this one is interesting. Frankly, though, the entire Morgana and Gregory (i.e. the chick and the priest) plot could have been excised for more direct horror yummies.

One last note: it is always interesting to see what elements the film-makers for the sequel consider essential from the first one. Wishes and the djinn are a given, but also apparently necessary is a woman who sits around her apartment, chain smoking, reading up on the djinn after a lover is the first to die by the djinn's powers. I'm curious to see if that's still around in the third one.


UPDATE: I would be remiss if I didn't point out that, like the last one, one of the focal points of this movie was the special effects. Now, the effects here are definitely a notch down from the previous (especially note the horrible "souls leaving the body" effect) but some are interesting. If you have the production notes feature on the DVD, might want to read through it for the description of some of the casino effects.

BLOT: (24 Jun 2010 - 01:02:09 PM)

Wishmaster [1997 Horror Movie]

Waiting for the next couple of Children of the Corn DVDs to show up, I decided to go ahead and embark on another horror franchise or two. The first one I latched on to was Child's Play, which in the process of picking up I got three used DVDs and this entitled me to a free one. The free one ended up being Wishmaster's first two movies on a single, double-sided (and heavily scratched disk). Since I did not know the playability of the disk (not like the five dollars or so would really be a hard punch in the pocket even if it was trash), I opted to do Wishmaster (LGT: Wikipedia) first.

The set-up: a djinn (a race of will-bound fire-dwellers trying to break free into our world) comes close to tricking a sultan of old into making three wishes, which would free the djinn to do what he wants in our world. Foiled at the last minute, and trapped (again?) inside of a fire-emerald/opal/ruby (depending on the scene), the djinn waits for hundreds of years until an accident frees his gem. A young appraiser—Alex, trying to find the value of the gem—inadvertently lets him out, and the people around her suffer the consequences. The djinn, though, has no power to act upon his own will, and must cajole others into wishing for things so that he can twist them into his own plans. For most of the movie, this is no problem (e.g. he gets a security guard to say, basically, "I'd like to see you try to go through me," in order to get a way, through the guard, inside). Once he has done enough penny-ante wishes and ruined a few dozen lives (the cleverest of them being in the police station), he finally confronts Alex, trying to force her to use up her three wishes.

I'm not sure what the technical term would be, but there is a sub-genre in horror that got really popular in the early 90s that focused on various, special-effects heavy, death-gimmicks. Its precursors were already in place by the 70s, with movies like I Spit on Your Grave using a not-so-sfx-heavy version (everyone dies in their own, distinct way). Franchises like Friday the 13th and Leprechaun came to rely heavily on the theme. And, sure, most horror movies have a few clever death-gimmicks, but this sub-genre especially delights in them. Wishmaster is firmly in that camp. We get to see one guy turned into a reptilian creature, another is split to bits by piano wire, another is drowned in a water tank, another is smashed by a box, another is ate up by sudden-onset cancer, and a few are shot to death in a hail of bullets. The make-'em-or-break-'em of the sub-genre is the special effects, and Wishmaster is well aware of this: implausible dialogue and half-baked sets are just an excuse to introduce the next ghoulish gag. You can almost think of the movie as only half a movie, and half of a special-effects demo reel: and with Robert Kurtzman directing—a man whose film credits as special effects crew, artist, and supervisor include Evil Dead II, Cabin Fever, Bride of Re-Animator, Tremors, and From Dusk till Dawn—you have pedigree. Also bringing pedigree to the table are Robert Englund and Tony Todd in memorable roles, production by Pierre David (who worked with Cronenberg) and Wes Craven, a cameo/small-part by Ted Raimi, and even Captain Rhodes from Day of the Dead (i.e. Joseph Pilato) shows up. Along with character names ranging from Clegg to Derleth, this is a movie by fans for fans, so to speak.

For the most part it works. Most of the effects are either well-done or done cheesily in a way that is appreciable. Straight up physical props and prosthetics are aided by CG here or there, making this movie somewhere in the hybrid lands between the two dominances. Acting is all over the board, perhaps best epitomized by Andrew Divoff as the djinn. In some scenes, his low, semi-monotonous growl carries a hint of threat and in others it carries the hint of a man with bad laryngitis. The plot definitely has utility, though the writer walked himself into a trap with the "three wishes and he is free" aspect, since this means that you also have to have some other explanation of how he can grant lots more wishes or have the whole movie come down to only a few minutes of special effects. Frankly, it doesn't even need it. Could have the djinn trying to trick people into freeing him by wishing for it or something, but hey, it's a story and it works.

Not for non-genre fans, most likely, unless it's a Saturday night and you are blowing off steam with an over-the-top movie; but genre fans should enjoy it, especially those who got into the game in the special-effects heyday from the last 80s to the late 90s. Good special effects, Fair horror, Fair plot, and acting ranging from Meh to Fair gives this movie an overall Fair (+0.2) grade.


BLOT: (23 Jun 2010 - 05:09:35 PM)

Polish hand math, proof that math is black magic! (from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal)

Click on the comic for the full thing (on the problems with being human and understanding math), but that's the trick in a nutshell.


BLOT: (23 Jun 2010 - 04:32:39 PM)

I'm so calling it "Racking up roaming charges" and "Annoying the bed"

BLOT: (23 Jun 2010 - 12:14:58 PM)

From the Huntsville Times: "Ask Us: Questions about bikes vs. cars"

I love the way this question by Thomas J. Gildea of Lacey Springs, AL, about bikes on the road is worded:

My questions about bikes vs. cars are as follows. Do bike riders have licenses, insurance on bikes. Do they have tags? In fact do they pay any fees whatsoever? We the driving public must have insurance, licenses, tags and pay taxes on gas that goes for roads, then I get on a road to work and there is a man going 10 miles an hour on a 50 mile-an-hour road where I can't pass. Why?

That sort of question (with phrases like "we the driving public") does inspire the smart-ass in me. "Bikers have to put up with people like you, does that count as paying a tax?" "You live in Lacey Springs with the tractors and the old people, and it's the bikes you complain about?" "If you are concerned about people spending your tax dollars on things that irritate you, you really don't want to hear about all of those liberal arts majors there on Pell Grants." etc

I know bikes v. cars is a big thing in Huntsville, with a fair number of responses to any given struck cyclist being "Well, bikes are dumb" more-or-less with a list of examples of why bikes are allowed on the road, but not really supposed to be on the road. The big, big issue is that Huntsville sucks as far as city planning goes. Look at Drake in the section between the Parkway and Jordan. Good lord: a two lane highway with sidewalks chopped and "rebuilt" as some sort of five lane deal with sidewalks reduced to a few inches on the sides in places. Passenger cars, ostensibly the skinniest vehicle on the road short of a motorcycle, are sometimes within inches of each other in the more narrow sections. That's stupid city planning, and it is not unique (much of Whitesburg between the medical district and Airport suffers from the same hacked up sidewalks and claustrophobic driving).

Is the problem, back to Gildea's question, the fees? Would charging cyclists a yearly license assuage the issue? Because, and this is an assumption, most cyclists do have jobs and pay income taxes and do also have cars and pay gas taxes. You could ride a bike on the road for many, many times longer than you can a car, as well, so it's good that vehicle owners pay more, but what should the fee for a bicycle be?

And, well, there is the whole issue of "that's not how taxes work". You do not pay taxes so that you get some sort of special privileges over the things they build. This isn't a private club with a membership fee. Especially not in Alabama where so much of our transportation money comes from Federal funds above and beyond what we pay in. If you go by the "I pay for it so I get it" then a lot of big corporations are about to lay claim to that road and people from New York have more right to Alabama roads than we do. Also, if that's the case, I want to take a ride on a 20,000,000+ dollar jet that my tax money is going to pay for. And don't even get me started on the fun-times that is the 100,000 dollars per pound of federal tax money that launches the space shuttle system into space. No, we pay taxes for a sustainable whole package of lifestyle. It's like in Shadowrun, when you drop a few thou nu-Yen ever month just to stay in your swank apartment. Just like that. That's a textbook example, you could say.

Anyhow, since any time someone brings up "bikes are bad!" it turns all frothy, just figured I would repost and spread the love.


BLOT: (23 Jun 2010 - 02:20:50 AM)

Power of the Daleks [Doctor Who Serial 30, Second Doctor]

In the overall scheme of Doctor Who, there are five or so serials that could be noted as especially important. Daleks introduces us to the most iconic foe. Unearthly Child introduces us to the Doctor, himself, though with a long way to go before he picked up the mythos that surrounds him. The War Games names the Time Lords. The Terror of the Autons introduces the Master. And The Tenth Planet and The Power of the Daleks introduce, though unamed and unexplained, the concept of the Doctor changing [Doug's Note: The Tenth Planet also introduces the Cybermen]. Drained of energy by Mondas in the previous episode, the Doctor collapse to the floor of the Tardis, as the episode ends, we get a glimpse of a black haired stranger. Starting off where that serial left off, The Power of the Daleks begins with Patrick Troughton coming awake and somewhat wildly scouring around the Tardis, piecing together portions of his life. Ben and Polly, the current companions, are confused. Polly overall believes it to be the Doctor, while Ben thinks something is up. Troughton's Doctor picks up a hat (later dropped, perhaps, or just not showing up in many of the episodes of his era remaining) and a recorder (as in the flute like instrument) and mostly acts detached to his surroundings. He reads from the diary, and after landing on the planet Vulcan with its pools of mercury, meanders through a silver swamp barely avoiding disaster (while letting the viewer know that he is more in control than he appears). And thus, in under 10 minutes, one of the major characteristics of the Second Doctor is disclosed: an avuncular trickster with a tendency of playing his cards close to his chest and not letting on his true strength.

To contrast the new with the old, the Second is immediately pitted against an old enemy. Well, not immediately. What happens immediately is that a man is killed in the swamps, the Doctor is knocked unconcious, and a button is placed in his hand. The dead man was an examiner, and the Doctor now has his badge, as well as the button (as in clothing) as fake evidence to set up an innocent man, and soon ends up in the colony where the other humans are living on Vulcan. A little bit of tension and intrigue is set up, and we are then shown Lesterson's lab, dominated by a large, silver capsule. This capsule, as anyhow who has watched Quatermass and the Pit and/or just happened to pay attention to the title of the serial has probably guessed, eventually is shown to contain Daleks. Not knowing what they are (somehow the invasion from the 22nd century never happened?), Lesterson is convinced that they have the potential to help the mining operation and so has activated one. The Doctor, of course, objects and is freaked out by the old enemy saying "I am your...serrrrvant," [Doug's Note: For those who watched "The Victory of the Daleks", that bit was taken more or less directly from this earlier serial]. His warnings are unheeded, he knows someone is up to no good, as evidenced by the killing of the real examiner, and him and his companions are on tense terms since they have no idea what is going on. After some pretending to do nothing for a littler while, it turns out that the Doctor has correctly predicted there being a bug in their quarters, and was just throwing everyone off (see the last line of the above paragraph). He also knows that whoever shot the real examiner cannot come forward without exposing him/herself. So the Doctor decides to play a waiting game...

A waiting game that heats up as rebel forces on Vulcan push the colony to the brink of anarchy/fascism (depending on which rebel philosophy you are following) and the Daleks make plans to free themselves from Lesterson's feeble power supply and to mass-produce themselves. As the overall structure breaks down, the Doctor begins mustering the forces of those around him (while present in the Hartnell era, this Doctor's ability to thrust himself into the middle of unlikely allies and be taken as a jocular leader is a basic template for pretty much every Doctor Who serial to come after) and launches a counter attack. Another trait of the Second Doctor is exposed: he is more willing to play opposing forces off of each other, even to their death, to bring about his plans. If Hartnell's First Doctor did the same, it always came across as more accidental or necessary (contrast the Doctor and Ian's leading the Thals to assail the Dalek citadel in the second serial, versus the Dcotor's use of rebels as a distraction, even though they are sure to die, in this one).

All in all, a Good serial. It lays down the rules of Troughton's Doctor kind of quickly, while leaving many questions up in the air (for instance: why doesn't anyone remember the invasion in the 22nd century?) More importantly, it keeps many of the important rules in check: the Doctor, as an outsider, with capable companions, comes upon a place at the cusp of disaster and, while not necessarily preventing it, at least helps to stop it from going more global. This combination of old rules and new has been a series regular.

For those interested, a "photonovel" of The Power of the Daleks is hosted on the BBC's website. Key dialogue and events are paired with with a variety of photos (the above photo comes from it). Some are off-screen snaps, some are on set pieces or a clips taken from existing footage. The only other way to "see" it is to either track down the novelization, or to listen to the audio-recording of the footage. For those not in the know, while a couple of dozen serials are lost (most likely forever) from the First and Second Doctor eras, all or nearly all of them have been restored to audio-recordings with linking narration filling in the gaps in scenes. It is not ideal, but it works. Especially in cases like this where you have the photonovel and can follow along to see the scenery. Said audio-recording is also in Audible and iTunes if you have access to either of those and just want a digital copy.

Doctor Who

BLOT: (22 Jun 2010 - 02:17:07 PM)

Revolt of the Zombies [1935 "chem-zom", "horror" "movie": public domain]


That dance is probably hundreds of years old.


Yeah, but the wiggle's the same!

Let's start out with one simple fact: this sequel to White Zombie is a bad movie. Laughably bad? Yes, but don't get too excited. There are other movies you could laugh at more heartily. Not only does it feel like a montage of scenes taken from a longer, perhaps more coherent movie, but the more-or-less actual zombies in the early scenes give way to an entire military camp of mind-controlled servants (hence the use of quotes in the title of this entry). While there is a "Herbert West" inspired revolt in the end, the movie's moniker is a wee bit misleading if you are expecting, you know, zombies. Before I go into all the ways it is a bad movie, let me point out a few historical facts that should be kept in mind:

Ok, now that I have some of its good moments laid out, let's go ahead and smash it. There are many things to hate or pity. Horrible acting that makes soap opera drama look nuanced. Zombies that aren't zombies. A chemical that turns people into zombies dispersed by air, yet somehow selective in who it effects. A plot somehow involving Cambodia and the Franco-Austrian border (is my geography bad, or is that shit?). The secret location is discovered by a dude looking at a photograph and going "AHA!", with nothing like rhyme nor reason. A minutes long swamp scene that has the actors moving their legs up in down in a inept "walking in place" pantomime as rear-screen footage of a swamp zips past in improper scale. The use of really obvious backdrops.

How easy it is to find supposedly lost cities. The fact that supposedly lost cities and their temples are still inhabited? Stupid, stupid romance drama that could have worked had it not been the Cliffnotes version and if it hadn't been staged so stupidly (the "romance" involves a woman getting engaged to one man, just to make the other man jealous so that the second man would admit his feelings for her, and the first man yadda yadda yadda camp full of zombies). The constant repetition of the philosophy about "if you want something, you run roughshod over anything in your way to get it." The way that Dean Jagger goes from being likable to a bad parody of William Shatner citing Shakespearean villain dialogue after finding the formula. The fact that the formula is written in HUGE letters in a wall whose secret key is to hit a gong a small handful of times (and, in proper videogame fashion, said lock echoes back the sound every time you hit it to let you know you are on the right track).

The gratuitous use of Bela Lugosi's eyes from the previous movie, occasionally just matted over a black screen to save cost on actual double exposure technique. The fact that the secondary villain just wonders around looking sinister and ends up being absolutely pointless because the main character is the actual villain. The fact that the movie was obviously off to a different start and wound up as an excuse to preach about things (e.g., love and power and telepathic priests and, I don't know, the collapse of the white world or something). And, just to finish this somewhere, the final revolt scene reuses several scenes of footage in a weird loop to swell the number, giving the whole thing the appearance of a fan-made Devo video...all the while Jagger is whinging on about the truth of love and why the great zombie kings of old fell...

But, hey, it's free (LGT: Internet Archive).


BLOT: (22 Jun 2010 - 11:45:03 AM)

Growing up thinking that fish and milk were poison together...

For some reason, it was a big deal in my family that fish and milk would kill you if taken together. Fresh fish and whole milk, it was sometimes appended. Sometimes it was just any milk and any fish. I knew something was up with that, because they would serve fish-sticks and milk at school lunches; but I assumed that fish sticks weren't proper fish, an assumption not exactly full of untruth. I do not know where it came from, but it was not the only binary poison system. There was a "no Coke [read: soda, we're Southern Alabamians] and watermelon" though that was more of an head's-up and not a fatal warning. There was a "tea saps your calcium" story, but I think that might have been wider spread. What else? God, there were a number of them but I've forgotten nearly all of them. Something about artichoke hearts, it seems.

My mom believed that eggs would stand on end on the equinox only. She believed that men had one fewer rib than women, or maybe that's vice versa. My dad used to say something about rusty nails could draw out in infection. If you had a ingrown fingernail, some minor infection, he would recommend you rubbing a nail against it. I never saw him put faith in that, though, in the way that have been dangerous, so it was possibly just some old-South cure he thought was quaint and liked holding on to. Potatoes were used to "draw out heat" from burns, but I'm not sure the principle there. Maybe something to do with starch or potassium? I have not looked that one up.

If I was writing this ten years ago, I could write easily double or triple what I have there. Food rules. Infection rules. Plant rules. Animal rules. Cows lay down before a big storm. That might be true. The was a system for the color of clouds that bring hail or snow. Suicides are buried North to South rather than East to West, which is not so much of an untruth as a tradition not shared everywhere. Not all graveyards even face the proper way, something I remember my Dad pointing out to my mom. Neither of them believed in the moon landing, not really, though they were not big proponents of conspiracy theories. They did, however, think that Proctor and Gamble supported the Church of Satan.

This is not to say my parents' generation was dumb or full of bad ideas. It was a time where the library, an institution in South Alabama that was sometimes an hour away and never all that big, was one of the few places you could find regular facts excepting word of mouth, the evening news, and hearsay. Facts were accumulated from disparate family members and television. We all love to pick the more interesting sides of life. How many facts do we believe just outright wrong because it is more fun to believe that Columbus thought he was sailing off the face of the flat Earth or it is more fun to believe that, I don't know, any of that other crap we love to believe? You take an exposure to facts largely mitigated by the need to tell interesting stories and sell advertisements and then you channel it through our own tendency to weed out all that doesn't past instant awesomeness muster, and you have a machine that creates not just urban legends but full blown myths. World creation inspired by our own limited attention spans.

Now, we have the Internet and our children spend as many or more hours outside of family space as within: school and afternoon jobs to pay for cellphones and friends on Facebook and so forth. Once, though, families were the unit of information gathering. You learned from parents what it meant to live, to be successful. You learned brushes of science, basic math, and linguistic skills from brothers and sisters who, in turn, learned from you and the whole lot listened to teachings from dad and granddad and the old Uncle who comes to visit time and again. Ten cent textbooks bought from thrift-stores and Goodwills, out of date before you were even born, introduced new things into the mix: things that could be assimilated or cast-out based on how well it fit into the information space your blood relatives created. Philosophies, sciences, histories: all filtered through gates of simplicity and channels of memorability. Then, when you had a spouse, the two would fight it out, meme v. meme, and some amalgamation would develop: a hybrid worldview. Rinse. Repeat.

There was a time, and this might still be true, where every household was a slightly different universe, with its own ideas and only the need to meet with the neighbors on planning committees and to share morning gossip would mash them together. That's kind of cool, isn't it? This is part of why I don't mind things like Wikipedia. Blah blah blah, sure everyone can edit it, but how do you think people learn? Have been learning? How do you think people used to look up things? Do you suppose there was some sacred book-of-the-Truth that sat around with all right facts waiting to answer any and all questions about history, geography, geometry, or physics and we just lost it one day? Forgot to reprint it? No. We talked to one another. We got things wrong. Then we passed on our consensus to the next generation.

What about you? What weird-to-you-now things did your family believe?

Si Vales, Valeo


BLOT: (22 Jun 2010 - 11:29:19 AM)


BLOT: (21 Jun 2010 - 03:29:55 PM)

"And, Singing And the Hint Wells White" [Poem]

Singing white like you never told a lie,
And I can't help but think our relationship
Has become a four letter word
As black smoke escapes the candle light;
And well, we'll just call this Saturday.

The hint of need between your eyes
Feels like the blue, the sky and
The wide between now and then
Fears a long sigh but imagine:
Why not? And I'll see you when

The downstream from us flows
Right up to the old dew stains
On the first cool bite of morning.
And the smile you shine at me
I want to believe, oh honey,

If only it could be seen.
The cars on their distant horizon
Set like they're the sun, a faint
Hint of horn rings out, impatient;
And, well, they're somewhere far, now,

Compared to you but let's

Not end on this note. Keep singing sighs
And let's keep calling this yesterday...
And this world can crumble down
And the world, no more and going to seed,
Any more and flowering weeds,

Can just be another of our nothings:
Always all around us and a unconscious
Wave of the hand will breathe valedictions
And we'll recognize the ashes
That make up you and me, Love...

Just stardust temporarily shaped,
Waiting for its chance to speak
As the noise, louder than ever, fills
The wells with sand and

Note: Perhaps the single most direct influence on this poem is the line in the Jolie Holland song, "Mexico City", which goes "What's that black smoke rising, Jack: is the world on fire?" but I misunderstood it as "Words like black smoke rise and, Jack..." which is, frankly, a much more Dougish poetic turn than average. Call it wishful thinking that my broken English logic had spread. I'll probably incorporating that mondegreen into something, soon but for now, the line that came out of that starts with "Singing white like you never told a lie..." and ends with "...black smoke escapes the candle light; and, well, we'll just call this a Saturday." From there, the poem is a rapid shifting of further and further perspectives, each being bent back to the relationship at hand, which is presumably dying because of a lack of communication. At the end, though, we're all just "stardust, temporarily shaped, Waiting for its chance to speak..." and the poem, with all of its "and's" and "wells" and broken sentences comes to a sudden halt mid-sentence. This is my poem telling virgins to make much of time for it is afleeting, or however that old saying goes.

BLOT: (21 Jun 2010 - 12:47:13 PM)

People v. Collins. A case tried by probability...

In the second chapter of The Drunkard's Walk, Mlodinow brings up the case of People v. Collins (LGT: Wikipedia). In it, a woman is knocked down and money is snatched from her purse. All she sees is a blonde woman with a pony-tail but not clearly. Another witness spots a bearded black man in a yellow-car nearby, and sees a woman jump in the car and drive off. Neither make of car nor clear description of the perpetrators is found. Two people were arrested. The woman generally matched the description, though the witnesses at the trial could not positively identify her. Her black boyfriend/husband was clean shaven, but admitted that he did occasionally wear a beard and mustache. He, too, was basically non-confirmable by the witnesses. However, a teacher/professor introduces something like this as proof:

The numbers being his "low-ball" estimate of the rarity of those things. If you do the math, you get the rarity of that couple having a duplicate by his calculations: 1 in 12 million. Since this was more than the population of Los Angeles County, it was concluded that this MUST be the couple. The jury convicted.

There are all sorts of problems with this. Let's see how many I can name off the top of my head. (1) The probability space of a woman wearing a pony-tail would actually include all women capable of wearing a pony-tail (having hair long enough) and so are likely something more like 1 in 2. (2) The chance that a man with a beard does not have a mustache is pretty low, so the chance of both of those comes out to be more like 1 in 10. (3) No statistics were actually given on blondes in L.A., but there's a fair chance that it's more than 1 in 3, if you know what I mean. (4) No statistics were given on car colors. (5) That's a complete misuse of probability. Plugging in my new numbers, I get 1:600,000. Or, seeing as we are calculating couples, 1:300,000 couples amongst only whites and blacks will generally match that description (including all all-white and all-black couples).

Of course, my #5 still holds. That's not how probability works. Because there is a 1:6 chance that a 3 will be rolled on a six-sided die does not mean that I will only roll 3s every six times. Ask any role-player who has gotten two or three critical failures in a row because he keeps rolling a 1 on a d20. Ask any gambler who banks on a 7 coming up in craps but a long streak without them leaves him broke. Probability just says "in a given probability space, this outcome occupies this much of it". Think of it like a piece of paper with six mostly-equal (allowing for some physical imperfections of the dice) sections. As you roll, your random ink drip cast into that space will land on one of those. It can land on the same one over and over, or it can land on a "pattern" of them. This means that the couple above is not 1 in 12 million, even if the old numbers held. There could be a dozen couples, a hundred couples, a thousand couples like that. It just means it is less likely for a couple to have those characteristics than, say, be two brown-headed average white people.

For those concerned, the case was eventually overruled in the Supreme Court of California. According to the Wiki, though, there are some who still support the ruling.

BLOT: (21 Jun 2010 - 02:04:44 AM)

White Zombie [1932 Voodoo Zombie Horror Movie]

The movie opens with Haitians burying their dead in the middle of the road. The chants ring out as a carriage approaches. Neil and Madeleine, a soon-to-be-wed couple, are on their way to the home of Charles Beaumont, who has offered his house for the wedding ceremony. Except Beaumont is not a match-maker. He has fallen in love with Madeleine, and is looking for a chance to win her over. He turns to Legendre (played by Bela Lugosi), whose primary suggestion—since she is obviously so in love with Neil that Charles could never win her over—is to give her an elixir and turn her into a zombie, one of the "walking dead" used by Legendre to farm his sugar cane and run the mill to process it. Beaumont agrees and Madeleine collapses lifeless at the reception. However, Neil feels something is up, soon after, and runs to her crypt to find it empty. She has been carted off to become the dead-eyed property of Beaumont.

This movie is one of the first to feature zombies as a prominent creature, and is cited as being the template for many of the voodoo zombie movies to follow. It had some definite influence over I Walked with a Zombie and several of the EC Horror style zombie shorts: young, pretty white things caught up in the world of dark magic. Curiously, it and Walked both avoid many of the Hollywood caricatures of blacks that plagued that time period. In this case, the main culprit is a European necromancer and most of the non-zombie blacks are painted as nervous about the zombies, to the point of refusing to interfere, but neither menacing nor minstrel.

Heavily inspired by the silent era, some scenes go over-long without dialogue, involve close ups of melodramatic facial expressions, and focus more on the visual angle than on the clarity of voice. To no small degree, the movie is essentially another Dracula, a comparison doubly invited by Lugosi's presence. The beautiful young virgin is preyed upon by an evil, older male while her feckless lover braves the elements and disdain of the locals.

It even ends up, illogically considering its Haitian setting, with a fight in a cliff-side gothic castle. The castle sequence is so heavily on the out of place that it forces the end of the movie up into mere melodrama with one particular scene—as the Van Helsing like Dr. Bruner reaches from behind a column to stop the mentally controlled Madeleine from stabbing Neil—coming across as a goof rather than intentional. Also, as Neil faces off the oncoming horde with a lone pistol, he somehow manages to shoot all of shots down about leg-height at the zombies. Not sure if this was a goof, him supposedly going for a crippling shot, or the actor trying to avoid risk of danger since the zombies were awfully close, but it helps to completely negate that particular sub-scene (the final fight on the stairs, moments later, works out fairly well, though).

All this adds up to make the early, mood-setting scenes with zombies walking across the hill top in the moonlight and working in the mill the zenith of visual grandeur. Madeleine, obviously played by a once silent film actress, spends most of the movie staring wide eyed into the distance as the camera centers upon her face. The rest of the cast wobble between dramatic and pathetic, though the narrative is achieved.Can't argue with the price, neither, since you can get it free from several sources (two are below). All in all, the movie gets a Fair-Good (+0.5) from me. Definitely see its worth even if the overall product doesn't quite hold muster.

Written by Doug Bolden

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