Sunday, July 31, 2011

A new artistic genius awaits discovery by hoi polloi. (Is This Art?)


The very first Is This Art ever talked about Cory Arcangel, whose art (?) under consideration on that post was Losers Bowling In Video Games.

Cory Arcangel, remember, is the darling of many art circles because of the way he challenges peoples whatevers with the howevers he uses to something the other thing in order to subvert the opposite of the first thing you said.*

*Do my years of art criticism schooling show? I'm trying to hide it.
That is, people like Cory Arcangle because he's an artist. Or he's an artist because people like him. I can't remember which.

That brings me to today's artist, Sarah j00n.

Not a lot of people know j00n, who, at 20, is just breaking into art circles. She hasn't had any major exhibitions yet, but over 28,000,000 people have viewed her first major work:






That's Nyan Cat, and the only reason I know about it because Annie Vang, a blogger I follow on Twitter, posted about it, making me wonder what it was all about.

Ms. Vang was not pleased with either Nyan Cat or the response to it, and when I first went to watch it, I had to agree with her -- it wasn't for me, and I felt a little dumber for having watched it.

But Is It Art? That's the big question -- because Nyan Cat is not just wildly popular with people, but also almost identical to other things hoi polloi think are art - -things like what Cory Arcangel does.

Here's a few of the critically-beloved works by Cory Arcangel:

Super Mario Bros. Movie:



That one garnered about 12,000 views since being posted.

That one appears to have a story line, though, so consider

Clouds:



That's gotten 46,000 views. So by popular measure, Nyan Cat is far more artistic than either Super Mario Bros. Movie or Clouds -- and Nyan Cat appears to have the exact same sensibility behind it as Clouds.

So why is Clouds Art (?), displayed in a museum, while Nyan Cat is despised by bloggers?

Is Nyan Cat art? Is the difference that one didn't post his first on Youtube but submitted it to art museums first?

Or is Cory Arcangel having a laugh at the art world?



Before you go pay full price for an artist's installation, perhaps you should check with Annie Vang about what's popular on Youtube. It'll be just as stupid -- but just as arty, and way cheaper.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

This doesn't explain how Colbert was able to get away with referencing "Lord Of The Rings," though... (Star Wars References)

So this week the Tea Party made the news not for being racist or reactionary, but for comparing itself to a group of murderous thugs being used by other murderous thugs.

That in turn prompted wags like me and Jon Stewart to bring up other movies in relation to this story.

I, forgetting what every single reference in Western Civilization is supposed to be to, listed a variety of movies that showed what the Tea Party was all about. And got no response.

Here's what The Daily Show did:



Jon Stewart remembered that if you ever reference a movie, it must be Star Wars. And that's why he has a TV show.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Imagine the Smurfs as brought to you by Stanley Kubrick... (Off The Top Of My Head)

... I might actually see that. Smurfs Wide Shut.

The Smurfs movie opens this week, and despite sharing Lisa Pepin's distaste for that movie, I can't help but wonder, as I sit here this morning, how many actual Smurfs I can remember off the top of my head. Here is

The Best (?) Actual Smurfs I Can Name Without Cheating...

1. Hefty
2. Brainy
3. Papa
4. Vanity
5. Smurfette
6. Gargamel
7. I want to say there was a dumb one...

And I'm done.

Note 1: Yes, it really did take me to five to get to Smurfette.

Note 2: Gargamel wasn't a Smurf. But was he the only human in that universe? And how did I miss him on my post about wizards?

Note 3: There was a Clumsy Smurf. And a Reporter Smurf, which seems to go against the grain for how Smurfs were named.

Note 4: There was a robot smurf. Seriously. And in some sort of sick inside joke, he's called "Clockwork Smurf." Because what goes better with smurfs than a little of the old ultraviolence?

But I'm not making that up. Here's the whole episode:



Note 5: I got all my background information on Smurfs from this site, which exists.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"I'm in love with a superhero..." (Eye Candy)


I wondered this morning, in between pondering what secrets the Chilean miners might have left to tell, what advice columns might look like in a world that had superheroes, and this is as far as I got:

Dear Advice Columnist,

I am in love with a superhero, but can't stand his mild alter-ego. What can I do?

Signed,

Definitely not Lois Lane.

That has nothing, really, to do with this Eye Candy post, which is

The Best Hottest Obscure Superheroines You've Probably Never Heard Of.


Speedy 2:





Anna Mercury:



Alisha:




Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld:




Gertrude:


Note: I have to break in here to note that Gertrude is supposed to be contrary to ordinary superhero stereotypes and thus is described as "bespectacled" and "somewhat overweight."

As to the glasses, this:



As to the somewhat overweight, she's supposed to be 5'1", 125 pounds. I'm no doctor (I don't even play on on TV) but that doesn't seem overweight to me.



Thor Girl:





Kos-Mos







Bumblebee






Atom Eve:



Also, in looking for that video from Not Another Teen Movie, I came across this:





I just felt that needed to be posted somewhere.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Autism Works: Hack Autism


Autism Works is an across-the-board post I'm doing to help keep people informed of recent events affecting those who have autism and their families. The goal of Autism Works is to raise awareness of, and collect information for, people on the autism spectrum by providing news and information about autism-friendly businesses and developments in treatments and identification of this condition.

Michael Offutt, who writes the blog SLC Kismet, pointed out a while back that there are a great many autism-related apps on the iPad, and it looks like there might be more, so I'll take a look at those today:

First, autism apps. I have a Droid smart phone, one I got in part because Mr F's and Mr Bunches' teachers suggested an iPad last year as something to help the boys learn to communicate. Rather than invest $800 plus right off the bat on something that may not work, I went cheap by getting the touch-screen phone and trying that out.

Finding apps hasn't been difficult. Finding apps suited for autistic kids has -- there is, so far as I can tell, no "keyword" or "tag" type of search for the Droid store.

On the one hand, any app that lets the boys use the phone is a good one, and the smart phone (or touch screen pad) works great for that: Mr Bunches, who particularly likes the computer, had a lot of trouble originally learning how to use the mouse and keyboard, and still has trouble clicking, so a touch screen was great in getting them to play games and use the screen.

That let them play games -- they liked Angry Birds, in particular -- and watch videos all by touching, rather than clicking, and Mr Bunches in particular learned to get around Youtube pretty successfully on my phone, which was also portable enough for him to carry around.

Specific games that I found worked particularly well on the small touch screen included Fisher Price's online learning games: they have counting and ABC games that work well on a touch screen, and some "learning about opposites" and "animal sounds" games that even on a 3-by-1 inch screen look good and are easy to work. They're free and easy to access.

Another game Mr Bunches particularly enjoys, and which can be played on a small or large screen for free, is the "Jumping Box" game, where a person has to click-and-drag on a box to make it slide and jump through obstacles. (I like that one, too.)

"Talking Tom" was an app suggested by the teachers -- it's a cat that repeats everything you say in a slightly higher voice, and reacts to certain touches and other input. It's available for free and for $0.99, but don't bother paying; there's no difference between the two.



This site was suggested by the school teachers to find apps for an iPad. I'd give you the name, but it doesn't seem to have one. I haven't checked it out at all yet, but I'll try to download and review some of the apps in the future.

Then there's "Hacking Autism." This is a project I just learned about yesterday, an attempt to help "give people with autism a voice." They're going to have a Hackathon to get volunteer software developers in touch with autism specialists to develop new touch-enabled apps for the autism community.

You don't have to be a programmer or expert to participate: the site is seeking comments on existing ideas, and suggestions for apps to be developed, so if you have autism or are related to someone who does, weigh in and let them know.

You might even get some inspiration from the Hacking Autism's "Stories Of Hope," which includes a touching story written by an autistic boy who had never spoken until he was given a "Lightwriter," after which he was able to have a conversation with his older brother -- a conversation that was so special, they videotaped it for his parents and made it their Christmas present.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Best (Unfairly?) Maligned Piece of Pop Culture. (The Best Of... Things That Don't Fit Elsewhere.)


When did Americans lose their hating skills?

I'm not talking about bad hate -- the kind of hate that spurs violence and Racist Tea Party organizations. Americans are still really good at that, as evidenced by every single piece of news you read.

No, I'm talking about how US citizens have lost their ability to engage in good hate: the kind of hate that helps us discern what's good and bad in our lives, the kind of thing where we say "I hate Tina Fey!" but we don't mean that we, personally, wish ill on Tina Fey, not in a particular way: we just mean we hate everything she stands for and wish she hadn't entered our lives.

Which is, I assume, true, for everyone in the world, vis a vis Tina Fey.

While we're increasingly good at bad hate, we are increasingly bad at good hate. And that's very problematic, for reasons I'll explain (as you probably guessed.)

We, as a people, are going to hate. We just need to face that. Human beings, it turns out, aren't so good at seeing shades of gray, at making fine distinctions. So we just divide the world into two parts: This part, and that part. Up, and down. Black and white. Good and evil. Peanut Butter Cap'n Crunch, and everything else.

We have two lobes of our brain, and, it seems, we have two lobes of existence: You're here or there but not in between.*
*Take that, Schrodinger!
Which poses a problem, since it means that we either like things or hate things; we can't be indifferent to things. We can't say "Meh. I have no emotions about that thing one way or another." Nope. We have to look at something and pronounce it good or bad.

Think of the things in your life. Take people. How many people are you indifferent to? Get on the bus, or the subway, or drive to work, and look around. I bet you form an instant reaction to every single person you see. And that reaction is good or bad.

At least, I do, and if you're being honest, you do, too: you look at that guy crossing the street and either think "My god, who wears a hat like that? What a tool! I should throw the rest of my latte at him!" or you think "Holy cow, is that really January Jones in her underwear, just walking through Madison, Wisconsin, on an ordinary Friday morning?"


Yes, it is.


Well, that's what I think on my way to work, and I assure you: my commute is AWESOME.*

*(Full disclosure: I don't ever drink lattes and I'm not sure what one is. I just wanted to spice up this otherwise entirely nonfictional post a little. I apologize and hope that a federal investigation is not needed.)
Since we are predisposed to line everyone up into two camps, that causes our emotions, too, to line up: We produce yin and yangs of emotions: We make some happy (January Jones in her underwear!)

Pictured: Happy.


And some angry:


Where'd I put that latte?**

**see previous footnote. Sorry.


(Sad
, by the way, is not the opposite of happy. Angry is. I can prove that scientifically, via this formula:

X>{cosine*(1/3)}
____________
velociraptors x 2


Put more simply, when you're happy, you like the world and the people in it: you want to buy everyone a double cheeseburger, or hug them (Especially if they're January Jones.) When you're angry, you want to throw lattes at the world or become a Republican. Those things are quintessential opposites.

But when you're sad, you don't want to do anything -- you don't want to hug, and you don't want to cut taxes on the rich. You just want to sit around and listen to old Billy Joel songs and think "I know what you're going through, Brenda and Eddie! I've been there!" Sad as an emotion is the opposite not of happy, but of a little known emotion that Emotionologists refer to as "Getting on with your life.")

We produce a lot of hate -- an abundance of it -- because we have so many good things in our life:





Our society, in America, just keeps on throwing the good at us, a cornucopia of so much awesomeness that we can't keep up with it. We're constantly getting new phones with better games to play while we drive our quieter cars to jobs that are easier than we can imagine, and to cap it all off, they keep on coming up with newer, better, more ranch-ier sandwiches.

And do I even have to mention the 100,000 different varieties of candy bar we have?

With all that good, our bodies begin to generate a lot of bad, in the form of hate, and we need to get rid of that hate, vent it out. Which is where the good hate/bad hate dichotomy comes up.

Good Hate is useful by getting society united over something that's not all that important, letting us vent some negative emotions and blow off steam without, say, banding together into Racist Groups that will then insist that we cut all social spending in order to let a few rich people not pay 3% more in income taxes. Good Hate helps prevent the buildup of hate that then turns into Bad Hate.

(And if you're thinking "Hey, Hate sounds a little like cholesterol," well, shut up. We're all sick of hearing about cholesterol, which I'm starting to doubt exists at all. I think cholesterol is like Ring Around The Collar: a problem created to sell a product, instead of the other way around.)

Hate is not cholesterol.

Examples of good hate in recent years are harder and harder to come by, and that's why I'm writing this post -- to warn America that we're losing our capacity for Good Hate because we are misdirecting our Good Hate at things that are not worth hating. We say we hate these things but we don't really, or we shouldn't, really, which means that we're not getting rid of our hate; it's building up in our bodies, until we're bursting with hate and we end up doing something we regret, like electing Michele Bachmann to a position of power.

It's like steam -- to steal a metaphor from Tom Wolfe. The steam has to be let off, in a productive, or at least nonharmful way. And it used to be that Americans could do that. Back in the olden days, we used to vent our hate in relatively easygoing, relatively okay ways.

True, it was easier, in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, to get rid of the hate, because there wasn't as much good stuff back then, so we weren't producing as much hate to get rid of. When the only good things in life are Three's Company, the introduction of Chicken McNuggets as a food, and a then-young Samantha Fox:


Take that, Schrodinger!

... well, as good as those things are, they just don't produce an overabundance of hate to cope with, so back in the 1980s, especially, we could release the hate productively, by, say, ridiculing keytars:



And everything was all right.

But with the explosion of good things in our life at the turn of the century, we also had to deal with the overabundance of equally-produced hate. Now, right at the turn of the century, that was okay, because right at the turn of the century we had a lot of sitting-duck targets to hate on, those being "People who insisted on talking about when, exactly it was the new century began," and "People who ever used the phrase Y2K"



I was going to put a picture of a Y2K consultant, but isn't this better? Also, doesn't she look a little like Samantha Fox?


Okay, maybe not.
But it was still worth checking out.


As those two hateful things passed into nonexistence, though, we were left with all these good things that kept happening and nothing really bad, even pop-culture-wise, to hate on. Pop culture, too, got better than it had been, and that's an empirical fact. Here are the top 10 TV shows of the 1979-1980 TV season, according to some site I found on Google:

60 Minutes
Three's Company
M*A*S*H
Alice
Dallas
Flo
The Jeffersons
The Dukes of Hazzard
That's Incredible
One Day At A Time

I think we can agree that's a pretty pathetic bunch of television shows; the only two worth mentioning at all are Three's Company and That's Incredible, and the latter show is only worth mentioning because once they had that swami who could fold himself into a tiny box and have it put underwater:


Rencontre avec Le Yogi Coudoux | Record du Monde by liloumace

That's the same guy, if my completely not researching it at all is any proof.

Now, true, the top 10 TV shows in the 2000s were nothing to write home about -- most of them were reality TV shows, but by the time we hit the point where TV was dominated by weird looking women who looked like they were featured on When Plastic Surgeons Attack, we'd expanded our ability to watch things far beyond simply TV -- we had the Internet, and Netflix, and on-demand movies, and Hulu, and phones that we could carry around and watch things on, and iPods, and other things that should go on this list but you get the point, so while TV itself continued a steady progression into awfulness, including the still-baffling refusal of network TV to reboot Three's Company for a new era --

-- how has that not happened yet? We have rebooted everything, including The Hulk twice in 10 years, and yet not a single person has proposed a reboot of Three's Company? Do I have to do everything?

-- the rest of pop culture got around to making up for it by giving us other things to watch, thereby increasing the general abundance of good while at the same time fracturing our attention so that we couldn't direct our hate -- our good hate -- at anything in particular. There were (are) too many targets, and we weren't paying attention to many of them, and sometimes they'd fold up on us just about as we began hating them, or the target would shift, confusing US.

Take, for example, Kate Gosselin: a worthy subject of our good hate. Kate began her public career by demanding that the public take care of the babies she'd decided to have on her own, and despite the sheer gall of such a maneuver, the public decided to do that, by funding a television show that eventually would see Kate Gosselin paid to take her kids to Disney World, and America got good and ready to hate her... but then we got diverted from all that good hate by the fact that Jon Gosselin seemed determined to bring it on himself, and at the same time Octomom came around and seemed to be deserving of some hate, too, and then suddenly Kate was on Dancing With The Stars and the Emmy show with Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Fallon, didn't we used to hate him, too?

And it all got fragmented and led to an era in which Glenn Beck could have, even for a brief time, two successful television shows, and the installation of body scanners at the airport. One thing leads to another, as we were once told by a band that desperately wanted to be The Clash but couldn't.

You can see, then, that we've gotten really really bad at hating, and we're now indiscriminately hating, but indiscriminate hate doesn't do any good. Indiscriminate hate just spreads hate around and doesn't diffuse it; it remains in us and gets more and more concentrated until someone taps into it and it either spills out all over something that doesn't really warrant that (which isn't that bad, as we'll see, but is kind of not so great) or it gets used by someone for really really bad purposes.

Leave aside the really really bad purposes for a moment -- I'm not going to spend (much) more time in this post pointing out that when people start to seriously hate, they do things like support politicians' efforts to cut teacher pay and give corporate tax breaks to millionaires, because they're confused and overwhelmed with hate and they need to let it out somewhere and evil men and women tap into that. That's a big problem, but one for another of my blogs.

Instead, focus on what happens when good hate gets misdirected at the wrong pop culture item: We end up killing off something that (while maybe not the greatest thing ever) doesn't deserve to be killed off, and letting other things live.

Let's look at some examples from recent history. Take Jar Jar Binks.



It's hard for me to think of more than one other thing that was more hated by people than Jar Jar Binks in recent memory. Jar Jar is almost the poster child for this entry -- a completely maligned character in a movie, a character so universally reviled and ridiculed that he was relegated to a secondary role and eventually credited with casting the vote that caused the Empire to exist.

Got that? Jar Jar = holocaust creator.

Why?

Ever stop to wonder why it was the fanboys got so upset over Jar Jar? Was it that he looked kind of silly? Talked sort of funny? Was a light-hearted element in what fans had assumed was going to be a serious movie?

What was it, exactly? And if it was any of those, or all of them, still, why was Jar Jar so hated on?

I mean, considering that all of those things had happened before in the so-called "good" Star Wars movies. Let's look at the one that fanboys elevate above the others -- The Empire Strikes Back, generally regarded (by everyone but me) as the best of the Star Wars movies because it was dark and serious and full of action and pretty much the opposite of what people say about Jar Jar and the newer movies.



Or was it? The Empire Strikes Back had funny-looking aliens-- the Ugnaughts - -playing catch with C3POs head:



And it had a puppet. Not just a puppet, either, but a puppet that talked funny and got into cute wrestling matches with R2D2:



Yep. All those fanboys who hated on Jar Jar forgot completely that Yoda once fought Artoo over a lantern and was originally introduced not as a revered Jedi Master, but as a comic foil. Did anyone ever look back at that and say "Wait a minute, why is a Jedi Master acting so foolish?"

Nope. Because back in the 1980s, people knew how to hate, and they knew that hating on Lucas for introducing a puppet into a movie wasn't worth their time, when they could instead be hating things that were more worthwhile, like breakdancing.

By the way, here's the only way that scene isn't Jar Jar 1980:



Back in the 1980s, George Lucas could put Grover in a swamp and people still went to the movie. In this century, Lucas puts some comic relief in a movie and the Star Wars community gets ready to pull a Heaven's Gate.

That's the way it is now -- people hate on things that don't matter and don't hate on things that do matter, and our perspective gets all warped up. Which brings me to the true subject of this post:

Rebecca Black's Friday.



I can't post the original video anymore because, honestly, you people are insane and it got pulled off of Youtube in part at least because it generated more dislikes and hatred than any other video on Youtube.

Ever.

Think about that, and think about the things you've seen on Youtube, and just ponder for a moment: no video has ever been more disliked than that song?

I'll just say this: I don't mind the song, not all that much at all. I listen to it quite a bit, actually, and only part of that is because I'm very contrarian. The rest of the reason why I listen to it is because it's simply. not. the. worst. song. ever.

I'm sorry to have to have overpunctuated that sentence, but the point needed to be made via many periods.

It was with Friday that I first realized how overboard people had gone with the hate and how misdirected the world was in hating this more-or-less innocuous song. And not just in hating it, but in hating it so much that you practically drove that poor girl out of the public life, and for what?

Because it wasn't a great song?

Have you listened to the radio?

Because I haven't, and that's because I can't stand most of popular music nowadays.

I don't listen to the radio almost ever anymore, because almost every single thing I hear on the radio is either garbage, or worse. Music these days is terrible and almost unlistenable, which means not only that I don't listen to the radio much, but when I do listen to it, and hear a song that's not immediately awful, that song has done something that 99% of the music world could not -- it has attracted my attention, in a good way, and that's a tough thing to do for someone who has never liked pop, Top 40 music.

So by that measure, Friday, simply by virtue of being listenable, and not awful, has risen above most of the rest of the music -- and yet it was derided as being the worst song ever by all of you.

Well, excuse me, but here's a sample of songs that all of you idiots have made number 1 over the past decade or so.



Firework, by Katy Perry. Friday has dumb lyrics, you say? Here's your modern-day Wordsworth-with-boobs:

You don't have to feel like a waste of space
You're original, cannot be replaced
If you only knew what the future holds
After a hurricane comes a rainbow
That is somehow deemed more significant than Friday? On what basis?

Ah, but Friday was simply an ode to the weekend, whereas Firework was an inspirational song aimed at, I don't know, encouraging young women to blow up and never achieve anything again, one brief flare of incandescence over a lasting glow? (Yeah, you didn't think that one through, did you, people?)

So let's look at another big hit.




Umbrella
.

That
song stands as an all-important societal commentary on being friends. Wow. Deep. And all the deeper by the repetition of umbrella-ella-ella.

But, hey, both Firework and Umbrella at least stand for something more than just "a catchy beat and partying," right? So they're worth more than Friday because we HATE songs that are just a catchy beat and about partying, right?





I'm not saying Friday is any better than any of those songs.

But is it really leagues below them? Is it really worth hating so much more than all those other songs?

I could go on, as usual, but I won't. The point is pop music -- pop culture-- has never been about being great. Great very rarely intersects with popular. Every now and then something -- The Dark Knight, the Harry Potter books, Rachael Ray -- will be both very good and very popular. But for the most part, appealing to as many people as possible means being more like a McDonald's Cheeseburger and less like a gourmet meal.

Which is fine, because I like McDonald's cheeseburgers, and so does pretty much everyone else in the world -- even people who claim they don't. They do. They're just being snobs.

And we used to be okay with McDonald's Cheeseburgers. We used to accept them for what they were -- a good, mass-produced cheesburger that while maybe not marking the pinnacle of culinary arts was okay if you accepted it for what it was.

But then we suddenly turned on them, and on everything, indiscriminately, and marked down a 13-year-old girl's song for no reason whatsoever. Just like hating Jar Jar when Jar Jar was simply a 21st century Yoda, we-- you -- hated Rebecca Black when she was just a 13-year-old Fergie.

For no reason.

And while you all did that -- while you all hated on Rebecca Black, and Netflix, other, far more worser things, were replicating out in pop culture. While all this disliking of Friday was going on, we were getting ever more Real Housewives -- do we really need more than 1 of those shows? -- and ever more Kardashians, to the point where we have Kardashian Impersonators-- and twenty billion superhero movies and we've now reached a point where I can't watch the original Friday video online but I will get to see Shannon Doherty get married in a reality show



All because people forgot how to hate properly.

There's lots of things to really hate out there. This post isn't about them. It's about the things to good hate on, and how to do that. We've got more pop culture than ever before, and it's becoming harder and harder to discern what's good pop culture, what's the McDonald's cheeseburger, and what's bad pop culture and therefore worth hating.

I know the world moves fast and is a dizzying complex place. But when you all waste your time disliking an innocuous pop song that's no worse than any other innocuous pop song, that affects me, because then not only do I not get to listen to the innocuous pop song I like, even though you get yours, but I get my airwaves flooded with bug-eyed rich ladies and forgotten D-list celebrities getting married and Nancy Grace and all the other things that could be hated into the ground but aren't because everyone in the world for some reason went completely nuts and spent their entire year getting Friday off of Youtube.

So get a sense of perspective, will you? Learn how to hate right again. I suggest beginning with Diablo Cody. I hear she's all set to wreck Evil Dead while inflicting herself on us again; can't you legions of lemmings do something about that?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

This is the God Particle of the Star Wars Universe. (Star Wars References.)

Remember how Lando can be used as slang for cool? What could possibly be cooler than Lando?

Just one thing. Listen carefully:



If such a thing existed, it would be the Higgs Boson of cool. But, sadly, like the Higgs Boson, it does not exist.

Also, is it racist to wonder why nobody went with Chewblacka?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Autism Works: My Autism Team, and "mismatched socks."


Autism Works is an across-the-board post I'm doing to help keep people informed of recent events affecting those who have autism and their families. The goal of Autism Works is to raise awareness of, and collect information for, people on the autism spectrum by providing news and information about autism-friendly businesses and developments in treatments and identification of this condition.

Today's business is My Autism Team, a website that promises to help with what these posts are intended to do, to: help people find autism-friendly businesses and identify service providers and other tips.

Signing up for My Autism Team is simple: a little bit of detail to set up a profile (and a chance to upload a picture) and you're ready to go, with an email verification that was simple. The profile didn't offer me a chance to enter information about more than one child, and the categories of information about the children were pretty limited (just four options about his or her behavior, rather than entering, say, a sentence or two), but it only took about 5 minutes to sign up.

Once signed up and verified, you can enter information in a format similar to Gather or Twitter -- blog posts with a button to click about whether you're having a "good" or "bad" day, and the chance to enter additional information. (I, for example, entered my first post as having a "good" day, and noted in the explanation that it was "like most days.")

That leads to a screen that looks like this:


Elsewhere, you can enter information about service providers and others -- the information is quick to enter and offers suggested tags. I put in Integrated Development Services, the people who provide the therapists for the boys 5 days a week. The information you're allowed to provide is supposed to be limited to 1 sentence about the provider; I question whether that's truly helpful.

I then went looking for other services to see what was there. The boys recently had to stop occupational therapy because we can't afford the co-pay (thanks, Republicans!) each week, so I went to see if there were occupational therapists in our area that I could contact who might have a lower (or no) co-pay.

The search itself is simple: type occupational therapy and your location and get a list of providers listed there -- but the six providers suggested for me had no information about them at all, beyond their office address. There wasn't even a way to click to contact them by email, on or off the site, making it somewhat less than useful.

I also looked for "sports leagues," as I've been trying to find a league that is autism-friendly so I could get the boys involved in soccer (I'm not a big fan of soccer, but it seems like it would be the easiest sport for them to play.) Under sports leagues I got these results within 20 miles of Middleton:


Again, there was almost no useful information under those tabs. I clicked on "Middleton Sport Bowl", which is only a few minutes from our house, because I thought an autism-friendly bowling league might be just as good as soccer, but found only an address and this review, from 18 months ago:


1/31/10 Middleton Sport Bowl is a classic neighborhood bar and bowling alley. They updated the Bowl a few years ago and it's a nice bowling alley. You can always run into a familiar face, having fun, and eating good bar food.

Frankly, that looks like it was posted on the Middleton Sports Bowl fan page, and isn't in any way helpful to someone with autism or a child with autism; what I was looking for was whether they have leagues, or "sensory friendly" days or times that it's less crowded (and therefore less noisy and easier to police children.)

I've only just found the site, so I'll keep checking in -- it's obvious to me that it works better as more people use it and provide information; that's how crowdsourcing helps, after all. But the fact that it's been around for over 18 months and hasn't developed a lot of information isn't encouraging for me.

Also discouraging: why aren't there sports leagues for kids with autism? Or mixed-leagues for spectrum- and non-spectrum kids? I can't do everything, here.

Today's Site is: "The World Of Mismatched Socks." Written by a woman with autism about her and her also-autistic brother's lives, this blog is a fascinating look at what life is like for someone on the spectrum. It's funny, interesting, at times a bit sad, and well-written.

The latest post begins like this:

What come to your mind when you think about Hell?? Most people think of fire, brimstone, gnashing of teeth, A Justin Bieber concert, algebra, etc...


Click here to read more
.




If you have information you think would be helpful for this feature, please
Click here to Email me;
include "autism works" in the subject line.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The 15 Best Summer Movies, 4:

"Baby steps out the door."

Whatever happened to Richard Dreyfus?



Wasn't he at one point more or less poised to become our biggest movie star? Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Graduate, American Graffiti, Stand By Me, he was really on the pop culture radar.

Now he's gone.

Not dead, I mean -- just not there anymore.

I think it was because he appeared on Weeds, the single most annoying piece of pop culture/TV dreck ever created. Nobody has ever watched Weeds, and yet it still persists in
being mentioned by people, and apparently is still on the air.

Oh, and the movie: Didn't you, when you watched this movie, want to go on vacation to the place Richard Dreyfus went on vacation to? Only with slightly less Bob?




Previous entries:

1. Weekend At Bernie's.
(P.S. To Rogue Mutt: When you say that the sequel was unnecessary, does that imply that the first one was necessary?)

2. One Crazy Summer.


3. National Lampoon's Vacation.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Best Stupid Questions About Wizards.



As everyone in the world probably knows, this week saw the opening of the final installment of "Definitely not Willy The Wizard And The Deathly Hallows", a/k/a "Also Definitely Not Larry Potter and The Deathly Hallows" a/k/a "Didn't that scene in the one book where Harry Potter squared off against a giant spider seem awfully familiar"? a/k/a "No, it didn't, you moron, do you want to get sued into the ground"?

Anyway that movie is attracting a lot of attention, and cashing in on other people's hard work is sort of my thing, although sometimes I do it only inadvertently, and in keeping with the way I roll, I'm going to go ahead and jump, with only a little further ado, into this post, with the small amount of further ado (it's just a tiny bit, really, of ado) being to note that so far as I know, nobody has ever written a book in which a wizard just has unlimited powers and absolutely no scruples about using them -- no limits on his power, no qualms or moral objections to using his power, no reason not to just magic up everything in the world...

... with one exception: Disney.

In Disney's Aladdin, remember, Jafar wished to be transformed into a genie, which is more or less like a wizard, too (you'll see I'm expanding the rules in this post) and under the rules of that movie, genies were more or less all-powerful. So Jafar was the first all-powerful wizard with no scruples whatsoever about using his powers, but he had limitations-- because genies, in that movie, are tied to a lamp and must do the bidding of whoever holds the lamp. That was how they trapped him, remember?

(Oh, and, um, SPOILER ALERT!)

But then, at the end of the movie, Aladdin uses his third wish to free the genie, whose name I think was genie, and so at the end of the cartoon Aladdin, Jasmine is the Sultaness, Aladdin is the Sultan-in-waiting, people in Agrabah are happy, and there is an all-powerful being who is definitely not human and maybe not bound at all by our human concepts like "enslaving everyone for fun is wrong".

I never saw Aladdin 2, because by the time that came out our first pack of kids were too old for Disney cartoons, having reached the age where they were more interested in making up bizarre stories about how the dent got into the car, and our backup children, Mr F and Mr Bunches, had not yet arrived.

But I'm sure that in Aladdin 2, either all of humanity is laboring under the oppressive regime of Genie The Almighty, Ruler of All The Cosmos, or the world has been turned into a paradise. Either way, good work, Disney!

Now, on to those Best Stupid Questions About Wizards!

1. What was the genie's name in Aladdin?



At first, when I began to write this post and tried to remember what the genie's name was, I thought "I must have forgotten it," because I'm terrible about names and faces and am about one step away from that guy who mistook his wife for a hat.*

*(Not a paid referral of either the book or hats.)

It seemed to me he must have a name, because genies aren't a person, they're a thing, even by the rules Aladdin set up: Jafar, when he uses his third wish to become a genie, doesn't become Genie, as played by Robin Williams; he becomes a genie.

So is Aladdin's genie just called "Genie"?

He's Genie the genie?

(As an aside, I've now typed the word genie so much that it's lost all meaning to me.)

Other genies have names; in the Aladdin series, I'm told (by a message board filled with people who have way more time than I do, and way less to occupy it) one female genie was named Eden.

So I gather that Aladdin's genie had a name, but nobody bothered to tell us that name.

Or, I gather instead that Aladdin was so shallow that he never bothered to ask genie's name -- even at the end, when he supposedly learned his lesson and stopped being such a jerk fixated only on riches and being someone he was not. Having gotten everything he ever wanted, Aladdin couldn't even be bothered to say, to the person who helped him get it, "Hey, by the way, what's your name?"

Nice.

2. What, exactly, was it that saved Harry Potter's life?



Initially, question 2 was going to be something like why didn't Dumbledore ensure that all students at Hogwarts were taught the spell that protected Harry from the death curse, making it useless and ineffective? I mean, seriously: the Avada Kedavra curse is the wizarding equivalent of hollow-point bullets, and whatever helped Harry is a full-body bullet proof vest, but wizard students spend their time at Hogwarts learning to grow plants?

But then I did some research into the question -- yes, I research stuff, from time to time -- and found that the answer to the question I wanted to ask -- why didn't Dumbledore, etc. etc., -- couldn't be found, because that answer doesn't exist, because...

... nobody really knows how Harry lived.

I thought it was just me, but I'm pretty sure it's just not, and I'm pretty sure that J.K. Rowling, by the end of the seventh book, had more or less forgotten about this and/or decided it was too complicated to explain, and so she explained how Harry lived via this not-at-all-a-deus ex machina:

"It was love. You see, when dear, sweet Lily Potter gave her life for her only son, she provided the ultimate protection. I could not touch him. It was old magic. Something I should have foreseen."
That's Voldemort talking. So, er... love? That's all? Love and giving her life for someone? And Voldemort was aware of all this but never bothered to come up with a counterspell to it?

And old magic? Magic older than all the other magic that took seven books to explain and took years for students to learn? Who, exactly, invented this old magic? Is it still used? Is it centaur magic?

J.K. Rowling never explained -- but the legions of people who desperately want Harry Potter's story to make sense have: they've come up with a whole page of explanation. Basically, they explain, Lily Potter cast a spell of "sacrificial protection." (Where did Lily learn that... never mind.) That's a spell cast by someone who consciously chooses to give their life for another; they must, the page says, be given a chance to save their own life, or someone else's. So Lily can cast the spell because Voldemort promised he wouldn't kill her unless she got in the way -- but then she did, and she chose to give her life to save Harry's.

Later in the books, then, Harry casts the same spell on all his friends -- by turning himself in when Voldemort has demanded that he either do so within the hour or be killed. Harry's turning himself in, rather than fleeing, is the kind of sacrifice that allows him to cast the spell of protection on all his friends at once. (Where did Harry learn that... never mind.)

That poses a problem, though, as Harry's dad, James, also opted to fight rather than flee. So why didn't James' spell protect Harry... and Lily? Apparently (according to the Potterites on that page) you have to be given more than a minute to flee, as James was. Harry's hour of freedom was sufficient time to trigger the ability to cast the spell he never learned and save his friends by having Voldemort cast the death spell on him.

(None of this is explained in the books, mind you. Unless it was when Dumbledore met Harry in that dome thing. I sort of skimmed that part.)

What's also not explained in the books, or on that page, is why Harry's sacrifice works... when Harry himself is not killed? Voldemort's death curse blasts apart the Horcrux in Harry, not killing Harry at all - so Harry has managed to cast a sacrificial protection without, you know, sacrificing anything.

Oh, and, um... SPOILER ALERT?

That all brings up a different question... the question being:

3. Why did Voldemort think he could kill Harry at all?


I'm not going to get into why Voldemort didn't know that his Horcrux was in Harry, or why he didn't know that it would be killed instead of Harry, or why a Horcrux can be killed at all when the whole point is they're not supposed to be killable. Some questions are better left unasked and unanswered, and among them are:

Who would make a "hot" video of James and Lily Potter set to Avril Lavigne's music? Because someone did:



Hmmm.

Anyway, here's a bigger question: So Voldemort knew about the sacrificial protection spell, and it being old magic and all... and he knew that his previous death curse had failed.

What was his plan?

"Shoot him again!" ?

If the sacrificial protection spell is so great that it beats his dead-on curse when Harry's a baby and can't consciously use any magic power at all, why would Voldemort think that years later the same exact curse would work after Harry's been to wizard school? Do sacrificial protection spells wear off? Do they grow weaker over time? If they do, and if Voldemort needed Harry Potter dead to complete his plans, why not wait a few more years, until the protection is completely gone?

And why didn't Voldemort, for that matter, simply get one of his all-too-loyal minions to sacrifice-protection him?

Moving on!

4. Why didn't Gandalf just destroy the bridge before the Balrog was even on it?

For copyright reasons -- and because I'm pretty sure all my resources are going to be tied up defending against J.K. Rowlings' lawyers' claims -- I can't show you the actual Lord of the Rings footage of the epic battle between Gandalf and the Balrog, but here's a pretty decent recreation:




Now, I've always had a problem with the idea that Gandalf has any powers, at all. To recap his "magical" "exploits", he: blew smoke rings and made them change colors; used ventriloquism, rode an eagle, broke a bridge, and resurrected himself (maybe, on that last one; someone else might have done it. We don't know how Gandalf came back.) Granted, that's more impressive than that one brown wizard who could only talk to birds, but it puts Gandalf on a par, magically speaking, with David Copperfield.

Back to the battle: When the Fellowship is running from the Balrog, Gandalf turns and stands on the bridge, telling the Balrog You shall not pass.




And then, the Balrog grabs him and he breaks the bridge and they fall.

From which we can surmise:

1. The Balrog cannot leap or fly.

2. Gandalf can break the bridge.

See where I'm going with this? Gandalf just had to break the bridge before the Balrog got there, and the Fellowship could have gone on -- with his help -- and the Balrog couldn't have gotten them, and then in the future Gandalf and the rest could've gone and fought the Balrog at their leisure.

Maybe it's not that Gandalf didn't have any real magical powers. Maybe he was just too stupid to use them.

5. What about Merlin?

Merlin being the only other wizard I can think of right now, I'll finish up with him, and all I could think to say was the question: What about Merlin?

Which, you'll have to agree, is a pretty stupid question.

Was Merlin the loveable clumsy backwards-living magical guy that showed Wart the way to pull out the Sword in the Stone that Disney wants us to remember?




Or was he this sinister guy who helped Uther Pendragon rape a lady?





That clip is from Excalibur, which I remember as being the coolest swords-and-sorcery movie ever when I was a kid; of course, I ranked it that way for two reasons: (1) the armor was very shiny, and (2) it was on HBO, which meant there was nudity. I never even saw the whole thing, because my parents wouldn't let us watch it, so I'd have to be watching it with the sound way down low late at night when they thought I was watching Don Kirschner's Rock Show.

Merlin began his life as an amalgam of historical figures, including a madman and someone named "Ambrosius Aurelianus" who helped win a battle in the Fifth Century. It's a short hop from that to "being fathered by an incubus," as the Merlin of popular legend was soon said to be, and living backward, as Merlin was also supposed to do:



to being a kid, as the BBC now has it. (Because what's more family friendly than "backward living half-human son of an incubus rape assistant?)




Did Merlin have any real powers? What was he, anyway? For the definitive take on that, I went to Wikipedia, this being the only sort of thing that site is really good for.

Where I learned that things are even worse, or more interesting, or both, than I thought. At one point, Merlin was said to be the antiChrist son of the devil born to a virgin, only to have the plan foiled by the mother, who got the baby baptized (But why couldn't the Devil stop...never mind.) At other times, Merlin is a shapeshifter and a prophet, but also a dumb guy: at one point, Merlin falls in love with a woman and promises to teach her all his magic, unaware that she's going to use the magic to control him, which she then doesn't do, opting instead to imprison him in a tomb for all eternity because she's disgusted by him and his demon heritage.

(Which Merlin somehow did not foresee...never mind.)

Merlin has been featured in, by my count, lots of movies, TV shows, and books. He's met just about everyone in every place.

Which brings us to our final question:

6. Did Merlin ever meet Batman?


Yes. And it was awesome.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Just HOW does a Twinkie being attacked by an action figure fit in here? (THIS is a THING!?)


You ever just page around the Internet, skipping from site to site, looking for something good to read or catch your attention during the slower parts of The Office reruns you've been watching lately at night after the twins go to bed?

Or is that just me?

Some nights, I'm not tired really, not sleepy tired, but I am worn out, and I don't feel like reading a book or watching a new TV show and so I sort of browse the web on my phone and sort of watch The Office and sort of just veg out, and it was while I was doing that that I read this headline:


Now Photographers Working The Home Run Derby Are Planking Too

It's kind of normal for me to read headlines and think to myself: I recognize all of the words in that sentence as being English, a language I speak good and all, and yet the sentence does not make any sense.

So I had to investigate what that headline meant, which led to today's THING that THIS is:

Planking.


But first, an explanation about the picture that accompanies this post. You may remember that when I first started THIS is a THING!? I mentioned that it seemed a bit unfair that I spent 6 years working on this blog, bringing you all kinds of interesting thoughts like this actual thought I posted just over two years ago:

Is there anyone that watched all those Star Trek episodes and movies and thought "I wonder how Kirk and Spock ever met up?"

See? That's genius. And yet, despite that obvious genius (Obvious genius is the worst kind of genius) I get less hits in a lifetime than a website that posts pictures of January Jones in yoga pants does during the time it takes me to type January Jones In Yoga Pants.

Well, I am not one of those people who sits around complaining that life is unfair and then never doing nothing about it. I am one of those people, instead, who sits around complaining that life is unfair, then tries to take a picture of a Twinkie being attacked by an action figure (long story) and then does something about that unfairness I just remembered, and the way I've decided to remedy the unfairness is to do this:



That's right. January Jones is going to be the official spokesman for THIS is a THING?!, at least until she sues me to stop doing that.

But I am also mindful that there are those readers of this blog who may prefer genders that are not January Jones, and I am also mindful that I want them to keep reading, and so for those people, I am also going to, on each of these THINGS that are a THIS!?, introduce a co-spokesman for that post. And because I am not personally able to discern the appeal of the co-spokesmans, I will rely on Sweetie's ability to pick them, going off her past Hunks Of The Week, which also lets me recycle those posts, and recycling helps save the world, so, really, I am something of a superhero this morning.

This post's co-spokesman is Simon Baker. Here he is:


Enjoy!

And now, on to Planking.

What THIS THING is, in a nutshell: Planking, from what I can see, is lying down, and then having a picture taken of you. So that Deadspin story that set me off on this journey of self-, and planking-, discovery, was accompanied by this photo:



You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out what "planking" is when you see that.

Although it might help, anyway, as Sherlock Holmes also planked:




Like everything, "planking" has a more scientific name: The Lying Down Game. I learned that from Wikipedia! Where you can also, if someone decides to do it, be labeled a suspect in the Kennedy assassination.

When did THIS THING start? That's a matter of some dispute. The Star says it was invented in 1997 by two British guys, who also get credit from iamplanking.com (which says they invented it in 2000).

But a different and I'm sure VERY authoritative website doesn't mention the British guys at all. The T-Dogg and Stinga website says this:

The word planking is a dirivetive of the word plankopace, which is Latin for "artistically displaying stiffness" & originated in the 1590's when the Dutch were ferrying exotic spices around the world via sail boat. On these year long journeys they would also ferry people trying to escape their homeland. Those not fortunate enough to afford their own living quarters would travel the year long journey in the lowest poorest part of the deck sometimes not seeing light for months at a time. As it was extremely close living arrangements, a married couple wanting to engage in a sexual encounter, in fear of being caught, would lie on each other in the plank position & let the motion of the ocean rock each other forwards and backwards therefore inventing planking. When more than one couple was planking at the same time it was called plankorgy, also inventing the orgy, which was later shortened to orgy.

Planking, or plankopace^ was later outlawed in 1633 due to rogue waves causes serious injuries & the ship doctor couldn't keep up with all the plakories as described in his tell all book, "Planking, are you in?"


Now, THAT is an origin.

Also, Tom Green, who you may remember as...

...well, as having once been someone who did something or other. I don't know anymore. I just remember that I'm supposed to remember him. Or maybe I'm not...

... Tom Green claims he invented planking, back in the 1990s. But the Washington Post, which used to matter, said planking came from the movie The Program, which might have starred Tom Green.

I'm going to have to go with T-Dogg and Stinga's explanation, since as I have already long ago established, everything* was invented in the 16th Century.
*Except pancakes on a stick.
That settles that. Nobody else need debate it. Remember, at TBOE, Our opinions are righter than yours.

When did THIS THING officially pass into pop culture?

According to that article that claims British guys invented it in 1997, the popularity of "planking" a/k/a "not doing anything, much" grew when they created a Facebook page for it in 2007. Since nobody uses Facebook anymore ever since they let your uncle on it and he kept posting those links to pages reprinting, verbatim, jokes from Totally Gross Jokes VII, I won't bother posting a screen cap of that page.

Instead, I'll move on to the scandal (?) created when a group of medical personnel at a hospital in the UK posted pictures of themselves planking on medical trolleys...

... man, I wish we lived in Great Britain. How much more awesomer is life when they wheel you into an operation on a trolley instead of a gurney?



I almost wouldn't mind them taking my spleen, under those circumstances...

...and after that scandal, of course, planking caught on around the world, because who doesn't want to do exactly what British doctors do for fun? Wait until 2013, when "voting for Tories" or "carrying umbrellas" becomes all the rage*.

*Fun fact: In the UK, umbrellas are referred to as Poppinses.

But regular people doing it does not mean it's a part of pop culture. You've got to get famous people doing it, or nobody cares.

So should people start caring? Let's see: Rappers and NBA players are planking, Australian models are planking...


... and decidedly D-list celebrities are planking; all the "celebrity" planking sites are filled with stories of "celebrities" planking but those "celebrities" always turn out to be Dax Shepherd (who inexplicably is not only in show business, but more importantly/inexplicably-er, gets to date Kristen Bell!) or Katy Perry or Flavor Flav, and these are not the people pop culture is made of; these are the people E!'s summer lineup is made of.

I was about to scrap the whole thing in favor of just posting more pictures of January and Simon, but then I came across a bona fide celebrity beloved by all Americans planking away:

(Credit to @ltsmichaelkelso for the pic.) As SpongeBob goes, so goes the WORLD.

Is THIS THING still going on? We are at the epoch... am I using that right? Epoch? Apparently, I'm close. I'm going to go with it. (Take that, Updike!) We are at the epoch of planking; that SpongeBob picture was posted June 28, 2011, which means that this is the point in time when planking is at its most popular! Go out and plank! Right now! Before it gets old and you look stupid and people say "Oh, yeah, I remember that. Huh." when you show them your pictures on your cell phone, the way people last month were saying "Oh, yeah, I remember that. Huh." about Diablo Cody's career.

And... it's over. You missed it. Sorry, people who want to plank, but you forgot the Universal Rule of What Kills A THING:

It's over when someone older than you tells you about it. So, again, I've killed it off for many people, but more damage was done by this man:



That's M. Myers Mermel, a former Republican candidate for New York governor, planking.

It's over. When Republicans do something, that thing dies.


Can You Sum Up Planking For People Who Skimmed Through This Post And Just Want A Quick Takeaway?

I can 100% guarantee you that no later than November, 2012, there will be a planking reference on one of the CSIs or Law & Orders. I will also be so bold as to say that the plot will involve someone being wrongly accused of running over her ex, when the ex was in fact, planking and got run over by some random stranger.

Or maybe it'll be on The Mentalist?



Read more THIS is a THING?!'s here.