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The first forty-five were mistakes, the forty-sixth an accident

[ 189 ] February 11, 2013 |

The headline at the LA Times reads “Torrance neighborhood edgy after mistaken shootings,” and the phrase “mistaken shootings” refers to the fact that there have been multiple incidents in which Los Angeles and Torrance police officers have opened fired on people who don’t remotely resemble proud cop-killer Christopher Jordan Dorner: two Latina women delivering papers for the Times and a white man sneaking in a morning surf. But calling these incidents “mistaken shootings” downplays both the extent of the mistake and the severity of the shootings. Consider the state of the truck driven by the Times employees:

I’m not sure what I find more disturbing: the fact that two members of the LAPD put at least forty-six bullets in the back of that truck or that the barrage only wounded the two women in the truck. Not that I wish them further injury, mind you, only that I’m uncomfortable with the level of incompetence such “marksmanship” seems to suggest, because the police are out in terrible force and they are angry. If you live where I do, you don’t need to watch the news conferences or know that over 50 members of the force (and their families) are in protective custody to notice, and feel unsettled by, the heightened police presence in Riverside and Orange and LA counties. I literally can’t go to the doughnut store without having to stand behind four grumpy sleep-deprived cops.* I understand why the 15 and 91 were crawling with police vehicles last Thursday, as Dorner shot the officers in Corona a few miles from my apartment, but given that the search is now centered around Big Bear, I’m not sure why the continued police presence is necessary.

Especially when, since the “mistaken shootings” that happened last week, people who drive pickup trucks of any make and model are being encouraged to find alternative means of transportation until Dorner is dead or custody.** Because you never know when an angry sleep-addled cop who can barely hit the back of an SUV will open fire on you because of who you could be, but clearly aren’t. Having a standing army of incompetent shots occupy a few counties may not be the best way to calm civilian nerves. This strikes me as generally true, but even more so when the only stated targets are cops and the only victims unrelated to law enforcement personnel have been shot, mistakenly, by law enforcement personnel.

*By which I mean, when I went to the doughnut store this  morning, I had to stand behind four grumpy sleep-deprived cops.

**This despite the fact that the burnt husk of the truck in question was located on Saturday night.

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The Loomis Brothers’ Super Bowl Podcast

[ 12 ] January 31, 2013 |

A.k.a. “Why you don’t let SEK name your podcast,” is now available:

Download it here, and subscribe here.

Peter Jackson and “Competitive Realism”

[ 57 ] January 28, 2013 |

An old (and far more talented) friend of mine responded to the discussion Rob and I had about frame rate:

The choice to go from 24 fps to 48 fps was that some filmmakers really hated the strobing effect when the camera pans in 3-D versions of movies. Their solution was to up the frame rate—giving the filmmaker more information to play around with. Honestly, the 24 fps strobing never bothered me, cause if you are telling your story right, little nitpicks like the don’t enter the mind of your audience.

For reasons unclear even to me, I responded to his gentle correction with A Brief and Inadequate History of Special Effects:

I didn’t want to get too technical in the podcast, but I was hinting at that: 3-D created a problem that didn’t previously exist, and the solution is worse than the original problem. No more strobing, but now the effects are so obviously “special” that we may as well be watching the original Clash of the Titans. An incredible film, don’t get me wrong, it just required a superhuman suspension of disbelief. Which at the time was fine, because “special effects” like George Reeves flashing across the sky were meant to be “special,” outside of the ordinary, and didn’t need to look as if they were of this world or obeyed its laws of physics.

I tend to think George Lucas ruined this fantastical acceptance of the specialness of “special” effects when he married recognizably modernist styles with space stations and star ships—the Millennium Falcon could’ve been a Le Corbusier, the stormtroopers come from the mind of an Italian fascist, and half the scenery consisted of the same brutalist style that litters my campus. Point being, his realist aesthetic made “special” effects look quaint, the people who loved them rubes, and that’s where we’ve been ever since. Realism or naught! Realism or naught! (With a few exceptions, Del Toro notably among them.)

So I could understand why Jackson wanted The Hobbit to accede to the demands of the regnant style, but in doing so he utterly ruined his film. I mentioned in the podcast that the best scene in the film, Bilbo’s encounter with Gollum, looked like exactly what it was: Martin Freeman in front of a green screen talking to a man in ping-pong ball covered suit. (I know that’s not how they do it anymore but you know what I mean.) It looked like Jackson had decided to avoid the uncanny valley by introducing its monstrous child to an actual human being and hoping the audience wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. I’m not going to say it made me want to cry, but I’m not going to deny I teared up a bit at the sheer waste of it all.

Like you, I’m more interested in the story, so if the technological advances can be integrated into it—like the conference tables in Avatar—I’m fine with that because it complements the narrative. But I don’t even think we need 3-D. It took us millions of years to develop the particular sort of stereoscopic vision we have, and our brains react to an “occupied periphery” the same way now as they did before: by flooding our bodies with hormones that make us nervous, tense, excited, afraid, etc. Since our eyes still point forward, you don’t need anything more fancy than an IMAX to occupy our peripheries, and I’m fine with that.

I thought I was talking about special effects and their more cloyingly “special” forbears, but the real sore spot for me here is the blind lionization of a limited definition of “realism.” Don’t misunderstand me: I find relocating fantastic narratives to a world that resembles ours an admirable endeavor. Heath Ledger’s interpretation of the “Joker” outstrips Jack Nicholson’s because we don’t need a vat of quasi-mystical chemical slurry to believe that a child of neglect and poverty might come to resent those he believes kicked him down to choke him out. I’m all for grounding narratives that occur in fictional worlds in ones that mostly obey the rules of ours. I’m on board with Battlestar Galactica and (though I’ll never admit it) I even watch Arrow. But the “reality” of “realism” has to amount to more than a little extra grease smeared on the walls of some backlot “Brooklyn.” Because when “competitive realism” becomes a sport the audience always loses. Embracing filth for love of the slop as an ethos would be one thing, but embracing it as an aesthetic out of devotion to an empty notion of what constitutes “realism” is more than just a thing:

Read more…

Name our production studio(s)!

[ 123 ] January 26, 2013 |

In the first podcast, Lawyers, Guns and Money presented a Lawyers, Guns and Money Production. Which is all well-and-fine for a first podcast, but as we’re mere decades away from monetizing the Internet, I think we need names that are more representative than repetitious. In the comments to Other Scott’s recent post, I suggested that Lawyers, Guns and Money should present

  • A Head on a Stick Production
  • An Internet Tradition Production
  • A Pancakes for Jenny Production

I was thinking we needed one studio, but there’s no reason each of us can’t have our own. For example, Hogan won the Internet by nominating Erik to be the CEO of

  • Control the Means of Production Productions

Also, Njorl pointed out that we don’t need to stick to “Productions,” but somehow missed the opportunity to note that our next podcast could be a Pancakes for Jenny Joint.

So I appeal to your vast knowledge of all Internet Traditions to help us figure out who we should be. The winner(s) will receive fleeting acclaim on a mid-level political-and-whatever-it-is-I-do blog and possibly an invitation to participate in a forthcoming podcast. Have at it!

How to Subscribe to Lawyers, Guns & Money: The Podcast

[ 14 ] January 25, 2013 |

If for some inconceivable reason you prefer your podcast clean-shaven, you can skip watching Rob and I debate the merits of The Hobbit and download it in .mp3 format or listen to the lot of us discussing all sorts of things in the years to come by subscribing to the RSS feed for the new podcast (We’ll also slap a link to it in the sidebar shortly.)

The .mp3 is a little bare-bones at this moment—striking a balance between Hannity and NPR without sounding like the mutant child of Steven A. Smith and Ira Glass is exactly as difficult as it sounds—but I’ll be working on introductions and segues and reminders that unlike its competitors, Lawyers, Guns & Money is a user-supported blog that can’t continue to provide the coverage of whatever it is we cover without the continued support of readers like you. So if you have a used car that’s just sitting in the garage collecting dust, considering donating it to me because mine’s making this cluh-tunk-a-tunk sound every time I accelerate. Where was I?

That’s right: one danger of having the deaf guy in charge of the volume knob is that what sounds right to me might cause you immediate and permanent damage, but I think I’ve got the volume and volume-leveling of the .mp3 within the normal range. If not just drop me a line.

An Awesome & Mighty Thing, This First Ever Lawyers, Guns & Money Podcast Is

[ 66 ] January 25, 2013 |

It features Yours Truly and the Farley fellow you see primping there in preview—or wearing a hat, now that I had to re-upload the video—and we’re talking about The Hobbit. You’re … welcome?

It goes without saying that there are kinks to work out—if only because I’m in charge of the production—and that while many Internet Traditions are honored, some are violated. Case in point: the blog’s beloved ampersand is a monstrosity in the font the rest of the credits need to be in. (I promise that sentence will make perfect sense once you watch it.) An “enhanced” audio file will be available shortly, though I can’t vouch for the quality of said “enhancements” because we haven’t figured out what they’ll be yet outside of “enhanced.”

But fear not! You’ll learn many things in this podcast, including (but not limited to) which of you lot inspire us to invent gang signs just so we can throw some in your honor. And also many things about The Hobbit.  Enjoy!

[Rob] Apparently I make extremely effective martinis…

Fellowship of the Ring: Conventions of Genre, Sorta Kinda Part the Second

[ 181 ] January 24, 2013 |

(Actual Part the First can be found here.)

The answer to the question of why some films are more re-watchable than others seems, to me, a matter of unpredictability of shot selection. We can all watch episodes of Law & Order half-asleep because we all know that any close-up of one character’s face will reverse to a close-up of his or her interlocutor’s. (The possibility of deviating from the script-bible is basically asymptotic: the staleness of the formula makes it look increasingly likely but it can’t ever actually happen.) And despite my general objections to Fellowship I’ll admit that its iconic scenes are rightly remembered because Peter Jackson bucked his horror roots and embraced an unpredictability that verges on randomness. To wit, consider the scene-setting that preceded Gandalf’s most infamous exclamation, which begins half-way through the mines of Moria with a close-up on Gandalf:

Fellowship of the ring00004
Did I say “close-up”? I meant “extreme close-up,” because Jackson’s lopped off the top of his head. That might not seem so important, but consider it in more mundane terms, for example, if this were a picture you took of a friend at a party. How happy would your friend be with a photograph in which he’d been a “bit” beheaded? How would you feel about framing your friend’s face such that it shared the spotlight with a few lines of mortar and some unfocused negative space? This shot feels wrong because it violates the conventions that makes Law & Order and the like such successful soporifics. It’s an ugly and unbalanced shot, but I’d wager it’s meant to discomfit, if only because Jackson’s going to repeat it so frequently in the next three minutes that this is the last time I’m going to mention it. Just remember that it’s wrong to borrow chunks of people’s heads for rhetorical effect. From here Jackson cuts to Frodo:

Read more…

Damn it, Bill

[ 73 ] January 21, 2013 |

I defended Obama against Althouse et al.‘s unfounded and visually illiterate accusations, but I just can’t bring myself to back the Big Dog when he’s so obviously enjoying the view:

Because nobody has any other reason to read.

[ 43 ] January 13, 2013 |

LITTLE KID comes to SEK’s door to retrieve the basketball he launched onto SEK’s porch.

LITTLE KID: Hi. My basketball landed on your—WOW. You have so many books!

SEK: I know, I’m a tea—

LITTLE KID: ARE YOU A WIZARD?

SEK: Why else would I have so many books?

LITTLE KID: (turning around) MOM HE’S A WIZARD! I MET A WIZARD!

SEK: Let me get you your—

LITTLE KID: WIIIIIIZZZZZZAAAAAARRRRRRDDDDDD!

As long as the “conversation” about guns concerns hypotheticals about fictions …

[ 38 ] December 31, 2012 |

… I don’t see the harm in adding more fictions to the hypotheticals. Given that the opposition’s evidence is the “millions” of home-invasions that’ve been thwarted yearly, or most probably even hourly, by gun-savvy Common People Who Love The Constitution More Than Dirty Liberals Do, I don’t see why Dirty Liberals oughta restrict themselves to reality. And so:

Q.E.D.

CHRISTMAS!

[ 54 ] December 20, 2012 |

Copyright (c) 1980, 1982, 1983, 2006 Sekocom, Inc.  All rights reserved.
CHRISTMAS! is a registered trademark of Sekocom, Inc.
Revision 23 / Serial number 8940726

West of Apartment Complex

You are standing in an open field west of a white apartment complex, with a boarded front door.  There is a small mailbox here.

> go home

You turn to your left and find yourself at an airport. The line of weary parents and unsupervised children snakes around the airport twice.

> stand line

You find the first available line and deposit yourself and your luggage at the end of it. In front of you is a college student of indeterminate age with suspect hygiene. To your right is an incontinent child.

> ignore

You are unable to ignore the stale sweat with its hints of Adderall and vodka. The child to your right is making a face.

> stop face

You grab the child by the face. Its father lunges at you. He is carrying the child, a camera case, a man-purse, a laptop bag, a carry-on, three large suitcases, his wife’s hat and two pairs of sunglasses.

> fuck him

Are you sure you want to do that here?

> fine punch dad

You strike the father in the face and make contact with one pair of sunglasses, a camera case, a carry-on, one large suitcase and his wife’s hat. The child resumes making a face.

> stop face

You grab the child by the face. Its mother lunges at you. She is carrying a copy of 50 Shades of Grey, a lady-purse, a child’s car-seat and a pet-carrier containing a small yapping animal.

> kick mom

You kick the mother in her lady-purse. She throws 50 Shades of Grey at your head but it strikes the unkempt college student in his. As he turns around she drops the pet-carrier and looses the small yapping animal. The family chases after it as screams of “Rat! Rat!” echo through the terminal.

> cut in line

You occupy the place vacated by the family. A few of your fellows-in-line shoot you disapproving looks but they are too demoralized to care. Five hours later you reach the ticket counter and receive your boarding pass.

> bout fucking time

There is no one here for you to fuck. You walk to your gate and await the initiation of boarding procedures. Hours pass. Centuries. Kingdoms rise and fall. Great men are born and die alone on sodden streets. Women are elected to offices higher and highest. Hot coffee spills from your tilted cup onto your most sensitive parts.

> GET IT OFF

The coffee has soaked through your boxers and threatens to weld them to your skin. Your favorite bits will never work again.

> JUST A DREAM

This is no dream.

> JUST A DREAM

You are wide awake and in unimaginable pain. You begin to imagine life a life without–

> AM DREAMING AND CAN NARRATE OWN LIFE. PRECIOUS BITS ARE FINE. COMPUTER LIES.

You begin to imagine life with–

> GRUE! AM LIKELY TO BE EATEN BY GRUE!

You are?

> YES PLEASE GRUE PLEASE NOW!

Because its jaws are fearsome and it loves coffee …

[Previous installments include DISADVENTURE!DISADDENDUM!, DISMORALIZED!DISINSOMNIA!WHARTON!GRADING!DISBELIEF! and DISCONVENTION!.]

What is “violent rhetoric”? Redux

[ 105 ] December 19, 2012 |

The conservatives currently hounding Erik clearly never read this post. If they had, they’d realize that there’s a difference between a gun control advocate saying someone needs to be shot and a gun rights advocate doing the same. Rhetoric is only “violent” when its intent is encourage violent acts to a receptive audience. Putting the head of a President on a pike in a television show that appeals to violent barbarians is one thing — being a labor historian who “demands” the head of a paramilitary organization “on a stick” is another entirely. Not a single member of Erik’s Twitter audience took his tweet as an incitement to violence. The same couldn’t be said, for example, if Wayne LaPierre had tweeted the very same thing about someone trying to take away his right to bear fully automatic weapons with extended magazines. Why?

Because LaPierre’s audience includes heavily armed people prone to violence, whereas Erik’s consists of pacifistic homosexual tree-huggers.*

The long and short of it is simple: if you come upon a discussion of rhetoric in which people completely ignore the issue of audience, don’t take them seriously because they’re not making a rhetorical argument.

*I must add that I’m impressed: Erik got someone to read his dissertation. That kind of suckering is Internet Tradition-worthy if ever anything was.

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