RECOMMENDED READ: “Angel, Monster, Man” (with props to @sentencebender and @nightmaremag)

I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like this (and the audio version—also free on the Nightmare Magazine website—is really good).  

Nominally a horror story, Sam J. Miller’s “Angel, Monster, Man” is, in fact, a really interesting piece of speculative fiction.  Gets me thinking about how frequently fiction that speculates on a disenfranchised group getting power gets slotted into “horror”—and once you start thinking that way, all horror starts to look like a liberation fantasy as seen through the establishment’s eyes: Is Night of the Living Dead more about zombies, or more about the terror experienced by rural whites and the patriarchy when confronted with a competent black man? Is The Exorcist about demon possession or the threat of women’s liberation (see also, Carrie)?  Is Psycho about a “psycho” or about the terrifying prospect of homosexuals no longer shackled by shame/guilt?

This Trick is Incredible Because It Isn’t Even a Trick

I’ve seen several recorded performances of this trick, and watched it live at least once—and yet this is the first time it dawned on me that there is no trick to this trick.  (i.e., I’d bet that if you take just a moment to think about this—even if you’ve never touched a nail gun before—you can think of at least two totally different ways to modify a stock nail gun or fabricate a fako, and once you accept that the nail fun is gaffed, then there isn’t a memory trick at all, just some patter).

In fact, there’s a degree to which this trick is about the trick’s tricklessness, if you catch my meaning: It’s about delivery and panache and the fascination that comes with the risk of grievous bodily harm. It is an amped up, thoroughly Modern America version of Barnum’s wonderful(!), stupendous(!!!), incomparable(!!!) Egress.

BONUS: Penn & Teller’s greatest of misdirections—They get you caught up on the idea of being live and doing camera tricks, thus distracting you from the obvious explanation revealed at the end—AND THE FACT THAT THEY DO USE CAMERA TRICKS[1]!!!

Continue reading “This Trick is Incredible Because It Isn’t Even a Trick”

“Of Archival Interest Only” (on artists who behave despicably)—UPDATED

I normally would have skipped this (“Vulture—Louis CK Is Done”), because I don’t particularly care for Louis C.K.’s work one way or the other.  But do yourself a favor and give this article read; it’s bigger than this moment, and starts to get its arms around something that we finally need to wrestle down:

When disturbing stories about respected artists come from the distant past, we treat them dispassionately, as just one detail among many. Present tense or near-present tense revelations hit us differently because we share the same world as the artist, breathe the same air, feed the same economy. We think of them as contemporaries, even as people we know. This kind of revelation changes the relationship between the artist and the art, in a way that places an unasked-for, unfair burden on the audience. This is what’s happening culture-wide. And it’s not the fault of people who didn’t report it, or audiences who aren’t sophisticated enough to separate the art from the artist. It’s the fault of the artists for being secret creeps or criminals, and the fault of the system for making it possible for them to act this way for years without being punished.

UPDATE:If you’re the sort of person who uses storytelling to help them understand the world, then this horror story might maybe help you understand Louis CK right now: “Hello, Handsome

Start NaNoWriMo Right! Smash Writers Bloc!

Lots of you are creative sorts, and all creative sorts struggle with the same million-faced goblin, under a variety of: Writer’s Block, procrastination, “activation energy,” the Lil Hater, Imposter Syndrome, not inspired, “so busy!”, obligations, etc.

I’ve spent pretty much my entire adult life wrestling this same sinister, slippery blob, and talking with other creative folk about what we each do to try and wrangle that ass-jackal into a corner so we can Get Shit Done.

I’d like to share the choicest bits with you.  Learn to:

  • Use “Sprint Bursts” to build your writing muscles
  • Eat the frog and puke up the draft
  • Harness the power of the Pomodoro
  • Work with “The Guys Downstairs” to do the heavy lifting before you sit down to write

This is all wrapped up in a tidy little week-long clinic, waling you through the process of laying the groundwork for a solid Daily Writing Ritual.  The clinic is totally free, with no lingering hassles.  This list doesn’t get combined with my newsletter or anything else, and there is no hard sell, because I don’t have anything to sell.  Just the benefit of my experience and that of the other writers I know.  Sign up, get the first email the following Monday, and the final check-in/thank you a week later.  That’s it.

Wanna invest 10 minutes a day into getting the words flowing?  Check it out:

Clearflow Creative Writing Clinic

How Samsung, Disney, and You Bankrolled North Korea’s Nuclear Program

If you’ve been wondering how North Korea (a nation of 26 million people with 7x the population and ~1/10th the GDP of the Detroit Metro Area) paid for a very fast-moving nuclear and ballistic missile program—SPOILER ALERT!: You paid for it, asshole.

Episode 800: North Korea’s Capitalists

see also:  “We Have Entered the Zone of Maximum Mayhem

The Devil’s Craft Project: Go Superdog, GO!

I found this image in a note on my computer labelled “The Devil’s Craft Project: Go Superdog, GO!

I don’t know where I found it.  I don’t know why I saved it.  I don’t know what I intended to do with it.

But … just … man, right?  The past is hella fucked up at every turn.

Go Superdog, GO!
Go Superdog, GO!

The Last Selvedge Denim Mill in the U.S. is Closing #America

The Cone Mills plant in Greensboro, N.C. has been continuously weaving denim since 1905, and is currently the only U.S. plant producing selvedge denim.  They’re calling it quits at the end of this year.

Selvedge” is a specific style of denim produced in broad strips on relatively narrow shuttle looms using a continuous weft such that the edge is automatically finished—i.e., it produces a “self-edged” bolt of fabric that won’t unravel (if you’re looking at denim and the edge of the seam is white with a single thread of color—often red—then you’re looking at selvedge denim).  Because it’s produced in narrower strips on shuttle looms (and usually with un-dyed weft), the fabric has certain characteristics in how it breaks in and ages, both in terms of fit and coloration.  Some folks dig these.  Other folks just dig putting their money where their mouth is, in terms of “Buying American.”  I kinda like to do both, so I’m kinda bummed that Cone Mills is rolling up.  Certainly the generations of weavers in Greensboro are bummed.

By the end of this year, you’ll only be able to get this prototypically American fabric from Japan.  That’s still great selvedge (hell, it’s made on American machines: Japan bought them up in the 1980s when Levi’s et al. made the shift to larger looms), but it’s a bummer that this once uniquely American product is going extinct.

The only upside:  When you see some Stars-and-Bars waving asshole in blue jeans popping off about “foreign manufacturing” next year, you’ll know he’s wearing jeans from Vietnam, and thus can go fuck himself. He didn’t put his money where his mouth was, and subsequently American selvedge denim died.  That’s how economies work. Way to “Make America Great Again,” bro.

Anyway, if you’ve been thinking about getting into high-quality American-made denim, it’s sorta now or never.  Brave Star is my go-to company on this: Incredibly reasonable prices given the quality, nice cuts, excellent craftsmanship, solid customer service, 100% American made: The denim is from N.C., the hardware from KY, the cutting and sewing in California.

usa-american-flag-waving-animated-gif-26

This is a Kinda Rapey Application of Steve Shaw’s “Psychokinetic Touches”

OK, at first blush, this seems like nothing more than a mildly sexist—but still basically harmless—”invisible touches” routine: Magician has a volunteer stand with her eyes closed as she pays super-duper sensitive attention to any physical contact she might perceive.  He then steps well away—way, way too far to have any direct or indirect (e.g., creating a draft, blowing on her, tickling her with threads) contact.  As witnesses watch (confirming that Magician never makes contact), he is able to make the subject believe she’s been touched (in this case, that her boobs have been squeezed)—simply by the power of his psychical abilities!

Tada!

(Here’s another vid of the same dude.  Note that he puts in our heads the notion of an unambiguous boob squeeze, but that his volunteers consistently describe a tap high on the chest.  That gap—between his implication that he’s honking their boobs contrasted to the women’s implication that this is more of a light tap—is the tell.)

Yes, this dude is a creep, and his impinging on women’s time and space and totally leveraging huge cultural forces that oblige them to smile through bullshit like this.

But it’s still basically harmless, right?  I mean, he isn’t actually touching their boobs while they are defenseless and non-consenting, right?  It’s just a trick.

Accept for the thing is, he is for real and with his actual physical flesh-and-blood hands, touching these women’s breasts without their prior consent, and only getting away with it because he’s manipulating the situation owing to an information (and thus power) imbalance.  And, in a move that’s both cheap from a magic performance perspective and indicative of a guilty conscious on the part of an assailant, he mostly cuts from the video the part where he does the touching.

Because he is indeed a fucking creep of the first degree.

Psychokinetic Touches Background

Back in the mid-1990s a guy named Steve Shaw was selling an effect called “Psychokinetic Touches.”  Shaw himself is a really, really interesting guy (as is the pre-Internet—and even current—market in cheaply printed pro-grade performance techniques like these).  Shaw he designed Penn & Teller’s famous bullet catch, although I myself first got wind of him in the 1980s, when I was a kid and he was a teen working with James Randi to fool some ESP researchers; Shaw caught my imagination then because of how straightforward and cunning his techniques were.

None of that is really germane, accept for the fact that if you maybe spend some time googling “Steve Shaw” and “Psychokinetic Touches”, you’ll dig up a blurry PDF of the old comb-bound booklet explaining his technique (which is marked by the straightforward cunning of Shaw’s work).  If you do so, you’ll note that in the introduction to that work Shaw explains his inspiration: a routine from the early 1900s that is the totally obvious inspiration for the YouTube creepers stunt.

I.e., not only is dude a creepy perv, but he’s also an unoriginal creepy perv.  *sighs*

(I myself got acquainted with Shaw’s PK Touches after seeing this bit on Penn & Teller’s Fool Us, which is basically 100% textbook Shaw, and an overall better effect and performance.)

At any rate, here’s an overview of Shaw’s “Psychokinetic Touches” routine:

Effect

The performer selects a volunteer from the audience, and explains that blah-blah psychic blah-blah ghosts blah-blah From Beyond—and for that reason, he is able to physically touch a receptive individual with nothing more than his mind.  He then makes some gestures to “clear the volunteer’s aura” (or whatever) and steps far away.  Now, standing much too far away to conceivably physical reach the volunteer, and in full view of an audience (who can be surrounding the pair on all sides), the performer makes his cooky touch-touch gestures—and low and behold!, the astonished volunteer can confirm that she has been touched(!!!)

Technique

I won’t spoil the whole thing, but SPOILER ALERT!!! [1]: Dude is not a psychic or ghost wrangler or whatever.  Here’s the basic schtick:  The performer gives his little spiel, then has the volunteer close her eyes.  At this stage he explains a few more things—reminding her to be “psychically receptive” and super attentive to even the lightest contact.  He shuts up, does his little “aura cleansing,” and steps away to do his mambo-jahambo magical passes and psychic touching, singling out certain parts of the body (the right shoulder, the left elbow—whatever).  N.B.  Everything he’s done since advising her to be super attentive and receptive has happened in absolute silence.  The next time he speaks is to ask “Have you felt any contact?”  He than has her indicate where that contact was on her body.  Lo and behold, she reports being touched in all the right places.  OMFG!  How did he do it?!  And here comes the spoiler:

HE TOUCHED HER DURING THE “AURA CLEANING.”

From the audience’s perspective, this isn’t part of the trick yet, so they are not being super diligent; he has an easy pass to brush her gently.  But remember, he’s fallen silent and the volunteer’s eyes are closed: She has no frame of reference for what’s going on, and thus from her perspective everything from when he stops talking on is part of the trick.  Her perceptions are temporally out-of-synch with the audiences’, and they have no easy way to rectify that, even after the fact.

Here is a more benign version of PK Touches, and the tell is more obvious. Watch carefully at 1:55: when the performer waves his left hand in front of her face, he surreptitiously taps the back of her left shoulder with his right hand.  This is largely obscured owing to how he’s positioned the volunteer relative to the audience and cameras—blocking Shaw suggests in his PK Touches.  The waving-arms misdirect is also straight out of Shaw’s PK Touch.  (Peter Boie uses Shaw’s exact stage business at 3:13 in the Penn & Teller video I linked up above.)  Once you know what to look for, it’s pretty easy to spot the Creep-o-Perv Magician moving into the “magic passes”(/secret boobie poke) portion of his routine around the 0:34 mark in the video embedded above, when he squares up the girl’s shoulders.

Bad Touches and Bad Jokes

And I’m gonna come correct right here: I don’t know what annoys me more:  A skeevy dude using a decades-old store-bought routine to non-consensually poke girls’ in the bust, or the fact that he has so little respect for his craft that he resorts to cheap “camera tricks” to pull it off.

Naw, I take it back:  What annoys me most is using a third-rate performance of a first-rate effect to make a jokey pantomime of sexual assault in order to cover up the actual sexual assault you just perpetrated, ’cause it so clearly gets to the heart of what enrages me about the “Lighten up; it’s just a joke!” attitude toward minimizing the crazy-making reality of microagressions:  The problem isn’t the stupid joke, but the very real assaults the jokes conceal.

Continue reading “This is a Kinda Rapey Application of Steve Shaw’s “Psychokinetic Touches””

At the urging of @dhelder I listened to this…

and learned that, if you wanna know what it’s like being me, microdose LSD.

Episode #44—”Shine On You Crazy Goldman”—from Reply All

(DISCLOSURE: I have indeed dropped acid. It made me almost entirely unbearably me-like.  None of this constitutes an endorsement of anything other than this particular episode of this podcase.)