Inhuman Swill : Page 33
Why is my blog called Inhuman Swill? Because you can unscramble the pieces to make William Shunn.

Hook, line and Dan Sinker


Dan Sinker, a/k/a @MayorEmanuel, appeared on The Colbert Report Tuesday night, and I have to say he hit it out of the park. Occasionally a guest will say something so funny or bizarre that Colbert has nothing to say in response. Sinker did it twice.

The first clip here sets up the interview in the second clip:

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Hanging Squirrel 6
It's a good thing I don't believe in omens or I'd probably think that 2011 is fucked. One of the first sights I saw on New Year's Day, when I was out walking the dog in the morning, was a dead squirrel hanging from power lines where they attached to the second story of house in our neighborhood.

The squirrel looked perfectly intact. It was hard to tell how it died. Maybe it had a heart attack. Maybe it froze to death. Maybe it touched a bare spot on one of the wires and fried. Whatever happened, I found the sight of it fascinating and compelling. After I took Ella home, I went back with our good camera and took as many pictures of it as I could.

Over the following days I kept checking on the poor creature. It appeared to be gripping one of the higher wires with its back paws, while it's body was draped over a lower wire. I thought it would likely fall off soon, or that someone would remove it, but as days turned into weeks the squirrel just kept hanging there. At first I found this encouraging. As January turned to February, though, I found it more and more disturbing.

Laura and I considered leaving a note on the front door of the house, reasoning that perhaps the residents had never looked up and seen the dead squirrel decorating their home, but we never did. Then, a couple of weeks ago, we were walking Ella together past the house. A compact SUV was parked at the curb, and three young children were carrying things from the house to the vehicle while a parent loaded the back.

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By the way, I've also meant to point out that [info]rjl20 captured the entire @MayorEmanuel feed in chronological order, together with most of the mentions to which he deigned to respond. Read the whole motherfucking thing at:

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Tonight's reading, and more

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I don't say enough here about Tuesday Funk, the reading series at Hopleaf that I co-produce and co-host with Sara Ross. We have a great show coming tonight, with a lineup that includes Joe Weintraub, Keith Ecker, Maggie Kast, Steven H Silver, and Jenny Seay. I'll even read one of my poems (which is what I normally do, at least when I'm not reading someone else's).

We bill Tuesday Funk as Chicago's Eclectic Monthly Reading Series. We feature essays, poetry, short stories, and less categorizable performances in all genres of writing, but since being asked to help out with the series I've tried to shine a light where I can on science fiction. This month I'm very pleased to have [info]shsilver on the bill, and in future months we'll have [info]brad_beaulieu, [info]finitemonkey, and even a night featuring participants from this summer's Wellspring Workshop.

All of which is by way of saying, please come out and hang with us tonight! Hopleaf is at 5148 N. Clark St. in Chicago. The reading takes place in the upstairs lounge. Seating begins at 7:00 pm, the reading at 7:30 pm. Arrive early or stand! Click the image below for more info:

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@MayorEmanuel unmasked

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Dan Sinker is @MayorEmanuel
The man behind the curtain has been revealed. Well, really, he came out from behind the curtain himself. As reported by Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic, @MayorEmanuel is Dan Sinker, a journalism instructor at Columbia College in Chicago, and one of the founders and editors of the zine Punk Planet.

Having myself waxed rapturous over the @MayorEmanuel tweet stream, I can't help but feel a little disappointed that the mystery is no longer a mystery. I'm not nearly as disappointed as Jim DeRogatis is, because, hey, that Twitter account was a brilliant, engrossing, and uplifting example of a new form of literature, accidental as that might have been, and its author has every right to reap the benefits of his achievement. My disappointment is more that of a fan for whom part of the thrill was the not knowing, and the hope that we would never know. Did you honestly want to know for certain whether or not that top in Inception was ever going to stop spinning? I didn't.

But to be pragmatic, it was probably better that Dan Sinker control the revelation than that someone else out him, which no doubt would have happened sooner or later. And at least now we know whom to nominate for that Hugo next year in the Best Related Work category. (Hey, Chicago in 2012!)

Hats off, Mr. Sinker. As your character wrote: "Only things that fucking suck never end: look at laundry, or dishes."

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Into the time vortex!

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The most entertaining and rewarding piece of fiction of the past six months has been, without a doubt, the Twitter stream of @MayorEmanuel. (Sorry, Mongoliad.)

@MayorEmanuel is, or was, a delightfully profane Rahm Emanuel impersonator whose tweets started appearing six months ago, after the real Emanuel expressed his intention to enter the Chicago mayoral race. (Tagline: Your next motherfucking mayor. Get used to it, assholes.) The tweets were drop-dead funny—so much so that I'm sure I retweeted them more frequently than I've retweeted anyone else's—but at first seemed like little more than an amusing and perceptive piss-take on the real Rahm and Chicago politics.

But then a surprising thing happened. Characters from @MayorEmanuel's entourage began to develop, some based on real people (David Axelrod), others fictional (Carl the Intern, Quaxelrod the mustachioed duck). Storylines began to emerge. Riffing off the real ups and downs of the Emanuel campaign, the daily news, and even the weather, the tweets led followers through the dark underbelly of a fantastical Chicago populated by celebrities and politicians, by the famous and the infamous, by the living and the dead alike, with the gang often tooling around town in Axelrod's beloved but increasingly damaged Honda Civic. (Even the real Rahm tried to insert himself into the story, famously offering a large donation to charity if the anonymous author would come forward.)

From Jane Byrne's secret dungeon to a harrowing ride through the flooded sewers beneath City Hall, from New Year's Eve bacchanalia with Kanye West to Mayor Daley's secret celery dome, the story blended an insider's knowledge of the minutiae of Chicago politics and an intimate familiarity with the geography of the city with a stew of pop-culture references and jaw-droppingly absurdist comic sensibility to create a prodigious, profane, and ultimately moving kaleidoscope world that nonetheless captured the essence of this city-like-no-other. Wilco and Gene Siskel, Groupon and Threadless, even celery salt, that key ingredient of the Chicago dog, all get their moment in the spotlight.

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Kanab family values

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Almost exactly five years ago, I called your attention here to a brouhaha in the small town of Kanab, Utah, over the adoption by the city council of a non-binding resolution defining the family as "one man, one woman" with a "full quiver" of children. A few months later, Laura and I visited Kanab (a town founded by Mormon polygamists), where we were pleased to see many businesses opposing the resolution with "Everyone Welcome Here!" stickers in their windows.

I wish I'd known sooner, but I've just learned that there's a documentary out about the whole controversy:

Natural Family Values

I can't vouch for the quality, not having seen it yet, but you can be sure I'm ordering a copy and will watch it with interest.

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Donald William Shunn
Today my father would have been 75 years old, had he not succumbed to complications from prostate cancer nearly three years ago. I want to post something about the old man, but the closest thing I have to a remembrance at hand is the second chapter from the latest in-progress revision of my memoir. It's not exactly complimentary on the whole, but it does attempt to trace the trials my father went through trying to secure a better future for his family, which I believe he succeeded at—even if he died doubting it.

By the way, I was in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago and I hunted down the house in Highland Park where we lived until I was six. My mother had warned me that I really didn't want to visit that neighborhood, but since when have I ever listened to my parents' advice? Anyway, the neighborhood was just fine—quiet, even. The house, perched on hill on Aldama Street between Avenues 53 and 54, was much, much smaller than I remembered. And there were parrots squawking in a tall tree overhead.

In 1984 my father and I were driving back roads somewhere east of Victorville in the California desert when he sprang a terrifying question on me. "Son," he asked, "do you want to serve a mission?"

I didn't know what to say. This was something I'd never been asked before, at least not in a way that betrayed any genuine interest in how I felt. I must have fielded that stock question hundred of times growing up, from relatives, family friends, and people at church, and the expected yes was always my reflexive answer. But the look on my father's face told me this time was different.

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The amp
First off, I must say that I made it home and back safely.

There was some debate about whether or not this month's Tuesday Funk reading would even happen, what with the blizzard and all going on here in Chicago. Hopleaf's opinion was that snow doesn't tend to keep audiences away as much as rain does, so we should go ahead and do it.

And I have to say, they were right. At least in a sense.

With so much snow predicted to fall, I didn't want to take the car over to Clark Street, so I tied our bass amp up tight inside two blue garbage bags, picked up the mike stand, and staggered the (according to Google Maps) 0.8 miles from my house to Hopleaf, with the frigid wind blowing in my face most of the way. I stopped to rest once in the lee of an alley just about sixty feet from Ashland Avenue when I felt like I couldn't continue. After a couple of minutes, the final stretch no longer seemed so daunting, and soon enough I was warm inside Hopleaf, setting up the speaker and mike and enjoying a Chimay our bartender provided free of charge.

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The bully's speech


A couple of weeks ago, Laura and I bought tickets online for an evening showing of The King's Speech. We went out to dinner first but failed to leave ourselves enough time to get to the movie theater early. By the time we arrived, our theater was nearly full. We could have sat together in the front row or sat apart. Neither prospect appealed to us so we went to the box office and got a refund. We had to eat the $2.00 online ticketing fee, but it was our own fault for not getting there early enough for decent seats.

Last night we tried seeing The King's Speech again. This time we got to the theater a full hour early. This was probably overkill, but we did end up scoring ourselves the perfect spots, dead center two rows up in the stadium seating section.

Well before the previews started, we couldn't help but overhear an elderly couple bickering in the seats directly behind us. I rolled my eyes, hoping this wouldn't continue once the movie started.

The theater was filling up fast. Shortly after the old man excused himself to go buy popcorn or use the restroom or whatever, we heard a young woman asking the old woman if she would move over so she and her husband could sit together.

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William Shunn