Inhuman Swill : Page 39
Why is my blog called Inhuman Swill? Because you can unscramble the pieces to make William Shunn.


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This morning in the back window of the car
I found a ladybug
bleached bone-white and fragile under the glass,
like a tiny skull.

With eyespots faded almost to nothing,
blinded by the sun,
it was as if the creature had only slowly,
and jealously,

let go of the urge to outwit its predators.

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Nice review

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Via the PS Publishing newsroom, here are excerpts from Peter Tennant's recent Black Static review of my collaboration with Derryl Murphy, Cast a Cold Eye:

This short novella does many things right. For starters, its setting is immaculately captured on the page, with a real sense of rural Nebraska in 1921 coming over thanks to a wealth of tiny details, such as the ins and outs of photography or a look inside the house of a wealthy widow. There's a strong emotional grounding too, for both Luke and the society in which he is placed, an aching sense of despair undercut with a feeling that perhaps the worst is past, so people can look to the future with hope, an optimism confirmed in its denouement. Characterisation is spot on, with no-one who can be considered either evil or a criminal, just ordinary men and woman with all the flaws and virtues that implies....

The supernatural side of the story is suitably understated, so that we believe but also take on board the possibility that the ghosts could only exist inside the hearts and minds of the people who see them. With a subtext suggesting that the spectral world is just another aspect of life, wishing us neither good nor evil, but just there, a case could be made for Luke as the 'I see ghosts' boy from Sixth Sense picked up, rather like a reverse Dorothy, and put down in rural Nebraska, but that might be stretching things. In any event, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it without reservation.

Order yourself a copy, without reservation, here.

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The giving trees

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This morning is Plant a Tree day on WBEZ. If you pledge any amount today, they will plant a tree in your name anywhere in the world.

"Anywhere?" said Laura. (We often talk back to the radio in the morning.). "I want them to plant a tree in my back yard."

"I want them to plant a tree in Antarctica," I said. "It's pretty barren down there."

Does this make us jerks?

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In the March 8 New Yorker, Hendrik Hertzberg makes an interesting throwaway observation in the course of discussing the Republican disinformation campaign that has labeled Obama's health-care effort as "socialist":

The Democrats' bill more closely resembles Richard Nixon's health-care proposal—the one that Ted Kennedy went to his grave regretting he hadn't embraced—than it does Bill Clinton's, to say nothing of Harry Truman's.  [full article]
It's clear that politicians who bloviate about the dangers of socialism in this country are either ignorant or lying. Do you think that when a smart guy like Newt Gingrich calls 1984 an argument against socialism, he doesn't know Orwell was himself a radical socialist? Do you think that when Jim DeMint calls "discredited socialist policies" the "enemy of freedom for centuries all over the world," he doesn't know that Europe and Canada are not exactly collapsing into anarchy and ruin as he speaks?

No, they're not ignorant. What they're doing is putting Orwell to use in a different way—deploying careful buzzwords—socialism, totalitarianism, 1984, Big Brother—that have become freighted with decades of fear-inducing associations, words that slice through rational processing and detonate like smart bombs in the reptile brain.

The worst indictment of socialist ideas I can think of is that our equitable, cooperative, socialist education system has so completely failed to instill in us the ability to see through all this doublespeak.

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Sham shakes rock

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And the links to other complaints about Shamrock Shakes just keep pouring in! Here's an oldie but goodie from The Onion:

Sinn Fein Leaders Demand Year-Round Shamrock Shake Availability

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Okay, I have to come clean somewhere, so you just got voted my confessor. Lucky you.

So Laura and I started playing Wednesday nights in a pub trivia league late last spring. It's a uniform game that takes place in different bars not just all over Chicago but in several cities around the country. Our first few outings were dismal, but gradually we improved to the point where we took several firsts at our home bar, and we regularly place near the top of the pack. During this past season, our team—then known as The Reigning Cats and Dogs—did well enough to get invited to the city league championship match on February 13th. We placed 15th out of about 25 teams.

Using cell phones to look up answers is strictly forbidden, and we never cheat on that score. Sometimes, though, if we're nervous about a question, we'll look up the answer after we've already turned in our response. We're there to have fun, but we also love winning, and we can get pretty competitive with the other regular teams. It's a friendly competition, though.

Besides Laura and me, we have a few regulars on the team, most consistently Diane and Chuck. On a normal night, we have three or four players. There is no real limit on team size, though. We've had as many as six and as few as two. Everyone has categories they're strong and weak in. Laura does great at business and advertising and celebrity questions. Diane has TV and politics. I'm good at music and science and geography. Chuck has history, and he's pretty good at sports too. We generally dread sports questions, though, and there are usually a lot of them, so we recently recruited a new player, Randy, to help shore up that weak area.

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Shamrock shock

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See, Laura and I aren't the only ones upset about the new Shamrock Shakes. Marcus Leshock and Kyra Kyles from Chicago Now are both up in arms:

2010 Shamrock Shakes? More like SHAM Shakes!

Shamrock Shakedown: Why I am Disappointed by McDonald's Shamrock Shake

Thanks to [info]pixelfish for pointing me toward these links.

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Tuesday Funk Reading, March 2, 2010
Hey, Chicagoans! I have a reading coming up tomorrow, Tuesday, March 2, 2010, as part of Chicago's Tuesday Funk Reading Series at Hopleaf.

It's my fourth appearance at Tuesday Funk, where I'll be appearing alongside Lisa Chalem, Reinhardt Suarez and (my Writers Workspace colleague) "Etiquette Bitch" Marianna Swallow. I'll be reading a segment from my collaboration with Derryl Murphy, Cast a Cold Eye.

The event takes place in the upstairs bar at Hopleaf, which opens at 7:00 pm. The reading itself begins at 7:30 pm. The address is:

Hopleaf Bar
5148 N. Clark St.
Chicago, IL 60660
That's just south of Foster, in the Andersonville neighborhood.
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On Tuesday I plan to sit down and watch The Oprah Winfrey Show for the first time, ever. I've seen bits and pieces before, but this will be the first time I watch the whole thing in a premeditated fashion. Hey, I want to hear Roger Ebert's new/old voice.

Ebert's new voice has been synthesized (and is being further refined) from DVD commentary tracks he recorded for a handful of movies. The Scottish company behind the voice is CereProc, which specializes in text-to-speech synthesizers that speak in a variety of accents. It's fun to play around with their live demo and make voices from all around the British Isles say vulgar and juvenile things.

As more and more of us litter the intertubes with extensive examples of our speaking voices, the easier it will be for convincing artificial versions of our voices to be cobbled together. I suppose the technology will have matured when it can pass a sort of text-to-speech Turing test—when someone can call your close friends or relatives by telephone or Skype or whatever and fool them into thinking they're talking to you.

Damn, I just got an idea for a story.

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It looks like a trap to me, Scoob

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It looks like a trap to me, Scoob
No, I'm sure the pile of Milk-Bone® dog snacks that Ella and I stumbled across in the park yesterday morning did not conceal a boobytrapped pit in the ground, nor a tripwire that would drop a steel cage around us, nor a noose that would tighten around our ankles and hoist us upside-down into the air. But I still wouldn't have let her go near it, even if it had interested her (which it did not).

I probably would have been suspicious at the best of times to find what looked like an entire giant-size box of Milk-Bones, complete with a coupon good for your next purchase, emptied out onto the snow. But we're in the midst of one of those neighborhood panics where citizen complaints have spurred the police into cracking down hard on owners who don't keep their dogs on-leash at the park. My first thought on seeing the pile of biscuits was that some angry person had poisoned them. The idea that someone was just trying to get rid of some extra dog treats before they went bad came in a distant second. Scooby-Doo jokes limped across the finish line in third.

It's no fun to have your walk in the park marred by the thought that someone might be upset and unbalanced enough to try to murder your dog at random. So I laughed it off, and I won't worry about it again until I see a tempting platter of roasted turkey and mashed potatoes sliding across the field on fishing line toward a suspiciously rustling bush.

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William Shunn