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30 November 2004


Courtesy of Discarded Lies, an odd Yahoo news item about new passport regulations:

Imagine being denied a passport for, of all things, your teeth. It could happen, but not because they're crooked. Under new rules for visa photographs that began this summer, the State Department doesn't want to see them at all, according to a story published in Sunday's Pittsburgh-Post Gazette.
The new guidelines permit people to smile for passport and visa pictures but frown on toothy smiles, which apparently are classified as unusual or unnatural expressions.

I had my own hypothesis as to the rationale behind the guidelines:

Young children and chimpanzees understand that Frowning Throbert and Smiling Throbert are the same person, but machine-based facial recognition algorithms still have trouble with that. And since most people don't have big toothy grins when they're going through airport security or other locations where a camera might snap their picture for machine-assisted comparison against a photo database, it's desirable to fill that database with "neutral" facial expressions.

So, the best advice for terrorists who want to foil face-scanning cameras may come from the adorable moppets in Annie:

Hey, mujahid,
Hey, Richard Reid,
You've both got your style --
But, brother, you're never fully dressed
Without a smile!

Your smell may be
Stale armpit-y
May reek for a mile
But, brother, you're never fully dressed
Without a smile!

[solo] Who cares what they're wearing
In Mecca or old Cai-RO?

It's what you wear from ear to ear
And not from head to toe
That ma-a-a-ters...

So, houri hound,
So long for a while!
Remember, you're never fully dressed,
Despite your Semtex vest,
You're never fully dressed
Without a smile!

posted by Throbert | 11/30/2004 11:43:00 PM | (0) responses


Over on Discarded Lies, my pretend fiancé evariste began a headline with the delicious word-string Yemeni Bourgeoisie, Clerisy...

The phrase immediately reminded me of the magical incantations used by the apprentice witch Eglantine Price (Angela Lansbury) in Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Disney's so-so attempt to recycle a formula that some years earlier had yielded a box-office hit and a well-deserved Oscar for Julie Andrews: British woman with alarming paranormal abilities, kids in need of watching, friendly bum who becomes a father surrogate, cartoon animals, score by Richard & Robert Sherman.

Well, the result was no Mary Poppins, but Bedknobs and Broomsticks has a lot of sterling moments. As a kid, I was immediately hooked by the rhythms of the movie's magic spells. "Filigree, apogee, pedigree, perigee," for instance, would turn the addressee into a white rabbit, while the spell that enchanted the bedknob of the movie's title began with a litany of poisonous -- but euphonious -- herbs: "Hellebore, henbane, aconite; glowworm glow, firefly light."

(The magic formulas stuck with me because I had to look up some of the words when I first saw the movie, in third grade or so. Since I wasn't sure about the spellings, it was quite gratifying when I finally found apogee in the dictionary and it said "See also: perigee.")

But the most powerful incantation in the movie -- the one that brought a museum full of armor to clanking life in order to drive off a Nazi reconnaisance force -- were the five words:

Treguna - Makoides - Tracorum - Satis - Dee

Hmmm, nothing happened. Nothing happened the eleventeen dozen times I tried reciting it as a kid, either. In the movie, it took David Tomlinson's jazz-chants and some background music to get the spell working the first time, so maybe you should head over to the Diskoteka and practice with "Substitutiary Locomotion."

posted by Throbert | 11/30/2004 02:26:00 AM | (4) responses

29 November 2004


I just got a call from the receptionist at my old place of employment -- a package from Amazon arrived for me. (After checking my Amazon account, I discovered that the shipping address associated with my Wish List was not up-to-date.) Apparently some nice person bought me something, but until I pick up the package tomorrow, I won't know What, or From Whom.

But I just wanted to mention this immediately in case the sender was waiting for acknowledgment that it had been received.

UPDATE: Oh, awesome -- it's a lovely hardcover edition of The Annotated Alice, which presents the full texts of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass together with the original John Tenniel illustrations and exhaustive footnotes by popular-science writer Martin Gardner.

One of my favorite comments by Gardner is a page-long digression after Alice briefly wonders whether looking-glass milk is suitable for drinking. As Gardner explains, scientists in Carroll's day had not yet discovered that organic molecules, including the sugars and proteins in milk, come in "left handed" and "right-handed" versions (stereoisomers). Alice could've quenched her thirst with the looking-glass milk, but it would've had zero food value and might've given her a nasty case of the runs -- today's "fake fats" like Olestra are literally based on "looking-glass molecules"!

There are even "outtakes" -- including some rough drafts by Tenniel and Carroll's unpublished Wasp In A Wig chapter that Tenniel famously refused to illustrate ("a wasp in a wig is altogether beyond the appliances of art"). It's like a Special Edition DVD in convenient book form!

I actually own a copy of The Annotated Alice in Russian -- I found it in a Moscow bookstore, and it has the complete translations of Gardner's footnotes as well as Carroll's texts. I've enjoyed laboring my way through portions of that (my Russian is well short of native-level) and I'm glad to finally have the English original in my personal library.

posted by Throbert | 11/29/2004 05:30:00 PM | (0) responses


Fans of the online "graphic novellas" Apocemon and The Spiders will be disappointed to learn that is off the air for the time being.

But much more disappointing, for me, is the current entry from the Live Journal blog of creator Patrick Farley:

We Americans just don't seem to get it. We're remote-control murderers. Our answer to the horror of 9/11 was to inflict ten times as much horror on the civilians of Iraq.

The "remote-control murderers" comment is Mighty Funny if you're familiar with the plot-gimmick of The Spiders.

Mighty Funnier is that Farley is nonetheless at work on a fourth installment, despite his depression at discovering that he's a remote-control murderer. (Surely no one would be rude enough to suggest that when he writes "we Americans," Farley doesn't literally mean "the other 280 million Americans and I.")

What a Buttfuck. Now I'm happy that I never bought the Apocemon T-shirt or coffee mug when I had the chance. (Still, this will always crack me up.)

UPDATE: Come to think of it, part 3 of the The Spiders had already provided a revealing insight into the direction and profundity of Farley's political thinking. The first two installments feature mujahideen getting their heads blown off in attacks that are coordinated and sometimes executed by remote control. (The "spiders" of the title are satellite-linked, multi-legged spybots about the size of tarantulas.)

But in part 3, the Secret New Anti-Jihad Weapon is a gaseous "super XTC" -- an airborne, empathogenic drug that not only turns the terrorists into kissy-huggy Rave Kids, but causes men to start lactating. You go, girls!

posted by Throbert | 11/29/2004 03:34:00 PM | (0) responses
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