Friday, February 26, 2010

Sassy Gay Friend: Hamlet

And the last four comments on Youtube:

nadesNspades (2 minutes ago)
to be gay, or not to be gay. that is the question.

BeNice2Others1 (7 minutes ago)
Oh God...I'm 6 seconds in and I can already tell it's gonna kill me with laughter

nahikuroots (9 minutes ago)
Hilarious! This should be a series!!

peacebewithyou90 (9 minutes ago)
wat a homophobe go fuck yo momma bitch.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Hundred Years' Good Luck (Part 2), by Abe Kurp

The exciting conclusion to A Hundred Years' Good Luck (Part 1)!

The wedding was only one week and three days distant when I paid a visit to the town's butcher, only to discover that my demands of six yearling sheep could not be met in time. So it was that I was compelled to call for my dealer -- for I had come to see him as my dealer.

We met in the country, barely five miles from my home, on a farm owned by a man I hardly knew, where my dealer was temporarily housing the sheep. The sun was six hours into its westward journey and already the field glowed golden. "Congratulations!" His thick, brown voice preceded his embrace. "You're going to have a son at last. And from such fine stock, too." He released me, winked, and said again, "Congratulations."

My short and wary response surprised him. But that signature smile faltered for only a moment. The pleasantries dismissed, he could now proceed to his favorite form of conversation: business. "So, you'll be wanting to see those lambs, then. They are the finest specimens -- the finest I could find on such short notice. Got them from three different sources -- three sources for six sheep! Ah, my brain aches now with all that business talk. Though I did it for a good cause, eh? And it is an interesting story: the first man, he had---" He looked at my face and paused. "But maybe another time, my friend. Come, this way. I got them in a pen on the other side of the barn."

The six animals were fine enough. Oh, perhaps two were a bit older than I might have anticipated, all of them a bit more scruffy, slightly thinner than I had hoped. But they were all healthy and passable enough, befitting the occasion.

"It is surely not good to have them out here in this pen all day and night, in all kinds of weather," I said, after a few minutes of contemplation.

"You are right my friend, of course. For that, I hired a boy -- the youngest son of my farmer friend. He feeds the sheep each day, then leads them into the barn at night. There is no need to worry, my friend; have I ever done you wrong? Of course not."

A few more minutes passed as I continued to examine the animals. There was little conversation, besides my occasional, lackadaisical questioning and his quick and confident replies. He was patient enough, and when I had exhausted my small bag of questions, he was the first to bring up the subject of price.

I had known this man long enough to know that money was always an issue -- or rather the issue of money was an issue. Despite the many years he had spent at polishing and honing his craft, still his approach to the subject was never quite perfect. He felt embarrassed, I think, whenever he had to name a price; it became more a duty to him, than the pinnacle of his craft.

That day, I settled the matter briskly, agreeing upon only the third offered price. Then I called for my horse, gently refusing his offer of a drink on the merit of the quickly setting sun. He embraced me once again, though this time he held in his verbal congratulations. Just before leaving, already mounted on my horse, I remembered my duty as a friend. I invited him to the wedding and rode off. The pounding of the horse's hooves upon the well-packed earth deafened his response.

"Marriage is a sacred bond, my friends, between a man and a woman, a bond that cannot be justly broken except by death. Each of you stands here now, before all of your people and before the Almighty, to swear..." The minister continued as eloquently as he could, while my mind slowly drifted -- to the bright, light blue sky; to the beauty of the Earth, and of this wedding in particular. I sat in the front row but no one seemed to notice my faraway gaze.

I leaned to my right and my eyes fell on the merchant, sitting across the aisle. I had expected him to sit on the bride's side, in the very last row, so as to avoid conflict with my two darlings. Yet somehow he had contrived a seat in the front row of the groom's side. He sat there, as natural as a pea in a pod, his usual smile an endless presence now. What kind of lies did he use to weasel his way amongst my new son-in-law's family? I began, for the first time, to doubt his moral fiber.

When the minister had finished and the couple taken their first kiss and the polite applause finished, the merchant rose and began a speech. Why could he possibly be giving a speech in these circumstances? What right or reason did he have? I began to sweat; I glanced around nervously -- no one else seemed surprised. I decided to listen:

"...tragic death of my brother, I am given the honor and duty of giving away this fine man, my nephew, to his beautiful new wife and her lovely new family. Congratulations, lad. One hundred years' good luck to you and yours! Thank you." The crowd applauded as my newest relative walked over and embraced me.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Palin Song.

Part of Sarah Palin's infamous interview with Katie Couric, set to piano music: Reaganomics finally makes sense.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Hundred Years' Good Luck (Part 1), by Abe Kurp

I bought six yearling sheep, once, from a man in dark robes, with face and mustache to match. He was not a shady man: I simply mean to say he wore dark clothing of black and browns, darkened further by an accumulation of much dust, dirt and grime. His face, skin and hair, all naturally dark -- for he was from Spain -- were darkened by a similar measure.

He was a jovial man, if not always kind -- though given to smiling. This last was especially useful in his chosen trade: dealer, in anything that would sell. He never missed an opportunity to spread his mouth, to reveal his small white weapons; for, indeed, he used them as a soldier does his rifle, with finely crafted precision. And like a soldier, he took great pride and care of his instruments of war: always white like pearls and sharp like daggers.

I did not mind this man, nor his idiosyncrasies. Yet neither his charm and easy nature as a man, nor his years of fair dealings as a seller, prevented him from making enemies. His good personality was but a facade, they said, or a worm at the end of a hook. His dealings were so fraudulent as to be worthy of the courts. Three times this man was compelled to visit the local courthouse, three times the case was quickly dropped. Years passed and still they persisted in their cries of "Bribery!", much to the chagrin of the Judge and the other leading citizens of the town. And as for the merchant's teeth, they blamed vanity -- only this terrible vice, they said, could lead a man to gargle his own piss!

That is what some said. I believed none of it, a position I have always been naturally inclined to take in all matters of rumor. I made trade with him frequently, despite these cries of contrariness from those nasty few. Nearly every time the man made a stop in our small town I would buy, on one hand, something useful for the house and home; and on the other, a "useless" trinket or bauble for the family, which nevertheless served to smooth relations with my three little urchins, lead triumphantly by my shrew of a wife.

My dealings with this man went on in the same straightforward and unremarkable manner for years, with no alteration, excepting the steady growth of my children and therefore their increasingly outlandish demands for gifts. Time did its work, and soon it came to pass that my eldest, a sharp-nosed, rough-hewn girl of seventeen years, managed to contrive a man to marry her. This came as a shock to both of her parents -- or at least to me, who, for many years, had wondered if she should find a husband at all, let alone at the "ripe old age" of seventeen.

He was a respectable, well-bred man of twenty-three, from three towns to the west, the eldest son of an Army Lieutenant, and well along on his own course as a soldier. Never had I anticipated such an agreeable match for any of my children, especially for my eldest, who had a personality to match her complexion. Only her eyes, sharp blue and beautiful, seemed redeeming; yet their sparkle and clarity promised a depth and beauty of soul that I knew she could never fulfill. This young man was also nothing to admire, or even to look upon but, as a man, much less is required of him in such matters; besides I am sure I will never have the duty of his marriage bed. I had met him only once and knew little of his character.

In all, it was a dream. Truly it was, for all dreams are equally as fleeting. I soon discovered the source of this remarkable occurrence: my darling wife and daughter had promised this young gentleman, or at least he had come to expect, a dowry of some fifteen thousand -- which, on top of the expense of the wedding and the accompanying festivities, was, of course, to come directly from my pockets.

I wandered around my town and house for many days, always muttering of the terrible expense and trouble of having such ugly, disagreeable children. Many about town, including the Judge, seemed to give me up for mad and dumb, or else to simple senility. But there were two who never faltered in their faith in my sanity: the two masterminds of this plot, my two taskmasters, who had come too far, expended too much effort, to let a man of my mere stature interrupt their plans.

When I had bothered myself in this manner for five straight days, my daughter and wife decided to put this "needless fussing" to an end. They cornered me in our garden -- practically against the wall -- and proceeded to lay out their demands. They did not bother themselves with pleading or begging, or even coaxing. The event felt more like a war conference than a plea for my marriage blessings, and it was clear to all who represented the defeated faction.

They took their turns at berating and reproaching me: for my greed, my inconsiderate behavior, my apathy for my daughter's welfare, and more. In the course of half an hour, my perfectly reasonable position -- that my funds were and always would be rather meager, that I hoped to provide reasonably well for my other daughters, that the couple would surely live happy and fulfilling lives with even half the stated sum -- was irretrievably torn and tattered.

To resist seemed useless now, even to me. The date was set for June 18, less than two months away. The two women set to constant tittering about, and even occasionally making, preparations for the wedding. They had promised to handle all the affairs surrounding the wedding. I could only watch passively as task after task came to rest, as if by magic, in my own grasp. I came to feel like a man in a labor camp with an admission fee: not only was I willingly working toward my own doom, but paying for it, in an all too literal fashion.

Liked the story? Then don't miss A Hundred Years' Good Luck (Part 2), which some are calling "the exciting conclusion to A Hundred Years' Good Luck (Part 1)!"

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Review: Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen

Mansfield Park My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is not the most thrilling novel. Even amongst its less-than-thrilling brethren, it may seem a bit dull and uneventful. It is the story of a relatively poor young girl who is taken in by her wealthy uncle, Sir Thomas Bertram, and for years lives with him, his wife, and his four children on their big estate, Mansfield Park. Fanny Price --that is the girl's name-- is never treated unkindly, but she is always made to feel apart, not a servant yet not on the level of the Bertram children.

The book skips fairly quickly to her young womanhood, to around the age of 18. Sir Thomas has gone off to see to business matters in Antigua, and you know how it is with mice when their personal member of parliament is away. The young Bertrams are especially a'tizzy about the arrival of a dashing brother-sister pair from London. Love interests and intrigues abound amongst the others, while Fanny sits quietly by.

Fanny seems to be a matter for contention amongst readers and reviewers. She does seem awfully timid and dull. Why, even the author herself seems to neglect Fanny through much of the first half of the book, and after reading just one chapter of Emma I am convinced that she is no Emma Woodhouse. Yet, I like her. I feel she and I are of a similar mind -- at least, while reading, I need not examine and contrast the depicted worldview with mine. And as dull and timid as she may seem on the surface, she is simply bubbling over with things to say, on the inside. It is her sense of propriety, and probably some feeling of inferiority, that make her hold her tongue.

Fanny is a character for the middle child, the girl who has felt neglected amongst the wooing of the eldest and the cooing at the baby. As Fanny bears the neglect beautifully and later flourishes, ultimately triumphing in her way, those who have felt neglected in their time can learn from her and take hope. She is a wonderfully strong character, though she works within the conventions of society. As she is no Emma, so she is no Antigone -- she is a quieter sort of heroine. I like her, yet I understand the demand for a lively, fiery protagonist. And yes, I long ago decided that I, like Fanny, might make a dull main character.

Now a bit about some of the other characters:

Mrs. Norris, the unpleasant cat of Hogwarts caretaker Argus Filch in the Harry Potter series, is a fitting tribute to the Mrs. Norris of Mansfield Park. Fanny's other aunt (along with Sir Thomas' wife, Lady Bertram), Mrs. Norris is eternally harassing and chiding the girl. She is a bustling, meddling creature, and the only characters who like her are the two Bertram sisters, on whom she dotes.

Tom, Maria, and Julia Bertram: Three of Fanny's cousins, they are all greedy and opportunistic. The girls especially are perfect foils to Fanny, examples of greed and other "ill thoughts" that Fanny does not, cannot posses. They are certainly not evil incarnate, and I felt they all deserved to be forgiven for their faults and misdeeds, but they do each receive a degree of punishment.

Edmund Bertram: Fanny's fourth cousin, he is good-hearted and proper, but at times misguided. To Fanny, he is always her only something, whether companion, advocate, listener, or... I'll let the ellipsis tell the tale.

Henry and Mary Crawford: The dashing young broth-sister duo from London, everyone at the Park is impressed by them, except Fanny, naturally. They seemed more like plot devices than characters to me.

Sir. Thomas is the dignified, above-it-all patriarch, though that view is occasionally parodied. He does not play an enormous role, though I found myself liking him, for some reason, so that is why he gets a mention.

I think of this as a novel of characters; there are many strong, interesting characters, and yes, with the absence of a thrilling plot, the characters must needs take over. In the second half, when the plot has much more life, the characters come even more alive. I imagine few will fall madly in love with this novel, but I still consider it worthwhile to have read.

View all my reviews on Goodreads >>

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Carrots, by Abe Kurp

Below, a short-short story I wrote yesterday, polished today. Carrots, by Abe Kurp, is A tale of lost love and the consequences, with copious (unintentional) Shakespeare references. Carrots are also little orange vegetables that help you poop and see in the dark.

It was six months ago when he began this deadly, silly folly. She, the wife, had played the fool and pretended not to know; she knew, in reality, five minutes after his first orgasm that wasn't hers. She cried, stopped, then cried anew. But the hours passed, with no manly shadow at the door --Nothing --No one, at which to yell, scream, throw.

The hours passed and she fell in love again. She waited for her sweet prince, flights of angels --or hordes of little goblins-- no longer in her mind. He came home, returned to the house at last, oblivious to all the torment, his mind on but two things: a) sex, b) affair. He had done it on an impulse, to satisfy a craving long left unfulfilled. Now Impulse was a magical word; now, he longed for more.

Luckily, he was a good actor (they didn't hand out the role of Othello to anyone). Luckily, she seemed simply unaware: she a sheep, the affair a part of the wide world beyond her little pasture. Even if she knew, or contrived sketchy weavings of his distant rumblings, she never said a word.

She was quiet like a sheep, he thought, though he had never been near the countryside. His liaisons continued without cause or reason for abatement. When interest faded on his first --really, truly his second-- he was not miffed; there were always more to come.

His lust for others defied all attempts at reconciliation. Her make-up dinners and forgiveness stews were eaten with indifference at best, and heartiness at worst --fuel for the next round of dicking around. The hours they spent together --in wind-swept meadows, dim-lit bars: romantic spots he used to love-- were now only a reprieve from constant thrusting.

She was chopping carrots in the kitchen when he returned. He was drunk: she could hear his stumbling and slurring in the hall. He was not alone: there was a pair of slurs and stumbles, distinctly heard. Her longtime fears were rectified: the other was a woman; he had brought a woman to the house.

The giggles and slurs came closer, the chops of the knife against the cutting board grew closer and closer to their brethren.

The door flew open and banged against the wall. A red-faced, sorrowful man stood there, clinging to the arm of a blond-haired young one, all smiles till she saw the kitchen's occupant. The bright lights of the kitchen flashed against the dark blue sequins on her dress. Both faces lost their color.

With tiny, discolored sentences he tried to make his stand, to defend his improprieties. Sixteen years of love's labor would be lost in only a few nights of breezy infatuation. Was it worth it, now, to fling it all away?

She heard but did not listen, nor did she speak. Even he seemed to know the time of forgiveness had already passed. To Abyss she had lost him, to Abyss he now would go: it was time to cut this matter short.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Reflections on the Tales of Edgar Allan Poe

Note: Anyone wishing to experience these stories for themselves can download them, in a variety of formats, from Project Gutenberg, or read them online at, or else download free, volunteer-recorded audio versions of some tales (of varying quality) from

Edgar Allan Poe, master of the macabre, perverse, and mysterious, has been the subject of my reading for some months. Since I came upon "The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe" in my sister's room, I have been reading at least one story each week, on Sunday. Here they are now, in the order in which I read them, accompanied by a short, non-spoiling blurb.

The Pit and the Pendulum: A prisoner of the Spanish Inquisition suffers horrible and unusual torture, more of mind than of body. "I was sick, sick unto death..." An English teacher would surely write "Good use of imagery!" in the margins.

Fall of the House of Usher: An unnamed narrator visits an old friend, only to find a decaying house, and two frail, equally decaying siblings, the remains of the name of Usher. The narrator does what he can to ease the man's grief in his twilight hours, but the House of Usher -- both the physical house and the bloodline -- are doomed to fall.

Balloon-Hoax: An account of a trans-Atlantic balloon flight, originally represented as fact, the article caused quite a sensation when it was published in 1844, though now it is a mere curiosity (and precursor to the "Balloon boy" hoax).

The Masque of the Red Death: When a terrible plague strikes his kingdom, Prince Prospero locks himself away in his palace with his royal retinue. Months pass with no relief, so the arrogant prince decides to throw a masked ball, but it seems even the rich and arrogant cannot avoid the grasp of Death...

The Tell-Tale Heart: An obviously insane man tells us of his attempts at murdering an elderly fellow resident -- whom he refers to only as "the old man" -- all the while insisting that he is not insane. Perhaps he is not -- that is, if guilt be a sign of sanity.

The Black Cat: Similar to The Tell-Tale Heart, and often paired together by scholars: both are tales of a murderer wracked with guilt, from the murderer's point of view. The Black Cat features the addition of the titular feline, and has a few more supernatural elements; It also seems a bit more gruesome.

The Oval Portrait: A very generic (though very short) Gothic-style "horror story." It even mentions Ann Radcliffe, queen of the Gothic novel (with whom I'm familiar only through Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen) so that should give you an idea of where his mind sat. It tells the tale of a portrait of a young lady, which gradually reveals the evil of the artist. I hear this story inspired Oscar Wilde in his own little whiny tale about a painting.

The Angel of the Odd: A man, while reading the newspaper, is disgusted with the number of improbable stories and with the people that believe them. Then a man with a wine barrel for a torso and wine bottles for limbs appears, and things get unlikely, strange and -- okay, I'll say it -- Odd.

The Premature Burial: The narrator details several accounts of premature burial -- that is, entombment before one is truly dead -- before recounting his own supposed experience. He has an illness that causes him, on occasion, to give all appearances of death without it being so. Terrified of being buried alive, he takes all conceivable precautions against it, but can they be enough?

The Cask of Amontillado: A man lures another to his doom with promises of fine wine. I have a distinct mental picture, from reading this story in middle school, of the narrator slowly and steadily going about his brickwork.

The Imp of the Perverse: The urge to do wrong simply because you know it's wrong. The narrator explains this concept at length, in essay-like fashion, before divulging his own dirty little secret.

The Island of the Fay

The Murders in the Rue Morgue: Often regarded as the first detective story, this tale depicts an amateur detective and his friend as he pieces together the true story behind a mysterious double-homicide in a Paris mansion. The answer involves a man in a monkey mask, or so I've been lead to believe.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

"Gender Genie" Internet Tool Can Discern Gender Without Looking in Underwear

I recently found a neat little curiosity, The Gender Genie:
Inspired by an article and a test in The New York Times Magazine, the Gender Genie uses a simplified version of an algorithm developed by Moshe Koppel, Bar-Ilan University in Israel, and Shlomo Argamon, Illinois Institute of Technology, to predict the gender of an author.
You simply copy and paste a block of writing into the text box, choose the genre of the writing (you can pick from "fiction," "nonfiction," and "blog post") and press "submit." The tool quickly analyzes the text and spits out two columns of words (one for each gender), and tells you whether it thinks the author of the work is male or female. It is supposedly around 80% accurate.

The tool scans the document, picks out certain key words, and assigns a numerical value to each word. Then adds up all these numbers -- when the answer falls within a certain range, the author is determined to be a certain gender.

The number each word is assigned is apparently based on how "masculine" or "feminine" it is -- but not in the ways you might expect. For more on the "gender of a word" see Alexander Chancellor's article about the tool from The Guardian:

One of [the researcher's] findings is that women are far more likely than men to use personal pronouns ("I", "you", "she", etc), whereas men prefer words that identify or determine nouns ("a", "the", "that") or that quantify them ("one", "two", "more"). According to Moshe Koppel, one of the authors of the project, this is because women are more comfortable thinking about people and relationships, whereas men prefer thinking about things. But the self-styled "stylometricians", in creating their gender-identifying algorithm, have been at pains to avoid the obvious.

The algorithm pays no attention to the subject matter of a piece of writing, or to the occurrence in it of words that might suggest a greater interest by one sex or the other, such as "lipstick" or "bullets". Instead, it looks for little clues that both writers and readers would probably fail to notice, such as the number of personal pronouns used.

Unsurprisingly, the tool picked me out as a male every single time -- even when I tested it with The Stark White Elevator, a story I wrote with a female narrator. I must admit, I have always felt more comfortable with thinking in the realm of objects than the world of feelings, people, relationships. Psychologists have been calling us "Left Brainers" for years: we are good at math and other logical things, though we can never understand why puny humans cry. And I guess my cries of "I am not a Robot!" have been easily found out as lies -- even, ironically, by a computer program.

So I am a Robot; now I know. But after learning that almost all of the female contributors to The Guardian were discerned by the program to be male, I wanted to experiment some more, to see if I too could trick the system. So I put in my sister's report on Woodie Guthrie and Odetta Holmes, but it was determined to be distinctly feminine.

But then I tried her report on Macbeth, which came up male! Yet another startling revelation? Maybe Hannah is a man, or maybe the machine had gotten it right in a different way. I distinctly remember helping "a lot" with that report. How much is "a lot" could and would be debated to the end of the Earth, but now Robots do not lie.

Now try the tool out for yourself, and ta-ta for Tao!