• Someone made a Random Text Generator for Extreme 90s Superheroes and it's awesome

    I don't who created this Random Text Generator for Extreme 90s-style Super Hero Names. Perhaps it was the very same disembodied Higher Power that possessed Rob Liefeld all those years ago. Whoever is responsible, though, is awesome. Here's how they describe the generator:

    Back in the early 1990s, comic books were filled with extreme characters like Bloodstrike and Deathblow. Now you can generate your own extreme '90s character and pit them against one another in a melee free-for-all that will result in tons of blood and viscera!

    I just made my own superhero team, which sounds exactly like a superhero team I invented when I was like 9 years old:

    Winterthrasher Motor, Member of Talon Force
    Smithwraith Avenge, Member of the Punk Brigade
    Pathcold Bone, Member of Team Gun
    Clawmaim, Member of Team Snap
    Maim-Star, Member of Stryke Force

    No but seriously these are actual comic I made in the early 90s that could been ripped right out of this:

    Eat yer heart out, Rob Liefeld.

    90s Extreme Character Generator [Perchance]

    Image via YouTube

  • Cahokia: The massive North American city that pre-dated Columbus

    Americans don't reckon with history well, especially when it comes to the indigenous people our forefathers displaced (and worse) in order to live on this land. Growing up in New Haven County, I remember being taught a lot about the local Quinnipiacks and other Algonquin peoples who once inhabited the area — but their story always kind of mysteriously (and conveniently) faded away around the late 1700s. As I've gotten older, I've learned more about the American Indian Movement, and how recent so much of our nation's abuses of Native Americans really were. I've also learned more about the actual beliefs and capabilities of some of those indigenous nations, which hardly fit the "Noble Savage" stereotypes that are often thrown around.

    But it was just earlier this month that I learned about Cahokia (previously at BB), a city built by the Mississippian people near modern day St. Louis. As explained by National Geographic:

    About a thousand years ago, a city grew in the floodplain known as the American Bottom, just east of what is now St. Louis in Illinois. In a matter of decades, it became the continent's largest population center north of Mexico, with perhaps 15,000 people in the city proper and twice as many people in surrounding areas. A couple centuries after its birth it went into decline, and by 1400 it was deserted.

    The story of Cahokia has mystified archaeologists ever since they laid eyes on its earthen mounds—scores of them, including a 10-story platform mound that until 1867 was the tallest manmade structure in the United States. They don't know why Cahokia formed, why it grew so powerful, or why its residents migrated away, leaving it to collapse. Hypotheses are abundant, but data are scarce.

    Typical US history curriculums might acknowledge that Aztecs and Incans had some pretty cool cities. But there's certainly no mention of any city-like structures in the modern-day United States. On the contrary: American history justifies so many atrocities explicitly on the grounds that indigenous Americans were not "civilized" enough to build permanent settlements (as if "permanence" is a formal requirement for being "civilized").

    As I now know, the remaining mounds of Cahokia are still a historic site in Missouri that you can visit. Hopefully, that means that some of that Native American history is accurately taught in some parts of the area — or at least, that history teachers acknowledge that there were actual cities in North America long before Columbus "discovered" the continent by accidentally crashing into an island in the Bahamas that shares the same tectonic plate.

    Anyway. You should learn more about Cahokia if you aren't already familiar. This National Geographic piece is a great place to start.

    Why was the ancient city of Cahokia abandoned? New clues rule out one theory. [Glenn Hodges / National Geographic]

    Image: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

  • The forgotten Batman musical, written by the late Jim Steinman

    Earlier this week, songwriter/composer Jim Steinman passed away at age 73. While perhaps best known as the goth-metal classicist behind "Total Eclipse Of The Heart," "It's All Coming Back," and Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell album, Steinman also spent 4 years working on an as-yet-unproduced Batman musical — the demos of which can still be found online.

    According to the Jim Steinman Fandom Wiki (with no original source cited):

     David Ives was due to write the book, Steinman would of course contribute music and lyrics, and Tim Burton was reportedly chosen to direct, though he later downplayed his actual knowledge of the project.

    An initial opening date was announced in 2001 when Steinman and Ives reportedly turned in a completed version to Warner Bros., only to fall apart in the mix. After the announcement of Burton's alleged hiring in 2002 (and a new claim from Steinman that work on the show was now only "70% done"), a new time-table was announced, with an out-of-town tryout opening in 2004 and a Broadway opening set for 2005. However, the project fell through before production was completed.

    Meat Loaf would later release a version of a song from the musical, "In The Land Of The Pig, The Butcher Is King," on his 2006 album Bat Out Of Hell III. But you can listen through a playlist of demos above, which include some savvy Catwoman ballads and upbeat clown-core romp by the Joker titled "Wonderful Toys."

    Steinman also did a 4-hour interview about the show, which you can find on his personal website.

    Batman The Musical [JimSteinman.com]

    Bat Stuck In Hell: Songs From the Lost Batman Musical

    Read More: Bat Stuck In Hell: Songs From the Lost Batman Musical [Jon Gutierrez / Comics Alliance]

  • A fascinating look inside the seedy black market for glass eels

    Eels are having a sort-of renaissance right now (not to be confused with the time when eels were used as a currency in England, which was more medieval than renaissance). Now The Counter has a grossly fascinating article about American Unagi, a Maine-based company that's struggling to establish an above-the-board approach to the typically-crime-laden international eel market.

    It's as weird and awesome as it sounds (if you, like me, are captivated by seemingly-incongruous true crime stories). Here's a, erm, taste:

    It's hard for aquaculturist Sara Rademaker to pin down the precise moment she fell in love with eels. 

    It may have been when a fisherman first gifted her a handful of squirming baby eels—also called glass eels or elvers—or the hours she spent with them, raising them to adulthood in a giant tank in her basement. Or it might have been when she killed them, cooked them in a borrowed smoker, and took a bite. 

    "When I had that eel, I was like, 'I have to grow this fish,'" Rademaker said. "People get obsessed with eels. They like to work with them, and then it just, like, engulfs them."

    Six years after that first bite, Rademaker stared down into a tank in her eel business' headquarters in rural Maine, watching sinuous, footlong eels weave figure-eights under the surface. The eels' slim bodies tumbled together in a blur of green backs and stormcloud-gray bellies. When they were netted as glass eels in 2018—legally, she stresses—they were worth more than $2,400 per pound. 

    […]

    In many parts of the world, eel populations are currently endangered, decimated in part by overfishing, pollution, and the damming of rivers where they've historically lived. Against this backdrop, Rademaker is fighting to carve out a transparent, sustainable sliver of a crime-ridden global eel aquaculture market that, as of 2017, was worth billions of dollars. By raising only legally caught elvers to maturity, Rademaker is betting that transparency and traceability will win market share—and all the better if she casts light on this deeply secretive and often infuriatingly complex industry.

    I've never thought that hard about eels, about the fish trade in general, or the regulatory challenges that such a system could face. But damn, it's some wild stuff!

    Slimy, smuggled, and worth top dollar: Can one Maine entrepreneur break into the crime-ridden global market for eel? [Karen Pinchin / The Counter]

    Image: Sara Goldsmith / Flickr (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

  • Get high and fight gentrification with the new kung fu adventure STONED MASTER

    Back in November, I shared a Kickstarter for Aubrey Sitterson's "Leftist Himbo" comic book Beef Bros (which I just got my copy of!). Now Sitterson is back with a new comic project he describes as "Kung Fu Hustle meets Pineapple Express. Or Drunken Master meets Cheech & Chong for the old heads!"

    Enter: STONED MASTER.

    Stoned Master is set in the fictional Los Angeles neighborhood of Chavez Heights, where a rapacious conglomerate is corporatizing and gentrifying everything in sight. And the only ones standing in their way? Burnout kung fu savant Frankie Wong, his drunken master, and his pals from the local cannabis dispensary. 

    Imagine Kung Fu Hustle meets Pineapple Express. Or, for the old heads, Drunken Master meets Cheech & Chong. It's all the intense, artful fight scenes you expect from a martial arts epic, combined with gut-busting stoner comedy laughs, then fully baked in the Southern California sun.

    Stoned Master is co-created and illustrated by Chris Moreno, who's also worked as an animator on Muppet Babies and Xiaolin Chronicles (and brings a similar cartoon-ish aesthetic to Stoned Master). Moreno and Sitterson previously collaborated on The Comic Book Story of Professional Wrestling: A Hardcore, High-Flying, No-Holds-Barred History of the One True Sport — and if there's any consistency throughout Sitterson's work, it is that gleeful kayfabe kinetic of a committed wrestling fan, even when he's trolling the military industrial complex with GI Joe.

    Kickstarter rewards include not only digital and print copies of Stoned Master #1, but also lots of good vibes delivered in multiples of 420. Nice.

    Stoned Master [Aubrey Sitterson and Chris Moreno / Kickstarter]

  • Learn About "Fork-and-Knife Illusion" From A New Scientific Paper Written By A Middle-schooler

    Middle schooler Blaise Balas was playing with her food, as adolescents are wont to do. When she placed her metal knife vertically between the tines of the fork, she noticed something: from a certain angle, the knife appeared to become transparent.

    It hadn't actually become transparent, of course. But there was something about the optical illusion that piqued not just her own interest, but her father's as well. Benjamin Balas is a scientist who studies optics and vision, and together, the father-daughter duo authored a new scientific paper in the journal of Perception about the so-called Fork-and-Knife Illusion. Here's the abstract:

    We describe a transparency illusion that can be observed with an ordinary metal knife and fork. Placed in the correct configuration relative to the fork, the metal knife appears transparent, with some observers experiencing a bistable percept in which transparency alternates with reflective appearance. The effect is related to other illusory percepts that follow from careful placement of mirrored surfaces, but to our knowledge, it is unique in that the key feature of the illusion is how the mirrored surface (in this case, the knife) is perceived rather than how a mirror induces altered perception of other objects and surfaces. We describe conditions that do and do not affect the strength of the illusion and point out its connections to previously reported phenomena.

    As Psychology Today notes:

    This is not the first illusion in which a mirrored surface (like a knife) takes on a transparent appearance. For example, research in the 1990s on phantom limbs by V.S. Ramachandran and D. Rogers-Ramachandran found that placing a mirror that occludes one's phantom arm while reflecting the other arm could lead to pain reduction in amputee patients. In this case, the mirror takes on a transparent appearance because of the bilateral symmetry of the human body.

    The advantage of the novel Fork-and-Knife Illusion is that you don't need a custom-built mirror box to produce it, but rather two common household items that are already usually found together: a metal fork and knife.

    […]

    The novel Fork-and-Knife Illusion is not only a practical visual illusion you can try out at the next (in-person) dinner party but also a reminder that scientific discoveries can happen in the least expected situations. All it takes is some common objects, a playful context, and a keen observer.

    So it's a pretty neat discovery — especially for a middle-schooler to make! In fact, it's even been named as a top-10 finalist for the Best Illusion of the Year Contest. Good work, Blaise!

    The Fork-and-Knife Illusion [Blaise Balas and Benjamin Balas / Perception]

    The Fork-and-Knife Illusion Makes Metal Appear Transparent [Nicolas Davidenko Ph.D. / Psychology Today]

    Image: Public Domain via Pixabay

  • "Rocket To Kingston" is a new Bob Marley – Ramones mashup

    This delightful mashup album comes from French label Guerilla Asso. Via Google Translate:

    Imagine that in the late 70s, Bob Marley crossed paths with the Ramones at the CBGB counter and they decided to make a record together. Here is the result: 10 rasta classics with punk rock sauce 1-2-3-4! Be careful if you drop an ear on it, you inevitably become addicted!

    Songs include:

    Durango 65
    I Don't Wanna Stand Up
    Stirring In My Room
    Today One Love, Tomorrow The World
    Jamming Affairs
    Three Little Surfin' Birds
    Kaya Bop
    Glad To See You Cry
    Is This Love Kills
    Bye Bye Redemption

    Clearly reggae and punk rock have enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship in the years after Marley and the Ramones first burst onto the scene. But I love this mashup because it feels fresh and retro futuristic at the same time.

    You can download it via Bandcamp, or pre-order on vinyl for that real 70s vibe!

  • How the Sacklers' opioid lawsuit could scam the bankruptcy system

    Opioids helped kill friends of mine. Even more frustrating is that this is not particularly unique or interesting. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services:

    More than 760,000 people have died since 1999 from a drug overdose. Two out of three drug overdose deaths in 2018 involved an opioid.

    Much of that has been allegedly enabled by the Sackler family, which owns Purdue Pharma and made nearly $11 billion dollars peddling OxyContin. In October 2020, the Sacklers reached a settlement agreement with the US Department of Justice, after previously filing for bankruptcy in 2019. As NPR reports:

    As part of bankruptcy talks, they've offered to give up control of the company and pay roughly $4.2 billion.

    In exchange, under the current deal on the table, the Sacklers would keep much of their wealth, admit no wrongdoing and be sheltered from future opioid lawsuits.

    Again: they made nearly $11 billion, and will potentially be forced to pay less than half of that as punishment. As it stands, hundreds of families have filed lawsuits against the Sackler family for their role in the opioid epidemic. And all of those cases would be thrown out, if the court agrees to their proposal.

    But as The American Prospect explains, it actually gets worse. Because the same liability release proposed by the company would, if approved, extend to the Sackler family's personal property as well. By protecting the family from individual lawsuits, the courts could potentially allow the family to fold in all of their personal assets into the bankruptcy filing under the guise of company property:

    A liability release for the individual Sacklers forcibly converts the rights of victims to seek redress for personal misconduct by the people who owned Purdue into a kind of property of Purdue. Property that Purdue can dispose of any way it wants as part of its bankruptcy—if the judge agrees.

    […]

    A bankruptcy judge doesn't have the power to rule on the merits of lawsuits by victims, like those alleging wrongs by the Sackler family members. That is the work of Article III judges.

    But with a liability release like the Sackler family members are seeking, the bankruptcy judge in effect is ruling on those lawsuits—by extinguishing them. So, he's claiming the power of an Article III judge, even though he is not one.

    And he is claiming it over people like Jenny Scully, a mother whose six-year-old daughter was born addicted to OxyContin and other opioids doctors prescribed her before and during her pregnancy. Scully's suit naming the Sackler family members speaks to their personal liability, not to the source of the judge's power: the bankruptcy estate of Purdue.

    […]

    It leaves the Sackler family members with unknown billions of dollars—unknown because the individual Sacklers are not in bankruptcy—now protected from any future lawsuits, or civil investigations, over the opioid epidemic that helped make their fortune.

    The American Prospect gets into more detail about how this proposed settlement could work, if accepted by the courts. And it is far more egregious than paying $4.8 billion on a nearly $11 billion profit that killed hundreds of thousands of people.

    The Sackler Family's Bankruptcy Scheme [Libby Lewis / The American Prospect]

    Judge Blocks Lawsuits Against Sackler Family As OxyContin Bankruptcy Talks Continue [Brian Mann / NPR]

    Purdue Pharma Offers Plan to End Sackler Control and Mounting Lawsuits [Jan Hoffman and Mary Williams Walsh / New York Times]

    Image: Psiĥedelisto / Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

  • Re-imagining Jar Jar Binks as the evil Sith Lord he was always meant to be

    Imagine how much better the Star Wars sequel trilogy would have been the JarJar fan theories came true, and his bumbling pseudo-racist jester act was actually just a cover for the fact that he was a Sith Lord, working with Darth Sidious the whole time.

    To be fair: I enjoyed the tragic ending he received in Chuck Wendig's Star Wars: Aftermath — Empire's End. But this Dark Jedi version of JarJar, as imagined by artist Kevin Cassiday, is still pretty badass.

    Image: Katie Haskell / Flickr (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

  • This fun and thoughtful show asks where latinos sat on the bus with Rosa Parks

    In the summer of 2018, I got to go to DC go work on a theatre festival for solo performances (I was playing bass in a mostly-one-person show called Brahman/i about an intersex Indian-American stand-up comedian). That's where I met Brian Quijada, an actor who was also there to perform his mostly-autobiographical musical show Where Did We Sit On The Bus? The title comes from a formative moment in Quijada's childhood, when he first learned the (admittedly white-washed) story of Rosa Parks. As the child of El Salvadorian immigrants, he wondered where his own people sat on the segregated buses — and, perhaps unsurprisingly, his teacher doesn't have a good answer. It was a truly delightful show — fun, funny, engaging, and topical, as Quijada live-looped beatboxing, ukulele, and his own voice to weave together his family's personal story with the larger story of Latino-Americans struggling to find a place in an American history that is often binary to the point of erasure.

    Quijada wrote and performed in the original award-winning production of Where Did We Sit On The Bus? But Actors Theatre of Louisville recently took the script and turned into a new COVID-friendly digital performance, that is wholly unique but still similarly delightful. Here's how they describe their digital video production, directed by Matt Dickson and starring Satya Chávez:

    During a lesson on Rosa Parks, a Latinx kid begins searching for her own people's place in American history. Performed by a dynamic actress/singer/musician, and infused with a mix of rap, hip-hop, and spoken word, this energetic exploration delves into the experience of growing up in an immigrant family and finding identity in making art.

    You can stream the show through May 31 via Actors Theatre of Louisville, and it's a wonderful 80 minutes of music and storytelling that offers a refreshing look at American identity. It's pay-what-you-can with a minimum of $15, although I personally think it's worth a lot more than that. Highly recommended if you're looking for something fresh and hopeful that still engages with difficult issues about modern America.

    Where Did We Sit On The Bus? [Brian Quijada / Actors Theatre of Lousville]

  • Embrace consumerism with a "This Is Not A Fugazi T-Shirt" Mug

    "You are not what you own."

    That's the refrain to the song "Merchandise" by the acclaimed and famously independent post-hardcore band Fugazi — a band which, among other stubbornly principled moves, refused to sell merchandise beyond their albums. In fact, the band would actively seek out and shut down anyone who dared to sell bootleg Fugazi t-shirts, too. Not because they wanted the money; because they stood by their principles.

    However, there was one exception that become sort of an "official" bootleg, if you will. As singer/guitarist Ian MacKaye explained in The Art of the Band T-Shirt by Amber Easby and Henry Oliver:

    I managed to trace one design back to a fairly well-known t-shirt company in the Boston area, and I called to tell them to cut it out. I spoke to the main guy there, and, of course, he wanted to do a deal. And, of course, the answer was still no. Still, we had a nice chat. He was curious why we didn't want to sell shirts, and after I explained our position, he seemed to respect it. About one month later, a friend at a record store alerted me to the 'This is not a Fugazi t-shirt' shirt. I traced it back to the same Boston dude. What a smart motherfucker he was! I called him up and said, 'Okay, you're funny and you're creative, so let's see how creative you are with accounting.' I asked him to choose an organization doing good work in his community and give them what would amount to the band's royalty for the shirts. I think he chose a women's shelter up there, and as far as I know he sent them money right up until he quit the business.'

    The "This Is Not a Fugazi T-Shirt" t-shirt became sort of infamous; eventually, even Urban Outfitters tried to get it on the game.

    More importantly: you can buy a "This Is Not A Fugazi T-Shirt" coffee mug courtesy of the Wear Diner. I'm not sure how "official" it is, but it's clever enough that I think MacKaye would approve.

  • How megaplex movie theatres shaped the movie industry — for better, and for worse

    The movie theatre industry — distinct from the movie making industry — was in trouble even before COVID-19 turned Passively Sitting In The Dark Near Other People For Two Hours While Staring At A Screen into a death sport. But this is hardly the first time that movie theatres had to find a way to draw peoples out of their home to share a big screen viewing experience.

    The 99% Invisible podcast from March 15, 2021 explores the rise and fall of the megaplex movie theatres that began to sprout up in the early 90s. They speak with Ben Fritz, author of The Big Picture: The Fight for the Future of Movies, and explore how the need to fill multiple screens created a burst of risk-taking creativity in Hollywood that arguably culminated in 1999 … and how that climactic success swiftly lead to a focus on opening weekends with blockbuster movies on multiple screens, effectively pushing out any smaller or more independent features.

    I think sometimes people look back and say, "Oh, there must be some kind of cultural movement that made Americans more interested in indie films in the '90s, for example, or something was happening in the culture that we wanted to see these kind of Marvel franchise films starting in 2010." No, it's really the explanation is that the economics of the movie business changed in that time, and that changed the types of movies the studios were making.

    The podcast offers a fascinating look at the intersections of creativity and distribution. That includes the evil genius behind the realization that you could charge $15 for a huge-ass popcorn and a huger-ass soda just because you could, or stock the lobby with multiplayer arcade games to target those rascally teenagers, or offer "luxury" recliner chair experiences with waitstaff service delivering cocktails directly to your seat to help me convince my wife to come see Guardians of the Galaxy with me.

    There's also a weird but weirdly riveting segment about a dentist who started financing low-budget horror movies just because he could, and getting into the investment game at just the right moment.

    At a time when we're all simultaneously desperate and anxious to be caught in a crowd, it also offers a nostalgic reminder of those rare communal movie experiences — like in the video above — where a room full of strangers gets to revel in the joy of narrative catharsis together, forming a momentary but memorable bond. (Oddly, it reminded me of the time my friend and I were the only white people at a sold-out opening night showing of Alien vs Predator, which was a surprisingly memorable experience for such a shitty movie. But that's a story for another time.)

    Episode 435: The Megaplex! [99% Invisible]

    Image of the multiplex that I've probably spent the most time at in my life by BWChicago / Flickr (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

  • The world's largest rabbit has been kidnapped

    According to BBC News [via BBS], a continental or Flemish giant rabbit measuring 4 feet and 2 inches went missing from his home in Worcestershire last weekend. The rabbit, known as Darius, was named "world's longest rabbit" by the Guinness Book of Records in 2010.

    His owner, Annette Edwards, said it was a "very sad day," while noting that he is too old to fuck like rabbits anyway. Still, Ms Edwards is offering a £1,000 reward for his return.

    'World's biggest rabbit' stolen from owner's garden [BBC News]