Ephemera



While in my local video store a few days back, in a rare moment of consumer weakness1 I succumbed to a ‘buy-one-get-one-free’ offer and picked up a DVD compilation of all the episodes and the ‘movie’ of the 80s science fiction tele-epic V.

It didn’t seem like such a bad deal really – Violet Towne and I both had fond memories of V. You remember the schtick I’m sure: huge alien space ships the size of Donald Trump’s ego appear rather abruptly over a good number of the world’s major cities and hover there j-u-u-u-s-t long enough to give everybody the heebie jeebies. It turns out that the wait is merely due to the alien leader putting on her face. The doomsaying of a few negative Earthling Cassandras is, it appears, just overactive xenophobia. Shucks – the alien ‘Visitors’ are a jolly happy lot who want nothing more than to lend a helping hand to the struggling new kids on the intergalactic block. And to eat all our hamsters, steal our water and suck out our brains – but it’s not like anyone could have seen something like that coming, right?

Sure, there were a few troubling indicators, if you knew where to look: the aliens’ appalling dress sense (well, it was the 80s, so it’s not like they stood out that much), their insistence on wearing sunglasses indoors (that didn’t start happening for Earthlings until the 90s, so I guess that was a demonstration of the visitors’ advanced culture) and their habit of snacking on mice out of dumpsters (but hey – if you’re discreet…). Oh, and if you happened to tear their skin off, there was a surprise lizard underneath.2



In any event, it didn’t take VT and I long to realise that our fond memories of V had taken on the rosy glow that only nostalgia can lend. The series (which David Icke probably thought was a documentary), was, in fact, pretty damn awful. The general structure of the thing certainly did have potential (ham-fisted Third Reich analogs notwithstanding) and the feeling of distrust and helplessness in the face of an implacable adversary is an idea that has a lot going for it. Our twenty-something selves evidently saw past the frightful soap-quality acting and into something of the concept’s promise – over the years our memories have thankfully expunged much of the dreadful dialogue and appalling plot contrivances.

Last night we got to the end of Series 2, in which, overcoming the sobering improbabilities of mammalian and reptilian genetic structures being anywhere near compatible, one of the cast gives birth to alien twins, the arrival of the second of which was undoubtedly supposed to instill terror in the viewing audience. But when the little toothy green reptile muppet ‘baby’ lunged ‘menacingly’ toward the camera (several times for good measure) Violet Towne and I simultaneously shrieked in unison, snorted our pinot through our noses and fell on the floor laughing. How did we ever accept such abominable bathos? I mean it’s not as if there wasn’t any better precedent – V post-dates Ridley Scott’s impeccable (and still mightily effective) Alien by a full 5 years! I guess we were just a lot better at the ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ in those halcyon days (and it was television – which in those times was in most cases notably inferior to anything you could see on the big screen).

At several times during our V marathon, VT and I remarked that it was surprising that no-one had attempted a remake of the concept, and, of course, teh internets piped up to let us know that someone is doing just that. It will no doubt thrill all you V aficionados down to your little webbed toes (and have David Icke struggling even harder in his straight jacket) to know that ABC is airing a new series of V this November. And the subset of those devotees who are also fans of Joss Wheedon’s lamentably short-lived Firefly will be doubly chuffed to learn that the Visitor leader is being played by Morena Baccarin – a woman so impossibly beautiful that apparently she can only get roles that require an impossibly beautiful woman who is really a lizard (well, seriously – after a smashing debut in Firefly, she fairly disappeared without a trace. WTF?) Alan Tudyk (Firefly‘s ‘Wash’) also has a major role in the new V3



I think we can assume that ABC is attempting a Battlestar Galactic-style remake of V, which, all things considered, could be kinda fun. At least we can expect the acting to be better, and hopefully something a little less lumpen in the way of allegory and story.

I have to confess, though, Faithful Acowlytes, that these musings have become something of a digression from my original purpose for this post – I meant to use my examination of the colourful antics of V to illuminate an entirely different matter involving aliens and earthlings. As this post has already become rather lengthy, I’ll forbear for now. But stay tuned for Part 2, in which we’ll ask some serious questions about alien/human interaction. And no, it doesn’t involve kinky lizard porn.

  1. I’m not much of a ‘bargain’ shopper – I figure that bargain is just retail code for “We’ve got too many of these bloody things Hank – see what you can do to free up some shelf space…” []
  2. In what must be one of the cheapest budget decisions made for a science fiction movie EVER, the Visitors never appeared as their lizard selves. Never. Not once. They goose-stepped around earth in their orange-uniformed monkey-suits, procreated with Earth women without giving anything away (now that must have been interesting) and relaxed in the privacy of their own off-Earth ships in their stretchy homo-prostheses. No alien in the history of science fiction has shown such dedication to keeping incognito! []
  3. One is inclined to speculate that people at ABC actually watched Firefly (unlike anyone at Fox, evidently) and knew a good thing when they saw it… []

Mmmmm

Last weekend, while tinkering in the kitchen, I offered to make Vermilion a beverage and, without thinking, I dashingly quipped ‘Coffee, tea or Bonox?’

Of course when I went past ‘tea’ she had no idea at all what I was talking about, because Bonox is one of those bizarre concoctions that comes from the far past and for some old geezers like myself, lingers in consciousness solely due to the power of advertising.

Bonox was invented by Kraft (more renowned as the makers of Vegemite) in 19191 The succinct Wikipedia entry on Bonox says it was ‘common to ask “Coffee, tea or Bonox” when offering guests a drink’ but I sincerely doubt that it was common. I’m totally sure that Kraft would have liked to have thought that, because it was an advertising slogan that they came up with in an attempt to try and make Bonox as popular as those other staples. It never worked because Bonox is DISGUSTING.

Entire generations of Australians remember the slogan, but the power of advertising can only do so much to actually sell something that tastes like the burnt remains of last Sunday’s roast dinner.

Do you notice how much the Bonox packaging looks like the Vegemite packaging? Well that’s because they are almost exactly the same thing. Except Bonox is supposed to be dissolved in hot water and sipped. I’m sure this was a mighty treat in the Depression, when the alternative was turps-soaked shoe leather and grass clippings, but these days when we have actual food, Bonox is about as appealing as dripping or curds or suet or any other food substitutes that more properly belong in a Steinbeck novel. The bizarre thing is that Kraft still makes Bonox, which means someone still buys it.

All I can say is it’s not me.

The thing is, I have never shaken the eerie feeling that one day I’m going to dashingly quip ‘Coffee, tea or Bonox?’ and my guest’s face is going to light up as they say ‘Oooo! Bonox! Yes please!’

(PS – Notice how it says ‘Cholesterol Free’ on the label these days? Is that supposed to make your thought process go: ‘Awright! It tastes like burnt rubber tires and carbonized dog turds, but what the hey! It’s cholesterol free!!! Put the kettle on!’)

  1. Probably to use up some by-product of the Vegemite manufacturing process… []

You will remember, dear Acowlytes, that about two months back we discussed the risible claims of Technical Remote Viewing University and their ‘magic’ pen which has the power to see into the future.

Magic Box

You will also remember that at that time I put an object in a box in my bedroom and challenged anyone (magic pen optional) to tell me using ‘remote viewing’ what was in it. Well, today is the day I reveal the contents of the box. Here is a picture of the box. It has a sliding lid and a cylindrical interior. ‘Remote viewing’ should easily have picked up this unusual detail. The box has been sitting, untouched, on the chest of drawers in my bedroom since I set the challenge. I have not moved it, opened it, or changed the object which I placed in it on the day of the challenge.

A Pirate Duck

And this is what was inside. It is a small plastic duck in pirate drag. It is in fact, one of those little trinkets you stick on the end of a pencil. It was given to me by Nurse Myra some while back. Now this seems to me to be something that a ‘remote viewer’ would have no trouble ‘getting’. There are so many unique things about it that I’d at least have expected the words ‘pirate’, ‘little’, ‘plastic’ to be key features of a description.

Imagine my discombobulation, then, when one of the very first comments to be left on the original post was a ‘prediction’ by faithful Acowlyte and regular reader, King Willy. The King commented:

‘I reckon there’s a pirate in that box, a little plastic figure.’

‘Holy Cow,’ I hear you exclaim! ‘King Willy really does have one of the TRVU magic pens, and they really do work! He got it spot on! C’mon Reverend, even your cynical old butt has got to admit that King Willy couldn’t have stumbled upon that description by pure chance!’

Well, as amused and surprised as I was, I realised immediately I could not have asked for a better illustration of how ‘psychics’ ply their trade. On the face of it, this sounds like a truly astonishing achievement – an unassailable example of King Willy’s clairvoyant powers. He was definitely unable to physically look in the box – we live many hundreds of kilometers away from each other. He also had no other way of knowing exactly what was in the box (he could have asked Violet Towne to look in the box, for instance, but he didn’t – Violet Towne had not looked in the box when King Willy posted his comment*). I didn’t drop any hints at all in the post, and I did not tell anyone what was in the box. No-one saw me put the pirate duck in the box. And yet The King described exactly what was in the box!

So how the hell did King Willy accomplish this astonishing feat?

Well, as it happens, herein lies the whole mechanism for the success of the ‘psychic’ industry. Now, although I know that King Willy will want to lay claim to the fact that he is indeed psychic, or that his psychic pen was running hot that day (King Willy is a rather silly fellow and likes to say things like that), his powers are not what they might at first seem.

On a purely technical level, there are a few things that a shyster could have done to come some way towards appearing to know what I’d hidden away from you all. First of all, the description ‘little’ is something of a no-brainer. The thing I’d chosen had to be small enough to fit in a box on a chest of drawers in my bedroom. Even if the box had been a shoe-box, most anybody could have persuasively argued that the object in it was ‘little’. Compared to an elephant, say, sure, it would have been.

But King Willy is no shyster, and that’s not what he was doing. So, even given that ‘little’ was an educated guess, what about ‘plastic’ and especially ‘pirate’? And the combination ‘little plastic pirate’? That’s a bit too much of a stretch isn’t it Reverend? Surely King Willy can’t have inferred all those things? Well, no, I agree, he couldn’t have deduced those things from the context of what I told you. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the King was guessing that what I put in the box was this:

A Little Plastic Pirate

And that’s because King Willy and Pil gave me this ‘little plastic pirate’ as a present for my birthday in 2006! Indeed, it has featured previously on The Cow as an item that lives in Mysterious Corner.

And it’s a pretty good guess. It’s likely to have been something I might have put in the box. It’s small, and interesting, and under normal circumstances something that would have been close at hand.† Which points to another key ‘psychic’ maxim: ‘Know your victim’. King Willy knows (along with most of my friends, including all you Cow readers), that I’m partial to things piratical. So a guess in the realm of one of my personal interests was also a reasonable prospect. In fact, I made a classic experimenter error by choosing the ‘pirate’ duck – it gives away something of my personality. To be more scientifically correct, what I should have done was ask a third party to find a number of objects for me and wrap them all up so I couldn’t see what they were. I should have then chosen one at random and placed it in the box. That way, even I wouldn’t have known what was in there.

The more astute of you will also realise that throughout this post I’ve been leading you by the nose when it comes to selling King Willy’s accuracy – a little while back I said ‘And yet The King described exactly what was in the box!’

This is a classic piece of psychological manipulation. King Willy, at no time described ‘exactly what was in the box’, although, had you been consulting a psychic, this is the very impression you would have been encouraged to adopt. King Willy explicitly missed some key features of the thing in the box – aspects I would have thought a lot more significant in a broader sense than ‘pirate’ or ‘little plastic figure’. ‘Black’, for instance, springs immediately to mind, but most obviously ‘duck’. Perhaps not so evident in the photo, but definitely important, is the large ‘hole’ in the bottom of the duck which makes it so clearly a pencil decoration.

So an accurate and acceptable description of what was in the box would surely be (very simply): ‘a pencil ornament that looks like a small black duck wearing a pirate outfit’ (in fact, I’d have to say that if King Willy had used even the two words ‘pirate’ and ‘duck’ in confluence it would have been enough to have given me pause, but then, given the circumstances, I’d have been more suspicious of nefarious dealings). If remote viewing were at all possible, then plainly it is only useful if it gives you significant details, rather than a few scattered facts that could be construed in any number of ways.

Strangely (or perhaps not), there were almost no other attempts to scry the box’s secret. Atlas tried the ol’ dependable ‘air’ (an expert ‘psychic’ ploy – go for something vague that can’t be disproved), Cissy Strutt opted for ‘human tooth’ (which I told you all was wrong, and in any case, she was using inside knowledge of me and Mysterious Corner as well – she just guessed badly) and Pil hinted that she knew exactly what it was, but, as all physicists know, although she was equally right and wrong until the box was opened, she was proved most definitely wrong on that event.‡

Unsurprisingly, no-one from TRVU showed up to take a stab – a task that should surely be trivial for remote viewing ‘experts’ who can look into the mind of Osama Bin Laden.

Maybe someone tried but they got distracted by the little pirate duck waggling around on the end of their pen?

___________________________________________________________________________

*In fact, she never looked in the box until I opened it. Of course, scientifically-speaking the possibility that she could have would completely negate the results of a genuine experiment. It is conceivable that King Willy & Violet Towne conspired, and VT sneakily opened the box when I wasn’t looking.

†As it happens, Mysterious Corner is still packed away in my storage, so the little pirate was very unlikely to be the thing in the box.

‡And Glitch wouldn’t fit in there anyway.

___________________________________________________________________________

As you know from recent tales, Violet Towne and I are having our house painted. Now that our home is slowly being illuminated in refreshing shades of clean brightness, we’re beginning to truly appreciate the awfulness of the colours that we’ve been living with up till now.

Take the former colour of the walls of our bedroom. Really, I find it hard to describe to you the true repulsiveness of the hue to which the the previous owners had chosen to awaken each morning. In fact, to my mind it was something that belonged less in the class of pigment than it did in the category of stain, being as it was a shade reminiscent of the flesh of three week-old dead salmon.

What kind of decision process must someone go through to choose a truly hideous colour for the decoration of their place of habitation? Where do they even find the paint to render their walls in such nauseous squalor; colours that certainly never appear on any paint chart I’ve ever seen?

Pondering these questions leads me to suspect that there is a whole class of paint swatches unavailable to People of Taste. Something kept out of sight under the counter with the pebblecrete brochures and garden gnome catalogues. A dog-eared little booklet that remains safely tucked away until a customer with the just the right damp-palmed, sweat-stained, combed-over demeanour enters the shop.

Something with pages that look like this:

Cowlux Colours

Morgovudka

Only From Tetherd Cow Ahead liquor outlets. Refuse all imitations.

One of the interesting aspects of writing a blog is the weft and weave of the ‘conversation’ that it becomes. I write something, people comment, we have a conversation, sometimes we continue that conversation elsewhere. We have in-jokes, and shared memories. We have running gags and traditions and circles of friends who pop up with insights and laughs and just plain ol’ howdy-doodies. It’s kind of like a never-ending cocktail party.

And every now and and then, a very strange person wanders in and sticks their finger in the cheese & onion dip.

You probably won’t have much awareness of what goes on behind the scenes at The Cow at any given time, except maybe for most recent few posts & comments. But sometimes, long after a post has been written, commented on, pinged & trackbacked & faded into blogscurity, a new comment appears. Usually it is just a person who has stumbled on The Cow via a link, or a search for something tangential to the post’s topic – normal people who leave normal (and often, very nice) observations. Sometimes it’s some nutcase with an obsession (check the Peter Popoff posts if you care – they attract loonies like corpses attract flies). And sometimes there are things that are just plain weird.

This morning, Atlas Cerise and I had cause to revisit this post – it’s my dissertation on why clever special effects don’t necessarily add anything to movies. It was the second part of a two-part post and the Cownoscenti had quite a good discussion about the whys and wherefores of moviedom. And if you read down the comments you will see the conversation ends rather naturally after a few days. Then, more than a year later someone who identifies himself* as mnorgovudkka says:

Hy my name is mnorgovudkka
Im from mongolia
Buy

Like a goth wandering through the front gate after the last guests have left, mnorgovudkka stands blinking in the bright porch light for a few seconds before shuffling back off into the shadows.

Mostly, I delete these kinds of daft ‘comments’ (and mostly they are linked to a site that I guess is some kind of spamming deal), but I left mnorgovudkka‘s comment because I thought it was kind of entertaining. It wasn’t linked to anything and it didn’t seem to be meaningful in any way – something wacky and pointless for people to find if they were reading back through the archives (kinda like Malach’s comments). It would have been far more amusing if mnorgovudkka had come from Romania, but hey.

Sure enough, during our conversation this morning, Atlas pointed the comment out to me, and I was kinda glad that he’d stumbled across mnorgovudkka‘s nutty noodling. But then, on a whim I plugged ‘mnorgovudkka’ into a Google search, and bugger me! 7690 hits! And guess what? Pretty much all of them seem to be mnorgovudkka‘s same daft comment. In internet terms, mnorgovudkka is a veritable internet celebrity!

For some reason, though, Google thought I’d made a mistake and helpfully suggested that maybe I didn’t mean to search for ‘mnorgovudkka’, but rather ‘morgovudka’, which makes equally as little sense. OK, I’m game, let’s see… clicking on ‘morgovudka’ returns exactly NO hits! Thank you Google, but where did you GET that name from, if there are no hits for it? WHERE? Did you make it up? Are you in cahoots with mnorgovudkka?

And, now that I’m blogging about this, I expect I’ve completely ruined the whole point of that last question because ‘morgovudka’ will return hits to this page! So the Google search will have become meaningful just because this whole series of bizarre events happened!!!

It’s like some freaky self-referential time warp and I’m trapped in it! SOMEBODY HELP ME!

___________________________________________________________________________

*Of course, mnorgovudkka could just as easily be female, but somehow…

___________________________________________________________________________

« Previous PageNext Page »