Cheeseburger Gothic

This, too, Conan finds best

Posted February 1 into Funny by John Birmingham

"Conan, what is best in life?"

To make the yellow light at the intersection with but a fraction of a second to spare, then to savour expressions of your enemies, the other, lesser drivers as they are bathed in the loathsome flash of the red light camera.

Conan, please, what is best in life?
To see a close friend stumble in public, to almost fall, and to regain his footing but only at the cost of great embarrassment. This. This is best. Most especially the embarrassment, but also the clumsiness.

Come now, Conan.
It is also best to find twenty dollars folded into your pocket. Not less, for there is little one can do with less. Not more, for with great riches, or fifty dollars, comes great responsibility. To accidentally find and wantonly spend twenty dollars is indeed best.

Conan, what is best in life?
Not the Celebrity Retweet, but the envy of your closest friends at your Celebrity Retweet.

Conan, is that really what’s best in life?
For Conan there is also pleasure to be had in the awkward, slightly uncomfortable moment when another must hold the door open longer than usual so that I might pass through.

Conan?
If the door is the entrance to a crowded restaurant or bar, and your long and awkward approach is long enough that a table opens up directly in front of you as you enter? This, this too is best in life. For some reason, greater pleasure is to be had in subterranean venues.

But what is truly best in life, Conan?
I speak true when I say that to freeze frame the TV just as your enemy is blinking so as to appear in the throes of a stroke, perhaps brought on by an explosive and unexpected end to a prolonged bout of constipation, this is best.

Conan, what is truly-ruly best?
To have a water balloon fight with small children in which your superior reach, speed and throw weight allows you to utterly drench them while you yourself remain dry.

Any more, Conan?
To drive one’s wagon to market, and pull into a parking space at the exact moment the wagon immediately in front of you pulls out, allowing you to claim the pull through slot and ultimately to drive away without the inconvenience of reversing, that is best in life.

Conan, is that seriously what is best in life?
The crusty edge on a muffin top also pleases Conan.

You’ve changed, Conan.
Conan does not change, not for mere pleasure, unless it is into a fleecy track suit, fresh from the warm cycle of the clothes dryer. This too Conan finds best.

Conan, there must be more than this.
Only the look on someone’s face as the elevator door closes with them still outside and Conan within, smiling, victorious.

From The Seven Stages of Drinking Martinis.

6 Responses to ‘This, too, Conan finds best’

jl mumbles...

Posted February 1
This was one of the very best from ASB. I laughed so hard I cried.

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insomniac has opinions thus...

Posted February 1
Yeah, nice.

On the parking, while I still had to suffer the indignity of reversing, I did manage to arrive at the right time to grab a parking spot as someone left, in an otherwise completely busy supermarket car park, and after someone else, who appeared to have been driving around looking for a spot, possibly for some time, gave way to me. That was best, and surprisingly guilt free.

FormerlyKnownAsSimon has opinions thus...

Posted February 1
oh dear god. That is evil. I dread that situation so much that when i build a time machine it won't be to kill baby hitler, it will be to make sure automobiles are never invented so that this situation (the person giving way) will never happen to me. Sure, saving all those people that had died through history due to automobile accidents is just a completed side quest.

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she_jedi ducks in to say...

Posted February 1
My only regret about the closure of ASB is that JB never wrote an article on Conan vs The Microsoft Security.

John Birmingham would have you know...

Posted February 1
Oh man...

she_jedi ducks in to say...

Posted February 1
IT'S NOT TOO LATE! #Justsayin'

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The Stand. A ten part TV series

Posted January 31 into Telly by John Birmingham

CBS has green lit the latest adaptation of the King's masterwork. A ten part, one-off series for its streaming service. The golden age of TV can't last, but it's got a few years left to run it seems.

One of the writer/producers, Josh Boone, tells a great story about coming to the work as a young boy.

“I read The Stand under my bed when I was 12, and my Baptist parents burned it in our fireplace upon discovery,” Boone said. “Incensed, I stole my dad’s FedEx account number and mailed King a letter professing my love for his work. Several weeks later, I came home to find a box had arrived from Maine, and inside were several books, each inscribed with a beautiful note from god himself, who encouraged me in my writing and thanked me for being a fan. My parents, genuinely moved by King’s kindness and generosity, lifted the ban on his books that very day.”

6 Responses to ‘The Stand. A ten part TV series’

she_jedi asserts...

Posted January 31
That anecdote gave me ALL THE FEELS! Also, I'm very excited about a new adaption of the Stand, especially in this golden age of TV.

John Birmingham ducks in to say...

Posted January 31
I know rite!?!

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Brother PorkChop ducks in to say...

Posted January 31
Wonderful book. Awesome news with a little trepidation around doing it right.

John Birmingham would have you know...

Posted January 31
The guy in charge sounds like a fan, which will probably work out okay.

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jason puts forth...

Posted February 1
No offence John but The Stand is probably my favourite book in the genre. I cannot wait for this to hit my screen.

John Birmingham reckons...

Posted February 1
None taken. Mine too.

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Polar Vortex explainer

Posted January 31 into Science and Tech by John Birmingham

Perhaps because we're roasting through another brutal summer down here, I'm all in on the polar vortex over in the US. If you've ever wondered how it all works, the New York Times has a cool infographic thingy right here.

15 Responses to ‘Polar Vortex explainer’

jl has opinions thus...

Posted January 31
Ah, the polar vortex. -2F/-19C on my front porch right now. Wind chills -25F/-32C. And that's a joke next to Minnesota or something.

she_jedi is gonna tell you...

Posted January 31
I saw reports today that Chicago is colder than Antarctica. I can't even.

jl reckons...

Posted January 31
Yeah, I heard the same thing. This is hell.

jason is gonna tell you...

Posted February 1
Time to migrate to Australia. We don't even have the minus symbol in our weather department.

jl mutters...

Posted February 1
Believe me, I've given it thought.

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FormerlyKnownAsSimon is gonna tell you...

Posted January 31
Got a mate living out Ann Arbor way and he sent me a pic of his car dashboard -23C with the words "the sun isn't even down yet". He did a 30sec dash to his car and said in that time his fingers felt like they were going to drop off. It gets cold where i live in the mountains - maybe a bit of snow a couple of times a year. But quite frankly i think he'd call my winter "shorts weather"

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FormerlyKnownAsSimon mutters...

Posted January 31
Got a mate living out Ann Arbor way and he sent me a pic of his car dashboard -23C with the words "the sun isn't even down yet". He did a 30sec dash to his car and said in that time his fingers felt like they were going to drop off. It gets cold where i live in the mountains - maybe a bit of snow a couple of times a year. But quite frankly i think he'd call my winter "shorts weather"

jl would have you know...

Posted January 31
Ann Arbor is 8 hours north of me, so they are catching it. It was the weirdest thing today. The sun was shining brightly, and the thermometer dropped all day, sun or not. This morning it was 15F, by sunset it was -2F.

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Murphy_of_Missouri would have you know...

Posted January 31
Otherwise known as, "Just another fucking winter in Missouri."

jl mutters...

Posted January 31
Ah c'mon, Murph, this is pretty cold!

Murphy_of_Missouri puts forth...

Posted January 31
Meh. Not really.

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Murphy_of_Missouri is gonna tell you...

Posted January 31
Then again, I have more snivel gear at 47 than I did at 19 in KSA.

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jl is gonna tell you...

Posted January 31
-21C here this morning. Close to a record.

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Bondiboy66 mumbles...

Posted February 1
Dare I mention the arse baking heat we had here in Bondi yesterday? I dare - it was 39C until the southerly blew in and knocked it down to the early 20s. Even the ocean was 21C. As for this polar vortex....I get cold just reading about it.

Murphy_of_Missouri has opinions thus...

Posted February 1
Send it to Missouri please.

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MUP

Posted January 30 into Writing by John Birmingham

So, I have a calendar entry for a phone hook up with Melbourne University Press on Feb 11 to discuss a book I was going to do with them, The City and the Tribe, a sort of Leviathan-like study of tribalism and modernity. I'm not sure that meeting is even going ahead now, since the entire board of MUP and the head publisher, Louise Adler, resigned today.

The Herald has a report here.

There have apparently been disagreements with the University over the direction of the house. Odd, because MUP is one of the most successful publishing houses in the country. Although, allegedly some in the University disparage its output as 'airport trash'. (A pretty grotesque slur in my opinion).

Anyway, I'm not as unsettled by the shenanigans as you'd imagine. I've been staring at the Commitment Matrix on the white board next to my desk and wondering whether I truly have the time to invest in a big prestige non fiction project. I know from Leviathan how much work is involved and I have a couple of other projects that would likely pay a lot more for much less demanding work. Airport novels, by way of coincidence.

I tried hashing this out with Dirk de Jager on Skype last week. I really want to avoid over-committing myself, but on the other hand I do have some financial damage from the last few years to repair and, just as importantly, I feel myself challenged to write this book.

Think I'll put my head down and lean into the other projects for now. Maybe have a look around next week.

13 Responses to ‘MUP’

insomniac reckons...

Posted January 30
JB needs to be like Vegemite. You need to spread what you have thick and goodly. To spread yourself too thin - well, all you get is tasteless and awful.

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jason reckons...

Posted January 31
Airport trash - I think what we choose to read on the plane defines our true love. 10 hours lost in another world or 10 hours cogitating the meaningless of existence (with footnotes). Give me mayhem any day.

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she_jedi asserts...

Posted January 31
I was deeply shocked by the MUP dust up yesterday, and ESPECIALLY by the "airport trash" slur; have these ivory tower snobs actually READ any of the 'ON' books that MUP produced (much less any of their other great books)? Katharine Murphy's On Disruption and David Speers' On Mutiny were brilliantly pithy and accessible treatises on events that are affecting us deeply but we as pleb airport trash readers may not necessarily be able to grasp, not having a conduit into the inner workings of these subjects. I'm also hanging out for the release of Paula Matthewson's On Merit, which should be a forensic tour de force on the LNP's woman problem.

It's sad that you may not end up with a publisher for the City and the Tribe straightaway, and I do understand the dilemma of producing more 'airport trash' to pay the bills vs challenging yourself on a big non fiction piece like this. I can't imagine the slog that went into researching and writing Leviathan, but can i just say that book is a fricking MASTERPIECE? Especially in the sense of a journeyman finishing his apprenticeship and producing his masterwork kind of way? You really earned the right to write airport novels after that one.

I am very much in favour of more 'splosions and 'airport trash', but would also very much like to devour a big non fiction treatise from you as well. Very few do blistering social commentary like you do, and I gave up the Boob to support the City and the Tribe and feel invested in it now (because it's all about me). But as I said when you pulled the pin on ASB, you have to do what works for you, and I'll buy whatever your publish anyway! xx

John Birmingham ducks in to say...

Posted January 31
I still haven't spoken to MUP, but I assume there's no way this idea of mine fits into the academic monograph plan. It's the sort of book you buy in an airport, after all. (But you still feel superior to the Dan Brown readers).
I could send an email this arvo and sell it somewhere else, but I really have been looking at my white board and chewing my lip worrying about whether I had too much on.

she_jedi puts forth...

Posted January 31
Yeah I can't see it fitting into their new plan of cutting off the revenue stream that would have helped fund the publishing of their monographs, which is very sad. The only good things that can be said about Dan Brown readers is at least they're reading, and that they exist to enable readers like me to feel superior.

Knowing nothing about the publishing process as I do, is it worth putting feelers out to see if you'd be able to sell it at all this year? If no one shows an interest then that's your answer and you can focus on the airport fiction instead of the non fiction. Or is the dilemma that someone will throw a wad of cash at you (in lieu of a truckful of cash backed up to your door) and then you'd be stuck having to deliver? I'm leaning toward the challenge/personal growth project simply because I've flagged 2019 as my year of doing stuff I've been making excuses about forever, but that's my narrative, not yours.

What other works would you have to delay in order to deliver this one? Maybe we can vote a book off the island? :P

John Birmingham swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted January 31
"Or is the dilemma that someone will throw a wad of cash at you (in lieu of a truckful of cash backed up to your door) and then you'd be stuck having to deliver?"

This.

she_jedi is gonna tell you...

Posted January 31
Ah. Yep that would do it. I guess you have to decide how badly you want to do it vs your other stuff? :(

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Rob reckons...

Posted January 31
Academic writing. The stuff only read by undergrads because they have to? I've read some utter trash in my new degree.(mostly it says Marxism good, capitalist hegemony bad)

Give me the clever snark and gold plated hovercrafts any day.


and 'splosions.

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Dirk has opinions thus...

Posted January 31
From my ivory tower near the summit of mount Olympus, I have only one question:
Did you burn enough ink today?

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Brother PorkChop asserts...

Posted January 31
Shame JB. I would have been keen to read this type of study. I did some courses on sociology and anthropology which I found really enjoyable. Since then (long long long ago) I have often thought of the tribal nature of societies and how football plays a role in continuing the tribalism BUT without the larger scale warfare. Yes, I know all about Chelsea headhunters (a friend of a friend was handed the knife) and lets not forget Millwall Bushwackers or FTroop.
Football can replace tribal warfare as an outlet for that aspect of our nature and I believe that over time this will prove to be true in Africa.
Thoughts?

John Birmingham swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted February 1
I'm in two minds Porky. I really did want to write this book. It still fascinates me as a topic. But I also have to some debts to pay off and airport novels will do that.
As to the topic, there's a great book called The Professor in the Cage, which I'll write up here in a week or two. Middle aged English Lit professor takes up cage fighting. It's hella entertaining, but also goes deep on the same issues.

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HAVOCK21 is gonna tell you...

Posted February 1
"I tried hashing this out with Dirk de Jager on Skype last week. I really want to avoid over-committing myself, but on the other hand I do have some financial damage from the last few years to repair and, just as importantly, I feel myself challenged to write this book"


I guess the hover must need a new polish or cut or whatever it is you outsource to some plebes etc...

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thetick has opinions thus...

Posted February 1
You gotta make your own decisions about how much work to do and stuff, but as an aside, I'd read the FUCK out of a book like that.

I mean, I'm gonna read all the rest of your stuff, but that sounds really interesting.

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On fighting, by Jason Lambright

Posted January 29 by John Birmingham

Punchy start to the week, eh? Jason Lambright riffed on my ju jitsu grading essay with a blog post of his own which should be compusory reading for any writer wanting to do more realistic action sequences. Drawing on long combat experience—actual combat, not just faffing around in a dojo—he's written an informed and densely informative post about the subjective experience of extreme violence.

Combat is an ugly word. I still get shivers when I think of it. Combat entails people trying to kill you in the dark, feeling naked and vulnerable beneath the stars above. It is the feeling of recoil against your shoulder, radio calls, falling leaves from trees and bushes. Combat is screaming. Combat means blood, lots of it, sticky pools of spreading black/red.

But before combat is something worse. It’s anticipation. Sudden combat is best, there is no time to think, only time to react. Someone opens up on you, you respond without thinking. While lethal and shocking, it’s better than knowing for long hours that you are going to assault a known enemy position, starting at time X.

Because this is a subjective piece, I can only speak for my reactions. I would smoke cigarette after cigarette, frequently lighting one with the cherry of the previous. I would obsessively go over the plan. Check my gear and the gear of my soldiers, over and over. Jump a little when a vehicle would start, or the word would come down to move out on foot. Felt the frequent need to piss, sometimes I would do it on the move. My hands would be numb. Whether this was physiological or a function of the weight of my equipment (usually about ninety pounds), I don’t know.

The whole post is worth reading and bookmarking if you write in this field.

You can find it here.

6 Responses to ‘On fighting, by Jason Lambright’

jason has opinions thus...

Posted January 30
Read it yesterday and think it is an amazing piece of writing. I wanted to keep reading.

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Dave W would have you know...

Posted January 30
Shivers

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she_jedi would have you know...

Posted January 30
That was incredible.

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Murphy_of_Missouri would have you know...

Posted January 31
The anticipation is definitely far worse than when it comes.

jl mumbles...

Posted January 31
Couldn't agree more.

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jl would have you know...

Posted January 31
Thanks, all. I've really been surprised by the response this has gotten.

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Ju Jitsu grading essay #1: Competitive fighting and skill development

Posted January 28 by John Birmingham

As part of my current grading I have to compose written answers to a series of questions. Unsurprisingy I've written too much. I thought I'd share my answers here over the next few weeks. This first essay address the importance of competetive fighting to skills development.


The American novelist Norman Mailer often wrote about the sport of boxing, which he covered professionally for magazines such as Esquire and Playboy, and which he practised as an amateur at a gym near his home in New York. Mailer was a bad boxer, but a mean and determined fighter. He thought deeply about the sport and why ancient combat arts persisted in a civilised society. Of sparring he once wrote that stepping into a boxing ring evoked two of the greatest fears men could know. The very obvious fear of being hit and hurt, but also the much less obvious and unacknowledged fear of hitting and hurting others.
Most of us live for the most part in this very civilised world. Children are taught from a young age to ‘keep their hands to themselves’ and ‘not to hit others’. It is a truism almost never questioned that ‘violence never solves anything’. To argue otherwise with a normal, well meaning person is to risk being thought of as a brute.
But of course violence can and does frequently ‘solve’ a very particular type of problem; the threat of aggression and violence arising from the actions of others. Their aggression can come from any number of sources, but ultimately it presents a problem to be solved by the target and potential victim of any attack.
To train in any fighting art is to accept this unpleasant truth.
Of course not all combat arts double as fighting sports. Some like Krav Maga are purely focussed on practical self defence. Others, like certain schools of aikido are as much philosophical pursuits of balance and flow in all areas of life as they are physical disciplines. Jujitsu shares with arts such as karate and boxing, a dual nature. Tracing its origins to the battlefields of medieval Japan, jujitsu offeres simple, practical and undeniably brutal answers to enemies who are presumed to be better armed, armoured and attacking with lethal intent. This raises legal and ethical problems. It is not simply that these particular techniques have no place in a sporting context. They are not suitable for use in any encounter, anywhere, other than a genuinely life threatening assault. And yet, the modern history of mixed martial arts tournaments, which has grown from an experimental oddity on an obscure Pay TV service, to a massive multibillion global industry, is a story of sports jujitsu winning out over other, better known and more popular striking arts. The adaptation of those earlier battle-tested techniques into less dangerous, non lethal and non-crippling waza, provided MMA fighters with an arsenal of throws, holds, strangles, chokes and generalised grappling methods that the demands of competition forced them to learn and perfect.
Jujitsu proved itself a crucial skill in battle. It has evolved into a crucial skillset in competitive fighting.
What then does fighting for sport offer the jujitsu practitioner? It is possible after all to progress through the ranks and never to fight competitively. Nonetheless a requirement of grading to shodan is to demonstrate at a minimum some skill and capacity in sparring.
There are, naturally, benefits.
Some are immediately apparent as soon as the supervising instructor calls hajime during a bout.
For instance, in training a good uke is compliant, especially at the lower belt ranks. (This also marks them as a smart uke, because flowing with the energy of the technique means that the applied force does not suddenly increase to a point of critical failure, such as a broken wrist from kote gaeshi). An opponent in a street confrontation, however, is not going to be compliant. Not at first, anyway. They will resist. They will move. They will counterattack. They will alter the line, the nature and intensity of their attack and defence as the confrontation evolves.
To fight competitively is to experience a noncompliant adversary in one of the most extreme ways possible without actually walking into a bar and picking a fight. Organised tournaments provide this intensity at a very high level, but simple dojo sparring and ground fighting can be immensely valuable too.
To fight a resisting opponent, especially one with some skill, is to learn quickly that the elegant, machine tooled technique you polished to a high sheen in practice, fails more often than it succeeds in a live confrontation. No plan survives contact with the enemy, as the military aphorism goes.
But to fight a resisting opponent under competition rules is also to learn that plans evolve. As do contests between fighters. If one plan fails, if one or two or three moves do nothing, you haven’t ‘lost’. You’re still fighting.
Eventually all students of the art learn that even in the controlled chaos of a sparring round or a ground fight, there can be time and space enough to plan and strategise. There can even be opportunities to slow the pace of the contest long enough to recover your breath, your balance, your ability to think and deploy another technique or string of techniques that might have more chance of success.
When facing an opponent in an open competition, the traditional jujitsu fighter will also learn to draw on the uncommonly broad range of skills learned in his or her art as opposed to, say, a striking art such as Tae Kwan Do, or a school more determinedly focussed on coming to grips, such as Judo or even Brazilian jujitsu. Competition thus teaches the jujitsu student to hone and select those techniques best adapted to counter the strengths of a particular opponent. In the same way that we do not answer hard, linear attacks with even harder linear responses, we do not trade punches with the boxer, or kicks with the karateka.
While this psychological battle rages, the student also learns that they will not die or collapse from shock the first time somebody hits or even hurts them. One of the benefits of having an autonomic nervous system that triggers a flight-or-flight reflex in a confrontation, is that the human body has evolved physical and biochemical responses to assist survival under duress.
Flooded with hormones and neurotransmitters, the body experiences, among other symptoms, accelerated heart rate, the inhibition of digestion, which can be experienced as ‘butterflies in the stomach’ or even nausea, the paling or flushing of the skin, the constriction of blood vessels, the drying of the mouth, the dumping of metabolic energy sources for fast muscular action, the flooding of major muscle groups with blood and oxygen, loss of hearing, tunnel vision and more. These responses can be so acute as to incapacitate somebody who is unfamiliar with them—after all, we do live in a civilised society—or unprepared to deal with them. In mild forms, most people would recognise these symptoms as nervousness or anxiety. In severe instances they manifest as physical terror.
Sparring for the first time will occasion anxiety. Probably many times afterward too. But eventually the student adapts. Fighting competitively also elicits autonomic alarm. But again, in time the body habituates.
As much as there are practical benefits to honing and polishing particular skillsets in supervised fighting, there are these psychological and emotional advantages to be had as well. Returning to Mailer, one of the principle, unrecognised virtues might well be teaching the new student that under certain circumstances it is actually all right to hit someone.

5 Responses to ‘Ju Jitsu grading essay #1: Competitive fighting and skill development’

jl puts forth...

Posted January 28
Pretty good piece. My father taught me not to pick a fight, but not to run from one, either. Learned this the hard way as a boy. And the anticipation of a fight is worse than the fight itself. Later on, when things were lethal, these lessons came to the fore.

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she_jedi would have you know...

Posted January 31
I loved this, your last sentence is key - I think the hardest part of learning any martial art is overcoming the deeply ingrained conditioning that tells us not to hit someone (this may be more so if you're female). The first time you land an actual proper blow is deeply shocking and weirdly exhilarating.

I met a couple of HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) practitioners at GirlClumsy's Raven On premiere, and now I'm amped to go learn medieval knife fighting. I've never felt so much like I've found my people when they gave me their flyer and business card; I've wanted to learn how to swordfight since I was a tween and couldn't conceive that there was a club that trained in this very thing!

jl mumbles...

Posted January 31
A weird talent my old boss in Afghanistan had was he was a semi-professional fencer. I'm still jealous- so pursue your sword thing. If you wanna know a good website to buy one, go to kultofathena.com.

she_jedi ducks in to say...

Posted January 31
I considered fencing for a time but never quite managed to get started, and the HEMA guys said that a lot of people start in sport fencing because they were searching for what the HEMA lunatics train in, and I was all "OMG YES THAT'S ME!"

And thank you for the website recommendation! I'm going to go marvel at pointy things now :D

jl mutters...

Posted January 31
Hey, no prob. If you buy one, make sure you get it sharpened for a small fee. Trying to do it yourself is a chore.

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