Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Killer's Account Can't Provide Answers

Hartford Courant columnist Helen Ubinas asked in her blog today for reactions to the fact that a book based on an accused murderer's account of a horrific Hartford-area crime is sold out at bookstores across the city. This despite near-universal expressions of disgust at the book's publication, and proclamations that no decent person would ever read it.

Something prompted me to write a comment to Ubinas's post, and as I typed what I thought would be a couple of sentences, my thoughts expanded into a short essay that started to feel like a blog entry of my own, so here it is:

Based on the description of the book in yesterday's Courant -- it contains horrifying details, many supplied to the author in lengthy handwritten notes, which the killer concluded with smiley faces -- the book is a window into an unspeakably twisted psyche. I question the wisdom of peering into that window (I haven't sought out the book), but I think the impulse to do so goes beyond train-wreck voyeurism.

Looking at an accident scene invites us to put ourselves in the victim's place, and reminds us how fragile life can be: A moment's carelessness, or just being at the wrong place at the wrong time, can change everything forever. If we know the victims, even remotely, or if we're feeling contemplative, an accident can also prompt us to ask why such terrible things can happen. Partly in order to avoid the same fate ourselves, but also on a more cosmic scale -- why do bad things happen to good people?

Those feelings certainly apply to the Petit family, but their tragedy goes beyond the scope of "ordinary" accident or mischance -- and the book promises at least a partial answer to the the "Why?" question that goes unanswered in more random events: Human beings (for lack of a better term) decided to inflict this horror on innocent people, on children -- and from the brief account in the paper, they did so on a whim, as some kind of sick amusement. It's only natural, I believe, for us to want to try to make sense of that, and I think that's where the appetite for this book arises.

The motive for publishing the book is obviously self-serving on the part of the killer -- and he is a killer, under the law and by any moral measure, even if we accept the transparently "exonerating" account that pins all homicidal acts on his partner. Depending on how the book is put together, the author and publishers could be seeking a quick buck by exploiting a terrible tragedy, or making a good-faith effort to shed light on the workings of the criminal mind.

Either way, I think the likelihood that the book will offer meaningful insight is nil: Only sociopaths could have done what was done to the Petit family, and sociopaths by nature are incapable of seeing people as anything but objects for their exploitation. The sociopath's fundamental lack of empathy means he would never put himself in the place of an accident victim or ask why something terrible could befall another person. The incapacity to ask that question means he can never answer it for the rest of us.

Posted via web from Jim's posterous

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Paging Mr. Herman.

Pee-Wee is back, and he doesn't look a day over -- well, however old he was when we last saw him in his man-child suit and bowtie.

Pee-Wee turned up on Jay Leno's show Tuesday night, and his appearance evidently gave the dull program a ratings boost over what the relentless NBC hype machine could deliver. I tuned in only for Pee-Wee, and the tepid monologue and goofy schtick that preceded his arrival were a chore to sit through: Gyrating Shakira was pronounced "Hot"; Tom Delay on Dancing with the Stars, "Not Hot". Batten down for gales of laughter!

Pee-Wee (Paul Rubens was NOT in the house) was a little subdued compared to appearances of old. I remember him back in the late 80s on Letterman (I think), being much more manic and smart-aleck bratty (for lack of better term). With Leno, he was still a little nutty, but polite and even officious. His best joke was his opener, in which he responded to Jay's "What's new?" query by ostentatiously displaying a gold band on his left ring finger. "It's my abstinence ring," he explained. Someone at CBS news evidently didn't get the joke.

Pee-Wee is promoting his live theatrical show, which (he announced at the end of his segment) has proven so popular that it had to be relocated to a larger theater to accommodate all who want tickets. The show combines elements of the kiddie-oriented "Pee-Wee's Playhouse" TV show with the original "Pee-Wee Herman Show," an adult-focused (and double entendre-riddled) revue that introduced Jambi the Genie, Miss Yvonne, and other characters who would later be part of the "Playhouse" gang.

Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, Tim Burton's feature-film directorial debut, remains a favorite movie of mine. (His follow-up flick, Big Top Pee-Wee, is an unfortunate mess.) I'm a big fan as well of his TV show, Pee-Wee's Playhouse. It had fantastic production design and was subversive, for kiddie fare in the bland "Care Bears" 80s. I was in my 20s when it aired, but I loved the "everything talks" conception of the playhouse; the idea of kids across America waiting to "scream real loud" whenever anyone at home said the Secret Word of the day; the vintage "King of Cartoons" animations; the "bad influence" of Pee-Wee's tough-guy puppet pal Randy; and the authentic 50s-kiddie-show cheesiness of Conky the Robot.

I won't be in L.A. anytime soon, so I hope the new show gets taped, or that there's some other way in which I can check out the revival of Pee Wee from here on the East Coast.

In the meantime, there's a consolation prize. Leno wasn't the only place PW turned up this week. He's a trending topic on Twitter today, and I just learned he's tweeting as @peeweeherman! Hope I made you look!

Posted via email from Jim's posterous

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

All Kids Love LogMeIn!

Secure remote access via LogMeIn is a great free service!

I just learned about this nifty tool from Ren & Stimpy fan Jeff Pittelkau, an esteemed friend and former colleague. LogMeIn provides secure remote-control access to your Mac(s) and PC(s) from any Web browser. Very handy -- and, at it's most basic level, also free.


To use it, you create a user account at LogMeIn and install a small application file on each computer you want to control. If you plan to use specific computer(s) as "command center(s)," you can install an optional Firefox plug-in on them to streamline the LogMeIn log-in process, but any browser will work, plug-in or no plug-in.

When you log in to your account, LogMeIn shows you a list of the client computers you've configured. Choose the one you want to drive, enter your user ID and password for that machine, and the desktop of the target computer appears in a browser window. Mouse movements/clicks and keystrokes within that window affect the remote machine. So you can launch and close applications, move and rename files, etc. You could, for instance, open Gmail on the remote machine and email a photo to yourself (or anyone else). You can't, in the free version of LogMeIn, download the file directly to the computer you're using to drive the remote machine, but a (PC-only) pro version of the software enables drag-and-drop file transfers, local printing of documents on the remote machine, and other cool features. 

Special controls in the LogMeIn window let you adjust output volume on the target machine, save shortcuts to folders and applications you access frequently, and force-quit applications on the target machine (needed because typing CTRL-ALT-Delete, even in the remote-control window, will trigger force-quit on your local computer, not the one you're controlling).

The speediness and responsiveness of the remote computer will vary, presumably with the speed/bandwidth of your Web connection. There's a little sluggishness, but nothing that makes it unusable. After all, this is an "I need that in a pinch" kind of tool; it's not meant for long work sessions. I've set it up so I can safely access my own Mac, and I plan to install it on my dad's MacBook as well, so I can help him troubleshoot occasional glitches.

Thanks for the tip, Jeff!


Posted via email from Jim's posterous

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Hubble Humbles

Great slideshow of images from the revamped Hubble Space Telescope. Favorite image, and favorite caption: Slide 5, "Galactic Wreckage in Stephan's Quintet". Can't wait for the King Crimson song it inspires. ;-)

Posted via web from Jim's posterous

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Google's Comic-Con tribute logo

Superman must be on a mission. Or maybe Clark Kent is live-blogging from San Diego.

Posted via web from Jim's posterous

Friday, July 17, 2009

New to me: 100 Creative Twitter Backgrounds Featuring Illustration (via @nicholaspatten)

This was posted a couple of weeks ago, but I just tripped over it via Nicholas Patten, my newest subscriber on Posterous, whose work is among the highlighted examples. Thanks, Nicholas!

Posted via web from Jim's posterous