brendan halpin

I was a theater nerd in high school, and while I do love movies and recorded music, there is simply nothing better than a live performance. So on Friday, I went to the Sons of Italy hall in Watertown, Massachusetts, to enjoy a Chaotic Wrestling show. While other forms of live performance have gotten prohibitively expensive, wrestling remains blissfully affordable. My friend Greg got us tickets and really splashed out for the expensive seats: 25 bucks.

Aside: I’m kind of obsessed with the fact that pro wrestling is heir to a long tradition of popular theater reaching back at least as far as the 16th century and the Commedia Dell’Arte. No, seriously. This does not mean that I crave respectability for pro wrestling. Horror movies are starting to get respectable, and the result is that we’re being deluged with overlong, artsy “horror” movies in which nothing happens for the first hour. But I do think we should recognize that this is one of the very few forms of professional theater that is affordable to regular people. If you want to see Fat Ham at the Huntington Theatre in Boston (and I do!), it’ll cost you 55 bucks for the cheapest tickets. Whereas if you want to go to the next Chaotic Wrestling show, 15 bucks will get you in the door.

And if you do go, you’ll get three hours of high quality entertainment. You’ll get the high-flying acrobatics of Aaron “Evil Gay” O’Rourke! You’ll get the gritty toughness of Mortar! The insufferable arrogance of Ricky Smokes! The preening of Paris Van Dale! And the awe-inspiring mullet of Love Doug! Great character work and great stage combat skills. There were several moments that made me go, “holy shit!” Yes, the outcome is scripted, but the athtletic talent on display is real and often breathtaking and even more impressive for the fact that they’re trying not to hurt their opponents while appearing to beat the bejesus out of them.

I laughed, I yelled, I came home hoarse, and I really enjoyed a couple of great plot twists. (Long-time heel Chase Del Monte somehow got relegated to waterboy status, but then he rebelled and threw in the towel for his boss, costing him the match!) And then there was this: Brian “The Mecca” Johnson came out and gave a long, rambling speech (I suspect it was stretched out because Shannon Levangie’s match seemed to have been canceled at the last minute, which was covered up by having someone hit her in the back of the head with a bouquet of roses with a metal pipe concealed inside.).

Anyway, so Mecca goes on and on about how he got off on the wrong foot by disrespecting everybody, and now he has this contract saying he can have a title shot at any moment, but he’s going to “be a man” and wait for the next event in two weeks.

Later, ring announcer Rich Palladino says he’s very proud of the inclusive nature of the company and calls out the fact that there are a couple of fans “dressed how they want to dress, and we think that’s great.” (I’ve seen these folks at previous shows—they are assigned male at birth people in full makeup and fabulous dresses.) He says every month is pride month at Chaotic wrestling.

At the time, I was like, “wow, it’s like maybe not cool that he called these fans out like that, even though he was telling everybody how welcome they are.” But then, after Brad Cashew defeated Ricky Smokes in a grueling championship match, he’s making the rounds, getting high fives from fans, and he goes over to the area where those folks were sitting, and a person in a dress and long wig punches him in the face! And then hops over the barricade! It’s Mecca! In a dress! He demands his title shot then and there, and, wearing a dress and full makeup, beats the shit out of the exhausted Cashew and claims the championship belt!

Folks, it was a beautiful moment. And the fact that the whole thing was set up with the fans who were mentioned from the ring made it even better.

Oh yeah, did I mention that the performers are friendly and accessible and will happily sell you their merch?

Though I know the speech about inclusivity was part of the Mecca storyline, it was also true. There were all kinds of people in the ring and in the crowd, and everybody was welcome. And the vibe never even approached the “maybe violence is brewing” vibe you get at a lot of alcohol-drenched sporting events. It was just a great night at the theater.

If you live in Greater Boston, I highly recommend you check out a Chaotic Wrestling show. And if you don’t live here, I recommend you check out your local wrestling promotion. These aren’t giant evil corporations—they’re small DIY enterprises running mainly on a love of the art form.

#Review #Wrestling

Terrifier 2

Fun to see a straightforward slasher after decades of meta slashers, and Art the Clown is actually horrifying and David Howard Thornton's performance is fantastic. On the other hand,


Allie's death brings the movie into torture porn territory. Why is Allie tortured so extremely when every other character is dispatched comparatively quickly? Art's glee in this scene is truly unnerving, so maybe that's the only justification you need. The fact that I'm still thinking so much about this movie a day later shows that it's an exceptional slasher movie. Still,


What the fuck, people. Halloween was 91 minutes long. I guess I would be more forgiving of the bloated runtime if everything seemed essential, but there's a lot here that doesn't advance the plot or reveal character or scare us. Brooke dosing Sienna's drink is a long bit that doesn't go anywhere, all the bullshit with Dad's drawings never resolves satisfactorily, and the final battle plays out like the longest pro wrestling match ever, with both slasher and final girl apparently unkillable and also there's some bullshit with a water tank and a possibly-magic sword. Cut 30 minutes from this movie and it's a much better movie. Cut 50 minutes and it's probably an all-time great. As it stands, though, more is less.


With so many movies suffering from bloat these days, I appreciate a movie that gets its business done in 91 minutes. Some really stunning visuals, a fun, but not mind-blowing reveal, and the always amazing Danny Huston, one of my favorite nepo babies.

Ultimately kind of forgettable, and Jena Malone's performance is pretty one-note, but I was entertained enough to stay up late to finish it.

Dead & Buried

Very entertaining twist on the living dead genre. James Farentino is not quite actor enough to pull off the last third, but Dan O'Bannon delivers another stellar horror script. Not sure why this one is so obscure. It's better than most movies of its genre and era.


Definitely second-tier Argento. I like that this one, rather than being about color, is all about batshit camera work. There are several wonderfully memorable sequences, especially when the killer is identified. The needle thing is an iconic image, but he goes to the well too many times with that. The first time, it's shocking and horrifying. The third time, it's like, oh, yeah, there are the needles again.

So I would say good for Argento fans and/or fans of directors who like to go a little overboard with camera angles and movements, but for the general public, pretty missable.

Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein

Anything you read about Universal Pictures horror usually describes these movies as an embarrassment. But, as far as I can tell, horror comedy starts here. It's enlightening to watch this and see how influential it is, but, more than that, it's funny! The bad guys play it completely straight, which is key to a good horror comedy, and Lou Costello's terrified idiot is the blueprint for every terrified idiot at the heart of all the horror comedies that came after. A fun, cozy (to me and horror weirdos like me) watch.


Fun thrill ride anchored by Cassandra Naud's chilling performance. I saw the big twist coming at least an hour before it happened, but I didn't particularly care—still a very suspenseful, engaging and fun ride.


That's it. I have officially had it with “elevated” horror. You can tell it's not “just” a horror movie because the first half is boring as fuck! And if you're going to make an “elevated” horror movie, I would like to suggest that you put a little more into the effects because strapping a basketball to Maya's abdomen was a distractingly awful pregnancy effect.

In my ongoing efforts to overcome the sunk cost fallacy, I stopped watching after 45 minutes.

#Review #Horror #Movies

If you’ve been following the story of The Internet Archive being sued by big book publishers, you’ve probably seen stuff about how the Great Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive, is a library hero standing against the evil capitalist publishers.

But, as always, the truth is more complicated. Without getting too deep into the details of the lawsuit, here’s a very brief primer. Publishers license ebooks to libraries at absolutely predatory cost. Brewster Kahle asserts that if his Open Library, a division of The Internet Archive, owns a physical copy of a book, they have the right to digitize that book and lend out the digital copy forever. Publishers disagree.

As for me, I think the terms for libraries to license ebooks are outrageous and should be changed. I also have unauthorized digital copies of some of my books circulating through The Open Library, and while I’m sure this doesn’t represent a whole lot of lost revenue for me, it does represent some. Every other library that wants to circulate my ebooks pays for them. I think The Open Library should too.

But you can find lots of people with way more knowledge about copyright law than I have talking about this lawsuit online. What I’d like to talk about is Brewster Kahle, the founder of the Internet Archive and its subsidiary, The Open Library. (And something else called The Open Library of San Francisco, about which more later.)

It’s only a slight exaggeration to say searching for Brewster Kahle brings you mostly hagiographies. Here’s one. Here’s another. And a third. I could quite literally do this all day.

You would think that we’d be starting to get a little skeptical of Noble Rich Tech Guy narratives, but not where Brewster Kahle is concerned. It’s hard to find a critical word about Brewster Kahle on the internet. I’d like to change that.

First, let’s go through the official version of his bio and note some pretty significant stuff that’s missing. Here’s the first part of the Wikipedia entry on his career: After graduation, he joined Thinking Machines team, where he was the lead engineer on the company’s main product, the Connection Machine, for six years (1983–1989).

You know who else started at Thinking Machines after graduation? Me! I used to sort the mail and do gofer-type-stuff for the customer support department!So let me give you some inside knowledge on The Connection Machine: it cost millions of dollars, and it didn’t work. I mean, I guess it kind of worked, but let me tell you as someone who spent a lot of time in the customer support department: the damn things broke down literally all the time. Fun fact: if you purchased a Connection Machine from Thinking Machines Corporation, you got two full-time engineers to go with it. It was that unreliable. So being lead engineer on this absolute turd of a product is really nothing to brag about.

But how, then, did Thinking Machines manage to sell any of these machines? Well, the rumor at the time was that cofounder Sheryl Handler had a lot of government connections, and so a bunch of these went to National Labs or had their purchase funded by DARPA grants. So, like so many inspiring tales of entrepreneurship, Thinking Machines Corporation was essentially a transfer of public money into private pockets. Eventually even the Department of Defense wanted machines that actually worked, and the machines stopped selling and the company effectively ceased to exist. Did you enjoy those unreliable Connection Machines and reliable full-time engineers you bought with your tax money in the 80’s and 90’s? I know I did! (The engineers would periodically come to Cambridge and they were pretty cool guys and fun to party with besides, so there was that).

Something else I noted in one of the St. Brewster hagiographies is the assertion that Thinking Machines developed “systems for searching large text collections.” Now, while it’s true that Brewster Kahle did head up such a project at Thinking Machines, the implication here is that this was the focus of the company. This is pure horseshit. You just can’t make me believe that national labs, which spend more than half their money on military research, were shelling out five million bucks in 1990 to buy Connection Machines to do text searches.

Okay, so somehow Brewster takes his indirectly-funded-by-taxpayers search project, WAIS, out of Thinking Machines (no idea how, contractually, he managed this, but good for him, I guess) in 1992, and sells it to AOL for 15 million bucks in 1995, parlaying public investment into private wealth in the storied tradition of Silicon Valley. Kahle’s official bios refer to WAIS as “a precursor to the world wide web,” which I guess sounds better than “the tech behind AOL’s godawful Webcrawler search engine.”

Having cashed out of WAIS, Brewster Kahle started another project. Here’s the official word from his bio on In 1996, Brewster co-founded Alexa Internet, which provides search and discovery services included in more than 90 percent of web browsers, and was purchased by Amazon in 1999.

The hagiographies will tell you that Alexa Internet is the backbone of the Internet Archive because it collected snapshots of webpages that users visited in order to archive them. What they gloss over is that this means that they got this (and created recommendations for other pages for users to visit) by tracking users across the web. Why do you think Jeff Bezos bought this technology for a quarter of a billion 1999 dollars? Because he cares about preserving the internet for future generations? No–because he wants to know what web pages you’re looking at so he can more efficiently sell you stuff and make more money!

How’s this for irony: Brewster Kahle, a guy who made hundreds of millions of dollars helping Jeff Bezos obliterate your internet privacy, is on the board of advisors of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. Is this hypocrisy or atonement?

Okay, so the great hero of open information sells your web activity to Amazon and then devotes himself full time to “working to provide universal access to all human knowledge,” as his official bio at says, which somehow, years later, equates to him refusing to pay for legitimate ebooks.

A couple more interesting nuggets. In 2012, Brewster Kahle founded the Internet Archive Federal Credit Union. In 2015, the Federal Government shut it down. Here’s the government’s version, and here’s Kahle’s, filtered through a credulous NYT reporter and boosted by the normally-skeptical Cory Doctorow. I don’t know about you, but I find the idea of overzealous bank regulators in the United States of America pretty tough to swallow. Having said that, the assertion that regulators wouldn’t leave them alone after they flirted with Bitcoin…doesn’t seem like a terrible thing to me. Finally, this institution had 2.5 million dollars of assets when it shut down in 2015. I don’t know much about banking, but I do know that that is a pathetically small amount of money for a credit union. I guess the best face you can put on this is that it was a halfassed effort by people who had no idea what they were doing, which is usually the best face you can put on any disaster that follows from a tech guy getting out of his lane.

So the legend of Brewster Kahle, the hero of open knowledge, omits and glosses over some information that makes the story more complicated. Of course, all of our lives are complicated. So why try to obscure the complications? Why this deliberate mythmaking around a regular, flawed human being? It’s dangerous to create a mythology built on omissions and half truths around a person. It imbues them with some sort of superhuman status which they don’t deserve because no one does. So the fact that there’s a lot of bullshit inherent in the mythology of Brewster Kahle is reason enough to dispel it. He’s a guy who’s done some things that are good and some things that are not so good. He’s good at some stuff and not very good at other stuff. He’s had professional ups and downs like most people his age. But, ultimately, he’s devoting his time and money to a noble cause now. Isn’t that a good thing?

Well. Kind of. Look, there’s no question the Internet Archive is useful, and my quibbles with the Open Library picking my pocket for a few bucks aside, it’s a cool site. The concert recordings alone are worth the price of admission, which is free! It’s great to have this public resource.

Except, wait a minute. It’s not a public resource. It’s a nonprofit controlled by Brewster Kahle, who is accountable to no one for what he does with it. (Yes, the Internet Archive has a board of directors, but it’s three people, and he’s one of them.). We have public libraries all over this country whose directors are accountable to local government officials, who are accountable to voters. The public library belongs to all of us. The Internet Archive belongs to Brewster Kahle.

Public libraries and public archives have many many items in their collections that they’re dying to digitize. Digitization is a tedious, time-consuming, and expensive process and therefore goes very slowly. Brewster’s millions could have helped a lot of libraries digitize their collections. Instead, he’s literally buying hard copies of books that public libraries already own in order to digitize them rather than just funding the digitization process at public institutions. If he really wants to ensure public access to all human knowledge, what’s his objection to funding the work of public libraries? Well, of course, if he did that, we’d ultimately be in charge of the project. What’s Brewster Kahle’s objection to that?

What, for that matter, is his objection to paying estate taxes and capital gains taxes to fund things like roads, schools, and, um, libraries? He and his wife have a private foundation that makes a lot of money from stock appreciation and engages in some relatively anemic giving. Forbes magazine tells me that family foundations are a good way to avoid paying capital gains and estate taxes, though I confess I don’t understand the mechanisms involved, so I assume that’s what this foundation is really about. This isn’t unusual rich person behavior, but it does feel extra shady coming from a guy who styles himself a champion of libraries. (Weird fact: The Kahle/Austin foundation owns shares in a for profit entity called The Open Library of San Francisco which shares an address with the Internet Archive and is also run by Brewster Kahle. No idea what this means, but I assume it’s more wholly-legal-but-ethically-questionable rich person tax avoidance.)

Okay, so Kahle is a rich guy who uses loopholes to avoid properly funding public goods and thinks he’s the best person for the job of ensuring open access to all of human knowledge.. Even still, Kahle seems infinitely more stable (and substantially less wealthy) than Elon Musk, so I don’t think he’ll intentionally ruin TIA for spite, though of course he could do so. Tomorrow. He could decide that certain countries or IP addresses don’t count under “universal access.” He could remove entire domains of knowledge from the archive. Despite having worked in the same building as Brewster Kahle, I don’t know him at all and have no reason to suspect he’s going to do those things. But he does have the power to do them with no consequence at all. That’s just too much power for one person to have.

But the problem goes beyond the fact that one person (fallible, flawed, and hobbled with unconscious biases like all of us) has placed himself in charge of all this information; a deeper problem is that TIA seems to be yet another Silicon Valley attack on the very idea of the public good. The Silicon Valley elite fundamentally don’t believe in democratic institutions. They believe that a Great Man (always a man) must be in charge of things in order to really get things done. Do you know who runs the New York Public Library? What about the Los Angeles Public Library? Unless you are employed by one of these systems, you probably don’t, and I would argue that this is a good thing. The preservation and propagation of knowledge is far too important to be left in the hands of one person. That’s why we have institutions.

So please. Let’s stop tripping over ourselves to canonize tech guys when they deign to do something not completely terrible, and while we’re at it, let’s fight to preserve and protect the institutions we collectively own and control.

When I was in the 8th or 9th grade, I bought a copy of Relayer, an album by the band Yes, mostly because Spin hadn’t started yet and I didn’t know Maximum Rock and Roll existed and so I got all my music knowledge from the local rock station and Rolling Stone magazine, both of which had me convinced the Yes was A Band That Mattered.

I was excited for side 2, a 22-minute (!) song called “The Gates of Delirium.” Because, also due to my rock radio brainwashing, I equated length with quality. All the “masterpieces” that topped the station’s top 100 or 500 or whatever countdowns year after year were long. Stairway, Won’t Get Fooled Again, Hey Jude—you gotta go over the 5-minute mark if you want your song to be counted as a masterpiece.

And I tried. I mean, I really tried to like it. But it’s essentially unlistenable. So much so that my friend Kevin, who remains a fan of the band Yes to this very day (and who falsely accuses me of being a Hoobastank fan just because he can’t find a band I actually like that’s as bad as Yes) understands when I say this was the first Yes album I listened to and therefore the band is my enemy.

Now, let’s be clear—the guys from Yes were incredibly talented musicians. And, ultimately, this is what “Gates of Delirium” is about. It’s not a song so much as a flex. You want weird chord progressions? We can do that! Shifting time signatures! We can do that too! Virtuosic drum and guitar and keyboard and bass playing? Yep!

But what it isn’t is a song. Or, at least, it’s not a song that’s recognizable as part of the pop idiom. It’s a meandering mess whose entire purpose appears to be to demonstrate to the listeners that the band members are very skilled musicians. Noted! Probably didn’t need 22 minutes for that!

And here I am, 400 words deep into a book review and I haven’t even mentioned the book yet.

So let’s talk a bit about Hillary St. John Mandel’s The Glass Hotel. I’m thinking about Yes after listening to about 65% of this novel on audio because it reminded me of The Gates of Delirium. Which is to say it’s the work of an incredibly talented writer. (Way more talented than I am, just to state the obvious). You want breathtaking prose? She’s got you! You want characters so richly imagined that she can take you into the inner life of just about anyone who appears in the novel? She can do that!

And there are, as I always tell my creative writing students, many pleasures to be had in reading, and if what you want out of a novel is sumptuous descriptions, incisive insights into the human condition, and believable characters, you might really enjoy this book.

If you want a story, though...well, this seriously misses the mark. It’s more of a kaleidoscopic view of some events. Which, again, if that’s your jam, cool, but I want to be told a story.

I feel like this book is ultimately a failure of editing on the part of both author and editor. Because part of telling a story is deciding which story you want to tell. And so if you’re telling the story of the hot, class-hopping bartender/trophy wife/merchant seawoman, who is clearly the character you’re most interested in, then maybe you don’t include a chapter about every secondary character she encounters along the way. Because then there’s no thread to follow. It’s just a bunch of snapshots.

I kept waiting for it to cohere into a novel, and it just never did. I gave up at 65% because I didn’t care. And also because the too-frequent and often confusing time jumps mean there’s never any suspense because by the time you see something take place, you’ve already read about the aftermath.

The thing about a tour de force, (literally, tower of strength) is that you have to actually build a tower. This book is all strength, no tower. (Yes, I know that tour can also mean turn. I’m taking license, okay?)

And now, to finish with a few random complaints I couldn’t fit elsewhere.

She writes about acid pens like we’re supposed to know what the hell they are.

Not the hoary cliché of people thinking they see the dead person they miss/killed/feel responsible for the death of. Shakespeare did that 400 years ago and it has not gotten any fresher.

It's fun as a reader to fall in love with a beautiful or clever turn of phrase. But when the author falls in love with it, it gets annoying . “Kingdom of Money” felt wonderfully incisive the first time Vincent thought it. By the hundredth, I was like, let it go, Vince. Find another description.

There's a political critique of this book that is probably an entire essay, but let's just say this: pay attention to who does and does not matter in this book. One character is implicitly critiqued for saying that the staff has become invisible to her, but, in a book where everyone and their grandmother gets a chapter, the staff never does.

Did you know? Readers can often figure out themes without the author reminding them what they are in each chapter! True!

Compelling, delightfully nasty satire of publishing that pulls off a neat trick rarely seen in satire: reveling in ambiguity. The protagonist is horrible and self-aggrandizing, racist and deluded and also right about some things. The wronged dead writer is wronged and dead and also an awful person, and the people on the outside investigating and commenting are right and also just as awful and self-aggrandizing as anyone else. A deeply cynical, suspenseful, and misanthropic read I'd put up with the best of Patricia Highsmith.

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