Saturday, August 30, 2008

Ugh

Michael Moore, in a clip that's on MSNBC but which I'm not going to link because I think he's a pig, suggests that a Category 5 (sorry, at the time the forecast was that it would only be a Category 3 storm) hurricane hitting the Gulf Coast as the Republican National Convention begins is "proof there's a God in Heaven." He says he hopes no one gets hurt, which of course makes it OK that their homes and businesses might be destroyed.

Mike, I know I have some colleagues who claim to speak for God and who have suggested that this or that storm in the past has been a sign of God's disfavor with our nation. Unlike them, I don't think I can speak for God, but I'm going to guess that He'd say that if a devastating storm smacking people who haven't fully recovered from the last one is what you need to believe in Him, He'll give you a pass if you want to be an atheist.

If he passes that message along through me? The part where I say that grown men don't wear baseball caps 24 hours a day and that you're far enough past puberty that you should give up on that scraggle on your face ever becoming a beard and that you could stand to donate some of what's in your refrigerator to some Third World nations -- just remember that's not from God; it's purely my own opinion.

Friday, August 29, 2008

One down, one to go

OK, so the Democratic National Convention is over. Lots of speeches. Some soared. Some stunk. Some apparently did both at the same time, depending on which commentator you listened to. Or which buddy you listened to. Or which cell-phone user at the mall you were forced to overhear.

In the introduction to his Dave Barry Hits Below the Beltway, humorist Dave Barry (I am not making that up) describes an episode of Aaron Sorkin's The West Wing. In the episode, the cast did a lot of back-and-forth about whether or not the president should denounce an environmental group that hadn't denounced eco-terrorism. Barry notes that the topic of discussion was "whether the president should say harsh words to a group because that group had failed to say harsh words to another group." Nobody, he says, was talking about doing anything, only about what they would say. I remember watching a similar episode, only the issue was whether or not the speech the president would give when he talked about -- I think -- running for a second term was ready. The press secretary lied to the reporters who asked if it was ready and then berated people who were supposed to make it ready. The central focus, though, was on the words and only the words.

In a footnote on the same page, Barry notes that when the government does something, it is often silly, such as regulating the size of holes in Swiss cheese. Page 2. It'll throw you at first, because the United States Department of Agriculture doesn't call them "holes," but "eyes." I personally do not want in my cheese eyes of any size, be it Swiss or otherwise. So maybe it's not a bad thing when they spend so much time worrying about what they say, instead of what they do.

Here's the thing about speeches. They're words. People wrote 'em, then they or sometimes other people say 'em. Speeches are talking. Maybe they're great talking, maybe they're mediocre talking or maybe they're awful talking. But they're just talking, and I think I've mentioned that preachers learn early how much just talking by itself is worth.

In The De-Voicing of Society. communications professor John L. Locke used an interesting phrase to describe the spoken word. Breathing, or respiration, has two parts. We take air in, which is inhaling or inspiration. Then we let it out, which is exhaling or expiration. Technically, spoken words come when we exhale and use our lips, tongue and teeth to modulate the sound the air produces when it passes over our vocal cords. So, as Locke notes, spoken words are "expired air." A speech -- any speech, just like any sermon -- is in reality a whole lot more expired air. I guess it's up to the listener just how much the other use of the word "expire" applies to whatever they've just heard, but in any event, that air's expired. That thought sobers me when I think about what I'm going to say when I preach, to hope and pray that the air I'm going to expire has an impact beyond itself or I'll wind up with just a lot of used-up air.

Some would note that blogging is pretty much the same thing, only without the breathing and speaking part, and that I've just spent a whole post talking about talking. Well, sure.

But I didn't use up any air.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

My country, 'tis of thee...

I'm in no way sure I'd vote for this guy -- I don't know enough about him and what I'm learning isn't convincing me.

But a nation that spent the first eighty years of its history allowing people to be bought and sold because of the color of their skin has seen one of its major political parties nominate a person of that skin color for its highest office. To see that, regardless of political leaning or party, and not be proud of it is to misunderstand so many things that the difference between that number and "everything" wouldn't make change for a nickel.

I live in the best country in the world, and I say it with gratitude because I know how little I had to do with showing up here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

But What Do the Clothes Look Like?

I will admit up front that if attractiveness is the criteria by which super-shallow clothier Abercrombie & Fitch judges who's out on the sales floor and who's in the stockroom, I'm the guy sweeping up after closing.

The company was founded in 1892 by a man named David Abercrombie, who joined with Ezra Fitch in 1904 in selling outdoor gear to people who hunted, fished, camped, etc. The pair split in 1907 when Abercrombie wanted to keep the outdoorsman market while Fitch wanted to expand to some more general goods. Abercrombie sold his share to Fitch. The company sold outdoors gear and sports clothing first to men, then also to women beginning in 1910, and pretty much continued to do that for the next several decades.

The Limited company bought A&F in 1988 as it was losing sales and revamped the brand to sell youthful preppy clothes. Over the course of the 1990s, the company catalog was redesigned to figure out how to sell those clothes in as sleazy a manner as possible, especially with its quarterly catalog-magazine, or "magalog" called A&F Quarterly. In addition to photos featuring models who had decided not to wear A&F clothes or much else, there were interviews with pornographic film performers and, in 1998, a "Back to School" issue that featured several alcoholic drink recipes. The company stopped publishing the quarterly in 2004, although they did publish an edition in England earlier this year.

In any event, the company's policy about who gets to flash their pearly whites to the paying public highlights the lie at the heart of their marketing campaign. Kids, the story goes, if you wear this neato-keen A&F stuff, or Hollister, or whatever other label we decide to print on the same shirt so we can sell it to you for more money, then you will have the same cool look as the impossibly good-looking models we have in our pictures! Buy and wear these and you'll look just like our models and the preppy, square-jawed fellas and all-American gals we employ at our store!

Unless, of course, you don't. In which case you stay in the back room and you fold stock and you'd better not even dream about opening your troglodyte mouth in front of the customers.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Seen at the gym

One of the TVs was tuned to something called "The Reality Channel," which I fortunately do not receive on my DTV box. While I was there, we were entertained by something called Man Vs. Beast 2, in which people competed in different athletic contests against animals. Often the people won because the animals got bored, which ought to say something right there.

Next was World's Most Shocking Moments Caught on Tape. According to the Internet Movie Database, there's also a WMSMCOT 2, and I don't know which one I was watching, but it hardly matters. Some of the shocking moments were young ladies lifting their shirts at different events where there was a lot of alcohol, film which later inspired both Joe Francis's business and his jail sentence.

Others involved different crimes caught by surveillance cameras. Here's a tip, mouth-breather. That camera up in the ceiling? There's people on the other end of it who watched you stuff the shirt up under your sweater. And you wearing a sweater in August is the reason they're watching you. Ducking down behind the clothes rack may hide you from the sales clerk, but it doesn't make you invisible.

Yet a third category of shocking moments involved people who, either for revenge or just because they're really stupid, perform some bodily function in or on something that belongs to someone else. Urinating on sofa cushions or in gas tanks or food storage or whatever, defecating on someone's desk or property, spitting or blowing the nose into food or other items -- you name it, someone has been dumb enough to do it in a place where they are likely to be taped. Not only that, the somehow believe they are making some kind of statement by doing so. A statement other than, "A five-year-old is more mature than I am," that is.

My solution to this problem is simple. If the person committing this act is under 25, there's hope. Send them back to day care for remedial bodily function training so that they can learn that adults express displeasure, disagreement or distaste with words, not with waste products, mucus, saliva or the display of buttocks. When they have shown they understand this idea, allow them back into society, but require them to wear diapers for six months in case of accidents.

Should the guilty party be over 25, it's too late. Put them in zoos with the other chimps so they can live out their lives in conditions as close to their natural habitat as science can provide. It's the only humane thing to do.

Mounds of trouble?

Elsewhere, I have noted that my love of baseball does not indicate any great ability to play the game. So in this situation, I would have been one of the kids whiffing on 9-year-old Jericho Scott's pitches. Of course, I would have been whiffing on most everybody else's pitches, too, so perhaps that's besides the point.

To briefly recap, a Little League group in Connecticut tried to disband young Master Scott's team because his coach wouldn't pull him off the mound during a game. The other team walked off the field in protest of facing him. What's his problem? Is he unsportsmanlike? Does he hit batters? Is he greasing the ball with illegal substances? Parents of 9-year-old boys everywhere are well aware that Gaylord Perry had nothing on their sons when it comes to having unknown and potentially illegal substances smeared on their hands at most times. As well as their faces, shirts and in their pockets. Sometimes, during hay fever season, they produce their own spitball material right there on the mound!

Nope, none of these. Jericho's problem is that he throws fast and accurately. Even those uninterested in sports can probably see that this is not a problem, except for the other team, and therein lies the issue. According to the other teams, Jericho is too good so the coach shouldn't pitch him. Their young athletes are discouraged even before they step up to the plate and they psych themselves into believing they'll strike out. Whether or not the other young batters are any good, it's pretty obvious that their coaches leave a lot to be desired. Because, in the words of some great philosopher somewhere sometime, "Good ain't perfect."

And it's been awhile since I was nine (I also never played Little League, but the McKinley Elementary schoolyard was its own stern teacher), but I remember part of the coach's job was to encourage me that I could indeed do what I hadn't managed to do yet -- get a hit, score a goal, make a play or whatever. Because good ain't perfect, and the other team would make a mistake sometime, so why not when I was playing?

I don't know how I'd do coaching Little League, but I know this. If I had to try to inspire a group of young baseball players who were concerned about facing a dominating pitcher, I'd cue up the World Series from 20 years ago. Game 1, up comes Los Angeles Dodger Kirk Gibson to pinch hit. Two bum legs, hurt in the League Championship Series. Stomach flu. He nearly falls down every time he takes a practice swing. He's facing Oakland's Dennis Eckersley, one of the most dominant relief pitchers of the 1980s. That season, Eckersley had 45 saves and a 2.35 earned run average. He gave up only five home runs the whole season.

And of course he gave up one of them that night after getting ahead of the gimpy Gibson 0-2 and then falling back to 3-2. Gibson's homer won the game and the Dodgers won the series. Good ain't perfect.

This whole "don't pitch him, he's too good" claptrap teaches so many wrong things. The coach who walked his team off the field ought to be barred for life from working with young people, because he's taught them that the way to handle someone who's really good is not to try harder or practice or scout for weaknesses or perservere with grit and determination and take your lumps. No, the way you handle someone who's really good is to quit. Then you get together with some other folks and try to re-work the rules and conditions and rig the game so you can win retroactively (any parallels with any political conventions happening currently or within the next couple of weeks are purely unintentional. Honest).

That's a great lesson, New Haven parents. Too bad we won't be able to re-work time and such so that we can retroactively show your kids what character means.

Monday, August 25, 2008

0078

It's how old The Mighty Sean Connery is today. And he's still pretty much way cooler than you and me.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

You need coolin'

The Beijing Olympics are over, so the Chinese government can get back to harassing its people, polluting its air, selling arms to Sudan and beating up Buddhist monks.

I watched some of the closing ceremonies, but quickly grew tired of all of the meaningful dance routines and choreographed running and twirling. People making pictures on a field doesn't interest me when a marching band does it, and they're having to find their marks while also playing a song.

Then, like a sweaty athlete popping up in the middle of a symphony of empty, high-handed and self-serving suits, guitar hero Jimmy Page kicked into the Led Zepplin warhorse "Whole Lotta Love," with British popster Leona Lewis handling the vocals as England took up the baton in preparing for the 2012 games in London. Page was the best part, followed by the shots of the athletes mingling, shooting pictures, mugging for TV, and the peculiarly British rumpledness of London Mayor Boris Johnson, who kept wanting to put his hands in his jacket pockets.

Well, I guess the other best part was that none of it was faked.

Most of the "end of the games" stories I read made mention of the medal count, which is pretty much meaningless. But it seems most media can't write a story without someone being in the lead or falling back or charging ahead (which is why 90% of political newswriting is poll-driven dreck), so we heard that while the United States won the total medal count, China was far ahead in the gold medals. Other than the US and Soviet Union/Russia, only Nazi Germany had ever held the lead in golds before China did it, showing that sometimes history writes its own jokes.

I don't think China's 51 gold medals or the U.S.'s 37 or Australia's 14 are any more significant to anyone but the athletes who won them than any other nation's. In fact, I'd venture to say that Irving Saladino's gold medal in the long jump, which was the first ever gold medal for Panama, or Rohullah Nikpai's bronze in taekwondo, the first Olympic medal ever for Afghanistan, mattered more to those countries. Not to mention the dozens if not hundreds of athletes who had little support, little training and little chance to do anything more than show up and show their flag, but who did it anyway and came away smiling.

So we put our knowledge of sometimes wacky, sometimes obscure sports back in the box for awhile. We pack away all of the high-falutin' rhetoric the International Olympic Committee uses to try to pretend that everyone shows up just for the honor of being able to compete. We can take a break from all the yap-yap that what we're about is pure and pristine and things like money and politics never poke their dirty little noses under the tent flap.

No, wait -- it's an election year. Oh, crap.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Mr. Kafka, Please Call Your Office...

The fun and games about how many candles Chinese girl gymnasts buy for their birthday cakes continues.

At least two and maybe three team members have been listed in online registrations at under 16 years of age, which is the minimum age for competition in women's gymnastics. Originally, the International Olympic Committee doggedly pursued the question by asking Chinese authorities how old the girls were. Chinese authorities said, "Old enough," and produced a number of official government documents that said pretty much the same thing.

But few people bought the idea that the He family welcomed 1992 with the birth of little Kexin, instead giving more credence to some Chinese sports association registries that, three years running, said the gold medalist greeted the world on Jan. 1, 1994 instead. The same problem shows up for Yang Yilin. Both girls obviously excel in their sport; He is the gold medalist on the uneven parallel bars and they helped their team to the team gold medals as well. The problem is that they're almost certainly under the age limit.

Now the IOC has asked Chinese gymnastics and sports officials to offer more proof the girls could really get driver's licenses, if only their feet reached the pedals. I'm not sure what that will mean. Since the Chinese government was gracious enough to provide passports and other documents officially approved by the Chinese government, I imagine the next step is asking Chinese President Hu Jintao (b. 1942) to pinky swear with IOC President Jacques Rogge (b. 1942) that He, Yang and the others are older than they look.

The Kafkaesque absurdity in the story is provided by Chinese women's gymnastics coach Lu Shanzhen (b. 1957). He notes the questions about their daughters' ages have made the parents indignant and angry. "Worried about what happens to us if we forgot a piece of paper somewhere that proves our kid's only 14" is, I guess, unspoken. On the up side, Chinese authorities are now known to care about the dignity of at least some -- not all -- of their citizens.

According to Coach Lu, the controversy is ridiculous because people are believing what's on websites instead of what's said by a government. I tried to think of a way to mock this statement, but sometimes people say things that are so absurd they are mockery-proof.

Coach Lu explained the problem we Westerners are having with this issue by pointing out that Chinese athletes are "by nature" that small, while European and American athletes like 4'8" Shawn Johnson (b. 1992) and 5'3" Nastia Liukin (b. 1989) are apparently "by nature" Amazonian behemoths. Coach Lu seems to have skipped the opening ceremonies, in which his nation's flag was carried into the stadium by the diminutive Houston Rockets center Yao Ming (b. 1980). I guess he's also never met the fragile Chinese women's shot putter Li Meiju (b. 1981).

Word is, though, that David Duke (b. 1950) would like to have a cup of coffee with him sometime to chat about this "by nature" business.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

That's the Chicago way...


Whenever something of the good, old-fashioned Chicago politics hits the national scene, I really miss Mike Royko.

John Kass does a decent job with this little sidebar, but...well, I have to admit it: I like Mike.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Seen at the gym

Unsurprisingly, the television sets at the gym have been turned to the Olympics this last week or so.

Which means I've watched a lot of sports I rarely see on TV, like track and field, swimming (obviously), diving (meh), volleyball of the indoor and outdoor variety, rowing and several others. I remember watching sports like these on the old Wide World of Sports on ABC. When we would visit my grandparents over a weekend and the Saturday weather kept us inside, WWS and Jim McKay were called into action. They led into Hee-Haw around dinnertime.

With WWS gone, a lot of these sports don't end up on TV very often anymore. ESPN will show them sometimes -- they manage to show a lot of women's beach volleyball for some reason. But realistically, a sport such as the discus throw, where the competitors spin around in a circle and fling a roughly four-pound (men's) or two-pound (women's) metal disc as far as they can isn't built for modern TV coverage or modern TV audiences.

American Stephanie Brown Trafton won a gold in that event and she has a great story. She attended the 1984 Los Angeles games and became an instant and devoted fan of gymnast Mary Lou Retton, but her height (she's 6-4 and could probably step over the balance beam) quickly put gymnastics out of her reach. She wound up in field events at college after an injury ended her basketball career. In her post-win interview, Trafton put out a televised plea to meet her idol, which I imagine will probably happen, if only to see the foot and a half difference in height between them.

And women's discus in the U.S. is an interesting story itself. Trafton follows Lilian Copeland as only the second American woman to win gold in the event. Copeland, then a law student at USC, won in the 1932 Los Angeles games. She was Jewish and she boycotted the 1936 Munich games because Adolf Hitler refused to allow Jews on the German Olympic team and the International Olympic Committee, as unconcerned with the host country's treatment of its people then as it is now, looked the other way. Copeland, at the time a world-record holder in several women's field events such as the javelin and shot put, never competed at the international level again. She joined the Los Angeles County Sheriff's office in 1936 and worked as a juvenile officer until 1960 and died in 1964 at 68.

Trafton made a point for her faith as well. In her post-competition interview she spoke of praying for peace of mind and concentration before her throw. She offers her testimony via the 4 Winds Christian Athletics organization, and some of her statements will be broadcast to the underground church in China.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Let's Light This Candle

OK, yes, Alan Shephard said it about his Mercury mission, not about anything to do with Apollo. But it's still a good headline.

NASA is using the same kind of engine that lifted the Apollo ascent modules off from the moon to test its engine stands.

I'm ambivalent. On the one hand, it's pretty cool to see that old gear fire up and prove its durability and design. On the other hand, there's the knowledge that these babies have been sitting around since 1972, which means that there are people who are old enough to run for president who weren't even born the last time human beings walked on the moon. Makes me wonder if, when we call space "the final frontier," we meant it would be the final time we'd ever reach for a frontier.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Who thinks this is really a good idea?

I'm betting it's not the people who have to teach a classroom full of these newly Podded or Phoned froshies.

Can you imagine trying to hold the attention of a room full of 18-year-olds who have in their hands a university-approved toy that is way, way, way more fun than that talking head up at the front of the room droning on about the Laffer curve or Smoot-Hawley tariff (and yes, I pulled "Laffer curve" out of dim memory and I would have to look it up just like you did. I knew what the Smoot-Hawley tariff was, but I love typing "Smoot").

Apparently more students choose the iPhones than the iPod Touches. So too bad about that comparison shopping you did for the least expensive way to keep the kids in touch with the family, Mom and Dad. The iPhone is strictly an AT&T device, and I'm also going to bet that these schools do not pick up the service contract for all four or so years Li'l Darlin' is enrolled at their institution.

The opening paragraph of the Forbes story has an interesting verb in it. According to it, the schools are "giving" these devices to incoming students. I'm going to bet again (I'm gambling a lot for a preacher, aren't I?) that the tab for these devices, no matter how low Apple's education discounts might make it, is somewhere in those thousands of dollars that Mom, Dad, Uncle Sam and several civic organization scholarship programs have poured into the ivory tower's coffers. Kid wants an iPhone and asks Mom and Dad for it directly, and they say, "Cut the grass a few dozen times and you'll have earned it." Kid gets a dean of students somewhere to ask for the iPhone for him, and out comes the checkbook, no questions asked.

I've got nothing against iPods, iPhones or technology on campuses. It is to laugh, though, when university administrators say with straight faces that initiatives like this have something to do with learning. Maybe they do, however rarely that is. But that's not the main reason Wannagetchamoney U offers them.

They offer them because they know that it's a great bell and/or whistle to dangle in front of Junior when he or she is picking a college: "Hey, you don't want to go to that stuffy old college where you have to read books, do you? Look at us. We're wired. We're high-tech and cutting-edge. You know, you might even say we're...cool. We're cool enough that we'll even tell your parents that this iPhone is for educational purposes, but we'll all know it's for texting when the prof gets boring. And anyway you can wiki all the jabber-jabber he's putting out so you'll be totally ready for that test. Did you see the pictures of all our neat dorm rooms and the neat way our classes meet outside when the weather's nice, and how the university president wanders around during the day talking to random groups of ethnically diverse students?"

I wonder sometimes if the marketing students were the only ones who paid attention in class...

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Yup, he's left...

Many a good argument that Mr. E. Aron Presley died professionally several years earlier, but today was the day he actually departed. Or, according to Agent K, "He just went home."

Thought about having a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich in his honor, but the very idea required a triple bypass so I didn't.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Decade!


Did you feel Mt. Redmond tremble?

The iMac is 10 years old today. My old G3 is still my backup unit.
(H/T The Unofficial Apple Weblog)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Preheat at 007?

The headline is more fun than the actual story, because it seems that Julia Child's work for the WWII-era spy agency, the Office of Strategic Services, was mostly clerical, although she apparently also worked on the development of shark repellent.

Which dashes so many great cinematic possibilities. Imagine the steely-eyed young chef-to-be eyeing a Nazi villain over her pistol sights and coldly intoning, "Bon app├ętit, mein herr." Or promising a stubborn captive that unless he tells the OSS all he knows, out come the filet knives: "And I can promise you, sir, I know how to slice a loin."

Drat.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Something completely D'oh!-fferent...

Would be this page, whose author has some fun Simpsonizing well-known fictional and real-life people,

"...I want to wear that same uniform."

Becaus sometimes, reality is what it is, no matter what someone tries to say about it. The truth has a power that prevarication can't match.

Lopez Lomong is a pretty inspiring individual, and his is an awesome story, in which Thomas Boswell proves a couple of things:

1. The sports pages, which also see tons and tons of awful work, are about the last place left in the newspaper to regularly find really good and sometimes great news writing.

2. Nothing improves an awe-inspiring tale of human triumph like the addition of a well-thought-out "bite me" gesture offered to graceless authority.

Reality is what we say it is, Pt. 2

Old Olympic jokes made fun of the "East German judge," who was such a creature of that nation's dictatorship that he or she would automatically give lower scores to anyone who didn't have to defect to travel to another country. But more serious concerns were raised from time to time about how East Germany, as well as several other nations, prepared their athletes for international competitions, including the Olympics.

Massive steroid injections, other performance-enhancing drugs, cruel and inhumane training conditions -- it's a story of where modern professional sports would probably end up if all this stuff was legal and lacked even the tissue-thin safeguards they have now. One East German shotputter was eventually knocked so out of whack by the steroids she was given she had a sex-change operation to give her the plumbing her wrecked body chemistry told her she needed. No few East German sports officials did time for their illegal activities.

For whatever reason, the rulers of these countries felt that dominating such competitions would prove their nation and their system's innate superiority. Which makes perfect sense. If you're a third-world peasant wondering which form of government would be best for your people -- a question that probably consumes all five of the minutes you don't spend figuring out how to survive until sundown -- naturally you would be swayed by which country rocked the synchronized dive or hammer throw the most.

Which brings me to the Chinese women's gymnastics team. Please don't misunderstand. I've interviewed a young lady who was, at that time, on the cusp of elite-level gymnastics. I've a friend who competed for the University of Oklahoma's women's team. I know how hard gymnasts work and I salute their dedication, and none of what I'm talking about here should be seen as taking away from their efforts. But I just don't get why their work is given such monumental importance on an international scene. Gymnastics is a sport, and people who enjoy sports like watching it. Beyond that, though, I can't figure out the big deal.

Anyway, on the one hand, in a sport where a 20-year-old is seen as a senior-type figure, the use of the word "women" seems a little loose. But the international federation that governs this sport set the minimum age limit at 16 in an effort to keep even younger children from the stress of competing at that level. Which seems to have meant nothing much to the Chinese gymnastics officials. After all, there's the glory of the gold medals and all the national pride and patriotism and proving their collection of 85-pounders can beat everyone else's collection of 85-pounders when it comes to spinning around on a bar (Want to really prove something? Train me to do stuff like that. If I made it all the way around once on an uneven bar with loss of neither limb nor life, that would demonstrate some national superiority).

Ah, wait, though. There is documentation that proves these girls would qualify for actual driver's licenses in the US and not just learner's permits. Of course there is. There's always documentation. Just like I imagine there's documentation that the demonstrators in Tiananmen Square were fascists who wanted to kill Chinese children, or that all those monks in Tibet are smuggling US-built Hellfire missiles under their robes, which is why they need to be imprisoned and beaten to pulp.

After all, we've seen how scrupulous the Chinese government is regarding accuracy in even the smallest detail, no matter how bad it makes their country's dentists look. Or how they felt confident enough in their nine-hundred-plus years of dealing with fireworks to show the Opening Ceremonies as is, no enhancement necessary. So there's no reason at all to doubt documentation that, as of this very year, proves their women gymnasts are of age to compete, no matter what those documents said last year, and in 2006, and in 2005. No reason at all.

Except common sense.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Reality is what we say it is...

And if you're the People's Republic of China, you say reality has straight teeth.

Some might note that Luciano Pavarotti's performance at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin was prerecorded and aired over footage of him singing. Of course, Pavarotti was at the time 70 years old, in severe pain, about to be diagnosed with cancer and someone figured it might not be the best idea to have him sing outside in freezing temperatures.

Here, the Chinese officials, who apparently want to be sure their nation keeps up in the all-important orthodontia race, said that using the straight-toothed girl in the video footage over the voice of the girl who actually sang was "in the national interest."

You stay classy, commie dorks.

Weird Monkeys

Matt Ruff's Bad Monkeys is one fun weird book. Or maybe a weird fun book, because Ruff relates some truly looney things as matter-of-factly as crossing the street. Jane Charlotte is locked up in the Las Vegas jail's psychiatric ward and is explaining herself to a therapist.

Jane, you see, is an agent for the The Department for the Final Disposition of Irredeemable Persons, or folks who are sometimes called "bad monkeys." In short, she works for a group that picks out evil people and eliminates them. But in order to keep themselves secret, the Department often makes these eliminations seem like accidents or natural causes. The "Natural Causes Gun" helps her out on these missions, able to induce heart attacks, strokes or other instantly fatal catastrophic health failures.

Ruff spins a reader around more than almost anyone has since G.K. Chesterton played with the days of the week about a hundred years ago, and it's a credit to how cleverly he characterizes Jane that readers would want to stay with the story through his maze. His final whirligig is something of a disappointment, as much because it seems so ordinary and pedestrian compared with the whimsy of the rest of the book.

It's not a deal-breaker, though, and in any event it's much better for you to read about Bad Monkeys than to be one. The Department, after all, is watching...

Monday, August 11, 2008

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Can you dig it?

So the world gets just a little less cool...

Friday, August 8, 2008

More geeky goodness...

The Astronomy Picture of the Day website is pretty much exactly what it says. Each day features a photo of some astronomical item, ranging from an eclipse to a nebula, with a quick explanation written by an astronomer. Monday's was pretty interesting:



According to the blurb, our own sun will traipse into the planetary nebula phase sometime around 5,000,002,008 AD. Remind me to pick up some sunblock...

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Wrap this baby up!

It's August, otherwise known as the end of the summer movie season, in which studios burn off stuff that might have been big summer box-office hits if they had been released in an alternate world where there were no comic books or movies made from them.

So that means we can review the summer movie season here -- well, I can. You can review it in the privacy of your own home, and you can read along for the ride here, I guess.

Most Pleasant Surprise -- Iron Man. I've most always been a DC Comics guy primarily and ol' Shell-Head was never one of the Marvel titles I favored. But surprise, surprise, director Jon Favreau and star Robert Downey, Jr., along with a classy supporting cast, made a great super-hero movie. They found an almost perfect balance between taking their movie seriously and not taking it too seriously, and holy cow was Downey ever good. Much like Michael Keaton did better as Batman than anyone ever thought he would, Downey had the right mix of world-weary cynicism, idealism, conviction and humor and made me forget he was playing a guy who flew around in a suit of armor. Plus, the post-credits mini-scene made me actually pump my fist and go, "Yes!" out loud in the theater. Fortunately all the other nerds did, too.

Most Welcome Return -- This would be Indiana Jones in this movie with the too-long title. It's almost the second-best movie of the series, trailing Last Crusade because of going a little nuts with the CGI and the presence of Shia LaBoeuf, or however you spell it. But Harrison Ford put Indiana back on the heroic map, using his age as a new dimension of our all-too-flawed and breakable favorite not-so-scholarly archaeologist.

Biggest Disappointment -- The Dark Knight. In Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan seemed to find an anticoagulant for his tendency to overplot his movies and drew a solid performance out of Christian Bale to erase the evil Schumacherian legacy. But for TDK, he must have been off those meds, because we're back to the multiple story clotlines that mess up Insomnia and Prestige. The movie is just way long, and it seems longer because the people in it spend more time telling us the story than they do living it out. Not really bad, but just nowhere near what BB might have led us to hope it might be.

Coolest Other Stuff -- Hellboy: The Golden Army and The X-Files: I Want to Believe. Hellboy's praises have been sung elsewhere on these pages, and the only additional cool thing I need to say about it is that it introduced us to actor Doug Jones (Abe Sapien), who gave this great interview about being a person of faith working in the movies. X-Files would have made a better fall movie, probably, but it was a definite good time. Watching Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny work together again was a treat, and watching Gillian Anderson was a good time in any way shape or form. The movie had some muddles, and a couple of tired Hollywood cliches (a pedophile priest? Again?), but it told a story, sparked some thought and did it all without anyone doing Hannibal Lecter's impression of Charlie Chaplin and being touted for an Oscar because of it.

Coolest Movie I Almost Forgot -- Wall-E. "Wall-E." "Eve-ah." The characters who used the fewest words said the most. St. Francis, please call your office.

Stupidest Movie -- Pineapple Express. What, you think that would change? And no, I haven't seen it. Sure I may have no life, but I'd rather stick with "no" than "less than no."

Vilest And Most Repugnant Thing I Saw On The Screen All Summer -- The trailer for this Halloween's Saw V. Triply disgusting: 1) They made the movie Saw. 2) They're making a fifth Saw movie. 3) The trailer pairs this decathlon of degradation with the hymn Be Thou My Vision. I rarely feel the need to rain down fire and brimstone in a sermon and get all "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" on anyone. But before I saw this trailer, I would have said "never" instead of "rarely" in that last sentence.

On to fall, where we see the movies the studios always claim they want to make all the time but seem to only have enough of to release a couple months before Oscar deadlines.

Monday, August 4, 2008

When is it good to be a geek?

When you run across stories or sites like this photo essay on CERN's Large Hadron Collider.

OK, sure, they'll probably fire it up and create a black hole or something that swallows the earth (Yes, I did fall asleep the other night watching some of the Sci-Fi Channel's original movie programming. Why do you ask?). But it's still cool. For one, it's a really big machine. For another, it involves subatomic particles that have neat names like "charmed quark" and "gluon." And best of all, it involves smashing stuff into other stuff at speeds that are an appreciable fraction of the speed of light.

How could you not like that?