Saturday, January 31, 2009

Is It April Already?

Because I just can't believe this little item is serious.

A Dirty Harry musical? Leave aside that potential songwriter Robyn Hitchcock, with or without Egyptians, is weird to the zth degree ("Man With the Lightbulb Head," anybody?) Leave aside that we're talking about trying to translate gritty urban drama into a musical. Leave aside that we're talking about an actor being believable as a cop named Dirty Harry and singing. Leave aside that we're talking about Dirty frickin' Harry singing.

No, wait, you can't leave all that aside. If you can fit your head around a Dirty Harry musical, then you can fit your head around Saturn and any three of its moons.

Plus, whoever did the write-up for must not have seen the movie, as the piece claims Harry says "Do you feel lucky" in Magnum Force. Of course, that's the line from Dirty Harry. Magnum Force's catchphrase is, "A man's got to know his limitations."

One surely hopes that Broadway will not decide to try to get lucky and will know its limitations, and just go produce that big global warming musical Al Gore wants to see.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Game Over! Game Over!

In combination with the previous item, this one is proof we are all doomed.

Only the Bacon Explosion can save us now!


This is the kind of thing that makes me nervous.

"Honey, you forgot to feed the robot again! Honey? Where are you...aaarrrrghh!"

"01001110 01100101 01100101 01100100 01110011

01110011 01100001 01101100 01110100" *

*"Needs salt."

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Unending Flight

That flight for the crew of the U.S.S. Challenger began today in 1986.

I came back from a morning class and flipped on the TV in my room to see Peter Jennings talking and video of a space launch. I knew nobody broadcast launches anymore, so I wondered what was up, until as I watched there was the bright burst of smoke and the Y-shape of the two boosters peeling off in different directions. Investigations, accusations and such followed, and although a supposedly safer NASA culture emerged from the process by the time Discovery took off in September of 1988, not too much happened to anyone in particular. Bob Walkenhorst had written a song for his band The Rainmakers a few years earlier called "Rockin' at the T-Dance," on the album The Rainmakers. In it, writing about the Apollo 1 fire about 20 years earlier, the Apollo 13 near-disaster and the collapse of a walkway at the Hyatt House Hotel in Kansas City, Walkenhorst said this:
You can still see the ghosts,
but you can't see the sense;
Why they let the monkey go
and blamed the monkey wrench.

Ignore the human element -- of anything, good or bad, success or failure -- and little good is likely to come of it.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Good Idea?

A professor at Southern Illinois University (Motto: Southern Illinois: We're Not Rednecks, For Crying Out Loud) wrote an article in the Christian Science Monitor which suggested the nation mandate service by our youth. Specifically, every young person who graduates high school would be required to spend two years in some form of national service. Depending upon the nation's needs at the time, the bulk of that service might be in construction, education, healthcare, community organizing, the military or the arts.

A significant portion of the nation's young will also be directed to thump some sense into the heads of Southern Illinois University professors. The instruments of thumping will be copies of the 13th Amendment printed on those stupid inflatable noisemakers that people clap together at basketball games; since the good professor William A. Babcock specializes in ethics and not constitutional law, the experience will be educational for him and he can claim it as professional development.

For those constitutional triskedekaphobes who, like Dr. Babcock, have forgotten what various state legislatures were up to in 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution forbids slavery or involuntary servitude in the United States or its territories, except as properly administered punishment for a person convicted of a crime. A 1916 Supreme Court decision specifically exempted military service from the amendment, which is why the nation has from time to time had a military draft when it was deemed necessary.

The program would offer a room and board and a minimum wage for those in this service, and when they were done they could go to college free for two years. Of course, I would love to see more people involved in public service. As a person employed by the church, I obviously believe helping people is very important. But requiring folks to help other people crosses the line from service to servitude.

Not to mention the many probable but apparently unanticipated consequences. Dr. Babcock says people would enter this service after graduating high school. Hello increased dropout rate. Why graduate and stir soup for two years when you can drop out, work for yourself for a little while if you've a mind to, get your G.E.D and then head off to college or whatever you'd like? And what do we do about the thousands of students who each year graduate from inadequate high schools that haven't prepared them for any kind of life after commencement, let alone a term of self-denying public service? Or the large number of high school students who are -- how can we say this -- already parents? Day care for their kids? Where do the workers come from? This same public service corps? Why not eliminate the middleman, save money, and let them take care of their own kids anyway? Or you could exempt teenage parents, and teenage boys everywhere just gained a new pick-up line: "Hey. It'll keep you out of the draft."

Who trains them? Who deals with them if they can't hack it? Do we arrest them? Sentence them to jail? If we do, we wind up paying for their room and board anyway and we get nothing from it, not even a crummy bridge or high school gym. And what the heck kind of public service comes from art? Would students get to pick? Join a highway construction crew or spend two years painting dots in public parks? Hmmm...gimme a minute.

Personally, I wish that this choice had been around when I graduated from high school. I would have chosen "writing dim-bulb op-ed pieces for the Christian Science Monitor," which would have given me a head start on that job. That way when Dr. Babcock shopped his piece around for publication, I'd have already been working there and I could have thumped him in the head.

Friday, January 23, 2009

An "Educated" Choice

The silly college student who says she's trying to sell her virginity has posted a rationale for her actions here. The most frightening thing about the article is that she plans on obtaining a master's degree in family therapy. Lord help the family who seeks her help.

Among the things she says are these:
...early European marriages began with a dowry, in which a father would sell his virginal daughter to the man whose family could offer the most agricultural wealth. Dads were basically their daughters’ pimps.

Several commenters to the original post and many people elsewhere have noted that the dowry was money paid by the bride's family to the groom, rather than the other way around. But hey, you can't learn everything in four years of college.

After noting that ads on places like Craigslist seem to point towards a trend of women profiting from their sex appeal, she closes with this gem:
One conclusion my experiment has already borne out is that society isn’t ready for public auctions like mine—yet.

No, Ms. Dylan, we're not ready to publicly auction people's bodies just yet. We had to spend more than 600,000 lives to stop ourselves from doing it the last time and endure many many years of bigotry and oppression in order to see the aftereffects even start to erode. Until you learn to see past the vast expanse of your two whole decades of life to appreciate some of what's gone before you, perhaps you should listen more and talk less.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Some More Books

Been on that ol' exercise bike a lot recently...

Robert Crais is a former TV writer who started writing crime drama and private sleuth tales featuring the duo of Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. Cole is witty and personable, Pike is not. In The Watchman, Pike does a friend a favor by agreeing to bodyguard the Hiltonesque heiress Larkin Barkley, who was in an auto accident and is now the target of assassins. Pike finds himself unsure of who he can trust when it seems that every move he makes to safeguard Larkin is anticipated by those out to get her. Crais writes snappy dialogue, brisk action and keeps the pedal to the floor on his story. A Crais novel is a quick read, but it's certainly a lot of fun and a great way to spend a few hours.
Steve Berry seems to have a Robert Ludlum jones in the titles of his novels, Ludlum gave us The Aquitaine Progression, The Bourne Identity, The Parsifal Mosaic, and Berry's so far produced The Templar Legacy, The Charlemagne Pursuit and now The Venetian Betrayal. Former Justice Department agent turned rare-book dealer (?) Cotton Malone, nearly the victim of an arsonist, finds himself caught up in a conspiracy that involves the lost tomb of Alexander the Great, germ warfare, a cure for AIDS and a central Asian dictator who wants to follow Alexander's path in reverse and control the world from her nation. There's enough plot threads in here to weave a ballfield tarp, and Berry almost manages to juggle them successfully. There's nothing special about the characters or the writing, but some of the technical details are well thought-out and the action scenes crisply done.
If Lilith Saintcrow isn't a pen name, I'll eat a book (I'll pick the book, and in doing so I will pick one that has pages made of chocolate-chip cookies, so it's not a bad bet on my part). Her first set of urban fantasy novels involved a woman named Dante Valentine, hired to work for the devil in some sort of near-future dystopia. With Night Shift, she starts a new series, featuring Jill Kismet, a Demon Hunter who works with religious and civil authorities to keep evil from doing too much damage to her city. Kismet's trying to figure out the being behind some truly savage killings that are like nothing she's ever seen before, and she'll get help from sources evil and good to do it. Night Shift is a pastiche of bad Bogie and worse Buffy wrapped up in a Mary Sue fanfic tale that meanders all around the map. It winds up with a silly twist ending that makes you realize you really can yawn and go, "Huh?" at the same time.

(Edited to add a link for the "Mary Sue" reference. Evidently I'm a little too hip for my own good, and isn't that a surprise for anyone who's actually met me).

Monday, January 19, 2009

And Again...

"Meet the new boss..."

But you know the rest.

Ah, There They Are!

Anybody wants to find a whole bunch of the nation's stupidest people, I got an idea where they might be...

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Some Books

Riding the exercise bike at the gym usually requires reading, as the times when I can go often involve, as I've said, folks who watch stuff like The View, Ellen, or the last hour of The Today Show. So here's some brief bookish blurbs:

While Harry Turtledove is the dean of alternate history or "counter-factual" novels, which hinge on something happening differently than it did in real life, S.M. Stirling has some entertaining work of his own in the field. The Peshawar Lancers is a fine example. After a massive meteor strike in the 1870's devastated most of the Northern Hemisphere, the British Empire survived by relocating most of its royalty and leadership to its holdings in India. The catastrophe meant that technology developed much more slowly than it did in our world, and things such as automobiles and computers (immense, steam-powered "difference engines," as envisioned by Charles Babbage) are rare even in 2025, when our story is set. Captain Athelstane King, a dashing soldier and adventurer that would do any Victorian novel proud, is ensnared in a plot against his nation and himself, with the unscrupulous Russian Czar and his minions at its heart. Swordplay, fights on horseback and a duel atop a dirigible offer rollicking fun and Stirling never lets the story sit around or rev in neutral.
David Baldacci has written several crime/espionage thrillers, and started a series on 2003 that features Sean King and Michelle Maxwell, a pair of whip-smart, uber-competent private contractors -- and former Secret Service agents -- who solve crimes, rescue folks and generally get paid for poking their noses into things. In Simple Genius, King sets out to investigate a murder at a private think-tank exploring a whole new kind of computing that may lead to artificial intelligence. The think-tank is located across a river from a secret CIA training base and the geniuses aren't talking. The dead man's daughter is, but she doesn't communicate well to start with and her father's death has further unsettled her, so no one knows what she's saying. Maxwell tries to deal with personal issues that have brought her to her breaking point. Baldacci writes a serviceable thriller, but he strays out of his depth when he tries to make Maxwell's issues believable. But the action moves quickly, features a couple of unforeseen twists and gets from page one to "the end" in fine style.
Douglas Preston's Blasphemy is an excellent example of a book that one might wish handy when one needs kindling, but there's a good chance the fire would say, "No thanks. I have standards." Preston usually writes with a partner, Lincoln Child, and I've never read any of those novels. After Blasphemy, I'm never going to. Wyman Ford, former CIA agent who lost his wife in a car bombing and spent several years in a monastery afterwards, works as a private investigator. He's hired by White House officials to look into an immense particle collider project in Arizona, code-named Isabella. Despite the presence of the brilliant Gregory Hazelius, the project isn't going as planned, and the President is worried its failure could hurt him in the election (you may remember how ending the Superconducting Super Collider project nearly kept Bill Clinton from winning a second term - not) Ford discovers that the scientists, including a former ladylove, are indeed hiding something. The project becomes a political football when an unscrupulous lobbyist and greedy televangelist decide to use it for their own ends. And there are some Navajo Indians involved as well, protesting the Isabella project itself.

Preston introduces no fewer than 12 scientists on the project, not one of whom has any more depth than the pages they're printed on. His main characters fare no better. Some folks griped that the novel featured a greedy televangelist and a religious nut as its villains. But frankly, anyone who's a member of any group or profession found in this novel could be just as justifiably insulted by how they're depicted if they could force themselves to tramp through Blasphemy's poorly-written, lightly edited pages. A character subsides into unconsciousness at one point, and we read that "darkness descended gratefully." I, like you but unlike either Preston or his editor, was unaware darkness could express gratitude: I thought it was just the absence of light. Blasphemy boasts a preposterous, see-it-coming-from-miles away ending that puts a proper capstone on a true drudgery of a reading experience.

Almost Forgot

My Bloody Valentine 3-D came out this weekend.

If you saw it, I'd call you an idiot, but I figure whoever you asked to read this for you is nice enough they'll tell you I wrote "individual."

If you haven't seen it, but still want to, then stop now while you still have enough IQ points to figure out the ticket price without using your fingers.

Friday, January 16, 2009

It's the Final Countdown

The last 10 episodes of Battlestar Galactica return tonight. If you try to get in touch with me between 9 PM and 10 PM Central time, it better be because you're possessed by an evil spirit and need an exorcism or because Angie Harmon has stopped by your place wanting directions to my house.

So say we all.

It's Not All in the Name...

Tell me I'm meeting a fella named Chesley B. Sullenberger III and I figure I'm going to have to deal either with some upper-crust New Englander with his teeth surgically stitched together to make his accent come out right or a guy wearing a Colonel Sanders suit and offering me a julep.

Nope -- it's this guy, whose textbook-perfect emergency landing in the Hudson River saved everyone on board his airplane. After landing and getting the passengers out onto the wings of the plane, he walked through the whole cabin twice to make sure everyone was out.

One website commenter said that "Sully" is a fellow who may never have to pay for another beer in his life. I agree. Even if I would buy him a non-alcoholic beverage instead.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Blind Spot?

Here's an interesting article on how frequently members of my former profession do a lousy job of covering matters related to members of my current profession. And they're both protected by the same amendment, too -- you'd figure that should count for something.

Anyway, the article's hook is a book called Blind Spot, which examines some major news stories that included a religious dimension, in which the coverage was poor, inaccurate, misleading or a combo of all of the above, because the reporters and writers involved ignored or were ignorant of the faith matters central to what they were covering.

For a website that offers some ongoing observations on this issue, check out Get Religion, or the blog by Terry Mattingly. Both are in the links section.

A Couple o' Fine Gents...

Bid farewell to the mortal coil, Patrick McGoohan and Ricardo Montalban.

Both had standout roles as villains and as good guys -- McGoohan was the evil Edward I or "Longshanks" in Mel Gibson's Braveheart as well as the enigmatic Number Six in The Prisoner. Which, it seems, AMC wants to remake. My suggestion is to not do that. Montalban was the affable and somewhat mysterious Mr. Roark, the host of the strange place known as Fantasy Island, and matched William Shatner chewed scene for chewed scene in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

In an interesting anti-Hollywood-stereotype note, both men married once and stayed married to the same woman they'd started with.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Paging Mr. Redenbacher, Mr. Orville Redenbacher...

Some scientists were asked by the magazine Popular Science if a kernel of corn would pop if it were dropped to the earth from space.

The answer: Probably not, but it might. The real problem is that the crew of the space tug Nostromo established that in space, no one can hear you scream. Therefore, it is unlikely that anyone could hear the kernel actually pop.

Which leads us to the question of what actually constitutes the popping of the kernel of corn. Is it the explosion of the kernel into white, starchy, ready-to-be-buttered goodness? Is it the noise said kernel makes during that particular act? Or are the two inextricably linked in some metaphysical sense that cannot be explained solely by science?

Alas, I must now turn my mind to other things (sermon prep), so I leave you, Perplexed Reader, to ponder these matters.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Hope They Stopped at Two...

Like the young woman in Italy last fall, a women' studies student in California is offering to sleep with the high bidder in an auction for her virginity.

As in the earlier case, she may find herself with an unexpected windfall of cash, although I suspect she'll learn it's not nearly enough to buy back her self-respect, especially when her kids someday trip across this lovely tale on the Internet. Or when her kids' friends find it.

Other places I've seen this story reported or commented on say they think it may not be totally on the level. I sort of hope not. And I'm not sure either, because the young lady in our story says she got the idea when her sister earned enough for tuition for school after working as a prostitute for three weeks.

According to this USA Today story, the estimated total cost for a year at a private four-year university for 2008-2009 was about $34,000. For public schools, average total cost for the same period for in-state students is about $14,000 and for out-of-state students, $25,000.

If you expect me to believe that a college student/hooker made anywhere near the $48,000 she would have to in order to fund four years at an in-state college in just three weeks, then you're softer in the head than either of these two girls. Three weeks is 21 days, which means she had to clear almost $2,300 a night every night to reach that figure.

And if the young entrepeneur worked with an already-established organization, she didn't keep all her earnings, so who knows what the actual cost would have been in order for her to keep $2,300 each night. Doing the same sets of numbers for her if she went to an out-of-state school or a private college only highlights the implausibility of the claim. Almost $6,500 a night if she was a private-school student, if you're curious. And I'm thinking that after, say 14 or 15 straight nights of sex, she might have a harder time justifying six-and-a-half large for a roll in the hay. Accountants call this "depreciation."

It sounds more like the younger sister decided to make up a reason for her act but didn't really know much about hookers, call girls or their prices. Instead of the girl in Italy, we may have a story more like this one, in which there's some bizarro "project" behind this bad behavior.

And I'm also really hoping it's not true, because it means that somewhere are two people who don't deserve the label "parents" who raised one daughter that sold herself for three weeks to earn a college degree and another who will sell herself for one night to do the same. Whether fake or fact, whether they have two kids or there's some more skewed youngsters at home ready to be loosed on the world, there's a family that needs some Jesus.

Things That Make Me Go, "Hmmm..."

This blurb links to a couple of articles about universal preschool, which you can read if you're interested. I just liked the idea he noted in his second paragraph:

"Pre-school" boils down to being "school to get kids ready to be in school." Which means it's school, and we've been lying to our four-year-olds for years now. Good thing they can't read yet.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A Tower of Strength!

That would not be Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has caved in his opposition to Roland Burris, the senator-designate from Illinois appointed by scandal-plagued Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Whether Reid should have opposed Burris or not is, I suppose, a question with two sides. But by drawing a line in the sand and figuring Gov. Haircut would slink meekly away, trembling at the might of a man who has absolutely no influence whatsoever in his state was a typical Reid move. That is to say, it was dumb. Reid's lofty-sounding letters to Blagojevich and his equally tough-guy rhetoric to Burris might have made him look good, if he could have backed them up.

But he bluffed, got called on it and didn't have the hole cards or the chips to win his play. Despite the timeless truth first articulated by Kenny Rogers, Reid didn't know when to hold them or when to fold them.

He gained the majority leader post when enough people got tired of dorky Republican senators that they elected enough of my fellow Dems to make them the majority. And I believe that Harry Reid will be one of the primary reasons that the GOP will regain control of the Senate when they do, with his only option of escape being immediate retirement and entering a monastery. I have little hope for him, though, because he doesn't seem likely to know Kenny's second timeless truth, about knowing when to walk away and when to run.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Full Circle

So a year ago today I started messing around with this "other" blog, which I tell people is my "running my mouth" blog. The other one is for sermons (and it's missing its most recent update -- better check on that).

One my earliest posts was about football, and since we've just concluded the collegiate football season, some thoughts:

1. Why the Utah Utes never got the chance to play in the Bowl Championship Series title game is a mystery that has no solution. Oh, I know, they didn't play in any of the power conferences, but they did beat four teams that wound up in the AP Top 25 and they thumped Alabama convincingly in the Sugar Bowl. And considering the Big 12 record in bowl games over the last few years, the phrase "power conference" might have become a little too elastic. Would they have beaten Florida or Oklahoma? Dunno, but there is no serious reason they shouldn't have had the chance. I'm sure both Gator and Sooner fans could provide plenty of silly reasons why it was OK to leave Utah looking, unless you told them you were planning on replacing the other team with Utah, but "fan reasoning" should be treated like hearsay testimony in the courts -- stricken from the record.

2. The system that put Oklahoma in that game instead of a team to which it had lost is dorky. Again, of course, all the Big 12 teams signed on to the tiebreak alchemy system that was used, which is about one step above reading chicken entrails when it comes to making sense. So Texas fans have nobody to blame but their own AD, who agreed to it. But I suspect a CAT scan of the brains of those who devised a tiebreak that doesn't give overwhelming weight to the results of head-to-head matchups would discover some low brain activity levels on the days they were setting up that system.

3. The idea that Oklahoma's Bob Stoops is somehow a lousy football coach simply because he's lost three of his four shots at whatever national title is at stake is itself not too bright. I don't know Mr. Stoops at all. He offers a pretty arrogant vibe dealing with the local media as if unaware that its their worship of all things Soonerrific that allows him to be the crimson-and-cream demigod the faithful think he is. He's ridiculously overpaid, considering that most of the nuts and bolts work of playing football games is done by unpaid volunteers -- excuse me, student athletes. But this is the system as it is, and he has managed to succeed within it to a remarkable degree. Maybe he is on his way to being the Marv Levy of college football. But almost all of the people who made fun of Levy for losing four Super Bowls were fans of teams that weren't in the Super Bowl. I'll still say stupid stuff like, "Well, it's obvious Stoops can't win a big one without John Blake's players," but that's just to get Sooner Nation devotees to go crimson with rage and then creamy-white with a stroke.

4. No, a playoff won't solve the "Who's no. 1?" problems. The knock on the current system is that, forced to pick two teams to contend for a title, the system overlooks other teams that also deserve a shot, based on their performance on the field. Too many non-field factors, like which conference a team is from or how much fame its program has, have been figured into the selection process. Create a formula to pick eight teams to compete amongst each other so that the winner of a tournament can be a "real" national champion and you have exactly the same problem in the eyes of the teams that rank ninth or tenth in the selection system you devise. Should some conference champions get an automatic entry? Which ones? Big 12 teams have a lot of history and a lot of flash, but they have a folding tendency that shows up after the Big 12 season is over. Do you ignore "new" conferences like the Mountain West, with their undefeated Utah Utes? How about "mid-major" conferences like the Western Athletic, with member Boise State that dealt its Big 12 opponent in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl a mid-major shocker.

5. Bipartisanship is good, and having the federal government do things that don't involve taking about a trillion dollars from some of us to give to the rest of us is even better. But the fact that GOP Texas Representative Joe Barton and Democratic President-elect Barack Obama agree the current system is nuts doesn't mean they should be talking about laws to fix it. Is there very much about the feds' track record in the last 25 or 30 years that gives any indication they'd be able to do anything other than muck this mess up even more?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Requiescat in Pace

Father Richard John Neuhaus, editor of the First Things journal and author of one of the best blogs-on-paper, "The Public Square," passed away at 72.

Although it's definitely a Roman Catholic journal, it's got plenty of good material for anyone who wants to consider matters of religion, public life, theology and the intersection of those and other areas, no matter their denomination. Fr. Neuhaus was a large part of the reason why that was so.

Doing Life

I'd intended to wait for the trade paperback of Andrew Vachss' Another Life to come out before buying it. That way, it would fit with his other books I have in that format as well as being about half the price.

Then along came that blasted Borders Books & Music coupon in my e-mail, and, well, forgive me, reader, for I have sinned. I bought one hardback book for too much money.

Another Life is the 18th and final book in Vachss series about Burke, a career criminal and con-man who's spent some time as a mercenary and an unofficial private investigator. Earlier, I'd posted a blip about Terminal, the previous book in the series. I said that Vachss, a child advocacy lawyer and anti-abuse crusader, had begun unhitching his books' messages from their stories. They weren't woven together, and the sermonic monologues in different character's mouths made for a stumbling read. Vachss hadn't helped matters by using these passages to preach on whatever personal position he had about anything. Terminal, for example, offered his thoughts on the real cause of Iraq war, but absolutely no reason why I should care what a child advocacy lawyer thought about it.

Another Life offers some more of the same. You'll be glad to know that Eric Clapton is really not much of a blues musician. We also learn how those Nigerian e-mail bank account scams work, which is indeed shocking news in a book published in 2008. It also features one of Vachss' other annoying habits, the recycling of several pages from earlier books verbatim by way of flashback. Burke and his family of choice are given the task of finding the kidnapped infant son of a Saudi prince. Their client: The mysterious Pryce, who offers them the task in exchange for medical treatment for one of their own, critically wounded and likely to die. If they're successful, Pryce will also see they have a clean slate with the law, a chance at "another life."


Longtime Burke readers might hope that Vachss could wind up some different storylines he's spun out over the years. Burke has had romantic involvements with several good women who might have offered him a path out of his criminal life, especially if his slate is wiped clean. A few of them have lingered across most of his career. But none of them even appear in the book, let alone cross his path. Vachss does toss us the bone of giving Burke a new dog to replace his beloved Pansy. He also, by virtue of a therapy ex machina session with a counselor he'd dealt with before, hammers out some personal issues that have troubled him his whole life. They're wrapped up in a weekend.

Vachss intends to continue writing, so I guess we'll see if the tendency to preach his plots instead of plot his preaching developed because the Burke characters were too well-set for him or for some other reason. Until then, happy trails to Burke, who's earned his rest.

It's Still My Plate, Buddy

Stories like this demonstrate why, even in the era of HD, hundreds of different digital cameras around the field and probably a million different licensed souvenir items, baseball used to be a lot more colorful.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Faint Heart Never Won Fair Hand

At least, I'm assuming that's the motto of this young man, who decided to serve a volley of his own during a tennis tournament in Australia, where he was serving as a ball boy.

Unfortunately for him, the object of his attention was not interested in playing mixed doubles just yet.

Thanks Again, JW...

Once again, an Anglican churchman does something that makes me really, really glad ol' John Wesley finally decided to spin his American Methodists off on their own.

Of course, we've got plenty of Methodists who say dumb stuff, too, but at least this way I only have to apologize for one group at a time...

Do You See What I See?

Helping out an Okie Methodist blogger with an experiment:

Kevin Watson at has started an experiment to see how much social capital Methodist bloggers have. This experiment was prompted by the feeling among some Methodist bloggers that United Methodism does not always do as good of a job as it could at getting the Wesleyan message out there, particularly on-line. So, he wants to see how many views a YouTube video can get if Methodist bloggers work together to promote it. The experiment is to see how many hits the video will receive in two weeks.

If you want to participate you can: First, watch the video below. Second, copy and paste this entire post into a new post on your blog and post it. Third, remind people about this experiment in one week.

Based on the results of the experiment, Kevin will get in touch with the folks at Discipleship Resources and let them know the ways in which Methodist bloggers are often an underused resource.

Here is a link to the video:

Here Are Some Stats...

...that no one will talk about Thursday evening:
The two schools that will play for the national football championship on January 8 demonstrate that winning comes with a willingness to lower standards. At the University of Florida, entering freshman for the 2001-02 school year averaged a combined 1236 on their math and reading SAT scores (out of a maximum of 1600). Entering football players, however, averaged 890. At the University of Oklahoma, the numbers were 1158 and 920.

The Pope Center article references a couple of other items, among them this one by USA Today that notes how many collegiate athletes in the "Football Bowl Subdivision" cluster in certain majors, few of which are rocket science, either literally or figuratively.

No one who watches top-level college football and basketball today could assume all its players are dumb. They have to master complicated offenses and defenses, adopt game strategies that are far more complex than anything they may have learned in high school, train their minds to process what's going on around them during a game and respond with the right solution, and so on. Dumb people can't do those things very well.

But saying that doesn't leave out the idea that some of these athletes are also semi-literate, aren't even remotely engaged by academic work and have absolutely no interest in a college degree. NCAA regs that require students to have made progress towards a degree to maintain eligibility don't generate that interest. They just make certain that the college will steer those students towards degrees they are more likely to complete or show the proper progress towards.

All of those things the college athlete has to learn take time and study to do so. Add that time to the hours needed for the physical training and conditioning that enable peak performance, as well as games themselves and the travel they involve, you find not too many hours left in the day for classwork. And if its classwork that requires a bunch of those hours, then something has to give, either through exhaustion or performance on the field.

College athletics is mostly a plantation-like system in which the manager-level folks like coaches can rake in large sums of money based on the efforts of a whole lot of people -- their athletes -- who don't get paid squat. Those worthies, along with cooperating university presidents and NCAA officials, clutch the veil of the promised free education to preserve some shred of self-justifying modesty. Yes, our schools and our people make millions of dollars through intercollegiate athletics. No, we don't pay the people who actually play the games, because they're amateur athletes. They're students, you see, and they receive an education in return for their work, so that makes it all right.

Yup. Because there's nothing a 300-pound kid who's lost his scholarship and place on his team because of a career-ending injury needs more than two years of coursework towards a bachelor's of social science. You stay classy, NCAA.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Ah, Academia...

At its most recent convention, the Modern Language Association had a presentation about sex at Modern Language Association conferences. This is not nearly as exciting as it sounds when you realize that the MLA is a group of people who teach English, writing and related subjects at colleges and universities.

If you read the story (and I'll give you a language and content warning, since some professors seem never to have heard my grandmother Emma Thomasson's advice that swearing is a sign one lacks the education to choose a better word), you find listed several categories of liaisons between conference attendees and what they represent. See, the presenters at the panel were using the different categories of sexual relationships at an MLA conference to talk about something serious -- well, serious to them, anyway. One presenter, who in addition to her role as an associate professor of performance studies (what?) is also an associate professor of religious studies, spoke her piece in a bathrobe. I've been to seminary, and had I seen any of my professors in their bathrobes, I would have become an atheist on the spot.

The upshot of some of the discussion seems to be that the people in the MLA feel that their association has gotten stale and staid. Cited as evidence: That a panel presenter asked people in one session to not talk during the presentation. I hope that guy's students read his quote and yak up a storm when he's in front of a classroom. Naturally, it's President Bush's fault.

Lemme throw an idea at you, MLA, about why your conference is boring. Maybe it's because you spend time navel-gazing (and apparently elsewhere-than-navel gazing, too) about silly and ridiculous stuff like this and dressing that navel-gazing up in polysyllabic emperor's clothes of non-meaning instead of digging into some real literature and some real questions it may raise about life. And maybe you've spent so much time gazing into those navels and elsewheres that you've become an such Ouroboros of trivial minutiae that even you are finding it hard to care about what you're talking about.

I feel the need to read a comic book.

(H/T Erin O'Connor)

12:20 AM, Central Time

At that hour on Monday, January 5, 2009, VH-1 Classics "2009 in 2009" program of playing music videos in alphabetical order...

...was rickrolled.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Not the Best Way to Start..

Parker has pulled his last job and Dortmunder has keystoned his way through his last wacky caper, as Donald Westlake passes away.

A longer and insightful appreciation of Westlake's work can be found here.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

I Am in Your Debt...

...making money off your overspending.

At least, I am if I'm any one of several colleges or universities who have deals with banks about credit cards.

According to the New York Times story, quite a few colleges have contracts with banks that allow them to put the college logo on a card and have exclusive access to alumni lists for marketing purposes. The college gets a large chunk of cash in the deal, and depending on the details, may get more money if cardholders carry balances on the card than if they pay them off.

Even those colleges that don't give their current student mailing lists to the banks usually allow them to set up booths at football games, student info fairs and the like, and to offer T-shirts and whatnot as an incentive to fill out an application. Pick up a free shirt, fill out a form and get a nice piece of plastic credit poison. Borrow on it and add to the enormous debt you'll already owe the school for the privilege of wandering its halls and hills for four years, every now and again finding someone who'd like to teach you something instead of slapping a B on your transcript so he or she can get on with the real faculty moneymaker, research.

A lot of justified distaste exists in the university with students who see themselves as consumers, concerned more with buying a product -- a diploma that will gain them access to the job market -- than with education. But on the other hand, it probably seems fair to the students, since more and more universities look upon them as a product to be consumed for cash.

(H/T University Diaries)