Thursday, April 30, 2009

Dies a Dream...

When I was a wee little high school journalist, toiling away for the monthly College High Nautilus, I had visions of myself working for the New York Times. I expect most folks who wanted to be reporters had that fantasy. My byline on the great Gray Lady herself, perhaps on a feature story that offered some great human insight. Or maybe with an investigative piece that shook the corridors of power and sent malefactors scurrying for their lawyers to start arranging plea bargains.

Lately, the Lady's been a little haggard. Circulation figures slump, public opinion of the paper isn't as high as it used to be and meteoric drops in ad revenue have given the parent company a case of cash flow hemophilia that doesn't seem to have much of an end in sight.

But it's still had the aura of the national "Paper of Record." Step outside its sometimes bare-faced agenda for progressive change and you were still reading some of the country's better newspaper writers. You were still seeing what could happen when a free press responsibly used that freedom to explore the world, from the parts that nobody else might have thought to explore to parts that some wished to keep hidden from view.

Even though I've left the news profession, I still have a little memory of my awe the words New York Times can bring. But not anymore.

At Wednesday's press conference, Times reporter Jeff Zeleny asked President Barack Obama what about the office he's held for 100 days "enchanted" him, among other things.

Enchanted? Enchanted? Seriously, a reporter for the New York Times has the opportunity to ask a question of the leader of the free world in a time of economic uncertainty, global unrest and who knows what else, and he throws out a warm fuzzy that People wouldn't print and Oprah Winfrey would say is a little too touchy-feely?

I never worked for a big paper, but I spent a lot of time around reporters young and old, and I can't think of a one of them that wouldn't laugh Zeleny out of a bar, take away his notebook and his lunch money and give him a wedgie over a question like that.

Here's a hint, Jeff. That fella behind the blue podium, the one with the fancy seal on it? The guy who seems to have a lot of large, silent young men who stare at everyone real hard standing around him? He's the president -- he's not Brad explaining how he fell in love with Angelina even though he was married to Jennifer.

The press represents the people of this country, and we guaranteed your freedom because you hold leaders and the powerful accountable by telling us what they're doing. I'm only one of those people, but I don't give a flying unprintable how the president feels about his time in office. I bet I'm not alone in caring about what he's going to do and how he expects to do it.

Crusty old reporters used to be said to have "ink in their blood." Seems today like the Times is stuck with folks who have water in their veins.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I'm Not Worthy...

I have been seriously out-nerded.

Although it only makes sense. If a little thing like being of a different species couldn't slow down Jimmy T, then it's hard to imagine how anything like being of an entirely different narrative universe could even try.

And it wouldn't have taken him no movie and a half to get there, neither...

(H/T Peter Chattaway)

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Update...

Le sermon, she is up...

Not Cool!

I had always wondered what it took to be cool. I knew what it took to be not cool; all I had to do was look in the mirror and a prime example was before me (Hint: It involved liking Star Trek, comic books and eventually answering a call to ministry. None of these things are seen as cool by those whose business it is to define that quality).

Thank goodness Wayne Coyne has cleared it all up for me! Coyne is the lead singer for the Oklahoma-based band The Flaming Lips. The Lips formed in 1983 and Coyne has been the mainstay of the band since that time. He and the band members live in Oklahoma and were honored in 2007 by having an alley in the Bricktown area named after them.

Recently, an online poll co-sponsored by the Oklahoma History Center named the Lips' 2002 release "Do You Realize??" -- a No. 32 chart-buster in England -- as the Official Rock Song of Oklahoma. As part of the center's "Another Hot Oklahoma Night" rock exhibit happening next month, the center invited people to nominate songs written or performed by Oklahomans. Ten finalists were selected, and some 21,000 online votes were cast. "Do You Realize??" gathered more than half of those votes, better than 10,000 total.

Last month, the Oklahoma Senate passed a resolution proclaiming "Do You Realize??" as the state's official rock song. But this week, the Oklahoma House balked at doing the same -- a couple of representatives didn't like the T-shirt a band member wore to the Senate vote or the colorful language Coyne used to express his joy at having an alley named after the band. Coyne referred to them as "a little minority of small-minded religious wackos." Governor Brad Henry said he would sign an executive order proclaiming "Do You Realize??" as the state's official rock song, so Coyne said he is "very cool, how he's come to our rescue." See, now I know what "cool" means -- it means agreeing with Wayne Coyne.

Well, Mr. Coyne, had I been a representative, I would have voted against your song too, but that's because it's an obscure tune from a weird band that has built an unaccountably long career by convincing people that oddity equals originality. Among the other nominees was "Let's Have a Party" by Oklahoman Wanda Jackson, known as the Queen of Rockabilly and recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Also on the list, a little ditty called "Heartbreak Hotel," co-written by Oklahoma school teacher Mae Boren Axton and first recorded by some guy from Mississippi. Her son, Duncan native Hoyt Axton, wrote "I've Never Been to Spain," recorded by Three Dog Night. It contains the well-known line, "Well I've never been to heaven, but I've been to Oklahoma" and was among the nominees not approved by the just more than one third of one percent of Oklahoma residents who liked "Do You Realize??" better.

"Do You Realize??" would probably be more recognizable to most people from a Mitsubishi commercial than anything else. Aside from commercials, the Lips' major chart success was the 1993 song "She Don't Use Jelly," which has as much to do with Oklahoma as "Do You Realize??" but was somehow passed over.

Ah well, what do I know. I've never been cool and it's probably too late to start now.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Coincidence?

So, today is the 70th birthday of the original Six Million Dollar Man, Lee Majors. Majors played Col. Steve Austin (a man barely alive) in that 1970s sci-fi series.

A test pilot severely injured in a crash, he received specialized electronic replacement parts for the limbs he'd lost -- one arm, an eye and both legs. He was better, stronger, faster than he was, in other words. His arm could lift really heavy things and punch through stuff, his eye could focus long distances and his legs let him run about 60 miles an hour. They let him jump really high, too, all while making this really cool shuddery noise that just about every guy under 50 has a version of playing in his head when he's at the gym.

Majors also played Colt Seavers in The Fall Guy. Seavers was a stuntman who worked on the side as a bounty hunter, along with his dim cousin Howie, who had spent at least a semester studying at every college in the continental U.S., and stunt-woman Jodie, who was never given enough buttons for her shirt by the wardrobe department.

Majors showed his own willingness to take a risk by singing the theme song for The Fall Guy, which was called "The Ballad of the Unknown Stuntman." In it, he informs us that while the stuntman may get close to the girl, the actor always gets the girl. And yes, I own a copy of the 45.

Coincidentally, the 23rd of April is also the date chosen for the celebration of William Shakespeare's birth in 1564 (his actual birthdate that year isn't known).

And so, because I can and because not everything in my brain works the way it should, I give you "Ye Olde Ballad of Ye Unknown Stuntman:"

Nay, I’d not kiss and tell, but I have been seen with Farrah
Ne’er graced my arm hath anything ‘neath a 9…so fine!
Aflame I’ve been, with Sally Field! Afleet I’ve gone, with beauteous Bo!
But somehap, their hearts be never mine.
I bite my thumb at death! I take my chances!
And do I die? Aye, for a living on both small and silver screen.
But ‘tis nobler still that I do watch my leading ladies
kiss ‘nother’s lips while I do bandage my knee.
Ah, falleth I from towers tall, rolleth I yon virgin car!
Sooth! I am the unknown stuntman, by me Redford shines his star!

Ne’er gave I much thought to school, but I didst teach the ladies plenty;
’Tis true I my body hire out for pay...hey hey!
Scorched be my flesh, for Cheryl Tiegs, and lo! for Raquel Welch!
But do I find aught in the hay but hay? Nay, nay!
Ah, leapt I yon rising drawbridge, like a Tarzan am I a-vine!
Sooth! I am the unknown stuntman, by me doth Eastwood look great and fine!

A presidency? No, not for me, but could any other dream such First Ladies?
Why, some days they range as far as mine eye does see!
Born! Born was I and died with Jackie Smith, night findeth me 'side lovely Cheryl;
Alas, when all is said and done none e’er remain with me!
Ah, falleth I from towers tall, and spare Burt Reynolds' smallest hurt;
Ah, leapt I the yawning canyon, so he can kiss and flirt.
But whilst words smooth his lips to my lady fair, mine find naught but dirt;
Sooth! I am the lonely stuntman, by me doth the lover spring forth from Burt!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Out and About

Here are a few pictures taken by the Cassini probe as it has been flying around Saturn, its moons and its rings.

The ninth picture in the series shows a view of Saturn's atmosphere taken from above the planet's northern hemisphere, seen from 336,000 miles away (The moon orbits the earth at about 240,000 miles, for comparison). Those swirly hurricane-looking things in the picture are actually about 14,000 miles wide, if I did my math right, which means they would swallow the little blue marble we hang out on maybe three times over. I think that qualifies as a Category Oh hurricane in the current system, in which 5 is the strongest and the "Oh" stands for "Uh-oh, we're doomed."

I realize I'm posting a piece about another world on Earth Day, but I figure a planet is unlikely to be jealous.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Clock's Ticking...

One of these days, the trees are going to wake up and realize what we've been killing them for, and when that happens, we're doomed.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

TV?

I've planned badly the last couple of days at the gym and I've out-pedaled my book.

This means I have to complete my time on the bike while watching television. Sometimes that's OK, because there's a baseball game on. Sometimes it's not, because there's some shouting dunderhead or blow-dried NewsMuppet on.

And sometimes there's network TV on, which is worse than it would be to watch an hourlong news and commentary show hosted by a person who was created with the combined DNA of Bill O'Reilly, Keith Olbermann, Nancy Grace, Rachel Maddow and Glenn Beck. Which, by the way, we must stop from ever happening, so you scientists reading this who might have such an idea in the back of your little control-the-planet, brave-new-world brains just better nip it in the bud. Nip it, nip it nip it!

Anyway, back to network television. Sweet glory on the rock, could there be anything stupider? I saw Bob Saget on TV, which is proof unemployment in Hollywood can't be all that bad -- if they're giving America's Unfunniest Video Host a job, then we're one step away from producers hiring winos for the next "sharp, witty drama crackling with romantic and sexual tension." Which I think is what the show Castle was supposed to be, although it seemed to me that even The Mighty Nathan Fillion couldn't hose the stink off that poo. Here's hoping it gets canceled, so Fillion can either take on the role of Indiana Jones in a re-booted franchise, take on the role of James T. Kirk in a rebooted franchise, or best of all, haul the Serenity out of mothballs and get back to work with Zoe, Kayleigh, Simon, River and Jayne.

Also viewed was the show Criminal Minds, which posits the existence of an FBI profiling team that flies around the country cracking the many serial killer cases that clog the police blotters. The team's toughest case was how they would go on without the Wise Seasoned Team Leader character after Mandy Patinkin didn't like the numbers written on his paychecks. It was fortunately solved by Joe Mantegna. The rerun I had to watch featured a serial killer who disemboweled his victims, made them clean up the mess (apparently a disemboweled person can take awhile to expire) and then waited around a few hours before cutting their throats. Man, I love how modern media uplifts and benefits society!

I have learned one thing, though. I'm bringing a bigger dadgum book tomorrow.

Enough Is Enough! I've Had It With These...

Neville Flynn, please call your office...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Time Marches?

OK, so the last time I saw U2 was about a quarter century ago in Chicago at a place called the Aragon Ballroom. According to U2tours.com, the opening act was The Waterboys, but I have no memory of what they were like. Wonder if things will be different at Owen Field? I should have gone to see them a couple of years later at the University of Illinois Pavilion, because the opening act was Lone Justice, one of the best bands nobody's ever heard of. The front woman was Maria McKee, who went on to an excellent solo career nobody's ever heard of either, more's the pity.

The first show I caught at Aragon was a Stray Cats concert, with Marshall Crenshaw opening. I'd been in Chicago all of two months and some natives of the city decided to scare the Okie rube by calling the place its nickname, "The Aragon Brawl-room." Some dance parties in the late 1970s had apparently involved the fistic arts as well.

I enjoyed the show just fine, but the el ride down and back scared the life out of me, even though I was with about five or six classmates and the Chicago Transit Authority policed that northside line -- ridden by lots of rich suburbanites or collegians like me whose death and or dismemberment would bring bad publicity -- like it was the mayor's house. Live and learn, I guess.

Hope Norman's not too scary ;-)

Non-Impossible Dream

Some days I like the world.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Write Stuff...

Jesse Kellerman comes by his writing jones honestly -- his father is suspense novelist Jonathan Kellerman and his mother suspense novelist Faye Kellerman. Jesse comes in between his parents alphabetically on bookstore shelves and more or less cuts a course between their styles as well. Jonathan's best-known character is psychologist/sleuth Alex Delaware, who works as a talented amateur with is friend, a Los Angeles police detective. Faye's mainstay series focuses on detective Peter Decker and adds some definite police procedural flavor to her stories. Jesse's books have had a mystery at the center, but haven't relied on professional lead characters to work through them.

The Genius is Jesse's third novel. His debut, Sunstroke, was a taut little mystery that worked well even if it didn't completely satsify. His 2007 Trouble faltered in a big way. Trouble managed to be banal and grotesque at the same time, a task previously attempted by Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho. Trouble isn't as grotesque and is shorter, which puts it ahead of Ellis's ugly book.

But The Genius is a significant step forward. Ethan Muller, the spoiled youngest son of a rich family who also works as a successful art dealer, is called to a decaying slum by a family employee. There he finds literally thousands of strange drawings left behind by a stranger tenant named Victor Cracke. Ethan's family owns the slum, so he takes the drawings and prepares to make a show of them. Then news coverage draws unpleasant interest -- an anonymous writer warns Ethan to stop the show and a retired police detective says some of the faces in Cracke's work are those of crime victims.

Ethan begins to work with the detective and his prosecutor daughter to try to figure out what exactly Cracke drew and who he was. Kellerman also develops Ethan as a character through the novel, and we watch him confront some of the more artificial aspects of his personality as he finds himself dealing more and more with people who have concerns and lives with which his sophisticated career and wastrel history have never brought him in real contact.

Some of the straight-out philosophical musings Ethan indulges don't completely work, but overall The Genius satisfies as a crime novel, a mystery and as an exploration of how a flawed person confronts some of the cracks in his own facade.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Speech For Free...

I kind of like this guy's idea.

(H/T The Corner)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Quelle-Looney!

Judges in Quebec continue to prove they are nuts and need to retire to a life of gathering same, puttering around in gardens or doing other things where they can't do stupid stuff like this.

First, of course, we have the judge who agreed to hear this case to start with. I'm not sure of the exact translation, so I'll use the English word: Dolt.

Here's the case: Daughter of divorced parents, age 12, moves in with Dad. Daughter's internet use and pattern of disobedience worries Dad, who tells her to stay off the computer. Daughter, being 12 and all, disobeys Dad and as a result, Dad withholds permission to go on a school trip. Again, I'm not sure of the translation, but in English we call this "getting grounded," and it happens with what I am sure to kids seems an alarming rate and wholly arbitrary fashion.

But this wasn't just any trip, this was the Grade 6 graduation trip! To Quebec City! It was very important! Which may have been the reason Dad decided grounding daughter from it just might be serious enough to get his point across. He wouldn't sign the permission slip which Mom had already signed, so daughter went to the attorney who had been appointed to represent her interests during Mom and Dad's split and sued to get to go on the trip. A judge agreed. Daughter went on the trip. But Dad appealed the ruling, even though it was now a moot issue, maybe because he figured that as the Dad, it was his responsibility to set boundaries and rules in his house and not a judge's.

Which brings us to earlier this week and the discovery that utter silliness is not the exclusive province of Canada's lower-level judges. The Quebec Superior Court showed itself well able in that area and upheld the lower court ruling that Dad's punishment was too severe, and also said that Dad didn't have grounds to contest the decision.

The Superior Court did say that these were "very rare" circumstances and "warned the case should not be seen as an open invitation for children to take legal action every time they're grounded." Yeah, right. We all know what should have happened. The Superior Court should have said, "Get this crap outta here" and suggested that the original judge take a refresher course in exercising that dusty old quality judgment, and that the lawyer who brought the case be sent to bed without supper. We're not talking abuse. We're not talking cruelty. Had those been evident, then legal intervention would have been warranted and necessary. We're talking about getting grounded.

An old cliche is that you pay for your raising as your own kids turn out a lot like you. If this girl has kids, they're going to be something else to deal with.

Probably Quebecois judges.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Palm Sunday

That's today, and a sermon having something to do with it may be found here.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Vocabulary

"Severance pay" is what you call the money you pay someone when you fire them without them having done something wrong. Sometimes it's in their contract, sometimes it's a negotiated settlement and sometimes it comes about via a successful lawsuit on behalf of the person who got fired.

The common factor, though, is that you actually have to get fired, and in order to get fired, the employer you work for has to send you home without a job. They have to "sever," or cut off, your employment with them. At least, that's what I always thought, anyway, but I wasn't smart enough to get into the University of California at Berkeley, where it seems they use a different definition of "fired." That definition, instead of equating "getting fired" with "losing your job," equates it with "having another job created specifically for you even before your old job that you want severance pay for is officially gone."

On the one hand, one wonders how educational institutions can continue to function when they combine their embrace of the plantation system of collegiate athletics with corrupt business practices like this and add them both to their ever-increasing distance from actually teaching somebody something. On the other hand, the fact that I now know this new definition of "fired" proves that learning never really stops and that even a dim GPA two-pointer like me can be illuminated by the brilliance that emanates from UC Berkeley.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

I'm Not Sure About This

This is a website that will tell you what the No. 1 song on the Billboard pop charts was the day you were born.

So yeah, I entered the world during the reign of "House of the Rising Sun" by The Animals.

Not sure what that says about me.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Looong Reach...

Jack Reacher spends his 12th adventure wandering between Hope and Despair.

Those are two fictional towns in Colorado, and in Lee Child's 2008 Reacher novel Nothing to Lose, our wandering hero passes through the first only to find himself being harassed and thrown out of the second. Such treatment doesn't sit well with Reacher, a former Army major in the military police, and he makes it his business to find out what's going on in Despair that made its residents so eager to remove him.

Along the way Reacher enlists the aid of a pretty Hope police officer and finds the mystery deepen when women arrive in Hope wondering about men who've gone missing in Despair. What role does the metal recycling plant, run by the millionaire minister who more or less owns Despair, play? What are the strange nighttime airplane landings, and why is there a military guard on the road leading into Despair from the other side?

Naturally, in order to learn the answer to these questions, Reacher will have to throw some punches, sneak around and get the pretty Hope PD officer in bed at least once. Child hasn't varied his formula overmuch since introducing Reacher in The Killing Floor in 1997. Here he varies it even less. Reacher has crossed paths with modern feudal barons like Nothing's Thurman several times (Die Trying, Echo Burning). He's crossed rich men drunk with power before (nearly every novel). And so on.

Two books out of 12 may not be a trend, but the two most recent Reacher adventures have been about as lazily done a pair of books that Child has put together. Remember the numbers kick and math quirk that Reacher had that played such a big part in Bad Luck and Trouble? No worries if you don't. Because it never shows up in Nothing, since it doesn't have any role to play in the plot. Nothing turns on Reacher's stubbornness about going back where he's been; had the Despair cops who ran him out of town headed in the direction he'd been going, he would have just moved on peacefully.

Characters often develop over a series of books; especially when we're talking about a dozen books spread over a dozen years. But Reacher's character arc makes him more and more of a jerk and less and less likable. Throw in Child's hilariously unsubtle anti-Iraq war and presidential campaign speech and his shoddy Biblical scholarship (Lee, here's a hint: The New Testament wasn't written in Hebrew), and you've got a book that should worry Reacher fans. We can hope 2009's Gone Tomorrow shucks its unlucky number and begins an upswing that takes the series back to earlier levels.