Saturday, February 28, 2009

Now He Really Does Know...

...the rest of The Story.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Big Duds Daddy

I noticed in our state's largest newspaper a story about country music star and native Oklahoman Toby Keith unveiling a line of clothes, which is named "TK Steelman." Keith, who grew up in Moore, calls Norman home and has a restaurant in Bricktown, debuted the Steelman line at a fashion show in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Because Keith likes to remove the sleeves from a lot of the shirts he wears onstage, the clothing designers included several sleeveless shirt designs in the collection. According to the story, the line is supposed to reflect Keith's personal style, which mixes country, rocker and biker influences. He personally approved each design, and said he worked especially closely with the designers to get the jeans right. They must have got them very right, because they will retail for $75 to $85. This makes perfect sense in a clothing line showing off country and biker influences, because farmers and motorcycle riders are well-known for laying down a Ben Franklin portrait for jeans.

But if it keeps him from writing dumb songs -- Keith apparently used up his cleverness quotient in "I Wanna Talk About Me" and "Beer for My Horses," but nobody told him -- well, I guess it's worth it.

Larson the Magnificent

This guy is amazing.

Not as a writer or show creator, but as a salesman. First he mined the Star Wars craze to sell the 1978 version of Battlestar Galactica. The original, an excellent example of how lame 1970s television could be, combined metal robots, wooden actors and leaden dialogue to produce one season of sci-fi camp that included an episode where a human pilot had a high-noon showdown with a fast-draw robot.

And after 21 episodes, Galactica go bye-bye. But wait! The intrepid Lawson manages to convince Universal Studios to greenlight Galactica 1980, which featured a few of the actors from the original series and a two-part episode in which the Galactica crew had to save Wolfman Jack from the Cylons. This lasted 10 episodes, and except for occasional rumblings from Richard Hatch, that was that for the ragtag fugitive fleet and their quest to find Earth.

But wait! Come 2003, and we find humans and Cylons duking it out once again, over on the Sci-Fi Channel, in what is going to become one of the best and best-reviewed shows on television, and certainly a high-water mark for that network. Well, that show is winding up this season, and except for the planned "prequel" series Caprica, that seems to be it for the franchise.

But wait! Larson the Magnificent is at it again! He's in talks with Universal Studios, his old friends, about a big-screen version of Battlestar Galactica! This new version will not have anything in common with the re-imagined Sci-Fi Channel version, but will draw from the original series idea. Why do I say this is magnificent? Follow the steps with me here: 1) Larson sells derivative series idea to network to capitalize on Star Wars movie success. 2) Series stinks, and tanks, but Larson manages to sell it again to the same studio. 3) Some 30 years later, Larson negotiates with the same studio to produce movie of series based on the campy, schlocky earlier version, capitalizing on success of high-quality re-imagined version of that same show!

If he actually gets this made, he should be considered the best salesman ever.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Smart Kids

So the other day I was a moderator/reader at a sixth grade academic meet. The local school coach is a church member and asked me to help out, so I did. I thought about reminding them to phrase their responses in the form of a question, but I think that might have wiped their little heads.

Part of the experience was a flashback -- we had these when I was in junior high and I was involved, primarily because I was a monumental nerd. I remain a nerd, but my monument status has been hampered by serious math deficiency. The little Einsteins were pretty dadgum smart, for certain. They answered questions that had words in them I vaguely remembered hearing once, like "biome," or "a whole number in reduced form." Well, I probably heard them more than once, but they only linger in my brain today.

What was fun was watching the kids work their brains -- some of the questions were seriously Trivial-Pursuit-ish, just random stuff that could be memorized like, say, the dialogue from Smokey and the Bandit. "There is no way, no way, you could have come from my loins. Soon as I get home, first thing I'm gonna do is punch your mama in the mouth." If there was a contest that quoted a line from Star Wars and asked for the next line, I would do very well. I am still a nerd, remember. But a lot of the questions involved stuff the students probably had to learn in a real class, which was neat. Some of them were current event-styled questions, which taught me that there is something called a "Jonas brother." But there was no further information.

One match brought us to a tie at the end of regulation rounds, so we had a tiebreaker. They tied at the end of that, so we had a second tiebreaker. They tied at the end of that, so we had a sudden death. It was fun reading the questions and letting the judge say who had the right answer and who didn't, rather than just telling them, "You're still tied." They probably went right outside and chugged some Pepto-Bismol.

One team was pretty clearly overmatched in the contests. But the neat thing about them was that when we came to questions where obviously no one knew the answer, one or two of them would buzz in and make a guess, rather than just sit on their hands and stare at the floor. It'd probably be easy for them to get discouraged when the other team was spitting out responses like little walking Wikipedias, but they didn't, and that was good to see.

However, I had one sour experience with these young people, who were as far as I could tell bright, well-mannered and hard-working. When confronted with a question that asked what are religious persons who are ordained by churches called, neither of the teams in the room I was working could answer "clergy."

I may require therapy.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Deep

This is some serious sidewalk chalkin'.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Oscar? Grouch!

I used to care soooo much about the Oscars. I made sure I saw at least every best picture nominee, and as many of the best actor/actress nominees as I could, and maybe squeeze in the supporting cast or director awards. I figured out my own picks for the awards, tried to crystal-ball the ones that would actually win, crossed my fingers for my faves and cursed the Academy members for idiots when they didn't (but seriously...no to Goodfellas? C'mon, you dinks!).

Other than being happy for the folks who win -- with the exception of the odious Sean Penn, whose post-Spicoli work is dead to me because of his love for Venezuelan thug Hugo Chavez -- I don't much care who wins what anymore. Of the best picture nominees, I saw Slumdog Millionaire and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Slumdog was not bad, but Button was just a series of unconnected vignettes centering on Brad Pitt's face, frequently altered by computer-generated imagery. Neither was as good as The Wrestler or Gran Torino, neither of which were nominated.

I'm not sure why I lost interest. It may have had to do with the Academy's predisposition to nominate and award actresses who play hookers, strippers, emotionally disturbed characters and the like. Charlize Theron's 2003 turn as a serial killer prostitute was a lock. Women in positions of strength, power or leadership seem to fall by the wayside. And this year, supporting actress nominee Marisa Tomei played a stripper, while best actress winner Kate Winslet played a grown woman who seduced a teenage boy.

It may be that or it may be some other facet of the roles and movies the Academy chooses to honor that just turns me off. Or it may be that one day I realized the awards were just a very specialized popularity contest. We tend to think the Academy Awards represent some sort of absolute standard, simply because the people who vote on them are in that field. I'll go with that on a lot of the technical awards. But things like acting and directing are subjective matters, and that means I can judge for myself what kind of movies or performances I want to see and which ones I think are good. Matters of personal taste, liking or disliking a nominee, the political impact of a film or performance can play just as much a role in the opinions of Academy voters as they do in mine. And that means sometimes they make choices that plain flat-out reek (Crash? Dances With Wolves? Whoopi Goldberg? Mira Sorvino? Nicholas Cage? Cuba Gooding, Jr.? Titanic?)

The ratings for the Oscar telecast have been stinking for some time, which makes me think I may not be the only person asking, "Who cares?" Whether I am or not, I'm pretty sure that Hollywood isn't giving me any answer to that question. So congrats to the winners (except for you, Mr. Penn) and lets all of the rest of us cross our fingers that Academy voters will find a clue when they make out their ballots for the 2009 version of their awards. After all, it is the land of imagination out there, and a fella can dream, can't he?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Let's Book!

Colin Harrison seems to really, really want to be Tom Wolfe. His suspense novel The Finder is filled with the kind of reporting that Wolfe uses to such good effect (and which itself is modeled on Melville's Moby Dick or Hugo's Les Miserables). Wolfe skillfully inserts his reportage into the story in such a way that the reader simply follows it along in the narrative. Finder isn't nearly as interesting or skillful. The fact that he's setting a crime thriller in the middle of some high-finance shenanigans in New York City invites further comparison to Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities, which doesn't serve The Finder very well. Mysterious loner Ray needs to find his ex-girlfriend Jin Li, who's on the run because some folks have apparently stumbled on the information theft ring she and her brother run from their office cleaning business. The brother wants Ray to find Jin Li and bring her in to both save her and cover their tracks. Mobsters want to kill her. It's pretty standard and written in an arch style that deadens the action and characterization suspense novels live on.
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A few years ago, thriller author James Patterson began a young-adult series called "Maximum Ride," about six genetically altered kids who had wings and could fly. Their leader, a 14-year-old girl who gave herself the name Maximum Ride and who goes by Max, tries to keep her flock safe and alive as they are pursued by the staff of the vicious School, itself a front for the giant corporation that experimented with the childrens' DNA. Over the course of the first three novels in the series, Max and the flock begin to learn they have a destiny greater than they've ever imagined, and finally defeat the corporation that created and then tortured them with experiments. The series quality deteriorated through the trilogy, with the final battle against the corporation featuring an army of protesting kids who've been following the flock on their blog and who join the flock to defeat their enemies. Even the uneven third book of that series stands head and shoulders over The Final Warning, which finds Max and the flock helping a group of scientists studying global warming, which they learn is like, really bad. Lots of young adult reads trim their story as much as possible to keep it moving forward and keep their young readers interested. But Warning has a Kleenex-thin story to start with and fills out the pages with mini-lectures from Patterson about global warming, which, you remember, is bad. It even spawns a giant hurricane that's earlier and stronger than any hurricane ever has been, because global warming does that. The publisher printed the Warning mass-market paperback with a cover styled after Patterson's adult thrillers -- whatever eyeballs you can grab, I guess.
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Way back in 1992, author Christopher Moore published Practical Demonkeeping, a comic horror novel that promised a career of fun reads. Although his second novel, Coyote Blue, was a definite fall-off, Bloodsucking Fiends restored a reader's faith in his skewed talents. That faith has yet to be rewarded, and his 2002 Lamb wasn't any reason to hope it will be. Purportedly a story from Biff, a childhood pal of Jesus, it suggests the real story behind the youth and early adulthood of Jesus, a period not covered by the four gospels. Biff mainly serves as an author stand-in, offering us the chance to see how the common-sense kind of viewpoint of an American baby-boomer (Moore was born in 1957), as well as an education in the baby-boomer's favorite spirituality of Buddhism, helped improve Jesus as a savior. Biff's been brought back from the dead by Raphael, a not-too-bright angel who rides herd on him while he completes his corrected version of the history of Jesus. There are definitely scenes that many religious people would consider blasphemous, but Moore is up front that he isn't writing a "real" life of Jesus, just a novel. Which sets him apart from dolts like Dan Brown, anyway. The problem is that Moore can't stop throwing jokes against the wall to see if they stick and eventually it's like being locked in a room with Robin Williams after he's had a six-pack of Jolt Cola. Too much, not a lot of it as funny as Moore thinks it is and a significant portion not very funny at all. But maybe one of these days he'll get back to using his jokes in service of his story instead of using a slapped-together story as a hangar for too many jokes.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Arrogant American?

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a press release about her meeting Pope Benedict XVI, had this to say:
"In our conversation, I had the opportunity to praise the Church's leadership in fighting poverty, hunger and global warming, as well as the Holy Father's dedication to religious freedom and his upcoming trip and message to Israel."
Now, I'm a pastor, although neither my flock nor my importance on the world scene is anywhere near the level of B16's. Even so, I'll confess I like hearing an "Attaboy, Rev" now and again. My jaw just dropped at this, though. Maybe Speaker Pelosi didn't realize how it sounded, maybe she did. But does she really think the spiritual leader of more than a billion people was waiting around to hear her praise the church's work? Did she think he went back to his office, kicked his feet up on his desk and said, "Boys, I was little iffy on our two thousand years of commitment to the poor and oppressed of the earth, but I just found out we're on the right track. U.S. Speaker of the House said so, and she's the next best thing to Joe Biden! Can a Holy Father get an 'Amen' in the house?"

And if that wasn't enough to set Benedict's toes a-tappin' with joy, we're told Speaker Pelosi showed him a picture of her family's 1950 visit with his predecessor, Pope Pius XII. No word on whether or not she pointed him out in the photos. Or what Pope Benedict may have thought about seeing a picture when he'd already said there would be no photos of this particular meeting, given Pelosi's public support of abortion rights.

This whole incident makes me admire Pope Benedict's patience and gracious attitude. 'Cause if it had been me, I'd have invited the Speaker back for a second meeting just as soon as I read her statement to the press, and I'd have made sure the transcript of that meeting -- which probably would have been a trifle one-sided -- was well-disseminated.

By Jove, Holmes!

Perhaps at last, the world might be ready for the tale of the giant rat?

Seriously Trippy -- Watch Your Head

Fractals are geometric shapes that are based on math equations that repeat endlessly. Unlike the hated quadratic and parabolic and such, these kinds of equations have no real solution, and when a computer uses the equation to create an image, it makes one that is actually made up of smaller and smaller versions of itself.

This page has a bunch of three-dimensional fractal images with a mechanical motif. Don't stare too long at some of them or you might not come back ;-)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I Love That Town!

Remember Roland Burris, now the junior senator from Illinois? Former Illinois Gov. Rod "The Bleepinator" Blagojevich appointed him to the seat vacated by now-President Barack Obama. He did that just before the Illinois legislature made him former Gov. Blagojevich for almost literally taking bids over the phone for the senate seat.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in a true demonstration of his authority, said there was no way the Senate would seat Mr. Burris (or anyone else that Blagojevich might have appointed) because any such person would be tainted by association with the governor's fund-raising tactics. He was sure Mr. Burris was a swell guy and all, but there was just no way that the Senate would allow such a taint to stain its reputation. No way. No how. And he kept saying it right up until he seated Senator Burris.

Well, turns out that Senator Burris may have been one of those folks that Gov. Blagojevich reached out to about money, through the governor's brother, Rob. Burris, testifying to an investigative committee in the Illinois legislature, said no one contacted him about money, except when they did, and he never agreed to pay anyone for anything, except when he did, and it didn't matter because all the people he called didn't give any money anyway.

The chair of the Illinois House committee to which the Everchanging Story was submitted apparently sat on it for a week -- a week in which Senator Burris was one of the votes that kept the economic stimulus package from dying a filibustered death in the Senate. Without Burris, those favoring the bill would have had to get four Republican votes instead of three, and that would have been a lot harder -- if possible. Where is the chair from? Some downstate burg or maybe that silly college town, Champaign-Urbana, or even Springfield itself? Nope. She's from Chicago, baby! Again, somewhere Mike Royko is laughing his head off, and Da Mare, Richard J. Daley, is shaking his head at how clumsy these kids are.

Next Christmas, see if you can't give someone a Blago of their very own. It really is a gift that keeps on giving.

Lake Wobegon U

According to a survey, covered by this story in The New York Times, many college students feel they should earn "at least" a B for showing up and working hard. No mention is made of the actual product that comes out of that work.

I could talk about how things weren't like that in my day, but the truth is that even on that scale, I would not have posted a very good GPA. The last time I had to produce a transcript was to get into seminary, and they sent me a copy of what they mailed to the college where I was applying. I got rid of it as quickly as possible -- that's not a number that makes me feel good when I write Sallie Mae a check every month. However, having said that, what a bunch of idiots. Not that we wouldn't have jumped all over the idea if it had been presented to us.

I feel particularly sorry for the young people quoted in the article. Not because they've got a dorky view of the world; dorky views of the world are among the perks of being in college on either side of the lectern. But because they've just painted biiiiig targets on them when it comes to their grades during the remainder of their academic careers. A prof reads this story, sees that name on a transcript and decides to make that kid an example of how rigorous a grader he or she really is. "No, Ms. Smith, you will not earn a B just by showing up, not in my class. I expect you to work for your grades."

The New York Times
may have just ended grade inflation, if only for one or two students. The power of the press!

Play that Funky Music Game

I can resist most of the "notes about yourself" memes on Facebook, but the music ones are way too tempting. A friend recently did one of the usual ones, which is that you put your music program on "shuffle" and answer the questions with the song title that appears. Here is what I posted, somewhat edited:

What do your friends think of you?
"Soon" (Mesk Elil, Souad Massi) -- My friends seem to have a case of the old pronoun trouble.

If someone says, “Is this okay?” You say?
"Flathead" (Costello Music, The Fratellis) -- Seems I don't like to be asked that question.

How would you describe yourself?
"One Foot in the Honky-Tonk" (One Foot in the Honky-Tonk, Jason Ringenberg) -- Really?

What do you like in a girl/boy?
"Your Phone's Off the Hook But You're Not" (The Best: Make the Music Go Bang, X) -- Must be a pre- "call waiting" song.

How do you feel today?
"Headed for the Ditch" (Brand New Year, The Bottle Rockets) -- It's because one foot's in the honky-tonk instead of on the brake.

What is your life’s purpose?
"Fire of God" (You Remain, The Sonflowerz) -- The Lord is apparently in a playful mood with my shuffle button today.

What is your motto?
"Rusty Cage" (Unchained, Johnny Cash) -- A song that could put hair on Phil Donahue's chest.

What do you think about very often?
"Stay" (Pray for Rain, PFR) -- I might have a hidden desire to be a dog trainer.

What do you think of your best friend?
"Adagio-Allegro from Dietrich Buxtehude's 'Sonata in D, Op.2'" (Baroque, Eroica Trio) -- Apparently words can't express what I think.

What do you think of the person you like?
"Thundercrack" (Tracks, Bruce Springsteen) -- Nah, I ain't goin' there.

What is your life story?
"Three Years Blind" (Feelin' Kind of Lucky, Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys) -- The other reason I'm headed for the ditch (See #5).

What do you want to be when you grow up?
"Annie Get Your Gun" (Singles - 45's and Under, Squeeze) -- Seems whatever I want to be will require a shootin' iron.

What do you think of when you see the person you like/love?
"Just Playin' Possum" (Don't Rock the Jukebox, Alan Jackson) -- Women have rejected me in a lot of ways, but I don't think playing dead has ever occurred to them. Until now, of course.

What will you dance to at your wedding?
"Dust on the Bible" (Real Men Cry, Lost Dogs) -- Dust? In my line of work? Are you kidding?

What will they play at your funeral?
"You Throw Parties, We Throw Knives" (Sticking Fingers Into Sockets, Los Campesinos!) -- Guess it might not be just my funeral.

What is your hobby/interest?
"Highway Delight" (You Can't Fix Stupid, Ron White) -- Ah, no.

What is your biggest fear?
"Sugar Coated Love" (Born to Play the Blues, Larry McCray) -- You know, the video for that Def Leppard song always did scare me a little.

What is your biggest secret?
"Wicked Ride" (Some Lessons, Melody Gardot) -- I've owned a '68 Impala, an '87 VW and a '96 Toyota Tacoma. If I've ever had a wicked ride somebody's been keeping it secret from me.

What do you think of your friends?
"Through These Eyes" (White Light White Heat White Trash, Social Distortion) I may have some pronoun trouble, too.

What will you post this as?
"Here's to the Morning Glory" (Greatest Hits Vol. VIII, The Bilge Pumps)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Oops!

You know, in the hubbub and excitement of the weekend, I'm afraid I completely overlooked mentioning a very important day. Like many important days, sometimes it becomes mired in commercialism and fake sentiment, both of which obscure the real impact it has. People are expected to feel certain things, or maybe they feel obligated to do certain things, or they may even feel like they're coerced into spending money and such just to keep up with an expected image. None of that for me. Nope, I am just thankful for the day -- this year it fell on this past Saturday -- and what it represents.

Pitchers and catchers reported for spring training.

Sermon's Up!

Over on Flatlands Friar.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Oh, the Humanity!

I learned, reading a blog on Newsweek's site, that the cultured, mannered and high-powered elite of the fashion world had to resort to unthinkably horrible and base strategies in order to have their pre-New York Fashion Week parties be up to snuff: They had to have them thrown by JC Penney. And worse still, their exalted senses, exquisitely refined tastes and stilleto-heel-sharp wit will be forced to attend a show that will feature fashions by that oh-so-flyover retailer.

All of this, of course, is because of global warming. No, I mean, it's all the fault of George Bush. No, wait, I mean it's because of the recession (Whew! Cutting it close on the old metaphorical at-bat!). Yes, you read that right. It's not enough that the economic downturn has cost many people huge chunks of their life savings or pension funds. It's not enough that hundreds of thousands of real people are actually out of work, unlike those silliest of the sillyrati, fashion magazine writers and "junior editors." Heck, it's not even enough that rappers and their enormous entourages have to cut back on the bling. No, now we have to hear of the suffering and potential damage to the fashion industry. You know, that group of people who create clothes that no one outside of the Mos Eisley cantina would ever wear in real life and drape them over the bodies of 19-year-old bundles of flesh-covered sticks who spend their spare time learning The Walk and The Look and reading Eighty Different Ways to Prepare Your Grape for Lunch.

Of course I'd feel for folks if the recession had actually thrown them out of work. Especially because whatever gets designed by them gets made by some poor seamstresses somewhere who've been perfecting their thin look by the old-fashioned method of not having enough money to buy groceries this week. But this item is not about them losing their jobs, it's about how they now don't like their jobs as well as they used to. So zero sympathy from me, as well as every other person who ever held a job that's not been kittens and sunshine every single second of the day.

Well, hold on there, Friar, you might say. If this is all so inconsequential, why are you wasting precious electrons and bandwidth and the time of the handful of people who have clicked here because the Ambien's running low by writing about it? Good question, and I wish I had a good answer. I guess it's because my other choice for subject matter is this: Our nation has set aside this weekend as part of a holiday that honors the men who have held our nation's highest office, some of whom literally shaped our nation or held it together. And an apparently record number of my fellow citizens are choosing to observe that by seeing a remake of a stupid slasher movie, by being entertained by the depicted deaths of young people (Cool! Jason holds her sleeping bag over the fire and roasts her to death!) and apparently by not being at all ashamed that they have done so. At least when the Romans watched people die in the arena they had to clean up actual blood and dispose of actual bodies. We don't even need to do that. We can be entertained by death and torture without having to cause any real harm to anyone! Yay!

I'm afraid the language I'd need to adequately address such a situation falls outside of the words I use in public, so I'll write about dumb fashion industry stuff.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Timely Thought

The Anchoress has a suggestion about a way to reduce some anxiety in stressful economic times -- give a little more away than you usually do.

As we're nearing the season of Lent, that seemingly paradoxical advice might go a long way towards cultivating the appropriate attitude of sacrifice and thanksgiving. I may even try it myself.

The Debate Is Over

The "new atheism" of persons such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris has been irrevocably refuted in the person of the woman who filed this lawsuit against Miley Cyrus for her supposedly mocking gesture of squinty eyes in a photograph with an Asian person. She wants four billion dollars in damages, saying she is suing on behalf of every Asian Pacific Islander and that each such person is entitled to the minimum $4,000. Why she ignores the damage done to Asians who are not Pacific Islanders is unknown.

In any event, this news can't be good for people such as Dawkins and Harris, whose disbelief in any divine being also demands a blind-chance version of evolution that selects creatures and species for survival based solely on their survival-enhancing characteristics. It is simply impossible to believe that dumbness on the level of suing a teenager for doing something stupid and silly could be a survival-enhancing characteristic, and that impossibility is affirmed by the financial amount under consideration. Dumbness on that level may be career-enhancing in Hollywood, but Hollywood is well-known as an alternate universe where normal laws do not apply. After all, Miley Cyrus has a career. In any event, the process that produces people who sue teenagers for $4 billion cannot be simple random chance. Some kind of outside agency, perhaps divine, must be at work.

That divine agency can also be seen as possessing unlimited patience and love of its creation -- there's no other rational explanation for why a being which could create the universe would not haul out the thunderbolts for something like this.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Twenty-Four Hours Every Day?

Trying to fill that much news hole can sometimes lead you to have some really stupid stories sometimes.

That's a Lot of Popcorn

Ever wonder how the sales figures for today's movies stack up against the classics? We can read that The Dark Knight has cleared more than a half a billion dollars since its release last year, but how does that compare to movies released twenty, thirty or even more years ago? The dollar figures are higher today, but what about inflation?

Box Office Mojo has a page that charts the all-time box office figures for movies adjusted for inflation -- they took attendance figures for movies and multiplied them by the average ticket price of a movie today. This just charts domestic box office, by the way -- international sales change the figures somewhat.

Going by that chart, Dark Knight cracks the top 30, but way way down there at No. 27. Only two other movies made in the last 10 years are in the top 30, Shrek 2 at No. 30 and The Phantom Menace at No. 19. That last one proves that a movie doesn't have to be any good to make a lot of money, which may surprise people unless they've seen a movie.

The top box-office draw of all time hit screens 70 years ago. When released, Gone With the Wind made nearly $200 million. Adjusted, that's almost $1.5 billion, with a "B." Granted, that's only about .15 percent of the money that Congress wants to take away from you and me to give to...everybody but you and me, but it's still some serious coin. Especially considering that 1939 was in the Great Depression.

Gone With the Wind and several of the Disney animated features on the list have an advantage in that they were released into theaters more than once. On the other hand, that meant people went to see them again when they were re-released, so they must have had some appeal.

I imagine that DVDs and other methods of watching movies at home would make it tough to have the same thing happen these days. If Warner Bros. put The Dark Knight back into theaters in, say, 2013, would it pull the same as some of those older movies did when they returned to the screen? Once a film comes out on a medium where we can have it at home and watch it whenever we want, it would seem there'd be less reason to troop to the theater and pay for it again. So Gone With the Wind may remain the all-time champ in this arena.

But tomorrow is another day.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

To Explore Strange New Worlds...

So I went to "Affair of the Heart" at the state fairgrounds yesterday. A friend I hadn't seen in a long time was an exhibitor and I also figured the combination of a massive craft show and a guy who thinks crafts are his kryptonite might be funny. I'll let you decide. Here are some things I learned:

1. There are more masculine environments than a craft show that takes up seven buildings at the state fairgrounds. Like a NOW convention, for instance.

2. Unaccompanied males at "Affair of the Heart" are viewed with a mix of wariness and pity, like clumsy children wandering around lost. Many of the looks I got seemed to suggest that I should be waiting by the ladies room to rejoin whomever it was that brought me there.

3. Despite the overwhelming amounts of knick-knacks and twee little "Oh that's darling" whatevers, there are also some really interesting works. Despite my being of the male persuasion, not all of those things that I could appreciate involved worked metal or wood.

4. But a lot of them did.

5. You would be amazed at how maneuverable some strollers are.

6. You would be amazed at how maneuverable some people aren't.

7. I am sooooo not the target demo of this event. My friend -- who looks nowhere near the age she is no matter what she says and is, I have no doubt, an excellent mom to her five boys -- had me sniff a sample of a scent they will be using on their upcoming line of potpourri. It's a grapefruit scent. I sniffed. "What do you think?" she asked. "It smells like grapefruit," I answered.

8. Apparently, having 10 boy feet around the house is a good reason to get into the potpourri business.

9. Seeing "USMC" Bedazzled on a T-shirt is...surreal.

10. Seeing "USMC" on a T-shirt at "Affair of the Heart" is surreal. But in a fight between quilters, knitters, decoupagers and scrapbookers vs. the Marines, I'm not sure where I'd bet. Sure, the Marines have been trained to the highest level of combat ability and are adept with many weapons -- but they've never faced a Bedazzler in the hands of someone who knows how to use it.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

There's Fish in This Barrel, Too!

A fellow named Bill Jemas, who worked in comic books a few years ago, has a project to create a new translation of the book of Genesis. He's not the fish I'm taking aim at, though. Reading the story, he seems like a fellow who's taken at least some pains to do the work necessary to try to understand Genesis in Hebrew, although he notes that the only Hebrew he's studied is what he learned in connection with his translation project.

No, I'm having some fun with the reporter who wrote the story. Let's start here:
His goal is to write an English translation of Genesis that is truer to the Hebrew text than are widely used English translations like the famed King James Version.
Mr. Diamant has been left unaware, it seems, of translations like the New International Version, completed in 1978. Or the New Revised Standard Version, finished in 1989, which was itself an update of the Revised Standard Version, completed in 1952. A modern translation used by English-speaking Jewish people is The Tanakh, published by the Jewish Publication Society and completed in 1984.

What these translations have in common with each other and with a significant portion of other modern Bible translations is their use of the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, an edition of the Hebrew Bible based on a much older complete text than that used by the King James translators in 1611.

While those translations I mentioned are all Biblical best-sellers, knowledge available with a few Googles, there are some other new translations that do pretty much the same thing Mr. Jemas wants to do. And they're by people who've spent some years studying the languages and literature. Robert Alter, professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at Berkeley, published a translation of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, in 2004. You can read a review of it here. Everett Fox, a professor of Judaic studies at Clark University, published a translation of those same five books in 1995. A brief review is here. Alter and Fox may not pop up on the casual reader's list of Biblical translations, but the casual reader isn't writing a news feature about someone who's doing a Biblical translation project.

Mr. Jemas seems to want to provide an alternative to the King James Version of the Bible, using an older Hebrew text than those translators had available. He may or may not know that's already been done, a bunch -- my guess is he does, but you don't sell books by telling people about everybody who's already done what you're doing. He may or may not know about literary translations like those by Alter and Fox. If he does, he may see his work as a potentially more popular version of the same project they did, or he may again figure that it's his job to sell his book, not theirs. I don't disagree.

Mr. Diamant, however, should have known better. More than one journalism professor told us the creed of the reporter is, "If your mother says she loves you, check it out." Even if you don't go that far, you might still wonder about whether or not Bible scholars and translators have done any updates in the last four hundred years. Mr. Diamant solicits opinions from a couple of them about Mr. Jemas's project (they're wary but approving), so he had the chance to ask. He didn't, so his story winds up leaving anyone who doesn't know much about biblical translation no more informed than they were before.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Revenge of the Nerds!

A guy in Denver robbed two convenience stores carrying a Klingon sword. All persons 30 years old and up who live in their parents' basement have been rounded up for questioning.

Bring Your Shotgun! There's Fish in This Barrel!

Stephen King offers an opinion about Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series.

King compares Meyer's writing ability (Full Disclosure: I've never read one of of Meyer's books. Probably won't, either) unfavorably to that of J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series. He says Meyer can't write very well. But Rowling, in King's opinion, is a terrific writer.

In what is, I am sure, a completely unrelated piece of information, King says he doesn't know if his work had any influence on Meyer, but he does know that Rowling read him when she was younger. Rowling is about my age, which means she probably took in some of King's earlier and much better work during that time. Reading The Shining, The Stand or maybe even Firestarter might definitely help a would-be writer learn some pacing, some storytelling ideas and some ways to build suspense with words. Reading Duma Key sure as heck wouldn't.

I would also note that the creative genius of Mr. King is being showcased these days in a volume called Stephen King Goes to the Movies, which consists of reprints of five of his short stories that were turned into movies and what basically amounts to a few pages of liner notes about each one. Oh, and a list of his ten favorite movie versions of his books. It includes The Mist, so let that say to you what you will.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Amen. What? I Said, AMEN! Oh, It's About 6:30...

This little piece on Christianity Today strikes a chord (sorry) with me.

A few years ago, I attended a weeknight worship service here in the Oklahoma City area at the invitation of some of the students at the college where I used to work. It was definitely high-energy and the message wasn't bad. It wasn't exceptionally deep, but it wasn't bumper-sticker shallow, either.

Overall, though, it wasn't a good experience because the music was so loud. I literally could not hear my own voice. Now, I've listened to plenty of loud music in my day -- when it's real quiet I swear I can still hear the echo of a Ramones show I saw in 1982. And I know I sound like a fuddy who doesn't like music really loud anymore. But there's a difference between a concert and a worship service, just like the author's article suggests.

At a worship service, the point of leading the congregation in singing is to join them together in raising their voices as an offering to God. Maybe in praise, maybe in reflection, maybe simply to try to create a beautiful sonic sacrifice to lay at the altar. But when the leaders turn the knobs up to 11 and past, so loud that the people even on the very farthest of back rows can hear neither the people around them nor their very own voices, then they send a message, like it or not. Those individual voices are as unimportant to the offering being made as they are to the sound that's being put out by the worship band.

Overpowering noise from the front of the room says, "We're making this offering of praise in song, and your voice really doesn't have much to add to it. We'd sound like this whether you were here or not."

Sometimes worship is sedate, quiet, contemplative and dignified. Sometimes it's a loud, raucous party that sprawls across the sanctuary and revels in its multi-sensory weirdness. Either way, I want to be a part of it, not an accessory to a show being put on up front.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Don't Make Them Angry...You Wouldn't Like Them When They're Angry

Some researchers have found that high levels of serotonin trigger a change in grasshoppers, switching them from green little loners to tough, brown-colored swarming locusts.

It seems that for a particular breed of grasshopper, the same stuff that regulates human sleep, aggression or even depression can make them all "Hulk smash!" Serotonin is a neurotransmitter chemical; when levels of it are low, clinical depression and a number of other psychological issues may result. Apparently, when levels of it are high, good ol' Mr. Grasshopper likes to gather up a few million friends who are also feelin' the buzz and go eat everything everywhere. Scientists are studying other breeds of grasshopper to see if the same kind of effect shows up -- even though only ten or so breeds of the bug have a tendency to swarm, others may have the same reaction to the chemical.

They also found that if serotonin blockers were administered, then grasshoppers stayed grasshoppers, even if other swarming conditions were present. So it may be possible to spray a swarm with some of these chemicals to keep them from swarming and destroying crops.

But that could lead to a large number of depressed grasshoppers. Scientists are not yet sure how to deal with that, although teaching therapists to communicate by rubbing their legs together has not yet been ruled out.

You Sure About That, Boss?

As I've mentioned before, I am a fan of Bruce Springsteen's music. I even like some of his newest album, although Working on a Dream is the most uneven record he's released in years, maybe ever. The title track could have been released by Generic Mid-Tempo Songwriter, and probably should have been.

One of the things that's always drawn me to his music is that even though he has always expressed which side he's on -- the side of the little guys and gals of the world -- he's most often made his stand clear through exploring their lives and stories. In other words, I know who and what Springsteen is for, rather than having to listen to an endless recitation of who and what he is against. Some folks are effective both as performers and as communicators at proclaiming what they are against. Something about their character or the characteristics of their work meshes well with the "anti-" message. Whether or not Springsteen would have been effective had he always aimed his career that way, who knows? He hasn't often done so, and he has had the career he's had.

It hasn't always worked out, of course. In 2004, Springsteen supported Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. By being very "pro-" on behalf of one of the emptiest suits ever to serve in the United States Senate, Springsteen steered uncomfortably close to the image of a millionaire rock star supporting the millionaire husband of a ketchup heiress. Kerry was born into privilege, married into some more of it, then divorced and remarried into even more of it. He was never a spare part and wouldn't have known the ghost of Tom Joad from the ghost of Tom Jones (who is, of course, not dead yet. I know). Kerry's opponent, President George W. Bush, may very well have been born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but Kerry started out with the whole place setting, and it's hard to maintain an image of being on the side of the little guy when you back the richest man in the running for a job.

Interviews here and there suggest that WOAD grew out of Springsteen's dislike for Bush and his policies. Fair enough. As I mentioned above, I think a lot of great music and art has come from those telling us what they're against and what they're fighting. And I don't know how much of that feeling influenced this album, but that attitude could be why it's so uneven -- Springsteen is more often better when he's outlining who and what he's for than when he works out of what he's against.

In any event, WOAD is not the only Springsteen release out right about now. A second greatest-hits album hit Wal-Mart shelves in January, and only Wal-Mart shelves. They have exclusive rights to sell it. Since Wal-Mart is anti-union in its workforce and Springsteen has always been very much a pro-union guy, a significant portion of his fan base has called him to task for the choice. In a recent interview, Springsteen said the decision to make an exclusive deal with Wal-Mart was a mistake. He suggested his business team didn't vet the issue like it should have, someone "dropped the ball."

Really? Someone "dropped the ball?" How? Did they think they were doing business with a different Wal-Mart: "You dummy, we wanted the pro-union multi-national, multi-billion-dollar retail chain recognizable in most every town in the nation, not the anti-union one. How could you mix those two up?" Buddy, when you try to cover a 35-plus-year career of more than 20 official albums with 12 songs, you ain't selling me a serious career retrospective. Add in that seven of those 12 were on the 1995 Greatest Hits album -- which also featured three previously unreleased tunes -- and any piety you may have about disagreeing with Wal-Mart stands on swiftly-eroding grounds. Maybe the mistake was judging how seriously some of those fans hold their opinions about Wal-Mart, justified or not.

So just go ahead and play the Super Bowl and hit the road for a tour, Boss. If it's not too much to ask, please put Oklahoma City on your itinerary. I promise I'll come to the show, which is still one of the best performances known to mankind. And if you play "No Surrender" at that concert, well, that would be really great.