Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Not a Good Example...

Scientists at the Large Hadron Collider (now, is it simply a larger collider of hadrons than the others, or does it collide large hadrons? Hmmmm...) are pretty happy over one of their first successful proton crackups.

One physicist called the experiment a "huge step toward unraveling Genesis Chapter 1, Verse 1 - what happened in the beginning." They're obviously quite excited.

But a spokesman for the American Institute of Physics, one Phil Schewe, said this: "This is the Jurassic Park for particle physicists."

I think Mr. Schewe should put Jurassic Park on his Netflix queue or check the book out of the library, because that particular scientific project did not end well. And if the problem that John Hammond faced was that when his theme park glitched, the rides ate the guests, I don't even what to know what might happen if proton beams moving at nearly the speed of light slam into each other and it goes wrong.


The history of how some leaders of the Roman Catholic Church covered up sexual abuse by clergy isn't pretty.

Recently, some folks claimed that Pope Benedict XVI, while he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, didn't do as much as he could have in his role overseeing a commission that dealt with clergy sex abuse cases. The most prominent story has been in The New York Times, but I'm not linking it because a number of folks who were directly connected to the main case in the story have pointed out the reporter didn't bother to interview them. Given that Benedict met with and spoke to abuse victims in Australia and the U.S., and that he sent a Pastoral Letter to clergy in Ireland that dealt only with that issue, it seems as though he recognizes the severity of the problem now, whether or not he did earlier.

In any event, the Associated Press offers some helpful perspective on the definition of "piling on" here.

Yes, you read that correctly. The Associated Press not only bothered to attend a press conference given by Mehmet Ali Agca, they published the results. Mr. Agca, you may remember, offered his opinion about Benedict's predecessor in a much more forceful way nearly 30 years ago. He was recently released from prison and is currently, according to his own words, a messenger from God.

Now I'm waiting for the AP to tell me what that guy with three hats who used to wander around Norman thinks about the economic crisis in Greece.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Square Peg? Nahh, Not Anymore...

So scientists from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) will put their heads together with the folks from Toyota to try to figure out if there's an electronic cause of this sudden unintended acceleration problem. At first blush the idea of a space agency investigating car trouble seems a little odd. But these days, it makes sense, I guess.

Since, thanks to an administration with the shortest horizons in recent memory, NASA doesn't have much to do in space anymore, might as well put them to work on something.

The Final Four!

The end of March Madness begins, appropriately, after the end of March. This Saturday, April 3, Indianapolis hosts the end of the tournament to see who will become 2009-2010 NCAA Division 1 Men's Basketball Champions. The championship game is Monday, April 5.

We have the guys who work for free to make Mike Krzyzewski a multi-millionaire vs. the guys who need directions to the book store from West Virginia University. The other semifinal features the guys who don't go to class at Michigan State vs. the guys who might actually graduate from Butler University.

Butler, in addition to being pretty much a home team since the school is in Indianapolis, graduated better than nine out of every ten men's basketball players in 2009, according to NCAA figures. Duke does almost as well. By comparison, only four out of every ten Mountaineers leave Morgantown with a diploma and six out of ten Spartans move their tassels in May.

Now, just what those degrees are in, whether or not they're actually worth anything to the guys who got them? Would the number of them who ever earn more than a fraction of what their coaches make crowd a phone booth? No, no. We don't ask those questions, we just drink in the spectacle.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Seek And Ye Shall Find...Something

I am a big Calvin and Hobbes fan. So is Nevin Martell.

You didn't have to give me anything to learn that beyond a few mouse clicks and seconds of your time. You'd have to give Martell $24.95, unless you were lucky enough to find his Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and his Revolutionary Comic Strip in a used book store.

Martell, the author of a couple of rock profile/biographies, set out to write the story of the comic strip, drawn by Ohioan Bill Watterson from 1985 to 1995. Given the fact that Watterson detests publicity, despises celebrity and doesn't do interviews, a potentially insurmountable obstacle looms early. Martell never interviews Watterson, relying on book introductions and older interviews for his comments about the strip. Looking is never able to get past the elephant that isn't in the room, since Watterson's interviews were all done fairly early in the strip's run, focusing on some facts about his life and about where he got his ideas and such, and Martell is interested in the impact Calvin and Hobbes had on popular culture and newspaper cartooning in general.

Interviews with a few other cartoonists provide some hints about that impact, but none of those interviews really cover enough to be a real examination of it. The chapter with those remarks as well as some by non-cartoonist famous people reads like pure page filler.

There is an interesting arc that shows as Martell describes the history of the strip and its increasing fame -- Watterson is, clearly, a guy who wants to draw his comic strip and be left alone to do so. His initial irritation with the demands of notoriety, like interview requests and celebrity-style recognition, increases over time until what started as a kind of reclusiveness turns into active dislike of anything that doesn't connect directly with drawing C&H.

Watterson's dislike of merchandising C&H -- which produced a nearly career-long battle with his syndicators -- also plays a role in his desire for seclusion, as well as prompting him to throw some serious broadsides against cartoonists who do merchandise their characters when he speaks at public occasions, often when the people he's attacking are present. In essence, the pressure of the conflict between Watterson, who wanted to draw his comic strip, and everybody else, who wanted to make lots of money off Watterson and his comic strip, seems to inspire the artist to act like a jerk.

He can still do so today, apparently, because he simply never responds to Martell's interview request, rather than sending a letter declining it or having an agent do so. Nothing in Martell's earlier work would prompt anyone to think that he's the guy to write some kind of definitive study of newspaper cartooning in the late 20th century or that he would produce anything with any great insight, so Watterson's decision not to be interviewed is pretty understandable. But simple politeness might seem to dictate sending a letter doing so in response to the letter requesting the interview, and Watterson doesn't bother with that.

I'm kind of interested now to see where I put some of those old C&H books and flip through them again and enjoy them -- so I guess Martell's book served some purpose after all.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Wave Them Branches!

Today is Palm Sunday, and if for some reason you are in my church this morning, you might hear something that vaguely resembles this.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Holy Quark

Being the geek that I am, one of my favorite religion writers is former particle physicist John Polkinghorne, one of those who helped discover the subatomic particle referenced in the post title. In 1979, Polkinghorne left the post of Professor of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge to become a priest in the Church of England. He served parishes for a few years and then began writing books on the interactions and intersections of science and religion.

The latest edition of the In Character online magazine has a brief question-and-answer session with Dr. Polkinghorne here, which should whet the appetite of the person who would like to take science, religion and those assorted interactions seriously (Note to the reader: People who offer with a straight face claims like "The Roman Catholic church executed Galileo" as an example of science-religion interaction need not apply for the status of taking these things seriously).

The ever-helpful Amazon groupings page offers a long list of Polkinghorne's books, many of which are written for folks with no special training in either theology or quantum physics.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Readers, Run to It!

There are some writers whom one wish would just stop already, and turn their attention to un-writing what they'd already produced so as to aid one in un-reading it. Stephen King has been one of those for most of the last twenty years, and I would say the same thing about the unhinged inanity of The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan if I had actually read anything by him since 2005.

And then there are books you wish would keep on going, such as Matt Labash's Fly Fishing With Darth Vader. Labash usually writes for The Weekly Standard, and most of these pieces were longer articles in that magazine. The title piece describes Labash's experience fly-fishing with then Vice-President Dick Cheney, as both of them are fly-fishing enthusiasts. There are also articles on the decaying city of Detroit, a variety of political figures and several other characters. Not all of those subjects are all that interesting to me in and of themselves -- and some of them are people I more or less dislike -- but I read every word of Labash's profiles anyway, and I became fascinated in the people or subjects he was covering. He knows how to interview, he knows how to profile, and he by gosh and golly knows how to write better than all but a sliver of folks who pound keyboards for payment (or pleasure) these days.

One quibble with the book is that it pretty much reprints the articles as they appeared in The Weekly Standard, so magazine readers will have seen most of them. Although it is nice to have them all in one place. And WS is not the most widely-read magazine on the shelves, so a lot of folks might not have seen them before (True Fact: When I recommended a Labash article to a friend and said it was in WS, she responded, "Oh, I'm too open-minded to ever read anything in that magazine.") It would have been nice to see them reworked or perhaps organized along a theme, but if I'm lucky Labash has a whole lot more in him and they can save that option for the next book.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


This morning I heard "Breathless," an X cover of the 1958 Otis Blackwell-penned Jerry Lee Lewis hit, released on their 1983 album More Fun in the New World.

On my radio.

This week looks a little better now.

Monday, March 22, 2010

What I Like About President Obama

In light of how negatively I feel about the new healthcare reform bill, those who have deposited it upon us and the unseemly way in which they did so, I thought it would be a good exercise for my spirit to come up with this list.

1) I like that he is an African-American president. For all that we have yet to do in solving problems that exist between races in our nation, we can't deny that a man who would have had almost no rights at all here 150 years ago, simply because of the amount of melanin in his skin, is the leader of the free world. I thought that when he was nominated, I thought that when he was elected, and although there are very few circumstances under which I would ever vote for him, I think that still.

2) I like that, even if the modern media spin machine doesn't allow it to be said, he has shown some pragmatism in learning that not everything President Bush did in the War on Terror was wrong and acting accordingly. He extended certain Patriot Act provisions. He won't transfer some especially dangerous Guantanamo prisoners to countries that can't guarantee those prisoners will stay locked up. He's allowed the CIA to target terrorist leaders with Predator drone strikes and taken out several of them.

3) I like the fact that, as an African-American president, he is an excellent role model as a husband and father for American men, especially those who might take their cues from music videos, movies and men who hold themselves to a far lower standard. The most powerful black man on the planet speaks in standard English (sometimes quite eloquently), went to college and graduated, goes home to his wife and kids when he finishes work, wears a coat and tie to the office, is married to the mother of his daughters, doesn't call women "hos" or worse, sports gold only on his wrist and ring finger, bears no ridiculous tattoos, consistently shows respect to his wife when speaking about her or appearing with her in public and not only doesn't disdain reading books, he actually wrote two.

4) I believe that this example can endure long after his time in office and I believe that it may very well be not only the best thing President Obama will do for our country, but also something for which he would be justifiably honored and well-remembered.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Such a Parcel of Rogues in a Nation

Way back in the last years of the 18th century, Robert Burns wrote a poem about the members of the Parliament of Scotland who'd signed the 1707 Act of Union with England. Burns suggested that those members who did so were motivated by greed, and their greed finally did what many years of fighting could not: Bring his native Scotland under England's flag. The telling verse is this one:
What force or guile could not subdue,
Thro' many warlike ages,
Is wrought now by a coward few,
For hireling traitor's wages...
...such a parcel of rogues in a nation.
Burns' poem comes to mind in light of our nation's current healthcare debate. Not the issue of healthcare reform itself, a need which I think most everyone recognizes. Nor the specifics of different policies about healthcare reform, about which people can and do disagree. I, for example, think that a reform package that doesn't include tort reform and allowing people to purchase health insurance across state lines isn't serious about reducing costs. But others disagree, and no matter which kind of bill was enacted, we'd find out who was right and, I hope, admit it if we weren't.

But this mess of a "debate" and the manner of the passing of the bill, the 3,000-page bill that can't possibly be understood by anyone voting for it? The endless deal-making and granting of favors and special considerations for different interest groups or different legislators to earn their votes? The use of arcane parliamentary tactics to bring legislation to the president's desk just so something can be passed and something can be signed? The refusal of legislators to listen to those who elected -- in the real world, we'd say "hired" -- them when they ask, "Stop this and start over?" None of this reflects well on those involved, their leadership skills or their beliefs about their own positions.

Win, lose or draw on the current healthcare bill, I'll be changing my voting registration this week. I've been a Democrat since I was old enough to sign the card -- and I signed it so I could vote in what was, I believe, some kind of special election or runoff for county sheriff, not for any presidential or statewide office. I may have voted Republican a number of times, but a look at who my party put up for office would show you why. I stayed a Democrat because of the members of that party who were worth admiring, like Harry Truman, John Kennedy, Henry Jackson, Thomas O'Neill, Daniel Moynihan and so on. Even though the leadership of my party came to be vested in people who couldn't lead lemmings off a cliff, I stayed because it was about who I was and not who they were.

I'm not becoming a Republican. There are too many Missouri Democrats in my family line who would rise up and smite me were I to consider it. So I'll register "independent" and, I suppose, forgo voting in primaries. And I don't know that a hundred percent of me wants to change even that much, but I know I don't want that label anymore. It'll not make a lick of difference to them and it won't make much here. The last Democrat who earned Oklahoma's electoral votes was Lyndon Johnson and I don't see anyone usurping his spot anytime soon. But it'll make a difference to me, because despite my loyalties and misgivings, I really don't want anything to do anymore with this parcel of rogues that's been coughed up by our nation.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Somebody Made a Boo-boo...

Let us consider stupidity.

Specifically, let us consider the stupidity of one Jesse Gregory James, host of the Discovery Channel Monster Garage series and the possibly prophetic stunt show on Spike TV, Jesse James Is a Dead Man.

Mr. James has been married to actress Sandra Bullock since 2005. It now appears that he engaged in an affair with a "tattoo model," one Ms. Michelle McGee, while Ms. Bullock was filming her Academy-Award winning role in The Blind Side. Why, specifically, are these stories indications that Mr. James could be a little smarter?

Well, under what circumstances did he think this could turn out well for him? His wife is Sandra Bullock. Steve Rogers' twin sister could cave in Adolf Hitler's skull with the star-spangled plate from which she'd just served Cap a slice of homemade apple pie and she'd come in second to Ms. Bullock in the all-American girl competition. A fellow who wants to make his living on television doesn't want to do things that cause people to hate him, and about the only person who'll like Mr. James now will be former Senator John Edwards, because this gets that Hunter woman's interview off the entertainment news shows.

Perhaps there will be the some kind of counter-accusation. Had the marriage deteriorated to a place where he felt it was OK for him to begin seeing -- and more -- other people? Was Ms. Bullock impossible to live with, showing in private a persona that no one could love even though in public she has been pretty much the definition of America's sweetheart? Again, we're talking about Sandra Bullock. Unless Mr. James, who has been married twice before, can show video of her stealing candy from the very mouths of war orphans, he's going to lose this one. And even then, most people will figure he had James Cameron's Avatar group doctor the footage.

And for what has he stepped on this monumental land mine that will almost certainly make him show-business poison and one of the jerkiest jerks in the history of jerkdom? For Ms. McGee, a woman whose decorated exterior resembles a NASCAR racer for at least as long as it takes for gravity and time to have their way. She has said that she would not have engaged in an affair with Mr. James had she known the pair were still married, saying that Mr. James "gave [her] the impression that they were separated."

Darn those pesky polysyllables! "Divorced" does not equal "still married." "Widowed" does not equal "still married." "Never married" does not equal "still married." But "separated" is in fact, "still married."

Ah well. The best we can do, I suppose, is hope that the people hurt in this find ways to heal and the people who were dumber than dirt in this learn from their actions. And should the marriage end and Ms. Bullock wish to try again, may I point out to her the benefits of a relationship with someone not in showbiz and whose 40-plus years of single living would mean that gratitude alone would inspire his fidelity for at least that long.

Not that I have anyone specific in mind, of course.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


As a protective device, I think this beats wearing green. An excerpt from the Lorica, or Breastplate of St. Patrick:

Críst limm, Críst reum, Críst im degaid
Críst indium, Críst íssum, Críst úassum
Críst dessum, Críst túathum
Críst i llius, Críst i ssius, Críst i n-érus
Críst i cridiu cach duini rodomscrútadar
Críst i ngiun cach oín rodomlabrathar
Críst i cach rusc nomdercadar
Críst i cach clúais rodomchloathar.

Atomriug indiu

niurt tríun
togairm Tríndóite
cretim treodatad
foísitin oendatad
i nDúilemon dáil.

In the Sasanach tongue, by way of Mrs. Cecil Frances Humphreys Alexander:

"Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

"I bind unto myself the name,
The strong name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
salvation is of Christ the Lord."

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Bad Wolf!

Although the post title refers to a TV show, it's not that one.

I'm actually admonishing TV producer Dick Wolf, creator of the various Law & Order TV series. Dick, you're killin' me here.

You go and cast one of my favorite actresses and singers, Sutton Foster, in an episode -- since she's a stage gal who makes most of her living in New York City where the show is set, it makes me wonder what took you so long. But you put her in the weakest show of the franchise, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, where the lead characters have become two of the most insufferably self-righteous people on television and where the stories are such retreads I can recite the dialogue three beats before the actors do.

And then you cast the revolting Kathy Griffin in the same episode, meaning I have to watch her in order to watch the actress I'm an actual fan of.

Like I said, you're killin' me with this show.

Ah well -- maybe I can dream tonight while I sleep, and picture my perfect Law and Order episode: Joe Fontana and Mike Logan investigate a crime, reporting to their captain, Lennie Briscoe. The evidence goes to executive assistant district attorney Ben Stone who, aided by assistant DA Abbie Carmichael, prosecutes the case under the guidance of District Attorney Adam Schiff. At first, it looks like the rich white businessman committed the murder to cover up a nefarious scheme that used orphans, kittens and puppies to test illegal drugs, but in a shocking Law & Order twist, it turns out to have been a career criminal looking for drug money.

Oops! (Part XXIV or So)

So the U.S. military is one of the key groups providing aid to Haiti following January's country-wrecking earthquake. The presence of the USNS Comfort hospital ship has been of great service to medical personnel, military as well as civilian, trying to treat injured Haitians, offering a modern medical facility far closer than anything on the U.S. mainland or anywhere else nearby.

There's even a base near the Port-au-Prince Airport, set up much like the bases being used by other nations' military and civilian relief efforts. But there's no U.S. flag flown at the base. Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive was disturbed when he saw the flag flying at the base, saying it made things look like the United States was taking over the Port-au-Prince airport. He mentioned that to U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Merten, who agreed to have the flag taken down.

Now, I understand that our nation has not always flown its flag in Haiti over noble acts. The 1915 occupation of that country by U.S. Marines was intended to help settle things after a series of coups and coup attempts, but it also had quite a bit to do with protecting U.S. companies who couldn't do business so well in that kind of upheaval. And I'm not the kind of person who idolizes the flag so much I forget the nation, people and principles it represents are a lot more important. So if not flying the flag smooths the way towards helping Haiti, I'll live with it.

But c'mon, Jean-Max. Who are you kidding? Do you figure that if you close one eye, turn sideways and maybe squint with the other that you can pretend all those folks in green are Belgians? That those small rectangular red, white and blue emblem patches they wear on their shoulders are just little decorative color splashes? That the exact same emblem, fixed to their helicopters and jeeps and airplanes and boats, is an expression of personal taste?

I'm thinking the premier's people might be better served if he spent a little more time figuring out ways to root out corruption and fraud that's been wrecking his country long before this earthquake and a little less time worrying about the symbolic impact of a piece of nylon that doesn't even weigh a whole pound.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Interesting Discovery

Wish I'd known this was on the other day, so I could tell my congregation "Who Framed Jesus." But it will conveniently run up through just before Easter, so I'll have my chance to catch it again.

National Review's Jonah Goldberg publishes a list of possible suspects here.

Mission Immortal

Wonder if St. Peter greeted him at the gates with "Good morning, Mr. Phelps."

The Pomp, the Circumstance!

Watched quite a bit of college basketball over the weekend as teams played conference tournaments hither and yon. And quite a bit of impressive basketball was played amidst the seven-step layups and put-a-soccer-flop-to-shame attempts to draw charges.

When the tournaments were over, it was nice to watch the players celebrate, wearing conference championship T-shirts and hats, sometimes draped in the net they ceremonially cut down to mark their victories. I imagined how inspiring they'll look in May as they walk across the commencement stage, wearing their graduation robes and mortarboard hats.

Thanks, folks, you've been great. I'll be here all week, so don't forget to tip your waitress and hey, try the veal while you're here.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Wake Me When It's Over

I had a weird dream in which NBC aired a reality show that used Hollywood celebrities to offer advice to real people who were having marital problems. The show was co-created by a comedian who married a woman seventeen years younger than he was, whom he'd started dating just after she got back from her honeymoon with another guy.

In recent episodes in my dream, the panelists offering advice to the disputing couples have included well-known monogamist Madonna, the aforementioned producer-comedian and parenting communication expert Alec Baldwin.

I gotta stop eating spicy foods for dinner.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Bravo, Mr. President

No sarcasm. The White House released the charities to which President Obama donated the $1.4 million that went with his Nobel Peace Prize, and he picked several winners. Sure, I might have liked it better if he'd picked a middling-sized mainline church in central Oklahoma, but all of these look like the kind of places that can do a lot with those kinds of gifts. Kudos!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Take One For the Team

Los Angeles Angels centerfielder Torii Hunter offers a public service announcement about why you should always wear your batting helmet.

You Make the Call!

OK, so on my drive to the gym on different mornings this week I've heard Social Distortion and The Pursuit of Happiness. On my radio.

Still a couple of days left in it, but I think I'm going to call this week good.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Our nation will greet the tenth month of the tenth year of this millennium unable to do something we were the second nation ever to do and have been able to do since May 5, 1961: Put someone into space.

The shuttle Discovery is scheduled to fly to the International Space Station in September to deliver parts and some supplies to the ISS. After that, the shuttle fleet will be retired, although the "Launch On Need" rescue mission that's held on standby when a shuttle orbiter is in space might be refitted as a full-scale flight.

The Orion portion of NASA's Constellation program has been scheduled as the replacement for the shuttle orbiter, but would not have begun flights before the middle of the decade. President Obama recommended cancellation of the program back in February, saying it was "over budget, behind schedule, and lacking in innovation." I'll bow to his experience in such matters, considering the lack of health-care legislation he said we had to have by August 2009, the trillions of dollars in debt he's already helped rack up and the trillions more he wants to approve and the fact that he's so far been nothing more in the White House than Jimmy Carter with a funny name and an annoying tendency to bow to people he's supposed to be on the same head-of-state footing as. Here's hoping voters cancel his program on Nov. 6, 2012, unless my fellow Democrats wise up and do it during the primary season.

Should Americans want to go into space, we'll hitch a ride with the Russians, who have somehow managed to keep a space program running while their country goes through much rougher times than we've ever thought about. Or maybe on a ship from China, or potentially India, since the years it will take U.S. spaceflight to recover from this monumentally shortsighted decision will probably be enough for both nations to develop strong humans-in-space programs.

I can't argue that NASA has been all that inspiring or that the president's critique of the Constellation program as over-budget, behind schedule and lacking in innovation is inaccurate. NASA hasn't inspired much since funding cuts and bureaucratic myopia forced it to take a step backward after landing on the moon. The blame for which, like so many other things, lies with President Nixon. I would think though, since I am just an ordinary joe who's never had the brains to hold public office, that the thing to do with a broken something is try to make it a fixed something. Especially if I've already spent quite a bit of money on it.

President Obama made the themes of hope and change centerpieces of his campaign for the White House. Even though he had very little experience, he persuaded many people that what he did have -- a vision for a great nation being made even greater -- would make him succeed as a president. This cancellation decision demonstrates that perception was in error. We stood alone among nations as the only people from Earth who had ever set foot on the surface of a world not our own. Now we mill around at the taxi stand with everyone else from Chad to Lithuania to Mongolia, waiting for the chance to pay someone else to take us someplace we paved the way to.

In The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis warned of the dangers inherent in becoming a people who turn away from risk and who aim our gaze inward and downward alone instead of also upward and outward. He called them "men without chests," and said we would vainly expect "virtue and enterprise" from such. If he were indeed that kind of person, President Obama would not be the only such leader in the world today, or even the only such leader in our nation. And while it's really too early to see that in him, it's later than it used to be.

I shy away from judgments that label a particular president "the worst ever" or even "the best ever." History may show that a fellow who was thought awful at the time was really better than people figured. Or that someone who was seen as exceptionally skilled was really just pretty good at looking like he knew what was going on. So no matter how many blatant failures President Obama manages to ring up during what I personally hope is his only term in office, I could never justify calling him the "worst ever."

But I feel safe in saying he has so far proven to be the man with the shortest horizons of the last fifty years. And I don't know that history will judge him well for being the president who declared the New Frontier closed and who ended the wide-open dream of an earlier president who knew what vision truly was.

Monday, March 8, 2010

There's No Business Like Show Business

Technically, I only listened to most of the Academy Awards telecast last night -- it was on in the other room while I was online and did some other computer work. Which is OK, because "The Oscars" are more about show business these days than awarding actual moviemaking craft and excellence.

In fact, that's one of the of the things that still intrigues me about the show of "The Oscars" as opposed to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' awarding of the best work done in the previous year -- which awards are featured. The technical awards, few of which are noted in the telecast and many of which are given on another night entirely, are actually the ones where an observer could apply some objective criteria and measure success and excellence. But the acting, directing and writing awards, where measurements of quality incorporate a huge subjective factor, get all the play.

Oscar winners -- and this year, for the first time since 1988, Oscar presenters actually said "The winner is" instead of "The Oscar goes to," omitting that silly attempt to hide from the idea this is a competition -- get their awards because more Academy members vote for them. In other words, what we call "Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role" is actually "The Actor in a Supporting Role who Got A Plurality of Votes Of the 5,835 AMPAS Members Who Voted."

What Christoph Waltz won was an opinion poll among a specific set of people. Was his performance better than Christopher Plummer's, Stanley Tucci's, Woody Harrelson's or Matt Damon's? Not to mention men who weren't nominated? Eh, who knows? Some people thought yes, some thought no, and enough Academy members liked it to send Mr. Waltz home with the gold. Why they liked it instead of the others is as up in the air as what you or I thought about it. Some, maybe many, cast their vote based on what they knew as professionals in the craft of acting and what they saw when Waltz played a nasty Nazi in Inglourious Basterds, but even there, I'm pretty sure other factors played a role.

Some Oscar odds and ends:

-- Sean Penn lived up to his image as an odious egotist -- as last year's Oscar winner for Best Actor, he presented the award for Best Actress. He was dunned for omitting his wife (actress Robin Wright Penn) from his thank-you speech, so he said he was going to show appreciation for actresses this evening. Shut up and read your lines, twerp.

-- A movie critic who forgot he writes for The Tulsa World said in his Oscar preview that a win by Sandra Bullock would represent the Academy honoring the "least deserving and least demanding role in history." To be fair, he wasn't the only person to hold this view. I'm not sure what he meant, except that perhaps Bullock should have been overlooked because she was playing a strong woman who was a wife and mom instead of a hooker, addict, nut or a poor, uneducated woman who might wind up as a combination of all three for some reason. Over the last dozen years or so, that's been the kind of role that wins women their statues.

-- Much ado was made because two of the competitors for Best Director, The Hurt Locker's Kathryn Bigelow and Avatar's James Cameron, are ex-wife and husband, respectively. Would there be animosity? Would there be conflict? Would anyone asking those questions remember that they were married for just more than two years and that it was almost 20 years ago, or that Bigelow was Cameron's third wife and he's with No. 5 these days?

-- Best Supporting Actress winner Mo'Nique thanked the Academy for recognizing that "it can be about the performance and not the politics." Unless she was referring to the absence of Cause of the Year ribbons pinned to the dresses and tuxes of presenters and attendees, I think she's got the wrong group of people in mind. For the Academy, it's always about the politics.

-- The morning shows offer more proof that whatever else is done on Oscar night, the movies themselves are usually overlooked. Did they feature movie writers or film professors discussing the different performances? Nah. Let's get some fashion writers -- whatever the heck that means -- in here to talk about dresses.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Batting Average?

The Oscars are tonight! Will Avatar win Best Picture? Will The Hurt Locker? Will I care?

Well, I went one for three on being able to answer those, which if I keep it up all season long will definitely help me when it's time to renegotiate my contract.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

"The Strangeness Value Could Be Non-Zero"

Well, I don't know if that statement's really true, given the subject matter -- or anti-matter -- under discussion, but I do know that if you've been waiting around to pick up some nega-strange anti-deuterium, wait no longer!

I remember the periodic table the article refers to looking quite daunting, with its list of symbols, arcane numbers that meant different things according to which corner of their little squares they were in and strange layout. The idea that an accurate such table, in order to describe all of the material that might exist in the weird corners of the universe, would have to be three-dimensional, scares me retroactively back all the way to high school.

If none of this makes sense, well, check out the abstract of the original article here, which should clear everything up for you.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Well That's Just Darn Cool

Watched some Lone Star Conference championship basketball with my dad while visiting the 'rents. Saw some of the usual disgraceful fan behavior. Dude, you can yell "Traveling!" as loud as you want for as long as you want -- you can scream it from when the game starts if you'd like (and the fact that your voice wouldn't last the whole 40 minutes would improve the second half quite a bit), but referees don't change calls because someone six rows up says they got it wrong. The fact that uniformed police officers on duty at the game had to come and tell you, ostensibly an adult, to sit down and calm down should clue you in that you need to improve your self-control.

Also saw some top-notch class. Two of the women playing for Abilene Christian University (whose aforementioned fans seem to have trouble identifying with the second word in that name) fouled out. After their respective fifth fouls were called, they each went over to shake the opposing coach's hand before leaving the court. Coach Shawna Lavender produces some women of excellent character, and I'm now a fan of her program even though I doubt I'll ever make too many of their games.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Tonight Sham

After more honest drama and controversy than can be found in an entire season of Law and Order: SVU, Jay Leno returned this week to hosting The Tonight Show, which he had done regularly since taking over for Johnny Carson in the early 1990s.

No need to revisit the details beyond this sketch: NBC blew it. They blew it first of all by going with Leno back when Carson retired; Leno wasn't very funny then and hasn't improved. Of course, NBC saved itself some public grief by not having interns-who-could-be-his-daughter-chasing David Letterman around, but this is a company that anchors its news/talk channel with a jumped-up boxscore reader who has yet to learn that the worst person in the world is looking out his mirror, so their prescience may safely be questioned. Then they blew it again by trying to shove Leno out the door before he was ready and moving Conan O'Brian into his slot, and blew it yet a third time by putting pretty much the exact same Leno show on in primetime they used to have on after the news. Nobody watched it -- kind of like the jumped-up boxscore reader -- and so in order to save some kind of advertising dollars NBC pulled the plug on Leno's show.

Then they blew it by trying to keep him, because the only way to do that was to bump O'Brian, who wasn't in a "bump me" mood and demanded a buyout. So now NBC has paid O'Brian a lot of money to not be watched -- which of course they already do with the jumped-up boxscore reader, so maybe there's a habit here that needs breaking.

So after months of turmoil and crappy ratings, millions of dollars and no end of what looks like bad faith, NBC is back where they started, with a name-brand show hosted by a lame-brained dolt.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Things I Learned During the High School Basketball Season

Both local teams are still playing, but most of the season is over, so here's what it taught me:

1) Grown-ups who applaud when a 16-year-old kid fouls out don't really merit the name "grown-up."

2) When we're about to watch two teams of young women display their athletic abilities, demonstrate their character and put hundreds if not thousands of hours of dedication and practice to work, perhaps we could leave off the pregame playlist songs which rap about how all the b*****s can't get enough of the illiterate thug on the microphone.

3) The intersection of the set of women my age and somewhat older with the set of women who dress like women way more than somewhat younger is not nearly as small as one might wish.

4) Nor is the intersection of the set of grown men who wear suit jackets or sport coats and dress shirts with the set of men who tuck in those shirts.

5) The cuteness of the little kid seated near you varies inversely with how often he kicks your seat or is allowed to run up and down the row in front of you so his parents have to go catch him.

6) Moving picks and screens are apparently legal in Oklahoma high school basketball.

7) Not a lot of the people who claim their purchase of a ticket enables them to say whatever they want use that privilege to say anything worthwhile.

8) Coaches who scream at their players -- not merely raising their voice to be heard in a noisy gym but actually using their volume to emphasize how stupid or incompetent the player has just been -- should be fired on the spot and not given a ride home on the bus. If screaming at someone is an acceptable motivational tool, then teachers should be allowed to use it in the classroom, bosses should be encouraged to use it in the workplace, parenting books should include chapters on it and pastors should be allowed to do it in sermons...hmm.