Sunday, August 29, 2010


You know how sometimes, someone who thinks he or she is a writer will run across some new band, or new book, or new movie, and this person will decide to try their hand at some form of review or critique of said new item? And you know how annoying it can be when you've never heard of whatever it is being discussed and you don't so much care? You do?

Yeah, you might want to look away...

I've been waiting for Green Corn Revival's full-length CD Say You're a Sinner since I caught the Weatherford, Oklahoma band by accident at the Norman Music Festival this spring. The three-song EP I bought at the show was pretty good but was only three songs long; there had to be more! Sinner is now available digitally and will be out in a physical format next month.

Vocalists Jared Deck and Natalie Houck work their notes together like very few male-female singing pairs can manage and their interplay calls to mind late-period X. This is a band with two lead vocalists, not a lead and a girl backup singer. Deck and Houck's clear tones don't resemble John Doe's baritone snarl or Exene Cervenka's high-lonesome-of-the-damned wail all that much. But Doe and Cervenka together managed to do things together that neither of them repeated with other singers. Deck and Houck display the same gift of being able to use the different tones of their voices to compliment, strengthen and even challenge each other's singing. Nowhere is that more evident than on "Blue Water," the album closer that could sit pretty comfortably on X's See How We Are or More Fun in the New World. The use of a call-and-response style refrain and harmonies that are just a hair out of sync (time-wise, that is -- the notes are spot on) highlight each voice's distinctiveness and add dimension and depth to the spare word-pictures of the lyrics.

This is also music you can think to, if you'd like. In "Watching Over Me," Deck is alternately attracted and wary of the woman in his life, acknowledging that even though she me might be one of the "thousand ways to heaven," he's not at all sure he wants to follow her path there. Or maybe he's talking about about a piece of religious art he's seen that's supposed to inspire but instead offers a cold and sterile vision of the faith it represents. Just listening, there's no real way to tell and the "real" meaning could be either, both or neither.

The instrumentation deepens the songs as well. GCR adds keyboards, dobro, banjo, pedal steel and mandolin, as well as some brass now and again, to their straight-ahead guitar-bass-drums sound, providing music that ranges from something that might play over Clint Eastwood riding across Sergio Leone's camera lens to songs that call up a vision of the kind of records we might have heard if E Street had been found in Oklahoma City instead of Belmar, NJ.

Given the band's name, the amount of spiritual imagery in the lyrics and the references to faith in the band's bio, a fellow in my profession would probably enjoy a long conversation with the band about some of the meanings found in the songs. But listeners just wanting some wonderful windswept roots rock with a prairie twang should have a great time getting caught up in this particular revival, regardless of their faith perspectives.

Say You're a Sinner follows on a busy touring schedule and a gig backing up Oklahoma rockabilly legend Wanda Jackson at the South by Southwest Festival earlier this year. If you get the chance, catch a show or buy a record, digitally or otherwise. Even if GCR isn't the cup of tea for you that it's been for me, you could do a lot worse than supporting a local act that merits your favor ;-)

Hit the Nail on the Head

Director James Cameron says DVDs are wasteful.

Yes, they certainly are.

Friday, August 27, 2010

By the Way

I am seriously in like with Blogger's new "spam comment" filter. My anonymous dullards have been banished to a single filter I only need to review every so often. Woot!

ETA: Or maybe "single folder."

Every Time I Think I'm Out...

...they pull me back in. Or they try to, anyway. Although my hithering and yonning has made it difficult for my alumni giving office to keep sending me requests for donations, as mentioned here, they have no trouble delivering their plaintive missives to my e-mail box. Yes, I gave them the address and I don't blame them at all for using it; if I didn't want them to I could have opted out of the alumni registration system. And I'm remaining in the system in the hopes I get a call from a fellow alum like this one. Or this one. Or maybe this one (OK, she was there only one quarter, but I'm open-minded).

Anyway, the solicitation offered a novel approach to asking for my money. It noted that alumni giving is one of the categories that the magazine U.S. News and World Report uses in its annual college rankings. If I were to donate, I could help raise our alumni giving level and improve our ranking. That sounds fine, except that the U.S. News rankings are basically university administrators looking at each other's schools and saying "Well, I'll say you're swell if you say I'm swell," and a full quarter of the overall score comes from how swell you've been thought of throughout your history, whether or not you're kind of a joke now.

I'm kind of sad about not donating right now; I suspect if I was able to give to a college ye olde alma mater is where I'd send a check. My seminary is on a campus where the school website used to make an effort to reassure students that the church influence stopped with its name being included in the school name. And the school where I used to work isn't someplace I care to offer my money to. But if and when I do, O Great Fount of Purple, I hope it comes at a time when you're past paying attention to the U.S. News beauty pageant and just building your rep by turning out well-educated students.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Well, Something's Gone Up, Anyway

Back in 2002, some Venezuelan folks tried to oust their president, the odious Sean Penn's favorite thug, Hugo Chávez. They failed, but there was quite a bit of turmoil in that country.

An online journal I noticed at the time remarked on Chávez' return to power follwing the coup as a time when "Things are looking up for the people of Venezuela."

Some of them, anyway. But you've got a better chance of living through the year in Iraq than in Venezuela. The homicide rate in Venezuelan capitol Caracas is 200 per 100,000 population. In Bogota, Columbia -- home of the 1980s boom in cocaine production and gritty low-budget straight-to-VHS action movies starring Michael Dudikoff as a tough cop who just can't play by the rules -- the rate is just 20 per 100,000. The 2008 rate for Detroit, often thought of as one of the U.S.'s least safe places to live, was 40 per 100,000.

El Nacional newspaper published a front-page picture of a dozen dead men sprawled in the city morgue in an attempt to open Venezuelan eyes to the problem. Chávez got a court order to ban newspapers from showing those kinds of pictures or printing stories about blood, guns, aggression and such. Problem solved!

Looking up, to be sure. But looking up what is a question with a decidedly unpleasant answer.

No Wallet Left Behind

My classmates and I joked that when we graduated from college, the dean handed us a folder that held 1) Our diplomas and 2) an alumni giving form. That wasn't really true, but even if it had been, we would have been behind the curve. Colleges nowadays start working people over before midterms.

The need to drum up financial support from alums and alums-to-be presents an interesting situation. Essentially, the college asks you to give it money after you've graduated instead of asking you to give more money while you're still a student. The fund-raising letters I used to receive (one advantage of frequent moving) highlighted how I had the opportunity to study at Northwestern because of alums who'd gone before me who had given to the school. In other words, alums gave money and my tuition was only marginally astronomical, instead of astronomically astronomical. Now, because I didn't have to pay them as much as I might have then, I'm invited to pay them some more now. You may wonder why they didn't just charge me more then and save themselves some postage, and really, so do I.

I'm sure there are reasons, and they all have to do with marketing and trying to keep the sticker shock of college costs down and whatnot. But the upshot of it is, that if the college has its way, you will give them money for a very long time, and only for the very first part of that time will you actually be getting a service for your money. The rest of the time you'll be helping them keep the cycle going.

Except with this new kind of thinking, though, in which the college will start trying to dun you for your "gift" while you're still paying for the service. If you work for a college, they'll also try to scare up a few bucks off you; one supervisor I had at the one where I used to work said he expected to see that everyone in the department contribute to the voluntary fund drive. Most colleges work this way, it seems, as what we read of college costs and tuition rarely talks about holding costs down and most often about ways to get revenue up. Trim an associate dean here and there? Tell the president to get by on the middle six figures instead of the high ones? Tell the football coach he can't have as many assistant coaches as he has players, and that maybe he doesn't need to be paid more than the unversity prez and the state governor combined? Nope. Not gonna happen. Go soak some 18-year-old kid for donations before he gets his first syllabus.

That'll teach him, for sure.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Long Way 'Round

Late last week, someone left a kitten at the church doorstep. My knowledge of movies suggested the foundling should have been a baby, but the cat food, carrier and quite friendly animal proved otherwise. We called animal control -- which the cat's previous owner apparently lacked the gumption to do -- who came, picked up the cat, and found it a new home on a local dairy farm. I let my congregation know via Facebook, and signed off the story with a paraphrase from Shelley's Ozymandias: "Look on her works, ye mices, and despair!"

At least one person asked me if I knew the plural of mouse was "mice," not "mices," and I said I did, but "mices" scanned more like the original line: "Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!" Then I had to explain what "original line" I was talking about and direct them to the poem.

Now, I labor under the burden of a liberal arts education from a pretty snooty university -- if a 20-degree nose-tilt signifies Ivy League-level condescension, we manage about a 13 or 14 -- so I happen to have things like this rattling around inside my skull. And I know full well that a knowledge of early 19th-century sonnets is a definite sign of egg-headedness, not intellectual superiority. But it occurred to me that 50 or so years ago, a much larger segment of the population would have picked up the reference, and fewer people attended and graduated from college then than do so now.

That idea connected with another one -- last year, on a religion and the arts discussion board, I went around and around a couple of times with a guy about whether or not over-emphasis on things like movies, popular music and such crowded out time and energy spent on some of the true classics of literature, art and poetry. I'm not a one-or-the-other guy here; I'm as happy listening to Elmore James yowl about dusting his broom as to a Locatelli concerto grosso, depending on my mood. The discussion centered on the way Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight talked about the consequences of a life lived for vengeance. I said that you could definitely pick up some stuff worth thinking about on that issue from Nolan's sequel to Batman Begins, but not on the same level that you could by reading about Inspector Javert in Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, and the emphasis that so many people put on the movie crowded out the chance to read the novel.

The other guy thought that was just fine, but I'm unsure. If we accept a shallower level of thought about stuff -- and ain't no way Nolan, who takes things like this more seriously than a whole lot of people making movies today do, digs as deep into this issue as does Les Miserables --  what will the people who follow us do? What will provoke their thoughts, and will those thoughts work as hard with the issue as we or the people who came before us did? I'd like to think so, but every time I do, I see another hit by Lady Gaga or another Saw sequel or another episode of Jersey Shore or the Real Housewives of someplace or other.

When college courses focus on comic books or Harry Potter books or any one of a thousand other pop ephemera (that I enjoy immensely), when will anyone get around to learning the material that, one or two generations back, inspired the people who created the ephemera?

No answers here, I guess, just a spell of tail-chasing sparked by an abandoned cat on our church porch and a poem that I may be the only one geeky enough to know. But for a twist, I'll point out that the line I quoted is part of an inscription on a gigantic statue mentioned  in Shelley's poem: "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings; Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

But the statue has been broken by time, and forgotten; the base with its quote, the stumps of legs and the half-buried head are all that remain. Maybe that's the fate of the arts I've talked about, too. I'd hope not.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

King of Doesn't Get It

That would be one of the fellows speaking in this story about how teachers who used sick leave for vacation were busted because they posted vacation photos on Facebook.

One gentleman and his wife called in sick and took personal days so they could honeymoon in Aruba. They were fined and then he complained about whoever had informed on him: "It's unfair that gutless people who may have it in for you stoop so low to do something this." Bet the dude doesn't teach English if he doesn't understand how lying about being sick so you can honeymoon without losing pay is actually stooping lower than telling someone about it. Or about what the meaning of the word "sick" is in the phrase "sick days."

Good lesson, teach. Good lesson.

The Gospel and Tom Jones

It's not as unusual as you might think. Right here, on the sermon blog.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Maybe It's the Salt Air

OK, this happened inland, but there's got to be some reason that the people who run the Galleria Mall in Roseville, California think they can prohibit non mall-related speech between "persons not previously acquainted." And none of the reasons I can come up with have anything like a rational basis. I believe this may be the first time ever that anyone has tried to enact a Rick Springfield song into law.

The mall's rule came to light after a "citizens arrest" of a pastor who approached three young women who agreed to talk to him about stuff, including his faith. Note the emphasized word there. Agreed. As in, didn't complain to anyone at the mall. Didn't get a manager. Didn't call a mall cop. But a store employee, who was not among the ones the guy was conversing with, did complain, and the fellow was eventually arrested and handed over to the city police. All charges were dropped, and the judge at his hearing made a finding of "factual innocence," which is a step beyond the usual "not guilty" verdict.

The man then sued the mall, and a California judge sided with the mall. A state appellate court smacked down that ruling, sending it back for do-overs (possibly with a copy of the First Amendment stapled to it), and found the mall's policy was "unconstitutional on its face," meaning that they didn't have to do anything other than read it to find it ridiculous. Mall owners, because they have trouble getting it, may appeal.

Now, given my line of work, you might be surprised that I like being approached by strangers who want to discuss religion about as much as many people, which is to say, not very. But that's why I decline the conversation, or point out that I'm clergy, or otherwise show I'm not interested. And of all the times I've been approached, never has my polite disinterest been met by anything other than a polite "Thank you" and my questioner moving on. Of course it happens, and of course Christians, being human, have the ability to be jerks about sharing their faith.

But remember, the people the pastor wanted to talk to agreed to the conversation, and it was in a mall common area, not any store.

Read the whole thing, and marvel at the gall of the mall's senior general manager -- a title whose immense supra-Constitutional power the First Amendment framers obviously didn't anticipate -- suggesting that such speech isn't prohibited. You just have to apply for it four days in advance, filling out a request for "third-party access for noncommercial speech."

Yes. You have to fill out a form asking permission to talk to a stranger four days before you may have the conversation, and even then, you can only talk to one other stranger. You have to conclude your conversation before you can begin another one. Maybe if you have two forms you can talk to two people at once. Which means my own personal project -- persuading people to repeal the admission of the 31st state into the Union on grounds that those people out there are just plain goofy -- is going to face some obstacles.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Sure, And I Hope It's a Happy One

Today, legendary actress Maureen O'Hara turns 90. Ms. O'Hara lives in retirement in her native Ireland (she also spends time in Arizona and the Virgin Islands). Over the course of her career, she held her own (and more) on the screen opposite John Wayne, Errol Flynn, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and Tyrone Power, among others, as they buckled their swashes and tamed the Wild West. She and Wayne worked together five times during their long careers. O'Hara was also a favorite of director John Ford and had little problem standing up to his well-documented temper and tyranny.

O'Hara also starred in several calmer pictures, carrying heavy dramatic loads right alongside her tuck-up-the-skirts-and-have-at-thee-knave roles. She recorded two albums, sang in several appearances on variety TV shows in the 1950s and early 1960s and was on Broadway in the 1960 play Christine.

In Against All Flags and At Sword's Point, she predated Lucy Lawless's warrior woman Xena by several decades, clashing steel with the fellows and making several of them sorry. She led the casts of several Westerns and similar films which featured tough gals in charge of things in a man's world. She later followed that up in real life by taking over as president of Antilles Airboats, a small commuter airline, when her husband, its CEO, died in a plane crash in 1978. This made her the first woman president of a scheduled airline in the United States -- tantrum-throwing former Jet Blue employee Steven Slater might have thought twice about sliding down the emergency exit if he'd seen the woman who'd stared down the Duke waiting for him at the bottom.

And I would love to watch what happened if someone had come to her in her prime and suggested a role in one of today's soggy, soppy chick flicks. I believe it might be something like tuck up the skirts and "Have at thee, knave!"

Monday, August 16, 2010

Choose Your Own Adventure, The Conclusion

Well, you were presented with the three moviegoing choices over the weekend: Sylvester Stallone's The Expendables, Julia Roberts' Eat Pray Love and Michael Cera's Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

In chronological order, the results of this Choose Your Own Adventure:

1) Scott Pilgrim. Yes, this is from the man who helmed the hilarious Shaun of the Dead. And it's a comic-book movie, and I let my geek flag fly proudly. There's an interesting metaphor thing going on, as the titular character must battle the evil exes of his new crush before he can date her. Unless the only people you've ever dated are people who never dated anyone before you, this is definitely familiar territory, even if the battles to conquer the memories/effects of the past are usually a bit less literal and fatal. But it has Michael Cera, a walking sack of bland who's tolerable in some supporting roles like Juno, but as the centerpiece of the movie he functions more like a sponge that never stops sucking the life and energy out of everything around him while never displaying much of either on his own. This was more like "Choose Your Own Vaguely Irritating Afternoon in the Theater."

2) Eat Pray Love. Not unless I was dead, buried, had a stake driven through my vampiric, blood-lusting heart and was buried again in earth sewn with garlic could you get me in a theater to see this movie. And even then I'd figure out a way to haunt you and drive you stark raving mad as my revenge. You chose...poorly.

3) The Expendables. Good guys win. Bad guys lose. Many stuff go 'splodey. In fact, at least one bad guy go 'splodey. Rambo, the Terminator and John McClane are all on my movie screen at the same time, even if it's a clunky little scene. Can't figure out how Stallone managed to omit Chuck Norris and Michael Ironside from the cast, but he's talking already talking sequel, so cross those fingers. Maybe he can figure out a way to CGI John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson and Steve McQueen into the next one too.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

But You Can Judge the Cover by Looking At the Cover

One of my absolute favorite book series of all time has two new editions out. One is way too expensive for me and the other probably isn't but I wouldn't want to buy them anyway.

Between 1969 and 1999, Patrick O'Brian wrote twenty books about Royal British Navy Captain Jack Aubrey and his friend, surgeon and spy Stephen Maturin (An incomplete 21st book was released in 2004, four years after O'Brian died while writing it). The books are set in the time around the Napoleonic wars and have been called by many some of the best historical novels ever written. I can't find any reasons to disagree with those people.

For the majority of the series, the books were published by W.W. Norton & Co. in both hardcover and trade paperback (This is the company that gives so many college students back strain with its ginormous Norton Anthology of English Literature). The Norton editions featured cover paintings by artist Geoff Hunt that showed ships and sailors in mostly ordinary periods of work, rather than explosive battles sometimes favored by other artists. Two Hunt prints hang on the wall of my home.

Luxury imprint Easton Press is publishing its own leather-bound, gilt-edged editions of the 20 complete books at a mere $60 a pop. An ABE books listing for all 20 volumes of the Easton series was north of $2,000 -- well above the Easton price, but you don't have to wait 20 months for the whole thing to sit proudly on your shelf.

Harper Perennial is also reprinting the trade paperbacks of the series, offering short essays explaining some of the sailing technology and terms O'Brian uses and some things about the world of the time. That part is kind of interesting. But the covers...ugh. No Hunt prints. Instead, we have photos of one or two men in proper period costume that are posed in scenes that might come from the book. They look like bad romance novel covers except for the lack of open shirts, panting bosoms, Fabio or females. Winston Churchill may (or may not) have said that the major traditions of the Royal Navy were "rum, sodomy and the lash," but that doesn't mean I want visions of Aubrey and Maturin getting all Brokeback Mountain when I look at the cover of the book.

Fortunately the hardback editions, which I am gradually purchasing with the help of used bookstores and OKC's own Full Circle Books, are still printed with the Hunt paintings on the cover.

The way God intended.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

We've Got the Wrong Job

Unless, of course, one of my literally pairs of readers is a United States Senator.

According to a study cited in this blog post, if you played the stock market between 1993 and 1998, chances are you "underperformed" the market by 1.4%. This makes sense. Like everyone else, when you or I buy a stock, we are betting that the stock will be worth more money in the future than it is today, and thus the shares of MegaGigantaCorp that we bought for $1 will pay us $2 apiece when we sell them. But unlike a lot of the other people buying and selling shares of MegaGigantaCorp, we are not professionals who not only spend 28 hours a day watching these companies, their performances and their prospects for success but who also move in circles where rumors about company doings may be spread on a regular basis. In short, we are betting that we know more about money than people who work with money for a living. This is like playing poker against Doyle Brunson after showing him three of your cards, and the average household should be glad it's only a point and a half underwater. It should be noted that this is almost a break-even performance, meaning you would have slightly better luck buying stock by flipping a coin. You could then take all of the time you were using to do market research and spend it more wisely, say by playing Mr. Brunson in online poker. That would also relieve you of the coin you flipped to make your stock picks and greatly simplify your life.

Those corporate insiders who hear the rumors and watch the goings on very closely tended to overperform the market by about 6%. Given the above scenario, this also makes sense. People who do things for a living often tend to do them better than people who dabble in them. I, for example, can climb a ladder, aim a hose and carry someone on my back for a short distance. But if your house catches fire, I should be waaaaay down the list of people you're going to call.

Sometimes we get annoyed with these corporate insiders because it seems like they are taking unfair advantage of the information they know that we don't, and using that advantage to make more money than we do. Unless of course they are our broker, in which case we are annoyed at the restrictive government regulations that prohibit people from doing their jobs the best they can. If we are said government, we are annoyed that there are people in the private sector who do things better than we do. We are therefore annoyed quite a bit of the time.

But not all of the time. Households underperform the market 1.4%, corporate insiders outperform it 6% and United States Senators serving between 1993 and 1998 outperformed it twelve percent. Yes, US Senators did twice as well as those sneaky, underhanded corporate insiders against whom they are the bulwark of protection for us everyday schmoes. Maybe, you say, that also makes sense: "Maybe the members of the US Senate are simply that much sharper and savvier than everyone else, including corporate insiders." To which I say: "Thurmond, Byrd, Inhofe, Burris, Nickels, Dodd, Kennedy, Kerry, Helms, Boxer." And to which I add, "Et cetera."

The excellent senatorial market performance should, of course, be expected, even if not for reasons of excellent senatorial intelligence. Remember, corporate insiders exceed the market average because they know its ins and outs and hear the whispered rumors before they make the news. They know the playing field better. Think how much better, then, a group of people would do if they knew the field was going to change before anyone else knew it, and they were the ones writing the changes.

But you don't have to guess, you can read it plainly: Between 1993 and 1998, they did eight and a half times better than you and me.

Resolution of Thanks VI

TO: Dr. Mehmet Cengiz Oz, a cardiothoracic surgeon now operating his own syndicated talk show as "Dr. Oz."

WHEREAS, on your show which aired Wednesday, August 11, on the television at my gym, you explored a variety of nagging ailments, and

WHEREAS, said ailments included the blisters women often develop on their feet from ill-fitting shoes and chafing sandal straps, and

WHEREAS, this exploration involved a number of close-up pictures of these blisters, and

WHEREAS, it also included a simulated blister the size of a pre-schooler, and

WHEREAS, this simulation was used to demonstrated the proper method for popping a blister and included realistic fluid drainage when pierced with a needle, and

WHEREAS, an audience volunteer who had not properly drained a blister on her foot was called to the front and an extreme closeup shot was taken of her foot,

BE IT NOW RESOLVED, on this day, the twelfth of August, the year two thousand and ten, you are to be thanked by helping me meet my weight-loss goal for the week by making it impossible to keep any food down.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Squeezed to Smithereens?

This week I heard Squeeze's "I Think I'm Go Go" off 1980's Argybargy, a slow wander through a London the songwriter doesn't recognize anymore, and the Smithereens' 1990 statement of defiant change (maybe) to an old flame,"Yesterday Girl" from 11.

On my radio. Thanks, Ferris.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Choose Your Own Adventure!

You're a fellow in his mid-40s who's approaching an August weekend in which there's not a lot going on. You'll probably catch a movie at an area theater. Here's your choices:

1) New movie with Julia Roberts. She's funny, and you liked her in a lot of her movies. And she's attractive, as she demonstrated when she played the Sleeping With Anyone Beauty title role in Pretty Woman. The movie's from a book by a lady who wrote the article that they used as the basis of the movie Coyote Ugly, which is intriguing. This new one is about a woman who goes off to find herself and the title reflects the steps she takes to do it, something like Eat, Pray, Love, Have a Book Deal Already Signed to Finance the Year-Long Sabbatical Trip You Take To Get Over the Divorce You Initiated While You Were Having an Affair Behind the Back of the Man You Said You Married Because He Had the Nicest Proposal of All the Customers Who Proposed to You While You Were Tending Bar. The posters seem to show a shorter title, though. Iffy.

2) Comic book geek movie with Michael Cera. Cera plays a Canadian slacker who discovers he has to battle the seven evil ex-boyfriends of his new crush. Geek factor high, which is good, but Michael Cera basically is a Canadian slacker and has been playing that role in every movie he's ever been in, every now and again stretching to give the character a different national origin. In Year One, for example, he was not Canadian since there was no Canada yet and the people in the time period when the movie was set did not know of the Western Hemisphere. Or of the Atlantic Ocean. Or Japan. Or Russia. Problematic, due to lead actor's amazing gift for playing a blank spot on the screen.

3) Action movie with everybody.

More on this as it develops.

Ah, Now I See!

It's things like this, Kathy Griffin, that explain why you are on the D-List and Ms. Bullock is not.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Two Thumbs Up

Good on ya, Mr. President.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

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

I just noticed that I've never seen Lady Gaga and Marilyn Manson together, like Lois Lane noticed she never saw Clark Kent and Superman together. You don't suppose...


TO: The person who keeps commenting on these blogs, in what I believe is one of the Chinese languages, but I may be wrong because I don't read that language. And who includes in his, her or its comments a long string of ellipsis dots after the comment, each of which links to a different frickin' spam site.

Comment moderation was enabled so that you can't post comments on the blog. Yes, you specifically. Your comments will not show up. Not now, not ever. No one will ever see your links through this blog. No one will ever click on them from here. No one will see whatever kind of spammish website it is that you want them to see. You may post infrequently or frequently, weekly or daily or annually. You may try to sneak them in by including a vague phrase in English that, if I were very stupid, could be considered a comment on a blog post. Usually, betting I'm stupid wins you money, but not this time. I know it's wrong and I will need to ask forgiveness for doing so, but I pray you develop carpal tunnel syndrome from all your typing. In the meantime, you may waste a fraction less time than you do now by not attempting to comment anymore. Persistence is futile. You will be ignored.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Cause and Effect

From Roseanne Barr's blog, which I don't want to link because I don't know where it's been:

"I have reached the point, after reading today’s news where I can really no longer support in any way anything having to do with Israel or its apologists.  I know that this means I will most likely never work in US media again."

Yes, that's the reason.

Green-Eyed Monster?

Associate Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor knows the ugly feelings that have up until now been the sole province of Bush-era White House Counsel Harriet Miers. When President Obama nominated Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, Miers' status as the least-qualified female Supreme Court nominee ever was placed in serious jeopardy. Now Justice Sotomayor joins Miers as her title of least-qualified female Supreme Court justice ever may be eclipsed by Kagan also.

OK, OK, "least qualified female nominee" and "least qualified justice" are kind of harsh things to say. Let's go with Miers as the fourth-best qualified female Supreme Court nominee ever and Associate Justice Kagan as the third-best qualified female Supreme Court justice ever.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

When Life Hands You Lemons...

You'd better not make lemonade, at least if you live in Portland, Oregon. But after you read this story, why in the world would you want to?

In Portland, you can't buy lemonade from a little kid unless the kid ponies up $120 to the county health department. But you can ask a doctor to give you a lethal dose of medication if you have less than six months to live. Probably a good thing that request has to be patient-initiated rather than physician-initiated, because we have clear and convincing evidence that two Multnomah County health inspectors are in fact brain-dead.

Original Sin = Job Security

This post over at Commonweal magazine's blog will do two things:

1. Give you a flavor of the great city of Chicago; you may think this guy is making this stuff up but he's not.

2. Show you why people in my particular professional field will always have work.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Today in History!

In 1993, Texas Rangers pitcher Nolan Ryan demonstrated to Chicago White Sox third baseman Robin Ventura that being 20 years older is not necessarily a handicap in a fight. After being hit in the ribs by a Ryan pitch, Ventura charged the mound and promptly attempted to damage Ryan's throwing hand by striking it six times with his face after securely wedging his head under Ryan's arm to make the blows more devastating. For this, Ventura and his manager were ejected, he was suspended for two games and he was booed every time he played in Arlington for the rest of his career, which lasted until 2004.

In 1999, his first year of eligibility, Nolan Ryan went into the Baseball Hall of Fame with 98.8 percent of the vote, six votes shy of a unanimous decision, behind only Tom Seaver and ahead of Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Johnny Bench, etc.

In 2010, his first year of eligibility, Robin Ventura received 1.3 percent of the vote and will no longer be listed as a candidate. He is also rumored to have tugged on Superman's cape, spit into the wind, pulled the mask off the Lone Ranger and messed around with both Jim and Slim.

In fairness to Ventura, during his career and afterwards he's been involved in significant charity work and I know I'd rather not be judged for a lot of my actions when I was 26. I was just lucky enough to not have my picture taken doing it, but on the other hand, it would have taken me a lot longer to run the sixty feet, six inches to the mound and I would have had that much more time to think over what I was doing.

ETA: And now Mark Cuban knows how Ventura felt.

Covenants Made and Broken

In 2007, British thriller author Andy McDermott sent archaeologist Nina Wilde on a trip that would lead to her finding Atlantis. Along the way, she also found romance with Eddie Chase, a former British soldier assigned to be her bodyguard. In 2009's The Covenant of Genesis, Nina and Eddie uncover evidence of a civilization thousands of years older than any previously known. But they also find themselves in the crosshairs of a deadly group known as the Genesis Covenant, an uneasy partnership of assassins and commandos made up of Jews, Christians and Muslims. Factions within the three Abrahamic religions know about this ancient civilization and have agreed to work together to make certain any signs of it vanish without a trace, along with the people who discovered them. Nina and Eddie have now made that list, and they race across the world and against time in order to expose the truth about the ancients and disarm their Covenant pursuers. McDermott has a flair for dialogue and action scenes, and he makes Nina and Eddie's journey a puzzle-solving quest that shows certain other, more famous puzzle-oriented authors (OK, it's another Dan Brown slam. Sue me) how that should be done. His premise is kind of silly -- the three religions agreed to work together because evidence of the ancients could undermine the Genesis story of creation upon which they all rely. If he's like most of his countrymen, McDermott hasn't been inside a church in awhile, so he may have missed that wide segments of Christianity and Judaism especially don't take Genesis literally anymore, yet their churches and synagogues have not crumbled. I'm not aware of Muslim opinion about the historicity of Genesis or I'd include them also. McDermott could have pruned Covenant's chase scenery and helped it as well, but neither of these problems should keep a reader from an enjoyable few hours with the beautiful archaeologist Dr. Wilde and her Statham-esque beau.
David Weber has a knack for creating wonderful places for his authorial imagination to play in. The praises of the Honorverse, home of the galaxy's best, brightest and bravest Hornblower-ette, Honor Harrington, have been sung before in this space. Weber's other main series these days is set on a world called Safehold, in which the last remnants of humanity cling to life following their near extinction. In the series' first book Off Armageddon Reef, humans are in the last stages of their war against the genocidal Gbaba, whose species paranoia prompts them to exterminate any sentient race they meet. A single colony ship escapes the Gbaba and deposits its passengers on Safehold, where they will maintain a very low level of technology in order to stay beneath their enemies' notice. But the colony administrators, who turn out to be pretty unbalanced, decide humans should never progress technologically and they create a religion based on that, wiping the colonists' minds of all memories of Earth, the Gbaba or space travel. They themselves become archangels of this new religion, which fights and defeats a faction that wanted to stay technologically dormant for awhile and then try to recover so they could regroup and defeat their enemies. Almost nine hundred years later, a woman who died saving the colonial ship is resurrected inside an android body and sets about the task of reintroducing science and its methods to Safehold. She's opposed by the formidable Church of God Awaiting, the religion the administrators set up, and by human ignorance of any of their real history. Over the course of the next two books, the android, who takes the name Merlin, gradually gains allies and is able to mount the beginnings of an attack on the Church alongside the king of the island nation of Charis. Merlin is also able to slowly advance the Charisians' technology, moving them from about a 15th century level to a 17th. By the time of A Mighty Fortress, this king and several others know the truth about human history, but the Church forces are regrouping after several defeats and have learned a few things themselves about how to fight. This open-ended saga has a lot of potential; even after Merlin and his allies finally manage to liberate Safehold from the corrupt Church (which of course they will; they're the good guys), they'll still have to move up the technological ladder to the point that they can fight and either hold off or defeat the Gbaba. Fortress suffers from way too many epic conversations. Weber's fascination with his world's political and philosophical situations leaves him unable to avoid spending chapter after chapter on what read like meeting minutes. His own writing clichés litter the narrative: Every character shrugs several dozen times or equivocates a statement with an "Oh," a comma, and a labored simile on the narrator's part, and so on. He desperately needs an editor, but Tor Books didn't make money by telling its writers to write shorter books that sell for less. But Safehold and its humanity have a situation that's very interesting to think about, and Weber's descriptions of sea battles would probably sit just fine with C.S. Forester. He's pulled out of these kind of doldrums before, so maybe the 5th Safehold book can manage at least a little less talk to go with its action.

Seen at the Gym

It's Shark Week on the Discovery Channel, a weeklong period in which the network's shows focus on sharks. They've been doing it since 1987, but you've got me as to why. I watch DC's nature programs quite often, and the shark ones are like the others; some good and some not. Why they've been spending a whole week on them each year since Ronald Reagan was president is something I can't figure out, but it works for them.

They have cute little promos about it using couples. One, for example, has a pretty tough-looking dude and his lady bragging about how many times they've watched Shark Week and then, after a brief flash of a leaping set of carcharine jaws, cuts to the tough dude hiding behind his lady and asking if it's over yet. There are several others, such as the one I'll mention in a minute.

This evening, one of the gym TV's was turned to a program talking about and to people who'd been attacked by sharks. During the program, one of the little promo spots aired, in which a nerdish-looking couple both say excitedly how often they've watched the programs -- cue leaping carcharine jaws, and we're back to the same couple looking more than slightly mussed and sort of after-glowy. This spot, which I'm pretty sure was meant to imply that watching Shark Week is the same thing as having a really good time, aired right after a father talked about watching his son bleed to death in the emergency room after he finally managed to punch in the eye the shark that attacked the boy and make it let him go. And it aired right before a young woman described how her boyfriend managed to drag her away from an attacking shark closer to shore even though he'd lost his fingers and part of his leg to the same shark when it attacked him and he'd die not less than five minutes after he saved her life.

Very classy spot placement, Discovery Channel. Very classy.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Psst! Wanna Buy a Magazine? It's Cheap!

Apparently even though he's 91 years old and has a wife nearly 30 years his junior who's a California congresswoman, Sidney Harman doesn't have enough to do. So he bought Newsweek from the Washington Post Company.

For a dollar. You haven't been able to buy a copy of the magazine for a buck in more than thirty years, and Mr. Harman bought the entire shootin' match for a hundred pennies. Of course, he's also assuming a large portion of its debt, which will amount to quite a few more pennies, and he's apparently agreed to keep most of the magazine's staff, which means he will have an operation that continues to bleed more and more pennies.

One of the employees he won't have is editor Jon Meacham, who announced he'll be leaving the magazine he at one point wanted to try to gather up enough money to buy, in order to keep one of the only "catcher[s] in the rye standing between an informed public and the end of democracy" open. "Why" is kind of up for grabs, and who cares, really, because under Meacham's leadership Newsweek gave us stories like this one about whether or not post-election euphoria might spark a baby boomlet amongst Obama supporters (previously mocked here). Or this nasty little bit of wish-fulfillment a writer dreams up about how things would be different if the 2000 election had happened differently (previously mocked here). I will pause for a moment and offer thanks with you for how much longer our democracy will now endure because of journalism like this.

Obviously the idea of a weekly magazine being able to cover news in such a fashion as to be worth reading in the world of instant communications is dead. The only thing such a format can offer a reader is a lot more in-depth information, exploration and analysis, like The Economist or City Journal does, or gossipy, frothy celebrity-driven pop culture puffery like People does. It might offer analysis with a decided political slant, like Mother Jones, The Nation or National Review or The Weekly Standard. Therein lies the problem Mr. Harman now has to engage. Those magazines already exist.

Newsweek lost $29 million in 2009 and is probably on a pace to lose double-digit millions in 2010. But even if Mr. Harman is unable to stem those losses soon, it is unlikely that trying to run the magazine will exhaust his fortune. After all, like I said, he's 91. Something else is likely to run out before his money does.