Monday, October 31, 2011

Shark Mount Optional

As if the Large Hadron Collider wasn't enough of a risk to life and the universe as we know it, scientists in Europe are planning on making a frickin' laser beam so powerful it can pull apart the vacuum of space.

The Extreme Light Infrastructure Ultra-High Field Facility should be completed by the end of the decade. It will focus ten laser beams, each more powerful than any laser in use today, into a central point where they will produce energy-intense conditions that do not even exist at the center of the sun. Each laser pulse will require so much energy that in order to fire them the power will have to be built up in reserve rather than simply flow through an on-off switch.

Though the pulses will last only a trillionth of a second, scientists think they will allow measurement of what are called "ghost particles." Vacuum, it seems, is not exactly nothing, but is made up of pairs of these ghost particles that tend to annihilate each other almost as soon as they come into existence. If the energy of the Extreme Light Infrastructure Ultra-High Field Facility works as theorized, the pairs of particles will be split and they can be observed long enough to detect their electrical charges and learn more about what makes up the universe.

Now I'm torn about what joke to make next because I have three highly nerdish options that appeal to me equally: 1) I can say, "Destroying Alderan and keeping the star systems in line through fear will be a bonus." 2) I can stick with the Dr. Evil theme and say, "Rumors that the scientists will then hold the United Nations for ransom for one...million...dollars are as yet unfounded." 3) Or, since these are ghost particles, I can say, "Scientists were eager to get started on the project, since bustin' makes 'em feel good."

Or I guess I can use all three. Thanks for playing along.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

From the Rental Vault (1985): Silverado

By 1985, the Western as a movie genre was mostly dead and well on its way to being completely dead, to borrow a phrase from Miracle Max. None had grabbed much box office attention or critical admiration since the mid-1970s; the mythos on which the movies were based had been discredited through historical research and frequent overuse. The Western was as gone as the adventure cliffhanger.

Enter Lawrence Kasdan. A co-writer of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Return of the Jedi and The Empire Strikes Back, baby-boomer Kasdan was one of several young moviemakers who had a real love for the genre pictures of their youth. Being around George Lucas and Steven Spielberg as those two helped revive the big-screen wonder of those 1940s and 1950s genre movies made him a good fit to try to breathe life into another bygone form, the Western. With his brother Mark, Kasdan wrote and then took on the job of directing and producing Silverado, a pure 1950s big-budget Western spectacle with a distinct 1980s baby-boomer flavor.

We open with one of the Western's strongest features; the amazing scenery of the western American states, and we quickly find ourselves in the action as some men try to ambush Emmit (Scott Glenn) while he sleeps. They're unsuccessful, and as Emmit continues his journey he finds a man -- robbed and left to die -- named Paden (Kevin Kline). The pair join up and ride into the town of Turley in search of Emmit's brother Jake but find Jake is scheduled to hang for murder. In confronting the men who robbed him, Paden runs afoul of the town sheriff John Langston (John Cleese) and all three men leave town just ahead of a posse, when they are aided by Mal, a sharpshooting cowboy played by Danny Glover.

Before reaching the town of Silverado, the quartet come to the aid of a wagon train of settlers (including Roseanna Arquette). Then once in town, they separate and their friendship is strained as they sort out their lives in the town run by Ethan McKendrick and his sheriff, a former riding buddy of Paden's named Cobb (Brian Dennehy).

The above synopsis only scratches the surface of the top-rate cast the Kasdans assembled and leaves out small but important parts played by Jeff Goldblum, Linda Hunt and James Gammon, among others. The modern touches help make the movie even more fun, such as Kline's Zen-like deadpan Paden and Cleese's dry-witted Langston. Listing all of the pitch-perfect grace notes from every cast member would make this a novel-length review, and I won't try your patience. I'll just suggest you rent the movie.

But Silverado succeeds first of all not because it's a great retro Western or a great revisionist Western (it's not really all that revisionist) but because it's a great Western, period, and a great movie. The Kasdans include all the familiar elements -- the ambush sneak attacks, the villains' lack of concern for anything but their own interests, the dusty street showdown, the gunfight through town, and so on. They do them all well, though, not figuring they could skimp on the quality of their dialogue just because Western fans would see anything with a hat and a gunbelt. And they cast the roles perfectly: the taciturn Glenn, the contemplative Kline, the menacing Dennehy, the wild-card Costner, the solid and dignified Glover, and so on. First-time composer Bruce Broughton earned an Academy Award nomination for the score (he lost out to five-time winner John Barry), another exceptionally strong feature of the movie.

Silverado ends with a character shouting, "We'll be back," thought by some to indicate Kasdan's plans for a sequel. It never materialized (probably for the best; double lightning strikes may be rare but they outnumber good sequels by a wide margin), nor did a wide-scale revival of the Western itself. The next notable works in the genre would be television's Lonesome Dove in 1989, Costner's own Dances With Wolves in 1990 and Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven in 1992. Those entries and others repeat what Silverado made clear -- there's plenty of life left in the most American of movie genres when moviemakers, writers and actors at the top of their game put out the kind of effort that makes great films of any genre.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Passing Lane or a Highway, Man?

With apologies to Alfred Noyes:

The air was a torrent of pigskin 'cross the Bloomington plains,
The sun eclipsed by touchdowns tossed with nary a pain,
The field a wide-open lane giving yards ten or twenty or more,
And the Hoosiers and 'Cats came riding—
The Hoosiers and 'Cats came riding, rolling up that score.

Persa threw like a madman, Colter not far behind,
Five TDs ties a record! And Dunsmore played out of his mind!
Four scores in seven catches, and a hundred and seventeen yards!
No 'Cat tight end is his equal,
     We'll likely not see a sequel,
For the Hoosier defense is abysmal, one of the league's worst by far.

Northwestern fared little better, giving up 38 points,
But the offense scored nigh to 60 while the D stunk up the joint
Blood-red the Bloomington jerseys but they could not the purple contain,
So the cold streak ends at five losses,
     Thanks to Dan and Kain's tosses,
Plus Jacob Schmidt's two rushing scores, and the deadeye foot of Budzien.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Change I Can Get Behind

Last night at the gym, someone asked for one of the TVs to be turned to the World Series. The attendant obliged, and cut the Lord High Irrationalist himself, Ed Schultz, off in mid-ignorant, suet-stained rant. It was one of the most wonderful things I had ever seen. The only thing that would have been better would be if another TV had been changed to the Series also, removing the presence of the King of the Blowhards, Bill O'Reilly, from our sight as well.

But the attendants said they could only put one channel on the Series at a time.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Troubled Indeed

Dewey Lambdin's Alan Lewrie novels sail some well-traveled seas -- naval adventures during the Napoleonic wars. And although his series protagonist displays more than the requisite amount of derring-do, dash and martial heroism, Lambdin seems to have looked less to Forester, Pope and O'Brian for his inspiration than to Fraser. The results aren't always the best.

The series began in 1989 with Lewrie as a reluctant midshipman in The King's Coat. Over the course of 17 novels, he has risen in rank and reputation, both fair and foul. Brave in battle, he's a scoundrel in his personal life. In 2008's Troubled Waters, he finally manages to convince his wife that the anonymous letters accusing him of an affair with his ward might be untrue (they are). But his actual affairs remain and she more or less turns him out anyway. Lewrie also has to deal with the fallout of his previous actions in freeing slaves in Jamaica -- their former owners have accused him of theft and are seeking to have him convicted and hanged. So he is relieved when he is sent to join the blockade of France in command of the frigate Savage. There, Lewrie is less than content to cruise up and down the coast and hatches a plan to wreck a French fort under construction.

Like his creation, Lambdin is best in action. Himself a sailor, he has a good knowledge of the sea and also knows how to keep the battle and combat scenes humming. He's less good ashore, and one of the problems Troubled Waters has is the time spent there instead of on deck. Another of the problems is that Lambdin writes in a chatty, gossipy tone that somehow manages to make the entire book one long snigger -- Fraser's Harry Flashman was a coward (Lewrie isn't) and was even more lecherous but Fraser avoided the adolescent tenor that Lambdin apparently relishes. Although less obvious at first, it increases throughout the series and had put me off of it until I found Troubled Waters cheap at a used bookstore and thought I'd give them another chance. I'll probably be skipping them again.

Among the cover blurbs praising the Alan Lewrie series are one by James Nelson, himself an author of historical nautical fiction, and Bernard Cornwell, author of the Richard Sharpe novels that cover the life of a British Army soldier during the same years as the Lewrie books. I'm almost certain these praises were written earlier in the series when Lambdin had more of a focus on Lewrie the fighter rather than Lewrie the lecher and the books were simply better overall. Cornwell's cover blurb ends with this sentence, describing how he felt about the series: "I wish I had written them."

I wish you'd written them too, Mr. Cornwell.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Why Did It Have to Be Teeth?

So for some 60 years, we've been able to enjoy the presence of a wind-up set of mechanical teeth that chomp away to the delight of we easily amused types everywhere, thanks to a denture commercial.

Toy inventor Eddie Goldfarb, the article says, saw an ad for a holder for false teeth called a "tooth garage," and the idea of a rattletrap set of dentures pulling into a driveway cracked him up and gave him an idea. He pitched to manufacturers Marvin Glass and Irving Fishlove and lo! the Yakity-Yak Chattering Teeth were born. The clockwork motor that animates the jaws has also been at the heart of other toys like the chattering skull and walking hat (called Mr. Schmoo) pictured in the story. The teeth have been a source of fun or at least a small chuckle for people ever since.

Except, of course, for Pollyanna Jones.

(The author swears he remembers an early 1980s comedy show in which Raiders of the Lost Ark was parodied using Karen Allen as "Dr. Pollyanna Jones," in which she found herself needing to navigate a room full of her own personal phobia -- chattering teeth -- to get to the treasure. Her response: "Teeth! Why did it have to be teeth?" But searching the net produced no signs of the sketch, so you will just have to take his word for it.)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

No CGI Required

The above image was taken by the Cassini probe as it orbits Saturn, and I found this particular image here. The large moon in the background is Saturn's moon Titan, and the bright one that makes it resemble the Death Star is Dione. The bright dot that looks like it's at the outer edge of the rings is Pandora, and the small white speck in the gap on the left hand side is Pan. Rumors that George Lucas will release an "improved" version of this and other Cassini pictures are, so far, unfounded.

You can read more information about the Cassini probe and see more pictures here. Cassini is the orbital component of the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft that was launched jointly by NASA and the European Space Administration (ESA) to study Saturn; the Huygens probe focuses on studying Titan itself. The spacecraft was launched in 1997, back about the time someone tried to lie to us even though we all knew that Han shot first.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Gold Bull-what?

An enterprising gentleman in Northern Ireland recently attempted an experiment to turn his feces into gold. So my headline is slightly misleading; the alchemy under consideration involved human excrement because the fellow overlooked the easy marketing strategies available had he tried to turn bull-**** into bull-ion.

He also apparently overlooked some other properties of chemistry, such as the flash point of certain materials and the fact that many chemical reactions create heat and don't need external heat sources to reach combustible temperatures. Thus he burned down his apartment and drew the attention of local law enforcement, who frown upon unauthorized science experiments when they endanger other people's lives and damage their property.

And he overlooked an unintended consequence of his experiment had he been successful: The end of gold as a useful metal for currency. The scarcity of gold makes it valuable; the ubiquity of ordure makes it relatively worthless. Leaving aside the ability of politicians, Lady Gaga, Paul Haggis and MTV Networks to create a metaphorically identical output to the material our scientist used, the amount of the actual substance produced would lead to gold being not worth a...well, you get the idea.

The story notes that the man seems to have other issues with chemicals, so I can do nothing but wish him the best in his recovery, since no one was seriously harmed in his mishap.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

At Last!

Just in time for primary election season, the Shakespeare Insult Kit!

Just take a word from column 1, add a word from column 2 and column 3, then finish off by putting the word "Thou" in front of your combination.

Imagine how much more fun debates would be if candidates were required to use a kit-constructed insult once every five minutes. "Governor Romney, thou gleeking spur-galled giglet!" "Fine words Representative Bachman, thou gurbellied, bat-fowling puttock!" "Mr. President, I stand here to tell the American people that thou art a mammering, clapper-clawed moldwarp! What is your response, sir?"

I contacted my representative to get him to introduce this legislation, but he just laughed at me. The spleeny, beef-witted clack-dish.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


With apologies to Thomas Wolfe:

"You can't go win homecoming,  not for your family, not for your childhood ... no matter the 'Homecoming!' in a young man's dreams of glory and of fame ... back home to seasons of victory, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time — you can't win homecoming if you get shut out in the second half."

"Beyond" and Back

The only real question about Chris Isaak releasing a CD of covers of some of Sun Records' greatest finds -- called Beyond the Sun -- is how it could have taken him so long. Other than Brian Setzer, if any modern artists have sunk their roots deeper into the rockabilly/ country crooner legacy of Sun's artists and their contemporaries than has Isaak, I want to know so I can buy all their records forthwith and post-haste.

Isaak's big break came when director David Lynch, who had already used two of his songs in Black Velvet, used an instrumental version of Isaak's 1989 "Wicked Game" in his 1990 movie Wild at Heart. Spurred on by an Atlanta disc jockey/Lynch fan, "Wicked Game" began getting major airplay and became a bestselling single in 1991, complete with supermodel-featuring music video. It cemented a solid niche for Isaak as a retro midtempo genius who dabbled with some edgier ideas now and again, like in Eyes Wide Shut's "Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing." Some friends and I thought that the Tom Petty-Bob Dylan-Jeff Lynne-George Harrison supergroup The Traveling Wilburys should recruit Isaak after co-Wilbury Roy Orbison passed away in 1988. He had the pipes and the style to handle Orbison's work and would have brought an interesting new dimension to the group, since at the time he would have brought a much younger talent and voice to it. But nobody listened to us. Which is also why Lawrence, Kansas' Homestead Grays never made it big, either.

Anyway, Isaak put together a full 25 covers of Sun Records' classics -- as well as one or two tracks from Sun artists recorded after they left the studio, like Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling in Love." That he excels at the crooner tunes is expected; they are hanging curves right in the middle of his strike zone and he handles them accordingly. The surprise comes when he tackles smoking rave-ups like Jerry Lee Lewis' "Great Balls of Fire" and Jimmy Wages' "Miss Pearl." Isaak has spent a career being cool and blue, but on these and several others he fires up the red hot and lets it fly with excellent results.

Each of these songs is pure homage; Isaak sings in his own voice but modifies it to take on some of the qualities of the earlier versions. On the Elvis songs he doesn't sound like Elvis, but he does sound like what you might imagine Elvis would sound like if he were imitating Chris Isaak. Again, that has the success you'd expect on the Presley and Orbison numbers, since their vocal styles were closest to Isaak's own. But it also works on numbers by Lewis, Carl Perkins and even Johnny Cash. The overall effect is a great listen. Isaak, a modern artist steeped in retro context (on the cover of 1998's Speak of the Devil, he's taking a call on a plain black rotary dial phone), plays and sings the Sun Records catalog as though he had been on Sam Phillips' payroll.

Beyond the Sun is a TARDIS of a record, a trip back in time to the explosion of rock and roll before it differentiated itself entirely from its country, blues and pop standards roots. If that music is to your taste, you'll probably love it. If it's not to your taste, please seek medical attention immediately.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Signing Off

Back from KC; 13 out of the last 36 hours on the road, so just a quick one.

The next time you hear someone use "the free market" to justify immense college coaching salaries, steer 'em towards this piece in the online Reason magazine. It's not a free market when the funding source is public money.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Over the River and Through the Woods...Sort Of

The most direct route to Kansas City from the OKC area is I-35, which involves the long and rather extravagantly-priced Kansas Turnpike. But the most familiar route to me is the one we traveled when I was younger and we visited my grandparents who still lived there. It's got quite a bit of two-lane and several small-towns that mandate a slowdown in order to maintain the boredom level of the local constabularies. But tomorrow I help officiate at my grandmother's memorial service, so I thought I'd drive the older way, the way to Grandma's house. One last time.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Shoulda Known

They warned me that if I voted for John McCain our nation would be saddled with an idiot vice-president who not only said a bunch of stupid stuff but seemed to have no ability to stop saying stupid stuff.

And they were right!

This May Not End Well Either

A self-taught maverick paleontologist thinks he's figured out how to reverse-engineer a dinosaur from a chicken. And he's the guy who told Michael Crichton how geneticists would recreate dinosaurs, a key feature in Crichton's book Jurassic Park.

Jack Horner (who's not at all little) works at the Museum of the Rockies at Montana State University. His understanding of dinosaurs underlies much of our modern view of them -- herd animals, not necessarily cold-blooded and more like a modern bird than a modern crocodile. He had the idea of dinosaur DNA preserved when insects that dined on dino blood died and were preserved in amber, which Crichton used in his book and Steven Spielberg adapted for the movie version. Horner now says that DNA would have broken down too much for the kind of cloning seen in Jurassic Park to work.

But if you take the DNA of one of the dinosaur's modern descendants -- like a chicken -- and reverse-engineered it to remove the stuff time added to it to make a chicken, then you could have a real dinosaur, something Horner calls a "chickenosaurus." Not being a biologist, Horner's never tried this and isn't sure he'd know how to go about it, which is why he's advertised for a biologist to work with him on the project. He's pretty sure it could be done by reworking the chicken DNA to unfuse the "fingers" found in its wings to the real grasping digits of a dinosaur and put teeth back in its mouth.

Every living thing shares a lot of DNA with every other living thing, some more than others. Sometimes those old DNA features crop up, even in people, leading to conditions called "atavisms." So you can have babies born with vestigial tails. Thus the chicken has a dinosaur inside, waiting for some modern scientist like Jack Horner to stick in his thumb and pull out the plum of a gen-you-wine thunder lizard. Since this effort would not actually clone some ancient species of dinosaur, like the fictional Jurassic Park did, starting out with a chicken would mean you wound up with a chicken-sized animal. And since the experiment would only alter the development of the animal as an embryo rather than its genetic code, its own offspring would still be chickens. Probably.

However, article writer Thomas Hayden drops one little unsettling note in the story as he explains how modern animals give birth only to modern animals, even though they share DNA with their genetic ancestors: "Every cell of a turkey carries the blueprints for making a tyrannosaurus, but the way the plans get read changes over time as the species evolves."

That could really mess up Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Did You Ever Notice...

In honor of the recently retired Andy Rooney, just a couple of snarks and nitpicks this evening.

At a local bookstore I saw a copy of Rolling Stone magazine, the cover of which advertised a story about the retirement of R.E.M. The main cover story was about how the success of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon album led to tensions between bandmates Roger Waters and David Gilmour that would split that band apart some 13 years later. Rolling Stone's message to today's pop music lover: We've been irrelevant since before you were born.

To the ladies on the elliptical machines next to me at the gym: I suspect that if you removed your earbuds feeding you the sound of the TV program you're both ignoring, you could still talk and you could hear one another but the rest of us wouldn't have to.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Dream, On

This story fascinated me -- not President Obama's remarks, which were nice enough but mostly boilerplate, but the accompanying photo, which shows the president and his eldest daughter, 13-year-old Malia, in front of the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial statue along with the CEO of the MLK Memorial Foundation.

For one, good grief that kid is tall! Her dad is six-one and she's not far shy of looking him in the eye; it seems obvious she's taking the height of both parents with her into adolescence. As if the presence of Secret Service guards alone wasn't going to intimidate the young men of Sidwell Friends Academy, finding the nerve to ask the company of this stately young woman will take some doing. The president and Mrs. Obama may have the happy duty of meeting suitors of rare character and courage as Malia's social life begins to expand into the dating world.

But on a serious note, her presence at that memorial represents something that I believe we as a nation need to think about to understand its full impact. Malia -- to borrow the cliché that we always say about children -- represents the future. And she stands at the side of her father, the first African-American president of the United States, at a memorial to one of the major driving forces in that even being possible. Chris Rock told the story that whatever else the election of Barack Obama brought, he no longer had to tell his kids "You can be anything you want to be" and mean it as some kind of second-best encouragement. A black man, Rock said, had been elected president, and black children no longer needed parents' words to tell them what they might achieve because they could see it on the news every day.

What will that represent for Malia, her sister Sasha and for other African-American members of the Class of 2015 and beyond? What does it mean to them to see a memorial dedicated to a great hero of the human race but also one particularly honored in their culture, and the presidential speech given on the occasion of that dedication be delivered by a man whose achievements he himself says owe much to Dr. King's stands and his work? Leave aside the petty race-mongering of Al Sharpton, Cornel West and such, in which the president participates little, but more than I'd like. Leave aside his insufficiency for the office and his misguided policies (I speak as someone who disagrees with them; if you don't then by all means add them to his achievements). What might a moment like this mean? I'm not writing with an answer; I don't have one and that's why I'd like to take at least a little while to reflect on that question.

It's something I'd love to see us as a nation think about, although of course we won't. We're too busy with the aforementioned petty folks and their counterparts on the right, too busy with the manslaughter trial of Michael Jackson's doctor, too busy with who's tied with whom in a poll, and so on. Or if we're not, we're too busy with today's news to bother with last weekend's, too busy with what may (or may not) be happening now in front of someone's camera, too busy with where we're going to stop and notice where we are and what has happened.

Maybe someday we will realize that something happened in this moment, and we'll look back and see what it caused and what it might have meant. And I bet we'll wish we'd taken a little bit more time to think about it when it was happening to see what direction it might offer us and what paths it might open, or at the very least to take a moment and look at the wonder it provided.

But that'll be someday, and yesterday has a stubborn tendency to never get any closer than it is right now. The past is the past and if we missed something then, the past has a policy against repeats that allow us to pay better attention this time. We can learn from mistakes, and we might even fix them, but we don't get do-overs.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Why Do They Call It Entertainment Again?

Season two of The Walking Dead premieres tonight. It's a zombie movie spread out over (so far) two TV seasons, based on a comic book that's spread out over (so far) 89 issues and eight years. The dead rise and (as the title indicates) they walk. They desire to eat or kill the living or both; I'm not sure which because I haven't watched it or read the comic, as I find yet another iteration of Night of the Living Dead significantly unthrilling.

Apparently the initial plan to make a sequel to Top Gun some 25 years after the original is stalled, pending a reboot of sorts to set it in current times. Gosh, I really hope it's as good as the Footloose remake!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Life Is Funny...Give Examples

I'm reading a book about the spiritual poison of hurrying in preparation for an Advent sermon series, and this morning I walked out to an outside amphitheater at our Methodist campground at Lake Texoma. While enjoying the dawn, I was joined by some college students on a retreat with their campus ministry group from the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church of India. I stepped back to allow them to have their morning prayers, but one of the priests asked me if I would like to join them. What a very blessed experience! Much of their liturgy was in English, so I could follow along, and the priest helpfully showed me where to turn in the prayer book. What a great experience of being welcomed by the Body of Christ, and one I would not have had if I had not taken the time in the morning to stop in my jog an watch the sunrise.

Friday, October 14, 2011

This May Not End Well

Some scientists at Wayne State University have found that the chemical epicatechin helps increase the number of mitochondria in our bodies' cells. Despite the Andromeda Strain-scary level of syllables in those things, that could turn out to be good for us.

Mitochondria produce energy in our cells, and more energy means the cells and the parts of the body they make up can do more work. That may or may not sound all that great on Friday afternoon as the clock creeps towards 5 PM, but cells that do more work allow us to exercise more, which benefits us, and also also helps muscle and skeletal tissue stay stronger as we age.

The scientists fed epicatechin to some rats, and made some other rats spend 30 minutes a day on a treadmill. At the end of the 15-day study, the rats on the treadmill were more tired (and probably a little bit ticked at how the groups were sorted out) but they had the same amount of mitochondria in their cells as did the rats fed epicatechin twice a day.

Scientists cautioned that the research had only been done in rats so far and studies on people have yet to be conducted. Therefore, there is no way to be sure that epicatechin would have anything like a similar effect in human cells. Which means you and I should not go out and try to slurp up as much epicatechin as we can find.

No problem, you say. I can't even pronounce that word and I've got no interest in imbibing a bunch of it based on how it was good for rats. Probably tastes awful, right? I don't think I'll have any problem avoiding it. If it's found in Brussels sprouts or turnips or week-old cheese, I'm not sure I'll start adding it to my diet even if it does prove to be helpful for people. What food does contain it, anyway?

Dark chocolate? Back to the maze, rodent-boy, and let the top of the food chain do his business.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Power Pack

Power Down is Ben Coes' first novel, and it's very strong start out of the gate. It draws a complimentary cover blurb from top thriller writer Vince Flynn, and if Flynn actually read the book and means what he said (in the publishing world one may never be completely sure of this), then it's some high praise indeed.

Coes earns his kudos with the story of simultaneous assaults on a U.S. company's oilfield production facilities off the coast of Colombia and a hydroelectric generating plant in Canada. The destruction seems the first step in a plan to cripple U.S. power production, leaving the nation unable to afford to fight overseas or intervene in areas where it might have an interest. The terrorists made the mistake of leaving the platform supervisor and former Delta Force soldier Dewey Andreas alive. Andreas may not have much reason to love the country he believes turned its back on him after his faithful service, but he was fiercely loyal to his workers and their wholesale slaughter motivates him to avenge them. While he hunts down the killers, Washington operatives try to track down the mastermind behind the plot and prevent other attacks. Coes switches pretty cleanly between the world of bureaucracy, the world of the corporate boardroom and a gunbattle firefight and handles them all well.

Coes aims a little higher than a lot of thriller writers -- Andreas actually has an arc of character development over the course of Power Down. We see how greed may not only motivate the betrayal and treason the plotters need to succeed, but also how its presence may make their plans vulnerable. Although Andreas is, of course, a Man With a Past, there are a couple of elements to that past that aren't straight out of Suspense Novels for Dummies. But that doesn't mean Coes skimps on the violence -- blood sprays, skulls crack, bullets create their carefully-described mayhem when wielded by hero and ruthless villain alike. This is an action thriller, after all.

Power Down has some weaknesses -- we spend more time than we need on the oil rig before the terrorists strike, learning things about the crew we don't really need to know. There are a few too many similar (and similarly-named) characters to easily track. And the closeout, which seems meant to set up the sequel or maybe even a series, rings false. Coes may have in mind something like Lee Child's drifting adventurer Jack Reacher, but Andreas has worked on much too high a stage to make plausible the idea of him as a drifter who just happens to be saving the entire world or some such.

But those are quibbles. Power Down is an excellent first outing with a quick pace, well-thought-out plot with some new twists and enough brains to give it an interesting flavor. If Coes can keep it up in the sequel, Coup D'Etat, then thriller readers may have a new go-to series to pick up in between their Childs and Flynn fixes.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

From the Rental Vault (1955): The Wages of Fear

Movie clichés come in more than just hackneyed phrases -- the car chase is a well-known offender, sometimes stuck in a mediocre movie as a way of artificially building suspense. Will the speeding cars go out of control? Will the pursuing hero catch the villain? Or will the fleeing protagonist elude the hunters? Will the passers-by at risk suffer injury or death? When a writer or director knows the story at hand is kind of dull, the thought may be that a vehicular chase can transfer its own inherent tension to the movie. If it's not working, then down comes the order: Hit the gas! Ramp up the speed!

But as French director Henri-Georges Clouzot demonstrated in his 1955 movie The Wages of Fear, sometimes you don't have to send your autos across the screen at top speed in order for them to carry real tension. Sometimes, in fact, the slower they go, the higher the suspense.

Of course, it helps to load them up with unstable nitroglycerine and send them across a mountain road barely hacked out of the jungle. A U.S. oil company in South America has a well on fire and the only way to put it out is with an explosion big enough to temporarily suck the oxygen away from it and in essence "blow it out." Nitro will do it, but a steep mountain road that in some places is barely more than a trail lies between the field and its nearest supply. The company's union drivers refuse to make the trip, so a lottery choose four people in the village to make the drive. The first half of the movie introduces us to the quartet, a group of small-time losers with their own stories of why they need the substantial cash bonus the company will pay to drive the nitro to the field. The second takes them across the road, beset with obstacles and wondering any second whether or not the unstable explosive in their trucks would blow up and wipe them out.

Clouzot was at the top of his game as a suspense director (he would make the equally classic Les Diaboliques later that same year) and helped his powerhouse cast -- top French actors Yves Montand and Charles Varnel, German-American Peter Van Eyck and Italian Folco Lulli -- elevate what in some hands might have been a genre picture into a top-level nail-biting character study without so much as a single peel-out. Wages won the Palme d'Or at the 1955 Cannes Film Festival.

Howard Koch would remake Wages as Violent Road in 1958, a movie that's not so bad on its own but which suffers greatly compared to the original. Exorcist director William Friedkin released his own version, Sorcerer, in 1977 with Roy Scheider as his lead. Friedkin spent a lot of money and the movie made back little of that, suffering in the shadow of a little movie called Star Wars that came out a month earlier and confusing people by having no supernatural elements at all, no matter what the title was. Sorcerer's welcome has gotten better with age, but Wages of Fear is still significantly superior.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I'm Not Sure

I'm not sure, exactly, how I feel about the Michigan woman who is suing film distributors because when she went to see the movie Drive it was not what the trailer had led her to believe it was.

On the one hand, I sympathize. There are many trailers which have made movies look good when they are not. Lately I've been skipping a good 80 percent of what hits the theaters today regardless of the trailer, because I either a) am pretty convinced the movie is going to stink or b) have a negative desire to see it whether it stinks or not. In the first category we can put...well, all too many movies out today. In the second, we can put movies like Rise of the Planet of the Apes or Inglorious Basterds. The former's combination of the well-known Planet of the Apes storyline with hints of the (ironically simian-less) 12 Monkeys loses its appeal for me because I have seen both of those movies and if I want to watch them again I will. Maybe Brad Pitt's a hoot in IB and Christoph Waltz is amazing and after all, it is about defeating Nazis. But it features Eli Roth, and I have previously said that in order to get an amount of money small enough to match what I would pay to see Roth, you need only collect the copper under your fingernail after you scrape it once along the edge of a penny. So whether their trailers were great and accurate or poor and misleading, I don't care (There is a subset of this second set; movies which I will see no matter what the trailer looks like. The Expendables and next year's The Avengers are a couple of those movies).

But on the other hand, the woman is basically suing the distributors for successfully advertising their movie. I can see many judges being sympathetic to her, especially if they have seen a movie, but I don't think their sympathy will translate into a judgment in her favor. If the trailer had, for example, been made up entirely of scenes that weren't in the movie, or featured a star who wasn't actually in the movie, then she might manage a false advertising claim. But just, "The movie wasn't what the trailer made me think it would be?" I think you're out of luck, lady. Bust out a Netflix subscription, learn where TCM or Fox Movie Channel is on your television. You'll be happier in the long run.

(H/T Yeah Right)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Money's Worth

So the new Friar vacation destination of choice is the Andes mountains in Chile.

Specifically, the Chajnator Plateau in the Atacama desert, home of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array telescope, the world's most expensive telescope which has been designed to see things using radio waves. The telescope, called ALMA, uses those radio waves to see what astronomers call "cold matter" that regular visible-light or infrared-light telescopes can't see.

Most of what we see in the sky is hot so it radiates energy in many forms, among them visible light and heat. If something doesn't radiate energy of some kind, we can't really see it unless it's between us and a light source. But ALMA's use of radio waves means it can detect matter that's not radiating as much energy as things like stars do. The picture at the story is one of two galaxies smacking into each other ("smacking" being a relative term as they are taking many millions of years to do it) and shows detail and form that previous telescopes would not have been able to resolve. And it's what astronomers can see with just a third of the many antenna arrays ALMA will eventually use.

The "millimeter/sub-millimeter" part of the telescope name refers to the wavelengths of light that ALMA can "see." Things like light, sound and radiation come in waves rather than particles, and the distance between the crest of each wave is that energy's "wavelength." Visible light has a high energy level and so its wavelength is shorter. If you tied one end of a rope to a post and held the other end as you moved your arm up and down, you would make waves in the rope. Move your arm swiftly and there would be more waves in the length of rope and their wavelength would be shorter. Move your arm slowly and there are fewer waves, so their wavelength is longer. By receiving signals in the millimeter/sub-millimeter range, ALMA can see things that give off much less energy or are "cold" in astronomer's terms.

None of which figures out how to get me to Chile anytime soon, so I'll leave you while I try to come up with a plan.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Waitin' on a Woman

A clear memory of my grandfather is his presence on a bench at the Blue Ridge Mall, sitting while he waited on my grandmother and their daughters to shop (mostly at The Jones Store, with some JC Penneys thrown in). There he sat, in the company of other men his age who had in little in common beyond their antipathy to accompanying the ladies on their acquisitional excursions. But their similar circumstances made enough shared interest for conversation. Primarily about sports, tools, projects and probably the general state of things -- which was most likely not what it used to be.

Brad Paisley recorded a song with this theme that brings my grandfather's image to mind whenever I hear it, called "Waitin' on a Woman." In it, an older man strikes up a conversation with a younger one when both are in pretty much the position my grandfather and his companions experienced, and the older man recounts how he has waited on his wife on different occasions through most of their time together. Paisley's 2008 version of the song includes Andy Griffith's spoken-word reading of some of the lines including the idea that if he dies first, which he's heard men tend to do, he imagines he'll spend the first part of his days in eternity waiting on his wife, who won't be quite ready yet.

Saturday evening, my grandfather's final wait ended as my grandmother left the world that has been her home for the last 104 years to enter the home not made by hands. Rest in peace, Fay.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Beware the Wolverine

With apologies to Lewis Carroll:

'Twas brillig, and the blue and gold
Did gyre and gimble on Ryan Field;
All mimsy were the purple droves,
To Michigan they'd ne'er kneel.

"Beware the Hemingway, my son!
The legs that run, the hands that catch!
Beware the Roundtree bird, and shun
Denard the Quarterback!"

Persa took vorpal ball in hand:
Long time the open man he sought--
Saw he the Hawthorne INT,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
A two-digit lead, once again,
Proved not enough, for it would,
vanish by end of game.

One, two! One, two! and through and through
The vorpal ball went snicker-snack!
An offense dead, they hung their heads
And could not answer back.

"And hast thou faced the Wolverine?
Few triumph when they do!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
Michigan's joyous words did ensue.

'Twas brillig, and the blue and gold
Did gyre and gimble on Ryan Field;
All mimsy were the purple droves,
To Michigan still they'd ne'er kneel.

From the Rental Vault (1958): The Law and Jake Wade

John Sturges directed some of the iconic movies of the 20th century -- having The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape and Ice Station Zebra on your résumé makes you a top-level talent in anyone's league, and he had many more. Robert Taylor, "The Man With the Perfect Profile," was one of the most reliable box-office names of the 1940s and cemented his reputation as a thinking man's action star in Bataan, Ivanhoe and Quo Vadis. Richard Widmark was another tough-guy actor with a lot of skill; he earned an Academy Award nomination with his first role and held a double handful of movie critics' association honors. Screenwriter William Bowers owns two Oscar nominations himself.

So why ain't The Law and Jake Wade any better than it is?

Ironically, some of the problem comes from Taylor and Bowers' work, despite their proven talents and accomplishments. Taylor plays Jake Wade, a former outlaw turned town marshal now on the straight and narrow. Out of loyalty to an old friend and fellow outlaw, Widmark's Clint Hollister, Wade breaks Hollister out of jail in a nearby town the day before he is to be hanged. The pair separate, with Wade warning Hollister to stay away and Hollister telling Wade he wants the money from the last job they pulled, which Wade has buried for good and hasn't touched since. Hollister turns up in Wade's new town, complete with their old outlaw gang, and demands Wade take them to the money. In order to ensure his compliance, they have taken Wade's fiancée Peggy (Patricia Owens).

As mentioned above, part of the problem is Taylor. When Jake Wade was released in 1958, he was 47 and looked quite a bit older. He's hard to buy as a serious interest for the 33-year-old Owens, and for much of the movie seems to be sleepwalking through his part. Bowers' script, adapted from Martin Albert's novel, meanders and leaves plot holes and undone threads all over the place. For some reason the outlaw Wexler, played by a pre-Star Trek De Forest Kelley, has a special hatred for Jake, but not only do we never learn why, we never see that amount to anything. Wade himself seems kind of an idiot -- he tells Hollister not to follow him but gives him one of his own horses which trails him right back home. An escape attempt had an obvious flaw that anyone could see coming. Hollister and a newer member of the outlaw gang, Rennie (Henry Silva) face off but that tension never goes anywhere either.

The best part of the movie is Widmark, whose Hollister is an obvious sociopath but a far more likable character than the hero Wade. It's OK for movie villains to be more interesting than the hero; it happens a lot. But when we find ourselves kind of wishing Hollister would come out on top, if for no other reason than Peggy seems more likely to survive the movie in his company than dunderhead Wade's, then something's gone wrong somewhere.

Sturges had no problem making terrific movies out of old, familiar story elements, but he doesn't seem to have had the luck here. From it's head-scratching title (what "the law" has to do with Wade's actions at any point is never clear) to its boring none-too-bright hero to its sloppy plotting, The Law and Jake Wade is a movie happily to be rented rather than bought.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Cloak and Dagger

Researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas have developed a cloaking device -- a staple of science fiction stories in which starships or other things use advanced technology to mask their appearance and make it seem as if they are not where they really are.

It uses the same principle that makes mirages of water appear in the desert -- when air changes temperature a lot in a short distance, light rays get bent back on themselves. In the desert we see patches of blue sky reflected through the temperature differential that our brains process as pools of water. The UTD researchers used sheets of something called carbon nanotubes to artificially heat the air around them and make the sheets seem to disappear.

President Obama put in an immediate order for one and is believed to be planning on making it an early Christmas gift for Attorney General Eric Holder.

Starfleet Captain James T. Kirk, meanwhile, suggested that UTD researchers be on the lookout for dark-haired strangers who seem to be loathe to show their ears.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

If I Had a Hammer...Would I Know What to Do With It?

To indicate stupidity, we might sometimes have heard people described as not knowing "which end of the hammer to hold." It turns out that there may be something to that.

Of course, most people know which end to hold, but properly using hammers or other kinds of tools sometimes depends not on how smart our brains are but on how smart our hands are. Or in other words, as some studies this article in Macleans say, what our hands know how to do.

Some of the problem comes from schools forced by testing standards, liability issues and whatnot to drop shop classes and others that past generations almost all had in some small doses. It's probably been a long time since a brief tour through the wood or machine shop was mandatory as it was when I was in junior high, but apparently even the option of taking shop is disappearing from a lot of schools.

Many of us, male and female alike, learned some basic tool-using techniques messing around with them while our fathers or grandfathers worked on the car or weekend home projects. That happens less and less these days, which is probably not always dad's fault -- while I could tinker around with some of what was under the hood of my '68 Impala, I can't begin to identify half of the stuff crammed into the engine compartment of my Tacoma. Even if I could, I probably couldn't reach it without a full-scale lift and the previous pastor forgot to install one of those in the parsonage garage.

Kids and grownups alike spend a lot of time receiving entertainment rather than creating it -- watching that old villain television or its new sidekick, the internet, or wearing out their thumbs on the game controller. There may be a lot to learn from Call of Duty, but a steady diet of it and nothing else will leave you scratching your head at what do do with a a counter-clockwise threaded nut -- not to mention what in the world "clockwise" means.

Reach back even younger, according to an occupational therapist quoted in the story, and you find more reasons -- kids not put on the ground as much don't explore with their hands. That exploration is not just to make sure mom and dad's pulse rate stays artificially high, but helps babies process the mechanics of the world around them and develops the brain. We don't innately know the difference between something that's hard and something that's soft, for example, and so when we touch those things our brain learns to distinguish them. Then the prevalence of toys that involve pushing buttons doesn't involve the musculature of the whole hand, meaning a lack of dexterity as well as strength in the other parts. The therapist says they sometimes treat kids -- normal, uninjured healthy kids -- who are 13 years old who can't tie their shoes.

Human beings are smarter than other critters -- although the dogs who spend a summer afternoon on the porch while their owners glum the day away in an office might beg to differ if they woke up -- and one of the reasons is that our brains developed to handle all of the information processing that goes into what we do with our hands. Grabbing stuff doesn't take a brain -- grabbing the stuff that you want to grab, only that stuff, and then using that stuff in the manner you had in mind, on the other hand, does. If we don't learn this as babies, can we learn it later? No one knows. And, in a nicely chilling comment, one neurologist notes that research and experiments to deliberately deprive babies of this learning in order to see if it could be taught later would never get through an ethics committee, but we're happy to do it in real life homes every day.

So if you have a hammer, you might start by using it on the TV, computer and Nintendo -- not to smash it, mind you, but to gently tap the off switch.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


The headline at IMDB says it all:

Hefner Blames Playboy Club Cancellation On Bad Scheduling 

Yes, it was on the air when people could watch something else.

IOU? No! UO Us!

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, formerly the White House Chief of Staff, has suggested to City of Chicago employees that they do something a little out their parking tickets.

Of course, His @#%*& Honor would like everyone in Chicago to pay their parking tickets, but he has a vested interest in city employees doing so, as their non-payment makes it kind of tough to get regular folks to pony up what they owe. He also has a little bit bigger handle with which to grab them, as a failure to pay or set up a payment plan will result in garnishment of their paychecks. Such a move is certainly a way to make city government a little bit more efficient, since removal of money owed to the city from checks paid by the city is probably a very simple process these days. Wherever he is, Da Honrable Richard J. Daley, Mare a Da Great City a Chicago and All Its Great People, is probably verry jealous of the possibilities for securing contributions offered by the direct-deposit systems many people use these days.

Emanuel has taken it one step more, though, as city employees who owe more than $1,000 will result in even bigger savings because they will be dismissed. Chicago's municipal code prevents the hiring of someone who is in debt to the city. This means in the strict fiscal sense, of course, as city employees since the time of Da Mare and before knew darn well who they were indebted to and what they owed for the jobs they had.

The story at the link details which city departments are the worst in paying. The CTA or Chicago Transit Authority owes the most, while the mayor's executive staff owes the least. More than one-fifth of the former will be writing some new checks soon, while only one person in the different mayoral offices has some @#%*& 'splainin' to do. Of course, the story was filed Tuesday. I'm betting that guy doesn't owe anything anymore.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Stout Wake-Up Call

Administrators at the University of Wisconsin-Stout have reversed their decision to remove posters from a professor's office door, which I wrote about yesterday.

Their explanation remains heavy on weasel-inity, though, as the statement says the posters were not removed to censor the professor but because "of legitimate concern for the violent messages contained in each poster and the belief that the posters ran counter to our primary mission to provide a campus that is welcoming, safe and secure."

The Adam Baldwin piece I mentioned in the PS to the last post pointed out that posters of katana-wielding Uma Thurman with the logo "Kill the Bill," a takeoff of Thurman's Kill Bill role used to protest a Wisconsin law limiting public sector collective bargaining, were super neato-keen in the eyes of the campus cops who removed the more recent posters. Which means that the university administrators are still doofuses, because the proper response to being called out on their actions should have been, "Yeah, you're right. Those were pretty dumb things to do."

The statement also says Stout will host some workshops and forums on the First Amendment. I've got a a pretty good idea of who should attend, sit on the front row, take copious notes and then be quizzed about the matter afterwards.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Oh No You Di'n't!

When I attended a college not too far south of Wisconsin, I learned the phrase "cheeseheads," which was applied to the state's residents as descriptive of one of their state's best-known products and the fact that their intelligence was not significantly greater than that product. Some folk at the University of Wisconsin-Stout have gone above and beyond in bearing that out -- although to be fair I do not know if the university officials in the story are actually from Wisconsin. My apologies to actual cheeseheads if they are not.

A theater professor placed a poster of  Nathan Fillion's Firefly character, Captain Malcolm Reynolds, on his office door, complete with Reynolds' explanation of why Dr. Simon Tam need not fear being killed in his sleep: "If I ever kill you, you'll be awake, you'll be facing me, and you'll be armed." With these words, Reynolds explains that while he is technically an outlaw, he has a code of honor that he won't break, and that code doesn't include murdering people in their sleep.

Well, some Stout cheesehead didn't like the poster and rather than act like a grownup and talk to the professor about it, complained. Thus the university police chief e-mailed the professor saying that the poster -- his property, mind you -- had been removed. Again, neither the police chief nor anyone else asked the professor to take the poster down or noted that the reference to killing might be problematic or took any action anything like what adult human beings need to do in order to make their societies function.

The professor, somewhat energized by this treatment, responded with some energetic e-mails and another poster, warning people to beware of fascism. This poster too was removed and the professor was told he would have to meet with university officials, as the police chief and the Stout "threat assessment team" wanted to discuss concerns the posters had raised. The professor got in touch with a legal advocacy group called the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which likes to remind public universities that they are, like it or not, subject to the same laws as everybody else in the country and don't get to suspend things like the Bill of Rights just because they think they're smarter than everyone else.

Now, the Stout police chief showed herself to be very silly by having the poster removed at all. The quote doesn't advocate violence; it spells out Mal's choice against violence except as absolutely necessary, such as facing a threat to his own life. But even if it was a problem, why in the world could she not simply speak to the professor about it? Why have it removed when he's not around and then hide behind an e-mail? Is it because she knew she would look silly and figured she might be able to hide from that by avoiding face-to-face meetings?

So far, Stout officials are standing behind their decision. This will probably not end well for them, because the people at FIRE have spent years feasting on bureaucrats whose positions of authority in the tiny fiefdom's of academia's backwaters have given them delusions of grandeur (as well as adequacy). If they continue on this path it probably won't end well for Wisconsin taxpayers, either, because FIRE loooooves to take these cases to court and almost always wins, and the taxpayers will wind up paying for all the costs the university racks up defending the indefensible.

ETA: I don't know why, but this post never did show up yesterday even though the time stamp tells me it did. Go figure. The delay lets me add another quick reference to the story, found at Big Hollywood, which is co-written by the Hero of Canton himself, Jayne Cobb (aka Adam Baldwin).

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Tag! I'm It!

JenX of Memoirs of a Dutiful Xer tagged me with the meme "7 Links," which I will now attempt to produce something concerning.

Most Beautiful Post -- Jen often posts photos of neat stuff, many of which are lovely to look at. About the only pics I ever post are book or album cover scans; I think I have to treat this one like a 3-0 pitch and just watch it.

My Most Popular Post -- Traffic-wise, it's this one, hands down. Second is this one. Both, I think, get visits because of search-engine queries. The first because I use the old story attributed to Winston Churchill, Groucho Marx or someone with a similar style of wit about a lewd proposal to a female dinner companion about the possibility of purchasing her company for a large amount of money. She jokingly agrees, and the witty fellow asks again, only he names a much lower figure. She demurs, insulted: "What kind of a woman do you think I am!" "We've already established what kind of woman you are," comes the reply. "Now we're just haggling over the price." The point of the post was to lament a young Italian woman who wanted to auction off her virginity and I doubt many people arrive at it to learn that, as you may note in the comments. You may also note in the comments that I decided to channel my inner Mike Royko and smart off to someone who wondered why a minister might be opposed to that kind of auction.

The second is the well-known picture of Texas Ranger pitcher Nolan Ryan punching the White Sox's Robin Ventura in the head when Ventura charged the mound after a Ryan brushback pitch. Again, I think the traffic is much more the result of that being a well-known picture than any widespread desire to learn what I might say about that incident.

My friends who talk to me about my blog mostly refer to my humorous (to me) recaps of Northwestern University football games.

My Most Controversial Post -- Based on negative comments, I'd imagine it's the haggling over the price post listed above. But it might also be my 2008 "Crystal Ball" post in which I detail what I thought might happen politically following the election of President Obama and the Democratic landslide that accompanied it. I turned out to be right about the president's dismal performance and the likelihood that the Congressional Democratic leadership would take a hit, and soon. I turned out to be wrong about the Republican party getting its act together quickly and going to work, since former GOP Chairman Michael Steele was more interested in promoting Michael Steele than the party paying his salary. I also turned out to be wrong about Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin being a viable potential presidential candidate; the combination of a maliciously endoscopic press and Palin's own choices to build her brand rather than her political resume push that possibility back until at least 2016 if she changes course soon.

My Most Helpful Post -- Well, I guess I'm not sure. I think it would depend on the reader. The most helpful posts for me have been an occasional series where I congratulate the president on things he did that I liked, like here, here, here, here and especially here. These are helpful to me because when I look for the good things the guy does I train myself away from the idea that his insufficiency for the office he holds merits me actually hating or wishing ill on him personally. So I don't hate him, and aside for hoping he's out of work come January 2013 I wish him no ill. Such a viewpoint eases and gives peace to my spirit.

A Post I Didn't Think Got the Attention It Deserved -- All of 'em. I have an over-developed sense of my own importance.

The Post I'm Most Proud Of -- I kind of like these couple, about the ridiculous shallowness of stupid crap like the "Boobquake" protest in light of those same protesters' lack of attention or energy when it comes to trying to make real differences in the endangered lives of real women.

A Post Whose Success Surprised Me -- I heard a lot from friends about this one, which was a surprise because I thought snarking on "I Voted" stickers would get me some flack. And I am always surprised when I see a search-engine query for this one, about some of the Chinese "curses" used in the science fiction TV show Firefly. What, I wonder, is someone searching for when they type in the phrase "Motherless goats of all motherless goats?"

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Oh, the Humanity!

With apologies to J.R.R. Tolkien:

Three points for the field goals kicked into the sky,
Seven for the TDs (well, six plus one),
Give one away as game's end draws nigh
And it's a win for the Dark Lord on his dark throne,
In Champaign Illinois where the Shadows lie
A win for the Illini - decent folk revile them,
A win though no words are too low to describe them
In Champaign Illinois where the Shadows lie