Saturday, January 31, 2015

Sporting News

The most important event in the sporting world tomorrow will be the arrival of the date at which there are only 16 days left until spring training begins.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Let's See a Salmon Try This!

The fish, which swim many miles upstream to reach their spawning grounds, may do something that's pretty impressive for a fish. And they do often have to swim against rapids and leap to higher levels when the river is uneven.

But this dude climbed Niagara Falls:


He's the small red dot in the upper left third of the picture, on the side of the falls that freezes in the winter. The non-frozen part is doing its regular thundering down bit next to him.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

I'll Stand in Back

According to the mad genius at What If?, it would actually not be very tough at all to use tug-of-war teams to pull an iron bar apart. About 25 on a side would do it for a half-inch iron rod.

The upside is that when the rod parts, it is less likely to send the new ends whipping around in paths of injury and destruction. All the same, though, I think I'll hang out towards the back end of the group.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Fly High

Following the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger on January 28, 1986, the United States did not launch a manned space flight for 975 days, until Discovery flew on September 29, 1988. We watched that on a small television at the newspaper where I was working.

Today marks the 29th anniversary of the Challenger explosion. It also marks the 1,300th day since the last manned launch of a US spacecraft, the shuttle Atlantis. All US astronauts who have gone into space since then have been passengers, as the only nation to reach the moon bums rides from people who happen to be going their way.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

You Go, Girl!

I don't always like what President Obama does or what he and his wife say, even though I applaud them for their work in shielding their girls from media stuff.

But this? Awesome. The only thing better would have been if she'd gotten in the front seat of the limo and said, "I'll drive."

Monday, January 26, 2015

Overwhelmed

I am a modern man and reject all of the macho stereotypes that say it is not OK for a man to cry. What's more, I defy any and all human beings with an XY chromosome not to tear up just a little when they contemplate this:


Yes, it is a barbecue cooker the size of a semi-trailer with a cold room in front for beer kegs. If you could get rid of that ridiculous silhouette on the back (and get me $350,000), that baby would be mine.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

TV Across the Pond

Once you get over the idea that everyone in Paris in the 1600s speaks with an English accent -- except the Spanish -- The Musketeers from BBC can be a lot of sword-swinging, macho-swaggering fun. Sort of like a 17th century A-Team, which only fits because the A-Team were themselves kind of modeled on Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers.

And for that matter, The Musketeers is only kind of modeled on Dumas' novel as well. There are the same names and the same general idea, but those who read the novel find four fellows who are not always as stalwartly heroic as their reputation has become down through the years. We still have the original three -- Athos, Aramis and Porthos -- who are joined by the newcomer D'Artagnan. There is a Constance Bonacieux, a Milady deWinter and a (boo! hiss!) Cardinal Richelieu. But each of our heroes is given a Weighty Past that Haunts Him to This Day, or at least, Haunts Him to This Day When the Current Episode Calls for It.

Historical accuracy is not a watchword either; the actual King's Musketeers had to do their swaggering in pouffy coats and much looser pants than our heroes, with quite a bit less leather. It is certain they did not look nearly as cool.

All that said, the show is really quite a bit of fun. All four leads handle their acting chores well, as do most of the ancillary characters. Peter Capaldi makes an excellent power-hungry Richelieu, and the second season of the series has so far suffered when he was cast as Doctor Who and replaced in villainy by Marc Warren as Comte de Rochefort. Capaldi was menacing and devious, but played his role with an undercurrent of whimsy that showed he did not take this version of the Musketeers' story too seriously. Howard Charles as Porthos has some of the same attitude, although some of the rest of the cast seem to adapt it into their performances as the season went along. Perhaps Warren can do so as well.
-----
Of course, the original "play fast and loose with history for dramatic purposes" guy was William Shakespeare. He drew upon Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland, first published in 1577, for many of his historical plays, even though scholars at the time and since then question the Chronicles accuracy.

Shakespeare seems to have used the Chronicles most heavily for Macbeth and for his "Henriad," or four plays that detail the dynastic struggles that would eventually lead to the Wars of the Roses, the downfall of the Plantagenet kings and the rise of the Tudors who ruled during Shakespeare's time. In 2012, BBC produced all four as a sort of miniseries called The Hollow Crown. Each had a separate director and several different folks on their respective production teams.

The plays are Richard II, Henry IV Part I, Henry IV Part II and Henry V. They form a rough arc following Richard II's dethroning at the hands of Henry of Bolingbrooke, who became Henry IV, and of his son Henry V. Shakespeare, following Holinshed, holds Richard II accountable for the civil unrest and corruption that spurred Bolingbrooke to take the crown, and which later on allowed for the rival Yorkists and Lancastrians to battle for it in the Wars of the Roses.

In this cycle, Richard II and Henry IV Part II are the weakest, probably, in the eyes of a modern audience. The project takes full advantage of not being a staged play to use locations and hordes of extras to be the armies involved, but both of those plays focus so much on one character that they don't use that freedom to fullest advantage.

Part of the problem is the characters, of course. In Richard II, monologues from the title character make up a huge share of the play, as the feckless, corrupt and uncaring king learns humility and empathy when faced with the loss of his crown (Whether or not the real Richard II matched this description is in debate). He is redeemed as a person only by his great loss as a king. Ben Whishaw handles the long speeches marvelously, but there is only so much mileage a story can get out of its lead character talking about being reformed without showing him so.

In Henry IV Part I and Part II, Henry of Bolingbrooke as the new King Henry IV is played by Jeremy Irons. Even though he is the title character, the main driver of the action is his son Henry V, played by Tom Hiddleston. The first play covers Henry IV's concerns about his irresponsible son, who would rather hang about taverns than learn the business of ruling. At first he is jealous of Henry Percy, nickamed "Harry Hotspur," a young relative about his son's age (in real life they were a couple of decades apart) who is all the leader he wishes "Prince Hal" would be. But Hotspur's pride soon puts them at odds, and he leads a rebellion that culminates in the Battle of Shrewsbury. Prince Hal learns to put off some of his wastrel nature and may yet become a king. In the second, we spend a lot of time on Sir John Falstaff, a layabout degenerate knight who is one of Prince Hal's drinking buddies.

Falstaff as a character is iconic, the archetype of the lovable rogue whose twin aims are self-preservation and self-gratification. In doses, and playing off Prince Hal in the first story, he's tolerable. But given a solo focus as he is in Part II, he's just wearisome. Simon Russell Beale won a BAFTA award for his work as Falstaff, but Falstaff the man isn't as clever as he thinks he is. Nor is Falstaff the character as much fun as Shakespeare must have thought he was, making Henry IV Part II more of a chore to sit through.

By Henry V, we see Prince Hal as a king in his own right, and desiring to re-assert rights he claims to have over the throne of France. The French crown prince or "dauphin" responds insultingly to Henry's claims, and so the fight is on. The play traces Henry's army as it meets with initial success, before distance, attenuated supply lines and France's overwhelming numerical superiority make victory look anything but certain when the two sides meet at Agincourt. Hiddleston carries the main share of this play, showing Henry at court as well as on the battlefield and visiting his soldiers at night in disguise to encourage them and gauge their mood. He does well enough, but was more convincing as the recreational Prince Hal than he is as the grim warrior leader -- even though he was none too shabby as the evil Loki in the Marvel movies.

The Hollow Crown is an excellent combination of Shakespeare stagecraft and modern filming techniques. Even with the expanded abilities to show large-scale battles and scenery that Shakespeare could only hint at, the production does not overshadow the core of his work -- well-developed characters and the wonderful things they say. A lot of folks would differ with some of my evaluations and consider Richard II well worth all the time we spend listening to him and Falstaff a man of depth rather than just a lout. The cool thing is that, thanks to the BBC, we have these excellent productions about which we may argue those points.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

So Long, Mr. Cub

In the Field of Dreams where one hopes Ernie Banks plays now, everyone says, "Let's play two!"

And they're all day games.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Big Ol' Pot of Pourri

-- Well, I was saddened to learn that beetroot juice does not improve blood flow to the muscles and enhance the benefits of working out. Not that I ever intended to drink any; its just that now I have one less excuse of why my workouts aren't helping me lose weight as fast as they might and may be forced to deal with the reality that keeping French fries on my menu probably isn't helping.

-- With Skymall declaring bankruptcy, those hunting for bizarre or unnecessary items at inflated prices will be forced to use Publisher's Clearing House or Hammacher Schlemmer. The latter has a catalog, which can be taken on an airplane to simulate the Skymall experience.

-- Former journalist Scott Timberg wrote a book called Culture Crash that asserts a "winner take all" mindset and the internet are killing the ability of the "creative class" to create art, literature, philosophy, and so on. Writer Andrew Keen isn't so sure. Neither am I. Can an industry booting about the idea of an eighth Saw horror movie really be called "creative?"

-- At last, James Patterson has written a book that is literally a bomb instead of merely figuratively one.

-- A company has produced a watch which is supposed to improve your golf game. In addition to telling the time, it can display diagrams of holes on more than 38,000 golf courses around the world, including an icon showing you were you are when you hit your ball. Sounds good, but unless the watch can replace me with Jack Nicklaus circa 1970 (or heck, circa 2015), I don't see much chance of improving the game...

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Unlimited

A quarter-century ago, Oklahoma voters approved term limits for their state elected officials. After 12 years in the legislature, either House, Senate or a combination of the two, yer outta here, unless you run for a statewide office. Those have their own term limits, too.

I wasn't so sure it was a good idea. Sure, we had a lot of hacks who'd gotten elected once upon a time and who wielded the sword of incumbency against all comers far better than they actually wielded the sword of government for the benefit of all governed. But we voters get what we deserve. If a state party organization couldn't get together enough to target one main offender from its opposite and send said offender packing with a top-tier challenger and a statewide infusion of cash, then it wasn't much of a party.

Now State Rep. Paul Wesselhoft  (R-Moore) agrees with me. He introduced a resolution asking for an election to let voters decide if they want the 12-year limit to be expanded to 16 years. Rep. Wesselhoft says that we lose good experience when legislators have to hand over the reins of power to someone else, and we should allow them some more time before asking them to go get jobs. Said experience can counter the vast knowledge of career bureaucrats and lobbyists, who have been at their appointed task for much more than a mere dozen sessions and who use this experience to hoodwink all the honest but naïve Mr. and Ms. Smiths who toil at 23rd and Lincoln.

But I don't know that I agree with Rep. Wesselhoft. I do agree that there's a mismatch of time on task between a legislator of just a handful of years and a state bureaucrat in place for decades. However, who has to be in office more than a week to see that the default position of far too many bureaucrats is "Protect My Paycheck?" And who doesn't know that the lobbyist for, say, an arts council is going to have a compelling case for maintaining arts funding over something else, or that education association lobbyists are going to be able to offer "50 Ways to Pay Your Teacher (More)?" Is there something about these folks that a 15-year legislator can see and counteract that a five-year version can't?

I think Rep. Wesselhoft hits on a real issue, but the solution of expanding legislative terms doesn't appeal.

Reducing how long bureaucrats can hold their jobs, on the other hand...

(H/T Dustbury)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Or You Could Make Up Your Own Mind

Recently, nominees for the Academy Awards were announced, and Al Sharpton got huffy. You could probably put any event you wanted in between the commas and that sentence would be the same, but the lack of nominations for the director and cast of Selma caused quite a bit of discussion about whether the Oscars "mean anything" or not.

This blog has gone on record with the position that the awards, except for the technical categories, are glorified opinion polls among a very narrow set of voters. Acting performances, directing work and such are very largely subjective, and at a certain level it's tough to pick one as "better" than another in any way that's much different from saying,"I liked this one more than that one."

Movie critics are in the same boat -- they offer opinions about the movies they see. Many of them realize that, but many also don't, and seem somehow unable to understand why people see movies that they, the critics, think are lousy. I have some sympathy for that view, because I cannot for the life of me see why Eli Roth, for example, is someone that people will pay money to make movies instead of the clerk in a dingy, fading video store who can give you fifteen minutes of reasons why one obscure grindhouse exploitation movie is better than another one.

But on the other hand, all movie reviewers do is tell me what they think about the movies they've seen. You may note I do the same thing with movies, as well as books and some records. And awards and reviews don't always seem to match up with whether or not a movie has a long-term impact. Enter the Northwestern University (yay!) Institute on Complex Systems and professor Luis Amaral, where researchers developed an algorithm based on how often a movie was mentioned or referenced in subsequent movies.

They used their algorithm to predict if a movie would be included in the National Film Registry of the U.S. Library of Congress, and found out that it did a better job of that than good reviews, awards won or box office sales.

Of course, inclusion on the film registry might not be the final signal of equality either, since the standard is "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant," and significant doesn't have to mean "good." Johnny Weissmuller's syntactically challenged Tarzan and His Mate and Cecil B. DeMille's scenery chowdown The Ten Commandments are on the list. Becket, Diner and The Lion in Winter aren't. Nor is Dr. No -- or any other James Bond film -- which have had quite the cultural impact over the years.

In the end, maybe there is no real way to fine-tune the judgment of a movie's greatness. Some movies with amazing performances surround them with a storyline that doesn't really work (Birdman, I'm talking to you). Some movies have less-than-stellar acting and more holes than a chain-link fence but somehow hang together for an amazing experience (Star Wars, that's your cue).

So perhaps if you want to think a movie is great, you should do that, no matter what professional folks or algorithms or run-their-mouths bloggers may tell you. I promise that if I disagree with you, I'll hold my laughter at your unfathomably shortsighted choice until after you're out of earshot.

But only if you do the same.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

He's Born, Jim!

DeForest Kelley, who spent a good portion of his adult life starting in about 1965 or so informing his captain that someone -- or something -- was dead, was born this day in 1920. If he were still living, he would be 95, but he and James "Montgomery Scott" Doohan have passed on from this world into new voyages.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The King's Speech

Researchers at the UCLA Department of Communications recently discovered an audio recording of a speech given at the school by Martin Luther King, Jr., about six weeks after the historic march in Selma, AL, that's dramatized in the current movie Selma.

The press release describes how a student found three audio copies of the speech and began to try to digitize them, but could not until an audiophile donated an old top-of-the-line reel-to-reel tape player to replace the one the student was using.

King had a fairly standard speech delivered at similar gatherings, so speeches similar to this one already existed in audio and video formats. But as with all great speakers, every delivery of even the most familiar words carries its own special weight and meaning, which you can hear if you listen to the speech included at the YouTube link at the bottom of the story.

Fittingly, the restoration was finished in time for the speech to go live online today, on the holiday that our nation has set aside to honor Rev. King for his work.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Blues and Jubilee

At first blush it might seem the key appeal of a native-born Israeli blues singer is the novelty. But that preconception ignores the role that lament over suffering has played in the history of the Israeli and Jewish people. Read a lament psalm sometime and imagine the words in front of a 12-bar score, with the appropriate John Lee Hooker wail inserted where needed.

Bat-Or Kalo fronts a three-piece outfit named after her that offers far more than novelty, showcased in her first full-length album, Dear John.  Kalo has a great gritty growl in her voice but can also be smooth, and her guitar work adds the pyrotechnics that have helped define the genre. The opening title track is one of the strongest, as Kalo subverts the "Dear John" letter stereotype by writing about how much she misses the man who has left. She adds a high-tension grunge tone to her playing that increases the urgency of her complaint and develops the mood of the song even more. "Heartbreak" sounds like what might have happened if Messrs. Lieber and Stoller wrote during the 1980s for Stevie Ray Vaughan; both the tune and the "I get so lonely I could die" refrain pay tribute to the song's 1950s ancestor "Heartbreak Hotel." Songs like "Blue Chevy" and "Marie" demonstrate a good command of the genre's more laid-back style as well, with the latter having an almost southern-rock boogie feel. Throughout the record, the no-frills bass-and-drums rhythm section gives Kalo a solid foundation for her singing and soloing in the way that quality blues records have always done -- even B. B. King wouldn't sound like B. B. King if he was backed up by schmucks.

There's still room for growth. Kalo sticks with some of the familiar themes of the blues -- romance lost and found and similar cares of the heart and could branch out as other blues musicians have done into a wider range of topics. She addresses the idea of redemption, but since she does so in overtly Christian language ("Oh Father") it's hard to know if she's singing about redemption as she understands it or just using the phrases. It would be fascinating to hear how some of Kalo's native Israeli and Jewish cultural themes might interplay with the blues format, but that point I maybe edge too close to wanting her to make the record I want her to make instead of the one she wants to make, which isn't a justified critique. And sometimes there's a little too much influence and not enough sleeve; the "feels like dying" wail in "Oh Father" sounds pretty much exactly like the same words over the same guitar crash that winds up Chris Isaak's "Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing."

Novelty might be the thing that draws attention to Bat-Or Kalo and her music, but the impressive singing, playing and performance should easily turn samplers into fans and give them good reasons to stay in the fold.

ETA: Yes, I know "Heartbreak Hotel" was one of Elvis' hits not written by Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, but by Tommy Durden and longtime Oklahoman Mae Boren Axton. But they wrote a bunch of others ;-)
-----
Commercial success came to John Cougar in 1979 when Pat Benatar recorded his "I Need a Lover" on her top-15 debut and he scored a  top 30 single with that song. In 1980 he charted "This Time" and "Ain't Even Done With the Night," helping cement his sales even if critics shot the record down. 1982 saw American Fool, which put "Hurts So Good" and "Jack and Diane" on the charts and earned "Johnny Cougar" enough commercial pull to get his real surname "Mellencamp" added to his stage name.

"Jack and Diane" was the pattern for some of his most successful records, critically as well as commercially, as he returned to stories of the midwestern heartlands like his native Indiana and of the people who lived there. With 1985's Scarecrow, which opened up Mellencamp's longtime advocacy for beleaguered family farms and then in 1987's Lonesome Jubilee, Mellencamp hit the peak of his career as far as sales and public recognition were concerned.

Scarecrow had some hints of the kinds of songs that would fill Jubilee in "Rain on the Scarecrow" and "Minutes to Memories," but both of those songs were a lot more rock-sounding than would be heard on Jubilee. Mellencamp added accordions, fiddles and other acoustic instruments to his band to create a sound that mixed folk music and rock elements without being that wimpy little hybrid called "folk-rock." Yes, there's a fiddle on "Paper in Fire," (the awesome Lisa Germano) but there's still Kenny Aronoff's powerful snare driving the song forward at a rock tempo.

Lyrically, Jubilee's strongest songs stay in the same fields as "Jack and Diane," "Pink Houses," "Rain on the Scarecrow." "Lonely Ol' Night" and "Small Town." They all talk about a small-town kind of life that was repeated many times over throughout large parts of America, but replacing blind nostalgia with a bittersweet sigh. "I hope they're not laughin' too loud," he says of his own children when they hear his reminiscences about the days hanging around at the club "Cherry Bomb," "when they hear me talkin' like this to you."

Such songs carry political and cultural weight as well, and "Small Town" and "Rain on the Scarecrow" from Scarecrow especially seemed prone to adoption by politicians of different stripes. They were probably more humanist than political, though, investing their energy in the conditions of the people suffering economic hardship or other problems. "We Are the People" from Jubilee continues the same idea, with Mellencamp singing gestures of empathy from people of all walks of life who may have to deal with their different issues. The world of the mid-80s made for "Hard Times for an Honest Man," rather than just a poor one. Honest men and women struggle to keep their peace of mind and integrity in a society that, at all levels, seems to reward pragmatism and expedience much more readily and lavishly.

When Mellencamp leaves the human arena for larger ideals, the message gets muddier. "Hotdogs and Hamburgers" and "Down and Out in Paradise" may be clearer than Scarecrow's indecipherable "Justice and Independence '85," but that's not saying much. They may suffer from Mellencamp singing less about what he's for (the dignity of everyone, including those the fast lane and top tax bracket may forget) than what he's against. Perhaps he has an idea in his head of what he wants to say but can't find the right words to let others know what that is. Or it could be that whatever mix of lyrics, singing and playing makes some of the former songs catchy and meaningful just isn't in the latter ones.

Lonesome Jubilee was, as mentioned above, the peak of Mellencamp's commercial success. Creatively, he spent most of the next 20 years releasing a series of albums that tried to live up to the best of the '85-'87 pairing of Scarecrow and Jubilee and managed only one or two solid songs per record at best. In the mid-oughts, Mellencamp moved into a much more stripped-down folkish sound but somehow found a way to recapture the depth of his mid-80s rocking best. Some meditations, some midnight reflections and some little ditties about everyday folks dealing with the world around them offered some of his strongest records in a long time, whether people bought as many of them or not.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Achiever

So, when you were barely out of high school, were you writing a song based on Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit in a language other than your native tongue, accompanying yourself on the guitar while playing fingerstyle? No?



Slacker.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Retroactive Gratitude

I was ambivalent about voting for George W. Bush in 2004. He did not seem to have a firm idea of how he wanted to conduct the war on terror after an initial promising start in Afghanistan. Although nominally conservative, he was not really reducing government spending in any meaningful way and was erasing the surpluses of the Clinton years. Although he seemed to gain substance after 9-11, there was still the lightweight snarky character that seemed to have spent a lot of time "lucking into" the next level of his life.

But considering the stentorian drone of his opponent, a man whose entire campaign seemed focused on what he had done when he was 25 rather than long years of government service in the United States Senate, and the sack of smarm that drone would have placed a heartbeat away from the presidency, I felt I had little choice. And there was the fact that whatever electoral votes my state could muster hadn't gone to a Democrat since LBJ and they weren't going to now, so how I voted didn't matter much. Figuring at the very least the years of mediocrity might end after four years instead of stretch for eight should Senator Kerry win and then also win reelection, I held my nose and marked W.

Today, I retroactively un-hold my nose and tell my 2004 self, "It's OK. You did the right thing."

Thursday, January 15, 2015

A Little Bit Louder and a Little Bit Worse

Former Arkansas governor and talk show host Mike Huckabee, who recently hung up his microphone in order to explore running for president again, says his 2016 campaign (if it happens) will differ from his 2008 run at the GOP nomination. He will only run this time if he funds his campaign at a level necessary to duke it out at full speed for the long haul.

The result, of course, will be the same -- Mike Huckabee will greet Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017 as he has greeted every day since Tuesday, January 9, 2007: As a private citizen holding no governmental office.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

An Education in Technology

A couple of years ago, the well-degreed and ostensibly bright guy hired to run the Los Angeles Unified School District said he wanted to give all district students iPads to help them learn things. The plan failed spectacularly because the students already knew things -- like how to get around the security settings that were supposed to keep games and time-wasting websites off limits -- and because the well-degreed and ostensibly bright guy and his well-degreed and ostensibly bright staff didn't know things, like whether or not their own facilities had wireless networks that would handle the load.

Monday's Los Angeles Times offers up a report detailing just how epic the failure was, and in a town known for producing epic failures (Waterworld, Heaven's Gate, Ishtar, etc.), the LAUSD iPad project can proudly hold its own.

The cracks began when the superintendent pushing the program went the Apple route instead of looking at lower-cost tablets, many of which can run free software especially designed for educational use. Yes, I use the more expensive Apple products myself, but I spend my own money on my stuff rather than nick your wallet, the way a publicly-funded agency like a school system does. It continued when the purchases were made even before any real plan existed on how to use them. Or how to evaluate which ways of using them worked and which didn't.

And the FBI later became very interested in just how the contracts were awarded, and is still perusing them and musing upon communications concerning them. The well-degreed and ostensibly bright guy who ran the LAUSD and pushed the program is now a consultant for an academy that offers training for school district leaders. Rumors that his course is called "1.3 Billion Ways to Get Invited to Leave Your Job" are unfounded.

The program ended after the pilot phase, or else it would have cost the full $1.3 billion.  I found a figure online showing the average Los Angeles school teacher salary is $59,000, so if it's right the district could have hired a thousand new teachers -- and paid them for nearly 20 years, if we assume their salaries go up over time -- with that money. Does anyone outside of Cupertino, CA, think that a thousand new teachers in a school system would make less of a difference than every kid having his or her own iPad? And that's probably not fair to the folks who work at Apple, because I think they're smart enough to figure out teachers matter more than tech.

On the one hand, LAUSD's iPad program was actually a cut above a lot of public education calls for more money, because it had a specific purpose and the money would be spent directly on students. Many other requests to raise public education spending just offer blanket figures and don't have much of a spending plan beyond raising everyone's salary -- which means the increased funds often wind up hiring a couple of new assistant superintendents or or assistant principals instead of helping teachers or classroom instruction.

On the other hand, it's just a bigger, louder and shinier version of those same calls for more money, because it wasn't tailored to any real need other than the LAUSD administration's belief that every kid in the district should have an iPad. Did those kids need an iPad (or other kinds of tech)? What would they do with them when they got them? How would their teachers use the iPads for teaching? The LAUSD essentially said, "We'll have to get back to you on that. In the meantime, here's the tab -- thanks for picking it up."

Even I can learn a lesson from that trick. Show me what you want to do with the money and how it'll make a difference, and I'll start writing checks. Just tell me you need it and you'll explain what it's for later, and we can talk again when it gets to be "later."

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Screen Lives

In his explanatory afterward to American Titan, celebrity multi-biographer Marc Eliot says he sought to write the story of John Wayne using his work in movies, treating Wayne as an auteur according to the theory of film criticism given that name. Usually, the label is restricted to directors, who are seen as the source of a movie's creative vision in the same way that an author is the source of a novel's creative vision. Actors usually aren't seen as auteurs, since they are responsible for only the part of the movie they're in.

The idea that an actor could create a body of work that speaks of his or her creative vision and views about the human condition in the way directors do isn't outlandish. And Wayne, who directed two movies and served as an uncredited assistant director on three others where the director fell ill, does have something that might indicate his vision as an auteur. His essentially unchanged character in the latter part of his career could also help establish that vision -- no matter who the director was or what the movie was called, he was pretty much John Wayne from dimmed lights to end credits.

The problem is that Eliot doesn't really do that. He explores Wayne's early career with some detail, but once he begins the "famous years" following Wayne's breakout in Stagecoach, he recites a fairly standard newspaper account of the Duke's career, throwing in some personal-life anecdotes. In Eliot's telling, Wayne's preference for the free and easy time of shooting movies and location living made him a most unreliable husband to each of his three wives, although he he participated as fully as possible in raising his children. His unflinching anti-Communist and pro-American viewpoint fueled both of his directorial efforts, which were slammed by critics and one of which, The Alamo, nearly bankrupted him.

Again, while it's most definitely possible to look at Wayne's work, understand how he saw humanity and the questions it faced and from that draw some understanding of his life, Eliot's book doesn't dig into that work enough to really accomplish that. He references too many movies briefly and too few important ones deeply to offer much more than the history on top. Titan also suffers by competing for shelf space with Scott Eyman's much more thoroughly researched and extensive John Wayne: The Life and Legend, also released in 2014.

As a tool for understanding the impact of Wayne the actor on the movie business and cinematic storytelling, American Titan is a metric wrench turning an English-measurement nut -- it creates as much, if not more, work in doing its job than you'd have if you used no tools at all. The presence of better equipment for the job means it can be set aside without much care or loss.
-----
April 1997 also saw dueling biographies of a famous move icon, as celebrity biographer Jeffrey Meyers' Bogart: A Life in Hollywood arrived almost the same day as Eric Lax's completion of A. M. Sperber's Bogart.

The Lax-Sperber Humphrey Bogart bio was by far the more detailed and almost twice the size of its competitor, drawing on the 200 interviews Sperber conducted with Bogie associates, friends and family before her 1994 death. Lax finished the manuscript and had Bogart ready for publication during the year marking the 40th anniversary of the actor's death.

Bogart details the actor's early life as the son of a well-to-do surgeon and commerical illustrator who did not show much affection to their three children and whose own indifferent academic and naval career didn't promise much. Beginning onstage in New York City, he found himself drawn to the fun of acting and the late-night lifestyle of show business. He drifted to Hollywood after the stock market crash diminished theater work in New York. His depression over a stalled career, a bad second marriage and the loss of his father eventually fueled his switch to heavier and darker roles, culminating as Duke Mantee in the play The Petrified Forest. When the play hit the screen, star Leslie Howard insisted Bogart play the role there as well, providing him the break his career had needed.

Sperber and Lax then detail how Bogie worked through a ream of B-movies until 1941's one-two punch of High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon, followed in 1942 by Casablanca. Professional success didn't translate to personal happiness, as Bogie's third wife was an alcoholic whose jealousy of his leading ladies often reached paranoia levels. It wasn't until meeting the 19-year-old Lauren Bacall in 1944 that he was able to find a home life as good as his professional one; they wed three months after Bogie filed for divorce.

Bogart also describes Bogie's relationship with the House Un-American Activities Committee and its single-minded pursuit of Communists working in Hollywood. A liberal Democrat, he opposed what he saw as the harassment of people for their points of view even though he disagreed with many of the things they believed and said.

Lax, working with the Pulitzer-nominated Sperber's interviews and outline, writes clearly and efficiently, and the pair "collaborate" across time to create the definitive biography of the man who many have been America's most unique movie star.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Debunking Debunking

Lots of times, we seem to figure that if we run across something that we know to be wrong, we can tell the person who said it what's right and that will be the end of it. Anyone who has a Facebook account, though, will be reminded that this is wrong every few months when some of their friends post the "Facebook Privacy Notification" notice or whatever it may be called during that particular round -- because no matter how many times you post the Snopes link showing it's made up, it will happen again in a few months.

Psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky of the University of Bristol put together a guide to debunking that tries other methods and pays more attention to how the new information is presented instead of just what the information is. Real Clear Science blogger Ross Pomeroy writes about it here.

After all, a world where anyone can natter on about anything and make it look somewhat authoritatively done by placing it in a blog format -- um, where anyone else can do that, mind you -- new information can be considered just more noise in the machine. Even the sourcing isn't any guarantee that information is good or something to be listened to.

I've no idea if Dr. Lewandowsky's method is more successful than others, but speaking as someone who regularly tries to impart information to others I can certainly say there's nothing wrong with trying it out.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

From the Rental Vault: State Cinema

Here are three movies with Oklahoma connections. They are, to varying degrees, "indie films," and all were filmed here in Oklahoma.
-----
Certainly the least "indie" of the three, 1991's My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys had a big-name cast and major studio distribution. It was produced by Oklahoma media family scion E.K. Gaylord II, the third of about a dozen movies that carry his name on a production credit line.

Scott Glenn is H.D., a rodeo cowboy injured by a bull and forced into retirement. His return home finds the family farm abandoned, his father Jesse (Ben Johnson) in a nursing home at the direction of his sister Cheryl (Tess Harper) and his longtime girlfriend Jolie (Kate Capshaw) the widowed mother of a teen son (Balthazar Getty). Although he tries to return his father home to the farm, Jesse can't be left alone without endangering himself or others, and Cheryl threatens to sell the farm to ensure Jesse has no place to stay. H.D. finds a rodeo contest that will pay the winner $100,000 and vows to compete and claim the prize to keep the farm, give Jesse a place to live and Jolie and her son security.

It's all very cut and paste, and director Stuart Rosenberg and screenwriter Joel Don Humphreys do almost nothing to blend the pieces. Every one of the cast is a top-level talent, but the retread script and lifeless direction give them absolutely no help in animating their roles. Johnson can be fun to watch as a gruff old man bewildered by a world where males wear long hair and earrings, but that only goes so far -- not nearly enough to cover Heroes' 106-minute running time, which seems much longer while offering next to nothing to remember an hour later beyond some excellent rodeo stunt work. Much of the movie was filmed at the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie.
-----
During the 1970s, Tulsa Channel 8 promotions director Carl Bartholomew "moonlighted" as the host of a children's afternoon cartoon show, Uncle Zeb's Cartoon Camp. It was a big hit for many youngsters, and one in particular will forever despise Senator Sam Ervin for his pre-emption of Zeb for some boring show of old men talking about something called "Watergate."

In 1989, Bartholomew directed his own screenplay (and himself) in the Western-themed revenge tale Cole Justice. Justice, now a professor who teaches about the history of Western movies, is forever haunted by the death of his girlfriend when he was a young man and the pair were attacked. He deeply believes in the values and the world of the Old West of the screen, and one night when witnessing a bunch of barroom toughs maul and manhandle a waitress, decides to take matters into his own hands -- and gunsight. He embarks on a streak of vigilante slayings, becoming known as "the Killer Cowboy" because of his hat, long duster, revolver and spurs. Eventually, the line for what merits his deadly attentions becomes blurred as matters at the university seem to be ready to push him aside for newer, trendier coursework and personnel.

On Amazon, Bartholomew (who passed away in 2009) says he believes he and his crew did pretty good with the limited time and money they had. Limited money can excuse a lot, but since this was one of Bartholomew's personal projects, he'd had all the time in the world to develop it, and he still came up with a screenplay that can't hold its own internal logic. Justice wants a world like the Old West where strong and brave men protect kids and the womenfolk, unless one of the womenfolk in question is threatening an old friend's job. Then she can be cornered in her office at gunpoint and threatened with death. The storyline is ridiculously hokey -- hitting Reefer Madness-level absurdity more than once -- and none of the local cast can sell it for a second. That includes Bartholomew himself, who is fine as a middle-aged professor-type (he was 57 when the movie was made) but not at all believable as a vengeful vigilante.

I was certainly sorry to read of Bartholomew's passing, but on the other hand I'm glad I never saw this movie until after it had happened. There would have been no way to have kept my inner seven-year-old from writing Uncle Zeb and telling him if he'd needed money so bad he would act in this movie I would have opened my piggy bank and helped him out myself.

Cole Justice was filmed in and around Tulsa, despite the use of New York City skyscrapers in the video cover art (and the apparent replacement of Bartholomew with Toby Keith).
-----
Like Bartholomew, Sam & Janet director and screenwriter Rick Walker was a longtime state media fixture when he was able to get his cinematic project onscreen. The 2002 movie from the KATT-FM radio personality tells the story of two late 20-somethings who meet, fall in love and do their best to work around the issues created by previous relationships.

Sam & Janet would probably get filed as a romantic comedy on the shelves of a video store, if there were still video stores with shelves. It doesn't exactly fit the formula -- the title characters don't have a "meet-cute" so much as a "meet-ordinary" by catching each other's eyes at the gym. But there is a lot of humor and of course, the central feature is the romance between them. And there are a couple of Best Friends on either side of the leads, who offer advice of more or less help over the course of the relationship.

Sam & Janet works, mostly, and it does so because of two factors the other two movies in this triple feature don't have. Unlike Justice, it features a cast who range in ability from competent to pretty darn good. Ryan Brown (Sam) and Jennifer Ferguson (Janet) both display a solid grasp of the emotions and ideas that they want to convey, and they convince viewers that they're watching two people named Sam and Janet instead of two people reading sets of lines labeled "Sam" and "Janet." Gary Busey is funny as a rather wizened bartender and the Best Friends offer good foils for the leads to work with and against as the situation requires.

Second, unlike Heroes, the storyline connects and hangs together. There's a little bit of time-hopping within the scope of the story, and it cheats more than it should at least once, but it doesn't read like a series of unrelated sketches featuring the same actors. Walker is part of the "Rick and Brad" morning show with Brad Copeland and so had created comedy pretty regularly when he wrote the script, and he puts believably funny words in the mouths of his characters. He also has a good handle on the crisis that they face, even if the lever that sets it into motion is a little more TV-movie than it ought to be.

Sam & Janet has an air of an Oughties Sexual Perversity in Chicago -- or more accurately, the 1986 film version About Last Night.... Walker is no David Mamet, and so neither his characters, wit or commentary are as sharp. But like the lead couple of the earlier movie, the two at the center of Sam and Janet want to move forward from simple couplehood into a marriage partnership, but find themselves held back from doing so.

In the Mamet story, written in the free-wheeling 1970s, the relationship stalls because one of the characters can't let go of the potential future of possibly better options. In Walker's story, after 20 years of living with AIDS and the fallout of the free-wheeling 1970s, the relationship stalls because neither can let go of the consequences of choices from the past.

Sam & Janet is by far the best of the three movies here, primarily because it had the best talent combination -- both Ferguson and Brown have had some roles since, although nothing major and certainly not what they should have been seeing. Walker won the Best Screenplay award at the 2002 New York International Independent Film Festival. Even though he subsequently offered up the crapfest slasher movie (but I repeat myself) The Fun Park, he showed he could write a good, filmable story, which when paired with good actors makes a much better than average indie movie.

Sam & Janet was filmed mostly in and around Oklahoma City.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Po, and May I Add, Pourri

-- The downside of this move by the Egyptian government in not allowing Ridley Scott's Exodus: Gods and Kings is that Egyptians will not be able to see the movie in theaters. The upside, of course, is that they will not have to see the movie in theaters. The other downside, at least for U.S. theater owners, is that they did show Exodus: Gods and Kings and wound up without a lot to show for it.

-- In all of that big long and long-winded typing Kurt Eichenwald did about the Bible in Newsweek last month (wait, you thought they were dead? So did I. It's hard to tell), it's easy to overlook a couple of things. For all of the keyboard service Mr. Eichenwald pays to how serious biblical scholarship tells us how everything we know about the Bible is wrong, he only quotes two sources by name (that I saw, and there may have been some eye-glazing at a couple of points so I welcome correction). And his closing dig about all of the people who get the Bible wrong gets the Bible wrong: While one of the commandments Jesus called "greatest" was indeed the direction to love our neighbors as ourselves, the other was not "point[ing] out the faults of others while ignor[ing] their own;" it was loving God with all of our hearts, souls, minds and strengths. Why, Mr. Eichenwald is right! Picking and choosing what you want the Bible to say does indeed distort its message!

-- Again, sometimes the headlines are just too good to pass up: "Quantum pigeonholes are not paradoxical after all, say physicists" The story is not, alas, about quantum pigeons, who we might imagine are a problem that can be remedied only by employing Schrödinger's cats. Or not.

-- Turns out you can, in fact, move faster than light, and when you cross that threshold you create a "photonic boom" the way a jet does when it crosses the speed of sound. The only problem is that in order to do so you must have zero mass, and that state is probably not going to be reached by switching from ranch to vinaigrette on your lunch salad.

-- Which is worse? For me to be "ignorant of my inner music talent" as Aeon suggests, or for others around me to be all to aware of the rather low level of my outer music talent?

Friday, January 9, 2015

Quarter Century of Looking Long

The Hubble Space Telescope began its work 25 years ago in 1990. Earlier this week, Astronomy Picture of the Day published an enhanced version of one of its most famous pictures, "The Pillars of Creation:"


On the one hand, the name is symbolic, reflecting the immense size of these columns of gas about 6,500 light-years from Earth. On the other hand, it's literal since the gas is the site of significant star formation.

On the gripping hand, though, it's just darn cool.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

No Longer Soon, But Now

Andraé Crouch wrote the awesome praise hymn "Soon and Very Soon (We Are Going to See the King), and earlier today he did just that.

Our loss, but there is no more crying there:


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A Golden Day

Yesterday, January 6, was "Golden Ratio" day, in the same way that March 14 is "Pi Day." On those days, the numerical expression of the date matches a particular mathematical constant. Pi, the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter, is about 3.14. Extend it out a few digits, and you get a particularly nice matchup this year, since the year also matches the ratio. In fact, at 9:26:53 AM we'll match it out quite a ways: 3.141592653. It won't happen again until 2115.

The golden ratio, a number designating a particular geometric proportion found to be particularly pleasing aesthetically and recurring in many natural phenomena, is about 1.6. That makes January 6 "Golden Ratio Day." The multi-digit congruence we'll see on Pi Day this year will happen for the golden ratio in three years, although we can't carry it out to the second as we can with pi. Since the value of the golden ratio is 1.618033988, we'd have to have a minute with 88 seconds in it to do so. But at 3:39 in the morning of January 6, 2018, we can take it out to the minute. Or we could say that the "0" represents a time after midnight, but unless we're using military time notation we usually don't write it like that - and we'd have to figure out how to squeeze 98 seconds into a minute instead, and that still won't work.

"E day," which will match the calendar to Euler's constant, will be February 7. Euler's constant is the base of the natural logarithm of a number. Its yearly match will also be in 2018, but we can only go out to the hour with it as the date-corresponding value is 2.71828182, and we'd have to find an hour with 81 minutes in it. While the average political speech can seem to drag on forever, it still does so at the old-fashioned rate of 60 minutes per hour, rather than through some quirk of relativity.

By far the most fun of these mathematical dates would probably be February 5 and April 6. These would be written 2.5 (in shorthand, "α") and 4.6 (in shorthand, "δ"), the approximate values of two numbers called "Feigenbaum constants." At that, though, my explanation must stop, as figuring out what the heck a Feigenbaum constant is used for is beyond any math I can pretend to know.

But it will sure be fun to watch people's faces when I wish them "Happy Feigenbaum Day!" on February 5 and then again on April 6.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Hoodie Slightly Daftness

A couple of days ago I made fun of State Senator Don Barrington (R-Lawton) for his proposal to change existing state law regarding the wearing of disguises. I asked what would we do when it gets very cold, or how would we handle Halloween.

Turns out that Sen. Barrington's proposed changes address precisely those issues, so I shouldn't have made fun of him for ignoring them. It also addresses the issue of folks who may have covering for religious purposes or medical reasons. Nor does it designate hoods of any kind; that language is in the original law that was aimed at the KKK.

On the other hand, the fact that the new language addresses precisely those issues highlights the more serious problem remaining with Sen. Barrington's proposal. Currently, the statute outlaws wearing a disguise for the purpose of committing a crime. Sen. Barrington's change would outlaw wearing a potential disguise in public, period.

Why?

Why would we need to change a law that makes it a crime to commit a crime while wearing a disguise (and why would we need a law that makes it a crime to commit a crime while wearing a disguise anyway -- we're already talking about committing a crime, aren't we?) to one that makes it a crime to go out in public wearing a disguise? Sen. Barrington's own statement on the matter says that the proposed changes are meant to "prevent the wearing of masks or disguises in the commission of a crime." Which the current statute already does. So who or what is harmed by someone who walks around looking like someone they're not, if that someone breaks no other law?

For example, I am of a conservative bent and disagree with folks who present themselves as other than the gender their chromosomes assign them -- but I'm not interested in making them criminals for doing so (that bag with those shoes is a big enough crime already, honey), and Sen. Barrington's proposed changes would do that. Nor am I interested in making criminals out of folks who want to wear masks in public or otherwise conceal their features for whatever reason the wiring inside their heads suggests is necessary, unless someone shows me a better reason for doing so than Sen. Barrington has done.

The case of Eric Garner, a man who died in police custody after resisting arrest for selling individual cigarettes to avoid New York City's cigarette tax, has a lot of things to say to us. And one of them is that every time we put a law on the books, we say that this is something we are OK with people potentially dying over. Because every time a police officer confronts someone acting illegally that person may try to get away, or resist arrest, or attack the officer, and that provides for a confrontation in which either the person being arrested or the officer might get hurt or killed. Some laws are important enough that we accept that.

And some aren't, and this should be one of them.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Then Dreamers Would Ride

Carolyn Kellogg, who writes about books for the Los Angeles Times gives her list of six wishes for book publishing in 2015.

I more or less like all of them, although I think the second one -- "Amazon figures out how to purge irrelevant one-star book reviews" -- is more or less meaningless. Kellogg says that the issue is that one-star reviews ding a book for something like Amazon's failure to deliver it. That's not the author's problem, but the one star gets averaged into everyone else's more serious reviews and affects the book's rating for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of the book.

I don't disagree, but there are plenty of bestselling authors whose fans drop a 5-star review on their latest work for no other reason than it's their latest work. Those reviews are equally meaningless and may even be posted before the shipping box goes into the garbage. Then there's the political review, especially of nonfiction books: "I didn't even have to read this book because it's typical conservative and or liberal malarkey that's so wrong I could tell by the cover that the author was dumb, wrong, evil and steals food from baby pandas." If you think that's a review, I hope you invite me to your Taos beachfront home so you can laugh at my cluelessness.

You may be thinking that I'm suggesting not very many Amazon reviews are all that valuable, and you're right. And you may be thinking that's pretty rich coming from a guy who spends a lot of electrons posting book reviews -- but my reviews are opinions, too, and you shouldn't give them any more weight than you want to. I've read a lot of books, but that's about the limits of my expertise, so if it seems like my opinion doesn't jive with the book you read, then that's OK.

If you check out something I say about a book (or movie or record album) but think you want to buy or see it anyway, then you should. I'll probably laugh at you, but you have lived most of your life not worried about whether or not I think the movies you watch or books you read are dumb and you can probably continue upright and drawing air a long time after learning that I do think just that. I've got no few friends who've managed that same feat, in fact.

As for Ms. Kellogg's wish list, she leaves one item off, but I suspect it's not unique to her or to 2015 -- every reader at every time in history has wished for more better books and fewer worse ones. Now all we have to do is get the folks who read to agree on which ones those are...

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Light and the Tunnel

Since soul music roots in gospel, it seems strange that there isn't more returning the favor on the part of gospel music -- while mass choirs often have a funky flair to some of their numbers, the actual amount of music that could motivate just as much movin' and shoutin' on the dance floor as in the sanctuary isn't as common as we might wish it was.

Liz Vice apparently feels the same way, and the 10 songs on her 2014 debut There's a Light will go a long way towards remedying that situation. Nearly every track could sit on your left shoulder while a more secular number tempting you to do wrong sat on your right, and you could tell the tempter to take a hike 'cause you had some toes to tap.

The album opens with a one-two funky punch of "Abide" and "Empty Me Out" before slowing down for the bluesy "Entrance" and the Nina-Simone-like "The Source." John Shaft could strut down the street in front of "Truly Today," but he'd better be on his way to church, because Vice is singing about Christ's sacrifice on our behalf. "Pure Religion" begins a take on the old spiritual with just Vice singing before adding first a bass groove and then some horns.

In her voice, Vice has a multi-use instrument that can handle both the jazzy vocalist strand of slower tempo songs of the classic soul sound like "Enclosed by You" as well as a R&B-influenced shouter like "There's a Light." The former asks God if he will remain faithful even when we don't, while the latter closes the album with a proclamation that he will indeed do just that.

While I'm not necessarily on the "all Christian pop music is dreck" bandwagon -- I think that sentence has just about as much truth today if you omit the second word -- I readily acknowledge that religious musicians often face just as many constraints on their work as do any artists tied closely to a genre identity. Given that, There's a Light would be a welcome listen even if it was mediocre. That it isn't is just that much more of a bonus.
-----
His record company probably didn't know what to do with Bruce Springsteen at some points -- he made them lots of money, but he would follow up commercial successes with odd sideways turns that seemed designed to drive off everyone he'd just picked up. Born to Run led to Darkness on the Edge of TownThe River and "Hungry Heart" gave way to the stripped-down acoustic Nebraska and its bleak folk ballads, and in 1987, following the cultural phenomenon of Born in the U.S.A. and the Live 1975-1985 box set came the reflective, unsettled, almost distracted-feeling Tunnel of Love.

According to the discussion of the album in Peter Ames Carlin's Bruce, much of it came together in a time when Springsteen was in uncertain waters both professionally and personally. If some earlier songs had been movies about the promise of what love could bring, Tunnel featured some of what happens after the credits roll. Musically, the collaborative nature of recording with the E Street Band didn't mesh with what he wanted to do. But his longtime history with the band members meant he couldn't just direct them as he might session musicians. The result is a fascinating but musically diminished album that definitely reflects the limitations of its era and technology.

Like Nebraska, Springsteen recorded demos of the songs with just himself playing and singing. Unlike Nebraska, though, he had the advantage of new technology that allowed the creation of electronic drum tracks and other substitutes for musicians playing instruments. According to Carlin, Springsteen particularly liked the sound of the demos and had to be talked into seeing if E Street band members could play the parts and improve the song. Even if some of them did, that was no guarantee that the others would, and so Tunnel's songs are a mix of computer tracks and live musicians -- the title track is the only song with anything like a full band and longtime E Street fixture saxophonist Clarence Clemons shows up only as a backing vocalist in "One Step Up." Bassist Garry Tallent is only on "Spare Parts."

All of the songs are at least interesting, even if the electronic substitutions leave them lacking in several respects. Springsteen experimented with a more country sound and rhythm, as "Tougher than the Rest" would sound at home on any Dwight Yoakam album and Tallent whipped up a "Rawhide"-styled bass line on "Spare Parts" that amplifies the urgency of the story. But the mix of live and electronic instrumentation damages the former with a leaden synthesizer line, as does the ticky-tacky sound of drum machines on several numbers where E Street drummer Max Weinberg is either absent or only adds non-drum percussion.

Lyrically, Tunnel presents some of the other side of the coin to some earlier work. "Cautious Man" is about a man who wonders if he is has it in him to be a dependable husband and perhaps father -- but unlike the self-justifying weasel of "Hungry Heart," he stays in the midst of his uncertainty rather than going out for a ride and never going back. In "Brilliant Disguise," Springsteen sings about a man who's not sure if he really knows the woman he is with...or in the end, if he even knows himself. "One Step Up" deals with the reality that relationships are hard work as much if not more than rock and roll romance.

It's hard to listen to Tunnel today without trying to read into it the end of Springsteen's marriage to Julianne Phillips and his relationship with E Street vocalist Patti Scialfa that began soon after. His desire to use his own voice musically became clear; he would not rejoin the E Street Band in the studio until 2001. So could the same obvious read apply to his personal life? Probably yes and no, in a mixture unknown. The protagonists of Tunnel's songs doubt themselves, are losing their illusions about romantic love's durability and wondering if they will be up to the task of the work a real partnership will require. The couple in the title track find that they have paired up not only with each other's strengths, but also their fears and weaknesses.

None of those experiences are exclusive to couples that split, though, and as often as not those same protagonists end the song declaring their intention to try to go forward. All that said, though, if Phillips -- who in Carlin's book says nothing but good about Springsteen, in a brief written statement -- still listens to Bruce Springsteen albums, this is probably one that she skips.

For the rest of us, it's a selection of some of Springsteen's strongest lyrics, weighed down by artificial instrumentation and an unhappy combination of E Street musicians and synthesized drones. People sometimes refer to works of art as "great, but flawed," when they have something about them that doesn't measure up to the rest. Tunnel of Love feels more like it should be described as "flawed, but great." Its weaknesses are built into its structure, and it occasionally manages to overcome them.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Hoodie Madness

Republican State Senator Don Barrington of Lawton has solved all of the problems of the universe (Jimmy Hoffa's whereabouts and predicting prime numbers were particularly knotty), so he is now turning his attention to the problem posed by people who wear hoodies in public.

Barrington's law would make it illegal to wear something that disguises or conceals your face when you are in public. You may let your Batman mask freak flag fly all you wish inside your own domicile, but should you venture out into Gotham to fight crime, you will become part of the problem, according to Sen. Barrington.

The story at KFOR notes that an Oklahoma statute on the books for 90 years or so already makes it illegal to conceal your identity while committing a crime, but they didn't know about hoodies in the 1920s -- unless that's what Al Capone called it when he gave you his "team player" speech with a Packard instead of a Louisville Slugger. Since the old law also concerns disguises and concealments, it would seem to be broad enough to encompass the novel idea of a sweatshirt with an attached drawstring hood.

In fact, Sen. Barrington himself notes that these laws are already on the books, suggesting that his irony detector is a little rusty. When you justify the silly law you want passed by referring to another, similar law that has been around for almost a century, you are failing to make a connection.

Left unanswered by the senator's cross-every-T dot-every-I thoroughness is what will happen when it gets cold and people begin covering their faces to prevent them from freezing. It may become tough to tell folks apart when frostbite leaves none of us with noses. Also left unanswered is the question of all those masked mendicant midgets prowling the streets at the end of October, who are no doubt violating several city ordinances regarding panhandling.

The real roadblock for this law is the location which we all share with Sen. Barrington. A law banning concealment or alteration of facial features might fly in some other regions, but this is the south. You start telling some of the ladies in this part of the country that they can't use makeup for what they see as its God-given purpose of making them presentable to the public, and you'll be the one who needs a disguise.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Invasion of the Quadrantids!

It'll be too cloudy where I am to observe this meteor shower -- unless I have the misfortune of being underneath one big enough to make it through the atmosphere -- but those of you with clear skies may notice a few extra streaks of light as you turn your eyes heavenward.

As this story at Space.com notes, the Quadrantids are the only remaining sign that there used to be a constellation called Quadrans Muralis. But almost discovering Neptune and teaching astronomy at the Collège de France for 46 years doesn't earn you that much leeway, so Jérôme Lalande's Quadrans became a part of Boötes when constellations were standardized in 1922.

Lalande may have had the last laugh, though, because meteors are identified with the congregation that provides their "origin point," or the backdrop of their apparent direction of approach. So the Boötes meteors earn the rather plain and lumpish name Bootids, while lost Quadrans Muralis gives us the exotic (and Syfy Channel-ready) Quadrantids.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Shushes Working Overtime

Thanks to Lake Superior State University, we now know words that we are supposed to ban from the English language.

Some of the suggestions seem rather dyspeptic. What's the problem with "foodie?" Or "cray-cray?" And some do not seem as over-used as the folks at LSSU believe them to be. I don't ever remember encountering the word "curate" or "curated" in the manner the list describes.

I would like to submit my own list of words we ought to never say again. "Al Sharpton." "Rush Limbaugh." "Harry Reid." "Judd Apatow movie." "Rosie O'Donnell opinion..." This could be a long list.