Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Senator Reid, your turn...

Again, the late Mike Royko can offer the best description of what's going on now that the disgraced and under-indictment Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has exercised his power to appoint a senator to succeed President-elect Barack Obama.

In his column on Mayor Richard J. Daley's death (it re-ran December 19, 2006, just before the 30th anniversary of Daley's death on December 20, 1976) , Royko noted that Daley had been -ahem- impolite when addressing Abe Ribicoff during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. He said that Daley was pretty much playing "Chicago style:"
That's part of the Chicago style -- belly to belly, scowl to scowl, and may the toughest or loudest man win.
Blagojevich is doing something similar, although in his case we might add "haircut to haircut" to Royko's words. Back earlier in December, all 50 sitting Democratic senators signed a letter asking the gov to step down and at the very least, not try nominating anyone to succeed Obama. In that letter, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said the Democratic caucus of the Senate would not seat whomever Blagojevich might nominate. But Blagojevich didn't resign, and since he's still the governor until he resigns, gets kicked out of office or convicted of the crimes charged against him, he can still appoint someone to Obama's seat. And so he has done.

Now the Senate has made a new statement, in which they say again they won't seat the man Blagojevich appointed, former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris. Burris has also run for governor, and the last time he ran, in fact, he lost to Blagojevich -- although he's also a regular donor to Blagojevich campaigns. That toddlin' town.

Given what we've seen and heard of ol' Blago, it's likely he is reacting in that Chicago style described by Royko -- "I'm the bleepin' governor, and the bleepin' Constitution says I can appoint a bleepin' senator, so I'm appointing a bleepin' senator. What the bleep are you bleeps gonna bleepin' do about it?" He's also shown enough chutzpah and a small enough amount of class that he could be just playing with people's heads for awhile -- the Illinois Secretary of State has now said he won't certify the appointment, which Illinois state law may not allow him to do. The US Senate, which promoted its only black member into the White House, must now figure out how to say no to a black politician being seated within their ranks without making him look bad and stressing how little they have against him. It's his friends that bother them, you see. Well, one friend, anyway.

If Blago is impeached, the man who succeeds him, Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn, will make the appointment. Blago and Quinn apparently don't get along, so Quinn will be saddled with saying why he wouldn't pick Burris if he's such a great guy who would be a great Senator if anybody else had picked him for the seat. And the gov probably doesn't get to have much fun these days, so maybe this is his amusement.

The corruption and general political ick factor going on here is really not funny, but it will be interesting to see if Sen. Reid, the very dimmest bulb in a state full of neon, sticks with his guns or has to fold based on legal challenges or a general lack of political courage.

Ain't no party like the Chi Demo party, 'cause the Chi Demo party don't stop...


Like I said on my Facebook status, I'm a proud graduate of Northwestern University: Losing bowl games -- and graduating the people who run the companies you work for -- since 1949.

(Well, yes, technically NU won the Rose Bowl it played in early 1949, but we haven't won any since).

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Of all the birthdays in all the world...

Among the many notables born on 12/25, including, as best as anyone can figure, our Lord and Savior and several of my friends, was the late Humphrey DeForest Bogart, whose doctor first said, "Here's looking at you, kid" on this day in 1899. Even though he would be 109 if he were alive today, Bogie would probably still be way cooler than most folks who make it up on the screen.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


...to everyone this Christmas. If you have the blessing of being able to celebrate with family and friends, I rejoice with you and join my thanksgiving to your own. May we who are so fortunate not fail to remember those for whom this holiday brings feelings of sorrow, loss, anxiety, stress and anger, and may our prayers hasten the day when they find for themselves the Joy of the Love that came down on Christmas.

Pax Christi

Monday, December 22, 2008

Stand Up, Miss Jean Louise...

Robert Mulligan directed five films in which his actors won Academy Awards, but he will probably be most strongly linked with To Kill a Mockingbird, maybe one of the best book-to-film transitions ever wrought.

He passed away Friday at 83, meaning he was a mere lad of 37 when he hit that one out of the park.

Yeah, I'm not sure about this...

So a lady named Rose Mary Sheldon suggests that the Apostle Paul might have been a Roman spy sent to infiltrate the Christian church.

Now, this would ordinarily be a problem mostly for her and whomever might be embarrassed when she deployed this wacky notion. But Col. Sheldon teaches history; in fact she's the head of the history department at the Virginia Military Institute. So she's responsible for teaching young folks about history. It not completely disturbing that she has some crackpot ideas -- my high school US History teacher, Mr. Love, could throw some curveballs with the best of them, for example.

But the thought process that's involved in dreaming up a Roman initiative to spy on what was at the time a minor religion seen mainly as a Jewish sect, whose appeal was limited to mostly poor folks and slaves? To suggest that Paul, whose early opposition to Christianity was based on what he saw as the blasphemous idea Jesus was the Son of God, would work for pagan Romans and pretend to convert to this faith? It seems like there's a pattern of overlooking ideas that don't match the theory simply because they don't match the theory. The idea of that kind of thinking underlying what students are taught at VMI is a little nervous-making.

Col. Sheldon's bio says that one of the fields of her doctorate is Roman provincial archaeology. One hopes she eventually digs up a clue.

(H/T Dustbury)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

It Ended in 1989, Al...

When people are worried they may not be able to make rational decisions for themselves, they give someone else what's called "power of attorney," meaning that person can make decisions for them.

I think that Minnesota ought to give a power of attorney to another state, like maybe Wisconsin or one of the Dakotas. Back in 1998, they elected former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura as their governor. That was all fun, because it was the 1990s and we were all sort of loose since the Commies lost and all. But Ventura was not much of a governor, Minnesota legislators got tired of overriding his vetos and Minnesotans elected Tim Pawlenty and his funny name just as soon as they had a chance in 2002.

Now the same state is bending over backwards trying to make Al Franken one of their Senators. Franken was a longtime Saturday Night Live writer who had the distinction of being with the show when it was often funny (1975-1979) as well as when it often stank (ever since, although Franken can only be blamed for the years he worked with the show, 1985-1995). Franken has managed to squeeze two books worth of humor into six titles (mostly Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and Why Not Me?). He's made jokes about rape, about a husband who didn't want to have sex with his wife after her breast cancer surgery because she only had one breast and shepherded two sketches about a gawky adolescent Chelsea Clinton onto SNL in 1993 after rightfully blasting Limbaugh for making the same kind of joke. Franken complains about conservative racism and yet during his television, movie, radio and book career, has hired one (uno) nonwhite person in a senior position.

Granted, a jerk in the Senate is nothing new. As Okies, we know this (and we are frequently reminded). But Minnesota has given the nation senators like Hubert Humphrey, who came into the office after fighting to finally get the Democratic Party to embrace civil rights in 1948. Or Paul Wellstone, whose honesty and good character earned him friends and respect across the political spectrum despite his own decidedly un-mainstream views. When mokes like us want to follow up Don Nickels with Tom Coburn, we don't exactly tarnish a brightly shining legacy. But Minnesotans are ready to do just that, it seems, and more's the pity that they'd not only get themselves stuck having to choose between a bland political hack of a non-entity and a fellow who seems to specialize in mean jokes but that they'd then go and pick the meanie.

So I support a temporary power of attorney that would allow voters in a neighboring state to choose Minnesota's elected officials (fortunately, Minnesota does not border Gov. Rod Blagojevich's Illinois, although many Illinois voters do have experience in casting more than one vote per election). The Ventura episode could be considered a one-time aberration. Like when Iowa made The Love Boat's Gopher a congressman, or Georgia did the same with the Dukes of Hazzard's Cooter. But the repetition signals the possible California-ization of the state, and it should be stopped before that happens. Because we sure as heck don't need a second California.

(PS -- the post title refers to this. Scroll down to the end).

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Happy Trails

To the original Slingin' Sammy, former Washington and Texas Christian University quarterback, defender and punter Sam Baugh.

The obit omits that Baugh also had a short movie career, starring in the Republic Pictures serial King of the Texas Rangers. Among his co-stars were Neil Hamilton, who would later "Great Scott!" his way through a role as Police Commissioner James Gordon on the Batman TV show, and Duncan Renaldo, who was better known as The Cisco Kid on television and in a few movies of his own.

It does note that Baugh is the only player ever to lead the NFL in offensive, defensive and special teams categories in a season -- 1943, when he had the most pass completions, best punting average and most interceptions (he caught 11).
Or maybe, "Ugh." According to this tidbit on the MTV Movies Blog, Keanu Reeves is toying around with a live-action movie of the 1990s anime Cowboy Bebop.

You may or may not know much about this space bounty hunter/noir series from creator Hajime Yatate, and it would take way too long to explain it much beyond "space bounty hunter/noir anime series." But trust me, the complex storyline, some elements of which are spread out over all 26 half-hour episodes, would be next to impossible to put into feature-film length. Not to mention that Reeves himself lacks an important requirement to play the lead character, ex-gangster Spike Spiegel -- Spiegel is animated and Reeves is not. Yes, Spiegel is laconic, deadpan and rarely displays much emotion. But he's that way because he's cool, not because he's a walking beta test for animatronic amusement park characters.

The MTV blog post head says that Reeves wants to do "something good" with Cowboy Bebop. I'll take him at his word and suggest that he leave it alone.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Bell Rung

Heisman trophy winner Sam Bradford, a University of Oklahoma sophomore, performed his role, and immediately the business of buying and selling began. There were multimillion dollar deals on apparel. Celebrity performers brokered large fees for their appearances. Broadcast and other media companies offered nine-figure contracts for programming. The top names in the business received top salaries and some substantial performance bonuses. There was wheeling and dealing like nobody's business. And Bradford and those like him, even though responsible for the very acts that set all this financial flow in motion, won't receive a single dime today and have no guarantee they ever would.

Oh yeah, and Bradford got to ring the bell that opened trading on the New York Stock Exchange, too.

When Sales Attack?

A couple of our Oklahoma legislators would like the state to stop assessing sales tax on firearms & ammo purchases. I'm not a gun-owner, nor am I likely to be, but I don't have problems with responsible firearms ownership, combined with appropriate background checks and safety training. So I don't see a real problem with this idea.

The rationale, however, is interesting. Read this statement from Rep. Proctor:
People shouldn’t have to pay a tax to the government if they need a gun in the home for self-protection.

It's an excellent rationale for his bill, but it's also an excellent rationale for repealing almost any non-luxury-item sales tax. People shouldn't have to pay a tax to the government if they need food in the home for protection against starvation, for example. People shouldn't have to pay a tax to the government if they need clothes in the home for protection against nudity (in some cases, of course, the ones protected from certain people's nudity would be the rest of us).

Carry it further, and it's an argument against other kinds of taxes, too. Property taxes: People shouldn't have to pay a tax to the government if they need a home for protection against December. Excise tax on automobiles: People shouldn't have to pay a tax to the government if they need a car to get from that home to the place where they buy the food, clothes and/or firearms they need for protection against those other things. Federal income tax: People shouldn't have to pay a tax to the government just because they need a military or police to protect them from the folks who own bigger firearms than they do.

Keep this up, and this is what we end up with:

1. Donald Trump paying taxes for stuff with his name on it and ugly combovers (the latter figured according to the Blagojevich Assessment Ratio (BAR), which indexes the marginal rate to the ugliness and fakeness of what is not actually fake hair).

2. Osama Bin Laden paying taxes for wasteful consumption of natural resources (the air he breathes).

3. Hugh Hefner for the same (Viagra, silicone, blonde hair-coloring and bimbos -- some of those, like silicone, are non-renewable).

4. Roseanne Barr and Rosie O'Donnell for wasteful use & corruption of the good name of a blameless flowering plant.

Man, I love this idea! Rep. Proctor, you and Sen. Corn are my new heroes!

Send in the Clones...

At what point can we officially declare that it is no longer linguistically correct to refer to the movie industry as a creative enterprise?

The Procrastination Formula

Even though that headline sounds like the title to a Robert Ludlum novel (The Aquitaine Progression, The Parsifal Mosaic, The Bourne Ultimatum, etc.,) there is a professor in Canada who has actually studied procrastination for the last 10 years and has developed a mathematical formula that determines why people procrastinate.

The professor -- who has one of the ultimate cool professor names, Professor Piers Steel -- began by studying 250 college students. The jokes, they overwhelm my poor brain and I cannot pick just one...

Anyway, Professor Steel says that procrastination is different from laziness. Lazy people don't care about the task they're not doing. Procrastinators care about the task, but they're impulsive and easily distracted by something that will be more fun, more satisfying or at the very least, less boring right now than whatever the task is.

And those procrastinators who've claimed the real reason they put stuff off is that they're such perfectionists they can't stand the idea of doing a less than perfect job? Nope, says Professor Steel. Just like the rest of the impulsive & easily distracted folks who find what they think are more interesting things to do, like play Spider Solitaire, InkBall or write stuff in a blog...well, that's enough of that right there.

He goes into greater detail in a book, The Procrastination Equation: Today's Trouble with Tomorrow. It's due out soon.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Pastoral Scene?

I'm not like this fellow, who decided "O Little Town of Bethlehem" wouldn't be sung in his church, because the Bethlehem depicted in its lyrics doesn't match the reality of life in Bethlehem today.

OK, but Phillip Brooks wrote the words in 1868, inspired after his own visit to Bethlehem in 1865. This was a number of years after the events he describes, and he never indicated he was writing a historically accurate recreation of events. If he had, he probably would have had to figure out a way to include the hubbub that was supposed to have been going on because of the census that brought Mary and Joseph to town and the fact that Bethlehem's Jewish citizens were in barely-subdued revolt against the Romans.

But on the other hand, I may follow this guy's lead and try to get a Christmas song banned myself. I'll start here...

Friday, December 12, 2008

Out of balance

Number of children who die of starvation per day around the world: roughly 30,000.

Number of children who died of starvation between when Florida toddler Caylee Anthony was reported missing July 15 and a bag with her possible remains was found December 9: Nearly 4.5 million.

Number of children who died since the disappearane of Alabama teen Natalee Holloway on May 30, 2005: More than thirty-eight million.

Number of times any of those children have been mentioned on nightly news programs, discussed during news analysis shows, profiled by Oprah, been the subject of special investigative reports or had their deaths/disappearances analyzed by Greta Van Susteren: 1.

Really, one, you may ask. You're sure it's one time?

Well, no. But I'm an incurable optimist.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

On this (Lego) block I shall build my church...

A family in England has a unique Christmas tradition of building some gigantic project each year with some of their nearly 500,000 Lego bricks. This year, they built a church.

On the downside, a full-size church made of Legos would probably be pretty drafty, and not have a lot of structural support. On the upside, since most Lego blocks only come in three colors, that limits the number of fights the congregation can have about the color of the floor...

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Not the Chicago Way...

Although he grew up on the Northwest side, married an alderman's daughter, clerked for former Alderman Edward "Fast Eddie" Vrdolyak and worked for current Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley back when Daley was the Cook County State's Attorney, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich apparently forgot how to do things.

I mean, you can't tell me that the late Hizzoner Da Honrable Richard J. Daley, Mare a Da Great City a Chicago and All Its Great Peoples, would ever have been caught talking business like this on the phone. But Da Mare would have probably warned Rod that going downstate can make you do stupid things.

Somewhere, Mike Royko is having a frickin' ball right about now...

(Fun side note: Blagojevich's father-in-law, Richard Mell, helped write Chicago's gun-control laws. Mell then failed to register his guns and is now proposing a one-month amnesty for all gun owners who missed the deadline on or about the same time he missed the deadline to re-register their firearms.)

Happy 400!

Just 400 years ago today, John and Sarah Milton welcomed their first son, John, into the world in London. Little Johnny would later go on to write some stuff, like this poem about the Bible and this little note about censorship, among others.

Milton said a lot of things, some of them worthy and some of them less so. I like this quote of his from Aeropagitca:
And though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play on the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Dear Mom & Dad: Please Send $$$$

Some questions have arisen about whether or not the public bailouts of financial firms and potentially the auto industry might be followed by others. Some of the possible hat-in-handers are now thought to include college presidents, because college is verra verra expensive these days. It's so expensive that the College Board suggests universities are pricing themselves out of the market.

So will President Stuffedshirt make a journey to Washington DC to ask for his and his fellow admins' share of the federal pie? Aside from the nearly 39 billion Uncle already doles out in federal financial aid, that is.

But why hit up Uncle for money when you can go after the favorite financial resource target of students everywhere, the 'rents? Colleges can almost always count on Mom and Dad putting out some more green for Junior at school if they ask for it instead of Junior asking. Because when colleges ask for it, it's called "tuition and fees," and when Junior asks for it, it's called "that %^*@& kid must think I'm made of money!" This way, Mom and Dad are the ones who go after Uncle for the money, rather than the big old mean college with a fat endowment and a score of ugly buildings. And since for some reason Uncle sees fit to keep increasing how much he hands out, then Prexy Stuffedshirt and Co. can keep bumping up the cost on their end.

As this opinion piece notes, increases in college costs have outpaced inflation for at least the last 16 years, six percent to about 2.5 to three percent. It also notes some of the reasons why -- a lavish lifestyle for students so they can do important things like form bands named Screaming Snotrockets, an even more lavish lifestyle for ol' Pres. Stuffedshirt (whose salary rose about six percent a year, a number we just ran across back in the annual college cost increase sentence), hiring a six-million dollar man, and so on.

Some of the money goes to buildings, of course. Despite what the appearance of most new university buildings would lead you to believe, these things don't just build themselves. Some of the rest goes to funding activities and such for the "first-year experience," which is the college's way of saying "sophomore year sucks and we helped."

Eventually, colleges may very well price themselves out of the market for all but the wealthiest students, some of whom don't care what kind of A you give them as long as you remember just whose mummy and daddy put a roof over your shabbily-dressed intellectual genius.

Can't wait to see what gets taught at those places then...

Friday, December 5, 2008

Time Dilation...

So I did something today I haven't done in about 20 years -- I bought a copy of Rolling Stone magazine. Issue 1066, to be precise, which was a special issue focusing on "The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time."

I used to subscribe to RS, but it spent less time focusing on music and more time being trendy, and I got tired of flipping through 40 Ralph Lauren ad pages to get to the table of contents. I noticed the magazine is smaller now, and it's exchanged the staple-binding I remember for a glued-in style. Most of the reasons I stopped buying it are still there. This issue features reviews of 32 new and re-issued albums. A bare handful have more than 80 words and even the feature review -- Guns N' Roses Chinese Democracy, which against all expectations arrived before actual Chinese democracy did -- is less than 750 words long. None of them receives less than two stars. Combine the uninformative star ratings with the drive-by reviews, and there's hardly much more there than a reviewer saying, "I liked it" or, "I didn't like it" to suggest why a particular album should separate me from fifteen of my dollars. Since I don't know these people, that ain't it, kid.

RS is, in many ways, still a product of its time and is mired in the 1960s. The "Greatest Singers" feature bears that out. Only four of the top 50 (Bono, #32, Whitney Houston, #34, Jeff Buckley, #39 and Kurt Cobain, #45) are actually under 50, or would be if they were alive (Cobain died in 1994 and Buckley in 1997). Only three (Christina Aguilera, #58, Mariah Carey, #79 and Mary J. Blige, #100) are under 40. Fully half of them either broke onto the national pop/rock/country music scene or had their heydey in it during the 1960s. Since the rankings were chosen by votes from musicians, most of whom are either contemporaries of those musicians or who would have been teen-agers listening to them, this shouldn't surprise anyone. The page that lists the voters also makes clear that they were asked to judge singers of the rock era, mostly post-1955, rather than "all time." Enrico Caruso rests easier.

Also unsurprising is the lack of diversity in the listings -- six singers who worked primarily in country music and two who had much work in gospel. Of that pair, Al Green, #14, is celebrated for his secular songs by commenter Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson, who is apparently a member of a band called The Roots. Only Mavis Staples, #56, is mentioned as a gospel singer, even though Bob Dylan, #7 and Bono, #32, and the late Patsy Cline, #46, have been known to sing songs of a religious bent. There are a surprising number of blues artists on the list, as well as some older rockers who had more exposure in the 1950s than most other times.

Someone named Jonathan Lethman writes an essay to try to explain why the phrase "greatest singers" is being used instead of "performers who got the most votes in our poll." He pretty much has to in order to explain why punk croaker Iggy Pop, #75, comes in ahead of one of popular music's best tenors, Art Garfunkel, #86, or two of its best harmonizers, the Everly Brothers, at #90. Nobody who listens to much rock, soul, blues or country is under the illusion that technical perfection of voice alone makes a great peformer or performance. That's OK, because I don't listen to Howlin' Wolf, #31, in order to hear purity of pitch, tone or diction. I listen to hear him howl, rasp and moan about the evil that's goin' on when there's another mule kickin' in his stall. Wolf was a great performer, but he's no great singer on most of his recorded work.

Some modern music performers are both, of course. The top spot in the poll is given to Aretha Franklin, who has a great voice and is also a great soul performer. Elvis, #3, often showed some amazing range and Freddy Mercury, #18, could sing anywhere in four octaves.

Silly lists, sketchy reviews and pouty models selling clothes aside, there's just not all that much in a Rolling Stone any more, and a bunch of what is in there is stuck in a time loop that the magazine seems desperately to want to keep alive.. So thanks for the memories, RS. See you in 2028, along about issue 1326.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


Well, the heavyweight minds at Entertainment Weekly have declared Seth MacFarlane the "smartest person in TV."

MacFarlane, creator of two shows for which this blog has registered dislike, Family Guy (ugh) and American Dad (uuuuuughhhh), has apparently made a whole bunch of money off DVD and merchandising sales, and is TV's highest-paid writer.

He's obviously a canny marketer and I can't deny he's made a lot of money. But I also can't deny his shows are ugly dreck. Even so, I don't know him well enough to insult him the way EW did -- "smartest person in TV?" That's like being the prettiest Klingon. You have to wonder if maybe MacFarlane forgot to invite EW staff to a party or something...

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Learning a Little Bit at a Time...

Students at Carleton University in Canada spoke loudly to their elected officials (no, not the ones who really run things -- I mean the student government that gets to play "lets pretend" with the change the administration finds in the couch cushions), who reversed last week's vote to stop funding a charity.

The Student Association stepped up in a very commendable way and undid their decision to support a charity other than the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. That decision came after a student representative moved to change the charity supported by Careleton's participation in Shinearama. That's a nationwide charity event held on more than 60 Canadian college and university campuses. The bill approved by the council pulled Carleton's funding from the CCFF because cystic fibrosis is a disease that affects only white males. Only a single student representative disagreed with that decision, wondering why in the world the race and gender of the people a disease affects makes its eradication or treatment more or less worthy of charitable contribution.

Of course, as about thirty seconds with even a reference resource as dubious as Wikipedia would show, CF affects women too, and its prevalence with the Caucasian gene pool means it also affects people in India, the Middle East and South America. Carleton's students told their student government they were being dumb, and so the student government reinstated their agreement with CCFF, pledged to donate at least $1,000 this year, and made a formal apology. For this, they get well-deserved credit. Generally, the only time elected officials apologize is when it's for something done a hundred years ago or by someone else. But these are just young folks -- they somehow had the idea that they did something wrong, so they should 'fess up and say so.

I hope they also learned that their major idiocy of picking and choosing charitable support based on who is most affected by whatever the charity is doing is an even bigger dumb move than failing to do their research about matters they didn't understand. Even if CF affected only white males, that would be no reason to pull charitable support.

The student rep who sponsored the original motion resigned, but he learned there are people even dumber than he is, since apparently he received death threats because of his bill. Another student rep who supported the bill said he was ashamed at what his actions had done to the reputation of a university he loved, so he resigned too. The student government president, who at the time of the original bill said the measure was approved because students wanted to rotate their support to some other charities, faces an impeachment petition with what its supporters claim are 1,000 signatures on it. She hasn't resigned yet.

So I guess she's learned faster than her fellow students how the grown-ups play the game...


Somebody's been reading my other blog and they've found me out...

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Wildlife alert!

Cincinnati's turkeys are in imminent danger, now that station WKRP is on the air for real.

What's the problem, you ask? Can't the turkeys just fly away to safety? No, that's the point...turkeys can't fly!!!!!

Can't Be, Officer, This Thing Won't Even Do Warp 2. . .

You know, when the Romulans can't destroy you with their plasma weapon, then they'll just nickel and dime you to death with traffic tickets (scroll down to the item slugged "The City of Romulus")...

(H/T Dustbury)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Holy Crap, Batman!

For everyone who ever thought that the George Clooney outing as the Caped Crusader, Batman and Robin, would be the dumbest Batman story ever told, longtime Batman writer Grant Morrison would like to prove you wrong. By the way, if you don't want this story spoiled -- even though I think it's got high enough levels of silly-toxin to be spoil-proof -- don't read on past the gap.

OK, still here? Well, according to this story, Bruce Wayne will lay down his cape and cowl, and thus "die" as Batman, after being shot by his father, Dr. Thomas Wayne. Yup, you know, the Thomas Wayne whose death when Bruce was nine caused the young man to develop an obsessive thirst for justice. That same thirst drove him to his double life as Batman. See, ol' Tom apparently faked his death and, well, who cares because this is beyond dumb, even when we consider we are not dealing with the most logically coherent of media, the comic book.

Of course, since we're talking about a comic book character, chances are good he'll come back. After all, Bruce Wayne has handed off his cape and cowl before, when he was badly injured by the criminal Bane in the Knightfall storyline. In the end, this is likely to be another so-called "stunt" story, like Knightfall or the Death of Superman tale from 1992. And again, in comic books as in soap operas, death is only temporary, so all of the "end of Bruce Wayne as Batman" talk coming from the publisher is very likely a lot of hooey.

But, whether it's "killed" or killed, the idea that Thomas Wayne is behind this ranks very high on the dumb-o-meter. Next we'll find out that Martha Wayne, Bruce's mom, didn't die either, and she sent herself forward in time to become Selina Kyle, the Catwoman. On the other hand, forget I said that. Morrison may go back to writing the title someday and it now seems likely he wouldn't understand it's a joke.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Maybe This Is Why We Call Them Hoseheads...

Another day, another Canadian university does something dumb.

Carleton University, in Ottawa, takes part a yearly charity fundraiser among Canadian colleges and universities called Shinearama. Up until this year, one of the benficiaries of Shinearama was the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. But because one of Carleton University's students learned that cystic fibrosis affects only white males, he moved at a student government meeting that Carleton drop the CCFF as a beneficiary.

Of course, cystic fibrosis affects people of both genders, and while it generally is more prevalent among people of Caucasian origin, that genetic classification includes folks from the Middle East, India and South America as well.

Members of the student association now want to reconsider their vote. If it wasn't for the fact that worthy charity that does a lot of good will lose out on money if they don't, I would be happy to have this group of maple-leaf mouth breathers stuck with the results of their decision. After all, they want to reconsider their action because they've learned CF can affect people other than white males, not because the idea that withholding donations to a charity because you want to play identity politics with who has the disease qualifies as an "idea" in only the loosest of fashions.

Ironies drench this little amorality play -- the student government president said that the real reason everyone voted the way they did was because the association would like to rotate its donations among several charities. I think she's got a future in politics. And the young man who brought the motion is a science student. I would submit that Carleton University be sure to stamp his diploma with the letters "B.S." as is traditional for students earning undergraduate degrees in the sciences. But I think it'll be obvious that in his case, those letters will revert to their more common meaning...

(H/T Erin O'Connor)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Rough indeed

Rough Weather is Robert B. Parker 36th novel featuring the tough as nails, tender on the inside private eye Spenser, who is as quick with wits and tongue as he is with fists and gun.

It opens with more excitement than Parker's put in a Spenser book in years, as Spenser and his ladylove Susan Silverman attend a ritzy wedding on an exclusive island. Spenser has been hired as a sort of bodyguard, and it's good that he is, because the wedding is interrupted by an elaborate kidnapping. The chief kidnapper is Spenser's nemesis Rugar, the Gray Man who once shot Spenser and nearly killed him.

Spenser has to use both his wits and his fists in order to make sure he's not dispatched by the Gray Man's thugs and also to get Susan out of harm's way. The sequence packs as much action as some of Parker's best work, recalling similar sequences from the series high points from the mid-70s through mid-80s. The "rough weather" of the title refers to the storm that keeps the kidnappers stranded on the island overnight, forcing Spenser to take on the kidnappers armed with little more than his bare hands. But then the motif, like the story, tension, action and most of the energy are abandoned as soon as the kidnappers leave the island and Spenser goes about trying to find the kidnapped bride and bring Rugar, the murderer of the groom, to justice.

Frankly, the rest of the book may be the laziest work Parker's ever turned out. It's little more than a series of one-on-ones with different people who might or might not be involved in the crime, divvied up by Spenser's encounters with some of his usual circle of legal and less-than-legal acquaintances. Any slight chance it has of hanging together as a narrative that leads somewhere is destroyed by the ending, a twist of events that's thin enough to make tissue paper look like Kevlar. It's nowhere near as bad as the absolutely awful finish of Hundred Dollar Baby, but coming on the heels of such a promising opening, it can seem almost worse.

Parker's published a couple of youth novels and a handful of westerns over the last few years and the move to new fields seems to have given him some new energy. It could be that the new arenas bring him some more creativity while he's more or less going through the motions with Spenser and his other two law-enforcement characters, Paradise, MA, police chief Jesse Stone and lady PI Sunny Randall. Whatever the reason, Rough Weather is about a quarter of a good book stuck inside three quarters of a mediocre one, pushed past its sell-by date with a stinker of an ending. We can all hope for some better sailing next time...

Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends...

It's not the size of the gift that counts...

Monday, November 24, 2008

Something to talk about...

A college in Canada has hired students to hang around student dining halls and either start conversations about social justice issues or intervene in conversations that seem to cross certain lines.

No, really, they have.

Among the issues that these "dialogue facilitators" will raise are those concerned with things like race, gender, social class, ability, and so on. As I recall, I had numerous conversations about gender and ability when I was seated at table with my fellow students. And those conversations were often - ahem - facilitated by observations of certain other students who happened to be walking by the table where I and my dialogue group were seated. Those students who facilitated our conversation did not, I believe, require any special training to spark our discussions and usually were able to complete their task using whatever gifts God had blessed them with -- gifts for which we often gave fervent thanks, as well.

The story quotes one person who applied to be a facilitator, a 46-year-old Master of Divinity student, as saying he hoped it would be a way to connect with many different students. First off, I have to say that he would not have passed our facilitator screening process. We had standards, after all, and we upheld them.

Secondly, I have to wonder how well this idea was thought through. It's been a little over three years since I worked at a college, so students may have changed drastically. But the idea of having some dude their dad's age show up at their table when they were eating and try to start a conversation about social justice should have been a non-starter to anyone with any sense. Further, these facilitators will live in student housing. So what you've got is a grind who not only blathers about their pet issue at dinner, they can keep yammering at you when you go back to your dorm.

I'm not knocking the idea of a dialogue facilitator -- in fact, I wish we had some around back when I was in college. Believe me, several of us could have used someone to facilitate our lame attempts at dialogue with some of those other students we had observed so closely.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Location, location, location...

Sometime in the past, I must have bought or signed up for something that earned me a free Newsweek subscription. I don't know what it was, and I'd have been happy to have been told a free subscription was part of the deal, so I could have chosen a magazine I might read.

Well, hey, you might say. It's free, so why not read it anyway? You used to subscribe to Newsweek, about 20 years ago. Well, I would read it anyway, except that when I walk back from my mailbox to my house, I walk right past the trash can and the logical action presents itself. I apologize to the trees that died so Newsweek could print its cheap, smeary ink on the glossy tissue paper that makes up its pages and then toss the issue and the credit card offers that are its fit company right into the ol' bin.

But hold up, hoss, you might say. This is one of the major weekly news magazines of the country, and you're a former media type yourself. You recognize the value of being an informed citizen and how that information shapes your vote, your support of policies and your ability to act on your citizenly responsibilities. You know the value of the First Amendment to your nation and how important its founders believed it to be. You sure you want to just trash all that in so cavalier a manner?

Yup. I'm sure.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Quantum or so Less...

In Casino Royale, filmmakers reinvented James Bond, casting Daniel Craig as the agent still on his way to earning his double-O status. Craig brought high-energy ruthlessness to the role and the franchise dropped the gadgetry and slickness that had eventually suffocated Pierce Brosnan's turn as the world's best-known double-nought secret agent.

Craig returns in Quantum of Solace, a film that has Bond pursuing leads to the murder of his girlfriend Vesper Lynd. On the way, he has another rooftop chase, deals with another pasty-faced lank-haired Eurotrash villain and kills some people. Imagine, if you like, that the interminable and pointless Texas Hold 'Em game of Casino Royale was made into an entire movie with chase scenes and varied locations, and you've got an inkling of what Quantum of Solace is like.

Craig himself squints, grimaces, kicks, punches, slices and shoots. He doesn't do a single thing in this movie that couldn't have been done by fellow Brit and action movie star Jason Statham. But that's OK, because in the hands of director Mark Forster and co-screenwriter Paul Haggis, James Bond doesn't do anything that couldn't have been done by Jason Bourne.

Forster apparently thinks Matt Damon is really cool, because he borrows not only the queasy unsteady-cam look and blip-quick scene cuts of the Bourne films, but also their balcony-jumping and explosive fight sequences. Haggis continues to write screenplays that are but lightly burdened with ideas. Lightly burdened with his own ideas, anyway -- Quantum features a straight-up theft from an earlier Bond pic that ought to earn a fine, if not community service (Suggestion: Haggis be ordered to spend one thousand hours not writing).

When Casino Royale came out, the general reaction seemed to be that Craig brought a style to Bond that the series had lacked since Sean Connery. That's an understandable view, coming as it did on the heels of Brosnan's awful Bond finale, Die Another Day. But Brosnan himself started out well, finally taking the role he'd had to turn down when someone finally realized Roger Moore looked more likely to throw out a hip than a judo chop. In between Moore and Brosnan, Timothy Dalton's two entries showed some intriguing promise, but Dalton's supposed distaste for the typecasting the role may have brought him led him to turn another direction. Playing Rhett Butler in the TV miniseries Scarlett, for one, which may prove there are worse things than typecasting.

But it'll take a third outing to see if Craig actually does something with the iconic superspy, and if the grim-and-gritty re-imagining of James Bond offered up in the more recent films can satisfy series fans who may not have liked the gadget overload of Die Another Day and its ilk, but who still like their world-saving done with some cool style...

P.S. The Jack White/Alicia Keys "Another Way to Die" opening credits theme is among the lamer and more unpleasant theme offerings of the series. As long as there's an Octopussy soundtrack with "All Time High" on it, though, "AWtD" doesn't have to worry about being the worst of the lot.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Meet the new boss...

...same as the old boss.

"I'll tip my hat to the new constitution, take a bow for the new revolution, smile and grin at the change all around me, pick up my guitar and play -- and just like yesterday -- I'll get on my knees and pray we don't get fooled again."

Uh-oh, Frodo

I don't think we need a retinal scan to recognize this picture from NASA as the Eye of Sauron, which does not bode well for those foolish enough to have looked upon it directly:
"The Eye: that horrible growing sense of a hostile will that strove with great power to pierce all shadows of cloud, and earth, and flesh, and to see you: to pin you under its deadly gaze, naked, immovable."

One can only hope that "Hubble Space Telescope" doesn't come out "palantír" when you translate it into in Elvish.

Alternatively, this could be The Mote in God's Eye, in which case I for one welcome our new three-armed, furry Motie overlords...

Friday, November 14, 2008


The pictures obtained by mixing some of the highest of high-tech, high-speed photography with the silliest of things -- like popping a water balloon -- are often darn cool.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

What a day!

First of all, Nov. 11 is when we honor military veterans, so if you know a vet, take time to say thanks or show some other gesture of appreciation.

A couple of days ago, the United States Marine Corps celebrated its birthday. Although I never served and my father was in the Navy, I have four Marine uncles, three living and one standing the long watch, so happy birthday, Marines.

Ninety years ago today, hostilities stopped in World War I, allowing a whole bunch of guys to live a lot longer. Some of them as long as this guy, who sounds like he's tried to make the most of his years.

Nineteen years ago Sunday, Berliners started taking hammers and mallets to the hated wall built to keep those crazy East Germans from leaving their worker's paradise and make it easier to shoot them when they tried anyway.

November has some cruddy weather and, every few years or so, an excuse for people to act like idiots. But it must have hired a great PR firm, because it also has some really cool events to mark during that time, too.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Soap Noir

A few months ago, I did a quickie critique of Harlan Coben's The Woods. Coben's best known books feature sports-agent Myron Bolitar, who seems to have a number of clients that require more from their agent than tough contract negotiations. Bolitar then solves their problems with more than a dash of playing the superhero.

With Hold Tight, Coben revisits the little suburban New Jersey area he opened up in The Woods, even showing us some of the same people, although this time in more minor roles. In The Woods, Coben wove together so many different threads that it was kind of amazing you didn't realize how ridiculous they all were until after you finished the book, a testament to his storytelling skill. Unfortunately for Hold Tight, now you know where to look. And because of the large cast of characters, the depth Coben was able to give to his protagonists in the earlier book is mostly absent here -- they're all interchangeable suburbanite forty-somethings who confusingly threaten to turn into each other while we're watching them. In order to give them any dimension at all within the confines of his story, Coben has to commit the novelist's cardinal sin and tell us about the people instead of showing us.

Coben, himself a forty-something suburbanite with kids, starts with parents trying to learn why their son is moody and withdrawn and installing some spyware on his computer. Other families -- some intact, some not -- drift in and out of the story, each of them having their own Special Situation and Deep Dark Secret that's known only to them, lurking behind the Perfect Suburban Facade. Think Raymond Chandler meets Desperate Housewives, only ignore the fact that Desperate Housewives would make Chandler throw up. Although he might think about dallying for awhile with Dana Delany.

Then the son disappears, and the plot begins. The only problem is that, as we read along, we get the feeling that we're further ahead than the characters are. At least once I said, "Hey, Harlan, isn't it time for you to pay off on that foreshadowing you did about a hundred pages ago," and lo and behold, said foreshadowing paid off right about then.

The other downer is Coben's steps into another of the suspense novel's most tired and seamy cliches, the killer's conversations with his tearful victims as he prepares to torture and murder them. He rarely does this sort of thing, for good reason, because it's generally a sign of the weakest of thrillers, novels about which airport bookstores say, "Um, no. We have standards."

So although I like Coben, and although a good 90 percent of the stuff that trees die for is worse than this decidedly low point of his catalog, I will be happy to set my copy of Hold Tight free to roam in our little town's public library.

She's the Boss

Military science fiction is a lot more crowded with lead female characters than you might think. Elizabeth Moon's Heris Serrano and Esmay Suiza try to straighten tangled political webs in the Familias Regnant universe. David Weber's Honor Harrington kicks behinds and takes names as she rises in rank through the Royal Navy of the Star Kingdom of Manticore and foils the plots of the evil Republic of Haven. Tanya Huff's tough as nails Confederation Marine Sgt. Torin Kerr knows the way to keep more of her people alive is to make more of the enemy dead and so she goes about that task with businesslike efficiency.

Over the course of six books now, Mike Shepherd has fashioned a place in that corps for his wealthy heiress/princess/United Sentients Naval Lieutenant Kristine Longknife. The most recent entry, Kris Longknife: Intrepid, finds Lt. Longknife, her Jill-of-all-trades (including assassination and espionage) maid Abby, her bodyguard Jack and her increasingly sentient personal computer Nelly part of a crew pretending to be a merchant ship in the far reaches of inhabited space. Their mission is to lure pirates to attack the seemingly helpless vessel and get summarily blasted for their pains by its powerful hidden weaponry.

But Kris has a knack for finding more trouble than she actually signed up for, so she and her crew, along with a company of United Sentients Marines, find a couple of more things on their to-do list. After they help a planet of farmers tackle an invading mercenary force, Kris has to take some big risks to save a man who's been one of her family's biggest enemies.

Over the course of the series, Shepherd has found a good mix of dry wit and action to keep his story humming, and toned down some of the comic elements from the initial Kris Longknife: Mutineer, which was broad enough to skew close to satire. Shepherd uses the same setting as he did for his Longknife family trilogy (written under his given name, Mike Moscoe), but lightens the tone a good deal.

Kris Longknife's most obvious counterpart is Weber's Honor Harrington. But where Weber has come down with a serious case of bestseller's bloat, Shepherd seems to be steering his heroine's ship using an editor to pilot him much more swiftly and cleanly through his stories. Although Kris & Co.'s humor and confidence in the face of danger is appealing, they don't reek to excess of sang-froid the way Harrington and her cast have in the last four or five of their adventures.

According to the book titles, we've learned that Kristine Longknife is a Mutineer and a Deserter, as well as that she's Defiant, Resolute, Audacious and now Intrepid. Here's hoping Shepherd keeps adding adjectives to her resumé for several years to come.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Crystal Ball

So here's my prognosticizing for the next four years.

Ever since Franklin Roosevelt, US presidents have been closely observed for the accomplishments of their first 100 days. And there's also the idea of the honeymoon period, in which the folks who yesterday thought this fellow's the biggest twerp walking now find some of his good qualities. Which they forget soon enough, or at least claim they were fooled.

President Obama will have a honeymoon period, and he may even have a "Hundred Days." But this honeymoon, too, will end, and badly. For one, much of the hopes and dreams hung on him present impossible challenges. He's not going to reverse global warming, whose existence is an open question anyway. The pledges of a different kind of politics will run smack into the regular old politics and will either get creamed or show themselves as not so new and different after all.

He won't be able to solve the nation's current credit and economic crisis -- for one, his government will be saddled with actually paying for the $700 billion bailout package just approved, and that won't leave a ton of money laying around. For another, he supports taxation policies that will not encourage economic growth. To be fair, a President McCain would probably not have actually fixed things, but might have waited them out without doing anything to make them worse.

Although he's capable of an inspirational speech, Obama has a short track record of executive experience, and even that short record isn't stellar. He directed the Chicago schools' Annenberg Challenge, and wound up spending $160 million on some pilot schools that ended up not all that different from the rest of the schools in Chicago. In his party's Congressional leadership, he's saddled with two of the least of modern politics' lesser lights in Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. These two, confronted with a President whose popularity ratings are among the lowest on record, couldn't get anything done except drive their own numbers lower than his. Obama will not be helped by their inabilities.

If the economic crisis limps along in its current "I'm not dead yet!" mode, then voter anger at the economic situation might stay somewhat banked. If it gets worse, then 2010 may find us in a "Throw the bums out!" mood similar to 1994, raising the possibility that President Obama will faces at least one house of Congress under the management of the other party. Whatever he's been able to do up until that time will dry to a trickle as his opponents do their best to get their own work done and weaken Obama prior to 2012. Also, at about that time, he will begin to see the signs of a serious primary challenge from within his own party, by which I mean Hillary Clinton. Obama's ineffectiveness in office will probably convince her to do what she wants to do anyway, which is pull alongside him, fire a broadside and send him under the political waves. Clinton has said she doesn't intend to run again, but if you believe that, then you believed Obama would accept public financing when he said he would.

If she does run and she starts in 2010, then she has two years of being able to work the Democratic party with the idea that while the fellow they've elected may not be a bad man, he's not a very good wizard, and the GOP is not going to make the mistake again of nominating someone who sometimes seemed only vaguely Republican. She won't go after him unless she thinks he's weak enough to beat, which she may or may not misjudge. Obama's weakness plus a possibly resurgent GOP, combined with the Clinton organization and what I believe is almost certain to be a record of indifferent achievement unmatched since Jimmy Carter, will leave Obama very vulnerable within his own party.

Clinton may not run, but I think she will. Obama may survive the primary challenge, but if he does he will be even more weakened and have the pleasure of facing any one of several strong GOP nominees. When George Bush won in 2004, many of my fellow Democrats who supported Kerry did things like take pictures of themselves saying "I'm sorry" and put it on a website to let the world know how badly they thought we messed up. Because they spent so much time in that mode, they wound up with an untested nominee who will go off like a stinkbomb once he actually begins to work at the job.

Republicans won't do that. They'll sleep off the hangovers on Nov. 5, lament some on Nov. 6 and go to work on 2010 and 2012 by Nov. 7. Governor Sarah Palin, this time with six years of running her state on her resume instead of two, might show up again. Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana will also have six years of gubernatorial experience if he decides it's time to file. If his handling of this summer's hurricane problems is any indicator, he's going to have a pretty good track record to run on. If Mitt Romney decides to try again, his business experience will give him a whole lot of credibility when he talks economics, and, as I said earlier, Obama's policies are unlikely to fix the economic mess we're in now.

Whichever GOP nominee finishes first will have as a central campaign theme, "We told you so." Palin, obviously, could hammer that home hardest, but it'll be available for all, including, I imagine, Senator Clinton. I do not think Obama will win a second term, but if he somehow manages to do so, he will likely face a Congress with even larger GOP numbers, if not outright control. If that is the case, the indifferent achievement record of his first term is probably going to seem Jeffersonian compared with his second.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Boo! at the box office

According to this story, the Friday night Halloween holiday dampened the weekend box office.

Maybe. We might also consider that most of the stuff released in the last couple of weeks is swill no one wants to see. And in some cases, recycled swill no one wants to see. High School Musical 3 and Saw V, I'm talking to you. I hope I got those sequel numbers right, but truthfully, if I didn't, who would notice? Sure, it would be great to think that the world's karma is burdened by only three Saw movies, but the downside is that it would mean there have been five High School Musicals. And you know what it means if you're still in high school after five years. You're a teacher and no one wants to make a musical about you. Putting up With Snotty Little Know-It-Alls and Their Enabling Parents in Order to Make a Difference in the Lives of a Handful of Decent Kids is just not going to get good buzz.

The last time Halloween kept viewers from the box office, as I remember, was when it was re-made by Rob Zombie, who insists on trying to convince people he's a worse movie-maker than he is a musician (Hint: It's a tie). Well, it kept me away from the box-office, anyway.

Seriously -- the two major new releases were a blink-and-you-miss-it horror film called The Haunting of Molly Hartley and a film whose existence subtracts gray-matter cells from the earth quicker than brain-eating zombies, Zack and Miri Make a (Word I Won't Use Because I Don't Want to Show up on Those Google Searches). Zack and Miri is rated R, which in my way of thinking means that it wouldn't be doing boffo biz with the trick-or-treat set anyway. Maybe it opened worse than The Love Guru (according to Box Office Mojo) because it stunk and everyone except the "OMG! Clerks is the best film since someone ever had the idea of celluloid and Kevin Smith is awesome and dude, that movie is my life!" crowd didn't want to spend 102 minutes watching a remake of The Sure Thing with 100% more crudeness and 100% less John Cusack? Just a thought.

As for the PG-13 Molly Hartley (and the rest of the motley crew onscreen this week), how hard a decision is this: Walk around the neighborhood and score free candy or head off to the cineplex where you pay twice your monthly allowance for a box of same that's half air and a small drink?

Anyway, the new Bond film opens in a couple of weeks, which should be enough to drag my behind into the theater again.

Sunday, November 2, 2008


While the cancellation of King of the Hill in this story is bad news, there's worse news at the end: The renewal of the awful American Dad. Now, I personally do not believe the rumor that "Seth MacFarlane" is the animation creator equivalent of Alan Smithee, because there is a real person named Seth MacFarlane and he, for some reason best known only to him, takes credit for both American Dad and the slightly less repulsive and every now and then microscopically funnier Family Guy. So it makes no sense to suggest that there's a real person who created two animated shows and was so ashamed of the results that he asked for a pseudonym to be used instead of his real name. Despite how much sense it would make to be ashamed of those two shows, that is.

It's a little early for a KotH post-mortem, but I'll have to list "Reborn to Be Wild" as one of my favorite episodes -- of that or any other show, come to think of it.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

This leaves me flat

So, as many of you may have read, a man in Japan has created a petition allowing him to marry his favorite cartoon character.

The man, Taichi Takashita, says he really likes the two-dimensional world and would prefer to live in it. Since the technology for such a transfer doesn't exist, he wants to be able to be legally married to the two-dimensional character of his choosing. Insert your favorite Hugh Hefner girlfriend joke here.

Now, while I am a fan of the four-color medium and pick up about three or four books a month, I can see many problems with this plan. Some are serious. This guy would like to be married to someone who doesn't really exist, and while there are plenty of folks who wake up after a few years and wonder who the heck is that aging wreck next to them and what happened to the handsome hunk/hot babe they pledged their forevers to, we like people to stop having imaginary friends (or spouses) after about the age of seven or eight. After that we call them "the voices in your head" and we ask that you see a doctor. We also like societies to take marriage a little more seriously than that, unless we live in Hollywood or are Brad Pitt. In the latter case, we find we don't have to take marriage seriously, because we are, after all, Brad Pitt.

Mr. Takashita hasn't ever read Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time, in which he points out that two-dimensional beings would face a distinct problem when it comes to the ingestion of nourishment and elimination of waste products. To wit, any kind of digestive system that resembles the one we poor old 3-D dolts have -- stuff comes in one end and goes out another -- would leave a 2-D creature in two separate pieces. Therefore, a 2-D creature would have to be able to convert 100 percent of its food into fuel for the body, which is something I think I remember my physics class saying was impossible. Or it would have to have the waste leave by the same route it used to come in, which would make the invention of 2-D mouthwash an absolute priority and render those 2-D romantic dinners with the pen-and-ink honey of your choice somewhat less romantic.

I'm not familiar with which character Mr. Takashita wishes to wed, but my experience with comic books leaves me wondering if volunteering to be the spouse of one is such a good idea. To be honest, the only super-female I whose steady fella I remember is Wonder Woman's Steve Trevor, and he got killed. Twice. One version of Supergirl got stuck with Lex Luthor for a beau, and that doesn't seem to be a healthy relationship, since Luthor was actually a clone of himself pretending to be his own son. It ended badly when Supergirl found out Lex had cloned a hundred or so of her, giving himself a host of interchangeable svelte blonde lovelies. Insert your second favorite Hugh Hefner girlfriend joke here. Black Canary had Green Arrow, who was a hero in his own right, but who I think died once himself, or at least seemed to.

Things go worse for you if you're a gal with an eye on your favorite member of the colored longjohn set. Superhero girlfriends have a very high and somewhat grisly mortality rate. Plus, it takes the bum some sixty years to marry you, after he's spent most of that time pretending to be someone else (the less said the better, about how you're so dumb you can't recognize him just because he has glasses on. Insert your third favorite Hugh Hefner girlfriend joke here).

Of course, all of these things will, it seems in Mr. Takashita's opinion, be dealt with someday by advancing technology. But I'm going to stake out my position here in defense of the third dimension, no matter who may decide to abandon their relationships with me because of it. You see, I happen to think we're just not complete without that third D, which stands for depth. Width and height are crucial to existence as well, we know, even if a lot of us would like to have a little less of the former and more of the latter. But depth is what makes the whole thing go, adding that crucial third aspect that makes our existence worthwhile.

Because the abandonment of the third dimension would mean a loss of a number of aspects I, speaking as a guy who has a fondness for female-type persons, find highly interesting. If you know what I mean. And I think you do.

Friday, October 31, 2008

How to Make a Happy Friar :

Promise him more Iron Man, with Robert Downey, Jr., and Jon Favreau.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Moon Around the Rings...

Some pretty neat photos of Saturn's moon Enceladus, taken by the Cassini spacecraft, are here.

#6 and #21 are the eye-poppers for me.

It's Over!

Weren't you waiting breathlessly to know what Jamaican-born Grace Jones told a German magazine about the U.S. presidential election?

Wait no longer.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

You Keep Using That Word...

In an appearance in Mountain View, California, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi answered some questions and said some things, like this:
Elect us, hold us accountable, and make a judgment and then go from there. But I do tell you that if the Democrats win, and have substantial majorities, Congress of the United States will be more bipartisan.

Now, you should vote for who you want to vote for, and I have no doubt that a lot of people on all sides have thought about the issues and made up their minds and are going to make sincere and thoughtful choices in the upcoming elections.

No matter how you vote though, you won't achieve Speaker Pelosi's scenario, in which she envisions that an increased majority for a politicial party -- in this case, hers -- will make for increased bipartisanship. It fails the Webster test, by which I mean that increased majorities lead to less diversity, not more, and make their constituent bodies less bipartisan, not more.

But Speaker Pelosi has joined with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in creating the only governmental unit in the country with approval ratings lower than President Bush's, so maybe proper word use is an area where we should grade her on a curve.

(H/T The Anchoress)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Huh? (Part 40)

Wouldn't you want your therapist to have paid for her college tuition this way? I mean, there'd be no question she'd be able to diagnose that you were messed up.

But I'd be a little less confident in her ability to help you figure out how to handle it...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

You're doing it wrong...

Makers of the new movie The Secret Life of Bees have a website that has film clips and such to talk about the movie's spiritual meanings and messages. E-mails from several marketing groups that target religious folks have gone out to Christian pastors and church leaders, directing them to this site. It even includes a 6-page study guide to help the movie's watchers explore its religious dimension.

But the Bible study guide leaves something out. It doesn't have any Bible verses in it.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Ah'm a Superrrrr-Herro, Laddie!

Yes, many years in an office being around this stuff have overexposed me to radiation and given me super-human abilities! I shall fight crime and evil-doers wherever they may be found!

Dinna make me bust out me Death Brogue, ye villain!

Standing the Test of Time?

I hadn't realized it, but this year marks the 30th anniversary of Stephen King's The Stand (and fitting with the theme of the last post, it's a book I read at least a couple of times when I was in high school). The online magazine Salon.com marks the occasion with an King interview, in which King tells us an upcoming book called Under the Dome "is a very long book." Ahem.

King muses about God, showing some signs of real seriousness:
Too often, in novels that are speculative, God is a kind of kryptonite...That's not religion. That's some kind of juju, like a talisman. I wanted to do more than that. I wanted to explore what that means to be able to rise above adversity by faith, because it's something most of us do every day.
He also demonstrates a clear grasp of nonsense:
I'm not sure there is an afterlife. OK. If there is one, here's what I think it is. I think it's whatever you think you're going to get. Those suicide bombers, if they really believe that they are going to wind up in heaven with 71 virgins, yeah, that's probably what they're going to get in the afterlife.
The version of The Stand I read -- the cover of which I posted at the top -- was a paperback release with some minor tweaks. King published it in 1978, and set his world-destroying plague in 1980. By the time I read it in the early 80s, he had the plague happen in 1986. By 1990, when his power of cash flow creation permitted it, he released an uncut version that replaced much that had been cut out of 1978 edition, and set the plague in 1990. Careless editing, which has become a trademark of King's work ever since publishers realized that printing him was as close as they could get to being the US Mint printing money, left this version with anachronisms such as renting a Malibu beachfront house for $1,000 per month and the ownership of black-and-white televisions widespread among poor folks. These things all fit the world of 1980, but not 1990. This edition also boasts a nice load of typos. And according to King's official website, it's the only edition of the book that exists, because they don't list the original.

King wrote the teleplay for a 1994 miniseries based on the book. It rated well, but every time I see Jamey Sheridan and his Bon Jovi hair portraying the Dark Man, Randall Flagg, I crack up. Which helps me get through Molly Ringwald's wooden line readings as Fran Goldsmith and Corin Nemec's Screech impression as Harold Lauder. It's now being released as a comic and graphic novel.

The Stand turned me into a King nut and left me with a years-long determination to buy everything he put out. Unfortunately, I got hooked at a time when he was getting ready to slide into mediocrity, cranking out book after book that desperately needed someone to say, "Um, Steve? This part stinks. You need to fix it." Even more unfortunately, I probably threw away a couple hundred bucks on his hardbacks until I figured that out (Bag of Bones, if you're curious, was the breaking point). Soak-the-fanbase stunts like the simultaneous release of Desperation by Stephen King and The Regulators by his pseudonym Richard Bachman, books which even used the same character names in their different stories, didn't help.

Reading a King novel today, for me, usually has me starting out well, hooked pretty quickly, tiring out by the time I get a third or maybe two-fifths of the way in, hanging on until just past halfway and then flipping to the last 30 pages or so to see how things turn out. Reflecting on how the original version of The Stand, one of his best novels, hits the big three-oh this year makes me dust off an old phrase people in King's generation used to say and spin it a little to describe his work: Never trust a book under 30.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

It Don't Mean a Thang if it Ain't Got That KERRRANNNGGG!

I will confess here, knowing that my transgression will be seen by a bare handful of folks, to doing something some people might consider un-clergy-like just yesterday.

I bought the album at the left at Wal-Mart.

Yes, I know, AC/DC are everything that's evil in rock music except for "Stairway to Heaven" wrapped up in a package and tied off with a bow of bad taste. Yes, I know their guitar player is a 53-year-old man wearing a schoolboy uniform, something that usually isn't -- and probably shouldn't be -- seen outside of felony indictments or FBI stings. Yes, I know that "singer" Brian Johnson bears a weird resemblance to Tom Jones and has a range that alternates between Donald Duck on a whiskey bender and Grover the Muppet gargling some gravel. Yes, I know that their lyrics frequently feature, and by "feature" I mean "are almost entirely made up of," off-color puns, phrases and images. Believe me, the 44-year-old guy that I am has explained all of this and considered it at great length.

But the teenage ear-splitter that I used to be has the same answer every time: Yeah, but they ROCK, man! He doesn't say "dude," because that hasn't caught on yet in his world. And he wins the argument. He was a little confused that he had to get this album at Wal-Mart, because he doesn't remember Wal-Mart being the kind of place that would have an exclusive release deal with a band like AC/DC. Don Ho, maybe.

He also wins because he reminds the old guy who's taken over his space that Messrs. Young, Young and Johnson rely more on being bawdy that downright vulgar. Vulgar is just what it says, but being bawdy takes a little bit of wit and wordplay. Bawdy leers like vulgar does, but it always puts in a wink to say, "Isn't this a little bit over the top?" And he reminds the old guy that the schoolboy thing and a lot of the other showmanship the band does ought to tell the listener not to take the package too seriously.

And if all that fails, he reminds the old guy that whenever he hears the opening chord to "You Shook Me All Night Long," the old guy remembers being behind the wheel of a two-door, four-color 1968 Chevrolet Impala, listening to an AM radio through one speaker, turned up loud enough to make whatever noise it produced unintelligible and not caring at all because he was behind the wheel and he had his license and the whole wide world was before him.

Plus, they rock, man.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

And I Wonder

Random thoughts that occurred to me while watching the OU-KU game Saturday in row 40, section 6, courtesy of Travis, a minister buddy of mine and his congregants who weren't using their season tickets:

- When 85,000 people say the same thing at the same time, it's plenty frickin' loud.

- Lasik must be a miracle procedure and a lot more widespread than I thought, because everybody around me could see a pass interference call (or non-call) better than the line judge fifteen feet away from the players. Or perhaps they all had bionic eyes. In which case: Excellent calls, guys who could use their super-powered robotic limbs to dismember me!

- When the sweet little 70-something grandma behind and to your left switches from talking about baking cookies with her grandkids to pointing out how the line can't trap-block to save their lives and how the defenders are bending at the waist when they tackle instead of at the knees, you're in serious football country.

- College football is a darn fun game to attend.

- Wondering out loud how the players did on their midterms will cause chuckles.

- Nobody likes the TV timeout guy.

- When the quarterback sets a record for most passing yards in a game for his school, that's an exciting statistic. Watching it happen -- making the game approximately eight weeks long -- is less than exciting.

- Yes, "exciting statistic" is an oxymoron.

- The OU team's method of sending in plays -- three assistant coaches (two decoys, one for real) waving their arms around like someone dropped tasers in their shorts -- is kind of funny.

- The fact that the team will get to the line, stop, look up at the sidelines so Moe, Larry and Curly (h/t Travis) can do some more interpretive dance until about five seconds are left on the play clock is not funny and actually kind of annoying.

- Believe it or not, there are still twirlers in the world who wear the little circus-y outfits and spin their batons during the band performances. The young lady at OU was quite good, but I'd thought the twirler was like the Studentathelete-asaurus: a fondly-remembered feature of a bygone day (like, say, when I was in school).

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Here Comes the Sun...

Some very interesting photos of the biggest nuclear reactor in the neighborhood, our sun.

As if you couldn't tell, this kind of stuff is like candy to me...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

This May Not End Well...

Oklahoma City's NBA team, the Thunder, will call its dance/pep squad the Thunder Girls.

The college I where I used to work had a large number of dancers, and I can't imagine any of them being happy with any of the many mental pictures that spring from the term "Thunder Girls." Sure, it follows some NBA traditions, like the Los Angeles Lakers' dance team, the Laker Girls. But that squad gave us Paula Abdul, so maybe there are some better paths to follow.

In any event, apparently the Thunder Girls uniforms do not look like the original Thunder Girl, a.k.a. Molly Wilson, a 14-year-old orphaned librarian given super powers by Mother Nature because of her innate goodness:

I expect that's for the best, because someone would probably trip on her cape. Plus, if she showed up, she might bring along some of the rest of the Knights of Justice, and that Kid Galahad guy looks like he's got some issues...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Things that's cool but which don't necessarily need their own posts:

Want to peruse the NASA archives of photos from the Hubble Space Telescope, other observatories and different space missions? Check here.


I'd love to know how author Stuart Woods pitches his books. "Well, you see, imagine that I write like Victor Appleton, only I let Tom and Bud hook up with the ladies, swear and then swear about hooking up with the ladies. Then, in Santa Fe Dead, I talk about how rich they are instead of having them do anything. Oh, and they buy airplanes..."


Tell me again why the stock market is legal nationwide and very very different from sports gambling, which isn't.


So more Americans would rather watch talking chihuahuas than Bill Maher? There's hope for this country yet.


Oops. No there isn't.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Visitors Are Still Our Friends...

The ABC network is going to try to relaunch the old lizards-invade-the-Earth show of the 1980s, V.

The success of the Battlestar Galactica revamp on the Sci-Fi Channel has some TV execs drooling. This is only natural, since the subject at hand requires absolutely no real creativity on their part at all. Galactica took a cheesy, 20-year-old science fiction TV series and put some real talent into its writing, acting and production, and came up with a great show. So not only do they not have to think up a new show idea, since they can lift the premise from the old version of V, they don't even have to come up with the idea of the revamp itself, since it's been done before too. Brilliant!

By the way, this show has nothing to do with the doltish 2006 V for Vendetta movie or the cool 1980s comic book of the same name from Alan Moore. Except that Hugo Weaving may have been making lizard faces under that mask. It's hard to tell, and he was probably bored.

As I recall, the Visitors were alien lizards who pretended to be people in order to come and steal our water as well as start using us like we use cows. Or, judging by the picture accompanying the Yahoo! story, they were here to steal our hair mousse, because I imagine Jane Badler used an entire planet's supply in order to make that 'do stand up. Interestingly enough, although the Visitors were actually lizards, a number of them seemed to have definite - ahem - mammalian characteristics. Perhaps those were artificial, in which case the best place to put out a casting call for expressionless drones with bronchial-area implants might be Hugh Hefner's crib.

The show starred Faye Grant as a heroic (and beautiful) scientist/leader of the resistance movement who, along with the heroic (and pectoral) TV cameraman (!) Marc Singer, begins to try to fight off the Visitors and expose their true plans. The original miniseries drew on stories by Sinclair Lewis and Bertold Brecht (!!) and did well enough in the ratings to warrant a sequel.

On the plus side, the sequel introduced the character of Ham Tyler, played by Original Bada** Michael Ironside. On the minus side, it introduced Willie, a nerdy Visitor schmuck played by Robert Englund, who was better known as another character with skin issues. Oh, by the way, I forgot to mention that all the visitors went by regular human first names, like Diana, John and Pamela. I'm sure there was a reason, but I can't think of it.

Then, because TV producers never met an idea they couldn't run into the ground, through the other side of the planet and around the curvature of space-time until it returned to its starting point, there was an hour-long weekly TV series. Because science fiction on prime-time network TV had always done so well, you see. It lasted one season, and added as a character Elizabeth the Star Child, the offspring of a human mother and Visitor father. Although born during the second miniseries, which happened just months before the setting of the TV series, the Star Child aged rapidly, fortunately stopping when she became a 20-something hottie (she's actually two weeks younger than me -- Yikes!). The actress who played the Star Child married the guy who founded Celestial Seasonings Tea, and is apparantly a part of the Urantia Fellowship religion, a kind of Scientology without L. Ron Hubbard. Which sounds like a good idea, come to think of it.

The new show developer, Scott Peters, also produced The 4400 for the USA Network and the old Alien Nation syndicated show, which also dealt with aliens who lived among us and was taken from the movie with James Caan and Mandy Patinkin. Those aliens were nice and did not need hair mousse, as they were bald with squiggly lines on their heads, but they did try to fit in with us and, judging by the single female alien who lived in the main human character's apartment building (Hint! Foreshadowing!), were also mammals. Peters says he will exchange the Holocaust allusions of the original series to ones dealing with the terrorist attacks of 9/11, which I'm sure will turn out well.

Anyway, it'll be interesting to see how this plays out. But I have one piece of advice for Mr. Peters if he wants to have any chance of success with his new V series: The first guy he hires better be Michael Ironside.