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 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.

Friday, October 10, 2008

I Apologize to My Rice Krispies, Too...

It's always nice to know that someone else has a stupider government than you do...

Extremely Medial

Having solved every problem in the U.S. legal system, the Justice Department will now mediate a dispute between two high school coaching staffs.

During a Sept. 19 game between Dunbar High in Washington, D.C. and Fort Hill High of eastern Maryland, Dunbar players and coaches stopped play and walked off the field following what they claimed was a stream of racial insults and epithets. Players and coaches from Fort Hill claim they never heard any such talk, and while referees say they didn't hear any, they noted that players may say things when in close contact that referees don't overhear.

My own opinion is that the Fort Hill claim of complete blamelessness is hooey. The use of derogatory racial terms as insults still exists, as do knuckle-draggers who feel they can properly express their enmity, disapproval or supposed superiority by using them. Again, my own opinion of people who do use these insults is that they exhaust all their available brainpower when they direct their bodies to perform the actions that make up speech -- like inhaling and exhaling, shaping the mouth, moving the tongue, etc. -- and they don't have any neurons left to do anything other than sling a racial taunt.

But even so, it's doubtful that there was some kind of systematic mass slandering going on, given that people who consider such behavior acceptable shrink in number every day. And given that four Fort Hill starters are African American.

As to walking off the field...well, I've never been an African American, so I can't say how I would react to hearing the taunts they say they heard. I think we'd all prefer a walkoff to a brawl, though, so the Dunbar players and coaches showed some character there. The Dunbar coach said a few things before the game about how he'd been told he wouldn't get a fair shake playing at Fort Hill, though, so he's got some ownership of the tension level as well.

Seriously, though -- the Justice Department of the United States? I grant that this is an impenetrable he said, he said situation, and that at this point it's impossible to know what happened. The Dunbar coaching staff believes their players were insulted because of their race, and the Fort Hill staff believes their team and town have been slandered by what was very probably said by a few doofuses. But I can't ever remember the Justice Department displaying Solomon's wisdom, and I doubt anything less would truly move through this maze.

The Department does have a division that handles civil rights issues and this definitely qualifies, but since the most likely result is a joint statement that says everybody's going to behave better next time and try to understand each other, why not just cut out the middleman and say that anyway?

After all, we're talking about two high schools whose seniors test hundreds of points below the national average on the SAT even while they boast championship football teams that can afford to travel far outside their districts to play other top teams in order to pocket a couple thousand dollars. I've never been to either school, but don't those kinds of things usually indicate an outsized emphasis on football over classroom? And given how few people play professional football judged against how many people might need to demonstrate some kind of smarts to get and keep a job, isn't there already a problem with these two schools thinking football is a lot more important than it really is?

I guess we're left saying to the government what we usually have to say to the government: You're doing it wrong.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Card

For many years, the holy grail of baseball card collectors has been what they call the "Honus Wagner T206," a card showing a picture of Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Honus Wagner.

Wagner, who played from 1897 to 1917, was one of the first five players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He tied for second place with Babe Ruth, behind Ty Cobb. Cobb himself -- not a man given to praising much of anybody or anything besides Ty Cobb -- and pitching legend Christy Mathewson lauded Wagner as one of the best players ever to take the field.

But he's best known as the face on The Card, that aforementioned Honus Wagner T206. Baseball cards today come in packs of their own and many folks may remember when they came with bubble gum, but at the turn of the century they showed up in all kinds of things, including cigarette packs. The American Tobacco Company (ATC) published its T206 series from 1909 to 1911, but Honus objected to being included in that series. According to The Card authors Michael O'keeffe and Teri Thompson, either Honus didn't want kids buying cigarettes in order to collect his baseball card or he wasn't big on ATC making money off his image without giving him a cut. The more things change...

Anyway, probably not more than 200 Wagner T206 cards were actually released. Most of them today look the way you'd expect 100-year-old pieces of cardboard that started life in a package of tobacco to look. Smudged, faded, creased, worn at the edges, etc. But The Card, known officially as the "Gretzky T206 Honus Wagner" and featured on the cover of the book, is still brightly-colored and crisp at the edges, which is why different people, including hockey great Wayne Gretzky, have ponied up several million dollars over the years acquiring it from one another. In September of 2007, an anonymous collector spent $2.8 million to buy it at auction.

Investigative journalists O'keeffe and Thompson detail how The Card appeared in the 1980s and brought with it the beginning of the high-dollar sports card craze. Most of the trappings of that business that are taken for granted -- quality grading firms, authenticators, eyebrow-raising claims of veracity -- stem from the original push to verify and "prove" that the Gretzky T206 was the real deal. While the authors seem to accept The Card was in fact printed in that ATC T206 run, they offer evidence of an origin that falls well into the realm of shady doings.

Folks who are really into sports memorabilia will have their own opinion about whether or not this three-and-three-quarters square-inch piece of cardboard is worth almost as much as a real baseball player. But The Card is a pretty interesting look at how this business began and some of the less-redeeming features of an enterprise that involves grown men spending millions of dollars on broken bats, scuffed balls, dirty uniforms, stinky shoes, sweaty hats and so on because they may have been used by or may have been signed by an athlete at some point.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm heading off to the store to pick up my run of the newest collectible craze: Clergy Cards. The latest set has a pretty good Billy Graham (Position: Elder statesman; Preaches: Anywhere), T.D. Jakes (Position: Loosed!; Preaches: Amplification optional) and Jeremiah Wright (Position: Under the bus; Preaches: Let's not go there).

Saturday, October 4, 2008

East German Judge Gives It a 10!

Well, of course hosting the Olympic Games helped open up China's Communist government, and left a "unique legacy" in Olympic history.

After all, brutal and repressive regimes always respond to the international spotlight by letting themselves be seen, warts and all, and allowing every flaw to be analyzed and examined on the world stage. That's why, even though the first health problems connected to melamine in milk products in China started showing up in December 2007 and the first infant death directly linked to the chemical happened in May 2008, the world learns of the problem well after the Olympic Games are over.

Melamine is a chemical used in flame retardants, cleaners like Mr. Clean's "Magic Eraser," plastics and countertops. Because of its high nitrogen content, it can boost the apparent protein levels in food, even though it's no protein itself. It's what caused pet food recalls last year when it was found in wheat gluten Chinese companies used in preparing the food. Melamine by itself is somewhat dangerous, but when combined with another chemical called cyanuric acid, it can form poisonous kidney stones and cause kidney failure. And oh, guess what, the same companies that added melamine to pet food in order to make low-protein stuff look like high-protein stuff also added cyanuric acid. And oh, double guess what, that's the same tasty combo found in the powdered milk.

Apparently Chinese officials figured that the civilized world would be at least as touchy about poisoned children as they were about poisoned pets, so, according to the AFP story, they kept their investigation of the guilty companies on the QT until after everyone was done ooh-ing and ahh-ing over all the dancers, fireworks and big gold medal haul.

Guess they were worried an investigation might wake the baby.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

If It Didn't Take so Long...

I'd go back to school and get a Ph.D. and not have enough to do, like our 300-hating prof from a few days ago and like these guys.

According to them, you see, our nostalgic concept of "The Fifties" was invented by the revival group Sha Na Na. Yes, Bowzer is responsible for Richie Cunningham. Our authors the Leonards, well-armed with scare quotes around words like "history" to let you know they know those aren't really words like everybody since Noah Webster thought they were, but are actually sociological constructs, suggest that the Columbia University a cappella group The Kingsmen are the direct ancestors of American Graffitti, Happy Days and probably Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love."

The Kingsmen changed their name before a show focusing on 1950s pop songs, including "Get a Job" by The Silhouettes with its "sha da da" chorus (and because a combo up in Seattle had a hit under that name), and thus a phenomenon was born. Before Sha Na Na's appearance at Woodstock (wonder what the folks who'd dropped acid thought when they showed up on stage), "Americans" "remembered" the 1950s as the decade of Joe McCarthy, A-bomb drills and tortured beat writers like Jack Kerouac and Allan Ginsberg.

Which makes sense -- you may remember how often Elvis had to call Ginsberg and beg him to be allowed to play before the poet went onstage to read before thousands of screaming teenagers. "Don't be cruel, Allan, just a song or two. I need the work. Thank you, thank you very much."

Here's some more fun -- the article I linked to riffs off of two books written by still other professors.

One of them, about which the word "bold" is used for no reason that the article authors go on to elaborate, is called Happy Days and Wonder Years: The Fifties and Sixties in Contemporary Cultural Politics by Daniel Marcus. Mr. Marcus suggests politicians pick and choose from among past events in order to communicate their message. I just saved you $62 plus shipping.

The other, Retro: The Culture of Revival by Elizabeth Guffey, takes a look at how old trends and fads become new again, then old again, then new again. At least, I think it does. One of the reviews of the book says it does this:
Elizabeth Guffey considers retro's resistance to modernist progressive cheerleading and, in fact, its rewriting of modernism itself.
I have a feeling that, even if I read Guffey's book, I still won't be able to say whether or not the review quote was accurate because I have no idea what it means.

Anyway, the authors of our article note that both of these books point out the role Sha Na Na had in the creation of '50s nostalgia. I don't know if the books touch on this, but the article omits one of our main cultural nostalgia-drivers: The baby-boomer desire to stop time and keep alive the era when they were young and thus -- in the eyes of a youth-obsessed culture -- important.

After all, that's why we spent a lot of our 2004 presidential election fighting over what two men in their 50s, who had held a couple of our nation's highest offices, had done when they were 22 and why that was the best indicator of their fitness for the presidency. It's why commercials talking about retirement planning show senior citizens surfing instead of playing with grandkids or relaxing in a rocker on the front porch.

And it's why people who spent thousands of dollars and thousands of hours of their lives obtaining advanced degrees will devote time and serious scholarship to talking about a time when they dressed up like James Dean and sang "At the Hop." Yes, the authors of the article that suggests Sha Na Na created '50s nostalgia and spawned Happy Days, Grease and the rise of Ronald Reagan are, in fact, two founding members of Sha Na Na.

Go figure.