Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Ubi est mea?

That's the Latin phrase columnist Mike Royko once suggested should be used as the actual motto of his hometown of Chicago instead of the official Urbs in Horto. The official one means "City in a Garden." The accurate one means "Where's mine?"

This thought was brought to mind by the upcoming selection announcement from the International Olympic Committee of which city will get the 2016 Summer Games. Chicago is one of the finalists, and oh boy will there be some smiles on the faces of some people if if the I-O-C says "C-H-I."

I don't just mean all the folks who'll swell with civic pride at the honor being done to their city, and at what it means for the hard work of the organizing committee. I mean the folks whose eyes light up when big big projects get scheduled for their particular bailiwicks because when the till is that big, there's some money that'll fall through the cracks somewhere. And if Chicago has any resources whatsoever, they have an abundance of people who know how to hold their wallets under those cracks so that the Windy City becomes the Windfall City.

If the Olympics comes to Chicago, I suspect many things about the games will change. Rather than file protests and seek records when China tries to pass off toddlers as teen-age gymnasts, somebody will call somebody.

And the van that drives the Chinese gymnastics team from O'Hare to the Olympic Village will be discovered to be lacking a couple of permits, which means it has to be stopped by the police and probably impounded, and we'd let you make your phone call, pal, but as you can see the phone is out of order and the guy from Illinois Bell said he'd get here between 9 AM and 4 PM today but he ain't here yet and if you was in that big a hurry to get where you had to go you shoulda checked on your permits, shouldn't you. And anyways what's a grown man driving a van full of little girls around for? You some kind of weirdo, bub?

Enterprising fellows will be around to offer target-shooting competitors "upgrades" on their weapons: "Now seriously, guy, you expect to do anything with a popgun like that? C'mon, that's not even gonna break the skin on a brat. Lemme show you some stuff that'll get you notice and make sure that target stays down."

Swimmers pitted against local favorites might find their swell new high-tech sharkskin suits augmented with a dash of cement: "It's an advisory. There's more where that came from, if you know what I mean." "Did not finish -- fell down some stairs" will be an explanation for why certain runners never completed their marathons.

The fire department might douse the Eternal Flame because "city code says you can't have an open flame this size, you know, so I gotta put this out quick because I'm out collecting for the Department Benevolent Fund and I'm behind on my quota and...oh, a donation? Hey, thanks! I better get back to the house right away and turn this in! You just remember about that flame thing next time, OK?"

Hmmm...maybe Chicagoans aren't the only ones hoping their city gets picked.

(H/T American Princess)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Oh, to Be in Cleveland

A long post about this year's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees over at the long post blog.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Problem: Malnutrition, excessive drunkenness. Solution: Guinness!

Leave it to the Irish to find a solution to a problem with alcohol that involves...alcohol. Thursday marks the 250th anniversary of the creation of Guinness beer by Arthur Guinness.

Mr. Guinness was concerned that his fellow Emerald Islanders were getting so drunk so often on whiskey. He was a devout Protestant (shhh! Don't tell the Father!) who saw this as a great social ill, in addition to the fact that people spent so much on their chief beverages of choice they had less money left over for food.

He prayed for God to show him a way to help his countrymen, and wound up leasing a brewery in Dublin (for nine thousand years -- somebody should have told the Brits about this before they signed their agreement for Hong Kong). At that brewery, he created a very heavy beer that was thick enough you couldn't drink as much as you could of a lighter liquid like whiskey. It had a lower alcohol content and the heavy stout had a decent portion of what are now recommended daily minerals.

The link says that public drunkenness in rural Ireland did decrease after Guinness became popular but doesn't offer a citation for that. But a wee bit o' blarney nivver did any more harm than a nip o' the stout, so I see no reason to disagree. Serious researchers may refer to this volume should they feel the need to tarnish such a good story with facts.

Although what the Guinness family will do when that lease comes up in 10,759 AD is something that worries me. I'm figuring the landlord's going to want to bump the price a bit.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Out of Tune

So the Emmy awards were last night? I had no idea.

Then I read the list of people & shows nominated and the winners and I had even less idea than I had to start with. I gotta stop reading books, I guess.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

That Time of the Week

Wherein I offer what I can, this time from Psalm 1.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

What Might Have Been

Saturday would have been columnist Mike Royko's 77th birthday. Royko was a lifelong Chicagoan and has been lauded in these pixels before for his satire, wit, writing and general journalistic awesomeness.

Although he might have retired had he lived past 1997, I think the chances are good he would have come out of mothballs and warmed up a keyboard for things like former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's impeachment and possible trial. There's some things you can't let pass you by.

I expect that in Mike Royko's vision of heaven, the typewriters never jam.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Lost Code

A friend loaned me a copy, so cry havoc and let slip the dogs of mockery!

The man who was not Robert Langdon closed the book slowly. What had he just read? What did it mean?

He looked at the man across the table from him. "What did I just read? What does it mean?"

"Be a symbologist," the man said, then held up his hand as not-Langdon began to object. "I know there's no such thing, but pretend. Look at the book as though it contains symbols itself."

"Well, for starters. it's literally crawling with clichéd phrases," not-Langdon said. "Sighs are heaved, glances are thrown, panics rise. This can't actually be considered 'writing.'"

"Good. What else?"

"Words are italicized for no apparent reason," not-Langdon said. "There must be some kind of code! The hackneyed phrases and ridiculous emphases combine to mean something!"

"Excellent! What else? What about the characters? What about Sophie?"

Not-Langdon was puzzled, and his brows drew together in a confused frown. "Sophie? I think that was The Da Vinci Code. You mean Vittoria."

"No, that was Angels and Demons. Waitaminute, I remember. It's Katherine. What about Katherine?"

"What about her?" not-Langdon said. "She's an empty cipher." The other man gave no response. "Well?" not-Langdon asked.

"Oh, I thought that since you'd used a catch-phrase it was time for some exposition to clog the story and cover up the author's inability to show rather than tell. Sorry. Katherine's an empty cipher, go on."

"Yes, except she's not totally empty. She fulfills the role of communicating the author's latest screwy airheaded idea. The bloodline of the Magdalene...no, I mean 'Noetic Science.'"

"Ah, and Peter Solomon?"

"Langdon's mentor. I mean, his latest mentor, aside from the old mentors he runs across in the other books. He's a Mason and that role is the way that the author works in the secret system of codes and stuff he misuses for this book -- Freemasonry."

"You believe he's wrong about Freemasonry's rituals and such? You're a Mason?"

Not-Langdon heaved a sigh. "No, not at all. But he's Dan Brown. Actually, it's his job to get things wrong."

"So we're back to our original questions. What do all of these different esoteric symbols, codes, misused meanings, half-baked philosophical ramblings, lumpish expository soliloquies and inconsistent characterizations add up to tell us? When we combine them and pull our deus ex machina plot device out of the ozone, what does it all mean?"

"Dan Brown's a hack with a great marketing department."

"Exactly," the other man said. "Man who is not Robert Langdon, you have solved the secret of The Da Vinci's Angel Symbol."

"Don't you mean The Demon's Lost Code?"


Keep Your Eyes on the Stars...

I seem to be of a deep-space mindset this week. The Planck Space Telescope has been returning images of deep, deep space while its being run through its paces in a sort of "demo" mode.

The Planck hangs out close to a million miles (1.5 million kilometers) from Earth and always points away from the sun, in order to get clearer measurements. Its operating temp is a bit lower than -273° C, just above absolute zero and a few degrees warmer than the average American bed when the anniversary gift and flowers are purchased at the nearby convenience store because it's still open 10 minutes before midnight.

It scans the sky in a sort of one swath at a time back and forth mode, the way my dad wanted me to mow the yard even though concentric squares took less time. Ahem. Anyway, as the story notes, it builds a strip-by-strip (some might say "Planck-by-Planck," but we would harm them if they did) view of the sky.

Scientists have detected radiation that comes from a mere 380,000 years after the initial singularity or Big Bang that is theorized as the beginning of the universe. Prior to that, conditions in the universe were too hot to differentiate between actual substance and emitted radiation. Again, insert your own favorite elected official/government functionary joke here.

The best guess age estimate of the universe is about 15 billion years, which means the Planck is taking pictures of the universe the way it looked when it was about 2½ percent as old as it is now. If the average human lifespan is about 75 years, then this is like a picture of us taken when we were about 22½ months old. Evidently the universe holds still for the camera better than we did -- I hesitate to imagine what God used for a squeaky toy to get its attention otherwise.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Hello, World!

What do CoRoT-7b and our own Earth have in common?

They're both what astronomers call rocky planets as opposed to gas giants like Jupiter, and CoRoT-7b actually circles another star, some 500 light-years from us. Telescopes found the world back in February and density measurements confirmed it's a solid world instead of a ball of hot gas (insert your favorite politician joke here).

Solidity may be the only thing we have in common with CoRoT-7b, though. As the story mentions, it's only 1.6 million miles from its star, 23 times closer than Mercury is to our sun. At that distance, it's become tidally locked. This means the gravity of its star has affected the planet's rotational speed so that it matches up with its oribital speed in such a way that only one side faces its sun. Our moon, for reference, is tidally locked with the Earth.

Since one side always faces a sun that's pretty much just across the street in terms of astronomical distances, that side is probably hot enough to be molten. All you entrepreneurs might want to start stocking up on sunscreen to sell to the CoRoT-7b-ians. The other side, even though it's also very close to the sun, is probably very very cold, since it never gets any sunlight at all. Other entrepreneurs might consider naming a new insulation product after CoRoT-7b. Which actually kind of sounds like some sort of chemical already.

CoRoT-7b isn't the planet closest to its sun -- that honor belongs to a world called SWEEPS-10, which is so close and moves so fast that its year is only 10 hours long. That's barely one-thousandth as long as our year -- if we talked to someone who lived there and complained about a meeting that felt like it went on for weeks, they would shrug and wonder what the problem was.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Person Who Died

The injustice is not that Basketball Diaries and "People Who Died" author Jim Carroll is dead and Kanye West is alive. Mr. Carroll's heroin addiction at a young age probably did enough damage to his body that his living to be 60 was a major achievement. And I wish no ill occurrence to Mr. West.

The injustice is that the world has a handful of musical albums by Mr. Carroll, but has already endured four albums from Mr. West and will probably be forced to bear still more from this boorish horse's patoot.


Feel free to mosey on over to the sermon blog for today's edition, if you like.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Nah, I Don't Think So...

So in the parade of remakes that's coming from Hollywood, we'll soon get that new version of Children of the Corn that absolutely everyone has been clamoring for (the subject has dominated most of my conversations for the past twenty-five years, and you may remember how both major political parties began including a Corn remake demand in their platforms with the 1988 election cycle).

Bob Weinstein of The Weinstein Company says writer Ehren Kruger will bring a fresh vision to the Stephen King short story that was the source material. Specifically, Weinstein says, "We are bringing something new to the story."

Where's Joe Wilson when you need him? I doubt with every fiber of every being that has ever existed or will ever exist, Mr. Weinstein, that your production will bring anything new to either the story itself, the original crappy movie or anything involving movies in general.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


So Fox TV has talked with the guy behind the show Chuck and The Shield for a science fiction show with Western overtones.

I think Captain Malcolm Reynolds would like to have a talk with said Fox executives about convincing them to revisit the last sci-fi/Western hybrid they had going but didn't give a decent shot at success. He may even give his crewman Jayne Cobb the job of finding out, but I bet he will be "non-specific as to how" it's done.

Ah, the Weird World

Astronomers believe the eclipse of Epsilon Aurigae has begun.

It's one of the weird things we see in the sky. E. Aurigae is one of a group of stars called "eclipsing variables," which are usually two stars that orbit each other in such a manner that every now and again, one of them gets fully between us and its companion, eclipsing it. When that happens, what may look like one bright star to the unaided eye seems to dim, since we're seeing the light from only one of the two.

But ol' E. Aurigae is different. It dims, all right, but it dims weird. The companion that orbits the star seems to be some kind of disk made up of dark material (astronomers call anything that doesn't emit its own light "dark material," like planets, interstellar dust and Charlie Sheen's brain).

That would be fine, except the eclipse lasts a couple of years and experiments showed its mass is almost the same as the star itself. That means that whatever is circling E. Aurigae is frickin' huge. It's so huge that if it's really some kind of dust cloud it shouldn't have been able to hold together on its own -- certainly not for the nearly 200 years E. Aurigae's eclipses have been observed -- unless there were stars or some other gravitational sources involved. But there's no sign of any stars within the whatever-it-is that's orbiting E. Aurigae.

Although it would be darn cool if it's some kind of technologically advanced civilization that has harnessed the power of gravity, that's unlikely. The current best guess is some kind of disk of gas with a central hole, held in place by perhaps two very dim stars.

Anyway, now E. Aurigae is dimming on schedule, and astronomers are eager to turn some seriously sophisticated instruments like the space-based telescopes and giant devices called interferometers that will measure different kinds of light and radiation it emits and maybe tell us what's hanging around the star. Or who.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Either Or...

Since documentary moviemaker Michael Moore has determined that capitalism is evil, I expect one of two things to happen when his new Capitalism: A Love Story hits wide release October 2.

One, I expect Moore to allow anyone who wants to see the film for free to do so. Or I expect him to zip his multi-millionaire, Halliburton-stock-owning "make-it-up-and-call-it-a-documentary" mouth.

No, I'm kidding. I don't expect him to do either of those things.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Notes to My 1989 Self

So on the occasion of a birthday I'll drop me a line, some things that I think I would have been better off knowing in 1989:

1. Neither driving a pickup truck nor listening to country and western music is going to be as painful as you think it will be.

2. Hope you enjoyed that '85 World Series, Royals fan...

3. Your alma mater will make it back to the Rose Bowl in your lifetime. Winning it, however, will be another matter.

4. You still have your hair, and about 85-90 percent of it is the same color. You will want to let your high school classmates know this as often as you can.

5. You will keep in touch with them via something called "Facebook," which is on something called "the internet." We'll talk more about it after you've run out and bought some Apple Computer stock.

6. Brother, are you in for a career change.

7. That guy who wouldn't shut up during his loooooong speech at last year's Democratic convention? He's going to serve two terms as president.

8. So's the guy who just started running the Texas Rangers.

9. Buying that CD player will turn out to be a good move; the new turntable, not so much.

10. You'll weigh about what you do now, but it's going to take a lot more work than you think it does.

11. Next year there'll be a program called Law and Order show up on your TV. Get used to to it.

12. Misty-eyed nostalgia may catch you in weak moments and make you wish you could turn the clock back, but most of the time you'll realize you wouldn't do it even if you could.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Inmates, Asylum, etc., etc.

Libya's Colonel Muamar Gaddafi isn't wasting time -- his nation's representative will serve a yearlong term as the president of the United Nations General Assembly starting in a couple of weeks, and he wants action!

You read it right -- the Colonel wants the UN to abolish Switzerland. On the one hand, this is ludicrous -- where will we get our pocket knives if this were to go through?

But on the other hand, considering the UN has a record of dunderheadedness unmatched by anyone who doesn't answer to the name Moe, Larry or Curly, perhaps this is the kind of thing they should be spending their time on.

If Robert Ludlum were alive, he could even write a thriller novel about the secret plot to destroy Switzerland. Hey, maybe I'll do it. World, prepare yourself for the tense new bestseller: The Offiziersmesser Imperative.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


A few weeks ago, I happened to visit a Wal-Mart other than the one nearest me, and I saw a couple of things that brought to my mind a collection of things I have learned over the years shopping at various Wal-Mart stores. These may or may not be of help to you, and I suspect that long-term study would show they hold true at K-Mart or Target as well.

-- Electric carts are to be used by disabled folks. "Disability" includes being able to walk just fine but having a Dixon that outweighs one's Mason by a considerable amount. Later arrivals who need carts will be directed to wait or may ask other shoppers to use the carts. They will be found in front of the Häagen-Dazs display.

-- The yellow paint stripes in the parking lot are special magical paint. Shopping carts placed within them will not roll outside the area defined by the paint on the ground under their wheels. Please feel free to take advantage of this feature to save the five steps it would take to walk to the cart corral.

-- In a similar arena, posts that contain handicapped parking signs, light poles or other notices are magnetic. Carts placed next to them will not move unless retrieved by store employees.

-- Carts placed near the entry door may not be used by shoppers unless they have been retrieved by store employees and recirculated into the store via that funky short garage door entrance off to one side.

-- Signs such as "express lane" or "15 items or less" are merely advisory. Please advance to these lanes with as many items as you have in your cart.

-- No one is under any obligation, when meeting a cart coming in the opposite direction in a shopping aisle, to position oneself so that when both carts are stopped there is room for a third cart, person or carbon dioxide molecule to pass between them.

-- Any group of persons shopping should move through the store with one person pushing the cart and others flanking it in such a manner as to prevent the very real possibility that other carts may pull alongside and fire a broadside into it.

-- The toy section functions in a manner similar to a library. Children may play with any and all toys in and around this area and are asked to please allow store employees to re-stock the shelves rather than return things where they found them.

-- Should shoppers reconsider their purchase of an item before actually reaching the checkout counter, they may place it wherever they happen to be standing when they change their minds. It is important that perishable foodstuffs be handled in this way. It is especially important that such foodstuffs which have been frozen or refrigerated be handled this way, so that condensation which forms on them as they thaw can affect several other items.

-- Under no circumstances should a shopper report a dropped, spilled or broken item unless a store employee happens to be there to witness the accident!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

I'd Ask "What Were They Thinking?" But That Question Assumes Facts Not in Evidence...

I don't particularly care what folks may think about former GOP VP candidate and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. She seemed like a sharp enough lady who was on a really big stage she wasn't ready for, and that she was poorly prepped for that role by a campaign organization that did a better job of doing things wrong than doing them right. Some flashes of possibility, but nothing super well-formed yet.

But holy cow, what reason in the world could prompt the magazine Vanity Fair to run an essay supposedly written by Levi Johnston, the young man who is the father of Ms. Palin's grandson and former fiance of Bristol Palin? What could Johnston possibly offer that would be anything like a reasonable, reliable, accurate and informed picture of anything other than the horror of having to spend an evening with Kathy Griffin? Even if I had reason to believe that Johnston was going to accurately describe the workings of the Palin family -- and I don't, as a rule, rely much on the testimony of 19-year-old high school dropouts trying to work their way onto fame's Z-list -- why would I care?

An even bigger question is why does Vanity Fair care? In previous incarnations, the magazine printed work by people like Dorothy Parker, Thomas Wolfe, P.G. Wodehouse, Aldous Huxley and others. For a time, it was edited by Clare Booth Luce. In its current incarnation, dating back to 1983, it's run pieces by Christopher Hitchens and Dominick Dunne. Marie Brenner's 1993 "The Man Who Knew Too Much" interview with a tobacco industry insider who smuggled secret documents out of the workplace was an exposé that ripped open the industry's secrets and later became the movie The Insider.

In other words, this is a magazine that has a history of thoughtful and important content, as well as sober and probing reflection on issues of the day and society, culture and the arts in general. And now it's running a cover pictorial and major essay "by" Levi Johnston?

Condé Nast and Frank Crowninshield aren't spinning in their graves -- they're opening their coffin lids and reaching for shotguns.

Sure About that Lightsaber, Obi-Wan?

For a "clumsy" and "random" weapon, this laser seemed to do pretty well finding and taking out its target...