Friday, October 30, 2009

We've Got Us a Contest!

I have at another time opined that when The View co-host Joy Behar opens her mouth, the whole world gets stupider. I said this because I believe Ms. Behar is capable of saying things of such an incredible level of dumbness that they actually suck the smart out of other people, and that she can do so to a degree that almost no one else on television can match.

Then I saw a broadcast of The Tyra Banks Show today. It was on at the gym, and I had outpedaled my book again, and people look at me weird when I do the exercise bike with my eyes closed (well, I think they do. After all, my eyes are closed). Before you ask, yes, it was a traumatic experience, and my therapist recommended writing it down to begin the healing process.

Anyway, Tyra was talking to people who call themselves vampires. The main guest seemed to be this tall, skinny, pale dude who had veneers placed on his canine teeth in order to create fangs. He explained about how these people think of themselves, and how some of them do in fact consume blood from other people. Tyra was very curious and asked many questions, allowing this fellow, who as far as I could tell was a very polite young man despite being obviously a wee bit off his nut, to explain his lifestyle.

And then she asked about why there weren't any black vampires.

Now, I believe this question shows us a couple things. One, Ms. Banks seems to have completely overlooked the career of Prince Mamuwalde, better known as Blacula, as detailed in Blacula and Scream, Blacula, Scream. Two, she has also ignored the Eddie Murphy Theorem of Black People in Horror Movies, which suggests that the first even remotely creepy event will cause black people to get the heck away from whatever's going on, an entirely sensible course of action that people in horror movies never seem to take, no matter what their race. In other words, the Murphy Theorem suggests that black people are too sensible to succumb to the vampire's curse.

It would seem Mr. Murphy has never met Ms. Banks.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Short Speech?

According to this item, former New York Times reporter and current life coach Jayson Blair will give a speech at the Journalism Ethics Institute at Washington and Lee University. The title: "Lessons Learned."

I dunno. After you say, "Don't make stuff up and say it really happened," how much more of the speech could there be?

The World Series

Reasons to root for the Phillies:

1. They're from Philadelphia, a town that doesn't get a whole lot of sports love. They're no disaster area like Chicago, but they've tried really hard.

2. They beat the Dodgers and should be rewarded. The Brooklyn Dodgers' move to Los Angeles in 1958 was one of the major pushes in our nation's unfortunate decision to pay attention to California and other portions of the Pacific coast. It's probably too late to stop it, but that doesn't mean we can't enjoy its setbacks when they come.

3. They're playing the Yankees. The only opponent the Yankees could schedule that would induce one to root for them would be Hamas.


4. They won last year, and parity is boring.

Reasons to root for the Yankees:

1. You're a minion of Satan, doing your dark lord's bidding.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Reruns Already?

We've been studying the sermons of John Wesley, and I've been preaching an interpretation of some of them. First did this in 2006 at my previous churches. The re-run version is here. People who wish to view Wesley's sermon may see it here.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Must Be That Time...

Another Halloween, another Saw release from the moral pygmies at Lionsgate.

I Always Wanted a Mall

And now I have one!

And so do you.

You've Outlasted Me Again, Mr. Bond!

The first "James Bond villain," Dr. No, was played by the Canadian-born actor Joseph Wiseman. Mr. Wiseman passed away Monday at his home at the age of 91. His nemesis, the suave super-spy James Bond, still lives, as do all the actors who've played him.

According to his IMDB page, Wiseman pretty much never stopped working, scoring roles in dozens of TV series, including a role on The Show That's Had Everybody, Law and Order, as well as the 1960s Show That's Had Everybody, The Twilight Zone. He also played a lot on stage, starting out there in the late 1930s and working up until 2001 on Broadway.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Think Like a Dog

A story in Time magazine details a new center at Duke University that will evaluate the intelligence of dogs.

On the one hand, this would seem like one of those boondoggles (heh) that we like to make fun of, where prestigious universities employ people that use their extensive educations to study things that are irrelevant or at least, extremely obvious. But on the other hand, figuring out how dogs learn stuff, as well as what they can learn, might help better train canine assistants like seeing-eye dogs that make lives a lot easier for the many folks they help. And it reveals some pretty interesting things.

For one, dogs seem to be the only other creature so far that has an instinctive understanding of what it means to point at something. According to the story, even chimpanzees had to be extensively trained to get what puppies figure out very early (Note from cats: We understand pointing. We just don't care).

Another interesting item was how Russian scientists investigating canine behavior did so. They gathered foxes and bred the ones that showed the most affability to humans. Foxes that showed curiosity and came up to a hand placed on their cage got to breed. Foxes that shrank back or snarled when people approached their cages didn't get to. I suspect that this procedure may have led to some resentment on the part of those foxes, who did not understand that the consequences of their behavior would mean no mating. I believe they share this condition with a number of husbands who slept on the couch last night.

Anyway, over the course of some 40 generations of foxes that have been bred since this experiment started in the 1950s, the scientists produced foxes that act like dogs, even down to the wagging of tails and the innate ability to figure out pointing. Meaning friendly, outgoing animals were actually more intelligent than the surly, anti-social ones, a finding which will not be well-received in the goth community.

I think all this interesting because, among other things, dogs are highly reactive to their people, and it's instructive to learn how dogs acquire knowledge and behavior from the people they're around. This means you can tell a lot about what kind of a person someone is by the way his or her dog acts.

Show me a dog that likes people, likes to jump and play and is eager to explore its environment and I will show you a person who has properly trained his or her pet and gives it proper care and affection. Show me a dog that growls, backs away from people and is aggressive about its food, and I'll show you a person who has mistreated an animal, and who should probably be kept from mating.

Monday, October 19, 2009

I Gotta Get Back to College

A couple of guys -- one a professor at Duke University and the other someone who works at the US Department of Justice -- did a study to figure out why some college students download music illegally.

I don't know about you, but if someone whose letterhead had the words "Department of Justice" on it asked me about illegal music downloading, I would probably respond something like, "I think recorded music has never really been as good since they stopped using wax cylinders. And by the way, have you met my attorney?" So I wonder if the Duke prof really thought through his choice of partner.

Anyway, these two fellows develop some formulas for figuring out a student's willingess to pay (WTP) for the music. Turns out it has to do with several factors. One of them is cost -- if the music costs too much, the WTP goes down. Other factors include "a subjective assessment of the of the probability that she will face a lawsuit" and the hypothetical student's "personal morality."

In other words, if the music doesn't cost too much, and students think they're likely to get sued by a record company, and if they think taking stuff you didn't pay for is wrong, then they probably won't download music illegally.

It would definitely require a college education to figure that out.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Safeguard That Image!

I don't listen to Rush Limbaugh. He and similar merchants of the All-Heat-No-Light Brigade rarely help me learn anything I couldn't learn in a calmer, civilized and probably more even-handed format from researching and reading about an issue myself.

But if, as a rich guy from Missouri, he wants to spend some of his money to help buy one of the state's two NFL football teams and keep it in his home state, he ought to have the chance. Even if the team in question hasn't enough Missouri history to get a driver's license there, so what?

Apparently my view is not shared by some of the ownership folks and poo-bahs of the NFL itself. Because Limbaugh is controversial and because the NFL has so little confidence in its product that it feels any controversy will drive people away, it didn't like the idea of Limbaugh having any stake in the partnership that was looking to buy the Rams. Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee hung up her cell phone long enough to use her access to the floor of the United States House of Representatives -- a body that has a couple other things on its plate these days -- to tell a group of private citizens whom she does not represent not to do business with another private citizen whom she does not represent.

Part of the furor over Limbaugh involves quotes he's supposed to have said about black people. No transcript or recording for several of these has ever surfaced, and Limbaugh himself denies making the statements. Some, like his observations that people sometimes rate Donovan McNabb more highly than they ought because they want a black quarterback to succeed, he did say. Even if he's proven wrong on the others, it blows my mind that the National Football League -- currently the employer of one Michael Dwayne Vick, among others -- can with anything like a straight face say that Limbaugh is too "insensitive" to be an NFL owner, according to NFL owner Jim Irsay.

Now the league is concerned about insensitivity? A league that employs dozens of drunk drivers, girlfriend/wife abusers, barroom brawlers and drug users? The majority of the guys who play professional football are good men who use their fame and fortune to benefit their communities and families, either quietly or publicly. But the sludge element remains, here and there suspended or fined a little, but kept on and celebrated for as long as they can play and their incidents overlooked, paid off or dealt with in some other sweep-em-up fashion.

I personally think Limbaugh, a purveyor of bombast, bluster and blather, and the NFL, a purveyor of parity, pablum and a peculiar prudishness, are made for each other. But even if they're not, I believe the National Football League is about to learn the painful lesson of how foolish it is to tick off a guy who's got the ear of some 20 million people every week, a substantial sense of his own importance and a whole lot of money he can spend on convincing others of that importance through legal means.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

For Reference

Define "forgiveness." Use examples:

From testimony by Sister Genevieve Uwamariya at the African Synod of the Roman Catholic Church entitled The Church in Africa at the Service of Reconciliation, Justice and Peace:

I am a survivor of the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda 1994.

A large part of my family was killed while in our parish church. The sight of this building used to fill me with horror and turned my stomach, just like the encounter with the prisoners filled me with disgust and rage.

It is in this mental state that something happened that would change my life and my relationships.

On August 27th 1997 at 1 p.m., a group from the Catholic association of the “Ladies of Divine Mercy” led me to two prisons in the region of Kibuye, my birthplace. They went to prepare the prisoners for the Jubilee of 2000. They said: “If you have killed, you commit yourself to ask for forgiveness from the surviving victim, that way you can help him free himself of the burden/weight of vengeance, hatred and rancor. If you are a victim, you commit yourself to offer forgiveness to those who harmed you and thus you free them from the weight of their crime and the evil that is in them.”

This message had an unexpected effect for me and in me....

After that, one of the prisoners rose in tears, fell to his knees before me, loudly begging: “Mercy”. I was petrified in recognizing a family friend who had grown and shared everything with us.

He admitted having killed my father and told me the details of the death of my family. A feeling of pity and compassion invaded me: I picked him up, embraced him and told him in a tearful voice: “You are and always will be my brother”.

Then I felt a huge weight lift away from me... I had found internal peace and I thanked the person I was holding in my arms.

To my great surprise, I heard him cry out: “Justice can do its work and condemn me to death, now I am free!”

I also wanted to cry out to who wanted to hear: “Come see what freed me, you too can find internal peace”.

From that moment on, my mission was to travel kilometers to bring mail to the prisoners asking for forgiveness from the survivors. Thus 500 letters were distributed; and I brought back mail with the answers of the survivors to the prisoners who had become my friends and my brothers... This allowed for meetings between the executioners and the victims....

From this experience, I deduce that reconciliation is not so much wanting to bring together two persons or two groups in conflict. It is rather the re-establishment of each in love and allowing internal healing which leads to mutual liberation.

And here is where the importance of the Church lies in our countries, since her mission is to offer the Word: a word that heals, liberates and reconciles.

(H/T Whispers in the Loggia and The Anchoress.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Some Notes on Traveling

-- Ah, family reunions. Maybe a day too long, but a lot of fun. My cousins have cute kids, ranging from the toddlers up to the teens. The teens may substitute "cool" for cute if they so desire.

-- When your airplane lands in the fog it's kind of cool. Especially when the tops of the radio/TV transmission towers are above the top cloud layer and you can see the plane's shadow inside the fog.

-- When the PA announcer tells you that "federal regulations prohibit tha smokin' a tabbaccowe inside a da terminal an' widdin fifteen feet a da terminal doorss," you know you're in Chicago.

-- Whoever thought up the new size for paperback books so they fit in your coat pocket without bending in half and tearing the lining is a genius and I hope they made a mint off of it.

-- To the lady who carried three bags onto the flight from Midway to Detroit: You may not call two of them "my purse."

-- To the folks who hang a smaller bag over the extended handle of their wheeled luggage: You ain't foolin' nobody. That's two bags, buckaroo, and the rules say "one" and we're probably not taking off until you give in.

-- Lambert-St. Louis International Airport has a small "spa store" inside the east terminal which offers soothing massages. This is good, because Lambert is a pit. Carpet in gray-brown Dingytone® with a design on it drawn from the Early Schizolithic Era, exposed ventwork, industrial gray metal struts, flat, dull white ceilings, "subdued" lighting better suited to an automotive service bay and a wonderful view of the back of some hangars and sheds. Want a nice, inexpensive postcard or poster print of something like the famed St. Louis Arch or Cardinals Stadium? You're out of luck. Want a tacky silvered picture frame that Elton John would pass on with a "That's a bit too much" or maybe golf wear at a 15 percent markup from the retail outlets in your own hometown? Score!

All the TVs are tuned to CNN with the audio up loud enough to hear but some kind of signal problem means they don't sync, so there's a weird echo-y effect that makes Wolf Blitzer's peculiar oozy mix of smarm and beard and Jack Cafferty's counterfactual self-righteousness that much more annoying.

-- Flying today just plain sucks. I don't mean the security measures. All of the Transportation Safety Admin people I dealt with were courteous, professional and helpful, including to a couple of older people confused by all of the "step through this" and "put that in the bin." Wear shoes that go on and off easy, leave the change at home and don't carry a bunch of junk and you're through pretty quickly.

No, I mean flying in general. My first airplane flight was in 1982 when I came home from Christmas freshman year. I got a meal (not that great, but still a meal) and instead of making me cram my suit bag in into a bin, the attendant hung it up with the first class luggage. We could sit three to a row without using our elbows to do kidney surgery on our seatmates and lean the seat back without forcing whoever was behind us into yoga positions.

Now? We line up like cattle in the order of our boarding pass number because the airline we're flying can't be bothered to let us buy the seat we want when we buy our tickets (and ironically, we're flying it because it's about the best deal remaining in the industry). We're crammed into a plane that has every seat full to make up for all of the routes that rarely fill but which make for great billboard copy. We can do phrenology on the people in front of us and we share more with the people beside us than some married folks do. When a flight runs late, the airline employees at the gate treat us with the casual but accomplished disregard they reserve for people who've already paid their money and are stuck 250 miles from home by either answering our unsurprising "Why is it late?" with "I don't know, I'm just on the gate," or "Just running behind, I think," or "The computer doesn't say."

Worst of all? Well, in the nearly 30 years I've been flying, never once has an attractive single woman in the proper age range sat down next to me and since there's no more reserved seating, I don't have anyone to blame that on but me.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Ten Days?

I got nothing against the guy personally, and it's not like being an inept leader sets him apart from a number of his predecessors in office.

But the deadline for nominating people for the Nobel Peace Prize is Feb. 1. Barack Obama became president of the United States on Jan. 20. The only guy I know who did anything substantial for world peace in less than two weeks died on a cross, left behind an empty tomb and ascended into heaven.

Don't folks realize that as long as this kind of deification continues, Pres. Obama will pretty much never learn how to be president? I don't think that his problem is that he keeps giving speeches instead of doing the job. I think the problem is that he thinks giving speeches is the job. And as long as silly stuff like this keeps happening, he'll probably keep thinking it.

I voted against then-Sen. Obama because I didn't think the presidency was a place for on-the-job training and leadership development, but at the time I did feel that he might grow into the office anyway. Now I'm not so sure he'll get the chance to grow into anything, since so many people and so many groups seem to be sending the message that he's grown into it and beyond it.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

If It Ain't Broke...

Even though the city of Chicago did not win its bid to host the 2016 Summer Games (OK, side question...since the winning city, Rio de Janeiro, is south of the equator, isn't it a little hemisphere-centric to describe these as the "summer" games when they will actually be taking place during the host city's winter?), the White House will keep its Olympic office open.

In fact, the administration said, they'd intended from the start to set up a permanent office, officially the White House Office of Olympic, Paralympic and Youth Sport, no matter what the results of the International Olympic Committee's vote on site selection. Uh huh.

Some folks say that the presence of such an office will help the U.S. in the eyes of the IOC, since our lack of any kind of permanent government agency dedicated to sport has been a "deficiency" in our bids thus far.

Maybe if we could find some Tibetan monks to beat up, like the hosts of the 2008 Games did, or a variety of religious and ethnic minorities to harass and eventually murder by the millions, like the hosts of the 1936 (Winter and Summer) Games did, or impose a system of government that led to the deaths of millions of people around the globe, like the hosts of the 1980 Summer Games did, we could improve our record.

Oh, wait. The U.S. has hosted four Summer (1904, 1932, 1984, 1996) and four Winter (1932, 1960, 1980, 2002) games since the modern Olympics began in 1896, three more than the second-place nation, France. So it's a little hard to see what good an official, genuine Guvmint Office will do for sports 'round these parts. "Building goodwill" with the IOC is not necessarily something to shoot for.

OK, I'll open my mind and believe that the idea's potentially a good one. Let's get some people with some knowledge of sports, politics, fund-raising and so on, get them to get their heads together and see what bright ideas they can come up with. What? We've already got some folks hired? Great! What have they been working on so far?


Monday, October 5, 2009

You Don't Say...

When I listen to one of my online radio stations, the feed always starts with a certain car commercial that's touting how safe it is. A generic European-accented voice sounds quite amazed as it tells me, "In case of an accident, the (whatever the model of the car is) can stop itself!"

No kidding? I drive a 13-year-old Toyota pickup, and in case of an accident, it'll stop itself too. It's called Newton's First Law, about how a body in motion (my pickup) will tend to remain in motion unless acted upon by an outside force (whatever my pickup hits or is hit by).

Ah, Sir Isaac, they hardly knew ye...

Maintain Those Boundaries!

Although I read the site pretty regularly, I usually don't link it directly because I think their criticism of major media can get a little shrill from time to time.

But because of the screencap they used with this item, I pretty much had to. CBS This Morning's Harry Smith is interviewing a couple who went a year without several amenities, including toilet paper, and wrote a book about it. The fact that literally billions of people in the world do not have many of these amenities and have no choice in the matter ought to give pause to the "ain't we swell" attitude of the author and his wife, but the self-righteous aren't always self-aware. Which I often tell that guy in the mirror, but he doesn't always listen.

In the screen capture, right under the headline, we see Harry sitting on the other couch from the couple that, according to that headline, gave up toilet paper for a year. And we see him with arms extended, probably just gesturing as he speaks, but looking for all the world like a guy who's telling the others to just keep their distance. Which I gotta tell ya, I would most likely be doing my own self if I were talking to people who hadn't used toilet paper in a year and were telling everyone about it...

Friday, October 2, 2009

Just Wait'll Next Year!

Guess Chi-town will have to settle for the usual games it plays, like the Gubernatorial Jailbird Run, Alderman Fifth-Taking, City Worker Stationary Endurance, Perp Hurling, Juvenile Ursine Futility Watch and How Quickly Can This Code Violation Disappear After I've Made My Contribution.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Yer Kiddin' Me

I mean, this can't be real, right? It's a piece from The Onion or something. Has to be.

There is just no way that in the United Frickin' States of America that a school district has prohibited a student from riding his bike to school. Walking's also prohibited, just for the record.

Dear sweet heavenly day, what a bunch of utter loons. Riding my bike was a sign I was growing up. I lived two blocks from McKinley Elementary, which meant that I was permitted to ride my bike across two intersections, which to us was as near a sign of adulthood as could be. Now that we could do that, other signs of manhood, such as chest hair and smoking cigars, could be only months away.

Bike riding to Central Junior High was even more important. It was twelve blocks away, and we had all carefully figured that twelve blocks equaled a mile (and the snazzy odometer I got for my birthday, mounted on the ten-speed that replaced the trusty red Schwinn of my elementary years, confirmed that estimate). I could, under my own power and on my own authority, go a mile from my house. My mother could watch out the living room window all she wanted, but after I crossed 16th St., I was free as a bird now, and this bird you could not chain...ahem.

Of course that all went away when I got my license and had to drive my sister to school in order to be allowed to drive the five blocks to high school, but that's a story for another time. The school district in New York's policy does, apparently, allow high school students to bike to school. Yeah, right, that'll happen. Nothing 16-year-olds with their very own DMV-issued emancipation proclamations burning holes in their pockets want to do more than ride a bicycle to school where their friends could see them.

I can't understand it. If the kid rides his bike instead of riding in a gas-burning GlobalWarmerMobile, we've reduced emissions to those normal for a 12-year-old-boy eating school lunches, and he'll have those anyway. This way, they won't have the chance to concentrate inside the car. He's getting exercise, which is good because every few months or so my newspaper reminds me America's full of fat kids who sit on their couches, play video games and buy Hannah Montana DVDs. Where these fat kids all were when I was one and could have used a peer group, the newspaper does not tell me. And did you catch the detail that when the lady and her son showed up to school and they were greeted by administrators and a state trooper? They needed an armed presence to try to keep the kid from pedaling to class?

I'm left with only one conclusion: The people who run schools -- at least in Saratoga Springs, NY -- really are as dumb as we thought they were when we were students.