Friday, April 30, 2010

Well, Darn

With a last-second (literally) tip-in, the Los Angeles Lakers put away the Oklahoma City Thunder, four games to two, and advanced to the next round of the National Basketball Association playoffs.

Elsewhere, I said the downside of this loss is that an exciting playoff run by a group of committed, hard-working and generally classy young men who have a whole lot of fun playing basketball is now over.

The upside, of course, is that I can now return to ignoring the NBA and its five-step layup, ball-carrying dribble, pro-wrestling contact defense, brutally inadequate officiating imitation of basketball.

Batter up!

(This is also, for what it's worth, my 600th post on this blog.)


Although there are probably a lot of people who would have liked the decision to go the other way, U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel denied a motion to have President Obama testify in the corruption trial of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich. I think we've dodged a potential morass that would have resulted if the president had been required to testify, but I blather about that at some length here.

Dream a Lot of Dumb

So this week marks the release of A Nightmare on Elm Street, the remake of Wes Craven's 1984 horror hit. I don't want to spoil it for you, but I think the killer is stalking teenagers in their dreams so they have to try to stay awake.

Want a clear sign of the different emphases between the two movies, and see which focused on characters and story and which focuses on recycling formula? In Nightmare 1984-style, Robert Englund plays Freddy Krueger (at this point still called just "Fred Krueger") and he's the ninth actor listed in the credits. In Nightmare 2010, Jackie Earle Haley plays Freddy, and he gets top billing.

The only reason to see this movie is...hmm, I spoke too soon. There are no reasons to see this movie.

Face Palm

That's the name given to the action of leaning the head forward slightly and resting it upon the opened palm of one's hand, usually with a quiet sigh of resignation lightly sprinkled with disgust. Sometimes it's done with more energy and a Simpsonian "D'oh!"

Either way, several events combined recently to create a swell face palm for folks who are of a mind to do so. Here they are. In a sermon last week, an Iranian cleric, Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi, opined that immodestly dressed women tempt young men to forgo their chastity and engage in illicit sex. As punishment for all that illicit sex, God sends earthquakes. Someone forgot to tell the cleric we already have Pat Robertson to say dumb things like that.

In response to this theological revelation, a number of women decided to demonstrate to Sedighi that he was mistaken. A Purdue genetics major named Jennifer McCreight blogged about his words and said that on Monday, April 26th, she would wear her "most cleavage-showing shirt" in defiance of their silliness. Before you could say "go viral," her post did and through Facebook and several other online avenues, the phenomenon of "boobquake" was born. Many women decided to follow her lead and defy the view that earthquakes were somehow their fault.

In the meantime, Sedighi's homeland Iran applied for and was granted a seat on the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. There were no viral videos or blog posts, no Facebook groups opposing it. Although I know a number of folks discount their objectivity, I linked to a Fox News story about the matter because typing "iran women's rights" into Yahoo! news showed only that and a couple of press releases. Typing the same phrase into the ABC News site where I found two stories about Boobquake brought back nothing about Iran's new four-year-term on the UN commission (It did return this, about Iran jailing four women's rights activists for writing online about women's rights in Iran).

The face palm comes in not only because news outlets spent more time and energy covering women who were uncovering than they did the UN decision, although that's a big one. Nor is it only because of the UN move itself -- although placing Iran on a commission that is supposed to oversee how UN members handle women's rights and advocate for equal treatment of women within those nations would make Kafka say, "That's a little out there for me." No, it's the whole idea that Boobquake mattered in any real way, and how a weird obsession with irrelevant protest gestures has somehow replaced meaningful action.

Does anyone think that any person who actually believed what Sedighi said was somehow persuaded of their wrong-headedness by the women who followed Ms. McCreight's lead? Does anyone think that the situation of women in Iran is at all helped by American and European women leaving a couple extra buttons undone? In my mind, to do so is to approach Sedighian levels of cluelessness. To do so and to say virtually nothing about Iran's election to the women's rights commission eclipses that and enters realms of cluelessness heretofore undreamt of by science.

But we get to laugh at those silly neanderthals with their silly medieval ideas, and we get to be brave and modern and put a thumb (or whatever) in the eye of their strait-laced moral worldview and we get to say "boobs" and be a little naughty in public and maybe even irritate some of our own more traditional-minded folks when women display definitive proof of their mammalian status. So yay!

Not that caring which thugocracy the UN allows to preen and pretend to legitimacy really matters either. Iran's unopposed election to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women is proof of only one thing. The United Nations has by now so dishonored the ideals of its founders that people who say it's irrelevant sound like nostalgists for the good old days. It's left relevance behind long ago and on its good days might hope to just be repugnant. The silence of civilized nations -- such as our own -- that allowed Iran to take its seat on the CSW without even calling for a vote is sickening.

Too harsh? I don't know -- the U.N. counts among its founding leaders a U.S. citizen who was named by President Truman to its first general assembly, who was the first chair of its Human Rights Commission,  who helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, who founded the US branch of the association that worked for the formation of the UN during World War II and who, because her name was Eleanor Roosevelt, would be subject to arrest in one of the newest CSW members for an immodest display of...ankle.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Record Is Now Straight!

You may remember a year and a half ago that I was somewhat dismayed with the International Olympic Committee for doing basically nothing to look into allegations that the Chinese gymnastics team was using underage athletes.

Well, the Committee has finally acted. A couple of months ago, the International Gymnastics Federation ruled that one Chinese gymnast was 14 at the time she competed, well under the 16-years-old lower limit. So the IOC stripped China of its women's gymnastics bronze medal in the all-around competition, since the young lady was now considered ineligible and none of her marks could be counted.

But wait a second, you say. There's an incorrect piece of information in the middle of that paragraph. The Chinese women's gymnastics team won the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing games, not the bronze. The U.S. team didn't finish fourth, they actually won the silver medal.

Well, you are correct, but so am I. The Chinese gymnast in question, Dong Fangxiao, didn't compete in the 2008 games, but if she had she would have been plenty old enough -- 22, to be exact. She'd have been old enough for the 2004 games in Athens, too. No, the IOC has taken the bold step of disqualifying the Chinese women's team of the 2000 Olympic Games held in Sydney, Australia, a mere decade after the event. How long ago is this in women's gymnastics terms? The U.S. team at the Sydney games featured Dominique Dawes and Amy Chow, members of the "Magnificent Seven" team that won the first ever U.S. gold in the all-around, in Atlanta in 1996. Ms. Dawes was also a member of the bronze-medalist team at the 1992 Barcelona games, held the year that the youngest legal competitors of 2008 were born. At this rate, if I have not run out of airport novels to review or grouchy things to say by 2018, I may be able to report a similar reconsideration of the Beijing results.

Ms. Dong may have the last laugh in any event; she's now a resident of New Zealand and should she and her husband want more than one child no law prevents it. They probably won't have to try to remember more than one birthday per kid, either.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Razor's Edge?

During the phase of my life in which I wore a beard, I only dared the full beard, mustache-and-goatee combo and a modified, not-quite-as-full version of the philosopher, so I remained firmly within the trustworthy range of the spectrum outlined here.

I ended that phase when the ratio of salt to pepper within my salt-and-pepper beard tipped too far in favor of the former -- even if I'd been able to stand plucking them all out I'd have looked like I had the mange.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

From the Rental Vault: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother

Gene Wilder was part of some of the funniest comedies of the 1970s, both with Mel Brooks and later Richard Pryor. In 1975, he brought Young Frankenstein co-stars Marty Feldman and Madeline Kahn with him to his directorial debut, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother. Unfortunately, he forgot to bring Brooks or much humor worth mentioning. While Wilder does play a previously unknown brother to the great detective, there's not much of an adventure and he's sure not any smarter.

Wilder is Sigurson Holmes, the younger brother of Sherlock who is intensely jealous of his older sibling. Knowing this, Sherlock decoys Sigurson into helping with a potentially explosive case of international intrigue surrounding a stolen document. Feldman is a police inspector who has an eidetic memory for anything he's ever heard and he takes on the Watson role. Together, they must aid Kahn in locating the document she was blackmailed into stealing and retrieve it before it gets into the hands of Professor Moriarty and the enemy nations bidding on it. And that paragraph makes way more sense than the movie.

Feldman has quite a few funny reaction moments, using his prominent eyes and amusing face to put much more wit into his character than the script provides. Amusing scenes here and there, like a stagecoach-top fight with oversized advertising signs, dot long stretches of Gridiron Club-styled skit-level humor that can barely quirk a lip.

Adventures seems to have many of the elements of a successful spoof comedy like Young Frankenstein or the western send-up Blazing Saddles. Unlike them, though, it never manages to put them together in any kind of coherent or comedic form. I remember laughing at this a lot more when I first saw this, but since I was 11 at the time, that seems about right.

Notes From the NMF

Which stands for Norman Music Festival, the third annual bash held this weekend in downtown Norman that features way more bands than you could shake a drumstick at.

1. It's a chance to see quite a few Okie musicians, which is neat. I got to see folks I know, like these guys. And this young woman, who also sang the national anthem at the first-ever NBA playoff game held in Oklahoma City last week. And I found a new group that had a great show and which I hope puts out more than a 3-song EP sometime soon.

2. As befits Norman, the Oklahoma city that most wants to be like Austin or Seattle, it's not all that organized. More than 200 bands split among around a dozen stages during the one-day "open" portion of the event? Unless there are some bands you know you want to see, there's really no way to catch up on what's offered. Had I not been early to see Maggie McClure, I'd have missed Green Corn Revival entirely, and that would have been sad.

3. The First Baptist Church of Norman has some smart people aboard; they sold their parking lot for $5 a space which was a lifesaver for an event that is being held in the middle of a downtown area that features no large parking areas.

4. The signage and mappage were brutally inadequate. Stages that were tucked back in alleyways were shown as hovering in the white space in between blocks, and there were no maps off the main drag. And printing the schedule with the latest times at the top of the different lists and the earliest times at the bottom might be a cute idea for an ad or a T-shirt but it's a ridiculous way to try to inform people of what's going on.

5. A huge variety of styles were represented. Of the three I took in, Post Arcadia's a kind of folk rock with a little bit more kick, Maggie McClure's a songwriter/vocalist with one foot in a jazz lounge and Green Corn Revival sound kind of like late-period X with a steel guitar. No favorites played here.

6. Unless you're next-door neighbors with Yukon Cornelius, wearing a knit hat in April looks silly, especially when the rest of your outfit is a too-small undershirt, skinny jeans that you can't pull up over your behind and artificially aged Chuck Taylors.

7. Kudos to the Norman Lions Club for holding their carnival in conjunction with the festival and giving the kids someplace to play so the parents could catch some breaks between shows.

8. I'd love to compliment you on your Earth-friendly sloganed T-shirt, but the cloud of burned tobacco by-product you've just exhaled into the greenhouse layer made me cough.

9. It may have been a long time since I approved of the extra-marital activity referenced in Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On," but that doesn't mean I like it when some Okie hip-hopper wrecks it by making it a backup loop for him to rap over.

ETA: Should mention it was overall a good time ;-)

Feels Like Sunday Morning

And since it is, here is this Sunday's sermon.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


A twenty-one point win? Thunderstruck! This means at least one more game in OKC, which cannot be something the Los Angeles Lakers anticipate with any joy.

Of course, the Lakers are the number-one seed, they have the home-court advantage in this series and they have been in situations like this before. So we're talking long odds the hometown fellas get to play in May.

But these last two games have been plenty of fun no matter what.

Football Notes

1. When last we saw the Northwestern University Wildcats, representatives of all that is good, just and right with the world, they were valiant in a losing effort against the forces of evil. These forces, represented at that time by the Tigers of Auburn, cunningly rendered the Wildcat kicker inoperative during overtime, thus assuring their win.

This Friday, representatives of Northwestern, along with the servants of darkness of the University of Illinois, announced that the annual meeting of the two teams will take place at Wrigley Field in Chicago, home of the Chicago Cubs. The last college football game held at Wrigley was in 1938, and the Cats and the Illini last played there in 1923. Wildcat coach Pat Fitzgerald has suggested that any Northwestern fans who do not wear purple to the game will receive a personal visit from him, along with an invitation to explain their backsliding ways.

2. Three of the top four players taken in the 2010 NFL draft were from the University of Oklahoma. Only Ndamukong Suh of Nebraska, picked by the Detroit Lions (my condolences, Mr. Suh) , broke a Sooner sweep of the top picks. Three out of the top four picks and they don't even play for the conference title? Sounds like a coaching problem.

3. Live TV coverage of the fifth round of the draft? Really, ESPN? No shuffleboard tournaments available?

(PS for the satirically challenged: No, I do not believe Auburn intentionally injured the NU kicker in order to seal the game in overtime, nor do I believe OU head coach Bob Stoops is bad at his job. I just like to exaggerate after the manner of sports radio callers. However, the University of Illinois actually does represent the forces of darkness).

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Very Very Bad Idea

A post with that title is now up over at the long-neglected long posts blog, concerning some of the new developments in former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich's corruption trial.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Fun? You Bet!

The best way to watch the Los Angeles Lakers lose is still when they get beat by Boston, because it calls to mind the wonderful clothesline that Kevin McHale laid on Kurt Rambis in the 1984 finals.

But watching them lose to your own home team ranks pretty close. Thunderstruck.

Which Day?

I'm a big fan of the Earth. I try to recycle things when I can, reduce how much trash I generate and use resources responsibly. I take old books to a donation drop unless they're in good enough shape, when I give them to our local library so they can shelve them if they need that book or sell it to buy ones they do need. I've got a reusable cloth bag for when I shop at Wal-Mart and if I forget it, I make sure to just carry the stuff I buy out in my hands rather than bag it, or at least use as few plastic bags as possible if I've had to pick up several things. I decline a bag at most of the places where I shop. The ones I do use I bring to our church food pantry so they can be re-used to distribute the food we hand out.

But I really don't care about Earth Day in the slightest. It's too vague, too open-ended, too prone to "observances" like posting blog entries or Facebook status changes that mean absolutely nothing.

In another week or so, though, we can mark Arbor Day (set for April 30th). To observe Arbor Day, you actually have to do something -- plant a tree, to be precise. So for me, today is a day to remind you that you've got eight days left to buy yourself a tree to plant. Pick a good one and leave somebody some nice shade long after you're gone.

Monday, April 19, 2010


The ever-reliable "The Big Picture" on has some fantastic photos of the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland (surprisingly, Blogger's auto-spell-check does not include the word "Eyjafjallajokull" and marks it as an error).

They're all amazing, but the first one and the last three prompt a thought in the mind of this mythology buff: "Thor ain't happy, and if Thor ain't happy, ain't nobody happy."

(Yes, Vulcan is thought of as the god of volcanic forces in Greek mythology, while Thor's domain in the Norse pantheon is limited to storms, lightning and thunder. Check the pictures again, dude. Looks like some thunder and lightning to me.)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

And the Earth Moved...

According to one Ayatollah Kazem Sedigh of Tehran, the presence of inappropriately-dressed women will cause not only a danger to the chastity of those young men who happen to gaze upon them, but also earthquakes.

I am afraid the esteemed cleric is a bit late to the party, as the association between attractive females and tectonic activity has been long established here in the Western world. As any number of incredibly witty bumper stickers (found next to Calvin urinating on a Ford logo) have pointed out,  when things, such as vans, are "rockin'," then one is dissuaded from  "a-knockin'," because, of course, there is some quaking going on inside.

(For an alternative course of action when the house is rockin', see Vaughn, S.R. "The House is Rockin'," wherein he suggests one should not "bother," but instead "come on in." See also Setzer, B., for another variation of the same theory.)

Also, as Messrs. Young, Young and Scott have pointed out, certain girls who've "got rhythm" are "enough to start a landslide/Walkin' down the street." A landslide is not technically an earthquake, of course, but many of them can be devastating by themselves.

Be that as it may, I am now encouraged to offer similar observations in my sermon next Sunday as to the precise cause of global warming (see Gordon, R., "My Gal is Red-Hot (Your Gal Ain't Doodly Squat"), as well as potential steps to combat the problem it represents (see Jagger, M. and Richards, K., "She's So Cold").

Sermon Alert!

Saul becomes Paul in today's sermon, over at the sermon blog.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Horns = Dilemna

Once upon a time in 2007, a fellow named Joe wrote a novel, called Heart-Shaped Box. It was a ghost story that, despite a few tired tropes like an abuser who claimed a religious motivation, had energy, power and a very interesting redemption arc. Since Joe's dad was a writer who'd dabbled in supernatural-themed stories, he chose to use a shortened form of his full name as his pen name, to establish himself rather than ride Dad's coattails. Thus did Joseph Hillstrom King, son of novelists Stephen and Tabitha King, become Joe Hill.

Box's success led to reprints of a collection of his short stories, 20th Century Ghosts, but a second full novel didn't appear until February of 2010. In Horns, Hill tells the story of Ignatius (Ig) Perrish, a fellow whom everyone suspected in the rape and murder of his girlfriend Merrin. But because he was never tried or even charged, Ig has lived in a kind of limbo in his little hometown, wasting away. After a night of blackout drinking, Ig awakes to discover he has two horns growing from his forehead. Although other people can see them, they seem to forget about it as soon as Ig leaves. In the meantime, Ig finds that people will tell him sins they have committed or want to commit, and he can suggest that they go ahead and do so. By touching people, he learns what wrongs they have done in their lives. He reasons that, having found prayer and God useless in helping find peace after Merrin's death, he will instead use these new powers to find the killer himself and take his revenge. Along the way, he learns many unpleasant things about the people close to him.

And along the way, the reader learns how unpleasant it is to have raised expectations disappointed. Hill tries to give us the flavor of Ig and Merrin's "true love" by telling parts of their story in flashbacks, which wind up offering nothing but confusion. The priest whom Ig has known since he was a boy is no help, since he's actually a lecher who talks about leering at young Merrin as well as having an affair with the dead girl's mother. Religious people might be offended at yet another hypocritical religious authority figure, but why ascribe to malice that which can be explained by lazy storytelling? Box gave us a protagonist who saw his own failures and risked himself to set them right; Horns gives us one who sees his sins and decides to double down with them.

More flashbacks suggest that the actual killer may be some sort of supernatural force or being himself, but that's never fleshed out well enough to care either. Horns' theology seems to center on sin, but in no coherent way. Some sins seem to actually be virtues, while others are just ordinary wrongs that somehow take on crushing weight in the minds of the guilty, and still others are true evil that the increasingly demonic Ig wants to avenge. But since his new powers stem from sin, why would he have a desire to oppose evil? That's one of many questions you might ask Horns, but it -- along with a host of others -- will not be answered (The theologically minded might note that, in his afterward, Hill says he learned a great deal from a Bart Ehrman book, God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Explain Our Most Important Question -- Why We Suffer. Those who look to Ehrman for coherence stand on very soft ground, which could explain some of Hill's inconsistency).

Some might think that with Horns, Hill has gone from sharp storytelling to dull repetitiveness in just two books when it took his father quite a few more, but that's not entirely accurate. He still has an energy and an ability to rein himself in that King's work no longer displays. A closer comparison would be the failed promise of Christopher Moore. After a rollicking debut with Practical Demonkeeping, he clunked out Coyote Blue and although he rebounded with Bloodsucking Fiends, he's been a confusing, dull rehash ever since.

There's reason for hope, of course. There's an interesting story somewhere in Horns, so it's possible that Hill can regroup and offer something that matches the high mark set by Heart-Shaped Box. And even if he doesn't, his confusing clunker of a book is only 358 pages, compared with the eleven-hundred-page clunker his dad released last year. That alone is an improvment.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

You! Me! Dancing!

I just heard the more-fun-than-humans-should-be-allowed-to-have song of that name by the indie pop band Los Campesinos! (The exclamation point is part of the name.)

On my radio. Thanks, Ferris.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

And Now a Word From Some Experts...

Neil Armstrong's usually known for his silence and lack of public pronouncements on just about everything. He wouldn't even do interviews about his 2005 biography, First Man, by James Hansen, before the book came out. Reading it, a person can get the sense why he holds back. Some folks felt that he was picked to be the first man on the moon because he was somehow a better person or better astronaut than others. Armstrong, probably rightly, rejected that idea. But he also somehow let it move into the idea that he was still nothing special, even though he was the first human being ever to set foot on something in space that wasn't Earth. So he also rejected the idea that there was any reason to talk to anyone after he got back from the moon as well.

Either way, Armstrong found something to say about President Obama's decision to ground the only nation to ever land on the moon from even the low-earth orbit taxi rides it has been reduced to for close to 30 years. Along with fellow moonwalker Eugene Cernan and Apollo 13 commander Jim Lovell, Armstrong released an open letter to the president criticizing the action in clear and unambiguous terms.

In fairness, Armstrong's crewmate, Buzz Aldrin, has supported President Obama's decision (scroll to the end of the story). But he's a lonely voice among those who've been in space or helped them get there. Another open letter Monday urged the president to change his mind and it was signed by Lowell, Cernan and many others, including Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter and former NASA flight director Gene Kranz, who guided the team that brought Lovell's damaged Apollo 13 flight home safely.

Last year, when the president honored Armstrong, Aldrin and pilot Michael Collins on the 40th anniversary of the moon landing, he said he remembered his grandfather telling him that the Apollo program was "an example of how Americans can do anything they set their minds to." He added, "As we speak, another generation of kids out there who are looking up at the sky and are going to be the next Armstrong, Collins, and Aldrin."

Maybe their kids will get to.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Coen Flip

Mark Pinsky has a lot to answer for.

Back in 2001, the religion writer for the Orlando Sentinel published an interesting little book called The Gospel According to the Simpsons: The Spiritual Life of the World's Most Animated Family. Pinsky noticed that a number of episodes of the yellow-skinned bug-eyed residents of Springfield seemed to feature spiritual themes. He got together with a pastor friend and even produced a Bible study that developed the ideas in his book, using different Simpsons episodes.

But the success of Pinsky's book didn't go unnoticed by publishers, who subsequently bought and churned out approximately six million "The Gospel According to..." titles, ranging from Chris Seay's The Gospel According to Tony Soprano (Render unto Caesar...or else) to Stephen Skelton's The Gospel According to the World's Greatest Superhero (Warner Bros. won't let us say "Superman" on the cover). Some writers have made a specialty out of this kind of faith/pop culture intersection work, notably Seay. He's also got The Gospel According to Lost and The Gospel Reloaded to his credit.

Most of these books are as shallow as the printed page itself. They have a magazine article or short essay's worth of thought air-puffed into book length with lots of repeated examples, lots of white space and, when necessary, pull-quotes that eat up line after line of type.

The books that offer some meat usually take meaty subject matter as their starting points, like Tolkien. Which is one of the reasons that Cathleen Falsani's The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers is so disappointing. Several of Joel and Ethan Coen's films have been deep, thought-provoking explorations and meditations on life and the various folks who live it. Falsani was an award-winning religion writer at the Chicago Sun-Times. In The Dude Abides, taken from what Jeff Bridges' character in The Big Lebowski says about himself, Falsani makes out as if to offer some serious study of the spiritual content of the Coens' movies.

Instead, she offers two different synopses of each film (one long and one short) and then a drive-by reflection that's little more than a sermon illustration. Part of the problem is that she decided to explore each Coen film so far released, meaning she has to waste a chapter looking for spiritual meaning in the dismissable Burn After Reading instead of digging deeper into Fargo or No Country for Old Men. Each of those, in addition to O Brother Where Art Thou or even Blood Simple, might be worth a book's length of investigation in themselves, and they're sure worth the pages wasted on Burn or Barton Fink.

Another problem comes from Falsani's habit of breezy, surface-oriented writing. There are plenty of places where modern popular culture can interact with question of faith, but Falsani's explorations here and elsewhere tend to skate across the top rather than dig into anything. Most newspaper features only offer enough space to touch on some subjects and then move on, and Falsani hasn't been able to rid herself of the habit.

Watching some Coen movies and thinking about spiritual issues they may raise is a worthwhile exercise for people who want to think about those kinds of things. Falsani's book doesn't offer much help in that area, and it would probably be more productive to just start watching the movies and seeing what questions they might raise. The Dude may yet abide, but The Dude Abides isn't likely to abet anyone in figuring out why.

Bloggy Update

I've enabled comment moderation because I was getting some spam comments (boy, did someone seriously overestimate my readership.)

As a trade, I've opened up commenting to people who might not have a blogger ID or want to leave a name.

Emptied Out

On the way back from a trip to a funeral in Dallas, I stopped at an outlet mall because I was getting sleepy and needed to walk around and wake myself up.

When I was in school in Dallas some 15 years ago, this particular mall was a-bustling with activity. Now, not so much. If you think an empty storefront is kind of sad, drop about 60 of them in one spot. Whole sections of the place were vacant, to the degree of just plain eeriness. The fountains were still on and the flags were flapping in the wind, and other than my own footsteps and the mall PA system, that's all I could hear.

A couple of families of geese walked around the sidewalks in front of the stores, undisturbed by shoppers.

A few stores are still open, and some of their displays decorate a few of the empty storefronts. The PA system plays music and in between, it has ad spots for the ones still open. It plays in the food court, which has no restaurants anymore but which stays open because it's also where the restrooms are. A lady was exercising, walking laps around it when I went in, but she had finished by the time I left. A couple of friends said it sounded like a scene from the Will Smith movie I Am Legend, while I thought of the Ray Bradbury short story "There Will Come Soft Rains" from The Martian Chronicles, about an automated house that continued to serve its absent owners after they and everyone else had died in a nuclear war. I wound up buying a pair of cuff links in a Van Heusen store because I needed a new pair and I felt kind of sad for the store, one of maybe a dozen still open.

Hard to figure out what happened, although if I researched it I guess I could learn. You'd think an outlet mall was a fail-proof idea -- things you find at the mall but cheaper. This one used to have a Brooks Brothers store, a deep-discount bookstore, a Levis outlet and a whole lot more that I can't remember.

I guess there are no fail-proof ideas.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

He Had a Hammer...

Today marks 26 years since Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's home run record, hitting no. 715 against Al Downing of the Los Angeles Dodgers. He went on to hit 755 total, retiring in 1976.

Since then, of course, a collection of chemical enhancements wearing the skin of Barry Bonds has hit more home runs and is now listed as baseball's all-time home run leader. Both men closed in on the record in the middle of much distraction and questions about the legitimacy of them taking the places of their predecessors.

Many of Aaron's opponents did not want to see a black man hold one of baseball's most hallowed records. In his 1991 autobiography I Had a Hammer, he printed some of the hate mail and actual death threats he received in the summer between the 1973 and 1974 seasons. I've never claimed special enlightenment in racial matters, but I simply cannot get my mind around the kind of thinking that would suggest that "homering while black" is a capital offense. Aaron's ability to focus, play ball and succeed as an athlete and a man of dignity in the midst of that kind of evil speaks volumes about his character.

People question the legitimacy of Bonds' mark, of course, because of his demonstrated steroid use. Any quick comparison of pictures of Bonds from his days as half of the Pittsburgh Pirates' "Killer Bs" (along with Bobby Bonilla) with pictures of him in recent years shows bulk that just does not compute with a couple extra hours a week on the lat pull.

Of course, during most of the years of his career that he might have used steroids, Major League Baseball didn't ban them, so Bonds didn't actually cheat. He played within the rules of the time, and it's not fair -- or possible -- to retroactively apply new rules to him and try to devise some formula that can give a more accurate count of how many home runs he hit. A home run is a ball hit over the fence in fair territory, and there aren't too many ways to make that criteria more objective than it already is. In each case, there was a number and it represented how many home runs some other player had hit. And in each case, the man pursuing that number hit more.

But one guy's path to the number made him a hero, and that's something that has lasted far longer than any record. The other guy's path made him...what? Hard to say, but I don't hear the word "hero" used about him nearly as much.

ETA: Yes, there are also inside-the-park home runs and home runs that bounce off parts of the stadium or Jose Canseco's head. I think we know which kind are best.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Sound of Breaking Glass?

You may remember David Shuster, the MSNBC anchor whose moral sense was sickened by the shallow posturing of beauty-pageant contestant Carrie Prejean and pageant sponsor Donald Trump about a year ago.

Turns out Mr. Shuster's view of right and wrong was elastic enough to cover filming a pilot news show project for CNN even though he's under contract to MSNBC through December 31.

And it turns out that MSNBC lacks Mr. Shuster's flexibility, and has suspended him "indefinitely." So Mr. Shuster will have plenty of time to catch up on his reading. I'd suggest he start with a couple of entries in the good ol' Merriam-Webster, such as this one. This one could be helpful as well.

Monday, April 5, 2010

I Don't Want Your Money, Honey...

I just heard the pure-trash fun of Transvision Vamp's "I Want Your Love," followed closely by the toe-tapping thoughtfulness of 10,000 Maniacs' "These Are Days."

On my radio. Thanks, Ferris.

Time Begins...

I will stipulate that time actually begins today, according to the Boswell Theorem.

Yes, there was a Major League Baseball game played yesterday evening, but since it featured The Forces of Almost All That is Evil, a.k.a. the New York Yankees, v. The Forces of The Remainder of All That is Evil, a.k.a. the Boston Red Sox, we cannot consider it as a part of time, much as H.P. Lovecraft considered his embodiments of evil such as Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth to be beings from dimensions outside human space and time.

Author Philip Pullman Writes Another Anti-Christian...zzzz

Because seriously, that's what I thought when I read this notice. Pullman, a children's author best known for the trilogy His Dark Materials, is a devoted atheist who has, over the past fifteen years or so, allowed that particular dimension of his beliefs to run rampant over his fiction.

Northern Lights
, published in 1995 and retitled The Golden Compass for release in the United States, was the first of the Materials trilogy and took aim at, among other things, the Narnia books of C.S. Lewis, which Pullman despises. Compass was an amazing read, showcasing Pullman's real gift as a storyteller and world-builder. Its sequels, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, deteriorate rapidly both as books and as vehicles to convey Pullman's worldview. The end result is a book-and-a-half's worth of story crammed into three books, with more than 95 percent of that book and a half in the first volume.

Church of England Archbishop Rowan Williams, among others, wondered why Pullman had attacked only God and the church in Materials and left Jesus out of it. Pullman said he would tackle that in a future book, specifically his The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. Released just before Easter in England, it will be on U.S. shelves in May.

According to the news stories, Pullman says Mary, after a visitation by a stranger she says was an angel, gave birth to twins. Jesus, the good twin, thinks the Kingdom of God is coming in his lifetime and teaches people to make themselves ready for it by helping one another and otherwise changing their ways to show love for each other. Christ, the bad twin, thinks that Jesus' message will not survive him unless it has some kind of institution set up to continue it through history, and attributing divinity to Jesus is a way for that to happen.

Why is this boring to me? For one, the latter two-thirds of the Materials trilogy has shown that Pullman has a hard time writing a good story that also preaches his worldview. He can, it seems, do one or the other but not both, and I find little reason to spend $25 to find out whether or not he now commands that ability.

For another, as strange as this Jesus v. Christ duality may seem to some folks, it's not new at all. Seminary students, one of which I was back a few years ago, get inundated with it. Most of the works along these lines are written by academics for academic settings and are rarely seen outside university libraries, or now and again on a pastor's bookshelves. They're esoteric, technical, and strewn with enough polysyllabic jargon to choke a diplodocus. And they're usually as dull as dishwater.

The standard line of thought is pretty much the storyline Pullman uses in his new book. There was a good guy named Jesus who taught people some good things, but someone morphed him into this semi-divine person that the church thinks of him as today. Sometimes the villain is Paul, sometimes the early apostles play the role, sometimes it's Constantine, the Roman Emperor whose support of Christianity went a long way towards making it the empire's state religion. Pullman simply personifies this thinking as an "evil twin," giving him the name Christ. No word on whether or not Christ has a goatee as opposed to Jesus' full beard.

Those who'd like to see what kind of storyteller Pullman can be when he's not anti-Bible thumping his readers over the head can check into his Sally Lockhart series or several of the non-Materials children's novels he's written. As for The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, you can wake me when it's over.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Bravo! Now Go Away!

Dallas police will cite Erykah Badu for disorderly conduct for her strip-down video shot on the site of John F. Kennedy's assassination. If convicted, the singer could face a $500 fine or less on the Class C misdemeanor.

This seems more or less appropriate. Ms. Badu showed poor judgment and bad taste when she had herself filmed walking along the Dealey Plaza streets, taking off her clothes until she was naked and at the end, simulating her own death by a gunshot to the head.

Ms. Badu's claim she was making some kind of statement about "groupthink" is ludicrous and irrelevant. Transgressing rules is one thing, blatant disrespect is another. She disrespected the memory of President Kennedy and she disrespected those present at Dealey plaza that day. Of course, she said she took some precautions against "traumatizing" the children who might see a naked lady walk by them and act like she got shot: " my mind I tried to telepathically communicate my good intent to them. That’s all I could do, and I hoped they wouldn’t be traumatized."

Had she done the same act in downtown Oklahoma City or lower Manhattan that might make her disrespect of the dead more apparent, because those tragedies are much more recent in our memory. But it's there in this action just the same.

On the other hand, impolite behavior, disrespect and vacuous stupidity aren't against the law, so the citation has to name a real offense. Ms. Badu doesn't merit any stronger legal sanction than the ticket and fine, and anything more would just offer her the publicity she's craving anyway. More people have talked about her this week than they have in years (after a debut album that went triple platinum, her 2008 release didn't even make gold), and that's probably what she was really after.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Under Influence

As of this afternoon, the top vote-getter in Time magazine's online Time 100 Poll was Conan O'Brien with more than 50,000 votes, almost 16,000 ahead of runner-up Yu-Na Kim, the 19-year-old figure skater whose 2010 Olympic gold medal was South Korea's first ever in that competition.

According to the poll blurb, Time says people are voting for "the leaders, artists, innovators and icons who [they] think merit spots on this year's list of the 100 most influential people in the world."

It looks like there's 50,000 or so people who didn't read that real closely. Because while Conan is funny and maybe a swell guy to boot, he didn't have enough influence to keep himself from getting bumped out of his time slot and eventually out of a job.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Fitting For the Day

After lunching with a friend in Norman today, I stopped by a Borders to pick up an order I had delivered to the store. If you do that it doesn't cost to ship it, you see, so using the coupons they send you for online orders actually saves you money off the price instead of just eliminating the shipping costs.

One of the two CD's I had ordered had arrived, I had been told by phone, so I picked up the latest issue of Astronomy magazine and let the clerk know about my order. She retrieved it, looked at my ID to make sure I was me, had me print and sign my name and then handed over the package.

In my truck, I opened the package. I had ordered Romance is Boring by Los Campesinos! I had received an album ordered by a gentleman who lives in DeKalb, Illinois, Something's Going On by ABBA's Anna-Frid Lyngstad. She recorded it under the name Frida, if you're curious & don't remember the 1982 Top 20 hit "I Know There's Something Going On." Ms. Lyngstad these days is actually Her Serene Highness Princess Anni-Frid Synni Reuss, Countess of Plauen, by virtue of her marriage to the late Prince Heinrich Ruzzo Reuss, Count of Plauen, in Germany. That has no bearing on these events but was a pretty interesting bit of trivia I found in trying to figure out how high the song charted.

The Borders clerk hadn't ever seen this kind of mistake, so she called her manager. Her manager looked at my online order and saw that I'd indeed ordered a whole different album, so she called customer service because she'd never seen this happen either. After I spoke with the customer service person, I had a re-order for the correct CD on the way to me at no shipping cost, which is pretty cool.

As I left, the manager apologized again and said thanks for being calm about the mistake. I told her no problem -- after all, this was the right day for something like this to happen, wasn't it? She thought for a second and then laughed, realizing it was indeed April 1. Then she looked at some of the other orders that had yet to be picked up.

Hope I didn't jinx you, ma'am.

Will I Have to Buy an Adult Ticket?

Recently, the first official trailer for Sylvester Stallone's The Expendables went online, although some unofficial footage has been cyberspacing around for a few months. Starring, as near as I can tell, every decent action movie star known to human kind -- with the sad exception of omitting Michael Ironside as a bad guy -- this film is set to release August 13, which cannot come soon enough.

Also just showing up online is the second trailer for the Liam Neeson-headed big-screen version of The A-Team. I was at first leery of this one, because it is difficult to imagine anyone stepping into the roles made famous by the cheesy TV cast. Plus, the movie's creators said they were looking at a "more realistic" version that, moved from Vietnam to the Middle East, would provide some kind of commentary on U.S. military ventures there. The fact that someone would, with a straight face, use the phrases "more realistic" and "The A-Team" in the same sentence disqualifies them from having an opinion worth caring about. But the trailer intrigues me, and my inner Army-playing, explosion-loving, watch-the-bad-guys-lose-and-like-it eight-year-old may just get me to take him to see it.

I'm not riding my bike, though. The nearest theater to me is, like 12 miles away, and some of them are on an interstate highway.