Thursday, March 31, 2011

Nothing to See Here

Hena Akhter, 14, was sentenced to 101 lashes for adultery after being beaten and raped by her cousin. The sentence remains incomplete; the first 70 killed her.

No Facebook groups. No website. No Wikipedia entry. No cutesy snickering T-shirts or hats.

Nothing to see here.

(Edited to correct that there is in fact a Facebook cause referring to Hena, here.)


"Well beat the drum
And hold the phone
The sun came out today!
I'm born again
There's new grass on the field."
John Fogerty
Once again, time begins.

Big Ideas May Not Make Big Books?

Author Kathryn Shultz, who confesses she has written a book of her own that strays in the the Big Idea domain, reviews a Big Idea book by Tina Rosenberg and calls into question the whole, uh, idea of the Big Idea book.

In brief, she wonders how Rosenberg, who wrote a history of Eastern Europe under communism, could write a book about the use of social group pressure to obtain positive results. To oversimplify, communist governments relied heavily on social group pressure to keep their people in line. Any time an individual or a group acted up, the resulting use of force to rein them in would probably spill over to people who'd never been involved in the revolt. So people just as miserable as the miscreants would often inform on them in order to keep themselves safe and help the government keep everyone in line.

Shultz asks if the main difference between the social pressure Rosenberg affirms and the social pressure she objects to is that one aims towards an approved goal while the other one does not. If so, who gets to approve the goals? Today's society, for example, may pressure men who think women should remain second-class citizens in the workplace so that they don't act on their wishes. But what if society changes and instead pressures women to not seek top jobs? Is social pressure still a good thing? Shultz thinks that social pressure has a place in an ordered society, but most people should make most decisions thinking for themselves.

Then she branches out to note that Rosenberg has essentially written what she calls a Big Idea book -- books that sort of typify the problems social pressure can create. In a Big Idea book, someone has an original idea or ideas that they synthesize from a study or encounter with interesting new data or understandings. The book then tries to not only explain the new idea but demonstrate how the idea itself explains either 1) everything else or 2) everything else inside a specific field of existence, like dating, child-raising or marketing a company. If the buzz about the book is powerful enough, then it begins to create social pressure to accept its idea. At least until the next Big Idea book comes along that presses in a different direction or draws its "counter-intuivity" from being directly opposite of the previous big idea.

I often enjoy essays or articles that dig into human behavior or other aspects of our existence in peculiar ways or from new angles. But I think Shultz nails it -- most of the time the books that often grow out of these essays try to carry their new idea or angle too far. And in the process of growing from a few thousand words into two or three hundred pages they lose the exploratory character that makes them interesting to think about -- in order to get to book size, the author may have to do all the thinking for you and that's not nearly as fun.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Random Collection

1. Really, Ms. Cyrus? Just what exactly should young Ms. Black do to get her shot at a singing career? Pretend to pole dance? Have half-naked photos taken of herself at 15?

2. Why in the world is men's underwear sold in resealable plastic bags?

3. 3-D is doomed.

4. The world's oldest joke proves that there have always been unfunny comedians. Hey, speaking of Bill Maher...

5. No dice, LeBron. You should have gone before you left home.

6. I'd always wondered why they cut the nets down.

7. Way to go, young fellow. Wicked chill indeed.

8. Ohh, crap.

9. Everybody fiesta! Oh, it's just an isolated incident? There's no other illegal money in the college football game? Whew! I was worried.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

An Unequal Fight?

I intend no offense or disrespect with this post. And I sincerely hope that the fighting in Libya ends quickly with a resolution that leads to peaceful freedom for the people of that country. How that happens, I got no idea, but I don't feel bad about it because apparently none of the significantly large number of people smarter than me who work in international politics and relations have any idea either.

But every time I see footage of the forces rebelling against Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi, I see what looks like a bunch of pickups with large-caliber machine guns or small shell-firing weapons mounted in the back, held in place with sandbags or other makeshift material. It's like the state of Texas got their first two wishes granted or something (I checked to see if they might have made their third wish, but no joy for them -- the score was still 28-20 and OU still won).

One shot on a news program today was of about 15 or 20 of these armed trucks speeding along and beside a narrow highway through a dusty plain, and I couldn't tell if I was watching news footage of Libya or a scene from the Road Warrior.

If the goal of intervening in this conflict is the removal of Col. Qaddafi, those jets are going to have to shoot a lot of missles. Because even "built Ford tough," pickups v. tanks doesn't have a good outcome for the trucks.

Monday, March 28, 2011


A friend sent me a link to the story of a man who's trying to uncover the history of John Donaldson, a pitcher from the earliest days of 20th century baseball. An African-American, he was barred by baseball's "unwritten law" of segregation from playing in the major leagues. But this was before the beginning of the Negro Leagues that featured such greats as Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell and Buck O'Neil, so Donaldson was limited to playing for the "barnstorming" teams that would travel the country and play local teams or other opponents. Their income might be whatever they could gain on an evening when they passed the hat.

Because of the era, Donaldson and his teammates faced bigotry and racism in many of the places they played. Obviously none of them appreciated this, even though they could rarely address it because of the possible harm to their income as well as their persons. But, as the story notes, Donaldson never allowed the bigoted treatment to diminish his own dignity. Though he granted fans their right to say what they wanted once they paid the ticket, he questioned whether or not they should do so given that his behavior was always proper: "If I act the part of a gentleman, am I not entitled to a little respect?”

No one of any skin color should have to maintain perfect composure and deportment as a requirement to be treated without prejudice. The most inked-up, thugged-up gangbanger wannabe on the field, diamond or court does not deserve to be belittled with racial or ethnic slurs.

But Donaldson has it right: Someone who does act the gentleman -- or gentlewoman -- deserves not only the bare minimum of respect given to his bad boy counterpart, but the greater respect owed to someone who behaves with dignity, integrity and respect of their own.

Yesterday's sports page in OKC had a long piece on Oklahoma City Thunder standout Kevin Durant and how respected he has become around the league for the way he conducts himself. He said he always remembers what his parents told him about how he should act and how grateful he might want to be for his chances, even though he was a basketball star offered a lot of adoration, fame and eventually money: "It didn't have to be you."

John Donaldson died in 1970, almost 20 years before Kevin Durant was born. But I kinda think the two might have got along quite well if they'd ever had the chance to meet.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Bright Blue

It's a gray, drizzly afternoon with temps in the upper 40s or low 50s. It's the kind of day that, when I was living in Chicago, would move in sometime in mid-March and not move out until finals. It's the kind of day that would get me out of Seattle faster than an NBA team bought by Clay Bennett.

But it's one fine day indeed -- the Beale Street Caravan show featured the late Son Seals, one of the most innovative bluesmen who ever picked up a guitar from Sears, and Robert Randolph and the Family Band. The latter are a soul/funk/kick your tuckus into high gear band featuring Mr. Randolph on steel guitar, drawing on a Pentecostal musical tradition called "sacred steel."

Seals was best-known for his Grammy-winning album Bad Axe, but one of my favorites of his is "Buzzard Luck." In it, he laments, "Can't kill nothin'/And won't nothin' die." He also notes his longing for his native Arkansas in "Going Home (Where the Women Have Meat on Their Bones)" and just flat tears the roof off any building within a 50-mile radius with the instrumental "Hot Sauce."

Randolph's set includes the gospel number "I Don't Know What You Come to Do" that is really too powerful for any mere radio signal to contain. The 11-plus minute version played on the Caravan could turn Osama bin Laden and Christopher Hitchens into footwashing Baptists, have enough over to clean up Bill Maher's act and even open Hugh Hefner's eyes to how creepy he's been for the last 50 years. Play this on an NPR station in Rush Limbaugh's hometown and he'd donate to their pledge drive. Bill O'Reilly would shut up. Keith Olbermann would get a clue. Rosie O'Donnell would...naahh, it's just a song, after all.

But a darn fine antidote to a gray gloomy day.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

It Got Deep Again

A quick return to the long-post blog, with some thoughts on Jon Bon Jovi's comments about the music business, its supposed death, and the role of Apple CEO Steve Jobs and his iTunes.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Honor Is the Same

If you know a person who either believes that the only way to show courage on a battlefield is through the bringing of death -- or thinks that the military mindset believes that -- you might check out the story of PFC Desmond Doss here.

PFC Doss's devout religious beliefs did not allow him to pick up a weapon, even though he was drafted into the Army during World War II. The Army considered discharging him but he refused, saying he wouldn't be much of a Christian if he accepted discharge on the claim that his religion made him unfit to serve. Doss registered as a conscientous objector and trained as a medic.

During the battle of Okinawa, Doss was the only medic with the 307th Infantry Regiment for many days. He treated every wounded man he could, often risking enemy fire to get them to safety or treating them only yards away from the enemy's cave hideouts. Eventually wounded himself, he gave up his spot on a litter to a more seriously-wounded man and finally had to touch a rifle, using its stock to drag himself 300 yards to safety after a sniper shot him in the arm.

Promoted, Corporal Desmond Doss came home, but left a lung and six of his ribs in Okinawa. Upon recommendation of his superiors, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the first conscientous objector to receive that medal and one of only three who have (the other two, during the Vietnam War, were given posthumously). Predictably, Doss denied that he was a hero, saying only that he loved his men and he just "couldn't give them up."

A story worth considering today -- national Medal of Honor Day -- and any day.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Those Crazy Jasoomians!

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, speaking on the occasion of World Water Day, suggests that capitalism brought about the end of life on Mars.

Astronomers were probably a little surprised to hear this, given that no proof of life on Mars has ever been found. Consulting with the relevant texts, though, we find several different economic systems on Barsoom, the name given to Mars by the native inhabitants.

The four-armed green Martians seem to hold most items in common among their different tribes except for their personal weaponry and some other possessions. They barter jewels, precious metals and possibly slaves, but they do not have any kind of currency as far as we can tell. Further, most of them are nomadic tribes and they lack any major industry or manufacturing facilities save those dedicated to weapons. These may be bartered for, but seem more often to be acquired through defeating their former owner in mortal combat. Both the permanent residence of a small leadership cadre and the temporary camping grounds of the majority of the tribespeople are in ancient abandoned cities. The green Martians do not have any independent housing or transportation manufacturing industries, although they resemble Earthly nomadic tribes in their production and raising of livestock for transportation, cargo hauling and food.

We have little knowledge of the economic systems of the isolated remnants of the ancient races of white and black Martians. Both the white Martians (called "Therns") and black Martians (called "First-Born") exist primarily using wealth, possessions and property of others. These items may be scavenged, in the case of the Therns who collect such property from those killed when they enter the Thern lands at the Valley Dor. Or they may be simply stolen, apparently the primary source of obtaining property among the First Born's buccaneering culture. However, since the First Born are the only Barsoomians who live on or near a large body of water and their airships can also navigate on this water, some form of manufacturing probably exists in order to either modify captured vessels or construct aquatic-capable craft. But given the prevalence of slave-owning in this culture as well as many others on Mars, we should probably not be quick to infer the existence of a labor class from this fact. We have no knowledge of the economic system among the remnants of the ancient yellow-skinned Martians of Okar.

The dominant red race of the planet does have an economic system that more closely resembles capitalism, with coined money and other forms of currency that can be exchanged for goods and services. Large-scale manufacturing may be assumed, as the red Martians live in cities they themselves have built rather than in older ones abandoned by earlier civilizations. They also use aircraft and ground vehicles, all of which seem to be mass-produced, and these factors suggest the presence of a labor/working class as well as a class of classic "capitalists" or those who own the means of production. However some important distinctions between this economic system and Earthly capitalism -- such as the existence of private paper currency issued by individuals rather than the state -- indicate that a strict one-to-one comparison may not be possible. Also, political systems vary among the different city-states of the red Barsoomians. Some, like the great nation of Helium, are apparently constitutional monarchies. But others, such as Tul Axtar's Jahar, seem to be much more totalitarian, even to the level of state control of reproduction.

We must also realize that the different Martian civilizations face ever-shrinking resources and this pressure has already built some communal aspects into them. Martian medical advances have led to virtual immortality, and although the violent culture often serves to reduce the number of Martians using the planet's dwindling natural resources, many more survive the different wars and attacks. These persons often voluntarily leave their society sometime around their 1,000th year, journeying via the River Iss to the Valley Dor and thus reducing the burden on Mars' supplies of air, water and food. The green Martians strictly control reproduction in order to keep their tribes at the same population.

Thus, it seems unlikely that the current absence of civilized life on Mars allows us -- even if we are of the kind of intellect possessed by the president of Venezuela -- to infer that this absence was somehow caused by conditions or systems like those we have on Earth, or Jasoom, as the Martians name it. Differences in biology, available natural resources, political and social systems, technology and many other areas leave us without enough comparison points to draw useful parallels.

(PS: Is the above monumentally silly? Yes, it is. But I'm not the chief executive of a country and one should not waste the opportunity to mock a flippin' loon who happens to be just that when such an opportunity becomes available.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Seen at the Gym

Insomnia strikes, so:

1. ESPN leaves OU women's game to show Maryland-Georgetown yawner. New slogan suggestion is "ESPN: Worldwide Leader in Bite Me."

2. Eliot Spitzer interviews Bill Maher about U.S. military action in Libya. Wait, what? Coming up next: The grinning cymbal monkey finds out what Kathy Griffin thinks about the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in tonight's edition of In the Arena With Eliot Spitzer and Bitter, Unfunny People Who We Still Call Comedians Because We Don't Want to Hurt Their Feelings, and By the Way, Kathleen Parker's Looking Smarter Every Day This Show Stays on the Air.

3. Update piece on one of the news channels about teenager Rebecca Black's viral video song "Friday," which everybody watches on YouTube so they can say how much they hate it and then buys it on iTunes so they can say how awful it is. All of the bashing could make this kid plenty rich, and she says she'll donate proceeds to Japanese disaster relief and school arts programs. The song is pretty silly and annoying, but "worst song ever," as so many say? The pop music industry has inflicted on the world Biz Markie's "Just a Friend," Right Said Fred's "I'm Too Sexy," Pat Boonified versions of "Ain't That a Shame," "Long Tall Sally" and "Tutti-Frutti" and three entire albums by William Hung. Not to mention albums by numerous non-singing teen-idols and Paris Hilton.  So young Miss Black has got a long long way to before she's even close to "worst song ever," and a significant number of folks might consider lightening up about teen pop songs, lest their own music collections from that era of their lives be explored a little more closely than they'd like.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


The college where I used to work, which is church-affiliated, is inaugurating a new president next month. As a part of the events surrounding the inauguration, classes are canceled all day on the day of the ceremony itself.

Later in that same month we find the college will observe Good Friday, a day of some weight in the religious tradition to which it considers itself affiliated. All classes on that day are canceled too, as long as they are after noon.

Yes, that's right. Become president of the college and that earns a whole day of classes off in your honor. Restore to humanity the possibility of an actual and complete relationship with its creator  -- a central point in the belief system of the faith tradition whose name (and money) the college takes -- and you'll get half of one. But hey, the college hasn't had that many presidents, and Good Friday happens every year. No big deal.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Much Is Now Clear

Sammy Hagar, solo guitarist and vocalist as well as a member of Van Halen for several years in the 1980s and 90s, says that his brain has been tapped into by aliens.

Hagar makes the claim in an interview about his new biography, Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock. Hagar also apparently, in talking about his time with Van Halen, takes some shots at his predecessor, David Lee Roth. I remember holding the opinion along with other Serious Music Fans, during the band's most MTV-ish heydey of the mid -80s, that guitarist Eddie Van Halen's artistry was obscured by Roth's clownish antics. Although I elevated myself to Serious Music Snob by saying that Hagar wouldn't really help much, I still saw the move as an overall positive one.

Of course, the trajectory of the band post-Roth, as it charted several singles but never matched its 1984 level of ubiquity, demonstrated where I and my fellow Serious Music people were wrong. It's hard to have a clown act if you get rid of the clown, and guitar wizardry doesn't sell very well if its mired in the middle of sludgy songs shrieked out by an aging party animal with a mop on his head.

We should have known, of course. Diamond Dave wrote: "Whatta snappy little mammy gonna keep a pappy happy/And accompany me, to the ends of the earth, ah yeah." Sammy Hagar wrote: "...only time will tell/If we stand the test of time."

Anyway, HarperCollins Publishers must have figured the world had too many trees, using its pop-culture centered imprint It Books to offer us Hagar's version of his story. So we can all learn that Sammy Hagar believes his brain was experimented upon by aliens.

PS -- I forgot add that Sammy Hagar was a founding member of the hard rock band Montrose. I don't know why I'm supposed to mention it, since the only two albums he recorded with them charted at #133 and #65 and the second of those represents the peak of Montrose fame. But every story I read online about this item pointed it out so apparently I need to also.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Time Is No Longer on Your Side

Earlier this week, the University of Oklahoma fired Jeff Capel as its men's basketball coach.

Although Capel posted three winning seasons at OU, his last two had been sub-.500. The program is under the NCAA microscope because a player's relative may have gotten an easy loan from a booster. The player, of course, is no longer at the school, so any sanctions will fall on the players and coaches there now rather than him, but oh well, it's the NCAA for you.

Firing Capel may or may not be a good idea at this time. The reality is that the Sooners have to buy out his contract and whomever comes in to follow him will also be laboring under the same things that weighed him down. The NCAA investigation and possible sanctions chill recruiting, the "one and done" rule that permits student athletes to enter the NBA after one year of college will make it hard for him to find and keep top talent long enough to help build the program for the long-term, and overcoming the apathy in Capel's wake will be tough. In essence, OU will be paying two coaches for one probably mediocre season as they pay the current coach and buy out Capel.

OU standout Blake Griffin, now with the Los Angeles Clippers, questioned the decision as well. Capel, Griffin noted, rebuilt the program following the monumental mess left after Kelvin Sampson's departure. Griffin wondered why a coach who could bring a program to the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament within his first two years would be sent packing after only two down years. I kind of echo Griffin, although I know that OU Athletic Director Joe Castiglione is at least three times as smart as me in these matters and probably has angles I haven't even considered.

Could Capel have righted his ship, given time? I think the chances are pretty good, myself. The one-and-done rule torpedoed him for this season when three top players left, but the guy who could get Blake Griffin and who got those players here to start with could probably have closed the deal on some others as well.

Of course, the issue is that in today's sports world, you aren't really given time. Problems must be fixed now, turnarounds made now, success must happen now.

Consider the OU coach who occupies the women's basketball office, Sherri Coale. Coale took over the program in 1996, following two lackluster coaches and one who actually gave it a little life. OU planned to drop the program in 1990, but a public outcry kept it going, but barely. Gary Hudson improved on his predecessor's record, going 39-45 where her 32-51 had brought the team to the brink of extinction. Under Hudson's successor, Burl Plunkett, the program began a turnaround.  Plunkett took the Sooners to the Women's NCAA tournament and won the 1993 National Women's Invitational Tournament, but retired in 1996 for health reasons following a 12-15 season.

Coale, brought directly from Norman High School, only won five games her first season and just eight in her second. The Sooners were one game above .500 in her third season overall, but still finished the conference season at 8-8. Then came the 1999-2000 season, in which the Sooners tied for first in the Big 12, went 25-8 overall and made the women's Sweet Sixteen, and after that there was no looking back for the program. 2004-05's 17-13 overall and 8-8 conference mark have been the worst record for OU since then.

Was Sherri Coale that much better of a coach in 1999 than she had been in 1996? I feel safe in saying she would definitely say her coaching has improved over the years and continues to do so. But the truth is, she had time to build her program, and Castiglione had the time to give her. Even only 15 years ago, sports directors and team owners could afford some patience and let things develop instead of demanding success now.

Would Coale have been given a third season today if she followed a winning coach by posting less than 15 wins in her first two? Hard to say, but I think the pressure to see her on her way would be monumentally greater than whatever pressure faced the school in 1998.

So Capel is a victim of some of his own faults -- he'd really inspired no one to stand up and pull for him or build a groundswell of support -- as well as some things over which he had little to no control. But I think he's also a victim of the fact that in the world today, you're always out of time.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

King Con

King Con was TV producer/writer Stephen J. Cannell's third novel, published in 1998. Cannell had created shows like The Rockford Files, The A-Team, Wiseguy, and Hunter, but by this point in his career his output was mostly TV movies from older series. His only ongoing series still on the air in 1998 was Silk Stalkings, which would be canceled the next year, and neither it nor his then-recently canceled Renegade measured up to the quality of his earlier output.

But Cannell had started in television as a writer, and so he began to turn his hand to novels. The Plan is a pretty heavy organized crime tale, and second novel Final Victim concerns a pretty gross set of serial killings. In King Con, though, the Cannell who brought the wry to the front of Jim Rockford's life and times is at work.

Beano X. Bates, the best con man of a widespread clan of con-artists who's known unofficially as "King Con," pulls a poker scam on the wrong man. Mobster Joe Rina retrieves his money and beats Beano nearly to death in the process. Beano's cousin Carol claims to have witnessed the beating and is ready to testify for prosecutor Victoria Hart, but things go bad. Beano wants revenge on Joe and his brother Tommy, but he and the Bates clan will get it their way, with a con game -- except that Victoria feels responsible for what happened to her witness and she will shut Beano down if he leaves her out.

It's all sly and not a little silly, but fun most of the way through. Cannell wrote novels not much different than his TV shows, although with more blood, sex and swearing. He knew better than most how to keep a story rolling, even if the story itself was a lightweight caper tale with some stock characters and owes more of a debt to the 1973 movie The Sting than it might like to admit. There are some sloggy points, mostly when Beano explains the technical details of his scam, but they don't last long and we soon get back on track.

Anyone who enjoyed Cannell's best shows -- and even his not-so-best shows -- for the fun little diversions that they were should have a good time with King Con. But the reader should keep a careful hand on his or her money anyway -- Cannell claims Beano is fiction, but the guy is slippery. You never know.

Friday, March 18, 2011

It's Rainin' All Over the Worlds

Or maybe, "The rain on Titan makes scientists' interests heighten?" Whichever, the Cassini space probe noticed recently that the deserts along the equator of this moon of Saturn had been light, but now were darker.

Scientists believe this happened because it's springtime on Titan, and that means weather patterns full of rain. Of course, since Titan's colder than a Hillary Clinton look at Bill in early 1998, it's not water rain. Water is ice on Titan's surface. The rain is liquid methane, as are the different lakes and small seas scattered here and there on the moon's surface and the clouds that sometimes cover it. Methane, in fact, takes the place of liquid water and water vapor in Titan's weather system, scientists believe.

Since it's so cold, though, a storm on Titan would be pretty much instantly fatal if you were caught out in it. Assuming you survived longer than a couple minutes of breathing methane gas and the couple-hundred-below zero temperatures, that is.

One may note, if one wishes, the irony of the fact that a storm which really could kill us all exists without harebrained local weather nitwits to vamp for ratings by claiming the storm which they have been broadcasting for the last 90 minutes could kill us all.

His Hair Is Perfect

A friend posted a Facebook link to this news story about the largest possible full moon occurring tonight.

Given this, I'd steer clear of Kent, as there are reports of a hairy-handed gent running amok nearby. Of course, he may also be in Mayfair, so you probably want to be careful there as well. Whatever you do, better not let him in.

ETA: Actually, it's Saturday night, not Friday. Lycanthropian warnings still apply.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Musty TV

Thursday nights on the gym TVs can make you cry, especially if you can remember The Cosby Show, Cheers, Frasier, Friends, Hill Street Blues and the like.

Hey! On Wipeout a colorful padded thing hit someone and knocked them into the water! And then they got covered in something gooey while a couple of never-was personalities waste air with "jokes" that the EPA ought to regulate out of existence.

Over here, we've got dysfunctional people who interact with each other in a way that's humorous in every way except for actually being funny. Were we watching Community? The Office? 30 Rock? Parks and Recreation? Perfect Couples? Outsourced? Who could tell? And who could care?

And on American Idol, adequate singers will sing more or less adequately and try desperately to follow in Kelly Clarkson's footsteps instead of Justin Guarini's. Who? Exactly.

I would ask if it was possible for television to get any worse, but until everyone in American reads at grade level and by doing so puts MTV Networks out of business, that's not something one safely asks. One might awaken their slumbering creativity, which is absent in most areas but not in defining quality and deviancy downwards.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Oh, They'd Invade, Alright

MGM studios, bowing to pressure from...nobody, really, except their own craven fear their inferior product will vacuum their pockets instead of line them, is retooling their remake of the 1984 movie Red Dawn.

When the remake was shot in 2009, the invading army was from China. Well, turns out a lot of people in China go to movies, but they won't go to movies their government doesn't let into the country and MGM is pretty sure the Chinese government will give a thumbs down to a movie that describes them invading the U.S. and picking on Spokane farm kids.

The original Red Dawn had the surprising premise that a half dozen small-town high school kids could hold off and do serious damage to the world's second-place military -- at that time, the Soviet Union -- when it hooked up with Cuban soldiers and invaded Colorado. And yes, it did star Charlie Sheen, but he did not, apparently, dream up the concept. Why do you ask?

Anyway, in the remake -- which is in itself proof that there are no more ideas in Hollywood, just echoes -- the invading force was spearheaded by China, aided by Russian troops. The studio is now digitally altering things to remove references to China, Chinese characters, Chinese military insignia, and so on. Instead, we will be invaded by...North Korea.

Yes, the nation that in nighttime satellite photos does an amazing impression of a barren, unlit desert and is ruled by a guy who had his country's constitution changed to explicitly refer to him as "Supreme Leader" is going to invade the U.S. In what, I have no idea, since the North Korean navy is almost entirely a "green-water navy," meaning it doesn't operate very far from shore. Apparently, the invasion will involve sneaking a fleet past Japan, up the Russian coast. across the Bering Strait and counting on the people of Juneau to sleep in so they don't see it cruising by.

Moreover, although Kim is kinda bonkers, there are probably some smarter folks in charge of some parts of North Korea's military, and they realize that if they turn their soldiers loose in a land with electric lights, food and other luxuries, they'll surrender faster than France: "Yes, I would like to confess that my entire family has committed war crimes and should be sent over here to America immediately so they can begin serving a prison sentence in these harsh conditions in which I am forced to eat three meals a day and in which the natural darkness of night is often obscured by these small glowy things."

This is really no big deal; Red Dawn was half an OK movie grafted onto a silly third act and has more value as a nostalgia exercise than anything else. But this fuss is a textbook example of how folks in the movie-making industry have focused more and more on keeping behinds from leaving the seats than in creating products that those behinds and their attached persons want to go see.

Whiz-bang movies offer a host of special effects through CGI or 3-D or whatever else that people want to see in a theater, sure. How many movies do they want to see there though? Crap like Avatar will lure people in to see what the techno-fuss is about. But people who've seen the Smurfs-on-steroids fly around their magical world once aren't going to be all that excited about, say, a world with purple people instead of blue. Or any other variation on the same tired format, spiced up with a "wow" factor that loses its wow pretty quick.

Are there moviemakers who want to try to make pictures that people want to see, that will build box office? I reckon so. But they're getting crowded more and more to the sides by the moviemakers, studios, PR flacks and execs who won't dare building something new because they're too busy being afraid of what might tear down the little they have left.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Good Job, Mr. President

Again, no snark. No matter what I think of his performance to date or what it's likely to be over the next couple of years, I like it when he does these kinds of things, especially as unscheduled trips without fanfare and hoopla.

Now We Can Have Lent

I was wondering if it was really Lent, because there hadn't yet been some obscure archaeological find wrapped up in a marketing blitz that would shake the very foundations of the faith. Or some "I hate religion so I'll keep on writing about it" rant thinly disguised as a novel, either by some hack writer looking for publicity or by a talented writer unable to be comfortable with his atheism as long as other people are comfortable with their theism.

James Frey to the rescue! Frey is perhaps best known for writing a memoir that turned out to be fiction and made Oprah very very cross with him for making her and anyone else who believed him look foolish. Of course, since Oprah has her own TV show, she could get her public revenge; everyone else had to settle for a refund of the cover price (although not many asked for it). Frey's current major project is running a publishing house called Full Fathom Five, which is supposed to capitalize on the Harry Potter/Twilight success and create young adult novels written by Frey and co-authors. The arrangements apparently favor Frey far more than the co-authors.

In the meantime, he prepared the above-mentioned Final Testament of the Holy Bible ("Harumph" - Joseph Smith), in which the Messiah is a drunk fellow who wanders around New York City, smokes pot, kisses men and impregnates a prostitute. He realizes his Messiah-dom after a horrific job accident and some strange events. Mr. Frey is certain traditional-minded religious people "will go crazy" about his book -- not in the good, go-crazy-for-buying-it way, it seems, as its initial print run is only 11,000 copies -- but in the gasp-and-swoon-caught-the-vapors-at-this-threat-to-our-faith way. Indeed, as I understand it, Pope Benedict XVI took to his bed the day the USA Today article was published and has not been seen since.

I approach the news of Frey's novel with mild boredom. I can't work up serious boredom because there's nothing new in what he's doing. Ordinary fellow realizes Messiah-hood after on-the-job-accident, placed on a path of confrontation with established religious authorities? See Charles Sailor's so-so thriller The Second Son. Messiah as a hippie-ish dude who's only interested in everyone loving each other and not all that bring-down stuff about righteousness? See Christopher Moore's over-long Lamb. Messiah who had sexual relationships with men? Theodore W. Jennings, Jr.'s silliness, The Man Jesus Loved. And so on and so on, even without the these-trees-died-for-nothing additions of Philip Pullman and Dan Brown to the stack.

Mr. Frey has planned his book's release for April 22. Doubt I'll stop by the store looking for it; I've got better things to occupy my time that day.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Open Mouth, Insert Webbed Foot...

Gilbert Gottfried's inevitable march to obscurity's event horizon continues. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

Planning Ahead

Seen it pointed out a couple of times that today -- March 14 -- is "Pi Day," because the first three digits of the value of pi are 3.14 and today's date is 3/14.

I'm betting the math geeks really rock it in four years, when the date is 3/14/15. Don't know how "math-y" I am, but I will certainly be glad to eat a piece of pie today. And I won't even care about the ratio of the pie's circumference to its diameter.

Unfortunately, we already missed the chance to celebrate E Day (February 7) or Golden Ratio Day (January 6). But there's always next year!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Call Waiting

The message on the answering machine said the caller was from a local Borders Books and Music Store that's being closed down and that they had begun pricing the fixtures. I had signed up to be contacted about that, with my name, number and which items I was interested in -- we have a room at the church that could use some of the furniture they would be selling. Although I was about fourth or fifth on the list, everyone ahead of me wanted bookshelves.

If I came by the store between noon and 7 PM the next day, they could talk with me about pricing. I secured the church credit card, our tax-exempt certificate and hit the road.

At the store, I found the person who was handling this bit of closure. She's not a regular employee, which means she won't lose her job when the store closes. That'll get interesting in a minute.

We walk back to where the furniture is being kept. "What items were you interested in?" the woman asks.

"I signed up for one of those low tables and two of the chairs in one of the reading areas."

"Right, the coffee tables. We've sold all of those. We do have these little metal tables that you can't really set anything on because they're too light."

"Well, no, I don't need them."

"OK, what else were you interested in?"

"I'd written down that I would like a couple of those chairs like those over there."

"They're all sold too; they're a set."

"So the things I signed up that I wanted to buy are all sold, I guess."

"It looks like it."

"Then why did you call me?"


"None of what I wanted to buy is available anymore, so why did you call me?"

"You signed up to be called about fixtures."

"Where did I sign up?"

"On the list we had of people who were interested in buying the fixtures."

"So you saw the list?"


"And my phone number."


"And what I wanted to buy."


"And even though those things had all already been sold and you had nothing left like it at all, you still called me to drive up to the store -- not let me know these items were sold or leave a number where I could call and find that out."

"You had signed up to be called."

This is a conversation that would have made me much less sad about the store closing, except that the sales clerks who waited on me several times during the shutdown -- with good cheer and who didn't let impending unemployment dampen their helpfulness or friendliness -- will be out of a job when the doors lock, and the stranger to logic who called me to drive 20 miles to tell me what I wanted had been sold will still be employed by the company.

I'm not optimistic about the chain's recovery.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


One of the reasons Goliath lost (aside from the fact that he was messing with the Lord's anointed) is that he committed the classic blunder of, to paraphrase Jimmy Malone, of bringing a handheld edged weapon to a projectile weapon fight. Had David been forced to fight using a sword or had Goliath thrown his spear, things might have been different.

And so it was when one of the local high schools faced down one of the basketball powers in the finals of the state tournament this afternoon. The locals moved up to a larger class, a level which they reach by a half-student in average attendance. They faced a talented team that had lost only to other top-level teams from out of state or larger in class. And although the game was much closer than one might have thought (Goliath may have done some underestimatin'), the outcome was pretty much what had been expected. David had one outstanding player with some talented teammates and Goliath had two or three outstanding players.

Some thoughts occur:

1. At least the man in the row ahead of me did not take a bite out of the piece of pizza he held over his heart during the national anthem.

2. As always, there were plenty of people in the stands who would have played the game much better than the athletes did. Particularly the two gentlemen behind me, whose critical opinions of the local play were of such importance that they raised their voices during the fourth-quarter-opening cheering session to be heard over the attempts to rally the local five. A quick glance confirmed what I had thought -- whatever athletic abilities these gentlemen may or may not have possessed in high school, the only kind of dribbling their current appearance brings to mind involves sauces, napkins and chins.

3. The sad thing about this evening's game shows up when you draw a comparison between the two high schools in areas surrounding a school's primary mission, the education of children. The winning school lags behind much of the state in graduation rates, standardized test scores, number of students attending college, teen pregnancy rates and so on. While it's good to see your efforts pay off with a championship win or to celebrate that win with your friends and classmates, it's not so great if it represents the high-water mark of your life. People who live into their 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond shouldn't peak at 17. Trophies gather dust. Titles fade out of memory. And eventually the question, "Remember when?" brings the answer, "No."

If all we as a society can give students is a school system that offers them great memories instead of great memories plus a great future, we haven't done them much good at all.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Dr. Hook Is Not Amused

The latest issue of Rolling Stone magazine has Jersey Shore personality Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi on the cover and apparently dedicates several of its non-Ralph Lauren-ad pages to an interview with her.

Yes, RS, we get it -- it's a whole lot easier to get on the cover these days than it used to be, but that's just because you're much less relevant now than you were then.

What's in a Name?

Neil Diamond is being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Neil Diamond? Rock and roll?

Brain smokes, sparks, goes into sleep mode.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

No ID Required

Because of the radio station switchover I mentioned the other day, I'm back to listening to the regular dismal radio stations available in Oklahoma City when I drive. Sure, the former Spy has been replaced by a jazz/pop standards station that plays some really good music, but something may have changed about the broadcast signal because it's not as easy to pick up anymore.

So earlier today I had the radio tuned to one of the "classic rock" stations in town -- I can't remember which one and it doesn't really matter -- and the disc jockey followed up a performance of Fleetwood Mac's "Go Your Own Way" by saying, "That was Fleetwood Mac 'Go Your Own Way' off their album Rumours." That made me laugh.

Really? You play a 34-year-old song that probably gets air on your station at least four or five times a week and you feel like you have to identify it? The whole point of the classic rock format is to never play anything new: Who in the heck is not going to know "Go Your Own Way" when they hear it? I kept listening, and the DJ subsequently identified Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion" and the Rolling Stones "Brown Sugar." Good thing, too, because it takes probably a full second of either song before it's obvious what it is.

In the earlier days of radio, DJs often selected the music they played. Bands and artists would send songs to the station and the DJ would pick some, see if people liked them, and keep them in rotation if they won approval. At the very least, the DJ had the role of telling you what song you had heard, because you might not have heard it before. Now they rarely if ever do the former, and it seems like 80 percent of the time, they don't need to do the latter.

Nowadays, DJs seem to do very little beyond yammer, either in the studio or at some remote broadcast with a sponsor. Maybe them yammering is preferable to some car dealer yammering during a commercial, but not by much. When it comes to the classic rock format, disc jockeys are rapidly nearing the screen-door-on-the-Nautilus stage. One more step towards "Radio Nowhere."

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Gravy in the Thermos?

This chart can help you determine which baseball team you should root for. As a Royals fan, I apparently carry a Thermos filled with gravy, but I didn't know that. My Cardinals fandom is somewhat more complicated.

Of course, a quick glance shows that there is only one qualification necessary to be a Yankees fan.

(H/T Yeah Right)


Whether you agreed or disagreed with his position, you could almost always count on columnist David Broder to have presented you with the path he took to get there as well as the information on which it was based. You could decide for yourself if he hit the target or missed, and be able to point to where you thought his interpretation went astray.

I also don't remember Broder buying into much of the hysteria of bashing folks with whom he disagreed -- at least, if he did, it was done in a low-key genteel manner that showed more respect than enmity. Mr. Broder's long-serving keyboard falls silent, as he passed away today at 81.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Winnah Winnah Potluck Dinnah!

The good folks at Christianity Today magazine took a look at a lot of old hymnals for an article in their March issue, which focuses on worship.

They wanted to see which hymns have lasted through the years in the American church, and came up with 13 hymns that appeared in 28 different hymnals throughout the history of several U.S. denominations. Nine others made it into 27 of the 28 hymnals and five were in 26 of 28.

So I'll do a little non-scriptural denominational boasting and note that of the 27 hymns CT listed, four were written by Charles Wesley, co-founder of the Methodist movement with his brother John (The movement wouldn't become a separate church until after the American Revolution when its Anglican base became a wee bit unpopular). Ol' Chuck is one up on his next competitor, Isaac Watts, and those two are the only hymn writers to make the list more than once. Isaac does, however, put two hymns in the 28-for-28 list while Chuck only has one. John Mason Neale's two appearances are as a translator of older hymns, although he also wrote some of his own, such as "Good King Wenceslas."  

John Newton appears on the list, as might be expected, but with "Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken" instead of his best-known hymn, "Faith's Review and Expectation." Of course, most of us know that one better as "Amazing Grace," and one reason it may not have made the list of appearing in all of those hymnals is that it developed its popularity later than a lot of other hymns. Steve Turner wrote a sort of biography of "Amazing Grace" that outlines how both the poem and the tune connected to it grew together until it reached its modern ubiquity.

Anyway, congrats to Chuck Wesley, writing the hymns everybody sings in church since the 18th century!

Monday, March 7, 2011


Fallen behind on these notifications -- resolutions for improvement now follow abundantly!


I suppose I sometimes sound like an old grump when I wonder whether or not everything on the web is an unalloyed good. Or maybe a wee bit hypocritical, since this is a blog and it wouldn't exist except for the web. People who have no web access will never be able to read it! And to answer your question, my door still stands, unbeaten-down by the hordes of web-less folks demanding access to airport-novel reviews, Firefly-inspired rants and grouchy ramblings.

I do wonder, though, whether we are really giving ourselves the time to think through the changes and such that moves to the all-digital realm bring about. This long article for The Nation highlights some of the problems that come from believing such changes are only good and have no down side.

Recently, my favorite local radio station, The Spy, left the airwaves and went to web-only content. The station manager felt the company offering to sell him their transmitter was charging more than it was worth and decided to make that change rather than spend too much on something that was assessed at a lower value than the asking price. There's really no room to quarrel with a decision like that; it's his money and even if it hadn't been, how do you argue with a responsible decision like not paying inflated prices?

Since it's web-only, that means no listening in the car. Unless, as the station's many Facebook fans suggest, you use the iPhone app to get the signal and them plug your phone into your car's sound system. And other smartphone apps are on the way! And then car stereos will start including 4G streaming as a part of their system. And if Obama's universal 4G plan passes, it can be everywhere! When? How? For whom? We don't know, but it will be really cool. And so on and so on, adding more and more what-ifs that, should they happen, will turn the currently exclusivist web-only format --that needs you to buy a new phone or a new stereo or a new car or whatever -- into something that resembles the far more inclusive format of broadcast radio. Right now, a significant portion of the web and its benefits remain the province of the relatively wealthy. Sure, a homeless person can get online through a local library, but any community that can afford a library with power, computers and internet access is wealthy by the world's standards.

But aside from that, there's the loss of the happy accident you might have of searching along the radio dial and finding something really interesting. Few radio dials anyplace offer that anymore, to be sure, as preprogrammed formats safely hide behind consultant-created playlists. The difference is that to listen to online content, you have to already know about it and point your web browser there. I might have been scanning my dial and found The Spy when I was intrigued by, say, the version of Camera Obscura's "French Navy" that they recorded at the station's studios. But not now. Now, I don't have to search and seek to discover something; I just click what I already know online and there it is.

Is the loss of unexpected discovery in radio the worst thing? Probably not, but there are other changes an all-digital world will bring that will have a much bigger impact. Is it possible that new formats will offer benefits that outweigh that loss or create new avenues for those kinds of discoveries? Perhaps so. But if not, will we be able to recover what we lost? I don't know, and it doesn't seem like many other people, a lot smarter than I am, know either. Maybe we should start asking.

Carl Fredricksen, Please Call Your Office...

Things like this are why we can honestly say that nerds have the best fun...

(H/T Threedonia)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Spin the Wheel

Really nothing to say about Charlie Sheen that Robbie Robertson didn't say back in 1987 about some other famous messed-up people to whom the fame machine donated the fuel and the matches so the ghouls could watch them burn:
Take the boy and put him in a mansion; paint the windows black.
Give him all the women that he wants, put a monkey on his back.
All of your so-called friends, take you where the sidewalk ends, I said.
Can't sleep at night, no, can't sleep at night...
Lord please save his soul; he was the king of rock and roll.

American roulette, stake your life upon it,
American roulette, same eyes, same eyes.
American roulette.

"American Roulette" -- Robbie Robertson

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Your Attention, Please...

Ohio State and Auburn Universities and the National Collegiate Athletic Association: This is how it's done. Create any code you like. Make it strict, make it lax, make it ordinary, make it weird. Make them read it, make them sign it, paint it on the wall or whatever else you think needs doing. But when someone crosses whatever line you've drawn, follow through with it.

No, "We'll suspend them at the start of next season, after the bowl game." No, "Well, his dad was shopping him around to different schools but he didn't know anything about it." No lame excuses, no ethical and logical contortions that would make Plastic Man wince, just because a bowl win or a national title may be on the line.

Lord knows, according to a couple of different books out these days, not many colleges teach kids all that much anyway. It'd be nice if somebody thought about teaching them what it means to be an adult and accept the consequences of your own actions.

Friday, March 4, 2011

TV Execs Defy Description, Part 43

If you are tired of how many times I am a Firefly fanboy geek on my blog, I cannot help you. But this particular bit showcases the current absence of clues required to help run a television network.

Yes, according to the person who was responsible for canceling the show, the basic act of airing its episodes in order had no real impact on its ratings. See the pilot first? The show that sets up the premise for the series and introduces three fairly pivotal characters to the good ship Serenity that will drive a good bit of the overall story arc? Nah, why bother. Won't make a difference. Just show any of 'em and then shrug and go "Beats me" when someone asks why the ratings are so low the show has to be canceled.

Couple of posts ago I said it was technically impossible to have a brainless idea, because all ideas have corresponding neurological activity in the brain.

Kudos to Ms. Berman for working so hard to prove me wrong.

And this is this blog's 900th post! Can I run my mouth or what?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Another "Duh"

I had no idea, but apparently one of the factors that backers use to get people on board with a bid to host the Olympics is that it will improve fitness amongst their countrymen and increase participation in sports.

The good folks of England are proving it ain't necessarily so. London's winning bid for the 2014 2012 Olympic Games was supposed to spur people to get out and do more, specifically more in some of the sports involved in the Olympics. By the time those games arrived in 2014 2012, a million more Englishmen and women would be out and about, getting themselves fit. But now, organizers are finding, the rate of increased activity amongst the gentry puts the one-million mark on the calendar not in 2014 2012, but more like 2024.

Our "duh" moment comes in two ways. One, the use of the Olympics as some kind of additional incentive to the usual nagging of people to get out and exercise more just sounds silly. "Hey, mate, put down the pint, get your mug out of the chips and let's go throw a javelin or two, like they're going to do in the Olympics!" The first javelin will be thrown through someone's foot so that the thrower can return to his pint and his fried potatoes in peace.

And as the story notes, the Olympics don't spur that kind of response and, according to statistics, never have. This makes sense too: Maybe little kids see Michael Phelps and get the bug to swim competitively, but grownups not so much. Although I am given to understand by female friends and family that the site of Mr. Phelps' broad-shouldered physique is pleasurable to contemplate, said ladies are not thus moved to don swimsuits themselves and try racing through the water as he did (according to one: "I know where the end of the race is and I can wait for him there.")

I like the Olympics and I like watching athletes from around the world compete in them. I like the stories of the single-minded devotion of folks from out back of beyond who dedicate their lives to gaining one chance at the Olympic stage, to wear their countries' flags in front of the whole world no matter where they may place in their particular event. But the idea that there will be some kind of long-term benefit beyond some beefed-up infrastructure or fond nostalgia gets sillier and sillier every time someone tries to pile another supposed plus on top of the ones that already have been shown not to exist.

(H/T The Sports Economist)

(Edited to correct date of London games, thanks to a note from a reader. I know! Who'd believe I have readers?)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Tennis? Anyone? Anyone? Beuller?

I have elsewhere noted that my alma mater, in addition to being the primary bastion of defense against the advance of Illini-led communism, was also a egg-headed liberal arts school that taught us about old poetry and literature and stuff.

But not all of us were tweedy types who spent hours trying to figure out how to create the perfect collegiate Shakespearean sonnet (hint: Fourteen lines, a-b-a-b, c-d-c-d, e-f-e-f, g-g rhyme structure and includes references to pizza, beer and "Louie, Louie"). Some of us were the classic kind of nerds that thought of just about everything in terms of scientific experiments and mathematical formulae. And at least one of us was the kind of language snob who insists on using proper Latinate plural forms of certain words.

Anyway, one of those classic nerds (we actually called them "weens," which is another story for another time) turned his attention to the sport of tennis. Filippo Radicchi, a researcher at Northwestern and tennis fan, decided to apply something called network analysis to try to rank male tennis players. According to the story, he used an algorithm, or special kind of equation, like the one Google uses to rank web pages. The algorithm increased a player's ranking, for example, if he had more wins over other higher-ranking players. Thus, a single victory over say, Björn Borg, would be of more value than a bunch of wins over Dominik Hrbaty. Or me.

And so, according to the algorithm, the greatest player of "all time" is Jimmy Connors. "All time" is in quotes because Radicchi's study only included players with one Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) match played between 1968 and 2010. Radicchi points out that Connors rates so high because his long career (20-plus years of playing tournament-level tennis) gave him the chance to earn victories over several top opponents, and that current players who might very well have bested Connors in his prime are ranked lower because they're still playing and accumulating value in the algorithm.

On the one hand, serious nerd-ism, to be sure. On the other hand, Radicchi is my favorite kind of specialist -- someone who takes his or her specific field of study and applies it to an area he or she enjoys in the real world, both just for fun and to try to learn something.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Therefore, Am I? I Think...

A fellow named Raymond Tallis -- a doctor and a humanist philosopher named Raymond Tallis, I should say -- reviews a couple of books about the emerging science of consciousness and comes away unimpressed.

If you've not run across the idea of the science of consciousness before, it seems to stem from the idea that a lot of the things we think go on in our heads actually go on in our brains, too. That is, things like ideas, wishes, feelings and such have been found to correspond with actual neural activity in the brain. This means that technically, it's impossible for someone to have a "brainless idea," Jersey Shore and the Wisconsin State Senate as evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

"Consciousness" in this kind of discussion usually boils down to some kind of talk about how people are aware they're people, and how they think about that. Sometimes. In other words, squirrels spend zero time thinking about what makes a good squirrel or about whether or not they've achieved that status. Dogs may be concerned with whether or not we tell them that they're good dogs, but that has more to do with them worrying about whether or not we'll kick them out of the pack than it does with formulating their own ideas about what good dogs are. A "science of consciousness" tries, among other things, to explain all those thoughts and feelings, as well as art, music and nearly everything else, in terms of neural activity in the brain.

The books Dr. Tallis reviews suggest that our human consciousness also has some sort of biological function, or else we wouldn't have it. Just like long claws and sharp teeth serve the lion, strong leg muscles and lightweight build serve the antelope and the ability to stink serves the skunk, our consciousness must also serve us, giving us some biological edge over our competitors. Dr. Tallis is unconvinced -- his own understanding suggests that whatever biological edges we may gain from consciousness could have been gained without it.

I'm unconvinced too. There are lots of life forms that thrive without consciousness, like roaches or (insert cheap joke about pop culture celebrity, politician or other person you'd like to take a dig at here). Consciousness isn't biologically necessary, even if it is helpful to be able to build spears and clubs when you're slow, small, climb poorly and have short teeth and claws. Now, Dr. Tallis is, as far as I can tell, an atheist, which means he wouldn't track with me beyond this point. For me, consciousness is an evidence of God's presence: Life does not need consciousness to exist, but it does need consciousness to know God.

That's one of the reasons I don't much sweat the idea of life evolving over time like some of my fellow believers do, although I cast no stones their way over their preferences. I have no problem with the idea that God created the universe pretty much according to what modern cosmology, archaeology and biology tell us about it. And if God did so that way, then to me the presence of beings in that universe who can wonder about God, the universe and themselves is a sign of God's reality. Not proof, because I'd be assuming as true the thing I was trying to prove was true, which you can't do in the proof game.

Just a sign.