Sunday, July 29, 2007

YouTube favorites

Time for more YouTube favorites

I guess Star Trek was a "spacey" show in more ways than one -- judging by this video, they should have called it "Star Trip" instead. But hey, it was the 60s.

And of course, in the name of equal time, here's a Star Wars video. This is just the first episode of "Annakin's Missing Teddy Bear." I think there are 11 episodes in all (but they're short, all well under two minutes). They get much better as they go along, but this should give you an idea of what the series is like.

You can find the whole list here.

Our Dead Comedian of the Month is Rodney Dangerfield. There's never been anyone better at the one-liner joke style of comedy. Here's a killer set from an old Tonight Show. (The sound is messed up on this one, so you might want to TURN IT DOWN before you play it.)

I can't get enough Rodney. here's some more.

And now for something completely different. Sports acrobatics is a sport I only recently heard of. Apparently, it combines elements of gymnastics, contortionism, and dwarf tossing. It looks pretty sick -- I'll leave it to you to guess which sense I'm using the word in. (It's pretty long, but watch it down to the 3:18 mark to see something you don't see every day. I think that may be dwarf abuse.)

Never bring a banana to a gunfight.

Here's a commercial for Wrestlemania. Seeing Taxi Driver before watching is not required, but will enhance your comedy experience.

Speaking of movies, an unexpected number of all-time classics feature balloons, as this compilation demonstrates.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows ***SPOILERS*** review, comments, intepretations, musings, etc., and so on

Now that I've read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows twice (and the good parts several times), I'm ready to write a review. Actually, it's not so much a review as comments on some of the many aspects of the book that interested me.
Caution: There be SPOILERS here.

Did I mention this post has SPOILERS?


Well, it was less of a bloodbath than I expected, really. I was sure that Snape would die, although I expected it to be heroic and redemptive rather than just Voldemort saying, "So long sucker, I need your wand." I also thought Hagrid and maybe Ron would die too, so I was glad they didn't.

Dobby's appearance itself was unexpected -- it had an element of deus ex machina, but that's to be expected in these books, which are about magic after all -- and that made his death and burial all the more poignant. It didn't make me cry or anything (I tear up fairly easily from music and movies, but only one book out of the thousands I've read has ever actually made me cry), but it was quite sad.

It seems that a lot of people were disappointed with the deaths of Remus and Tonks, with the way they died "off-screen" as it were, but I think it was quite well done. In a war, surely, you don't always see your friends die or get to have a last word with them. Sometimes, you just go out to a battle, and when you come back, your friends are lying in a row of dead bodies, like Remus and Tonks. Or you never recover their bodies, like Mad-Eye Moody, or you never even knew they were in the battle until you see them dead, like poor Colin Creevey, or you don't even know who someone is, but you hear her last words anyway, like the girl Ginny tried to comfort while Harry was on his way to give himself up. So I think all that added realism and poignancy to the story.


Snape has always been one of the most interesting characters in the books, so I was disappointed in how little he had to do in Deathly Hallows. As I mentioned, I expected him to die, but in a completely different way. I did like the revelation of his motivations. While I was not one of those who doubted that he would turn out "good" in the end, the idea that "he did it all for love" was completely unexpected.

I had supposed that there would be some sort of reconciliation between Snape and Harry, that Snape would finally see how much they had in common as unloved children and misfits, but Rowling had nothing so tidy in mind. Snape died still unable to see the boy as anything but a second James Potter and as the abstraction "Lily Evans's son." He never understood Harry at all, even after he had glimpses of his memories of humiliation and sadness while trying to train him in occlumency. Harry, on the other hand (with the big advantage of watching Snape's clear memories), came to understand and forgive his one-time tormentor.

And I loved the way that Rowling reached back to place the chapter "Snape's worst memory" in Order of the Phoenix in a completely new context. The memory Harry saw in the pensieve in Book 5 was Snape's worst memory not because he was humiliated by James and Sirius, but because it was the moment he finally lost Lily forever by calling her the m-word. How brilliant, how sad, how true.

King's Cross:

OK, here's what I think happened. Voldemort tried to kill Harry, but Harry was still "tethered" to life through his blood in Voldemort. So Voldemort actually killed only the part of his own soul that lived inside Harry. The shock of killing part of his own soul should have killed Voldemort, but he was "tethered" to the snake-horcrux. So the horcrux kept Voldemort from dying, and by living, Voldemort kept Harry from dying. The grotesque baby-creature-thing was the mutilated core of Voldemort's soul, everything that was left of his soul except the part in the snake.


It was a little annoying to once again have Dumbledore explain everything, especially since we'd just had another time out from battle to watch Snape's memories, but I liked the way Rowling finally humanized the Great Wizard. And I liked the way over the series Harry moved from idolizing Dumbledore to shock at his feet of clay to finally understanding, forgiving, and loving him as a human being rather than an ideal. That's the best we can all hope for from our own children.

The final battle:

Of course, one of the funnest parts in the entire book was when Molly Weasley went all Ellen Ripley on Bellatrix Lestrange. And the whole final confrontation between Harry and Voldemort was brilliant. I liked the way Voldemort was completely mystified when Harry told him to try to feel some remorse. I also liked the way Harry was in charge the whole time, telling Voldemort things he didn't know and disrespecting him by calling him by his birth name. Harry took over Dumbledore's role not only as fighter/rescuer, but as explainer as well. And of course, even the birth name thing was a trick of Dumbledore's, since he always called Voldemort "Tom."

Friday, July 27, 2007

Why I read Digby

As you might guess from my blogroll, I don't read many political blogs. Since I'm neither a Republican nor a Democrat, I generally find the partisanship and name-calling tedious. But even though Digby's Hullabaloo often strays into territory I don't enjoy, she also writes posts like this. And that's why I read her blog.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I finished at around 3:30 today during my church picnic. (Nyar!) It's the best book of the seven. Everything happens just the way it should.

And something odd -- amazing, even beautiful in a small way -- happened. We had to help set up and clean up the picnic, so we were gone from about 2:30 to 8:30. When we got home, there were two copies of the book on our porch. Somebody left them anonymously -- no notes or inscriptions. What a kind present.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Pagans to Simpsons: "We are not amused"

As a publicity stunt for the forthcoming Simpsons Movie, somebody has painted a giant image of Homer Simpson next to the Cerne Abbas Giant, a 180-foot tall nude image of a priapic, club-wielding pinhead that dates back either about 400 years or thousands of years, depending on whether you ask a scientist or a Pagan.

Some British Pagans, who have adopted the Giant and his gargantuan boner as a fertility symbol, are not amused. A Pagan spokesperson said that they would be "doing some rain magic to bring the rain and wash... away" the Homer's water-based biodegradable paint. Lucky thing the Pagans are on the job, because as everyone knows, it hardly ever rains in England.

But I think those Pagans are actually misguided, because if a giant stiffy symbolizes male fertility, why can't a giant donut symbolize female fertility? I mean, look at the picture. Is Homer really holding up that donut for the giant to eat? Trying to erase it is sexist and patriarchal if you ask me. Or maybe it's because Homer is a dude and the donut isn't a female symbol at all, so it's homophobic to want to erase it. I can't make up my mind (except on the fact that some people have no sense of humor).

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"Anyone up for a game of ring-toss?"

Found via murketing.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

How to play cricket, for Americans

Cricket is a sissy foreign sport, but it can be very enjoyable for Americans who love to get drunk on beer after enduring a tedious cross-cultural experience. If you want to have a cricket game (or, "match," as they say in quaint foreign countries) of your own, here's what you need to do.

First, you and your friends will need to dress up all in white.

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A cricket team

The tradition of wearing white began in the 1890s, because cricket players who went to a pub after a "match" were naturally embarrassed about playing something so sissified. White clothing made grass stains show up more clearly, and this enabled cricket players to point to their grass stains and pretend to be rugby players when "down t' pub."

Second, go out and buy an oar. Cricket oars are usually only good for one "match" -- for reasons that will become obvious below -- so cheap ones are fine. I got these at Wal-Mart for $6.50 each. Good deal.

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Cricket oars

Next, you will need to find an umpire. I prefer female umpires, when available. (Hope that's not sexist.)

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A cricket umpire.

When playing sports informally, Americans are used to having the players umpire or referee their own games, but in cricket an outside umpire is essential. This is because the umpire is responsible for bringing the crickets. Four to five thousand crickets will be necessary for a typical cricket "match."

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Some cricket crickets

Any grass field will do as your cricket field. Once the umpire brings the crickets, you're ready to play a "match"!

First, the umpire releases the crickets and allows them to scatter around the field. Then the players take turns using the oar. The player using the oar is called the "oarsman." Each turn lasts one minute.

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A cricket oarsman

The oarsman's objective is to squash as many crickets as possible with his oar before his minute is up. The number of squashed crickets becomes the oarsman's score. A variety of techniques are used to squash the crickets. The oarsman shown below is using the leaping technique favored by advanced players. This is an effective but somewhat risky technique, because inexperienced players might land on a cricket. Stomping on a cricket is a foul and costs the oarsman the remainder of his turn.

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A leaping oarsman

After an oarsman has had his turn, the umpire uses a device called a "wicket" to scrape the squashed crickets off the oar and the ground and then counts them. Over the course of a match, the wicket becomes quite messy. (Hence the expression "a sticky wicket.")

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Various styles of cricket wickets

Only crickets count in the oarsman's score. Any other insects or small animals squashed by the oarsman are discarded by the umpire, who must say, "That's not cricket." (Hence the expression "That's not cricket.") Deliberately squashing other kinds of insects, such as flies, and trying to slip them into one's pile of squashed bugs is called a "fly slip" and is a foul.

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A cricket umpire preparing to penalize a player for a fly slip

When everyone has had a turn to be oarsman, the first inning is over. (Cricket borrows some terms from real sports like baseball.) By now, the oar is usually a disgusting mess. But that's all right if you bought a cheap one; just throw it away.

It's now time for the "tea interval." The tea interval is the break between the two innings of a cricket "match." Traditionally, tea and "scones" (a quaint foreign word for "rolls") are served, with the squashed crickets used as a spread on the scones. (I recommend that Americans substitute beer and potato chips. One need not go to extremes in seeking cross-cultural experiences.)

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Buttered "scones" with squashed crickets, a traditional "tea interval" favorite

After the "tea interval," the second and final inning begins. In the second inning, players take turns "bowling." A large round ball is used. The ball weighs up to 16 pounds and has holes in it for the player's thumb and two fingers.

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A cricket ball

Each player gets one turn to be the "bowler." Bowling consists of rolling the ball on the grass. The object is to squash as many crickets as possible with a single roll of the heavy ball. There are two main kinds of bowlers in cricket, "pace bowlers" and "spin bowlers." Pace bowlers pace nervously until it is their turn to bowl, while spin bowlers spin with excitement.

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A pace bowler

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An Australian spin bowler

Once each player has had a turn to be the "bowler," the "match" is over, or "overs" as cricket players inexplicably say. The player with the highest combined score of crickets squashed during his turns as oarsman and bowler is the winner. A score of 100 squashed crickets is called a "century" and is regarded as fine accomplishment in the sport of cricket.

Once the "match" is over, it's finally time to go "down t' pub" and get drunk. This, of course, is the highlight of any sport as tedious as cricket. American players should be sure to reward themselves for enduring the cricket experience by observing this tradition.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Schrödinger's Vice President

A This Modern World cartoon:

...Dick Cheney rests in a state of quantum indeterminacy -- answerable to neither the executive or legislative branches -- but potentially a member of both!

One Sentence Movie Reviews: "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift," "Apocalypto," "The Most Dangerous Game"

The Most Dangerous Game (1932, NR)
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It definitely has its suspenseful moments, but on the whole the film is melodramatic, over-acted, and severely dated.

Apocalypto (2006, R)
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A typical Mel Gibson film: visually compelling scenes, a strong narrative, and a twisted fascination with gore combine to create a movie that is entertaining enough but somehow seems less deep than it should have been.

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006, PG-13)
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Although 24-year-old Lucas Black looks ridiculously old to be a high school student and the rest of the acting is pretty poor as well, the cars are cool and the rudimentary plot managed to hold my attention most of the time.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Random Cool Site: Phillip Glass

Phillip Glass is an influential contemporary American composer. Like most composers today, Glass has a website where you can listen to samples of his music, find out where his compositions will be played, and so on.

Unlike most composer's websites, though, Glass's site has a little joke page. And not only is it a joke page, it's a page of jokes about Phillip Glass. See, there's this criticism of Glass that his compositions tend to both be repetitive (i.e., a single composition will tend to repeat the same short musical phrases over and over) and to all sound like each other. So he has a little page of jokes like this one:

— Knock Knock.
— Who's there?
— Knock Knock.
— Who's there?
— Knock Knock.
— Who's there?
— Knock Knock.
— Who's there?
— Philip Glass.

The man not only can laugh at himself, he invites us all to laugh with him. How cool is that?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Give Ambriel a hug

Ambriel is the 11-year-old daughter of a couple of my blogging friends. She's battling a rare form of cancer called chondrosarcoma. Fracas has set up a "hugs" page where you can give Ambriel a virtual hug to let her and her family know that you're praying for/thinking of/hoping for them. Let them know you care.

Monday, July 09, 2007


John Smeaton, the Scottish baggage handler who bravely battled a flaming terrorist at Glasgow Airport, has become something of an internet celebrity. It's easy to see why from this video. What's not so easy to see is, what language do they speak in Scotland, anyway?

P.S.: "I was havin' a fag" means something different in the UK than it does in the US.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Our family's Tanabata celebration

To commemorate the story of Tanabata, Japanese people decorate bamboo and write down wishes to hang on it. This is our Tanabata bamboo.

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We made origami in various shapes...
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...and hung it on the bamboo.
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Then we wrote our wishes for the year on little cards and hung them from the bamboo as well.
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That night, Ushikai and Orihime met on Magpie Bridge. We hope that our wishes will come true, just like theirs does once a year.
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The story of Tanabata

Tanabata is a Japanese festival celebrated in most parts of the country on July 7. It commemorates the story of the stars Altair and Vega. There are many versions of the story; this is the one my family tells.

Once upon a time, Seven Fairy Sisters lived east of the River of Heaven. They all wove beautiful clothes, but Orihime, the Weaver Princess, wove the most beautiful of all.

Meanwhile, west of the River of Heaven lived Ushikai, the Cowherd, with his elderly Ox. One day, the Ox suddenly spoke to him. "Seven Fairy Sisters are coming to the River of Heaven to bathe. When they do, you must take Orihime's kimono and hide it."

Ushikai hid in the rushes at the edge of the River. The Seven Fairy Sisters came to the river and removed their beautiful kimonos and began to bathe. Ushikai found Orihime's kimono and hid it.

The frightened Fairy Sisters hastily put on their kimonos, turned into birds, and flew away. Except for Orihime, who could not fly because she had no kimono to put on. "Marry me," said Ushikai, "and I will give you back your kimono." Orihime agreed to become Ushikai's wife.

Eventually, they had a boy and a girl. Orihime and Ushikai were very happy together. But O-Ubasama, the Goddess of Heaven, found out about them and grew very angry. She sent Heavenly Messengers to bring Orihime back to Heaven. They dragged the weeping Orihime away from her husband and children and carried her off to Heaven.

Ushikai was very sad. Right away, he put their children in bamboo baskets on a pole across his shoulders and set off on Orihime's trail. He ran on and on. Day and night he ran. If he had to, he was determined to pursue Orihime across the River of Heaven and into Heaven itself.

But when Ushikai reached the place where the River of Heaven had always been, it was gone! It was now high in the sky, shining brightly. O-Ubasama had raised the river into the sky so that Ushikai could not cross it in pursuit of Orihime.

Ushikai and his children returned to their home in despair. They cried and cried. The elderly Ox spoke up again. "Don't cry," he said. "When I die, take my skin and use it to make a kimono. Put it on, and you'll be able to climb to Heaven." As soon as he said this, the Ox fell down dead.

Ushikai did as he was told and made a kimono from the Ox's skin. He put the children in their baskets again and shouldered them. One basket was a little lighter than the other, so he picked up a ladle and put it in the lighter basket. Then he began climbing high into the sky.

Stars were shining brightly. Ushikai and his children passed between them as they climbed. Finally, they reached the River of Heaven. The children were delighted and called out for their mother. "Mommy! Mommy!"

Just as they were about to cross the River, O-Ubasama appeared and took out a hairpin. She drew a line down the middle of the River.

As soon as she did, the gentle, shallow River of Heaven began to rage with billowing waves. There was nothing Ushikai and his children could do. They hugged each other and wept.

Eventually, the girl child looked up. "Father," she said, "let's start scooping the River with that ladle. We'll scoop until the River is dry."

"That's right," said Ushikai. "We'll scoop out the River." They dried their tears and began taking turns scooping. When one grew tired, the next took over. Day and night they scooped, with never a break.

O-Ubasama was watching and took pity on them. Once a year, every July 7, she allows them to cross a bridge carried by magpies and meet Orihime.

Ushikai and his children went on living in Heaven. If you look in the sky on a clear summer night, you can see one bright star on each side of the Milky Way. Those stars, Altair and Vega, are Ushikai and Orihime, and the Milky Way is the River of Heaven. The two smaller stars next to Ushikai are their children. And every July 7, on Tanabata, Ushikai and Orihime meet again in the middle of Magpie Bridge.

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(You can read a little about our family Tanabata celebration right here.)

Thursday, July 05, 2007

My ass is the thing with feathers...

Acqua Paradiso is an Italian mineral water company that uses a winged motif in its designs:

It also sponsors a volleyball team,

the Flying Anuses.

(Volleyball pictures found at Uni Watch blog.)

Picture of Ian Fleming: lame or cool?

I picked up a couple of old James Bond paperbacks at the used bookstore a while ago. (That's kind of an odd syntax when you think of it. Shouldn't it be "usedbook store"?) I got Casino Royale and Goldfinger. CR was entertaining and even fairly gritty and realistic in some ways; GF was rather absurd but still readable. Both were laughably sexist, but that's actually part of their appeal -- they're so much a relic of their era.

But along with the book itself, I found the cover design of Casino Royale quite interesting.

A couple of things stand out to me. The first is the small size of the front-cover illustration, with a large corresponding blank space at the top. Thrillers today tend to be much heavier on the graphics. In that simpler time before information overload, simply using red text was enough to capture the consumer's attention.

But what really jumps out at me is the author's picture on the back cover:

I find Fleming's style fascinating: short-sleeved shirt (too short-sleeved by today's standards), bow tie, watch with leather band, cigarette in one hand, and revolver in the other. It all seems so odd and uncool today -- I can't imagine what kind of image that was meant to convey in the late '50s/early '60s.

The gun especially is a curiosity. In that indoor setting, Fleming definitely looks like he's pointing it at someone. Who? Why? Fleming himself seems to have an uncomfortable look on his face. Did he think the pose was silly? Is the picture meant to convey Fleming's bona fides (he worked in intelligence during World War II, but as a planner, not an "agent"), his "cred" as one might say today, to people who might buy the book? Surely even back then, no one was naive enough to be influenced by that sort of thing. Or were they?

If an author tried to pull that off today, people would laugh out loud at the sight of his books. It would be teh lamest thing evar. And yet.... There's still something about the picture that keeps me from really laughing. Maybe it's that he seems to know how to hold a gun, or the sheer insouciance of the pose. I don't know what it is, but Fleming actually does seem kind of cool somehow -- like a killer dentist or something.

So what do you think? Is it lame or is it cool?

One Sentence Movie Reviews: "Reality Bites," "Musa," Fight Club"

Fight Club (1999, R)
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The first time I saw this, I was expecting no more than some sort of macho entertainment about white-collar dudes who box as a hobby, but instead I found a movie that was not only very entertaining, but also intelligent, relevant, and full of unexpected turns.

Musa (2001, R)
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This Korean period piece delivers pretty much everything you could want in an "epic" film: battles and landscapes and heroes and villains and hope and despair and lovers and masters and slaves and cowardice and heroism and honor and dishonor and sorrow and excitement and etc.

Reality Bites (1994, PG-13)
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The characters in this early '90s post-college coming-of-age tale are too stereotyped, and the movie takes itself too seriously, but it still resonated with me a little bit; I knew people who were a lot like these guys.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Wookie scrotums

I was pretty sure I had the weirdest search engine "keyword activity" ever when someone visited my blog after googling "Which NASCAR drivers are circumcised?" But I'm not so sure anymore. Because thanks to StatCounter, I now know that my blog is at the top of the page whenever someone googles the words "wookie scrotums."

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Romney's strap-on

Leftish blogs were all agog recently over an article about presidential candidate Mitt Romney in the Boston Globe.

Mitt Romney

According to the article, back in 1983 Romney packed his extensive brood into the family station wagon for a road trip to a cottage by Lake Huron. Among the things he strapped to the car's rooftop luggage rack was... wait for it... the family dog. I kid you not.

Now, of course, the dog wasn't just spreadeagled across the roof or something, he was in a carrier. And Romney apparently made some sort of windshield thing for the dog's little cage "to make the ride more comfortable for the dog." So it wasn't as bad as it could have been. But still, that's just a freakin' weird thing to do. I mean, I find the way a lot of Americans sentimentalize their pets to be amusing and/or disgusting -- I know the difference between pets and children -- but even I wouldn't do that. Because I also know the difference between pets and luggage. (Hint to Romney: pets go inside the car.)

But as Bob Harris points out, just as weird as strapping a dog onto the car roof in the first place is the fact that this story came from inside the Romney camp. Apparently, the story was supposed to be an early example of Romney's "emotion-free crisis management," because Romney made an unscheduled stop to hose down the car when the dog shat all over it (in terror?). Big woof. Quoting Harris,

Yes, but which emotionless imbecile created the crisis to begin with, displayed no remorse in the aftermath, and is still enough of a lunatic that his own campaign considers it something to boast about to the press?