Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Let's party

I re-registered to vote today. For the first time in 13 years, I'm a member of a political party.
I registered Democrat for one reason: to vote for Barack Obama in the upcoming primary. I expect to re-re-register as an independent (or "not a member of a party" as it's called here to avoid confusion with the Independent Party) between the primary and the general election.

I'm not a true Obamamaniac -- I stopped believing in politicians in 1991 (I'll probably write about why some day) -- but I like his message, his expressed desire to fix politics, enough to go out of my way to vote for him. I hope I get to vote for him again in November.

Monday, April 28, 2008

This Day in History Blog

This Day in History Blog is another project of mine. It's a parody of those "today in history" things you see all over the place. It runs Monday through Friday. I think it's usually pretty funny. Check it out.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Trampoline video effects

I thought this was mad cool.
zZz is playing: Grip, is the first video of Roel Wouters aka Xelor. it's a one take, top shot music video with trampoline gymnasts simulating typical video effects. (h/t: Panopticist)

Friday, April 25, 2008

"T-o-o-o-o bad"

When I was four years old, I picked up a new favorite phrase: "Too bad." Whenever I saw something bad happen to someone I'd say "Too bad." But I had a special way of saying it. If a another kid tripped and fell down, I'd say "T-o-o-o-o bad" in a singsong voice. A kid falls off his bike: "T-o-o-o-o bad." A kid gets hit in the nose by a ball: "T-o-o-o-o bad."

I thought this was an excellent way of expressing sympathy, because if someone falls down, or falls off her bike, or gets hit in the nose, well that really is too bad. So I said so. Often. Loudly. "T-o-o-o-o bad."

I didn't realize that people were taking it differently from the way I meant it. Until one day Johnny, another kid from the neighborhood, was riding his skateboard down the big slope into the parking garage under our apartment. (OK, it was probably just a little slope, but when you're four years old, every slope is a big slope.) He was pretty good at riding his skateboard. But he wasn't all that good at stopping his skateboard, because BAM! he crashed right into a parked car at the bottom of the slope.

Johnny was a couple of years older than me, and I really admired him. I wanted to be his friend. So as he slowly extricated himself from the crumpled pile of boy and skateboard halfway under the car's rear bumper and stood up, knees skinned and head bumped, I expressed my sympathy. "T-o-o-o-o bad."

Johnny glared at me. "It's not funny," he said.


He started to limp away. "It really hurts."

Huh? But that's why I --

He looked back over his shoulder as he limped up the slope. "Stupid."

I stopped saying "T-o-o-o-o bad" after that.

Friday I'm in love...

...with Dragnet!

Like I said yesterday, I've been having a lot of fun watching "Dragnet" on Hulu. But since some of you can't access Hulu, and since more of you probably don't want to watch full episodes anyway, here're some YouTube clips.

The best thing about "Dragnet" was Jack Webb's speeches as "Joe Friday." He probably had one of these in every episode. In this one, he's explaining what happens in the first second of a car crash. I saw this when I was about five or six years old, and it made a serious impression on me, because I've always remembered that one line, "your legs... both snap at the knee joint." Yikes. It's been 40 years, but I've never ridden in a car without buckling my seatbelt since.

This is actually from the 1954 movie, not the TV series. Some crook mocks Joe Friday's low salary, and Friday goes off on him. It's kind of bizarre if you think about it -- who the hell knows his salary to the penny like that? -- and corny, of course, but in an awesome way.

Here Friday goes off on a child molester, starting with "Now you listen to me, you gutter-mouth punk" and finishing with "...and now you've graduated, you've moved to the sewer: you're a child molester." Great stuff.

And fortunately, I found a compilation from "The LSD Story." Poor Blue Boy ends up fatally overdosing on LSD. I didn't know that was actually possible.

Finally, every show closed with a voice over telling what happened to the crooks in their trials, followed by the closing theme and then this totally awesome Mark VII Limited Hammer:

Here's a little spoof by Jack Webb and Johnny Carson.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Good reads/random cool sites (4/24/2008)

"'Charlie Rose' by Samuel Beckett"
Something has happened to PBS favorite "Charlie Rose." The erudite conversations and sober intellectualism have been replaced by an absurd world where illogic, inane dialogues, and open hostility rule. The one-on-one interview between Charlie and his guest begins as usual but quickly goes awry, so much so that Charlie is warned that, somewhere, a man named "Steve" is "not happy." Though this seemingly random statement might confuse us, Charlie understands it for what it is -- a threat. But who is "Steve" and why is he angry? And why does the mere mention of his name stop Charlie cold? (h/t: murketing)

Romeo Dev is the world's smallest bodybuilder.

Nicholas White was trapped in an elevator for 41 hours. It ruined his life. (h/t: News of the Weird)

PhotobucketWith apologies to overseas readers, who can't access it, Hulu has classic episodes of the 1967 revival of Dragnet. I have fond memories of watching this show as a child, with iconic lines like "My name is Friday. I carry a badge" and "The story you are about to see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent." It's still rather entertaining, albeit pretty dated and corny. But the drug-related episodes in particular can be absolutely hilarious. "The LSD Story," for example, strays into "Reefer Madness" territory with LSD-addled "Blueboy" spouting lines like "There I am! I'm over there now! I'm not here anymore! My hair is green! I'm a tree!" and Jack Webb as Joe Friday asking him, "You're pretty high and far out, aren't you? What kind of kick are you on, son?" in his familiar deadpan style.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

One Sentence Movie Reviews: "Pretty in Pink," "Beowulf," "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle"

Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004)
Silly stoner movie has plenty of funny moments.

Beowulf (2007)
Although the CG effects are stunningly good, the movie as a whole is stunningly dumb.

Pretty in Pink (1986)
Although it's mostly true to teenage life, the movie never really overcomes the triteness of its rich boy-poor girl plot and grabs the audience.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Book review: The Heartless Stone

I have a diamond ring. It belonged to my grandfather; he gave it to me while I was in high school. It doesn't mean a lot to me. Don't get me wrong -- I was grateful to receive it. At just under a carat, it's an expensive item, an extravagant gift for a high school student (although one my grandfather could easily afford). I appreciate that. But otherwise, to me it's just a pretty, shiny stone. It's quite beautiful -- once every couple of years I remember I have it and take it outside to move it around and watch it wink and sparkle in the sunshine -- but it has no symbolic meaning to me.

And I've never really been able to understand why this should be otherwise. The idea that a shiny rock can have some deeper meaning than its own beauty or its commercial value has always puzzled me.

Which brings us to The Heartless Stone: A Journey Through the World of Diamonds, Deceit and Desire by Tom Zoellner. In an earlier discussion of the morals of capitalism, I reached this conclusion:

OK, I think I'm getting it now. You can make any claim you want to sell a product, no matter how absurd, as long as it's vague, non-specific and not fact-based, and still be an honest capitalist. A lie to sell a product must be fact-based in order to make you a criminal.

Diamonds are the quintessence of this idea. Diamond engagement rings are a $4.5 billion business in the USA. Diamonds are symbols of eternal love; many people find the idea of getting married without one unthinkable. Why? The answer is simple: marketing.

As Zoellner tells the story in The Heartless Stone, in the 1930s, diamonds were considered nothing more than "foppish extravagances," "trinkets for the rich." Indeed, "In the public's mind, diamond rings were still associated with aristocrats and stuffed shirts and gangsters... certainly nothing that a young working family would want to buy."

In 1938, diamond cartel DeBeers and its advertising agency set out to change this. They succeeded wildly, through a series of simple claims. Their advertising implied that diamonds are rare, that they symbolize love, that they are symbols of a man's progress in life, that no engagement is proper without a diamond ring, and especially, that all of these ideas are deeply traditional. None of these things were true (at least not until DeBeers started telling people they were) -- in any context but capitalism, they would be called "lies" -- but America believed them, and still believes them, to the tune of billions of dollars per year.

Besides deconstructing the symbolism of diamonds, Zoellner also talks to miners, smugglers, strongmen, and war victims in Africa, child diamond polishers in India (ain't capitalism grand?), more miners in Brazil, Australia, and the Canadian Arctic, scientists and businessmen trying to synthesize gem-quality diamonds, and an engaged American couple, and even gets inside DeBeers headquarters. According to the book cover, he visits 14 countries on six continents.

Through it all, Zoellner weaves his personal diamond story, his difficulties separating himself from the ring his fiancée gave back to him when they called off their wedding. Ironically, despite his deconstruction of the symbolism of diamonds, Zoellner found himself emotionally ensnared in that same symbolism.

The result is an enlightening and entertaining education in the symbols and substance of diamonds.

Friday I'm in love...

...with Five-Second Movies!

They're self-explanatory. Here're some of my favorites:

Accept no imitations: the real, and funniest, 5-second movies are here.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Good reads/random cool sites (4/16/2008)

The New York Times has a fascinating article about frontotemporal dementia or Pick's disease, a brain disease that causes dementia but can also unleash "torrents of creativity." The article discusses Anne Adams, who left her work as a scientist and became a gifted and driven artist as her condition progressed, producing works such as her fabulous ABC Book of Invertebrates.

Roy Edroso ably sums up right-wing political blogs in The Official Village Voice Election-Season Guide to the Right-Wing Blogosphere: A confederacy of dunces.

Nerve.com has The 50 Greatest Comedy Sketches of All Time, with tons of clips. (h/t: Kulturblog)

Joe Queenan picks the worst movie of all time. It's not Swept Away, even though that movie "seems more amateurish on each viewing, like a morass that starts out as a quagmire, then morphs into a cesspool and finally turns into a slime pit on the road to its ultimate destination in the bowels of Hell."

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

YouTube favorites

Time for more YouTube favorites. Clips with strong language or that are otherwise maybe not safe for work/children/prudes are marked with an asterisk.

This was a genuine radio ad for CornNuts toasted corn snacks.*

A DEA agent gives a gun-safety lecture, because he's "the only one in this room professional enough" to handle a gun.

Comedian Doug Williams (I never heard of him either) appears at a celebrity roast of football player Emmitt Smith. He starts to bomb, and actor/comedian Jamie Foxx starts to heckle him. Williams tries to hit back, but he's bringing nail clippers to a gunfight when Foxx really turns it loose on him. It actually gets a little painful to watch, but it's also funny as hell.*

In 1977, a pre-stardom Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared on the TV police drama The Streets of San Francisco, which today is remembered mainly for inflicting Michael Douglas on the world. Arnold played a bodybuilder who went berserk whenever anyone laughed at him for being a bodybuilder. In this scene, a reporter takes him to her apartment to interview him. She gets him to pose for her, and then makes the mistake of laughing at him, which leads to unintentional comedy dramatic violence.

There's nothing sadder than a whale stranded on a beach.

Karate Kid fans (and who isn't one?) should enjoy this music video, "Sweep the Leg" by No More Kings, which reunites Daniel-san, Johnny, Sensei Kreese, the rest of the Cobra-Kai.

Japanese teens like to spin pens with their fingers when they get bored in class. When they get bored often enough, this is the sort of thing that results.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A vicious circle


One Sentence Movie Reviews: "The Lives of Others," "The Breakfast Club," "The Big Lebowski"

The Big Lebowski (1998)
Another intelligent and entertaining farce from the Coen brothers.

The Breakfast Club (1985)
Although the teens are a little too articulate about their emotions and the message is a little obvious ("we're all alike inside"), The Breakfast Club is still effective and affecting, not to mention funny.

The Lives of Others (2006)
A thriller that thoroughly portrays the banality of the police state, while also being highly suspenseful and deeply moving.

All my One Sentence Movie Reviews

Monday, April 07, 2008

American Airlines now offers time travel

Through its website, American Airlines now offers travel back in time to the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.



No word yet on whether they will add other destinations in the past or expand their time travel into the future as well. (h/t: Freakonomics)

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Reading list

CV Rick also asked about reading lists. I started out leaving a comment on his blog, but it got kind of long, so I decided to post it here instead.

I've been reading The 50 best sights in astronomy and how to see them: observing eclipses, bright comets, meteor showers, and other celestial wonders by Fred Schaaf, who is fanatically and contagiously enthusiastic about astronomy, although I'm putting it aside for a few days to read Born Standing Up by Steve Martin.

These days, I get books almost exclusively from the library, for economic and space-related reasons. (I live in a very small house, and I simply have no room for more bookcases, even if I had the money to buy the 50 to 100 books I read in a year.) I find a lot of books from best-seller lists, blogs, reviews, and so on. I always have requests in for a number of books, and while I wait for the best-sellers, I browse the New Books section, mainly for books about science or sports. I also browse the Graphic Novels section and I'm working on re-reading the complete Robert B. Parker Spenser series and the entire Travis McGee series by John D. MacDonald.

Other books I have out now are:
I Am Legend
The Complete Peanuts 1963-1964 (I plan to read all of these as they come out. Reading Schulz's day-to-day output in this form really emphasizes what a genius he was.)

My queue has:
In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto
Predictably irrational: the hidden forces that shape our decisions
The life of the skies
Your inner fish: a journey into the 3.5-billion-year history of the human body
The complete Peanuts: 1965 to 1966
The Complete Peanuts: 1967-1968
This republic of suffering: death and the American Civil War
The glass castle: a memoir

I also plan to read these soon:
Darwin's cathedral
Times Arrow by Martin Amis
Who really cares? (I promised a conservative friend I'd read it.)
No country for old men (I'm waiting to watch the movie first.)

And of course I add other books as I find out about them.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Group reading experiment

CV Rick is trying an experiment discussing a short story on-line. The story is "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" by Ted Chiang. You can read it here or stream or download an MP3 here. The discussion is here. It's a very good story; I hope you'll read it and join in the discussion.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Friday I'm in love...

...with Natalie Portman.

My first time trying to embed something from Hulu -- I don't know if it'll work for people outside the USA.

The Green Light

Phillippe Sands of Vanity Fair tells how the Bush Administration turned America into a nation that tortures. This is absolutely a must-read for anyone who cares about America. I find it too disheartening to say anything more, actually. Just read it for yourself.

One more in the name of love

Martin Luther King was assassinated 40 years ago today. He was killed in Memphis, Tennessee, where he had spoken in support of striking sanitation workers.

His last speech, given the day before his death, is remembered as "I've Been to the Mountaintop." It's best known for the ending, in which he spoke prophetically of his own death:

And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?
Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop.
And I don't mind.
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!
And so I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!

Listen to the full speech here (part 1) and here (part 2). Read the full text here.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Good Fukken websites

Is the finish on your car looking a bit dull? Use some Fukken Wax (not to be confused with Sex Wax) on it.

Need some construction work done? Give the Fukken Company a call.

But before you contact them, you may want to bring in a few Chuo Fukken Consultants to work on the project.

If you have any questions about radiation (and you speak Japanese), you may want to ask the Radiation Science Society of Japan through their fukken.org website.

Feeling a little run-down? Thinking of taking dietary supplements to help? Then you need Fukken pure extracts of shiitake mushroom mycelium. They're not just pure, they're Fukken pure. Like the webpage says, "Enjoy Fukken and find happiness."

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The logical outcome of "abstinence only" sex education

According to a Florida TV station, a "recent survey... found some Florida teens believe drinking a cap of bleach will prevent HIV and a shot of Mountain Dew will stop pregnancy. ...The survey showed that Florida teens also believe that smoking marijuana will prevent a person from getting pregnant."

It sounds too goofy to be true, but OTOH, it is Florida. (h/t: Eschaton)

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Why I've decided to leave the Mormon Church

I've been thinking about this for a long time, for years, in fact. This hasn't been an easy decision. But for the following reasons, I've decided to resign my membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Read More......