Thursday, February 28, 2008

Good reads/random cool sites (2/28/2008)

Snuggly the Security Bear explains FISA.

"Twenty-five injured in chain-reaction collision." Doesn't sound like an unusual headline, does it? But in this case, it was 25 children. In a school corridor. Walking.

The late Hunter S. Thompson was a great writer. One of his best pieces was this farewell to Nixon in 1994. It's one of the great rants in the history of the English language. Among the highlights:
He was scum.

Let there be no mistake in the history books about that. Richard Nixon was an evil man--evil in a way that only those who believe in the physical reality of the Devil can understand it. He was utterly without ethics or morals or any bedrock sense of decency. Nobody trusted him--except maybe the Stalinist Chinese, and honest historians will remember him mainly as a rat who kept scrambling to get back on the ship.

The LA Times takes us inside George Lucas's Skywalker Ranch. A must-read for all true fanboys and fangirls.

And the Girl with the Broken Pen has started blogging again.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Song Charts

At Community Indicators, I found this cool game of making graphs and charts to describe songs. For example, guess this song:



and this one:



Naturally, when I saw something as cool and nerdy as this, I had to jump right in:

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(I hope these aren't too obscure. I tried to use songs lots of people know. And I'm not actually very fluent in graphs, so if I made any mistakes, lemme know.)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Beat kuri's Quiz Score!

European geography
kuri's score: 122/138 88% (Damn those pesky Balkan and Baltic states!)

US geography
kuri's score: 145/150 97%

US civics
kuri's score: 56/60 93%

Monday, February 18, 2008

A President's Day memory

This is actually a Lincoln's Birthday memory. (The old folks will remember that back in the day, we celebrated Lincoln's Birthday and Washington's Birthday instead of Martin Luther King, Jr., Day and President's Day.)

Back when I was in kindergarten or first grade, we had Lincoln's Birthday off from school on Feb. 12 and then Washington's Birthday off on Feb. 22. I kind of understood why we had Washington's Birthday off: he was the first president, and the first of something is often important. But I had no idea why Lincoln was important, so I asked my father.

"Daddy, I know that Washington is important because he was the first president, but why is Lincoln important?"

"Lincoln's important because he freed the slaves."

"Oh."

Now, that's an okay answer as far as it goes, but it's a little lacking in detail. With no mention of the Emancipation Proclamation or the Civil War, I was a little unclear on how exactly Lincoln freed the slaves, so I filled in the blanks myself.

I knew a couple of things, namely that Lincoln lived a long time ago and that the slaves were black people. I also knew that a long time ago they used to keep prisoners in wooden prisons called "stockades," like this one.

So I was able to form a pretty clear picture in my mind of how Lincoln freed the slaves. One dark, rainy night, President Lincoln -- in stovepipe hat and long coat, of course -- snuck up to the wall of a huge stockade. He slipped along to the gate, and then suddenly flung it open. Out rushed a huge crowd of black men, women, and children, still with manacles on their wrists. The slaves were free!

YouTube favorites

I haven't done one of these in forever, so here's some YouTube Favorites.

Buffalo and lions and crocodiles, oh my!


That was pretty dramatic, but some people would argue that prairie dogs are the most dramatic of all the members of the animal kingdom.


Buddy Rich and Ed Shaughnessy have a friendly drum battle on the Tonight Show. Ed holds his own quite well, but there was only one Buddy Rich.


Apparently, not being astonishingly ignorant is not a criterion for being an American Idol finalist, because Kellie Pickler is astonishingly ignorant.


Billy Mills comes from behind to win the 10K at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. The announcers get a bit excited.


Johnny Carson provided decades of quality middlebrow entertainment. He was a brilliant ad-libber, and some of his best stuff came when he was working with animals.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Somebody buy that kid a football

My 4-year-old, CM, went to her first dance class a few days ago. It's not a serious class or anything, just some basics of modern dance, ballet, tap, and so on for 3-to-5-year-olds. When we walked in, there were about 10 children in the class, all little girls as far as we could see. They were dressed in all sorts of outfits -- lots of tutus and ballet slippers, but also plenty of sweatpants and a couple pairs of jeans.

At the beginning of the class, the kids sat on the floor in a little semi-circle and the teacher asked them their names. Some of the 3-year-olds had a little trouble saying their names intelligibly, which was kind of cute, but nothing particularly interesting happened until the 7th kid in the circle answered "Christopher Robin."

Christopher Robin had long blond hair tied back in a ponytail -- the longest hair in the class -- and was wearing a charcoal gray tank top with red shorts, black tights, and black ballet slippers. Christopher Robin's Mom detached herself from the row of parents at the side of the room. "Say your real name," she said. Christopher Robin mumbled something. When the teacher just looked blank, Mom said, "His name is Francis. Yes, he is a boy."

Oh. Could have fooled me -- did fool me -- along with everyone else in the room.

And I've been thinking about why that bothered me a little bit. I'm kind of hyper-masculine in appearance myself, but I really couldn't care much less about traditional gender roles or how people dress or cut their hair, so that's not it. Nor do I have anything against male dancers -- I think they're pretty cool, actually -- so that's not it either.

No, I think my problem is that I wonder how much the hair and the clothes and the looking like a girl and the dancing are little Francis's idea, and how much they're Mom's. I mean, if he actually prefers "feminine" stuff, that's fine. It's nice that his Mom is supportive.

But if it's his Mom who's making those choices, that's something else altogether. What bothered me is the possibility that she's somehow suppressing his boyness, trying to force him into some sort of idealized stereotype-free existence rather than just letting him be the boy that he is. That would be imposing her own values onto his core being instead of allowing him to be himself, and that would be an awful thing to do to a kid.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Good reads/random cool sites (2/8/2008)

You're all doomed, doomed I say!

If you don't know the Bristol Stool Form Scale, you don't know sh*t. (OK, I totally stole that line from News of the Weird Daily, but it's the obvious line. Anyway, here's hoping you have a Type 4 day. Or is Type 5 actually better? I don't know which is better in the medical sense, but personally, a Type 4 definitely gives me more of a sense of accomplishment.)

Topless Robot has The 10 Star Wars Toys that Unintentionally Look Like Other Celebrities. I think they cheated, though, because nothing will convince me that the General Rieekan doll isn't really a John Kerry doll.

At ESPN.com, Wright Thompson describes how the breakdown of China's national sports system is leaving athletes Hanging by a Thread.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Best of kuri 2006

My best blog posts from 2006:

My oldest daughter seems to be A chip off the old block in some ways. I don't know if that's a good thing.

In 1955, Satyajit Ray made a movie about my life. It's called Pather Panchali.

When I was a Mormon missionary in Japan, there was a Rat in me kitchen.

Sometimes I get e-mail from complete strangers. How do they know so much about me?

I got called to jury duty. Thus began The Adventures of Stupendous Rack Girl and Well Hung Man.

Three word funny is a game where you take a series of three-letter combinations and try to make a dialog out of them.

In April, I not only watched an LDS General Conference, I blogged about it in Salt Lake Conferencial.

Take it from me, It's not easy being big.

I'm Big in Japan too.

Not only that, In Japan, I'm a black man.

Here's a short post about how I used to date a midget. ("Short" post -- get it?)

We call our youngest child Mommy and Daddy's Little Accident.

It's impossible to drive more than five minutes with children before they start asking "Are we there yet?"

But a family sing-along can help pass the time. Especially with lyrics like "DEATH! BLOOD! HELL! SATAN!"

My Dad wasn't abusive, exactly, but he was kind of cheap.

My neighbor and her dog used to engage in the same dialog every day: "Woof-woof!" "AUSTIN! AUSTIN!" (That post ended up printed on a doghouse, believe it or not.)

Ever wonder who first came up with the idea of paralyzing facial muscles with deadly poison in order to make someone look better? Botox, anyone?

Some people wondered how I ever ended up becoming a Mormon, so I explained in verse, with apologies to Bob Dylan.

The 2006 season was the 37th season I'd been a San Diego Chargers fan. I recounted my sad history with the team, including not getting laid in Miami after the greatest game ever because my grandmother didn't die, and asked if it was finally safe to trust them in San Diego Super (Bowl?) Chargers. (Of course, it wasn't.)

I uncovered Arthur's Hidden Agenda on the PBS kids show.

My most embarrassing Christmas moment happened on December 16, 2006.

Monday Sports Report on Tuesday

Super Bowl wrap up:

Well, I got the score half right: "New York 17". The Patriots just didn't hold up their end. Tom Brady would have been MVP if the Pats had held the Giants at the end. And Manning only had a decent game. He didn't deserve to be named MVP. His biggest play was a 50-50 ball that he just heaved into space, and David Tyree made a great/lucky play to beat Old Man Harrison. A lot of safeties in the League would have come down with that ball, or at least knocked it down. Then everyone would have been talking about how Manning panicked and threw the ball up for grabs, and about how bad he looked on that final drive. Instead, Tyree makes a play to bail him out, and all of a sudden Manning's the MVP. I'm not buying it. Justin Tuck was the real MVP of that game. The Giants pass rush won that game, not their quarterback.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Super Bowl predictions

Score: New England 38 New York 17
MVP: Tom Brady
Teh suxxor: Eli Manning

Friday, February 01, 2008

Sweet dreams are made of this

I dreamed I got in a fight with Ashton Kutcher. At first it was a movie scene, but then it turned into a real fight. Guess who won, him or me.

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Book review: Schulz and Peanuts

Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography by David Michaelis is a good but not great portrayal of the life of "Peanuts" creator Charles M. Schulz. In some ways, especially in its depiction of how Schulz's daily strips reflected his personal life with often startling clarity, the book is excellent. It also performs well enough the task of showing us the facts of Schulz's life: his childhood in Minnesota, his youthful ambition to be a professional cartoonist, the dog that inspired his creation of Snoopy, his education and military service, his loves, marriages, affairs, divorce, and so on. It properly places "Peanuts" in artistic context, making it clear that the comic strip is much more the antecedent of comics like "Calvin and Hobbes" and "The Far Side" than of, say, "Garfield." Ultimately, though, the book falls short of helping us to really understand Schulz.

In his introduction to Speaker for the Dead, Orson Scott Card wrote,

...I grew dissatisfied with the way that we use our funerals to revise the life of the dead, to give the dead a story so different from their actual life.... ...We erase them, we edit them, we make them into a person much easier to live with than the person who actually lived.

I rejected that idea. I thought a more appropriate funeral would be to say, honestly, what that person was and what that person did. But to me, "honestly" doesn't mean saying all the unpleasant things instead of saying only the nice ones. It didn't even consist of averaging them out. No, to understand what a person really was, what his or her life really meant, the speaker for the dead would have to explain their self-story -- what they meant to do, what they actually did, what they regretted, what they rejoiced in. That's... the only story truly worth telling.

Card was talking about eulogies, but what he said holds true for biography as well. Most truly great biographies take us inside the subject's life in exactly that way. Great biographies don't excuse their subjects, but they empathize with them. We understand what the subjects "meant to do" as well as what they actually did. We at least glimpse their "self-story." Perhaps this is all just another way of saying "To understand all is to forgive all."

And this is where Schulz and Peanuts falls short. It has an oddly unsympathetic tone to it. I found myself wondering sometimes if Michaelis simply disliked the Schulz that he discovered through his research, but that's probably too simplistic. I think it's more that Michaelis didn't "forgive" Schulz. Instead, he judged him and found him wanting.

In one strip reproduced in the book, Charlie Brown tells Lucy, "I'm really depressed. What can I do about this?" Lucy's "psychiatric advice" is, "Snap out of it! Five cents please." At times, I sensed that that's what Michaelis would have liked to say to Schulz about the cartoonist's somewhat neurotic worldview. What Schulz and Peanuts finally gives us, therefore, is not Charles Schulz's "self-story," but Charles Schulz's story as told by an unsympathetic outsider. Thus, although the book is certainly worth reading, we do not truly know Schulz by the end of it.