Monday, March 30, 2009

'80s Monday: Siouxsie & the Banshees

Siouxsie & and the Banshees were never popular in the US (They only had two "Hot 100" singles, and their best-selling album only reached #65), but they were pretty big in the UK. Kids today (the ones with good taste) may look back and say how good '80s music was, but what they don't realize is how hard it was to find good music back then. There was a huge divide from the mid-'70s through about 1991 (thank you, Nirvana) between what was popular and what was good.

Radio was the main place people heard new music during the '80s, and most radio was awful then. It was hard to find the good stuff. It wasn't on the radio in most of America. You could hear a little of it on MTV (mixed in with an awful lot of awful crap). If you were lucky, you lived where you could hear a college radio station that played good music sometimes. If you were really lucky, you lived within range of a station like 91X in San Diego. But to kids in most of the country, bands like Siouxsie & the Banshees -- good bands, IOW -- were mostly just a rumor. (You kids today don't know how lucky you are, with your MP30s and your Intertubes and YouWebs, grumble-mumble-grumble.)

OK, enough of that, here's some music.

"Cities in Dust" (1985) isn't necessarily typical Siouxsie & the Banshees -- it's a little more pop -- but it's one of my favorite songs by them. It's about the destruction of Pompeii, which is a pretty strange topic for a pop song. At least, I've always thought so. I remember listening to the lyrics and thinking, "WTF?! That sounds like it's about Pompeii." And so it was.

"Melt" (1982) is probably a little more typical. Kind of gloomy and Goth, with a strong melody and a solid hook. And yes, that's Robert Smith playing the 12-string guitar.

Siouxsie & the Banshees also did some really good covers. This is Iggy Pop's "The Passenger" (1987).

Friday, March 27, 2009

Car Chase Friday: McQ

This week's chase is from McQ (1974). The movie is notable mainly for two things: John Wayne playing a contemporary detective instead of an Old West cowboy, and the first use of an air cannon to make a car roll over several times.

There are several car chases in the movie. Here's the one on the beach. John Wayne is trying to protect a lady from some bad guys who are trying to kill her. This maybe isn't quite one of the all-time great chases, but it's still quite good and it features the cannon-rolled car. That's a routine stunt nowadays, but in 1974 it was a total "Whoa!" moment.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

I'm reading "Twilight," so you don't have to (ch. 17)

Our Story So Far

Here's my synopsis of Chapter 17 of Twilight, by Stephenie [sic] Meyer.

Chapter 17. The Game

Edward drives Bella home. Jacob The Indian and his father, Billy The Old Indian Dude are there waiting for Bella's Father. Edward reads their minds and gets mad because Billy The Old Indian Dude is there to warn Bella's Father that Bella is dating a Beautiful Sparkly Vampire. Hundred-year-old Edward refers to Jacob The Indian, who is a year or two younger than Bella, as a "child."

Edward leaves so Bella can get rid of the Indians by lying to them. (She's really good at it. True Love imparts all kinds of important life skills.) Jacob The Indian doesn't know anything, so Billy The Old Indian Dude sends him out to the car for something so he can talk to Bella alone. Billy The Old Indian Dude is surprised to learn that Bella knows all about the Cullens being Beautiful Sparkly Vampires. He's worried, but Bella doesn't care. Her lies work and the Indians leave.

Bella gets a phone call, but she's disappointed because it's only one of the yokels Bella's Human Friend. Bella's Human Friend tries to tell her all about the big dance and kissing her boyfriend, but all that friendship stuff seems irrelevant to Bella. She's In Love, after all. Bella's Human Friend tries to ask her about Edward, but Bella's Dad comes home, so she has an excuse to get off the phone.

Bella tells her Dad she's going out with Edward. Bella's Dad confuses him with Emmett The Big One and says he's too old for her (little does he know). Bella explains that he has the wrong Beautiful Sparkly Vampire Cullen, so he calms down. Bella tells him that the Cullens are going to play baseball and she's going to watch.

Edward comes over and is polite to Bella's Dad. Bella's Dad brings up watching baseball. Bella seems surprised that Edward isn't surprised that Bella actually told her father the truth for once. Edward and Bella's Dad are amused because she doesn't really like baseball, which makes Bella mad. Edward and Bella get in Emmett The Big One's Monster Jeep, which Edward has borrowed, and drive off to the woods for the baseball game.

They get to the woods, where Edward wants to carry Bella to the baseball field. Bella refuses, because she might barf if he carries her. Edward starts kissing her to confuse her out of refusing. It backfires, though, because Bella starts to get her freak on again, which makes Edward mad, because if he ever gets his freak on, he will, of course, kill her.

Edward carries her through the woods, and she doesn't get sick because she closes her eyes. They get where they're going, and Bella falls on her butt, which Edward finds funny. That makes Bella mad, and they bicker pointlessly until Edward has another of his mood swings and says how much he loves Bella, that he hates that he might kill her, and blah-blah-blah.

They get to the field, which is actually some sort of meadow that's twice as big as a baseball stadium. Bella talks with Esme The Motherly One, who says various motherly things to her.

The Beautiful Sparkly Vampire baseball game starts. (Yes, Ben, they're playing with metal bats in a thunderstorm.) Emmett The Big One bats first, and he hits the ball with a shattering, thunderous crack of impact that echoes off the mountains. That's why they only play during thunderstorms: to disguise the crack of the bat.

(Aluminum bats. Which are actually incapable of producing any sound by hitting a baseball except "Ping!" I suppose Beautiful Sparkly Vampires with superhuman strength might produce a really loud "PING!" but I don't think that would be well-disguised by a thunderstorm.
"What was that?! It sounded like somebody hitting a baseball really hard with a metal bat."
"Nah, it must have been thunder."
"Oh. I guess you're right. I always get the ping of an aluminum bat mixed up with thunder."
"Yeah, me too."

Emmett The Big One hits the ball way into the trees, but it's not a home run, because then Edward couldn't run after the ball and catch it all beautifully and gracefully. The Beautiful Sparkly Vampires continue playing Beautiful Sparkly Vampire baseball -- with Carlisle The Wise Leader hitting the ball so hard it makes a boom (not a "ping!") so loud that it hurts Bella's ears -- but none of this hard hitting damages the bat or the ball, which are apparently just as indestructible as Beautiful Sparkly Vampires.

This goes on interminably for a while, until finally, at long last something happens and some new vampires approach. They want to play Beautiful Sparkly Vampire baseball too. The Cullens all gather protectively around Bella. After 374 pages and 17 chapters, the actual plot is about to begin.
(Check the pull-down menu under "Ongoing Series" in the left side-blog for more Twilight chapters.)

Monday, March 23, 2009

"How do you know that?"

A couple weeks ago, the youth activity at Church for my middle daughter, T, was learning to bake bread. They had a baker come in to teach them how to make challah bread.

During the course of the instruction, the teacher asked them what they knew about yeast. One girl said, "Well, it's a microorganism...." T then spoke up and said, "And it converts sugar into carbon dioxide, which is how it makes bread rise." At which point, the class came to a halt as everyone turned and looked at T as if she'd just recited the Iliad from memory. In Greek. One of the girls said, "How do you know that?"

"How do you know that?" I must have heard that question hundreds of times in my life. And I never know how to answer it. How should I know how I know something? I don't maintain some sort of mental genealogy of every piece of information I happen to acquire. I don't think that's what people are getting at anyway. What they're really asking is, "Why do you know that?"

I have no idea how to answer that question either. The first answers that come to mind are, "How do you not know that?" and "I thought everybody knew that." Those are pretty rude, though, so I can't really say them. "I read a lot"? "I pay attention to the world around me"? "I'm smart"? All true, but they sound boastful, and people could easily take them as negative comments on themselves. "I read a lot (and you don't)." "I pay attention (and you don't)." "I'm smart (and you're not)." Sometimes those are all true also, but like the man said, "there are many things that are true that are not useful."

So I usually just shrug and say, "I don't know." Which makes me feel kind of dumb, actually. I think that I should know how to answer a question like that. If I was smarter in some of the ways that really seem to matter in life, I probably would know how to answer.

Or maybe I would know when to hide my knowledge. People seem to dislike it when you know more than them. Smart people learn to hide how smart they are. I read this book once, Blue Blood by Edward Conlon (very good book, BTW). He's a cop who also went to Harvard, and the book tells the story of his first few years as police officer. Half the people Conlon was working with didn't know he went to Harvard, because when one of his teachers at the police academy asked him where he got his degree, he was embarrassed to say "Harvard," so he mumbled and was misheard as saying "Howard." Then he thought he'd look like a jerk if he said, "No, I went to Harvard," so he just let everyone go on thinking he went to Howard University.

Another passage in the book that stuck with me is when Conlon is talking with a friend who's also kind of an intellectual cop. The friend tells how in a classroom setting with other cops, he quoted the Fourth Amendment from memory in answer to some question. About halfway through his answer, he noticed he was getting the "How do you know that?" stare from the rest of the class (although he didn't call it that), so he rather lamely tried to cover up his smarts and return to regular-guy territory by throwing in a "...and shit like that" at the end of his Fourth Amendment quote.

I can relate. Have you ever played Dictionary? It's that game where people give fake definitions for words, and one person gives the right one, you're supposed to guess which is correct. I think I always spoil the game when I play, because I know most of the words. As soon as somebody reads the correct definition, I say something like, "Oh, that one's right." Sometimes I forget myself and add something I know about the word, like its etymology or whatever. But even if I don't, I get it again. "How do you know that?" "I don't know, man. STFU and pick harder words if you don't like it." No, I've never actually said that. I stop at "I don't know." But I've thought it.

Like most Aspergery children, I used to try to share my knowledge of the things I'm interested in. I thought I was just talking about interesting facts, but apparently the way most people experienced me was as described in Wikipedia:

...they approach others, even if awkwardly, for example by engaging in a one-sided, long-winded speech about a favorite topic while misunderstanding or not recognizing the listener's feelings or reactions, such as need for privacy or haste to leave.

I finally understood this when I was about 12 or 13 years old. My mom used to have a book called People I Have Loved, Known or Admired, by the Jewish humorist Leo Rosten. One of the people Rosten described in the book was a guy named Wilbur. Wilbur probably had Asperger's syndrome, although back then nobody knew what that was. But he would learn all kinds of random facts, and then he would start discoursing about them to anyone he met.

Unfortunately, Wilbur was unable to read his listeners' reactions, which got him in all kinds of humorous (from Rosten's point of view) trouble. People thought Wilbur was insulting them, or bragging; he got fired from jobs and even beaten up once.

I was a lot like Wilbur. I'd learn something, and I'd want to tell people about it. So I would, and I guess it didn't really occur to me that others might not be interested. Until my mom started calling me "Wilbur."

"Hey Mom, did you know that the blue whale is the largest animal known to have ever lived on Earth? It can grow to be a hundred feet long, and just its tongue alone can weigh three tons. That's way more than our car weighs and -- "

"You sound just like Wilbur."

"Huh? Oh. Yeah. Ha-ha."

I don't know how many times that happened. A couple dozen, maybe? "Hey Mom, did you know that Cherokee is the only Southern Iroquoian language still spoken? It also has a writing system that was invented by Sequoyah in 1819, and -- "

"OK, Wilbur."

Get the picture? "Hey Mom, did you know..." "Thank you, Wilbur." Even I finally caught on. It kind of hurt my feelings, but my mom wasn't being mean. She was teaching me something important: people don't want to hear that stuff. OK. So I stopped giving discourses on random subjects. (Mostly.) That was a good thing, I think. OTOH, ever since then I've been self-censoring my conversations, trying to guess at whether I'm boring people, and usually assuming I am. That's not a good thing, I think.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Obama says, "Eid-eh Shoma Mobarak"

Obama reaches out to Iran:

Like Ezra Klein says,
There are times when it's hard to believe that this is how my country acts now. That somewhere in government, some young bureaucrat had the idea that the President should publicly honor the Iranian New Year, and that bureaucrat felt that her superiors would also think this a good idea, and, indeed, the thought went all the way to the President, who agreed that a display of engagement and goodwill was consonant with our national values and foreign policy goals. It is hard to believe that five years after we were ordering "freedom fries" in the congressional cafeteria, we're posting Persian translations at

Car Chase Friday: The Seven-Ups

This week's car chase is from The Seven-Ups (1973). I saw this when it came out, and I think I liked it, but I was 11 years old, so don't hold me to it being a good movie. It's a great chase, though, and that's what matters.

Here Roy Scheider is a cop chasing two cop-killing bad guys through the streets of New York. It's not San Francisco, but they do manage to find some little hills in a mini-homage to Bullitt (last week's Car Chase Friday clip). A lot of the same people from Bullitt actually worked on this too. But where Bullitt had cool cars and cool drivers, The Seven-Ups has (intentionally) lame cars and excitable drivers. (Some of the reaction shots of the bad-guy passenger are hilarious.) The results are excellent. Enjoy.

(Note that Scheider does a lot of under-his-breath muttered swearing. You can't really hear most of it, but you can usually tell what he's saying. Viewer beware.)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona duit!

That means "Happy St. Patrick's Day!" in Irish. Or so I'm told. It's always dangerous to use a foreign language that you don't actually understand.

Anyway, what's up with people saying "St. Patty's Day"? I thought it's "St. Paddy's Day." Patty is a girl. Paddy is an Irish guy named Patrick. Am I the only person who cares about stuff like that? Probably so.

Monday, March 16, 2009

'80s Monday: Public Image Ltd., "Rise"

I still listen to a lot of stuff I listened to during the '80s, so I thought I might as well post some. Monday's as good as any other day, so here's the first 80s Monday. (H/t: I totally stole the title "80s Monday" from Tall T.)

This is Public Image Limited, fronted by ex–Sex Pistol John Lydon, doing "Rise," from 1986.

And here's another PiL song.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Car Chase Friday: Bullitt

Introducing the Friday Car Chase

I've been watching a lot of movie car chases on YouTube lately, so I decided to start posting them here once a week. Mostly these will be from the early 70s (when cars were cars, and men were men). My dad and I saw almost all of these at the local drive-in. If a movie with a car chase came out, we were there.

Of course, I have to start with the car chase from Bullitt. This 1968 movie established much of the vocabulary of the modern movie car chase and set a standard to which all subsequent chases must aspire. All movie car chases today owe something to this film. And, obviously, there was no CGI involved. Everything was done with real cars.

Here two killers in a Dodge Charger are following San Francisco cop Steve McQueen in his Ford Mustang -- until McQueen turns the tables and the chase is on. Enjoy.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (3/10/2009)

What would happen if one of the world's greatest violinists posed as a busker and played in a DC subway station during the morning rush? This would happen.

Danger plus opportunity does not equal crisis.

˙uʍop ǝpısdn ǝdʎʇ oʇ ʍoɥ

World War II as a fight between maps.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Jesus Beats Hef, 4-3

OK, Jesus Beats Hef*, 4-3 is not really the title of this painting. Nor is it called Jesus Is a Playa, nor Jesus Likes 'Em Young, nor even Jesus and His Girlfriends. Instead this is Christ and Young Women by veteran Mormon kitsch-monger artist Del Parson. The picture fails on so many levels, it's hard to articulate them all. But you know me: I'm gonna try.

First, let's consider what the picture is actually supposed to be about. "Young Women" is the LDS Church's organization for girls age 12 - 18. Christ and Young Women is supposed to be depicting Jesus' love for these girls. He's all nice and stuff and like it's OK to get close to him and he's approachable and whatever because he's our Elder Brother and all and omigosh he loves us so-o-o-o much. Or something like that.

So why does the painting fail so spectacularly? (Note to people who actually don't think it fails: It does. Trust me, 99.7 percent of people who aren't LDS and 87.6 percent of people who are see the picture exactly the way I do. And I know those statistics are accurate, because I made them up myself.)

So why does the painting fail so spectacularly? For a start, the pose is far too intimate. Imagine walking into a room and seeing a 30-year-old Sunday school teacher and four teenage girls sitting in exactly that pose. You'd think about calling the police, or at least having a serious talk with their parents.

There's the girl in back with the proprietary hand on Jesus' shoulder. Then there's the girl sitting next to him so closely that she's practically hugging him. Plus the two girls sitting at his feet. Three of the girls gaze at him adoringly. He smirks and reaches out his hand to the only girl actually leaning away from him. "Come closer, little darlin'." Ugh.

Then there are the roses (Alternate title: Valentine's Day Jesus). As my spouse said, "Well... maybe if they weren't holding flowers...." I have no idea what the artist had in mind, but flowers, roses especially, are symbols of romantic love. Even worse, but Jesus' rose stands manfully erect, while the girl's roses lie down submissively yet attentively.

And the white robes. I suppose these are meant to represent purity, which is fine, but they also have the unfortunate effect of making the girls look like brides. So much so that one blogger even asked if the painting was a representation of the old-time Mormon speculation that Jesus was a polygamist.

The sashes probably represent the "Young Women's Values," each of which is associated with a color. Unfortunately, people who don't know that may think that the different color sashes represent kung fu ranks or something. (Alternate title: Jesus and His Deadly Viper Assassination Squad Take a Break in the Park)

Finally, all the girls are skinny and beautiful with long flowing hair and lovely glowing skin. Of course Jesus loves girls like that. Who doesn't? That's why I don't think those are the girls who could be most helped by believing Jesus loves them. In all seriousness, if some or all of the girls in the picture were heavyset, with stringy hair and bad complexions, that might make a big difference. "Other people judge by what's on the outside, but Jesus knows you and loves you for what you really are." It couldn't hurt. And it might make the picture look a little less suggestive.

So how could anyone paint this picture and not recognize how it would look to most people? How could the artist be so spectacularly tone deaf? I have a theory: Some very religious people are so innocent that they are incapable of seeing what seems suggestive (especially sexually suggestive) to other people. They often don't realize when they've made an inadvertent double entendre -- at least not until someone points it out to them -- and they don't see (and will argue against) the sexual connotations of a picture like this one. They're just too sweet and innocent to "get" things that are obvious to dirtier minds. (See here and here [the part about Edward "eating" Bella] for other examples.)

Fortunately, this can be a rich source of comedy for the rest of us.

Hat tips: I first saw the picture here. There's a long discussion (300-plus comments) here.

*Hugh Hefner, Playboy porn-monger and co-star of The Girls Next Door

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

YouTube favorites (March 2009)

Bad Luck Blackie, why I wish Mickey Rourke had won the Best Actor Oscar, the Farting Preacher, the Downfall of grammar, skateboards and stuff blowing up, "Requiem for a Day Off," and "10 Things I Hate about Commandments." (Asterisks mean "bad" langauge, so watch at your own risk.)

Bad Luck Blackie by Tex Avery (1949)

Mickey Rourke didn't win an Oscar, but he did win an Independent Spirit Award. It would have been fun to see him give a speech like this at the Oscars too.*

The Farting Preacher

Don't criticize Hitler with bogus grammar rules.*

Skateboards and stuff exploding (from the movie Fully Flared)

If Ferris Bueller's Day Off wasn't a comedy... this would be its trailer.

Moses wants to be a BMOC at Pharaoh High (best parody trailer ever).*

Monday, March 02, 2009

I'm reading "Twilight," so you don't have to (ch. 16)

Our Story So Far

Here's my synopsis of Chapter 16 of Twilight, by Stephenie [sic] Meyer.

Chapter 16. Carlisle

Edward and Bella go into Carlisle The Wise Leader's office. (Meyer really missed out by not calling it his "study." The Beautiful Gloomy Mansions of Beautiful Sparkly Vampires should have "studies," not "offices." I'm surprised Meyer overlooked that one, because normally she never passes up a flowery word where an ordinary one would do.)

Edward asks Carlisle The Wise Leader to tell his history, but Carlisle The Wise Leader conveniently has to leave, so Edward tells it instead.

When Carlisle The Wise Leader (living in England in the 1650s) realized what he had become, he tried to kill himself, but it's not easy to kill a Beautiful Sparkly Vampire. Jumping off stuff from great heights, drowning, starving, nothing worked.

Carlisle The Wise Leader's resistance to eating people was weakening, but one day he ate a deer and realized he liked it. Thus, he could be Beautiful and Sparkly and eat animals instead of being Mean and Ugly and eating people.

So he went to France. By swimming across the English Channel. Swimming is easy for Beautiful Sparkly Vampires, because they don't need to breathe. They just do it out of habit. Bella thinks that's kinda freaky, and Edward worries that someday something will be so freaky that Bella will leave, but Bella says there's no way you could be too freaky for me.

Carlisle The Wise Leader spent the next 200 years going to college in Europe and learning how to be a doctor. He also got over wanting to eat his patients when they bled. Plus, he met some Italian vampires, who were Beautiful and Sparkly educated and refined, unlike the louts in London, and they all got their pictures painted by an artist who wasn't covered in my college Art History class as far as I can remember, although come to think of it I vaguely recall seeing his Death of Messalina at the Getty.

But Carlisle The Wise Leader couldn't convince the Italian Beautiful Sparkly Vampires to stop eating people, so he decided to go to America. He was working nights in a hospital in Chicago when the big influenza epidemic hit. Since he was lonely, he decided to turn the dying, orphaned Edward into a vampire to be his "companion."

Edward has been with Carlisle The Wise Leader ever since, except for a few years when he went off to eat people instead of animals. Bella finds this "intriguing" and "reasonable" rather than frightening or repulsive. (Because True Love means never having to consult your moral compass; whatever your lover does must be good and right.) Eventually, Edward got tired of killing people and went back to live with Carlisle The Wise Leader and Esme The Motherly One.

Bella and Edward go into Edward's room. He has lots of CDs and a stereo that intimidates Bella. Edward enjoyed confessing to Bella, but he's still kind of surprised she's not scared of him (since he apparently doesn't yet understand the morality of True Love). Bella says he's not scary, so Edward pounces on her and wrestles her onto the sofa. Alice The Nice One and Jasper The Other Boy One come in and say there's going to be a Beautiful Sparkly Vampire baseball game that night. I can hardly wait.

(Check the pull-down menu under "Ongoing Series" in the left side-blog for more Twilight chapters.)