Saturday, January 30, 2010

American politics in the 21st century

We are currently in Stage 3.

1. Republicans take power and wreck the country.

2. Tired of the wrecking, the people vote the Democrats into power.

3. Democratic stupidity and Republican obstructionism prevent the Democrats from un-wrecking the country.

4. Tired of the wrecking, the people vote the Republicans into power.

5. Repeat 1 through 4.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Video interlude: "Bad Apple!!"

Some epic stop-motion animation by うp主 on

The Adventures of Leonard McCoy, Space Doctor (No. 13)

"In human years, or in fairy years?"

Follow the adventures of Leonard McCoy, Space Doctor, as he explores the far reaches of space (and my house... and my backyard... and my kids' toy boxes) with his friends Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. Every Wednesday and Friday, right here at

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Thursday haiku: wanting

wanting not to be
what he was, but how, having
seen no other way?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (1/27/2010)

The text of the State of the Union Address, somewhat loosely transcribed. (Language NSFW/C/P.)

I have never borne any resemblance to the kid in this cartoon at any time.

It's hard out there for an atheist.

Shewee: "the portable urinating device for women."

The Adventures of Leonard McCoy, Space Doctor (No. 12)

"I'm a doctor, not a deli clerk!"

Follow the adventures of Leonard McCoy, Space Doctor, as he explores the far reaches of space (and my house... and my backyard... and my kids' toy boxes) with his friends Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. Every Wednesday and Friday, right here at

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (1/26/2010)

Sleep Talkin' Man. I think I'm just going to use quotes from here as my Facebook status from now on.

The US map redrawn so every state has a roughly equal population.

Seven decades of the NBA in one picture.

David Brooks actually said something intelligent (about populism).

Hey! I have an "About" page now!

You should read it.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (1/25/2010)

The problem with the American education system: teaching?

Inventing the plants of Avatar.

The Tea Party movement: same old conservative paranoia.

Modal deafness: Interesting discussion of the ability to distinguish between notes played singly, in chords, and in progressions. (I can distinguish each type, but it wasn't so obvious with the progression.)

'80s Music Monday: Gang of Four

Haven't done one of these for awhile.
Post-punk band Gang of Four.
Big influence on Red Hot Chili Peppers, etc.
First album made Rolling Stone's Top 500 of all time. Number 490, but still.
(Keyboard's broken so can't type complete sentences.)
Five videos.
Enjoy music:

"Natural's Not in It" (1979)

"Damaged Goods" (1980)

"To Hell with Poverty" (1981)

"He'd Send in the Army" (1981)

"What We All Want" (1982)
Killer guitar riffs on this one.

Movie review: Avatar part 2 -- Why I loved it

In part 1, I explained why I should have hated Avatar. Now I'll explain why I loved it.

I've actually been having a little trouble with this part, because every time I write about something I liked about the movie, I have to write about why I liked it even though that thing was stupid and I end up writing more about the "stupid" than about the "like." I suppose that means that everything I liked about the movie is stupid. I don't care. I liked it anyway. And here's why.

First there's the plot. As I said last time, it's formulaic. But here's the thing with formulas: they can work. Dressed up in a new enough way, they appeal to two powerful feelings, familiarity and novelty. To see how powerful this appeal is, one need only look at the thousand variations on the "Hero's Journey." Star Wars, for example, is a self-conscious by-the-numbers movie version of the Hero's Journey, a story that's been told thousands of times, yet more than 30 years later that film remains fresh and entertaining.

And, for all its flaws and insensitivities, the "White Guy goes native (and becomes the 'primitive' people's messiah)" plot is a serviceable one. Some good movies have been made out of it. It's appealing. Perhaps most of us yearn sometimes for a life that's more authentic, more in tune with nature, less dependent on technology; and we want to be heroes. The White Guy, who comes from our shared culture (shared to a great extent no matter what our own nationality, color, or sex may be), serves as our proxy in this adventure.

So there's a comfortable familiarity about Avatar's plot. We already know this story. Without novelty, that would indeed be a bad thing. But Avatar is packed with novelty. In the case of the plot and characters, as I'll discuss below, that novelty is just enough to get the movie over the metaphorical hump, to keep it entertaining, though not surprising.

But visually, well, visually, Avatar is a constant astonishment. Let's start with the 3D. I've never liked 3D, movies or pictures. In fact, since I have a touch of amblyopia, 3D had never really worked very well for me. I have trouble seeing images in 3D in stereoscopes, and I can never see the images in stereograms. So I haven't even bothered to watch 3D movies during the 21st-century revival. I don't think I'd seen a 3D movie since Captain EO (which didn't really look three-dimensional to me either) in the late '80s at Universal Studios.

Avatar was a completely different experience. The 3D (using the RealD process) worked completely for me, despite my eye problems. And it wasn't gimmicky at all. The way James Cameron used 3D wasn't to make things in the movie "jump out" at the audience, but to pull the audience inside the movie. I'd never seen anything like it. Flying seeds or falling ashes would drift past, looking like they're about to land on the guy two rows in front of you, before suddenly vanishing when they reached the edge of the screen. At the same time, though, this was completely natural and unobtrusive. There was never a sense that Cameron was trying too hard, that he was saying "This is in 3D, so I have to make it look like 3D."

And the planet, Pandora, is beautiful. Mountains float in the sky (something about ultra-strong magnetic fields and superconductors) like paintings of Chinese myths.

Rock is twisted into soaring arches (magnetic fields again). Just about every living thing is bioluminescent. Grass, plants, trees light up when you step on them or touch them at night. Giant leaves contract into tiny pods when touched. Lizards fly by spinning like helicopters. There are the equivalents of giant black panthers, creepy-looking wolf packs, dinosaurs, Pleistocene megafauna, and dragons. And none of this looks fake, none of it looks cartoonish, none of it makes you think "CGI!" or "Fake!" It all looks real.

And that includes the people. As good as Gollum was in The Lord of the Rings, Avatar's aliens (or "natives"), called the "Na'vi," are much better. Much, much better. They're entirely CGI, but they don't look like it. They don't even look like really good CGI, they look like real people. All the time. There's not the slightest trace of the "uncanny valley" effect, and I say that as someone who's been known to experience that effect even with real people.

Of course, in other ways, the Na'vi are absurd. They don't actually fit the rest of the planet very well. Almost every other creature on Pandora has six limbs; the Na'vi have four. Most have four eyes; the Na'vi have two. No other Pandoran creatures have hair on their heads (or anywhere else that I noticed); the Na'vi do. It's unclear if the Na'vi are mammals, or if mammals even exist on Pandora, but the women have boobs. (Not that I'm complaining -- wait, actually I guess I did. I apologize for breaking one of my own rules: "Never complain about boobs.")

This seems very unlikely from an evolutionary perspective. There's nothing wrong with the idea of some megafauna having six limbs and some having four. The four-limbed structure found in all megafauna on Earth doesn't necessarily mean that all large living things anywhere will evolve to have four limbs. But there being only two four-limbed creatures, and those creatures obviously being only distantly related at best, seems like a serious error. One would expect to spot some evolutionary relatives somewhere on the planet.

Of course, the science of all this probably simply wasn't thought out very carefully in advance. The four limbs, two eyes, hair, and boobs are obviously intended to make the Na'vi human enough to be interesting and attractive. Scientific consistency gave way to design, with the design theme in this case being "sexy blue supermodel cat-people." And guess what? It works. The blue supermodel cat-people are pretty darn sexy.

The Na'vi culture is also cheesy, basically a mash-up of most every (positive) pop culture "native" cliché you've ever seen in another movie. But cooler. Instead of just riding horses like badass Sioux warriors, the Na'vi ride six-legged jumbo dino-horses. And dragons! They also ride dragons. Can you think of anything cooler than badass sexy blue supermodel cat-Sioux warriors riding dragons? I'll save you some time: the answer is "No."

And never mind that the whole "bond with your dragon for life" thing is straight out of Anne McCaffrey. And that the White Guy, Jake, doesn't hesitate to dump his own "bonded for life" dragon for one that's bigger and redder as soon as he gets the chance. (Of course, before that he also shifted his allegiance from the scientists to the mercenaries, and then from the mercenaries to the Na'vi. Jake is definitely not one of your more loyal dudes.)

Jake, naturally, is our surrogate in this whole thing. He's not really that interesting of a character, except for one thing: he's a paraplegic. He grabs the audience's sympathy right away, especially the first time he inhabits his Na'vi avatar. We feel his joy not just at suddenly having a 10-foot tall sexy blue supermodel cat-person body (which would pretty joyful in itself), but at being able to walk and run and feel his legs again. One of the best moments in the movie is when avatar-Jake stops running around and just feels the dirt between his toes. It's a really brilliant bit of "show, don't tell," and one of the film's few pieces of character development that is actually subtle. From that moment on, we're all very much on Jake's side (despite his loyalty issues).

All the Na'vi, unfortunately, are stereotypes. There's the Pretty Native Girl who, of course, falls in love with the White Guy. She's even a "princess" of sorts, the daughter of the local tribe's leaders, who are Wise Elders. There's also the Hot-headed Warrior, who wants to kill the White Guy at first, but ends up being his best bud. And that's pretty much it for Na'vi characters. Four speaking parts, basically.

But the one thing that redeems all this to a large extent is Zoe Saldana's performance as Neytiri, the Pretty Native Girl. Of course, Neytiri is a passionate, violent, heart-on-her-sleeve stereotype, but Saldana's performance rings perfectly true. We believe that this character could exist, and we're on her side. Saldana is really wonderful in the part, and her whole performance is captured in the CGI to a degree that's unprecedented.

There are a few other minor characters that deserve mention. Cameron has always had a unique way of writing strong female parts (think Ripley, or Sarah Conner in T2) -- he writes them as male tough guys, and then changes their names and casts women to play them. There are two of those in Avatar, Sigourney Weaver as a crusty old scientist and Michelle Rodriguez as a badass pilot. There's nothing new there, but they're effective.

The other character who deserves special mention is Col. Quaritch (Stephen Lang), the Villain. There's nothing subtle about this character. He's every (negative) military stereotype you've ever seen in another film. He's without internal conflict, more of a force of nature than a human being. But he's also a serious BAMF. The scene where he strides out into the poisonous atmosphere without a gas mask and tries to shoot down a helicopter is awesome. Everyone else is so careful about the atmosphere, but he just doesn't give a frak. And he does stuff like that all the time in the movie. (He's really good at holding his breath, apparently.) Once again, the badassness of the execution is enough to overcome the underlying silliness.

And that, perhaps, sums up why I loved the movie: its execution overcomes everything else. Sure, the plot is trite in its way. But that's part of what myth is all about -- stories that we know already, not stories that surprise us. Does Avatar's plot rise to the level of "myth"? Maybe. I don't know that I'd go that far. But it is a classic story, one that we know well. And in its execution, the visuals are beautifully original. The 3D and CGI are the best I've ever seen. The Na'vi are cool, the planet is fascinating, Jake is sympathetic, Zoe Saldana as Neytiri is wonderful, Col. Quaritch is badass, and the battles are epic. That's more than enough for me in a movie.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Anybody good with HTML?

Blogger recently added a "static pages" function. I've been playing with it on my test blog, and it's simple enough to add the widget, but I don't like the way it looks on the blog.

I'd like to replace the background with something like this, match the text color to the title (#eef6fe), and center the text.

Also, the title is slightly off-center. That's been bugging me for the longest time, but I've never tried to fix it.

If anybody knows how to do all that, I'd really appreciate some help.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (1/22/2010)

Bizarro's 25th anniversary. (Bizarro is my favorite single-panel cartoon.)

The Democratic playbook.

Or they could grow a pair. (Yeah, like that's gonna happen.)

On the quality of research that uses animals.

The Adventures of Leonard McCoy, Space Doctor (No. 11)

"Some sort of transporter malfunction?"

Follow the adventures of Leonard McCoy, Space Doctor, as he explores the far reaches of space (and my house... and my backyard... and my kids' toy boxes) with his friends Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. Every Wednesday and Friday, right here at

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (1/21/2010)

Robert B. Parker is dead.

Please, sir, may we have some justice?

"Obama and the Congressional Democrats (especially in the House) governed for the last year as though the median voter is a Daily Kos fan," my ass.

OK Cupid has an unexpectedly interesting blog (if you like stuff like psychology and numbers). Case in point: The four big myths of profile pictures. (h/t: Ezra Klein)

Book review: Cheek by Jowl

Cheek by Jowl, Ursula K. Le Guin ***

Ursula K. Le Guin's Cheek by Jowl is a quirky little book. The cover alone has a subtitle, "talks and essays on how and why fantasy matters." And that pretty much sums up the book. It contains several of her essays and speeches about that subject.

Unfortunately, because the pieces are on similar themes, they tend to grow slightly repetitive when anthologized. Still, even though I'm more a fan of the genres she writes in than of Le Guin specifically, I found several of her points interesting.

In some cases, they were things I'd already realized, such as:

To conflate fantasy with immaturity is a rather sizable error. Rational yet non-intellectual, moral yet inexplicit, symbolic rather than allegorial, fantasy is not primitive, but primary.

I've never had much patience with the tastes of people who dismiss, usually without bothering to read the books, authors like Tolkien and Rowling. (Although, amusingly, Le Guin herself verges on dismissing Rowling. But a certain amount of negative feeling is certainly understandable, considering Rowling's astonishing sudden popularity and the fact that Le Guin wrote about a "wizarding" school 30 years before Rowling did.)

I also particularly liked this idea, which I've often found to be true:

Revisiting a book loved in childhood may be principally an indulgence in nostalgia: I knew a woman who read The Wizard of Oz every few years because it "made her remember being a child." But returning after a decade or two or three to The Snow Queen or Kim, you may well discover a book far less simple and unambiguous than the one you remembered. That shift and deepening of meaning can be a revelation both about the book and about yourself.

I also liked her essay about "animals in children's literature." Like Le Guin, I read dozens of "animal biographies," "animal novels," and stories of relationships between animals and people when I was a child, books like The Jungle Books, of course, Charlotte's Web, White Fang and The Call of the Wild, The Red Pony, Rascal and The Wolfling, Black Beauty, The Incredible Journey, Earnest Seton Thompson's Wild Animals I Have Known, The Winter of the Fisher, and many others. But I haven't re-read most of those for decades.

I suppose the main purpose of critical essays on literature is to convince the reader of something, to offer new insights about which the reader will say, "That's right," and to move the reader to action, whether it's to read some of the works discussed, or to read them in a different way, or, sometimes, not read them at all.

In that sense, although Cheek by Jowl is slightly repetitive at times, it succeeded eminently with me. I "get" fantasy, but I'm sorry to say that I'd thought I'd "outgrown" animal stories. Thanks to Le Guin's little book, I intend to begin remedying that this year.

**** Highly recommended
*** Recommended
** Meh
* Don't bother

About the rest of my Avatar review...

It's coming. It's turning out a lot longer than I expected though. It's over 1,000 words already, and I haven't even started discussing the characters. So it'll take a little while longer, and it may come in two posts, but it's coming.

Thursday haiku: rejoice

they will suffer, sick,
in pain, broke, maybe dead, but
you won, so rejoice

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Adventures of Leonard McCoy, Space Doctor (No. 10)

"I'm dead, Jim!"

Follow the adventures of Leonard McCoy, Space Doctor, as he explores the far reaches of space (and my house... and my backyard... and my kids' toy boxes) with his friends Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. Every Wednesday and Friday, right here at

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Adventures of Leonard McCoy, Space Doctor (No. 9)

"He's dead, Jim! Malnutrition and acute diabetes."

Follow the adventures of Leonard McCoy, Space Doctor, as he explores the far reaches of space (and my house... and my backyard... and my kids' toy boxes) with his friends Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. Every Wednesday and Friday, right here at

Book review: One Ring Circus

One Ring Circus: Dispatches from the World of Boxing, Katherine Dunn ***

Katherine Dunn's anthology of boxing articles, One Ring Circus, is a bit of a mixed bag. Having spent many years writing mostly for local alternative papers in the Pacific Northwest, her focus has naturally been somewhat local. This has its good points and bad points.

On the one hand, Dunn writes vividly and insightfully about boxing at its most basic level, in the gym, the locker room, and the corner, and about lower-echelon boxers, both up-and-comers and never-will-bes. Her portrait of a pair of inexperienced, bewildered seconds frantically yet ineptly trying to deal with their fighter's cuts is devastating. Her pieces on the nature of boxing gyms, on the contrast between the brutality of the sport and the multi-generational gentle atmosphere found in most of them, for example, or the random way in which newcomers get assigned to good or bad coaches, create a great sense of place. I've been a boxing fan all my life, but this was perhaps the first book to make me feel like I really know what the inside of a gym is like.

Maybe because Dunn's gender helps create a rapport with them, her pieces on women boxers are also excellent. She's able to elicit fascinating insights like this one from her piece on Lucia Rijker (who played the boxer that paralyzed Hillary Swank in Million Dollar Baby):

You know what I notice? How guys have a tendency to reach to touch your face or your head, like to cuddle? Right away my head jerks away, ducks, whup, whup. And they say what's up with you? And I say I can't help it, it's a reflex. When something comes towards my face, I move away.

While Dunn does write about famous boxers and fights -- Leonard-Hagler, Hagler-Hearns, Alexis Arguello, Roberto Duran, a contrarian defense of Mike Tyson, and others -- that's not her strong suit. She's at her best when writing about journeymen boxers and their lives, but ironically this strength is a weakness when her work is anthologized. Because so many of the pieces are old (from the '80s and '90s) their stories just aren't as interesting as they probably once were. It's hard to care about obscure boxers who were fighting 15 or 20 years ago. Updates provided at the back of the book make up for this somewhat, but only somewhat.

Overall, I think serious boxing fans will enjoy the book, especially its insights into the boxing life at its lower levels, but more casual fans and general readers will probably find most of it less than fascinating.

**** Highly recommended
*** Recommended
** Meh
* Don't bother

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Thursday haiku: seeing neither

vaunting self-awareness
seeing neither mistakes nor
failure to see them

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Pat Robertson is a superstitious evil heartless stupid bigot

According to televangelist Pat Robertson, this is the reason for the earthquake in Haiti:

"Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it," Robertson said on his Christian Broadcasting Network show "The 700 Club."

Haitians were originally "under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon the third, or whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil," said the 80-year-old former presidential candidate.

"They said, we will serve you if you will get us free from the French. True story. And so, the devil said, okay it's a deal," the televangelist said.

"Ever since they have been cursed by one thing after the other."

The superstition -- the idea that people can actually make pacts with the devil -- is bad enough. (What kind of theology allows for that? People can make pacts with the devil that bind not only themselves but entire nations? For generations?) Never mind that, of course, there's absolutely no evidence that it ever happened, even in the sense of some Haitian leaders trying to make a pact with the devil.

No, think about exactly what he's saying here. The Haitian Revolution was a revolt in which Haitian slaves overthrew their French masters. Now Robertson is claiming that the devil was on their side, and that's the reason the Haitians beat the French. Forget their suffering and their sacrifices; that had nothing to do with their victory. They only won because they were evil devil-worshipers.

And Haitian suffering since then? Served them right. The devil-worshipers. The earthquake? Hey, it's all good, because it'll make them love Jeebus. "They need to have -- and we need to pray for them -- a great turning to God and out of this tragedy. I'm optimistic something good may come," says Robertson.

I don't believe in devils, but I almost wish there were one, so he could prepare a special place in Hell for superstitious evil heartless stupid bigots like Pat Robertson.

The Adventures of Leonard McCoy, Space Doctor (No. 8)

"He's dead, Jim!"

Follow the adventures of Leonard McCoy, Space Doctor, as he explores the far reaches of space (and my house... and my backyard... and my kids' toy boxes) with his friends Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. Every Wednesday and Friday, right here at

Monday, January 11, 2010

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (1/11/2010)

The Americanization of mental illness.

If bands were people you know, part 1 and part 2 (by Jeph Jacques of the great "Questionable Content").

Mortgages: a business deal for banks, a moral obligation for homeowners?

Single Ladies (in Mayberry): A Beyonce - Andy Griffith mashup

Books I read during 2010

These are the 108 books I read during 2010.

**** Highly recommended
*** Recommended
** Meh
* Don't bother

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Musical interlude: "O mio babbino caro"

Puccini's comic opera Gianni Schicchi is not generally considered a great masterpiece, but I think the aria "O mio babbino caro" is one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written. Angela Gheorghiu sings:

Movie review: Avatar -- part 1: Why I should have hated it

I feel like I should hate this movie. First, there's the plot. It's formulaic. And not only is the plot trite and shopworn, it's at least borderline racist: White guy stumbles into a group of his exotic enemies who, with echoes of the "Noble Savage," are so much deeper and more in tune with nature than he is, becomes part of the group despite the hostility of some of its members, overcomes his prejudices and casts off his old self, wins the heart of the beautiful Native Girl, becomes best buds with the young Native guy who had most wanted to kill him, learns to use their weapons and skills even better than they can, becomes their savior/messiah figure, and leads them in battle against his own (evil, exploitative) people who can't see the value of the wonderful culture they're about to destroy. With assorted variations, it's been used in any number of movies: Dances with Wolves, Fern Gully, Pocahontas, The Last Samurai, Star Trek: Insurrection, and on and on.

And the predictability! It's not just that the overall plot is a formula, but there isn't a single plot surprise in the movie. I saw every "twist" coming a mile away. I think it was Chekov (Anton, not Pavel) who said that if you show a gun in Act 1, you have to use it in Act 3. Well, James Cameron shows us a lot of guns, both literal and figurative, in this movie, and each time he does, you can easily predict exactly how he's going to use it. I won't go into specifics, even though you can't really "spoil" a movie this predictable. You'll know what I mean if you watch the movie.

And characterization? Forget about it. Two characters in this movie are fleshed out to the point where I suppose they could generously be described as three-dimensional (yet still cliché). Every other character is an archetype, if not a stereotype.

Oh, and then there are the heavy-handed "messages." Respect for the environment is Good. Murdering indigenous people in order to destroy their land and take their resources is Bad. Well, no frakkin' duh. Like we need a movie to point those things out for us. (But despite what some people have said, Avatar is not anti-war at all. It's pro-war. It's anti-imperialism, but it's very much in favor of warring to protect yourself against imperialism. That's definitely not a pacifist message.)

So, it sounds like I hated this movie, doesn't it? But I didn't. I loved it. Despite everything I just wrote, I absolutely loved it. It's actually kind of annoying. Despite my self-ascribed good taste, despite everything I think I know about movies and film-making and literature and story-telling, despite my ability to "deconstruct" this film and any other film from start to finish, backwards and forwards, inside and out, James Cameron can make a movie filled with everything I think should make for a bad film and keep me riveted for two and a half hours, entertain me, move me, and transport me to another world. I kind of hate that he has that much power over me.

In Part 2, I'll explain why I loved the movie so much.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (1/9/2010)

Female bodyguards in the UK.

Finally, an understandable guide to the new mammogram guidelines.

I'm more impressed all the time by Ask Richard's answers at the Friendly Atheist (especially in contrast to a few of the comments).

Tough choice: would you rather join the Japanese Navy or the US Navy? Compare their recruiting commercials before you decide. (Yes, that really is a Japan Marine Self-Defense Force commercial.)

Friday, January 08, 2010

The Adventures of Leonard McCoy, Space Doctor (no. 7)

"I'm a mountain climber."

(You must see No. 6 to get the joke.)

Follow the adventures of Leonard McCoy, Space Doctor, as he explores the far reaches of space (and my house... and my backyard... and my kids' toy boxes) with his friends Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. Every Wednesday and Friday, right here at

Thursday, January 07, 2010

The Adventures of Leonard McCoy, Space Doctor (no. 6)

"I'm a doctor, not a mountain climber!"

Follow the adventures of Leonard McCoy, Space Doctor, as he explores the far reaches of space (and my house... and my backyard... and my kids' toy boxes) with his friends Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. Every Wednesday and Friday, right here at

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (1/6/2010)

Being polite and being right. That's and people, not or.

Two hundred jobs ranked from best (actuary) to worst (roustabout).

That darned G-spot.

I'm not making this up: Kraft Macaroni and Cheese is the official sponsor of the demolition of Texas Stadium.

Monday, January 04, 2010

The best 70-minute film review ever

OK, this review by RedLetterMedia is probably the only 70-minute film review ever, but it's great. It's much better than the film it reviews (Star Wars: The Phantom Menace). It's funny and very weird at times, but also very insightful.

Part 1 is after the jump. (Language may not be safe for work/children/prudes. Also, it's in seven parts, so you don't have to watch the whole thing at once.)

The best of kuri 2009

During 2009 on my blog, I:

Proved that California is a liberal state.

Saw the best Christmas tree ever.

Recycled my first computer.

Described the Top 10 most annoying freeway drivers.

Visited my elderly sick Mom and combed her hair.

Imagined young Bob Dylan's American Idol audition.

Created my own favicon.

Was talked to only by scary people and crazy people.

Deconstructed an unintentionally creepy Mormon painting of Jesus and four teenage girls.

Started discussing bands for '80s Music Monday.

Got asked "How do you know that?"

Had to say "That won't happen now" about my dream of taking care of my mother in her old age.

Made a cookie cake pie.

Said farewell when my mother went home.

Described 5 more annoying freeway drivers.

Cried when I saw Star Trek.

Learned some things from my urinary tract infection.

Got the swine flu.

Observed Mitt Romney in the "uncanny valley."

Began writing free-form haiku.

Made doctors say "Wow!"

Figured out why Stephenie [sic] Meyer is accidentally a great writer (sort of)

Started the "Leonard McCoy, Space Doctor" series.

And speculated on brain plasticity and Asperger's syndrome (drawing a lame heckle from a disgruntled relative).

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (1/3/2010)

Digby on the difference between right-libertarians and left-libertarians.

The left is the main hope against xenophobic, securitised, apocalyptic barbarism.

The difference between debates and arguments.

Ricky Gervais + David Bowie = Genius.
(h/t: Self-Portrait as)

2009 in books

Books read: 123

Authors: about 56 (not counting multi-author books, anthologies, etc.)
Patrick O'Brian: 19 books
Neil Gaiman: 18
John D. MacDonald: 10
Robert B. Parker: 7
C. S. Lewis: 7
J. R. R. Tolkien: 4
Walter Mosley: 4
Richard Stark: 4
William Gibson: 2
Charles Schulz: 2
One-offs: about 46

Themes for the year: re-reads, series, graphic novels
I re-read several favorite series: The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings (which I expect to re-read every two or three years for the rest of my life), 19 out of the 20 books in Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series (ditto), and the Chronicles of Narnia (not as good as I thought when I was a child), came close to finishing John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee series (all but a couple of which I've read before), and read 5 Spenser novels. I also began Richard Stark's Parker series and finished Neil Gaiman's amazingly good Sandman series of graphic novels.

Favorite new (to me) author: Neil Gaiman
Hands down. I love his work -- graphic novels, novels, and movies. I can't believe that I never knew about him before.

Pleasantest surprise: 115. Mental, Eddie Sarfaty ****
I saw it in the New Books section at my library and I thought, "Yet another standup comic's memoir. It might be funny." So I took it home and read it, and not only was it very funny, it was moving -- genuinely lump-in-my-throat moving in a couple of places in fact.
Honorable mention: 113. My Uncle Oswald, Roald Dahl ****
I'd never read any of Dahl's books for grownups before, so I had no idea he could write a very funny book centering on sexual themes.

Biggest disappointment: 31. American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, Jon Meacham **
With its best-seller status, I had high expectations for this one, but I was very disappointed at its shallowness. It's very focused on Jackson's personal life and has what amounts to a gossip-column or even tabloid obsession with the characters around him.
Dishonorable mention: 56. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance - Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem!, Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith **
I had very high expectations for this one as well, and it was just... meh. Not terrible, but not especially funny either. I suppose hardcore Austen fans like it better.

Book that most helped me better understand something about the world: 60. The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right, David Neiwert ****

Most Inspiring: 84. The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, Steven Pressfield ****

Plan for 2010: Slow down
I feel like I rushed through many of these books. Partly that's because I only get books from the library now, so I can't read every book as slowly as I'd like to. But I also think that counting books has made me rush a little too. In the past, I'd always read books I like two or three times before putting them away. I haven't been doing that for the last couple of years; it was always "On to the next!" because I did want that 100-book total.

So I think I'm going to slow down this year. I'm going to read the books I like a couple of times before moving on to the next one, and maybe I'll read some longer ones, even if it's going to take me two or three or even four weeks to get through each of them. If I end up only reading about 50 books that way, I'll be fine with that.

Friday, January 01, 2010

The Adventures of Leonard McCoy, Space Doctor (no. 5)

"He's dead, Jim!"

Follow the adventures of Leonard McCoy, Space Doctor, as he explores the far reaches of space (and my house... and my backyard... and my kids' toy boxes) with his friends Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. Every Wednesday and Friday, right here at

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, users of the Gregorian calendar! Happy 12th day after the winter solstice, everyone else!