Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Wednesday Math, Vol. 21: determinants

If we subtract two fractions with different denominators, ad - bc will be the form for the numerator, which is to say we "cross multiply" the numerator from each fraction with the denominator from the other fraction, then subtract the second one from the first.

If we have the points (0, 0), (a, b) and (c, d) on the plane as in the picture, we can create a parallelogram by including a fourth point at (a+c, b+d), and by finding the area of the big rectangle and subtracting away the areas of the rectangles and triangles that are not marked in yellow, we get the area of the parallelogram is just like the numerator of our fraction, ad - bc.

The formula is also known as the determinant of a 2x2 matrix where the entries look like

a b
c d


a c
b d

The determinant is an ancient idea, while the matrix is relatively modern, the first important work done in the mid 19th Century. The word matrix was chosen for its Latin root to "mother", with the implication that matrices were the mothers of determinants. The Wachoski brothers knew about this word derivation when they made The Matrix, which is both an array of numbers in a computer, but also that people inside The Matrix are actually in physical locations that look like the womb.

Any square matrix, 2x2 or 3x3 or 4x4, etc., has a determinant, but the calculation of the number gets messier as the matrix gets bigger. For instance, a 3x3 matrix of the form

a b c
d e f
g h i

has the determinant

aei + bfg + cdh - afh - bdi - ceg.

There are six terms here, because 6 = 3x2x1, or 3!, pronounced 3 factorial. A 4x4 matrix determinant has 4! = 24 terms, the 5x5 has 120 terms, and the numbers just get bigger and bigger. 10! for example is over three million. But because determinants are so useful, mathematicians found labor saving ways to calculate them, and some of the best were found by Charles Dodgson, known to the world as Lewis Carroll. The story goes that Queen Victoria was so taken with Alice's Adventures in Wonderland that she wrote to the author asking him to send her a copy of the next book he wrote. Carroll, loyal subject and nerdiest of nerds, dutifully sent the queen his next book, his treatise on determinants. The urban legend debunking website considers this story to be false, given how carefully Dodgson tried to keep his pseudonym a secret. But it is true that the determinants book was the book he published only a year after Alice went into print.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

So how much did I hate Cloverfield?

“A lot.” I’ll go with “a lot.”

Wait! I didn’t go through the entire list of acceptable answers first. Can I change that to “With a white hot hate”? Thanks, that’s my final answer.

I didn’t see Cloverfield in the movie theater, but instead waited until it was out on DVD. You might think because I am over 50, I really don’t count as the movie’s target demographic, but regular readers will verify that my psychological maturity is much, MUCH lower than my chronological age. I am still a nerd, and this movie cried out to us nerds. Giant monster in New York! Destruction, panic and terror!

Good times.

At least they should have been.

Let me break down my reasons for hating this movie into several major categories.

(Warning: this review contains several spoilers and liberal use of the word very in the place of obscenities used as adjectives, following the Dr. Zaius rules of editing.)

Hating on the back story. Let's start with the silly MTV style soap opera that is the plot of the movie before the big scary monster shows up. This guy and girl have been friends since college. Somebody in the movie says that she is "way out of his league." The big secret is that they have only recently slept together. This happens just before he is about to leave for Japan to take a new job as a vice president. He sleeps with her and then doesn't call her. She shows up two weeks later at his going away party with somebody new. Fireworks ensue.

First off, look at them. She's really pretty, but HE'S really pretty, too! And he's got a job that a guy who looks like a male model or front man for a rock group shouldn't have! If he is out of her league, she doesn't have a very impossible league. She would be physically incapable of having sex with anyone, because no male on the planet would meet the criteria. (Note to my lavender friends: If she were on your team, no female would meet the criteria, either.)

Hating on the front story. Of course, all the emotional drama of the first few minutes of the film is just something to let you finish your popcorn before the Big Bad shows up. We are at the going away party, and one of Mr. Pretty's friends, an idiot named Hud, is wandering around the party with a camera recording the moments for posterity. If Mr. Pretty has any character flaw, it's that he's still friends with this very stupid guy. The whole conceit of the movie is that we see the monster attack from the ground level only, through the lens of this camera. It's not supposed to be a big camera, as we can see in this production still from the movie, but there are times in the movie when it has very impossible abilities. It has a flood light capable of lighting up a dark subway tunnel for yards in advance, and it has see in the dark mode and any of a number of other magic things it can do.

The thing is, the movie is over when this guy puts down the very stupid camera, and nobody, not even this idiot, would fail to see that he should put down the very stupid camera at multiple moments in the film. For instance, when you are being chased by carnivorous aliens in a dark tunnel, and you are being out-run by two women wearing high heels, it's probably time to stop carrying the camera and concentrate on saving your life. Likewise, when they enter the building that is leaning against another building, you probably need both hands to climb and keep your balance and the like, but as soon as this very dense pinhead figures that out, no movie!

Hating on the multiple derivative nature. I put the blame for what is wrong with the movie on the shoulders of the writer Drew Goddard, who worked with Joss Whedon on Buffy and Angel before becoming part of the J.J. Abrams universe, and also the lead monster designer Neville Page. The hand held camera thing is derivative of The Blair Witch Project, without the charm of being shot on a budget that could barely buy a new car. The big monster wasn't scary enough, so the big monster sheds a bunch of little monsters, not unlike the dreadful American version of Godzilla. (Both of these movies could be said to be derivative of the double threat of the T. Rex and the raptors in Jurassic Park, but at least that came from the book itself.) The little monsters look very much like the bugs in Starship Troopers, as if nerds like us aren't going to notice. And as for obvious theft of plot devices, hot chick trapped by having rebar stuck through her shoulder? Drew, you worked on Buffy! The show can still be seen in reruns! Stop stealing from old employers!

Hating on the reason it was made. I didn't like the movie enough to sit through the commentary track, but I did watch some of the "making of" shorts in the special features menu. The original idea for greenlighting this very stupid piece of cheese was when J.J. Abrams went to Japan and saw that Godzilla was still a cultural icon over 50 years after the first film was finished. "We don't have a monster like that, except for King Kong." said Abrams, and hoped he could make that kind of cultural touchstone.

Idiot! We have that cultural touchstone. King Kong! We don't sell a lot of King Kong merchandise in the same way Godzilla merchandise is sold, but it's still a cultural touchstone. Also! Your monster? Not a cultural touchstone! Not going to be this Christmas' big hit! Why? Because we never get a really good look at the thing because the whole very annoying film is shot on a very annoying hand held camera!

In conclusion, instead of watching this film, spend two hours constructing a well written letter to Nancy Pelosi on why she should start impeachment proceedings against Bush and Cheney. This will also be two hours of your life wasted, but at least you can say you were trying to do something useful when you wasted them.

Monday, April 28, 2008

People talking through the movies, and ruining it for the rest of us.

Last week, I rented Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West on Netflix. I had fond but vague memories of it, and I watched it and enjoyed it, then watched the commentary and enjoyed it less.

Let me say some nice things first. It was great casting to make Henry Fonda the psychotic villain Frank. There are roles against type that Fonda took in his career that didn't work very well, but he was really good as a psychotic villain. Also, there's the long scenes with almost no dialog, Leone's trademark. At the beginning of the film, three bad men are waiting at a train station. The two most recognizable are Jack Elam and Woody Strode. The train comes late and no one gets off, or so it seems. Actually, Charles Bronson got off the train, but on the other side, away from the platform.

He came to see Frank. Frank sent them instead.

"Did you bring a horse for me?" Bronson asks.

"Looks like we brought one horse too few." says Elam, smiling.

Bronson shakes his head. "You brought two too many."

Six gunshots. Three dead bad guys.

The plot revolves around the railroad. Like in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, there are three main male characters, with Bronson as the quiet hero, Fonda as the psychotic killer and Jason Robards as the comic relief not-all-bad criminal. Unlike other Leone films, there's a major role for a woman, with Claudia Cardinale as a prostitute from New Orleans who comes west to marry a man who is killed the day she arrives. The movie gives you what you want from a western; panoramic views and gritty close-ups, great movie music from Ennio Morricone. I decided to watch it again with the commentary.

That was my first mistake.

Leone died in 1989 of a heart attack at the age of 60. He isn't part of the commentary. All three of the male leads are dead as well. There are some pretentious British film historians (are there any other kind?) who start the commentary, and then it's handed off to filmmakers who were influenced by Leone. One is John Milius. No living filmmaker takes the Brave Men of Action genre more seriously. He's made some good films, but when he runs his mouth, he just doesn't know when to shut up. He recalls an anecdote about a female New York film critic who didn't care for Leone. Milius tells her, "When you are an old woman, Leone's name will be spoken in hushed tones. By young girls."

John, pay some attention to the world. The vast majority of Sergio Leone fans are men, and their average age is getting older every year.

But the commentary that sealed the deal was by Alex Cox, director of Repo Man and others. He noted that there's a scene where Henry Fonda breaks in on Claudia Cardinale, stars to rape her, then the scene goes outside to a location far from the house where Cardinale is, where Fonda tortures a railroad tycoon, then back to Cardinale where he finishes raping her, though Leone plays it like a love scene. Cox points out that this makes no sense. It doesn't even follow the rules of flashbacks. The movie has been cut and re-edited several times, with a different version first showing in the theaters, but what is on the DVD was Leone's final cut, and another filmmaker who likes Leone's work points out that it makes no sense.

There was one fun fact from the commentary. Claudia Cardinale, who looks like she made it into films on Sophia Loren's coattails the way a lot of blondes made it in Hollywood looking a little bit like Marilyn Monroe, was a Tunisian beauty queen and spoke no Italian when she was first cast in Italian films. At home, she spoke French.

In conclusion, if you like westerns, you might want to give the movie a shot. But avoid the commentary. It will just make you sad.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

School'd by a simian from the future.

This is Dr. Zaius, blogkeeper over at ZaiusNation. Given his blond locks, one might suspect he is part orangutan, but he might just be a chimp with a dye job. Several of my blog buddies have him as a blog buddy, but I have been loathe to add him, given his contentious relationship with fellow presidential candidate Dr. Monkerstein. We all know what happens when monkeys and apes start to feudin' and fussin', even those with actual or honorary degrees, and I certainly didn't want to clean up after them.

Dr. Zaius' Cuss-o-Meter is at a level about equal mine, and he says it is even that high largely because of the comments. Dr. Zaius is of the opinion that when obscenities are used, it is only rarely as a noun or verb, and when used as an adjective, either Anglo Saxon Fornicate or Anglo Saxon Defecate can be replaced by the always useful very.

I will try to take the good doctor's words of editing advice to heart and I welcome him to my blogroll.

lolz and puns.

Some people hate puns. Harold Ross, the first editor of the New Yorker, refused to allow them in the magazine, and writers like James Thurber, Dorothy Parker and E.B. White loved to sneak ones past Ross that he didn't understand. This usually meant they were esoteric. I appreciate an esoteric pun every once in a while, but plain old vanilla puns, they're good enough for me.

I've heard puns called the lowest form of humor. Lower than slapstick? Please. Someone has some screwed up priorities if they can't see that puns can reach for higher heights than even the best slapstick can achieve.

Maybe it's just because I have a Y chromosome, but I think all duck tape/duct tape jokes are funny. Duct tape = comedy gold. Duck tape = even funnier.

Use in moderation. Until you know the effects of duck tape jokes on your metabolism, you should not operate heavy machinery.

And then there's puns and mild obscenities. They take me back to my childhood. Even the part of my childhood where Grumpy Old Mr. Beaver would yell at us "ALL YOU KIDS STAY OUTTA MY RIVER!"

Better puns a millionaire's money can't buy.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

No room at the inn.

Which is surprising because it's a pretty damn big inn.

AP reports that there's not enough room to house diplomats at the new U.S. embassy in Iraq, the biggest embassy ever built anywhere by anybody. Wow, that's... what's the word I'm looking for? Incompetent? Yeah, incompetent, that'll do.

Here's the lead paragraph from the AP story, just in case you're pressed for time.

BAGHDAD - The new U.S. Embassy complex does not have enough fortified living quarters for hundreds of diplomats and other workers, who must remain temporarily in trailers without special rooftop protection against mortars and rockets, government officials have told The Associated Press.

80 football fields of space, and not enough housing for the diplomats. Some get to live in secured space and others... oopsie! We'd protect your life and limb, pal, we really would, but it wasn't in the budget.

Bad enough to live in a trailer in a place where the temperature gets to 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) on a regular basis in the summer, but now that the success of the surge is over and Baghdad is back to being a full fledged war zone again, who lives under what conditions in the Embassy compound is being compared to a game of Russian roulette.

Here's a couple snappy sentences from the end of the story.

It's left some embassy staffers bitter.

An American diplomat — who hunkered down during the wave of attacks in recent weeks — called it a "difficult pill to swallow." The diplomat asked not to be named, lacking authorization to speak to media.

Isn't that nice diplomatic language? The risk of getting killed in your sleep like a cockroach being squashed under foot is "a difficult pill to swallow".

Who gets fired over this kind of incompetence? Wouldn't Condi Rice be at the top of the list, since embassies would be her responsibility as the head of the State Department? What's her answer to this? Something along the lines of her famous answer about 9/11. No one could have anticipated that people working in Iraq would want to live in comfort and security.

When Kanye West made his famous statement "George Bush doesn't care about black people" during a telethon for aid to people in New Orleans, I think he misunderestimated the level of not caring Bush has achieved and incorrectly attributed it to racism. If you aren't one of the people who has pledged undying loyalty to Bush, he doesn't care about you regardless of your race, creed or nation of origin.

This is real news, not all the nonsense of the campaign, but our tax dollars misspent and our people's lives in the balance. This is Republican misrule right out there in black and white, and we can only pray it isn't written in blood before this "oversight" is corrected. We have the very unusual occurrence of no one from the present administration running for president, the first time this has happened since Wilson was so unpopular in the aftermath of The Great War. But every Republican deserves a share of the blame for this screw-up, not least of whom John "50 more years of war" McCain. If this were the issue of the campaign, McCain would probably lose a 48 or 49 state rout, get his ass kicked like Goldwater or McGovern or Mondale. But I'm not sure this will even be front page news. After all, we have lapel pins and 3 a.m. phone calls to worry about.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Charisma. Your mileage may vary.

A friend of mine works at a New York ad agency that has free Brown Bag concerts, where the workers are treated to music at lunch by musicians, some well-known, some less so, playing music of many different styles. Recently, the visiting performer was Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi fame. As my friend put it, the women in the office from the "bridge and tunnel" crowd went ape. Cell phone cameras were in the upright and locked position for most of the afternoon. My friend was not as impressed.

It made me think about fads and charisma. Sometimes, when someone is said to be charismatic but you don't personally get it, it becomes easy to ignore any virtues that person might have.

My mom is the right age to be a bobby soxer after WW II, but she wasn't a fan of Frank Sinatra. She had a friend who was nuts for him, and got her tickets to see him when he visited San Francisco back in the day when he was a boy singer with a big band. Mom was sitting in the audience, surrounded by screaming girls. She completely didn't get it.

Personally, I didn't "get" Bobby Kennedy. I understood the attraction of JFK, though I was just a little kid when he died. His wife was pretty and so were his kids. I had a little schoolboy crush on Caroline for a while. But Bobby didn't do it for me, and since I had already made my pick of Gene McCarthy in 1968, with all the sophistication and ardor a 12 year old can muster, I found the excitement about him a little baffling.

I like Barack Obama well enough, but I have friends on the left who really don't care for him. Like how my mom felt about Sinatra, like how I felt about Bobby Kennedy, if your mileage varies on the charismatic, these are just three guys with funny ears and/or big teeth.


Random 10? Random 10!

Turtle Dove Rafael Boguslav
Why Was I Born? Dinah Washington
Walking the Dog Rufus Thomas
Could You Be Loved? Bob Marley & the Wailers
Tyler UB40
19th Nervous Breakdown The Rolling Stones
My Thief Elvis Costello With Burt Bacharach
Everybody’s Happy Nowadays The Buzzcocks
I Saw Her Standing There The Beatles
The Other Side of Summer Elvis Costello

It's Jumpin' 'Round the 20th Century with Matty Boy! Folksinger Rafael Boguslav hits in the leadoff spot, from an album from the 1950s, singing a traditional folk song. Dinah Washington gives her 1950s interpretation of a Jerome Kern classic. The Sixties are well represented by the Beatles, the Stones and Rufus Thomas, Bob Marley gives us some Seventies sounds, UB40 and the Buzzcocks are saying hello from the Eighties, and two later works from Elvis Costello represent the Nineties. Who else but The One True Living Elvis would write a sardonic Beach Boys style tune about global warming in 1991? I'll tell you, hypothetical question asker. Nobody but The One True Living Elvis, that's who!

The sun struggles up another beautiful day,
And I felt glad in my own suspicious way...

That reminds me. On the subject of charisma. Old fat non-living Elvis? Public Enemy stated my feelings best, if you know the song Fight the Power.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Hillary and the Hypothetical Holocaust.

Before the Pennsylvania primary, ABC's Chris Cuomo asked Hillary what she would do if Iran attacked Israel with nuclear weapons. She said in effect that if Iran got nuclear weapons and if they launched them against Israel, we would "totally obliterate Iran".

Wow. One beer and one bump, and she's starting to grow a pair.

Let us say, hypothetically, that I had a superpower. A really cool one. The power to enter someone's mind for a minute or two and do some thinkin' for them. I would love to have entered Hillary's mind when Cuomo asked that question, in the guise of my alter ego, hypothetical question asker.

Hypothetical question asking Hillary: Let me ask you this, Chris. Does Iran have nuclear weapons?

Chris Cuomo: Not currently, senator, but let's say in the future...

Hypothetical question asking Hillary: Does Israel have nuclear weapons?

Chris Cuomo: Yes, but back to my question...

Hypothetical question asking Hillary: Let me ask you, Chris. In a fight between Superman and the Hulk, who would win?

Chris Cuomo: Those are fictional characters, senator, and they inhabit different fictional worlds.

Hypothetical question asking Hillary: So, my question is completely hypothetical, and yours isn't?

Way back when, in the olden days when there were more than a half dozen Democrats running for president, the only guy who got less respect from the press than Dennis Kucinich was former senator Mike Gravel from Alaska. During one of the many, many debates, he said, "Some of the people on this stage frighten me."

You know, senator, in hindsight, you may have been onto something.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The history of the price of oil.

It's a Wednesday, and today's post definitely deals with numbers, but as for actual mathematics... not so much. The chart above gives the price of a barrel of crude oil from 1861 to 2006. It's easier to read if you click on the picture and enlarge it. The lower graph in black is the nominal price chart, the higher numbers are the prices adjusted for inflation and represented in 2006 dollars. For example, that highest peak in the late 1970s shows the price in 2006 dollars spiking to over $80 a barrel, but the price in the dollars of the day never reached $40 a barrel, at least not as an average price for a year.

I nicked the chart from Wikipedia, and I added the black line separating the 19th Century numbers from the more recent. Before the invention of the internal combustion engine, crude oil was just another heating oil option. On the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S., whale oil was the most commonly used heating oil in many places in the 1800's. I say this because the big spikes in the price we see, like the one right after the Civil War when crude oil was $100 a barrel when adjusted for inflation, would not have as severe an impact on the economy of the day, because the commodity wasn't as vital back then.

After the jumpiness of the prices in the 19th Century and in the early part of the 20th, by the mid 1920's, crude oil settles down and stays in a mild range of price fluctuations until 1974, in the range of $10 to $20 a barrel when adjusted for inflation. as we can see, there's a big spike from 1973 to 1974, where the price more than doubles from under $20 to over $40, goes down a little then spikes again in 1979, from the $40 range to the $80 range.

The price increases we have seen this decade are not like the two big yearly shocks of the 1970's. Instead, we are like a frog in the slowly boiling pot of water. The price keeps going up every year, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, but never effectively doubling from one year to the next. I assume the measure of the price is the average for the year, so the dot for 2007 would move up again, as the average price climbed last year to about $72 a barrel. I don't know what they consider the rate of inflation for 2006, but the price increase was in the 14% to 16% range, so it has to be another tick up since government data denies that we have double digit inflation right now. This year so far, the average price is over $100 a barrel, and as I started writing this post, crude oil was selling for $117.49 a barrel.

My friend Jodi recently said she was starting to hear a word she hadn't heard since the 1970s: stagflation. We are currently in a period of slow growth to actual shrinkage of the economy, coupled with rising prices, most notably in the prices of energy and food. Whether you prefer laissez-faire economics or the Keynesian model, stagflation is the worst of both possible worlds, and high crude oil prices are a major contributing factor to this kind of economic distress. As I've said before, higher crude prices when the president and vice president are from the oil industry and the secretary of state has an oil tanker named after her... mere coincidence. Only the worst kind of conspiracy kook would even bring that up.

But look on the bright side! Not all prices are going up. If you own a home, it's probably worth less than it was last year.

Always a good idea to end a post like this on a happy note.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Double pander Tuesdays... at no extra cost to you!

The start of my most recent fit of pandering was putting up a picture of Natascha McElhone for the "red blooded American male" contingent, and I speculated that my lavender friends wouldn't be hatin' on it either.

Dguzman, lavender spokesperson, said she preferred French newsreader and low flying angel Melissa Theuriau.

Friend of the blog Jonnieb asked "So, where's the French reporter? Side by side comparison is real pandering."

Okay, Johnnie, here you go! I found similar pictures of the two women, taken outdoors and of a "candid" nature, like by paparazzi or fans. I will let you, my faithful readers, decide which you prefer. Good sport that I am, I'll let you take first pick and I will console the "loser", as if either of these lovely women would have me.

To give you an idea of the popularity of Melissa Theuriau on the internets, if you go looking for pictures of Indira Varma, Google image search will gladly send you here, and you also have the opportunity to head over to Dr. Monkey's blog. If you're looking for Natascha, I am one of the top 20 choices, on the front page. If you are looking for La Belle Melissa, this blog isn't in the top 200. I'm a l-o-o-o-o-o-o-n-g way from the front of the line, and I've even given her a label, for pity's sake!

Oh, cruel fate! When I go to all the trouble to pander! Twice in one day!


Less seriousness! More pandering!

What is the most successful regular feature on this blog? Many different types of posts get a lot of interest after the fact. Pretty girls are always a favorite, gigantic child brides get accessed again and again, and because I have advertised, My People will stop by to take a gander at Giant Women on a regular basis. But keeping pace with those types of posts are the lolz. People luvz the lolz!

Did grandpa dog ever tell you it was uphill both ways goin' to school AND comin' back? Of course, he did.

I had seen this photo before, but the lolz treatment was new. Being dog lolz, both of these works are from I Has A Hot Dog, the canine counterpart to I Can Has Cheezburger, the feline lolz source. Cheezburger is the main site of the two, and so lolz dealing with non cat or dog pictures usually end up there, from rodents to walruses to hippos.

Yay, Flags of Many Lands™! Yay, Syria!

Why do people come to Lotsa 'Splainin' from the bad country we shouldn't ever talk to because it would be wrong?

They are looking for lolz.

When it comes to your Matty Boy Axis of Awful, countries that don't visit here because of lack of freedoms of the internets to search for pictures of silly talking animals or pretty women with their clothes on, I would put these five countries that have never sent a visitor here at the top of the list: North Korea, Albania, Myanmar, Cuba, Paraguay.

As for the latest sabre rattling, where Iran is going to destroy Israel or we are going to destroy Iran if they destroy Israel or threaten to destroy Israel or just because it's a Thursday and we feel like it, I would be very sad if this happened, because I get visitors from Israel and Iran nearly every day.

Peace through talking animals! International understanding through Giant Women!

Just doing my bit.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The plague that did not pass over.

On the 20th of January, 1942, fifteen members of the German hierarchy, some in the military, along with some bureaucrats and a Nazi party official, met in a lovely villa near the Wannsee, a lake in the suburbs of Berlin. The meeting had been postponed because of more pressing matters. Most importantly for the Germans, the Soviets began a major counter-attack in early December 1941 and the German general in charge of the Eastern campaign had died of a heart attack, to be replaced by a commander with next to no experience in the field. There was also the matter of the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, and Germany declaring war against the United States.

At that time, the territory controlled by the Germans neared its high water mark. Much of Northern Africa was theirs, as well as most of continental Europe, with the exception of truly neutral Switzerland and nominally neutral but fascist oriented Spain and Portugal. When the Nazis came to power, there were slightly more than a half million Jews in Germany, about 1% of the population. Now in control of most of Europe, there were roughly eleven million people who qualified under the Nazi definition of Jew under their jurisdiction. The Wannsee conference, as it is now known, was brought to order to decided the final solution to the Jewish problem in Europe.

No one in the room reported directly to Hitler. Some of the army officers, almost all traveling to Berlin from the East, had rank as low as major, and many of the people from the bureaucracy were undersecretaries instead of the leaders of their organizations. While many of the people there could be classified as middle management, the chairman of the meeting, Reinhold Heydrich, certainly was not. He held the second highest rank in the German Army at the time, only outranked by Himmler and was military governor of Czechoslovakia.

The meeting lasted about ninety minutes. The surviving notes we have are the official and sanitized notes kept by Heyrdich’s second in command, Adolf Eichmann, and a set of notes from a participant who disobeyed the order to destroy his personal notes, a Nazi official with the unfortunate namesake of Martin Luther. There were few disagreements at the meeting. Eichmann's version states there were three options discussed, emigration, sterilization and “evacuation”. The word shows up in the official transcript, but at his trial in Israel in the early 1960’s, Eichmann makes it clear that no one was confused as to the actual meaning, execution.

There was some discussion of the fate of the German Jews, of how much good German blood would be spilled to rid Europe of all Jewish blood. Dr. Wilhelm Stuckart, co-author of the original Nuremberg Laws taking the rights of citizenship from the Jews before the war began, including ownership of property, the right to inter-marry and to hold important positions, was distressed to see his work ignored and new rules enacted killing people he had thought should be spared. The topic of sterilization was discussed but considered impractical. Bureaucrats who needed slave labor were told in effect that large numbers would have to come from somewhere else. Sending the Jews en masse to other countries outside Nazi influence was out of the question, because even resettling thousands had been a bureaucratic nightmare, and with millions of lives now in the balance, the only practical solution was “evacuation”.

Many mass shootings of Jews had already taken place in Eastern Europe controlled by the Nazis, but this was an expensive way to deal with the problem and had a negative impact on the morale of men who had seen real battle, shooting at people who were shooting back. The Germans had been experimenting with mobile gas chambers, trucks whose rear compartments could be pumped full of the toxic exhaust. All of these were temporary measures, as construction had begun on mass death camps where rooms that looked like showers were to be the death chambers, and the bodies burned in huge furnaces after death. The most famous of these to us today is Auschwitz.

Heydrich was assassinated by Czech patriots in mid 1942, so it fell to his second in command Eichmann, the name best known to a modern audience, to carry out the orders, which he did as “a matter of honor” to the memory of his superior officer. He was captured in the 1960’s, taken to Israel, tried and executed for crimes against humanity.

The meeting went quickly and refreshments were available when it was done. Cognac was served and Eichmann, who usually did not drink, had a glass himself.

According to Eichmann, there was little conflict at the meeting and things went smoothly. The events have been dramatized twice, a German television movie called The Wannsee Conference made in 1984 and HBO’s movie Conspiracy in 2001. Both films run about 85 minutes, the length of the meeting. Dramas need conflict in the room to work, and much of that drama is about political infighting and not the magnitude of the crime being planned. In Conspiracy, Kenneth Brannagh plays Heydrich as a suave and efficient manager, with only the occasional use of his rank and position used to quell disagreements. It’s almost like George Saunders or David Niven playing a Nazi. Eichmann as played by Stanley Tucci, is shown as cruel to underlings but obsequious to those above him. Tucci is the only non-Brit in the cast, and the next best known actor in the cast is Colin Firth as Stuckart. Writer Loring Mandel does a very nice job of delineating the characters, though how much they resemble real life is up to interpretation. Stuckart, like many well-known learned people I have met, is played as modest when accepting praise, but exceedingly arrogant when questioned or attacked. As is often the case in films, the actors playing the characters are much prettier than their real life counterparts. Brannagh, even as he gets older, still looks like a matinee idol. In real life, Heydrich was beady eyed with a face like a hatchet.

I found the film very powerful, a horror film without a drop of blood anywhere. Like any movie “based on historical events”, it can’t be trusted as an accurate depiction of real events, but it’s worth seeing to appreciate this particular time and place when the metaphor of The Meeting From Hell became as literally true as it ever has been.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

For Mina Millett.

This is another post about Mina Millett. I did a post about her last year, but I certainly didn't run out of things to say about her. I think about her every day and miss her as much as ever. She died in November of 2006, but she will always live in my heart and the hearts of countless people who met her and loved her.

The picture above is of baby Mina happily held up high by her mama Zerda. Besides being a happy baby, Mina was bright and inquisitive as a child and loved to read. Zerda would take her to the library and check out books for her, but Zerda was a teacher and needed to check out books on her own, so Mina would go through the books for her at a remarkable speed. The obvious solution was to check out more books on every visit, but to do that, Mina would need a library card of her own. To get a library card, she would have to sign her name on the card, Mina Vanderberg, so she learned to do that.

At the age of three.

Mina's husband David has set up a lovely website of his memories and photos of Mina. As is to be expected, there are many pictures of their travels, and David has many pictures of Mina at different locations. I picked these two because Mina is not in the center of the picture, and I can hear her in all her common sense saying, "You have plenty of pictures of me. That thing behind me? That's the thing we might not ever see again. Take a picture of that." In the picture on the left, she is pointing to the Rock of Gibraltar. On the right, they are in Central America and in front of a tree full of Scarlet Macaws.

When Mina and David came back from Australia to live in the United States, we would often get together. While we would see movies or grab a bite at a local restaurant occasionally, our main mode of meeting was a game day. Most game days would include my friends Jodi and Art and sometimes friends of the Milletts or more friends of mine. One of the first was just Mina and David and Jodi and me, when the Milletts were living in an apartment in San Francisco after a tree fell through the roof of their home in Oakland. Jodi and I taught the Milletts the German board game The Settlers of Catan, and we played until three o'clock in the morning.

While some took place at my apartment or the rec room at my apartment complex or at Jodi's house, the vast majority of game days took place at Mina and David's house, which we referred to as Stately Millett Manor. We were always glad to visit their house.

For me, the pictures are a metaphor for Mina the hostess. Mina refused to be the center of attention, because Mina was truly a wonderful hostess, but I don't mean that in a Martha Stewart kind of way. Game days started on weekends around noon or one, and it was the job of the guests, Art, Jodi and me, to bring a large selection of games and any drinks we especially liked, so I would usually bring some Diet Pepsis for early and some wine for later, and maybe some snacks. Mina would have a large selection of salads and snacks and perhaps a light meal either for lunch at the beginning or dinner if we took a break.

It's only in hindsight that I think about how much preparation and planning went into these get-togethers on Mina's part, because it was never about Mina The Gracious Hostess. It was about Mina making an environment where she and her friends could be comfortable and everyone, including her, could have a good time. She wasn't always running around, the prep stuff was over. She was just one of the people sitting at the table, playing games and chatting and laughing. I am not exaggerating to say that these are some of the favorite memories of my life.

I want to thank David for putting up his website of pictures and stories about Mina, and I want to send my best wishes to all her friends and family who might chance upon this post. We miss you, Mina, and the world is a little less happy and fun now that you are gone.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

CPB's and blog buddies as well.

Padre Mickey posted this picture of Miss Bebé, the World's Most Beautiful Grandchile™ this week, and I promised to make a lolz of her.

As I have said before many times, Padre Mickey is a CPB (Close Personal Bud) as well as a blog buddy, and we have know each other for about twenty five years.

Today, I got a comment and a link from somebody else I've known since the 1980's, videogame designer extraordinaire and fellow Scumbag Rob Fulop. When I told stories about Rob and the others back around Christmas, I had a picture of him with a beard, but these pictures of the cleancut and personable Rob Fulop are the way I remember him best. Rob himself is a blogger these days, and puts up stories about the old days from time to time. I know these will be of interest to Splotchy and others. He is also added to my blog buddy list.

If I were going to compare my career in videogames to 80's musical acts, I would say I was about as important as Kajagoogoo or maybe if I was being egocentric, A Flock Of Seagulls or Haircut 100. On the other hand, I hung out with guys who were as important in our field as The Clash or Genesis was to the music of the day, and Rob is definitely in that league.

Nice to hear from you, buddy!

Yay, Flags Of Many Lands™! Yay, Uganda! Someone came here all the way from Uganda because of a picture of Padme Lakshmi. Can you blame this person? I certainly cannot.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Pandering? Glad you asked, I don't mind if I do!

The public has spoken, and pitchurs of my purdy fambly members are a big hit. This one was taken on my niece Holly's birthday party in February. No, that's not Ernest Hemingway, it's the gosh darned pater familias, my dad, enjoying a laugh with my younger sister Jenny, the baby of the family.

My dad was involved in a traffic accident recently and is going to be off his feet for several weeks. I send my best wishes for his speedy recovery and, I am sure, the best wishes of the entire Lotsa 'Splainin' extended family as well.

Get well soon, papa.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

All Hail Pérez Prado!

You know how you get an earworm? Some song won't leave your brain no matter what? Isn't that annoying?

Not necessarily.

I've had a little instrumental tune from my youth stuck in my head for several days now. I've heard it about a jillion times in my life. Being an instrumental makes it tougher to track down on the internets. I sang it for my class on Thursday night and one of my students, who is probably older than I am, said "Pérez Prado!"

Are you sure, I asked? I thought it might be one of his, but it certainly wasn't Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White. With that clue, I went to iTunes and searched.

The earworm is in fact Patricia, written by Pérez Prado and performed by The Man himself, known in his day as the King of The Mambo (though other musicians called him "El Cara Del Foca", Spanish for Seal Face) and one of the coolest of the Cuban bandleaders, which makes him one of the coolest people EVAH!

You are not certain of the coolness of Pérez Prado? Let me say this with love, gentle reader. If your initials aren't Samuel L. Jackson, you do not get to question the coolness of Pérez Prado.

Here are some of the places where Patricia shows up in pop culture.

* Fellini's La Dolce Vita
* the film version of Goodbye, Columbus
* the episode Some Enchanted Evening of the The Simpsons
* TV commercials for the Royal Mail in the UK between 1996 and 2003
* The end credit song for HBO's Real Sex Series

And this level of pop culture saturation happens with a variation on an eight bar theme.

'Cause he's so damn cool.

This song makes me want to dance the mambo with a big nasty redhead.

Do you have a big nasty redhead in mind, Matty Boy?


Good question, hypothetical question asker.


Okay. This one will do.

This one will do nicely.

And from this non-random but extremely cool starting point, we get to this week's Random 10.

Patricia Pérez Prado
The Masquerade Is Over Etta James
Polovitsian Dance # 17 Borodin
Born Under a Bad Sign Albert King
It Makes A Fellow Proud To Be A Soldier Tom Lehrer
O Leggiadri Occhi Belli Cecilia Bartoli
Sixteen The Buzzcocks
Some Are Phillip Glass
Half Heaven Gene Pitney
Hello Mabel Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band

This is known in baseball jargon as the ability to hit to all fields. There is absolutely no underlying theme to all these tunes, but still, it gives some rough idea of how much territory my iTunes collection covers.

And now I am off to my dreamy dreams where I take the cigarette away from Christina Hendricks, draw one cool puff for myself and make her mambo.

Mambo hard!

'Cause I'm so damn cool.

Elizabeth Edwards does some damn fine 'splainin'!

I have put up many pictures of Elizabeth Kucinich and several of Jeri Thompson, but Elizabeth Edwards may very well be my favorite politician's wife right now.

Then why all the pictures of Elizabeth Kucinich, Matty Boy? Is it because you're shallow?

Yes, hypothetical, it's because I'm shallow. No more interrupting right now, okay.

Ms. Edwards gave a speech at Harvard this week, and she put into two simple questions a perfect critique of what is wrong with the press right now.

“Being well-informed, you might know the details of Joe Biden’s healthcare plan,” said Edwards, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. “How about Barack Obama’s bowling score? Everybody knows it.”

Game, set and match, Elizabeth Edwards.

Austria, land of... giantesses?

"So, Who is this?" hypothetical question asker asks. "Some gracefully aging foreign film star?"

Hypothetical, I'm surprised at you! You read Princess Sparkle Pony, don't you? This is Ursula Plassnik, foreign minister of Austria! While the Princess' blog has the subheader I keep track of Condoleeza's hairdo so you don't have to, the blog is interested in all intersections of the worlds of diplomacy and fashion. A few years back, the Princess stumbled upon pictures of Ms. Plassnik, and a star was born.

Besides being a skilled diplomat with an impressive track record, Ms. Plassnik goes her own way when choosing fashions acceptable for the work place. While many working women wear feminized versions of drab men's work attire in the office, Ursula goes for bright colors, her trademark scarves and accessories that sometimes include bracelets large enough to deflect bullets, as if she were an amazon like Wonder Woman.

As If? What am I saying as if? Ursula Plassnik is 6'3", or 1 m 90 in metric. She IS an amazon! Or is it a glamazon? Or maybe a diplomazon. In any case, whenever Princess Sparkle Pony posts a picture of Ms. Plassnik, many are the hubba-hubbas, and not just from me. It sometimes makes me wonder how many of My People support Our Agenda in the world.

It seems an unusual occurrence that Austria would produce a successful gal on the go who is so remarkably tall. Or is it that unusual?

This is an ad from Austria for a business school. Just like the Sprint ad I posted a few months back, this ad agency decided that the way to appeal to a modern working woman is to promise her that she will bestride her business environment like a cool and confident colossus. I can only guess what she is saying to her outmatched male co-worker at the meeting table.

"Yes, that's true, Hans, I could crush your tiny head like an egg, I suppose... if I ever gave it any thought. Now if you are making out my check now, I think there should be two more zeros at the end, don't you? Ah, you agree! Thank you, Hans. You are a good egg, if you don't mind me saying so."

I went to a translation website to find out what the text in the blue square over the head of tiny and cowed co-worker says, and the somewhat awkward translation came back "They are determined for the bigger." Aren't we all?

As a fully deputized representative of My People and Our Agenda, I have only thing to say to the Austrians.

Danke schön!

Yay, Flags of many Lands™! Yay, Libya! Say what you will about their politics, if you want to go for a simple and understated flag design, you can't get simpler than Libya.

What would make a citizen of a kinda sorta rogue nation come to Lotsa 'Splainin', you might ask? Alyssa Milano's lovely smile and prominent cleavage. Do you need a better reason?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Wednesday Math, Vol. 20: three million is greater than six thousand.

This is an picture of the Andromeda galaxy, the thing that is the farthest away from us and still visible by the naked eye in the night sky by many accounts. The more scientific name for this is M 31, where M stands for Messier, a French astronomer of the 18th Century who cataloged about 100 comet-like looking things in the night sky. The galaxy, a large smudge that seems to us on earth to be stuck in the sky somewhere over the North Pole, was one of the things Messier put on his list, and it is included in sky maps from astronomers of 1,000 years gone by. Some can see M 33 with the naked eye, which is farther away still. Me, I'm too old.

Some like to think that science is common sense, but that isn't the case. It is only for the past few centuries that we understood that light has a speed, and the idea that the speed is constant is credited to the Michelson Morley experiment, so it is now celebrating its 120th birthday. The upshot of all of this is that when we look at things that are astronomical distances away, we are looking at the past. The light from the moon is about a second old when we see it, the light from the sun is a snapshot from eight minutes ago. Really close stars are light years away, and the closest, the Alpha Centauri and Proxima Centauri stars, are showing us now what they were like less than 5 years ago. The Andromeda galaxy we see is actually its state from about 2.9 million years ago. These measurements are done by measuring parallax, which deals with angles and sides of a triangle, and by the red shift, a brilliant idea of Einstein's that says that while light moves at a constant speed, it does bend perceptibly when it hits a large enough gravity field.

There are deep philosophical implications to the simple scientific statement "Light has a speed." We know sound is not instantaneous if we sit in the cheap seats at a ball game. We see the swing of the bat and the ball starting to fly and only then do we hear the loud CRACK of the contact. (If you are 400 feet away in the bleachers of a stadium at sea level like the ballparks in Oakland and San Francisco, the delay is about 1/3 of a second.) The light gets to our eyes before the sound gets to our ears, because light is so much faster than sound, we can experience this. But nothing we can perceive is faster than light, so nothing in our physical experience can make clear that we do not look at a true instantaneous snapshot when we look at the night sky, but a glimpse a many different objects at many different moments in the past.

One of the implications is disturbing to some. Those who deny evolution, who lump together their hodgepodge criticisms under the heading "intelligent design", do not all believe the same thing, but many are bound together by a desire to believe a literal interpretation of the biblical account of Genesis. The most literal of these people hold to the Young Earth hypothesis, that by doin' the math of all the "begats", we can date the start of creation at about 6,000 years ago. It's a problem for them that the most mathematical of the sciences, physics as applied to astronomy, lets us do the math and show beyond serious debate that some parts of God's creation visible to us for centuries had to exist for at least 2,900,000 years, and 2,900,000 > 6,000. Moreover, we have really cool telescopes now, and we can see that in terms of the universe, M 31 is a close neighbor and there are things in the universe that are really far away.

I was at work a few days back and talking to another math teacher about M 31. I asked if he knew how far away it was, and he guessed. It was a bad guess, because he thought it might be hundreds of billions of light years away. I'm used to students guessing badly, I don't think less of them for it. It shows they are willing to learn. His guess was bad because the accepted age of the universe is around 13.5 billion years, so there's no way that we could see anything older than that. He nodded his head at his mistake, and I added that this sighting with the naked eye puts the lie to the Young Earth hypothesis in much the same way photography from outer space makes it clear the Flat Earth hypothesis isn't correct.

His next statement, a statement from a math teacher, was that when dealing with the maker of all things, our ideas of time and space have no relevance, since the wisdom of the Great Maker is infinitely greater than our own. I was looking for common ground with this person, so I said that he was taking the ideas of "days" as they were defined in Genesis metaphorically and he agreed.

In fact, I was being kind. He was not being metaphorical at all, but reflexively defensive. I cannot give his exact quote, but I am paraphrasing him correctly when he said our ideas have no meaning when we discuss the Creation. In other words, when it comes to God, any crap bullshit believed by a large enough number of people should be given equal weight with the best efforts done by people doing serious and brilliant work trying to discover without prejudice the way the universe works.

I'm not trying to pick a fight with the faithful, at least not the faithful who hang around here. I know Padre Mickey believes that devout Christians do not have to accept Iron Age creation myths to accept the love of God. I don't think I've made any statements that will upset FranIAm or others. But to those Americans who make the Young Earth part of their view of the universe, let me say it's time to sit down and shut up. You hurt our country by forcing us to fight again these already decided battles, and countries where the insane do not get an important voice in politics are going to continue to kick our ass in science and technology, and soon enough our status as the World's Only Superpower will be as quaint as the idea that Nobody Fucks With The Spanish Armada.

Here endeth the lesson.

(Major errors corrected by Ken, freelance fact checker who works for beer when I see him, and lives hundreds of miles away. Such a deal!)

(Yet another error corrected by my good old pal Alan. Dammit, Jim, I'm a mathematician, not a scientist!)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Non gigantic, non child bride news!

This is a picture of my niece Holly Smith and her longtime boyfriend Cleavon Smith. Cleavon teaches English at some of the same schools where I teach math. He recently popped the question, and Holly of course said yes.

Yay, true love!

Cleavon is only a little bit older than Holly, and slightly taller than her, though she is very close to six foot tall. Six foot tall and cute as a bug's ear is tough trick to pull off, but Holly does so, and very nicely indeed.

Here is my sister (and Holly's mom) Jenny, birthday girl Holly and some large disturbed person who walked in off the street and no one had the gumption to upbraid, he was having such a good time.

"Is he with you?" someone would ask their table neighbor.

"No, I thought he was your friend."

The evening ended without incident and the authorities were not called in.

Anybody else having trouble with Gmail as of yesterday?

Nothing hypothetical about this question. I use both Blogger and Gmail from Google, which are packaged together and are free. Since most of my blog buddies have "blogspot" somewhere in their websites address, I know that they use Blogger, and so I assume might very well also use Gmail.

As of yesterday, April 14th at around midday Pacific time, getting to Gmail has been very difficult for me. Other webpages are loading fine, including other e-mail accounts from other sources, but getting to Gmail has been hit or miss, with my computer going into what looks like an infinite loop trying to complete loading the webpage info from I have been able to get to my e-mail a few times since the troubles began, but it's less than a 50-50 proposition right now, and it doesn't matter if I'm using my computer at home or another computer at work.

Anybody else?

Monday, April 14, 2008

I wuz only gonna make a couple...

but like Spider Solitaire or Goldfish Crackers, making lolz is a hard habit to break.

Quick show of hands: How many people here read Princess Sparkle Pony? Yes, I thought as much. Yes, me too, every day, natch. But every Monday, the Princess does a weekly roundup over on Wonkette, and sometimes Mondays get busy and I miss this. After all, it's a roundup of stuff from her daily blog and I read that... well, daily!

But if you missed today's roundup, you missed this wonderful photo-op from last week! A bunch of grateful Afghanis, free from the tyranny we helped overthrow, gave our Secretary of State a paperweight. Yes, that's right, a paperweight! As the Princess herself wrote, what do you want to bet they picked it up at the airport?

I love the two guys on the far right of the picture.

Guy at far right: "Psst! Dude! I don't think she's really that into it."

Guy next to him: "Dude, shut up and smile. They're taking the picture."

Something in the water does not compute.

Everyone knows politics is a volatile topic. In more genteel times, one was supposed to avoid discussing religion and politics at a party to prevent arguments and possibly losing friends.

This only makes sense. There are always issues that inflame passions, and none more so than a long war with no end in sight. Hot button issues are everywhere, from war to religion to immigration to the economy to the rights of citizens guaranteed by the Constitution, whether your favorite rights are in the First and Fourth amendments or you are especially keen on the Second. The thing is, this hostility is usually reserved for sets of people who put themselves on different ends of the political spectrum.

Right now, vitriol can pour out over nearly any issue among people who generally agree on the major topics of the day. I wrote a few weeks back about some conservative blabbers putting the serious hate on John McCain. To their credit, the Republican voters paid little attention, decided on their best candidate, warts, cancer scars, bad teeth, bad memory and all. I have to wonder if Limbaugh and Coulter didn't promise to campaign for Clinton just to muddy the waters. Back in early February, it looked like the Republicans might still be bickering in April and the Democratic race was pretty much sewn up.

So much for conventional wisdom.

On the other hand, the rift between Dr. James Dobson and McCain seems real right down to the ground. Jerry Falwell is dead and Pat Robertson is largely irrelevant. Dr. Dobson is the strongest voice of the religious right today, and he doesn't like McCain. In his heart of hearts, McCain has little love for the good doctor, but knowing how important getting the religious right energized is for Republican candidates, McCain is having to send out emissaries and go cap in hand to the powerbroker in the pulpit. It's too early to call, but right now, McCain has almost all of the baggage Bob Dole had in 1996, with the added baggage of supporting an unpopular war come hell or high water.

A ludicrous literary catfight is now being waged on the liberal leaning Huffington Post. Matt Taibbi writes for Rolling Stone, and his journalism definitely owes a debt to the style of Hunter S. Thompson. He does not censor himself or pretend to objectivity. Erica Jong is a novelist and poet. Her most famous work is Fear of Flying from the 1970s, which I didn't read, but was considered in its day both feminist and smutty. Good for her, I guess.

Taibbi, who has been writing on the campaign trail this year, has written pieces eviscerating many politicians, most notably Rudy Guiliani and Fred Thompson. His revulsion at Republican methods is very clear. Currently, with the Republican race clearly settled, he has been writing about the seemingly endless Democratic campaign. Here is part of a sentence he wrote about Hillary Clinton that recently ran in Rolling Stone: “…Hillmeister doing the dual flabby-arm raise on CNN, while gusts of confetti whooshed across the room…”

This set Ms. Jong off. Calling Clinton's arms flabby was an attack not on a single candidate, but on older women, on all women, on the concept of womanhood in general, and she suggested that maybe deep down, Taibbi wanted to have sex with his mother. No kidding. He hates all women and wants to screw his mom. Also, if Ms. Jong followed the rules of the internet, she would be asked to retire to a neutral corner because she has already compared Taibbi to the Nazis. Given her age, she may not be aware of this rule.

Taibbi responded and the feud continues. Go to the Huffington Post to read more if you like, but I don't recommend it and will not include a link.

This level of intramural vitriol is not confined to the (kind of) rich and (sort of) famous. I have blog buddies who support Obama and others who support Hillary. Among these folks, it's some of the Obama supporters who are better identified as Hillary haters. They can go off like nobody's business on the woman, usually about her tacit support for Bush's policies. To be fair, both Obama and Hillary have made votes that have helped prolong this war, and no Democrat with real power has done much to curb the abuses of the last seven plus years.

Offline, talking to friends in the so-called "real world", I know people who have been lifelong Democrats who have strong animosity towards Obama. I don't think it's racial. One dear friend considers Obama a phony and a lightweight and can really work himself into a lather about the topic. It's painful to listen to it.

I don't want to pretend this has never happened before in history. When I was a kid, I supported Gene McCarthy in 1968. I was licking envelopes during the California primary and even went out and carried signs in the street. I thought Bobby Kennedy was a Johnny come lately to the campaign, since he didn't even declare until after New Hampshire. (Can you imagine?) I have several distinctions in my life that seem more remarkable in hindsight. One of those is that I heckled Bobby Kennedy not a week before he died. He had a motorcade in Oakland, and I held up a mocking sign above the crowd. The sign was visible in a picture that ran in the local paper; I was lost in the crowd. I've searched the internet for it, but so far no luck.

Maybe this feels very different, or maybe it feels sickeningly the same. If Democrats spend this much time hissing at each other, it's going to make the general election that much harder. I don't want to pretend I'll be happy if Hillary gets the nomination, but I don't want people to lose sight of the bigger picture. Right now, that which passes itself off as "mainstream Republican" is deeply committed to anti-American policies, hostile towards our rights as citizens, completely indifferent to our standing in the world and willing to sell out the prosperity of the public to the highest bidder, foreign or domestic.

(Note: Anyone who got the lyrical reference in the title, give yourself a cookie. Remember, this is being done on the honor system. And yes, purple is a hint. I want my clever friends to enjoy a cookie, if that's what they really want.)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Blogger tag for r-e-a-l-l-y slow people.

Quite a while back, I was tagged by the "me" person in Zoey & Me, blog buddy and author of Cat In The Bag to write my six memoir.

Morbid plagiarist that I am, I cannot come up with anything better than the title Preston Sturges wanted for his never completed autobiography.

The Events Leading to My Death.

Not only am I slow in answering, I'm a little shy about tagging. But I do appreciate the thought.

lolz movie previews

Lassie stars in a remake of The Bad Seed.

I let the kitteh do the 'splainin' here.

Lolz movie reviews

Having only last month tried my hand at translating a smutty French poem into lolz, I now put forward a lolz treatment of another thing popular among the French, serious reviews of non-serious films. Now that I am more than a half century old, one might think I would have lost my juvenile taste for films with outlandish plots, violent action and women gratuitously dressed in suggestive clothing and put in sexually charged situations.

Yes, one might think that. And one would be wrong.

And here are three quick reviews of cheesy films from last year, which run the gamut from truly stinky cheese to fine cheese that is worth savoring.

Up first is Southland Tales. Written and directed by Richard Kelly, whose earlier film Donnie Darko is a well-deserved underground cult hit, this latest work had a much higher budget and a cast of well-known actors, some in very small roles indeed. Among the folks with speaking roles are Sarah Michelle Gellar, Sean William Scott, Justin Timberlake, Miranda Richardson, Mandy Moore, Wallace Shawn, Christopher Lambert, Nora Dunn, John Laroquette, Jon Lovitz, Cheri Oteri, Will Sasso and unfortunately, former wrestler Dwayne Johnson, previously known as The Rock, in a pivotal role as a mentally troubled movie star with amnesia. The best thing I can say about Mr. Johnson's work is that he still looks really good when he takes off his shirt. As for portraying a conflicted and tortured soul... not so much.

The film premiered at Cannes, and the audience booed. It was re-edited and new scenes were shot. About the version you can now get on DVD, let me say this.


Next up, we have Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino's ouvre that was half of the double feature Grindhouse, a tribute to the drive-in movies of the late sixties and early seventies. Mr. Tarantino's film is a female revenge flick, which recalls the kind of movies that would have starred Pam Grier or Tamara Dobson or Claudia Jennings back in the day. Being a Tarantino film, he turns it into a hot chick buddy film, with no nudity but lots of dirty talk among the hot girls who are supposed to be best buddies. The problem is that one of the hot girls, played by the very sexy Rosario Dawson, does something unforgivable to one of her female pals, and Tarantino plays it as though it were a joke. Ms. Dawson called Tarantino out about this plot point while the film was being made, but it still made it into the final cut. The unspeakable thing does not happen on screen, but it does make it harder to enjoy the rest of the film.

The other half of Grindhouse is Richard Rodriguez' Planet Terror. Rodriguez liked the title because it makes it sound like an outer space thriller, when it actually takes place in Texas. Roger Corman often did this in his cheesy movies, giving a film a title that doesn't have much to do with the actual action. While Planet Terror also has many attractive female characters in the cast, including Rose MacGowan as a go-go girl who loses her leg and is outfitted with a high powered automatic weapon as a prosthetic, the main heroes are mostly guys. Rodriguez' male cast includes Bruce Willis, Naveen Andrews, Josh Brolin, Jeff Fahey and Michael Biehn, he chose Freddy Rodriguez (no relation) to play el hombre mas macho. Freddy Rodriguez is best known as the embalmer on Six Feet Under. He's a little guy, but he's a big actor in a cool and quiet way. You believe he is the ultimate bad-ass by the end of the film.

Also, while there is lots of senseless violence and innocent victims destroyed by the zombie horde that is the main danger of the film, Richard Rodriguez has a more developed sense of honor and justice than Quentin Tarantino, so the bad guys end up dead and the good guys kinda sorta win at the end.

All these movies are cheese, but this is the best of the cheese.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

A tale of two actors

In the past two months, we have lost two Oscar winning actors, Paul Scofield and Charlton Heston. The Brit Scofield was only two years older than the Yankee Heston, but they were from two completely different schools of acting. Though a stage actor, Scofield's instincts on film were always to underplay, and Heston's instincts were almost always to overplay.

If you look at the history of film acting, underplaying is the modern style, and even those who play big nowadays do it lot more subtly than it was done in days gone by. It's not that one way is right and the other is wrong. Underplaying badly turns in a wooden performance, and overplaying badly is being a ham. Some actors have instances of both styles in their careers. Edward G. Robinson was overplaying a lot of roles in his early career, and he became easy to impersonate and mock, but in movies like The Stranger with Orson Welles and The Cincinnati Kid with Steve McQueen, he plays it cool with the best of them. Sometimes in a movie with lots of cool and quiet actors, it helps to have someone chewing the scenery a little to kick up the energy level. McQueen and Robinson look even cooler because Jack Weston plays Pig the way he does, and Eli Wallach's Mexican desperado roles in The Magnificent Seven and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly are excellent examples of overplaying as the perfect foil to underplaying.

I didn't agree with Heston's politics, but there are plenty of times when I agreed with his acting choices. I loved him in Touch of Evil, where he underplayed somewhat to let Orson Welles and others go over the top. His overplaying style was used perfectly in Kenneth Brannagh's Hamlet, where Heston plays the Actor King. The overplaying vs. underplaying dynamic works very well in Soylent Green in the scenes opposite the cooler Edward G. Robinson.

There are a couple of times, though, where I think Heston bit off more than he could chew or the writing failed him. An example of the first case is when he did the TV version of Man for All Seasons. It was a foolish choice to step into the role that Scofield had already done to near perfection. He couldn't help but look like a ham.

Where the writing failed him was in a Bud Light commercial that first aired in the 1996 Super Bowl. Bud Light had a recurring character whose trademark line was a teary "I love you, man", after which someone would tell him he was not getting the last Bud Light. This guy meets Heston at a Hollywood party. The final gag of the spot is Heston reading "I love you man!" in a completely different way, and someone giving him a Bud Light immediately. The problem for me in this thing was this. The guy who did the "I love you, man" bit actually read it perfectly. If you have ever been with a teary drunk, you recognize the signs immediately when this guy starts choking up. Heston's reading might strike a familiar note on the planet Remulak, or somewhere else where human emotions have never been seen, but the bizarreness of his choice made the joke fall flat, and it was a clear sign that the series of ads had run out of gas.

In fairness, I should point out bad choices Scofield made. I just can't think of any. He didn't make that many movies, but I liked him in everything I ever saw.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Just so I don't get reported to family services for neglecting my adopted actor.

Somebody has made one of those irritating lists. You know, the best (so many thing) of all time lists. This time it's the best 50 TV comedy sketches of all time. The compliers are a website called Nerve and IFC. Here's the link.

What about my adopted actor Christopher Guest? He gets one, count 'em, one entry on the fifty, the one about men's synchronized swimming with Harry Shearer and Martin Short. I made my own list of my five favorites of Guest on SNL, and at least one more should have made it on to the new top 50 list. Probably the Willie and Frankie skits with Billy Crystal are the next best known.

Still, glad to see Christopher and Harry and Martin get a little love.