Saturday, May 31, 2008

Adding insult to thievery.

Prices at the grocery store are out of control.

Like I gotta 'splain this to you.

But something this weekend at my local supermarket, which is a repeat of something which happened earlier this year and I hoped was just an aberration but apparently not.

Two twelve packs of 12 ounce cans of Pepsi products were "on sale" for 2 for $10. That's the "sale" price. Usually, like just last week, the sale price was 2 for $7! For those of my dear readers who suck at the math, that's a 43% increase. And they want us to think of this as a bargain!


For the record, I am completely addicted to Diet Pepsi as my caffeine delivery system, but I tend to buy other sizes than this precisely because the prices suck so bad.

And again, for the record, Grrrrr!

The honor of John McCain.

John McCain is a war hero. That is all most people say. I want to tell more of his story than that.

John McCain was a bomber pilot. There is no honor in that. It is indiscriminate mass murder from above and most of his victims are civilians who can only bring harm to him in the most unlikely of circumstances. He was more at risk from in-flight accidents than he was from enemy fire. That said, enemy fire brought his plane down and God willed it that he suffer at the hands of his victims. A mob found him and beat him, broke his shoulder and bayoneted him.

Let me be clear. The mob was right to do so. Their only crime was being born in North Vietnam, and this privileged prick from across the sea would have happily killed any and all of them without a moment's thought and be back on the carrier in time for happy hour.

McCain's father was named commander of all forces in Vietnam. Finding out that they had a propaganda bonanza, the North Vietnamese offered him early release. Here, John McCain does the honorable thing. He refuses release unless everyone captured before him is released as well.

This concludes the honorable portion of the story of John McCain.

He was tortured and he confessed to war crimes. He recants those confessions now, of course. I do not consider his confessions dishonorable. As he himself has said "Every man has a breaking point. I reached mine." Truer words were never spoken.

The true dishonor comes later. He is willing to have others sit in the torture chair. Of course, they are "the bad guys" and they deserve it. He says he is against torture but knows we are still practicing it. That is dishonor twice over.

The greater dishonor is his willingness to put other Americans in the comfy and now much safer chair of the indiscriminate mass murderer. The way we control the skies in Iraq and Afghanistan, bomber pilots are no more "at war" than the guys who fill the Coke machines in bases in Kuwait.

There are those who say that "Thou shall not kill" is actually "Thou shall not murder", and what soldiers do in war doesn't count. Maybe that was true five thousand years ago or even five hundred, but modern warfare is most certainly mass murder and theft on an unimaginable scale. We overthrew Saddam Hussein because he had stuff we wanted to steal. We haven't overthrown Kim Jong Il not because he is less a monster than Saddam, but because he doesn't have anything we want.

This is not just the view of dreamy eyed liberals singing Kumbaya. General William Tecumseh Sherman, who waged war more viciously than any man before him other than Napoleon, is famous for saying war is hell. Half a century later, American General Smedley Butler said war was a racket. Thirty years after him, General Eisenhower warned us that war and preparation for war were a money making machine he called the military industrial complex.

Some men who see war hate it. Some men who never see war feel the same. Some jackasses think it builds character and is noble. Sadly, John McCain is such a jackass. We need to make sure that he is not president, else thousands of more Americans and millions of more people will die needlessly.

Friday, May 30, 2008

The perfect crap storm.

Our men and women in the military now find themselves in two different nasty situations, and they can thank George W. Bush and his Republican allies for both of them.

The first and most obvious nasty situation are the wars that Bush doesn't know how to end, which at minimum keeps the soldiers and sailors away from their family and loved ones for extended and indefinite periods of time.

As if that wasn't bad enough, military families are being disproportionately hit by another idea Bush championed but did not think through, the ownership society. Bush touted the increase in home ownership under his administration, conveniently ignoring the predatory practices of the financial sector that made those good looking but unsustainable numbers possible. Bloomberg reports that foreclosures in military towns are running at a rate three to four times the already very bad national average.

I could say more about the misery brought forward by Republican rule this decade, but the best thing I can say about it is I'll be glad when it is over.


Friday means Random 10!

You Don’t Know Me Ray Charles
Look Back In Anger David Bowie
Almost Blue Elvis Costello & The Attractions
You Murdered Your Father (from Oedipus Tex) P.D.Q. Bach
Just As I Thought William Bell
Crazy Little Thing Called Love Queen
Nelson Mandela The Special A.K.A.
The Masochism Tango Tom Lehrer
There’s a Place The Beatles
A1 On The Juke Box Dave Edmunds
Bonus track:
Feeling Good Nina Simone

I'm Matty Boy and I approve this Random 10! It jumps around a lot, as has to happen when both P.D.Q. Bach and Tom Lehrer show up in the same ten songs.

As funny as those two guys are, the biggest chuckle I get from this set of songs is when I listen to Nelson Mandela and think of a bit Eddie Murphy did as a James Brown impersonator setting up a small demonstration to Free James Brown all those years ago.

Murphy: Free James Brown! Free James Brown!
Female passerby: What about Nelson Mandela?
Murphy: Let the Eye-talians worry 'bout their own!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Holy Shucking Fit for Spring 2008.

My crazy uncle sent me a present he can't afford. I'm afraid he's stealing from his kids and sending out these "stimulus packages" to everybody, but recently, there's no talking to him. Anyone trying to talk sense is suddenly an "elitist".

So what am I gonna do with the cash?

I think I'll send this guy $100. I hear he's running for president. The guy the Republicans are running looks like he's older and crazier than my crazy uncle. Crazy grandpa Republican guy thinks some of the worst ideas of the past eight years have to be continued or even worse, expanded.

We can't have that. Seriously.

I'll also throw $100 to The Smirking Chimp website. They're always begging for money, but they do publish the essays I put up when I think of a topic that doesn't go with a snazzy picture. I think I've got one for later this week.

So the rest of it, hmmm... does getting your teeth cleaned twice a year count as shopping?

I was walking back from the dentist's office to the BART station when I passed a small gas station. Regular unleaded was $4.15 (and nine tenths) a gallon, but for their "super octane", which was listed at both 93 Octane and 100 Octane (Can it be both? Free lance fact cheker Ken says yes!), they wanted $5.25 (and nine tenths) a gallon.

As I always write when I print a picture of Miss Vibrata above, Holy Shucking Fit! (Sadly, in my new version of Blogger, she doesn't seem to vibrate anymore, not even when I click on the picture. Sometimes new and improved really gets on my nerves. I should probably quit this aside. I'm starting to sound too much like Andy Rooney.)

Since it was only one stop out of my way and would only cost time and not money, I went south on BART to see what the price was at the ARCO a few blocks from where I used to live, which I know usually has the lowest gas prices in the area.

$4.09 (and nine tenths) a gallon.

Did I already mention I don't have a car right now? Yes, I think I did. A few months ago, it sounded like I was a cheap ass broke mofo. Now it sounds like I'm bragging.

So what am I going to do with the rest of the check? I'll probably blow it on something frivolous, like food and BART tickets.

How about you? Any plans for your prezzie from Our Crazy Uncle?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Two 'jokes', two different reactions.

This is Mark Madden. As you might guess from the poster behind him, he's on sports radio. Radio suits him. He's got a great face for radio.

Recently, hearing about Ted Kennedy's health problems, he said he was sorry to hear it. "I've always hoped he would live long enough to be assassinated."

Did he give an apology for this? Who the hell cares? His employer, ESPN Radio, fired his ugly fat ass.

Not suspended. Fired.

Then we have this useless mass of protoplasm, Liz Trotta. She's on Fox Noise Channel and is asked about Hillary's comment that "RFK was assassinated in June". Ms. Trotta said something about killing Osama, then corrected it to Obama, then added, "Well, both actually..." followed by peals of girlish laughter. She did apologize, one of those 21st Century crap apologies along the lines of "Jeez, I didn't know people would be so easily offended..."

Is Fox Noise going to fire her? Hell, no! This is a station that panders to psychotics, and this is the sort of stuff that keeps the psychotics watching.

Of course, if this were a reputable news organization, she would be erased from the payroll quick as lightning. But we know better than that, don't we?

Wednesday Math, Vol. 25: Better than the rake

This is Doyle Brunson. Known by the nickname Texas Dolly, due to a misspelling of his name in a newspaper story many years ago, Brunson won the World Series of Poker back in 1976 when only a few people would dare to put up $10,000 and sit in on a game with the best players in the world. Doyle Brunson hasn't worked a regular job for a very long time, being an honest to goodness professional poker player. He made a nice amount of money writing a very useful book on poker in the 1970s called Super System, which improved the level of poker play around the world. But to be a professional poker player, you don't just have to be one of the best players at the table. In the long run, you have to be better than the rake.

Poker has changed dramatically over the past few years. It used to be that you had to go to a poker room to play for money, or go to a home game, which is technically illegal in some states. In California, it's a city by city decision as to whether or not there can be poker rooms, and in the Bay Area only a few cities, including San Jose, Palo Alto, Emeryville and Hayward, decided to allow poker rooms. The rooms make their money by effectively charging rent to play, taking a little money out of every pot. This is called the rake, and it means that the average player at any table is losing money to the house, and you have to be better than average to make any money at all.

Nowadays, many people play poker online. Some have never seen real cards dealt at a real table. The online poker rooms have the same business model as the brick and mortar places, taking a rake from every pot, but the speed of the game has dramatically increased, and because tournament poker is the popular method seen on TV, the online rooms have lots of tournaments. In person, tournaments are rare, maybe only one or two a day at a big club. In online poker, they run continuously, especially the Sit 'n' Go tournaments, known as SnG to save on typing.

Lemme 'splain. You sign up on a waiting list to play in a tournament that will have only one table full of players. For most tournaments, that means nine players, but there are tournaments set up short handed for six players or eight players if the game is a stud game, or even games with two players.

In these games, you pay an entry fee and your money is turned into tournament chips. Instead of a rake of every pot, only part of the entry fee goes into the prize pool, and every player pays an extra fee which goes to the casino. Not every game is charging the same rate. Here are some examples from Full Tilt Poker.

$6 to the prize pool, $.50 to the house. Here, the extra amount is 8.3% of the money you have a chance to get back. For a cheap game, this is the big bargain.

$5 to the prize pool, $.50 to the house. This is the standard at a lot of games, paying a 10% rent for the table. If you play in a $50 tournament for example, it's a $5 extra, so the percent is the same.

$1 to the prize pool, $.25 to the house. This is a truly horrible game. Some people play in the cheap games because they don't have much money, but at 25% rent, almost no one will win in the long run.

Let's define "the long run".

I ran a computer simulation of 100 players playing poker tournaments constantly. When a simulated player ran out of chips in one tournament, that player was put on a waiting list for the next available game.

After 90 games:
$6+.50 tournaments:
44 players are seeing a profit, 56 are in the red.
$5+.50 tournaments: 40 players are seeing a profit, 60 are in the red.
$1+.25 tournaments: 29 players are seeing a profit, 71 are in the red.

Well that's not so terrible. In the better games, it's not completely fair 50-50, but it's not that bad. Well, the long run might actually be a little longer than that.

After 900 games:
$6+.50 tournaments:
33 players are seeing a profit, 67 are in the red.
$5+.50 tournaments: 32 players are seeing a profit, 68 are in the red.
$1+.25 tournaments: 7 players are seeing a profit, 93 are in the red.

After 9000 games:
$6+.50 tournaments:
7 players are seeing a profit, 93 are in the red.
$5+.50 tournaments: 4 players are seeing a profit, 96 are in the red.
$1+.25 tournaments: 0 players are seeing a profit, 100 are in the red.

In the long run, the real long run, the "play poker your whole life" long run, it's the very rare person who is ahead. Ahead enough to make your living at it, that's a completely different matter. Personally, I play online poker, but I keep tabs of how much I win (or lose) and how time I spend playing. In these little tournaments for small stakes, even if I was as good as Doyle Brunson, I couldn't make hourly minimum wage winning these things. To make a living, I'd need a much larger bankroll than the paltry amount of cash I'm willing to risk.

I'd also need more skill at the game. I've seen a profit several times, but usually I'm in the red.

This reminds me of an old joke about the business of sports, a joke which is no longer true, but still is a well crafted ancient trinket of comedy gold.

You know how you can make a small fortune owning a baseball team?

First, you start with a large fortune.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Peace in our time.

There's a peace deal in Lebanon. Yay, peace in Lebanon! I guess those people who say bad things about Condi Rice are looking pretty stupid about now. After all, she brought peace to Beirut!

Wait, scratch that. The peace deal in Lebanon appears to favor the Syrians, and was considered brokered by the Iranians.

Well, we weren't involved because we aren't appeasers! You can't be appeasers! You can't talk to your enemies because that sends the wrong signal!

Except that Israel is entering talks with Syria.

Yes, Israel, our 51st state, the tail that wags the U.S. dog in the Middle East, doesn't listen to these kissy face jackasses either.

Right now, the U.S. foreign policy playbook has one play in it. Invade a smaller country. Guess what? That's a very expensive play, and it's even more expensive if after you ask the military to do its job - which it does very well and should do very well, given the grotesque amounts of money we spend on national defense - you hand off the job of national building to clowns who couldn't build a sand castle on the beach.

Seymour Hersch, an excellent journalist, has done a great job showing that there are definitely elements in power in Washington, lead of course by Dick Cheney, who want to use the only play in our playbook one more time and invade Iran. Hersch even predicted it would happen a few summers back. Well, it didn't happen. I have some optimism that it won't happen on Cheney's watch, though I am less optimistic if we make the dreadful mistake of electing McCain that it won't happen in the next four years. My optimism is based on the fact that a lot of military people stand against the idea, and even Bush and Cheney can't fire these people fast enough to get their way.

The British conservative commentator G.K. Chesterton said there are three stages of a nation. First it is a small power, struggling against other small powers. If successful, it becomes a great power, struggling against other great powers. In the third stage, it is a great power struggling against small powers, but pretending its enemies are great powers and that these new petty battles are really reminders of the great deeds done in the past. Then, it becomes a small power again.

I'm enough of a patriot and have enough understanding of my own self interest to want the United States to remain a great power and involved in the world. I have hope that we can engage other nations with the goal of a better common future. But we still have to survive the next eight months and do the right thing in the next election.

It's time to get to work.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day

When I was a kid, Memorial Day was May 31. Now it's the last full weekend in May. This is time for us to remember the men and women who have died while wearing the uniform of our country, fighting the battles that were deemed necessary for the defense of our country.

Patriots may disagree on the necessity of the battles we have fought this century, but none can argue that more than 4,000 more names have been added on the rolls of the honored dead because of the decisions of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.

Just as I believe in steely eyed optimism, I believe in steely eyed patriotism as well. What makes the United States the most dangerous country in the 21st Century has to do with our national experience of the 20th Century. War has grown more vicious with technological change, and Americans haven't experienced it first hand the way much of the rest of the world has. Even with a war as horrible as the American Civil War, the carnage was largely confined to the men at arms. In modern war, civilian losses have grown worse at a terrible rate. The improvements in airplane technology between World War I and World War II and Hitler's vicious disregard for human life brought civilians onto the front lines. The Allies, first horrified by the idea, felt they had no choice but to emulate that which only months earlier they had considered a monstrous evil and bomb civilian targets.

Americans don't know war. Most of the rest of the world knows war isn't just something you send your brave boys off to fight, knowing that some will not come back. Some will argue that we saw modern war when Pearl Harbor was attacked and on September 11, 2001 when buildings fell in New York and Washington, D.C. Let me say respectfully that two bad days in sixty years isn't war. If you are unsure of this, ask the people of London. Ask the people of Dresden. Ask in Tokyo or the city that was known as Stalingrad, or Hanoi or Phnom Penh or Nanking. Some of the people who saw modern war are very old now. You can be sure they haven't forgotten.

We now face terrorism. But even that threat isn't like what other countries have faced. We really don't live side by side with the people who hate us. It isn't like the Brits and the Irish, the Spanish and the Basques, the Israelis and the Palestinians, the Turks and the Kurds.

American exceptionalism is a disease that will take a long time to cure. Some will consider it inappropriate to rail against it on the day when we are supposed to honor our own that fell in battle. But until we truly spare a thought and a prayer for those innocents who fell because of our bombs and bullets, we will continue to be the greatest force that stands against peace in this world.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

More tempered optimism.

I've been reading Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine off and on for several weeks, usually only reading it while commuting on BART, sometimes forgetting to bring it and reading the paper instead. Those of you who have read it know it is not a cheerful book. The globalization movement of the past four decades has happened in country after country often after great trauma occurs, sometimes natural disasters, sometimes violent coups, sometimes government edicts causing riots that are then viciously put down. It's not often brought up that the Tiananmen Square protests and subsequent massacres were brought about not because the Chinese were rebelling against decades of Marxist rule, but because the so-called Marxists ruling the country had decided to implement the ideas of Milton Friedman, and those economic changes had put huge numbers of people out of work, lowered wages of others and caused a rise in prices of food and other necessities. In so many countries, Friedman's beloved "freedom", the freedom of consumers to be consumers and the freedom of producers to be free of government regulation, cannot stand if workers are free to organize and ask for better treatment. During his lifetime, Friedman was in complete denial that the viciousness of the regimes that implemented his economic ideas had anything to do with those economic ideas. Even clever people can be immensely stupid when it serves their needs.

I have some optimism because I think the next few months and years are going to be like a slow motion train wreck for the economy, and it's the slow motion part that gives me hope. When there is a "crisis", bad laws get passed with little debate. The PATRIOT Act is a clear example of that in this country, and Klein's book gives many other examples both here in the States and around the world. But without crisis, many bad ideas can be shown to be bad ideas and fail to gain traction.

After the 2004 election, George W. Bush bravely claimed that he had political capital, though he had in fact won re-election by a historically slim margin in terms of percentage of popular and electoral vote. His great crusade was to save the Social Security system by privatizing it. He went around the country saying there was a crisis in Social Security. People really didn't buy that trouble that would appear in 2032 or 2046 was a crisis in 2005. More than that, the press did their job and asked experts on both sides of the questions, and it was the experts against Bush's plan that had the trump card. The changes he wanted to implement would NOT fix the problem he railed against. When armed with that question, even the experts who favored the plan had to concede that the system's troubles would not be solved by privatization.

Weeks into this crusade, the White House issued a decree. The new plan was not private Social Security accounts, but personal Social Security accounts. Any reporter using the term "private Social Security accounts" would be showing their blatant partisanship, though Bush and his spokespeople had used the term the day before. Some reporters asked "Would private personal accounts be okay?" No, the answer came back.

Bush, who lies that he governs from the gut and not by polls or focus groups, was clearly making a focus group tested change in course. The thing was, it was the idea itself and not the packaging of the idea that people didn't like. At the time, his personal popularity was over 40%. The polling for this idea was around 25%. Bush the Steadfast, Bush the Brave, Bush the Never Wavering, shut the hell up about this turd of a proposal. Long before Katrina hit and callous incompetence of the man and the men he surrounded himself with was made crystal clear, Bush could see how large his "base" truly was. About a quarter of the country would follow him, even when he was obviously wrong.

I'm optimistic because this base is not a monolith. A recent poll had Bush's popularity in the mid 20% range while the question "Are we heading in the right direction?" got a resounding 85% no vote in a Gallup Poll this month. This means there are people who support Bush who don't like the direction. What do they want? Forced public prayer meetings? Illegal immigrants crucified on telephone poles? I overstate their desires, but the rabidly authoritarian wing of American Christianity and the most vocal of the anti-immigration mob are not very happy with George W. Bush, and they like John Sidney McCain even less.

More than his trouble with his base, McCain bears a striking resemblance to the losers of the past few campaigns. He is a longtime Washington insider, like Bush the Elder, Dole, Gore and Kerry. Like Dole, he looks old and tired when put side by side with his opponent, and also like Dole, his humor, which is sometimes sharp, often looks nasty and petty. Like Dole again, wounds he received in service of his country make him look even older and more tired than his very advanced years should make him look.

Like Kerry, he has a rich bitch of a second wife. While being divorced is not the stigma it once was, having a trophy wife cuts both ways. He aggressively pursued his new wife Cindy about 30 years years ago, while still married to the woman who stayed faithful to him and raised their children while he was in a POW camp. His scummy behavior isn't as fresh or as public as that of Rudy Guiliani, but it's still scummy, and right wingers who believe in the sanctity of marriage may not be forgiving when this topic is put front and center.

I'm not blind to the faults of Obama or the Democrats in general. But the Republicans put up a lot of bluster in 2006, and they got their asses handed to them. Karl Rove boasted that he had the real numbers just before the 2006 mid-terms, and everything was fine. He lied, as usual. The bloom is off the Turd Blossom, and who but John Sidney McCain has decided to hire this clown? Rove's fifteen minutes are completely over, and Team McCain shows all the bright eyed competence of the crew of the Exxon Valdez.

We can win this election. Not Obama, not Clinton, we. We need to work and we need to organize and do everything we can to make a difference. No matter what happens in November, I won't be able to look at myself in the mirror if I stand by and do nothing in a time so clearly pivotal for our country and for the world.

Here endeth the lesson.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Thoughts from a steely eyed optimist.

I have hope we will see a change this electoral season. Yes, I know, Obama has copyrighted "hope" and "change", but that's not the reason I use the words. I have hope because things are bad, but not that bad. It's a tight spot and it's likely to get worse, but it is not a panic just yet, and with luck it will not become one. In recent times like these, Americans have voted for change again and again.

There are some good ideas in the conservative ideology, or at least there were in the conservative ideology as it was represented when my dad was young. The best idea was fiscal responsibility, standing against deficit spending whenever and wherever it arose. In this way, the true opponent of conservatives was not Marx, but Keynes, who said that short term deficits stimulating a sluggish economy were a good idea. What we have today would not be recognized by Keynes as a good idea.

We have long term federal deficits, and the Republicans can now be blamed for them. When Reagan was president, the Republicans said the huge deficits were the fault of Tip O'Neill. When fiscal responsibility made a short-lived comeback under Clinton, the Republicans said the credit belonged to Gingrich. In 2000, the Republicans stole the presidency, and so had complete control of federal spending. And they showed that being thieves and criminals is now encoded in the party's DNA, confident that a Justice Department answerable to George W. Bush would not go after them when they stole. The fiscal irresponsibility of this decade is theirs, and when you bring that up, they say "So?"

So... Duke Cunningham. So... Bob Ney. So, eventually, Tom DeLay. (Just when does his trial start anyway? He had a charge dropped, but there are still others, right?)

More amazingly, they started two wars and did not raise taxes. This is unprecedented not in American history, but in human history. Old men send young men off to die, this is an ancient story. But for those old men to tell the young who live through the war that they will have to pay for the war for years to come, that's a level of chutzpah no one has ever shown before.


The press may not portray it this way, but I believe the people will not need the press to see this. The Republicans are the party of wars they don't know how to finish. They are the party of $4.00 a gallon gas. They are the party of the collapse of the housing market, and turning the bankruptcy laws into house arrest debtor's prisons.

Kanye West, a rapper who has sold a lot of records, may be most famous for saying "George Bush doesn't care about black people." Mike Myers, a veteran of live TV, looked like a deer caught in the headlights. If Myers had even a little wit, he should have said "Kanye, you've got it wrong. George W. Bush doesn't care two craps about anybody." And it's true. He doesn't care if a city in the South is destroyed. He doesn't care if a bridge in Minnesota collapses, something that only used to happen in third world countries. He doesn't care if your home in California burns to the ground.

The new Republican slogan is "You're On Your Own", YOYO for short. People don't want to hear YOYO when hard times hit. I'm optimistic that we are heading towards an economic slowdown similar to the late 1970's and early 1980's, not some Weimar Republic nightmare. Just like Gerald Ford took the heat for the economic troubles, just like Carter and Bush the Elder took the heat, the Republicans, lead by longtime Washington insider John McCain, will also take the heat. I personally believe presidents take too much of the blame and/or credit for the economy, but the public doesn't agree with me.

But beyond that, it's the wars. Wars have to end eventually, unless we want to use Orwell's Nineteen Eighty Four as our blueprint for the future. We have two wars that the Republicans don't know how to end. Political objectives in Afghanistan and Iraq are as elusive as ever, and piling up dead bodies like cordwood isn't changing that. To make matters worse, many people in power, most notably Dick Cheney and not coincidentally John McCain, want war with Iran. For those shaky on geography and recent history, Iran has three times the land and three times the population of Iraq, and its economy has not been under the burden of ten years of sanctions. When George W. Bush listed his Axis of Evil™, North Korea, Iran and Iraq, he decided, like the coward he has been all his life, to go to war with the weakest of those three. And he couldn't even win that fixed fight.

This is the Republican party these days. Their best option is to frighten people with stories of their daughters mowed down by scary black people with Uzis, while their sons are sodomized by married homosexual couples and made to swear oaths on the Koran. But the fear of this imaginary future is being drowned out by an increasingly difficult present, brought to you in large part by Republican policy.

I'm optimistic that the American public is going to say, as they did with Ford, as they did with Carter, and they did with Bush the Elder, these people have to go.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Hypothetical question asker... breaking up the band?!?

Hey, everybody, how ya doin'? You know me, right? Hypothetical question asker?

So lately I've been thinkin'... why don't I start my own blog?

I mean, really... who runs this blog? This guy? What, you think he's oh so clever and he only acts like a doofus now and then?

You call that acting?

I could do this, right? Isn't it obvious that I'm the glue that holds this thing together? All I gotta do is ask a few questions and everything will start rolling, right?



So why isn't anybody answering my questions?



So maybe I haven't thought this all the way through?


Hey, Matty Boy! It's a Friday, isn't it? Don't you have a Random 10 or something?


Yes, I do, hypothetical, thanks for asking. Glad to see you're still on the team.

That Old Black Magic Louis Prima & Keely Smith
Biology Joe Jackson
Reconsider Baby Eric Clapton
Gia Il Sole Dal Gange Cecilia Bartoli
My Lover’s Prayer Otis Redding
Where’s My Everything? Nick Lowe
The Big Picture The Wonders of Science
Out Come The Freaks Was (Not Was)
Real Men Joe Jackson
Done Somebody Wrong Elmore James

This one jumps around a lot, but if there's a theme, it's the under-appreciated acts from the 1980s, which has to include Joe Jackson, a really terrific songwriter. We also have Nick Lowe and Was (Not Was) that can be included in the category, and The Wonders Of Science, if I do say so myself. The single we recorded, The Big Picture w/My Only Desire, was definitely the most polished stuff we ever put on vinyl.

The second theme in this ten is responsible blues singing! Yes, both Eric Clapton and Elmore James put forward the hypothesis that all the hard luck and trouble they have seen all their born days might have something to do with less than wise decisions they themselves have made.

Who'da thunk?

Good question, hypothetical! Who'da indeed!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

My condolences, for what they are worth.

On the Huffington Post this week, Alan Alda wrote about beauty. Older, wiser, more famous than I am, probably a better writer, too, Alan Alda wrote that if it doesn't make you stop in your tracks, it may be pretty, but it's not beauty.

For me, Natascha McElhone is beauty. In The Truman Show, when she smiled at Jim Carrey, I wished with all my heart that she was smiling at me.

The news this week is that Ms. McElhone is pregnant and working in California, while yesterday, her husband died in London.

There are three sorrows I can't imagine. Losing a baby. Losing a mother during childbirth. Losing a husband while pregnant.

Often, when I post pictures of pretty girls, I make silly comments somewhere in between my emotional age of a schoolboy and my chronological age of a dirty old man.

Today, I offer my condolences, as someone who knows he can't imagine what it's like.

Twelve deep at every position.

There are a lot of TV shows I love. Due in no small part to HBO, I think that the best TV shows of the past ten years compare favorably to the best films of the era. As much as I love The Sopranos and Deadwood, I have no trouble choosing the best series on TV of this decade, which means the best series of all time.

The Wire is the best show ever put on television.

There were several seasons when the Emmys ignored The Wire. I think the show confused them. Though it was put directly to film, it might be more instructive to think of the series as five novels, and in that form it could also be listed as the best series of novels in all of American literature.

The police are in every story, but the five novels would be the stories about the drug trade, the docks, politics, the school system and journalism. The greatness of The Wire is the number of vivid characters every story has. As I said in the title of this post, every story is twelve deep at least. Take the drug world. If we were listing the most important characters, the list would fairly start with Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell. It would make sense to include members of their crew, most especially Avon's nephew D'Angelo, and Bodie, who started out working for D'Angelo. The Barksdale's young competitor Marlow Stansfield also deserves a position at the top of the list. But if that's the top five, what about Proposition Joe, Bubbles, Cutty, Wee-Bay, Cheese and Wallace? What about Brianna Barksdale, sister to Avon and mother to D'Angelo? These are all rich and vivid major characters.

I made the list intentionally leaving out these two individuals, Omar Little and Brother Mouzzon. Omar makes his living robbing drug dealers. Brother Mouzzon is a quiet and well spoken assassin from New York who dresses like a Black Muslim and speaks like a college professor. Their scenes together at first start as confrontations, and later become collaborations. They are both fascinating and terrifying, and like so many others, brilliantly well written. Though they are violent characters, they both live by a code, and the show makes it clear that they are supposed to be compared to gunslingers from westerns. Omar takes pride that he never pointed his gun at a citizen, which is to say someone who is not in the drug trade. As a hired killer, Brother Mouzzon is a little less pure, but he is still a man of honor. As scary as these guys are, they are not the scariest characters on the show.

Chris and Snoop are the scariest characters on the show. They may be the scariest characters ever put on film.

The show is not everyone's cup of tea. My mom tried to watch, but was put off by the obscenities and the violence. The Wire certainly has plenty of both. But for great dialog, great storytelling and great acting, the show is hard if not impossible to beat.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Making the lolz, 'cos that's how I roll.

Blog buddy Pissed Off Patricia, a.k.a PoP, proprietress of Morning Martini and caretaker of internet superstar Fred The Cat, posted a picture of a box turtle who got stuck in a food bowl in her back yard recently. In the comments, I wrote "We need a lolz for this." And now we have one.

Since PoP says this happened because the turtle was startled, it is not a bad lolz, posed at a critter's expense, though Mr. Turtle might have some problems with the concept of We're not laughing at you, we're laughing with you, as he didn't find this particularly amusing.

Personally, I think it's comedy gold.

Wednesday Math, Vol. 24: NP complete

A lesson to recall from yesterday's post. In math, finite doesn't mean small. There is a finite number to compare the size of a galaxy to the size of a storm, but it's ginormous.

Today I am going to give as non-technical a description as possible of the idea from computer science known as NP-complete. These are a bunch of problems that are related to one another, but no one has found a "nice" algorithm for any of them. The cool thing is that if anybody can find a "nice" solution for one of them, it can be turned into a "nice" solution for all of them. (I'm going to take the quotation marks off of nice for the rest of the post, hoping it won't run away. Recall that finite can be ginormous, which isn't nice. Nice means finite and of reasonable size, or at least reasonable for a computer.)

In computerese, an algorithm is a method. Like any mathematical word, there is more to algorithm than a single sentence comparing it to another better known word. The method has to guarantee stuff, like that it will always give the right answer and it will always take a finite number of steps and a finite amount of time.

The difference between problem and instance. A problem is a general thing, like giving map instructions. An instance is a specific example. Google maps or Mapquest are algorithms for solving the problem of giving directions. Any particular set of directions you get from them to get to grandma's house is an instance of the problem. (By the way, map instructions is an "easy" algorithm that has nice solutions.)

NP complete problems are "hard" problems that are related. A lot of different problems are in the category called NP-complete. The way they are related is that you can take any instance of one problem and translate it into an instance of another problem in a nice amount of time, and translating it back is also possible in a nice amount of time. It's been proven that both Tetris and Minesweeper are NP-complete problems. How can you possibly turn a game of Tetris into a game of Minesweeper?

I say this with love, hypothetical question asker. Don't ask.

But the whole idea is that if any NP-complete problem gets solved nicely, they are all solved nicely but the following steps.

Step 1: Translate your NP-complete instance into an instance of the solved problem.
Step 2: Solve the instance.
Step 3: Translate it back.

Hard to solve but easy to grade. It might be difficult to come up with a solution to some instance of an NP-complete problem, but checking to see if that solution is correct can be done in a nice amount of time. Think about multiple choice tests. They can be very challenging, as anyone who has taken the SAT or GRE will attest, but because they are multiple choice, machines can grade them lickety split.

Good growth and bad growth. As instances of problems get larger and more complex, they take longer to solve. Sometimes that "longer" isn't so bad, and fast computers, which can now perform billions of instructions per second (shortened to bips) can tackle even very large instances and finish them in nice amounts of time.

But some problems take amounts of time that grow very fast. If time grows exponentially, for instance doubling every time a new variable is introduced, that would be very bad indeed. Even worse than exponential growth is factorial growth.

Looking at the map above, let's say we wanted to take a round trip that went to all the cities list above in the shortest possible driving distance. There are 21 cities, so there are 20!, pronounced 20 factorial, different routes. 20! = 20 * 19 * 18 * ... * 3 * 2 * 1. It's about two times ten to the eighteenth power.

If we instead put up the 48 state capitals in the contiguous U.S., there are 47! possible routes, which is about two times ten to the fifty-ninth power.

Even bips can't help us.

By the way, the round trip problem is known as The Traveling Salesman Problem, and is one of the classic NP-complete problems.

Matty Boy and the NP-complete. Am I using my mathiness trying to solve the NP-complete? Aw, hellz no! Instead, since we know that great puzzle games like Tetris and Minesweeper are NP-complete, I've been trying off and on for a few years to turn classic NP-complete problems like Subset Sum and 3SAT into fun puzzle games.

I've succeeded into turning them into puzzle games. The fun part is more elusive.

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

You might remember that The Economist magazine predicted that George W. Bush was the best hope the Palestinians had for a two state solution.

I wish the Palestinians better luck than that. No one on this earth deserves George W. Bush as their best hope.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Connected unconnected Tuesdays

Borrowing an idea from friend of the blog Splotchy and a picture sent to me by free lance fact checker and very science-y pal Ken Rose, we have side by side pictures of a galaxy and a storm. Ken thought of me because of the spirals that make up both these shapes. Regular readers might recall I had fun doodling with spirals a while back, and the spirals come from an idea of Archimedes and they are connected mathematically to the Fibonacci numbers.

Okay, Matty Boy, that's a lot of connections for an unconnected Tuesday. What's up with that?

Thanks for asking, hypothetical question asker. The galaxy and the storm, which have undeniably similar shapes, are created by physical forces that are completely dissimilar. In physics, one of the biggest splits between things is the split between closed and open systems. The storm is absolutely an open system, which means it's bringing in energy from other nearby sources. The storm gets energy from the warm water it passes over, and its spinning pattern and general direction is influenced by the rotation of the earth. On the other hand, the galaxy looks to be a closed system. It's out in the middle of nowhere, so all the energy it has is all the energy it has, unless we are missing something big we can't see. (Dark matter?)

I also publish this to have a connection to tomorrow's math post. The connection is that finite doesn't mean small or manageable. A galaxy, as huge as it is, is still finite. The difference in scale between those two side by side pictures is 10 to the 15th power. 10 to the 15th is on the big end of numbers to which we give special names. It's a quadrillion, one thousand times bigger than a trillion, the kind of dollars our government is willing to spend on wars but not on health care. Of course, that's just one dimension, the ratio of the distance across the storm in comparison with the distance across the galaxy. Since the pictures have both height and width, the difference in the surface area is 10 to the 30th power, the square of 10 to the 15th. We don't have a name for 10 to the 30th other than... 10 to the 30th.

This completely ignores that both these things have a thickness. If they have the same ratio when dealing in that dimension, the galaxy is 10 to the 45th power bigger than the storm.

Like I said, really big numbers. But still finite. More on this tomorrow.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Taking from the lolz, adding to the You Tubes

Foolish Paduwan puppy. There is no try. There is nom and there is nom not.

So after hunting around yesterday on the Internets to find out all I could about Ninja Golf, a project I was not involved in, I wanted to see if there was any proof that I ever wrote any games, and sure enough there is. In fact, on The You Tubes someone recorded himself playing Zenji, my personal favorite of all the games I ever worked on. Zenji was the last game of mine that was published where I deserve the credit/blame for everything on the screen, from the graphics to the music to the game design. The idea is that you control the little round face thing, and you roll around the maze and can change it by rotating the maze sections. The goal is to get the entire maze connected. Parts that are connected to the center are green, and parts unconnected are gray.

In later rounds there are little flaming things chasing you around and shooting stuff at you, but you can't shoot back. This is not because of any latent pacifism on my part. It's because there is only one button on the old Atari controller, and pressing the button meant you wanted to twist a maze piece.

Here is The You Tubes version.

The title of the song was Drunken Sailors Remind Me of Home. Probably more people have heard this little tune of mine than all the other songs I wrote put together. I think it works as a video game earworm, and I'm proud of the fact that there are changes in the song that reflect changes in the game.

It's like all thematic and stuff.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Trade secrets... revealed!

Back in the late 1980s, I worked on contract writing my last Atari 2600 game for Atari itself, a forgettable little effort called Double Dunk. Contract programming with Atari was a far cry from the glory days of the early 1980s, and the pay on contract was paltry enough that I wasn't much interested in working with them again. Even though I turned in the project about a month late, Atari said they would be glad to work with me again, as being a month late was significantly more responsible than most of the contractors they were working with at the time. I was invited in for a meeting to discuss further employment.

Before taking the meeting, I was made to sign a contract that I would not reveal the titles they were working on, which Atari considered to be trade secrets. I signed it, though I couldn't imagine what all the secrecy was about. If they had a big deal title in the pipeline, what could it be but a game based on a movie or comic book or other previously produced work? I knew that Atari was notoriously cheap under Jack Tramiel's leadership, but I figured they had scored some coup and wanted to keep it under wraps until it could be made public.

When I wrote that I couldn't imagine what the secrecy was about, this was very literally true.

The big secret was... Ninja Golf.

They were letting me in on the big secret. They wanted to produce a game called Ninja Golf. Was there a design spec? No, there was not. There was a title.

Ninja Golf!

With a title like that, who needs a design spec? The game writes itself, doesn't it? It certainly sells itself, or so the Atari bigwigs at the time believed.

I passed on Ninja Golf. As we can see from the box art I found online, somebody else did not pass on Ninja Golf. I never played the game. I don't know how it sold. If it was only released on the Atari 7800, it couldn't have done very well, because that entire hardware system tanked.

But if I had only been bold! I would be to this very day known as Matty Boy, programmer and designer of... Ninja Golf!

Oh, bitter regret!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Redbelt by David Mamet

So what kind of Adopt an Actor blogger would I be if I didn't mention that my most recent adoptee Chiwetel Ejiofor had a new movie out?

A damn poor adopter, I can tell you that!

Chiwetel's latest film work is Redbelt, written and directed by David Mamet. If the two of them together isn't enough to get you to plunk your money down, I don't know what I can write to change your mind. Many are the Mamet regulars who show up: Joe Mantegna, Ricky Jay, David Paymer, Rebecca Pidgeon, the guy I saw in Glengarry Glen Ross all those years ago who sounds exactly like my Uncle Bill the car salesman.

Yeah, that guy.

The movie is about jiu jitsu. The movie is about purity. The movie is about the twists and turns in a Mamet script. If Chiwetel Ejiofor isn't enough eye candy for you, and I'm a straight male and I have a serious man crush on him, there's also Alice Braga, the niece of Brazilian actress Sonia Braga, and one sweet fine honey in her own right.

You've got the action stuff. You've got the dialog stuff. You've got the plot stuff.

It's all good stuff.

Put on pants. Go. See.

Well, I've booked my next vacation!

A dear friend of mine and obviously one of My People, who shall be referred to here as The Curator, has an extensive collection of old sci-fi and fantasy mags. The idea of giant women being found on tropical isles or in undersea kingdoms or on planets far away shows up a lot on these pages. This is from a story called "Drummers of Daugavo", published in 1943.

Besides being a tropical island filled with girls Just My Size, I'd be tempted to visit just to answer the many mysteries presented by this cover. First, what exactly are those breast plates the girls wear? Given how big they are, they could just be old Studebaker hubcaps bought in bulk and painted up pretty so the ladies don't all feel like they're wearing the same outfit. Second, how come they don't fall off?

So many questions, and no one to 'splain it to me. Oh, bitter irony!

Friday, May 16, 2008

For my sister Karla

Her favorite Sandra Boynton card on her birthday. Many happy returns, honey!


Friday means Random 10!

Lady Marmalade LaBelle
Memphis, Tennessee The Beatles
I Must Be In Love The Rutles
Reet Petite Jackie Wilson
Caldonia Louis Jordan
We Don’t Care Kanye West
Leave Glen Hansard
Share What You’ve Got (But Keep What You Need) William Bell
… Dust Elvis Costello
Lost In The Supermarket The Clash

Well, if you want to get a party started, you hand it off to Miss Patti and she'll get it done. How ever you feel about disco, when she hits the big vibrato on "Creole Lady Marmalaaaaaaaaade!", you are on the dance floor. We have the classic Beatles/Rutles hand off, we go way old school with Jackie and Louis, then a couple of songs from this century to show I'm not a complete old fogey.

But if we are going with the best lyrics in this set, well, The One True Living Elvis is always hard to beat. Here's the bridge from ... Dust.

Here comes the juggernaut
Here come the poisoners
To choke the life and land
And draw the joy from us.
Why do they taste of sugar
When they are made of money?
Here comes the Lamb of God
And the butcher's boy, Sonny.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

...five, six seven, eight!

Busy day.

Not much time.

Shamelessly stolen from I Can Has Cheezburger.

Will return to regularly scheduled programming tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Wednesday Math, Vol. 23: The Monty Hall Problem

I brought up The Monty Hall Problem when discussing the movie 21, and new commenter Matt (no relation) said that not everyone would know how it works. Okay, lemme 'splain.

There are three doors. Randomly placed behind the three doors are a goat, an even uglier goat and a brand new car. You get to pick a door. Once you've chosen, Monty Hall, original host of Let's Make a Deal, opens a door you didn't pick to reveal a goat. (Since you've only chosen one thing and there are two goats, he will always be able to do this.) He then asks you if you want to change your choice to the other unrevealed door. Should you stay with your original choice or should you switch? Does it make any difference?

The answer is you should switch, and it does make a difference. Let me illustrate by changing the rules a little, but actually keeping the probabilities the same.

Now the game has two players, you and Alice the Snorg Girl. For reasons that are unclear to you, Monty seems to favor one of you over the other.

Okay, I lied. The reasons aren't unclear. Monty Hall is an old dirty bastid.

You get to choose a door and Alice gets both of the remaining choices.

So one third of the time, here's how things are handed out.

You: new car.
Alice: two goats.

But two thirds of the time, it goes like this.

You: goat
Alice: a goat and a car.

More than that, Monty favors Alice so much, he offers her one free policy of goat insurance. Since she gets two things and at least one of them must be a goat, he will take one goat off her hands, no charge. So now the situation is like this.

One third of the time.
You: new car.
Alice: goat.

Two thirds of the time.
You: goat
Alice: new car.

You complain to Monty Hall that this is unfair. He feigns ignorance and astonishment. Do you want to trade places with Alice the Snorg Girl, he asks? If he asks, say yes! (Obviously, in this game, he wouldn't ask. He's still trying to get into her good graces, if I may use a Dr. Zaius approved euphemism.)

So this is The Monty Hall Problem in a nutshell. It was made famous - or at least famous for a math problem - several years ago when it was published in the Ask Marilyn column in Parade magazine, and some mathematicians from some pretty good schools argued incorrectly against her solution. She used this to prove that she was smarter than mathematicians. I think she just didn't do a very good job of 'splainin' the first time through.

Hope this helps.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Stop me if you've heard this one.

So after nearly seven years of Republican rule, resulting in two unending wars, a major U.S. city in ruins, the most devastating terrorist attack in our history and an economy in seriously bad shape, the Democrats decided on the candidate that best exemplified change. What can the Republicans do when faced with such an electorate, who are answering the "going in the wrong direction" polling question in numbers not seen since the last year of Daddy Bush's administration?

Why, they can offer "the change you deserve."

Yes, the Republicans are the party of change... from the Republicans!

But just when they can't look any stupider, it turns out the slogan they want to run on is already being used by an anti-depressant called Effexor! Does this mean the GOP will have to include the list of side effects for their product as well?

The result of your vote for a Republican may include economic slowdown, rising energy and food costs, scandals involving closeted homosexuals, loss of reproductive freedom for women, more wars we have no idea how to finish, shrinking prestige in the world, a debauched currency, religious intolerance as government policy, continued shame from the pronouncements of a dullard chief executive and anal leakage.

Okay, I admit I threw in that last one, just in case somebody was still on the fence.

Because the last thing you want to hear if you are on a fence is "anal leakage".

Why free market fetishists are wrong.

As a Californian, my heart goes out to the people in China who have just been hit with a huge and deadly earthquake. One way to look at the situation is to say California has been lucky for about a century. The last quake in a populated area we've had that matched the size of yesterday's Chinese quake was San Francisco in 1906. But the numbers don't lie. When a quake over 7.0 hits in other countries, the death tolls will be in the tens of thousands. In California, the death toll will be in the tens or maybe the hundreds.

This picture tells the difference. Concrete with rebar. In California, we build to code and the codes have gotten tougher over the years. The major death scene in the 1989 Loma Prieta quake happened 60 miles from the epicenter where a stretch of double decker freeway built in the 1950s collapsed. If not for people leaving work early to watch the World Series, there could have been bumper to bumper gridlock on that stretch of freeway and the death toll could have been in the hundreds instead of an official count of 67, but it wouldn't have jumped to the thousands.

We have some free market fetishists in California. I know. One of my sisters was married to one for a while. One of them was governor for a while and then became president. But they are idiots. Ronald Reagan had a famous quote that the worst sentence anyone could ever hear was "We are from the government and we are here to help." Oh, how the conservatives love that one. Witty old Ronnie, the Great Communicator!

I'd like to shove a few hundred volts into his lifeless corpse, bring it back to the living long enough to say this. "Building inspectors, you stupid turd! Those pointy headed bureaucrats have saved thousands of lives and millions if not billions of dollars damage in the state where you were governor. They're from the government! They helped!"

It's not that God loves us more than the Chinese or the Armenians or the Iranians, unless that infinite love was sent in the form of building inspectors. It makes more sense to take the rational view and accept that the government has a vital role in a healthy economy and the free market is not the solution to every problem.

Go forth. Make sure the people hear the good news.

Monday, May 12, 2008

If you really care about this guy...

You can't vote for him for president. The job will kill him.

I'm much more a 'splainer than a predictor, but John McCain is 72 years old now. The oldest president we ever had at his first inauguration was Ronald Reagan at 69. Some may want to canonize him now, but he was showing signs of senile dementia long before he was officially diagnosed. Margaret Thatcher wrote that his need for having things written on 3x5 cards was pathetic. His defense for Iran-Contra was that he was an old man who forgot stuff.

Second oldest president at inauguration was William Henry Harrison at 68. He died within weeks of inauguration.

Third is 65 year old James Buchanan, the president before Lincoln. Historians agree he was worse than useless.

There were two presidents who were 64 at their inauguration. Zachary Taylor died a year into his term. The other 64 year old was George Herbert Walker Bush. To be fair, the problems he had did not have much to do with age.

But McCain is eight years older than Bush the Elder was when he took office, and as Indiana Jones cleverly said, "It's not the years, it's the mileage." McCain is not just 72 years old. Six of those years were spent malnourished and tortured. See his victory salute in the picture above? That's about as high as he can raise his arms. Physically, he's in a world of hurt. As for his famous temper, that is a symptom of post traumatic stress disorder. Of all the slurs thrown at him by Bush and his team in 2000, the one that rings true is that six years in a prison camp have made him too unstable to be president.

I do not say this to mock his service. War is hell, and being held prisoner by a country that doesn't uphold the Geneva Conventions is among the worst hells imaginable. It would be nice if we could convince Dick Cheney and the people who work for him of this fact, but obviously we can't. The saddest fact of all about McCain 2008 is that he supports our country committing torture on prisoners. If anyone ever walked away more ignominiously from a principled stand, I can't think of who it would be. Even Peter denying Jesus three times did it under fear of death. What does McCain fear as he agrees to put other men in the torture chair? Not getting elected? Losing campaign donations?


There was a time after September 11 when I thought of all the people who ran in 2000, McCain would have been the best choice for the job in those circumstances. My friends, that day has come and gone. McCain 2008 has about as much in common with McCain 2000 as Godfather III has in common with the first two films.

Now he's just sad. To his credit, he's the tallest of the midgets the Republicans put up this time around, but that's really not good enough. We can't let him be president. If it doesn't kill him, it will kill us.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day.

My sister Karla has asked that I make a post apropos of Mother's Day. Here is a picture of the Hubbard clan from a mere 40 years ago. All the females in the picture, my older sister Kim, baby Jennifer on my mom's lap and Karla on my dad's lap, are also in the set of folks who get honored on this Sunday. Michael and Karla and I got together with mom yesterday at her place in Alameda, and it was great to see everybody. Lots of laughs and good conversation and food.

Happy Mother's Day to all!

p.s. We were usually happier than this. My dad has a smile on his face, but the rest of us look very serious indeed.

Adopting another Actor: Chiwetel Ejiofor

Matty Boy! Didn't you already adopt an actor of African descent, brilliantly understated, excellent in film and on stage, good looking and versatile?

Why yes I did, hypothetical question asker. Is there some official limit?

This very good looking young man is Chiwetel Ejiofor. The pronounciation is Chew-it-ell Edge-ee-o-for, though I have also seen his last name phonetically written as Edge-o-for. He is now being called Britian's First Black Movie Star, but I'm not sure that's accurate. He is usually part of an ensemble cast instead of the lead. He was the quiet and brilliantly scary bad guy in Joss Whedon's Serenity. He was one of the revolutionary group leaders in Children of Men. He was also in Love Actually, Kinky Boots, Amistad, Inside Man and Dirty Pretty Things.

I made the decision to adopt him after reading about his stage work, which has been in New York and London, so I haven't actually seen it. He was in The Seagull in London as Trigorin and it was a huge success, both financially and critically. In New York, he played the lead in Othello, and critic John Lahr gave him a glowing review in The New Yorker. If I may translate the review into lolz, it would go something like this.

All the other Othellos.
Ur doin' it rong.

So I officially put a third actor on the Lotsa 'Splainin' adopt an actor squad. I do so with the premise that if somebody is going to be The Best Actor Of His Generation, we the general public should be able to pronounce his name.

It's Chew-it-ell Edge-ee-o-for. Some websites say his nickname is Chewy, but in interviews he says he doesn't like that. Chew-it-ell it is. Or Mr. Edge-ee-o-for, since we haven't been properly introduced.

And admit it, Matty Boy! Don't you have a man crush on him?

Okay, hypothetical. You're right. I gots the man crush. Little bit.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Walkin' to the movies and walkin' right out again

Living in Oakland near Lake Merritt, there are a lot of cool places in my neighborhood in walking distance. There's the Oakland Museum and a lot of good Asian restaurants, mainly Chinese and Vietnamese, and there's the Parkway Theater. The Parkway plays movies that have been out for a few weeks, but only charges $7 to get in the door and has food and beverages available. You can get pub food and beer and wine while you watch the movies, and for the one price, you get to see two movies if that's what you want. Last Sunday, I decided to see 21, the new movie about the M.I.T. Blackjack Team. I had already seen semi-documentaries about them on TV, so I knew some of the story going in. But less than an hour in, I was hatin' on the movie so bad, I had to walk out.

Lemme 'splain why.

Hatin' on the math and hatin' on the script. Let me list all the playwrights in English today who can write a good sentence about higher mathematics.

Tom Stoppard.

After that, I'm drawing a blank.

Jim Sturgess, who was really good in Across The Universe, plays the hero, the poor kid who is really good at math but wants to go to medical school and can't afford it. (First note to screenwriters: most medical professionals suck at math. This kid would be aiming at math in grad school, or getting in at Google or trying his hand at a start-up.) Somehow he has to impress his math professor, played by Kevin Spacey. I kind of liked that the script let Spacey play the character as cool, but in so many parts he has played recently, Spacey doesn't seem to have any more notes in his repertory other than cool, and it felt like he was phoning it in.

The first thing Sturgess' character does to impress the prof is note that Newton's Method, which most mathematicians now call the Newton-Raphson Method, should be just called Raphson's Method. Spacey is slightly impressed. To confirm that this kid has the goods, he asks him "The Game Show Host Problem". In reality, this is called "The Monty Hall Problem", but the writers didn't call it that. Maybe Monty Hall wanted some royalties for the use of his name. I suspect that as it was being written, someone brought up that the young target audience for this movie wouldn't know who the hell Monty Hall is or was.

In any case, a student at M.I.T. can impress his professor by knowing the answer to the Monty Hall problem. Maybe that's what's wrong with education today! The professors and students at the top universities are in fact bone crushingly stupid! This problem is actually well known to mathematicians and nearly anyone in that room in real life could have correctly answered the question.

Hatin' on the instant lust object. This is a not uncommon situation in movies. Some woman is shown on the screen, and we are supposed to accept that the males who gaze upon her are immediately in lust. She hasn't done anything, she hasn't spoken a line, but instant lust is supposed to be the reaction. In this movie, Jim Sturgess and his nerd friends are supposed to feel this way about Kate Bosworth. Don't get me wrong, Kate Bosworth is pretty enough, though I've heard that recently she is now at Callista Flockhart/Lara Flynn Boyle/Dear God, somebody give that girl a sandwich weight, and I don't consider that pretty at all. She didn't look that skinny in the film. But for the instant lust object, she's not at the peak. While your mileage may vary, Ursula Andress in the white bikini with the knife on her hip, rising out of the sea in Doctor No is still the iconic standard for instant lust object, the unattainable woman that keeps the plot moving along.

Well, I should say unattainable for mere mortals. She will just be another notch on the gun clip if your name is Bond.

James Bond.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Why the New York Times no longer matters.

Some say it was Jayson Blair. Some say it was Judith Miller. Some say it was when the Bush administration was able to bully them into spiking the story about the secret prisons the U.S. was running in foreign countries during the presidential election year, only running after Bush and Cheney were able to hold onto power for another four miserable years. Still others think it was when they hired William Kristol.

But here's Matty Boy, happy to 'splain to you why the New York Times no longer matters. Famed home wrecker Judy Guiliani was seen in public for the first time since her louse of a husband, "America's Mayor" Rudy Guiliani took a bundle of cash, ran for president and got completely drubbed because even Republicans can see he's a loser of a candidate.

Guess who else was there? Queen of all Gigantic Child Brides Elizabeth Kucinich. You know, the woman whose husband STILL HAS A JOB! But the Times went with the "brave Judy back in the saddle" story.

The Times pretty much hates bloggers. We bloggers rarely have many kind words for them, either. But if these are their instincts as to what passes for news, bloggers are going to continue to beat them at their own game.

Just sayin'.

I givez Proust a cookie, but he eated it.

Yay, Flags of Many Lands!

Super yay, Madagascar!

Not only is Madagascar almost exactly halfway around the world from Northern California, but just seeing I got a visitor from that exotic isle has put me in a reverie not unlike Proust eating a madeline that makes him remember his childhood in vivid detail.

Don't worry, I'm not gonna write a seven volume novel.

When Matty Boy actually was a boy, he l-u-u-u-u-u-ved the animules! Exotic crazy animules were Matty Boy's favorite tings. Sure, he luvved the dinosaurs, who didn't? But also the exotic living animules and the exotic recently extinct animules, all kinds. The LIFE Nature Library and LIFE Science Library books were full of these kinds of pictures, and he spent many a happy hour sitting in a rocking chair, looking at the pictures and reading the text about creatures from far away places. There were three places in particular that had the most exotic creatures to his young Matty Boy mind.

Australia. The Galápagos Islands. Madagascar.

The little guy in the picture staring out at you... staring into your immortal soul... staring... staring... Wait a second, where was I? Oh yeah, the little guy with the big eyes is a tarsier, native only to Madagascar. He is a small lemur, an infraorder of primates found exclusively in Madagascar and some smaller surrounding islands. I have foolishly put a caption over his super long spider like fingers. I suppose the tarsier should have haunted my dreams when I was a kid, but I got it into my mind that he was friendly, though in fact the species is notoriously shy.

I used to think when I was a kid that creatures described as "notoriously shy" just hadn't met the right kind of people yet. Nobody brought them a cookie, for example.

Besides the odd looking creatures, I also loved the big creatures. In a story reminiscent of the dodo, once found on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius but now extinct, Madagascar had a creature called the elephant bird, a twelve foot tall ostrich that still roamed the earth as recently as the 16th Century. Likewise, there was a supersized ostrich like critter called the moa that lived in New Zealand, that was still around when humans first got to the island.

Edgar Rice Burroughs and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle aren't around to speak for themselves, but I have to think that stories of explorers finding wonderful creatures in strange lands were the inspirations for adventures like John Carter Warlord of Mars and The Lost World.

In my own case, I also thought it possible that some exotic unknown island might be home to a race of giant amazon warriors, but those are smutty thotz for another time.

Friday is Random 10!

While I have already blogged about my wonderful evening at the symphony last Saturday night, and Sfmike has also posted pictures and his thoughts on the events of the evening as well, this was not the only cultural highlight from a week ago.

On Friday, I went bowling!

Actually, it was a get together thrown by the digital art school I work at, where the company rented ten lanes, which they lit in odd ways, with a smoke machine and a TV playing videos from songs almost exclusively from the seventies.

They must think we are really old.

Oh, wait. Some of us are.

In any case, this evening of songs, most of which I could do without, included ABBA's Waterloo, which is a great example of using the triplet to get a driving beat. (BaDUM, BaDUM, BaDUMPA.) It also contains the deathless lyric "That history book on the shelf/ It keeps on repeating itself."

I thought to myself, I have no ABBA songs on my iTunes.

That shortcoming has now been remedied. And from that non-random starting point, we get the Random 10.

Waterloo (English version) ABBA
Eleanor Rigby The Beatles
Sound And Vision David Bowie
Fingertips (Part II) Little Stevie Wonder
As Always You Were Wrong Again UB40
Strange Ones Supergrass
I’ve Got A Feeling I’m Falling Fats Waller
La Bayamesa Buena Vista Social Club
Missionary Man Eurythmics
One Life To Live Teresa Stratas

Lots of great stuff here. Fingertips (Part II) is GIANT! That huge band blaring out behind Little Stevie playing his harmonica, singing in his pre-adolescent voice, the song sounds like it's over and then BAM! He completely crushed that audience, and because it's a live recording, we are part of that audience even today, ready to be crushed all over again.

Everybody say YEAH!

p.s. This is my 500th post. Yay, milestones!