Thursday, September 30, 2010

I have seen the future!

Way back in mid April, my baby blog It's News 2 Them had a single day when viewership surpassed this blog's viewership. While some people visited the front page, a lot of people came looking for news while googling "Paula Deen Divorce".

It was one of those lying headlines the tabloids love so much. Paula and her latest husband's adult daughter didn't get along, but that's been sorted out.

This week for the first time, the viewership for the entire week at the baby blog will surpass the viewership here. The viewership is doing about as well as it ever has, but the other blog just done blowed up.

What did people want?

Glad you asked, hypothetical question asker.

Or maybe I'm not glad you asked. People wanted pictures of Mariah Carey's very fat butt.

I like odd stuff, so I'm not in a position to judge.

Okay, I lied. I may not be in a position, but I judge anyway.


But that was earlier in the week. Now people are flocking to the other blog for pictures of Cybill Shepherd when she was young and oh so supa foine.

Yes, I judge, and this I judge to be understandable.

I have seen the future, and the day will come when The Other Blog will be The Big Blog and this will only be My First Blog.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wednesday Math, Vol. 129: The trouble with trigonometry

Here's the thing about trig. With a tiny amount of information, you can figure out a whole passel of stuff. Let's assume that this is the unit circle, which means it all the points where
² + y² = 1. The x coordinate is the cosine of the angle and the y coordinate is the sine. There are four other trig functions, but once you've got sine and cosine, they can be derived as follows.

tangent = sine/cosine
cotangent = cosine/sine
secant = 1/cosine
cosecant = 1/sine.

If I give you anyone of these values and I tell you what quadrant the angle is in, you can find all the rest of the values. That means two pieces of information gives you five more.

Except, not really. Two pieces of information gives you forty seven more. Here's why.

I've marked eight angles in the picture, a and seven more that have some symmetrical relation to a. If we say the values at angle a are (x, y), then we also know the values at the other seven points.

a °-> (x, y)
(90 - a)°-> (y, x)
(90 + a)°-> (-y, x)
(180 - a)°-> (-x, y)
(180 + a)°-> (-x, -y)
(270 - a)°-> (-y, -x)
(270 + a)°-> (y, -x)
(360 - a)°-> (x, -y)

Confused yet? So are my students. It's a lot of stuff to grasp, but it's that first glimpse into symmetry, the most important concept in mathematics. Just a little information and the assumption of symmetry can unlock so many tricky puzzles if your mind works that way.

I am completely convinced not every mind works that way, and to have a mind that works that way and thinks this is kind of cool... an even smaller set.

The struggle continues.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

George Blanda, 1927-2010

George Blanda has died at the age of 83. He was a quarterback and kicker. When he retired after 26 seasons of football in the 1970s, he held many records, including most points scored and most interceptions thrown. The only record that is still his is most seasons played.

All the stats pale in comparison to what he did in 1970 at the age of 43, coming off the bench in mid-season when Oakland Raiders starting QB Daryle LaMonica was injured. Blanda lead his team to win five games in a row, several in such heroic fashion an author would be considered a hack to invent the tales.

He wasn't written off at the age of 43. He was written off at the age of 33. In 1960, when he left the NFL to join the fledgling AFL, he was considered a has-been. He lead the Houston Oilers to the first two championships in the new league, but in the mid 1960s, they gave up on him and the Raiders picked up his contract for the waiver price of $100. Everybody agreed he was still a reliable place-kicker, but his arm wasn't as strong and he had slowed down considerably. In 1970 when the call came, Blanda wasn't just older than everyone on the team, he was nine years older than head coach John Madden and two years older than the owner Al Davis.

He won games with his arm. He won them as a kicker. LaMonica returned from his injury, but Madden put Blanda in the game late to run the two minute offense. This is nearly unprecedented in football. When a QB is replaced late in a game, it is a strong vote of no confidence and the man replaced might as well asked to be traded. It wasn't lack of faith in LaMonica, but a crazy faith that gripped the entire Bay Area sports scene that we were seeing something no one had seen before and no one might ever see again. My dad is not a sports watcher, but he told me to tell him when Blanda entered the game. For those five weeks, Blanda never disappointed. He was a miracle worker.

The story does not end with final glory. On January 3, 1971, the Bay Area fans who had seen such promise in the entire 1970 season were hit with the Raiders losing to the Colts and the 49ers losing to the Cowboys. Neither team played for the Super Bowl that year, but that in no way diminishes what George Blanda's name means in the pantheon of Bay Area sports heroes.

A lot of great players have been quarterback for the Raiders and 49ers. Frankie Albert, Y.A. Tittle, Daryle LaMonica, John Brodie, Ken Stabler, Jim Plunkett, Joe Montana, Steve Young. Some held the Super Bowl trophy over their heads, Montana four times. But there's a special place for George Blanda in our hearts that is about so much more than just championships. We saw something when he was on the field that no one had seen before or since. We will likely never see his kind again.

Best wishes to the family and friends of George Blanda, from a fan.

Monday, September 27, 2010

This is how the Internets work.

The Internets work like this. Some big shot like Paul Krugman finds something cute on a well-attended website like Kung Fu Monkey.

Someone e-mails it to me and I decide to quote it as well on my nowhere near as popular website. This is known as "going viral".

And now that I have 'splained the process, here is the quote.

-- There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

I love this joke structure, even though I've seen it a jillion times.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

You learn something new every day, if you aren't careful.

I can't say I learn much doing the research for the other blog, It's News 2 Them, since I don't believe most of what I read. When a good chunk of the stories in the supermarket rags are denied by all parties involved, I don't have the resources to find out who is telling the truth and who is just making stuff up.

But the usually unreliable Globe told a story this week, and it had several facts I was not aware of, as well as several I already did know. Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine were sisters, and both were Oscar winners. Their feud back in the day was well documented.

That's the stuff I knew.

Did you know both of them are still alive? Yes, Olivia just turned 94 and Joan is 92 and THEY STILL HATE EACH OTHER'S GUTS!

I checked all this stuff. Still alive and the feud is still on as of two years ago, reported by an honest to Lenny real newspaper in the U.K., the Independent.

While it doesn't show all the maturity in the world, you have to give them points for perseverance.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Random 10, 9/24/10

Red Rain Peter Gabriel
All I Have To Do Is Dream The Everly Brothers
Sound and Vision David Bowie
Waiting In Vain Bob Marley and the Wailers
When I Paint My Masterpiece The Band
Tired Of Waiting The Kinks
Valse #3 Op. 70 (Chopin) Claudio Arrau
I Almost Had A Weakness Elvis Costello and the Brodsky Quartet
Tomorrow Never Knows The Beatles
Ask The Lonely The Four Tops

Tunes from the computer of an old person. The newest song, the one where the one true living Elvis sings with a string quartet, was recorded seventeen years ago.

Not a bad list, some nice mix and match, just not very surprising for my money.

Watchoo list'nin' to?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Lazy blogging Thursday.
Wait, what day is it?

What? Is it Caturday already?

No, it's Thursday. It says so in the title of the post and it says so on my calendar.

Wait! This isn't the Cat In The Bag blog! Okay, now I'm confused.

Okay, a lolz! This must be Lotsa 'Splainin' 2 Do!

Sure it is. It says so in the title at the top!

Sheesh. I'm glad we cleared that up.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wednesday Math, Vol. 128: Maybe N = NP after all...

A few episodes back in Wednesday Math, I reported on a soon to be published proof that was supposed to answer once and for all whether the problems in the set P had any overlap with the seemingly tougher problems in the set NP. Vinay Deolalaikar said he had proved they had no overlap, but his proof was found to have a few glitches in it.

I hope he didn't start spending the million dollar prize he would have pocketed if his work had been right, because that would be embarrassing.

The search continues.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

What happened to that crazy girl Sinead O'Connor?

Eighteen years ago, Sinead O'Connor was famous for being pretty and bald headed and singing a song written by Prince. Then she went on Saturday Night Live, sang the song War by Bob Marley a cappella, then said we had to fight the real enemy and tore up a picture of the pope.

She was reviled. How was the pope the real enemy? She was dismissed as some sort of lunatic.

This is what she has to say today. She had a point then, she has a point now. Different pope, same hierarchy, same problem.

Not a lunatic, but a survivor of a nasty system that has still not seen the complete light of day.

I wish her Godspeed.

Monday, September 20, 2010

I did it for the money. I did it for a woman.
I didn't get the money and I didn't get the woman.

I've been watching a lot of film noir on Netflix recently. Mostly movies I've never seen before. Mixed results.

The Asphalt Jungle had its moments. The Killing was early Kubrick, and he got a lot better later.

Kiss Me Deadly flat out stunk. Seriously, avoid this film at all costs.

So I decided to go back to a movie I'd seen before that is definitely film noir, Double Indemnity. Was it as good as I remembered? Was it really a classic?

Yes and yes.

People like to say no movie is as good as the book. Double Indemnity the movie is better than Double Indemnity the book. James M. Cain wrote the book as a serialized story in Liberty magazine. Cain was good at plot, but dialog, not so much. The movie is written by Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler. They kept most of his plot, except where they improved it, and they wrote some of the best dialog in movie history. People say they hated each other, but on the printed page, it was a match made in heaven.

And then there's the cast. Nobody wanted to be in this movie. There was fear of being typecast as a villain. Think about it. Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck plays murderous adulterers and we are supposed to be pulling for them. Billy Wilder always wanted Stanwyck to play Phyllis, but MacMurray had to be persuaded after several other actors turned the role down. That he could be so damned good at playing a heel was a complete surprise. Except for this, The Caine Mutiny and The Apartment, both of which come later, most of his career is in light comedies with B movie budgets.

MacMurray gets the lion's share of the screen time and he's brilliant. I was listening to the commentary tracks on the DVD and some of the people said Double Indemnity is the first film noir. I'm not so sure, because there are some Bogart private eye movies and Hitchcock thrillers that precede this that I say would qualify as noir. But one thing is for sure. There's one line in MacMurray's narration that sums up film noir pretty well.

"I did it for the money. I did it for a woman. I didn't get the money and I didn't get the woman."

And then there's the third lead, Edward G. Robinson as the insurance company investigator who works at the same company as McMurray, who plays a salesman. Robinson was one of the great stars of the gangster films, so he had no qualms about playing villains. In fact, his character is the hero. His problem was he was third bill. He made a tough choice to take smaller roles in good films rather than starring in films with smaller and smaller budgets. It was the right choice. Some of his best remembered films today are roles like this on Double Indemnity, or opposite Orson Welles in The Stranger or Steve McQueen in The Cincinnati Kid. His earlier work is in a broader style of acting, but when a film called for subtlety, Robinson could under play like nobody's business.

If you've never seen Double Indemnity, see it. Yes, he doesn't get the money and he doesn't get the woman, but I promise you, this is hardly a spoiler. The interesting thing is how he doesn't get what he wants.

If you've seen it before, ask yourself how long it's been. If it's been more than five years or you can't exactly remember, give it another try. Movies don't get a lot better than this.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Ellis Jerry Powell for AC Transit Board

I usually don't talk much about my students, current or former. What goes on in the classroom stays in the classroom is my motto.

I'll make an exception in the case of Ellis Jerry Powell, who is running for the AC Transit Board At Large seat against an appointed incumbent who shall remain nameless. Ellis is entering politics for the first time because he cares about public transportation and the effect of budget cuts on the community, especially the cuts in weekend bus service that hit people who work weekends and the people who need the bus to go to church.

If you live in the East Bay and you see his name on your ballot, please put your mark next to it. I applaud Ellis for getting involved in politics at the local level to make sure people have a voice in the services that are important to their lives and livelihood. He has my vote and my support.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

A trip to hell with friends and colleagues.

Tracy Camp teaches math at Laney College. Her mom Ernestine also taught here back in the day as well. She's also a mom. You'd think that would be enough to keep anyone occupied, but you would be wrong.

A few years ago, Tracy caught the acting bug and she has been in many roles in local theater productions, mostly musicals.

Earlier this year, she told me she was in rehearsals for Jerry Springer: The Opera which would be performed at the Victoria Theater down in the Mission District. It's a very ambitious modern piece that was originally produced in London several years back, and it does count as an opera. The only role that isn't sung is Jerry Springer himself, who is relegated to the side of the story in Act One but becomes the clear protagonist in Acts Two and Three, which take place in Purgatory and Hell.

(Photo by Kat Wade, S.F. Chronicle)

When I heard about this, I immediately thought of my blog buddy Mike Strickland, who loves opera from the ancient to the avant garde. This publicity still features Jordan Best as a crack whore, Keith Haddock as Steve the head of security (a very meaty role for operatic spear carrier), and Tracy as Peaches, the long time girlfriend of the fat, bald guy in the background, who in the best tradition of Jerry Springer's guests is constitutionally incapable of keeping it in his pants.

(photo by Mike Strickland)

Steve Hess plays the unfaithful Dwight in Act One and God in Act Three, and Timotio Artusio plays a pre-operative transsexual who is another of Dwight's close personal friends. My friend Mike works as a supernumerary at the San Francisco Opera and has been in several productions with Timotio, who did a wonderful star turn in the upbeat Talk To The Hand in Act One.

As you might expect, your choir group is not the target audience of Jerry Springer The Opera. When I told Tracy I'd be coming to see it, she apologized in advance for all the profanity I'd be hearing.

It was a remarkable evening at theater. You can read Mike's review at Civic Center, where he lavishes praise on the band that played the very challenging music and Jonathan Reisfeld, who played Jerry Springer's warm up man in Act One and Satan is Acts Two and Three. I'd like to also give a shout out to Chris Yorro, who played Montel, the guy who likes to wear diapers in Act One and Jesus in Act Three.

(Photo taken from the Ray of Light Productions cast list)

After the show, Mike remarked that this British opera continues in the tradition of oratorio that has been a hallmark in England since Handel moved from Germany to London. In oratorio, the chorus gets a major role and the cast list shows that many of the chorus members have had much larger roles in their careers. As often happens, there is someone in the chorus I found myself watching more than anyone else, and in this show it was Gregory Marks. Among his other credits, he played The Mysterious Man in Into The Woods and Nicely-Nicely in Guys and Dolls, so this is not his first time stealing scenes.

If you'd like an interesting evening at the theater in San Francisco, it's hard to beat Jerry Springer The Opera. It's long, it's loud, there are times you want to look away but you just can't. Don't be surprised if you find yourself singing "This is your Jerry Springer moment!" for a few days after seeing the show. The cast is filled with strong voices and good acting in an over the top sort of way. But hey, it's the Springer show! What, you were expecting Strindberg?

More than that, the guys from Security walk around the crowd beforehand making sure there aren't any troublemakers. I had a new found level of respect for their work when the show was through.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Random 10, 9/17/10

Fish and Bird Tom Waits
Valse No. 1 Op. 69 (Valse de l'adieu) Claudio Arrau
London Town Spanic Boys
Don't Explain Etta James
I Ain't Got Nothing But The Blues Mose Allison
Done Somebody Wrong Elmore James
Baby's Got A Brand New Hairdo Elvis Costello and the Attractions
I Want You Back Jackson Five
In The Street Big Star
Purple Haze The Jimi Hendrix Experience

This one starts with slow tunes, picks up the beat when we get to Elmore James and ends with three great songs from when I was in high school in the late sixties and early seventies.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Wednesday Math (one day late), Vol. 127: A nice website with a small problem

Okay, there's this website called Maps 'n' Stats, a great source of demographic info for the 50 states and D.C. I particularly like how fine a demographic split they have, so you can see in what states they are breeding like rabbits and in what states they are dying like flies.

For example. Utah. Both Rabbits and Flies. Lots of babies, not so many old people.

So far, so good.

But if we add up all the percentages for Utah's demographics we get 99.2%. In California, the numbers are different, but the sum is also 99.2%. In Texas, the sum is 99.3%.


The website is nice enough to give us the raw numbers, so I plugged the Utah numbers into my spreadsheet to find out why the totals were so far off from 100% and consistently low.

It appears that the nice folks who run never learned about rounding up. All the numbers are simply truncated, so 9.38% is written as 9.3% instead of 9.4%.


As a grateful educator, I hope the folks from that website fix this bug in the near future. It's so easy to get this right.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fires need oxygen.

There's an age old saying in the newspaper business. If it bleeds, it leads. That sensational aspect of the news hasn't changed a tick as TV and the Internet have eclipsed the print media, and in many ways, it probably shouldn't. I was watching TV on Thursday night when the scrolling bulletin announced the fire in San Bruno. It certainly counts as local news and it certainly was a big damn deal. If we aren't lucky, it could happen anywhere there are natural gas lines. I was watching the ball game on NBC and the local affiliate broke in with a picture-in-picture of the flames as seen from far away with a row of trees in the foreground completely dwarfed by the fire as it raged in the first few minutes. Newspaper reports estimated the fireball as being 1,000 feet high. That sounds about right.

There's no point in saying that thousands of people survived the fire in San Bruno. It was felt over several city blocks, but the real headline is that four people died. It was a major disaster and it was man made. It definitely counts as local news and it isn't surprising that it also made the national news.

And then there's this guy. Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church clowns have set the standard for small cults grabbing national headlines by being outrageous, so it was only a matter of time until an even smaller clown college grabbed the front pages and the 24 hour news cable outlets by the short hairs are dragged them around for a few days.

I mean, look at the sign. Is that professional work? Not even close. Were the jackals of the press dumbfounded because this guy correctly spelled "International"? Was it 9/11 that shrunk their brains to the size of their shriveled gonads? Whatever it was, the fire of this guy's ego was fueled by the oxygen of media coverage, and even when some people in the media complained about giving this guy the time of day, still the 24 hour cable news feeds couldn't look away.

Completely pathetic.

I'll admit, the Tea Party movement is news for the same "If it bleeds, it leads" logic. What's the interest in incumbents winning? No, incumbents getting knocked out in primaries is news, and the media is jumping on the story of the fight to see who will drive the bus to Crazy Town.

We have some serious deep fried idiots now running for statewide offices all around this great county of ours, but the two main candidates for Crazy Bus Driver are not on the ballot anywhere yet, Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich. For my money, Gingrich is much scarier than Palin because she is so dim and so venal that I can't believe she'll get off the money tit to get into the real rough and tumble of years of campaign politics. Gingrich has shown he is willing to go for the long haul, and instead of being stupid, he has not one single conviction in his pudgy 67 year old body.

Palin says stupid things and doesn't even attempt to take them to a logical conclusion. Expecting her to do so would be the same as expecting a dog to learn algebra. Gingrich believes he has taken the temperature of his audience and he wants to raise it a few degrees until the fever burns people's brain cells. Does he disagree with Obama? Of course. But he goes so far as to stipulate Obama must be insane to have his world view. He looks to be attempting dog whistle politics in saying Obama's world view is that of his absent father, both Kenyan and anti-Colonial. But dog whistle is supposed to breeze past your political opponents and only be heard by the like minded. There's no whistle here. It's pure contra bassoon and everybody gets what he is trying to say.

He has also made a DVD that says we are in the final struggle with Islam. Again, a twice divorced man who converts to Catholicism shows that principles are for "the little people", but he takes the deeply stupid and unprofitable idea of a holy war and tries to turn it into a campaign centerpiece.

Obviously, he is burning, as is Sarah Palin. But a quick look at the early polls tell us that the vast majority of Republicans aren't buying it. The early leaders in the polls are Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, and Wriggly Newt and Twitter Twit Sarah are trailing badly. I think the Republican voters are starting to think about who can actually win an election, and if there are a few spectacular crashes by the craziest of the Tea Party crowd in November, there is some small chance the press will stop giving these bomb throwers the oxygen they need.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Young people and their cell phones.

Since I still don't have TV, I went to my local bar La Estrellita to watch the first half of the Thursday night NFL opener pitting the Saints and the Vikings. The bar wasn't very full, and I struck up a conversation with a young woman whose left hand never strayed far from her Blackberry. (Not pictured here, but she was young, blonde and attractive.)

When I told her I didn't own a cell phone, she looked at me with a mixture of shock and pity usually reserved for double amputees. Her cell was a vital part of her life. She compared her provider Verizon to a bad boyfriend. Her old contract was almost up, but she upgraded to her Blackberry and now there was still a year and a half left on the new contract. She pays over $200 a month. I asked her about the company that charges a flat $40 a month (turns out that's Metro PCS), but she said she travels a lot and the service wasn't reliable enough.

The thing she said I found the most striking was that if she didn't have a cell phone, she wouldn't know that she had friends. The texts she got and sent during the evening were the proof of her connection to the world.

It was another of those "Jeez, I'm old." moments that have been happening with increasing frequency over the past few years.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Random 10, 9/10/10

10 songs presented without comment.

My Eyes Laurie Anderson
Yakety Yak The Coasters
Alabama Song David Johansen, Ellen Shipley, Ralph Shuckett, Bob Dorough
Behold! The Lord High Executioner Martin Savage & chorus
Dirty Old Town The Pogues
It Hurts To Be In Love Gene Pitney
Will The Wolf Survive? Los Lobos
Let The Good Times Roll Shirley & Lee
Logozo Angelique Kidjo
(Get Up) Sex Machine James Brown

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Lazy blogging Thursday - the return of the lolz dog.

Let me state the obvious.

That's a li'l piggy.

But so cuuuuuuuuute!

Nicked from Captions by Jay McGee.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Just a temporary condition, thank Hera!

Good news, everyone! Superdickery is back up! The problem with the website was temporary and you can go check out all the reasons DC Comics sucked ass when I was a kid.

Note: If you click on this cover, you will see the artist Ernie Chua signed it and date it from 1976, so the suckitude of DC lasted longer than I previously stated.

The flowchart for choosing a religion

My sister Karlacita! sent this flowchart to me about how to choose a religion. It was mailed to her, but the original source is the website. It may offend some of my religious friends but I kind of doubt it.

I like the fact that the first question after you decide you want to believe in one god is "How Do You Feel About Bacon?"

Take the test yourself. If it turns out you should be a Scientologist, please don't tell me. I like to think well of my invisible reading public.

Small roles in a B-movie.

I'm catching up on my film noir watching on Netflix. It's fun to watch these movies from the 1950s. I enjoy the slower paced storytelling style completely devoid of big explosions. Last night's movie was The Asphalt Jungle, a 1950 crime thriller directed by John Huston.

After watching the movie through once, I decided to watch a little more with the commentary playing. The commenter was a film professor yakking away, mainly interested in why a crime drama would be made at MGM. What struck me was the difference between credits in films then and now. The cast list at the beginning of the film only had eight names. Brad Dexter, who plays a small but pivotal role, is not one of them. His name is in the list at the end of the film, a list of about twenty names on a single card. Dexter was a journeyman actor best known for playing Harry Luck, the trustworthy but avaricious gunslinger in The Magnificent Seven.

Nowadays, the end credits take five or six minutes to roll by and everybody down to the accountants and craft service company is given a moment of on-screen glory. It was a very different situation sixty years ago.

Also at the level of no credit in the pre-film list but on the final cast list card is Marilyn Monroe. She plays Angela, the mistress of the character played by Louis Calhern, the high living attorney who is asked to bankroll the caper at the center of the story. The DVD includes the original theatrical trailer, and Marilyn is important enough to get mentioned there. She was by no means a star yet, just a featured player under contract at MGM. This is one of five movies she worked on in 1950. The biggest role she had that year was as Miss Casswell in All About Eve. She wouldn't be a star on her own until she left MGM and went to Fox a few years later.

And then we get to the uncredited roles. Early in the movie, the main character Dix, played by Sterling Hayden, is picked up by the cops and put in a line-up. A night clerk who saw him commit a crime is asked to identify him.

The guy who gets a few lines as the night clerk is Frank Cady, known best to audiences as Sam Drucker on Green Acres. This is very common when watching 1950s movies. Many people who became regulars on TV in the 1960s were bit players at the movie studios in the 1950s. There were a lot of cast members I didn't recognize, even some who got billing before the movie started, but there were a couple of tiny roles filled by actors on their way to bigger things.

Which brings us to the line-up. The cops bring in two guys to be in the line-up with Hayden that look nothing like him. Hayden is extremely tall, listed at 6'5", the other two guys are an average sized guy who is very swarthy and has a mustache, and a tiny, fidgety kid brought in on a dope charge. None of the actors in the line-up get a line during that scene, but the fidgety kid is played by Strother Martin. Martin is one of the great fidgeters in Hollywood history. On another film, he had a scene with Jimmy Stewart. After the first take, Stewart said, "Okay, he can have a pen or he can have a clipboard, but he can't have both. No one is going to see anything else that happens in this scene if you let this guy have two props."

He had no props in this scene. He just adjusted his collar uncomfortably. Still, it was just enough time for a trivia nut like me to say, "Oh my God, that's Strother Martin!"

Let me say for the record that the yakking film professor in the commentary track did not note the work of either Frank Cady or Strother Martin. It makes you wonder what they are teaching kids at those fancy schools.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

You don't know what you've got 'till it's gone.

I was wandering around the interwebs this weekend and came upon two pieces of bad news. Actually, there's a lot more than two pieces of bad news, but here are the two I will comment on.

The website Superdickery has gone blank. This makes me sad.

If you were looking for evidence that Superman was a dick, this was the place to go.

If you wanted to know if Wonder Woman got tied up a lot, you could get the scoop here.

If you were trying to make the case that Batman and Robin had mutual interests other than fighting crime, many were the examples on Superdickery.

And if you want to know why comic book readers about my age really hate DC for being ridiculously hackneyed, you could see case after case of the cheese they put out in the 1960s.

But this great repository of knowledge has gone dark. The world is a smaller and sadder place.

Last year, I was giving updates on the progress of Frank Summers, a student at Laney who then went to UNLV and was signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers last year. He failed to make the cut to the main team, but he is still on the practice squad. If there is a serious injury and a player is put on the disabled list, Frank may get another shot at NFL glory. Right now, it's in a watch and wait situation. I wish my former student all the best.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Liberal victory week comes to a conclusion:
Civil rights

As we look around at the culture in 2010, there are conflicting signs of just how successful and just how much of a failure the civil rights movement of the 1960s has been. We have a black president, who beat a white war hero soundly both in the popular vote and the electoral college. African Americans have been Secretaries of State, four star generals and achieved many other honors and ranks undreamed of fifty years ago. Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh may brag about their clout, but Oprah Winfrey could crush them like itty bitty bugs if she put her mind to it. On the other side, blacks are still regularly lower in test scores and higher in dropout rates than other races and both the military and prisons are over-represented statistically by blacks. Some blacks have succeeded beyond anyone's wildest dreams from fifty years ago, but there is still a long way to go for the vast majority.

Some conservatives, usually young and ignorant ones, will talk about how much of the opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1965 came from Democrats. They do not expect people to remember what a revolution the Democratic party in the South underwent in the late 1960s.

Here is the electoral map from 1956. Eisenhower was the biggest war hero to enter politics since Grant, and he had brought the bloody Korean conflict to an end with a quick armistice. The economy was good in 1956 and even Joe McCarthy, the Republican's most divisive figure, was becoming a dim memory. Look at the states Adlai Stevenson won. He did not win these because he was the most liberal candidate and these were the most liberal states. He won because Eisenhower the war hero had the same party affiliation as Abraham Lincoln, dead more than 90 years but still the great enemy of all things Southern. It wasn't until after his second victory in 1957 that he sent troops into Little Rock to enforce desegregation. This is just a small example of the intractability of the Southern Problem, a large region of our country who make heroes to this day out of traitors to our country and our way of life.

What is noticeable to someone my age is how much conservatives have stopped openly fighting the culture war over civil rights and now pretend they were always 100% behind equality for all citizens under the law. I remember when Muhammad Ali lit the torch at the opening ceremony of the Atlanta Olympics. There was certainly some pity involved for his plight battling Parkinson's, but he was treated as a beloved figure, not as the cocky and divisive person he was in the the 1960s and 1970s. In this week's episode of Mad Men, the historical event playing in the background is the second fight between Sonny Liston and Cassius Clay, who then wanted to be called Muhammad Ali. Don Draper, who for all his faults is not a racist, dislikes Clay both for the name change and for his big mouth. It was a very common opinion at the time.

But if the alleged universal love for Muhammad Ali is difficult to reconcile with the historical facts that are in my living memory, it is the theft of Martin Luther King, Jr. by modern conservatives that is much more surprising and appalling. The buffoonish huckster Glenn Beck says without apparent irony that the conservatives must "take the civil rights movement back", as though it was well off white suburbanites that made the difference in Montgomery and Selma. King was reviled as a communist on the floor of the Senate, and as recently as twenty years ago, the dead and unlamented Evan Meacham of Arizona could score political points by refusing to have a paid holiday in Martin Luther King's memory.

If some conservative wants to list the conservative victories of the last fifty years that have made a lasting impact on our culture, I'd be glad to hear them. I don't think they have a week's worth of material, especially if they aren't allowed to pull the "Reagan won the Cold War" bullshit. That would be like saying Truman won World War II. He's just the guy in office when it ends. There are plenty of liberals who were fierce Cold Warriors as well.

They've got nothing for the people. All their victories are for the corporations and moneyed interests. As I said during the Clinton years, I'd rather have a president that disappoints me than one who disgusts me. Even as I get older and hold positions more conservative than I used to hold, the definition of conservative is moving much faster to the right than I am.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Liberal victory week continues:
Women's rights

Of all the struggles for human rights by groups denied full citizenship, the struggle for women's rights can be said to have come the farthest distance in the shortest period of time. Technically, former slaves were citizens when the 14th Amendment passed, which means the law said black males had the vote back in 1868. We know full well how that law was hamstrung and rendered moot, but it wasn't until 1920 that women of all races were given the franchise. To put it in personal perspective for me, when my grandmother was born, she did not have the simplest right of a citizen in a democracy, but by the time she came of age, that right was hers. My analogous story is that when I was born, it was fully expected that I would be drafted if my country was at war. When I came of age, my country was at war but the draft was gone.

The vote is one thing and equal opportunity is another. The power vested in all male private clubs, which when I was a lad included many of the nation's most prestigious universities, was very slow to be dismantled. In the 1970's, women fought to get an Equal Rights Amendment, but it failed to be ratified by enough states. Some conservative scholars said it was completely unnecessary because women were citizens under the 14th Amendment. In many court cases, liberal advocacy called their bluff, and there were victories as well as defeats.

One of the most remarkable victories of the women's movement was spear-headed by Patsy Takemoto Mink, the first woman of color to be elected to the House of Representatives, a second generation Japanese American woman from Hawaii. She was one of the authors of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which after she died was renamed the Patsy Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act. The most important section of this law reads as follows:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance...

It made no specific mention of sports, but that is where Title IX made its most notable impact, increasing the funding of women's athletics and turning the United States into a perennial leader in any of a number of women's sports worldwide.

When a very large group is empowered, the law of unintended consequences goes immediately into effect. Consider Sarah Heath, the tough as nails point guard on the 1982 Alaska state high school championship Wasilla Warriors. She had opportunities given her by people like Patsy Mink, people she has happily spit upon throughout her life. She became Sarah Palin, and the myth of the tough point guard has followed her throughout her life, when as an adult, she is without question the whiniest little bitch on the public scene today, making political pronouncements on Facebook and Twitter like some snotty little 14 year old.

Years ago, I read a sports writer who said that there would be real equality between the races in sports when mediocre black players could see the same opportunities that mediocre white players saw. It took no particular courage for a general manager to sign someone like Willie Mays or Frank Robinson or Jim Brown. These guys were as good as it got, and if you wanted to win, you wanted guys like that on your team. Real equality was black journeymen players like A's second baseman Shooty Babbitt, or when the over-hyped lousy quarterback could be black Jamarcus Russell instead of white Ryan Leaf.

In 2010, we are seeing real signs of equality between the sexes in politics. There was a time that to be a successful idiot, you had to the son of a rich powerful man, much like the story of George W. Bush. Now, women who were incompetent as business leaders can try to have a political career like Carly Fiorina, and women who are genuinely dim like Palin, Sharron Angle and Jan Brewer have a chance to have a serious political career.

You've come a long way, baby, but you should have brought a GPS.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Random 9, 9/3/10 Padre Mickey rule invoked

Flower's Grave Tom Waits
Rider in the Rain Randy Newman
Enchanted The Platters
Reconsidering Our Love Matthew Hubbard and Michael Dresbach
Your Mind Is On Vacation Mose Allison
Ramon Laurie Anderson
The Golddigger's Song (We're in the Money) Fred Astaire
Children Will Listen Bernadette Peters
September Gurls Big Star

Kind of a quiet mood from the Random DJ this morning. Surprising how many songs aren't up on The You Tubes for late 2010. I didn't expect that Hubbard and Dresbach thang to be there, but Laurie and Fred are big stars and they should be represented. Speaking of big stars, Big Star shows up with a song more jangly than the rest of the Random 10, but the title fits the date so well, I'm going to invoke Padre Mickey's rule and make this one a Random 9.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Liberal victory week continues:
Gay rights

It was the wee small hours of a Saturday morning, June 28, 1969. The police raided the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. Such raids were common, because the Stonewall Inn was a gay bar and cops rousted the patrons every few months for wanting to meet people with whom they could have sex. The Stonewall was owned by the Mafia, but they had no interest in stepping in to protect their patrons. This was just part of life even in sophisticated, cosmopolitan New York and homosexuals who went to bars would just have to get used to it.

But for whatever reason, the patrons of the Stonewall decided not to take it quietly that night and they fought back. In retrospect, many people consider this a turning point in the gay rights movement.

It was not a national story. I went to the library to check what my local papers, the Oakland Tribune and the San Francisco Chronicle, reported on the incident. Nothing. No story on Saturday or Sunday or Monday. There were lots of riots back then. The Chronicle did mention in the Saturday edition that there were riots for the third night in a row in Newark, New Jersey, and even reported on riots in Buenos Aires and Naples. Both papers noted that on Friday, there was a large public memorial in New York for Judy Garland, who passed away earlier that week. Many people who write about the Stonewall uprising believe Garland's death was a contributing factor to the anger of the patrons that night.

In much the same way, Rosa Parks' arrest wasn't a national story, but it was the catalyst for the Montgomery bus boycott, which did grab national headlines. Gay pride marches and demonstrations began in New York, Chicago and San Francisco on the weekend of the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots.

Like many other movements of the disenfranchised in this country, the courts were instrumental in moving forward their demands for equal protection under the law. As unmarried couples began to enjoy some of the same rights as married couples by extension of the 14th Amendment, so gay unmarried couples who were willing to come out also were given those rights. In large cities, many corporations unwilling to lose valued employees extended benefits to unmarried partners both straight and gay.

But all this slow progress might easily have subsided except that the bigots, the vast majority of them proudly conservative, went for a bridge too far, the so-called Briggs Initiative in California. The proposition was put to the voters that any professed homosexual could be fired as a teacher from the public schools.

Anyone with two functioning brain cells could see this was an open invitation to widespread blackmail. While I call this a liberal victory, and President Jimmy Carter made it clear that he was against the initiative when he did not need to have an opinion at all, the person whose opposition to the Briggs Initiative was likely the last nail in the coffin was Ronald Reagan.

Score one point for men married to fag hags.

Again, I am hesitant to call this a liberal victory because of the lukewarm support the left has given this cause. Of course the churches railed against gays, but when I was a kid, even the "liberal" psychiatric community labeled homosexuality a mental disorder. The gay political movement survived being blamed for the scariest plague of modern times, HIV/AIDS, and it is still vilified by the right to this day. "New York liberal" is code for Jew, "San Francisco liberal" is code for gay and "Hollywood liberal" is code for both.

We stand now at a crossroads where laws against gay marriage may be struck down as unconstitutional. No longer will the majority get to decide at the ballot box if a minority is allowed rights. Once again, the Constitution may be interpreted as saying that bigots do not have a Constitutional right to not be offended and people who do no one harm may live their lives in peace and enjoy the fruits of liberty all Americans claim as their birthright.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Wednesday Math, Vol. 126: Calling bullshit on the Huffington Post's numbers

Today on the HuffingtonPost, there was a report on the nine most polluted places on earth. One was London, England, which may or may not be true. The story showed pictures and had a paragraph length cation on each. One of the claims in the London paragraph was "The life expectancy of Britons has been reduced by nine years due to air pollution."

Hmm, I thought. That seems high.

So like any good mathematician, I wanted to see if that number checked out. I went to the C.I.A. World Factbook to see what they said. (I know, since when does a commie pinko like me trust the C.I.A.? As far as I can tell, they don't paint a rosy, pro-American with these numbers, and for comparing countries, this is as good a place to start as any.)

According to the C.I.A., the average life expectancy at birth in the U.K. is 79.02 years. This puts them behind the large Western European countries. France, Spain, Italy and Germany are all better than the Brits. So are Sweden, Norway and the Low Countries. In Western Europe, the Danes are worse at 78.30 years, as are the Irish (78.24) and the Portuguese (78.11). (For comparison, the U.S. is at 78.11. It's pretty common for the States to trail all of Western Europe in quality of life statistics.)

The real problem with these numbers is the "nine years". Adding 9 to 79.02 would give us an average life expectancy of 88.02 years. There is no country on earth that has those kind of numbers. Right now, Macau leads the world with an average life expectancy of 84.36.

If the statement had been nine months instead of nine years, it might be possible to argue the validity of this. Not to minimize the effects of bad air and water on human life, but just as with the numbers on life expectancy of football players, somebody took some data and twisted it way out of shape.

There's the very odd colloquial saying "Don't kid a kidder." I'm not a kidder, but don't bring that weak shit into my house, because when it comes to the numbers, I don't play.