Friday, December 30, 2011

Too many numbers?
This looks like a job for... a professional mathematician!

Four opinion polls tracking the Iowa caucus vote came out yesterday.  All of them were either taken on December 28 exclusively or ended on December 28.  The news reports are saying they are all over the place, which is true.  Who should you trust?

Well, you should trust Matty Boy, professional mathematician.

I have put the polls from left to right, ARG, Insider Advantage, NBC News/Marist and Rasmussen.  It just so happens that's alphabetical order, but more importantly the order goes from the highest number of "none of the above" to lowest, marked by the black line.  My assumption is that less than one week out from a caucus, that number shouldn't be very high anymore.  Caucusing in Iowa is a real commitment of time, and there shouldn't be 10% or more of the people planning to attend still on the fence.

So, tip #1:  Less undecided equals more reliable.

Notice whose numbers rise as undecided fall, Paul and Santorum.  To a lesser extent, Perry and Romney do better as more people make up their minds.

Notice whose numbers tank as the undecided fall, Gingrich and Bachmann. Earlier in the week, a Gingrich spokesman said they would be happy finishing fifth in Iowa.  I thought that was a mighty low hurdle, but his internal numbers must have been looking like these.

Huntsman is making no effort at all in Iowa.  Does that make sense?  The caucuses produce ZERO delegates to the national convention, just delegates to a state convention.  Yeah, Huntsman is probably shepherding his limited resources wisely.

I'll wait until Sunday to make a prediction for Tuesday, but my guess right now is Romney and Paul jockeying for first, Santorum alone in third, Perry over Gingrich for fourth and Bachmann trailing badly in sixth. Some jackass is putting out radio ads asking people to caucus for Palin, though her money is not connected to this turkey.  I seriously doubt the Palin "grassroots" will even catch Bachmann, and will likely not do as well as Huntsman.  The folks in Iowa like being fussed over.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A ukelele and a tiara?
Cute overload to be sure.

Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt sing and play What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?
Pretty darned adorable.

So what did you get for your birthday?

My ex-roommate Art sent me this evidence that Sauron was a Republican. Always nice to have important information you can share.

And my blog hero Princess Sparkle Pony gave me "All four sparkly hooves AND a combable tail way, way up!"

Technically, this wasn't a birthday present, but instead thanks for finding this 48 year old picture of Sue Storm, the Invisible Girl from the Fantastic Four.  Her very early haircut is remarkably similar to that of Callista Gingrich, Princess Sparkle Pony's latest hairdo crush.  I just happen to be the exact right age to remember this sort of thing, in grade school when this came out and not yet showing signs of senile dementia.
And just how old am I?  That information is given out on a need to know basis and you, gentle reader, do not need to know.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The first three weeks of December for Gallup tracking.

This is a graph of how the Republican candidates for president have fared for the first three weeks of December, according to Gallup tracking. (Note: Gallup tracking polls run over many days and I have picked the opening day of the poll to be the date where the numbers are marked.  You can click for a larger version.)  This is a national poll, so it can be argued that it is meaningless, but I think the trends are meaningful.

The blue line at the top, sliding downward, is Newt Gingrich's popularity. The (relatively) steady red line in second is Mitt Romney.  The slowly rising black line in third is None of the Above, now over 20% and just one small surge away from overtaking the leaders.  Ron Paul in green dominates the also rans, while Perry has overtaken Bachmann and Santorum still leads Huntsman by a few percentage points at the bottom.
The first two races where delegates are chosen will look nothing like this.  In the Iowa caucuses, it's assumed to be Paul and Romney in the lead with Gingrich in third. Romney will lap the field in New Hampshire barring a miracle.  Gingrich is hoping to hold onto his quickly fading momentum and make a good showing when the race goes south to South Carolina and Florida, but those races are many 24 hour news cycles away.

The interesting twists and turns will come when lesser candidates drop out and their support moves around.  You would think that all people not supporting Romney would move their support to another Not Romney, but there have are polls showing second choices indicating he will pick up some support when the time comes. The fascinating thing to me is the strength of None of the Above at this late date and how many candidates are saying they could not possibly support some rival or another, though most of it is anti-Ron Paul sentiment.

Bill Clinton has the quote "Democratic primary voters fall in love and Republican primary voters fall in line." The establishment has been in favor of Romney for awhile, but he's having a hell of a time getting more than one in four Republican voters to join his bandwagon. With all the bitter recrimination, it a distinct possibility we will see a third party candidate from the pool of Republican also rans.  Whether that candidate will be the standard third party no-hoper pulling in single digit percentages around the country or someone like Ross Perot or George Wallace who really throws a monkey wrench into the works, only time will tell.

I quit just in time.

I stopped doing my gossip rag blog earlier this month for a number of reasons, but large among them was the steady stream of nonsense about reality TV.  While I truly hated Teen Mom, I was also getting very tired of the Kims and Kendras, the Real Housewives and the countless permutations of Bachelors and Bachelorettes.

Because I quit then, I will not have to be looking for this new eleventh entry into the supermarket gossip rag field.  The National Enquirer's parent company American Media Inc. has just launched Reality Weekly, nothing but the dreck from the bottom and the scum from the top of the reality TV cesspool.

I teach for a living, which in some ways is an optimistic profession, hoping to impart the important knowledge of our society to the young people.  I have no doubt that math must be included in that category of important information.  But under that surface optimism, I have a deep well of pessimism.  As one of my favorite professors Victor Manjarrez often said, "We don't deserve to survive as a species."

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Is that all they want?
Heck, I can do that.

Do you go to Wikipedia a lot?  Yeah, me too.  I realize that for information on controversial stuff it can be a little iffy, but if I want to know know something general, it's a great place to start.

They have had the "personal appeals" banner up for several weeks, but today it was a picture of Jimmy Wales saying they needed the people who were reading this post to send in five bucks and they would be in the black.

My finances are in good enough shape, so I sent them $25.

If you use Wiki a lot - and for me it's in the top five sites I use for information, alongside, The You Tubes, WolframAlpha, and the gosh darned Google itself - see if you have some spare change for these worthy beggars.

Monday, December 26, 2011

It can't be Boxing Day without...

I didn't have to write his name, right?  You knew when you clicked on the link.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Taking a break from Patrick O'Brian and reading Raymond Chandler.

As I have mentioned earlier, I've been reading a lot of Patrick O'Brian's novels about the British Navy during the Napoleonic era, featuring Captain Jack Aubrey and the surgeon, naturalist and spy Stephen Maturin.  I would have gladly jumped straight into The Truelove after finishing The Nutmeg of Consolation, but my lovely nephew Eli asked what I wanted for Christmas and I told him I'd love the next book in the series.  (Fine lad that he is, he got me both The Truelove and The Wine-Dark Sea, both hardbound.  Thanks again, Eli.)

This left me with a week without any O'Brian, so I rummaged through my books and found The Big Sleep, the first novel by Raymond Chandler, probably more famous as the source material for the movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.  I thought I had read it before but I was wrong.  Almost all the characters in the book make it to the film, minus a few cops and investigators who work for the D.A., but who kills whom and why are jumbled up quite a bit.

O'Brian is like a pleasant wine enjoyed with friends, while Chandler is a bottle of rye whiskey drunk alone.  Chandler is great with surfaces.  Many beginnings of scenes feel like they could be set-ups found in screenplays. O'Brian has skill with description as well, but far exceeds Chandler when it comes to the interior lives of the characters. We get inside the heads of Aubrey and Maturin in the O'Brian novels, but only inside Marlowe's head in Chandler's work, and it is a very dark place indeed.  While Maturin's character is darker than Aubrey's, compared to Marlowe, Maturin is as cheery as Bertie Wooster. Marlowe has few pleasures and alcohol is the first and foremost, though he often regrets it long before any hangover.
The Big Sleep revolves around two sisters, Carmen and Vivian Sternwood, young, pretty, rich, spoiled and involved in pornography and drugs.  In 2011,  I couldn't read about them and not think about girls named Hilton and Kardashian, and that makes the book harder to take seriously.  At least Chandler did not have their mother pimping them out.  That would be too dark even for him. 

There were a slew of movies made from Chandler's novels in the 1940s, but the production code made it impossible to tell his stories verbatim.  There was a revival of Philip Marlowe in the 1970's, including a somewhat more accurate version of The Big Sleep.  I say somewhat because it was set in London instead of Los Angeles - L.A. is a major character in Chandler's work - and Marlowe is played by Robert Mitchum, who is twenty to thirty years too old for the part.  It is also written and directed by Michael Winner, the 1970s version of Michael Bay, the king of the hacks.

Would I recommend Chandler? I still would.  His reliance on simile and metaphor may feel cliched now, but he's the original source.  It's not his fault that so many writers that followed use him as a template, because he and James M. Cain are the most readable of the early writers whose works turn into film noir.  It's an important cultural touchstone.

That said, I will have a smile on my face when I re-board Captain Aubrey's ship.  Whatever the perils they face, there is honor and duty and friendship, as well as toasted cheese and violin-cello duets.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

What Tim Tebow did not say today.

Hi, my name is Tim Tebow.  I play professional sports.  I am a Christian and my faith informs all aspects of my life.

My team, the Denver Broncos, won six games in a row, many in exciting comebacks in which my play was key.  I praised God and other Christians put me forward as a sign not only of Christ's love but of Christian superiority.

The Broncos have now lost two games in a row. The first loss was to the honestly superior Patriots.  I ran for two touchdowns but passed for none, and our defense was unable to stop the Patriots.

This week we played the Bills, a team that on paper should not be our superior.  I ran for a touchdown and threw for another, but I also threw four interceptions and was as instrumental in causing this loss as I was in causing several wins.

The reason is simple.  God cares little who wins sporting events.  God does not root for Notre Dame or Texas Christian or the people who always give him praise.  God does not root against those who forget to point skyward or fall on one knee after a touchdown.  He has more important things to do than care if a field goal is kicked true or is pulled to the right.

God loves me when I win and when I lose.  There are people of faith rooting for any given team playing a sport in America, and God does not plan a win to raise the victorious fans up or plot a loss to cause grief and teach humility to His faithful who root for the loser.

It's just a game and there are more important things in life.  Most important is how we treat our fellow man.

I'm not Tim Tebow, I'm Matthew Hubbard. Tim Tebow did not write this.  He's too rock fucking stupid to realize this.

Here endeth the lesson.  Happy holidays.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Anyone But Mitt Primary.

It was two weeks ago, back when the Heisman Trophy was topical and Newt Gingrich was the hot new front runner, that J.D. Crowe of the Mobile Register drew this political cartoon and NPR put it up on their website.

For those of you who don't pay attention to college football, Robert Griffin III of Baylor won the Heisman last weekend.  For those of you who don't pay attention to politics, Newt Gingrich is doing a Donald Trump impression.  When Trump was ahead in the national polls, most state polls had him in second or worse. The same is true for Newt in the early contests.  Romney is polling well in Iowa and some polls say Ron Paul will be second and Gingrich third.  New Hampshire looks like a landslide for Romney and again, some polls are showing Ron Paul surging and Gingrich fading.

For those of you wondering why Gingrich has pointy ears and curly pointy shoes in this cartoon, I was kind of wondering about that myself.

Can Ron Paul be the next Anyone But Mitt? He is showing the largest surge over the past week or two. Paul's biggest obstacle is that the "no foreign aid" plank in his platform really translates in today's political landscape into "screw Israel", a position that makes more enemies than it does friends all over the political spectrum.

I can't bring myself to say that Mitt is inevitable.  Fox News and Rush Limbaugh have been beating him up a lot.  Let's recall that John McCain was not the number one choice of the social conservatives in 2008, but instead he was the pragmatic choice who the rank and file thought could win.  He ran a truly awful campaign and lost in a landslide.  Mitt can do better against Obama than McCain did if it's a two man race, but if the social conservatives get their panties in a twist and put up a third party candidate, Obama gets a second term in a walk.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Moved my money.

You might remember that whole general strike in Oakland last month. I went down to the main protest at midday and listened to some speakers.  One guy was very adamant about moving our money out of large banks.

I've been thinking about this for a while, but my general lethargy kept me from doing it.  This was a good wake-up call, partly because Chase has been nickel and diming me and more to the point, Chase is one of the companies that put all of us in the mess we now find ourselves in.

I was thinking about a credit union until a colleague at Mills talked up Mechanics Bank. They have been around forever and they are a local bank. They did not get involved in all the craziness of the early part of this century. They invest locally. Their closest branch isn't that far from my house and better still, they promise to pay any ATM fee any other bank charges. My plan is to use their ATM as often as possible and only impose on their generosity in special cases. I took so long to write this because I've been moving my money slowly, but the last check I wrote on the Chase account cleared today, so I got a cashier's check and will be depositing it in my Mechanics account this week, an account I opened about a month ago, so there will no longer be long holds on the checks I deposit. Because I have direct deposit and because I'm a geezer, Mechanics has no monthly fees. I do a lot of stuff to make my life simpler and to have a smaller negative impact on the world, from recycling to not having a car, even not having a cell phone and giving money to those swine. This is a good step in that direction and if you can make it work in your life, I recommend this move to all my readers.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Ending one hobby and starting another.

 Those of you who read the gossip blog know that I pulled the plug on it last Thursday. I learned a lot about the gossip rags in two years, but almost all of it is useless information.  Too much reality TV, too many stories with a single source (some of those sources vindictive, others batshit crazy, like the woman who claimed Justin Bieber impregnated her), too many flat out lies, not enough stuff to keep me interested.

As good as Kim Kardashian looks in a bikini - and I honestly think this shot is as iconic as Ursula Andress in Doctor No or Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C. - she's just not worth the trouble, as many professional athletes have figured out before I did at a much higher price.
 So with a lot of extra time on my hands, I've started a new hobby and a blog to follow it called Geometric Decorations.  I bought a bunch of plastic pieces in simple geometric shapes and I am painting them and connecting them, either with two sided tape or with glue.  The first set of objects I am either giving to friends and family as gifts or keeping them for my own reference.

This first one is an ornament, taped and then painted.

 Here is the opposite side, which I painted with different colors.

 The hard plastic pieces I bought don't take well to super glue, so I have to use two sided tape to connect them.  I also have soft plastic pieces I used to make my tessellation artwork, and they take to super glue like nobody's business.  This piece was painted with acrylic then glued together.  It's sturdy enough to be handled and the acrylic and glue are very easy to work with, especially compared to spray paint and two sided tape.

 Here is yet another soft plastic piece, yet again with a rainbow motif.

Because the hard plastic was so fussy, I glued them back to back before taping.  The soft plastic glues so easily, I did this experiment to see if single thickness gluing would work, and it worked remarkably well.  Mathy folks might recognize this as a second iteration Sierpinski's gasket.

I'm going to put all the work up on the Geometric Decorations blog as it becomes ready. I'll likely give it a plug here every once in a while in hopes of starting some traffic over there.

So far, I'm having lots of fun, which I believe is the point of having a hobby in the first place.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Does watching a mean dog get tortured count as wholesome entertainment?

I don't have my TV hooked up to cable or an antenna, so I only hear about the GOP debates after the fact.  From what I understand, they are getting ratings that would do reality TV shows proud. After all, if it's fun to watch stupid young women make bad life choices, it might be fun (if less sexy) to watch middle aged (and older) men do the same thing.

And, oh yeah, they have one woman in the crowd and she's batshit crazy. Every reality show needs its own Nene Leakes or Amber Portwood.

If you have paid even the smallest amount of attention, you know the primaries are boiling down to Mitt Romney vs. PleaseDearGodNotMittRomney.  Several people in the second category had their moments in the sun - Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain - but all of them were weighed in the balance and found wanting.  Now the top ranked PleaseDearGodNotMittRomney is Newt Gingrich.

Why wasn't he first in line?  He has more experience and knowledge than Trump, Bachmann, Perry and Cain combined.

For the truly grumpy wing of the Republican party, that is almost his biggest flaw.

His other big flaw for the ideologically pure is what he has done since he left office.  He lobbied for Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, which for many conservatives replaced the Soviet Union as the Evil Empire.  He made a mint lobbying for health care reform. He supported government action to combat climate change.

As George Will has put it, he is the perfect rental politician.

Will is not the only conservative voice speaking against Gingrich.  Will is "old establishment", but Gingrich also has an enemy in Glenn Beck, a frothing ideologue who wants purity above all.  (Beck loves Rick Santorum, comparing him to George Washington, an analogy that completely escapes me.) Among other conservative voices speaking against him are Ann Coulter and Karl Rove.

Newt has a real talent for making enemies.

He does have two large allies, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News.  Limbaugh has made it clear he doesn't accept Romney as a conservative, so he has to pick someone from the rest of the kennel, and Newt is the one with the least fleas. Fox News is more fickle, and if the tide turns against Newt they might well throw him under the bus, even though he worked for them earlier this year. (Sarah Palin still works for them, but she is mocked by other on-air Fox News personalities with impunity now.)

In many ways, conservative "ideology" is a list of people and things you have to hate.  It could be said that conservatives love Israel, but that morphs into hating Palestinians very easily.  On this point Gingrich is scoring points.  As a new convert to Catholicism, Gingrich hates abortion enough, but it is unclear whether the red meat wing of the party will believe he hates immigrants (both legal and illegal), global warming and Washington deal-making with sufficient fervor.

So far, the four previous PleaseDearGodNotMittRomneys had their rises and falls and the established wisdom is that each lasts about six weeks.  If that holds, Gingrich has an advantage. His six weeks coincide with the start of the primary season and actual delegates being distributed.  Wins in early primaries and caucuses could give him momentum that will make his front runner status last longer, perhaps even become permanent.

I mentioned two Gingrich allies, Limbaugh and Fox News, but I forgot to mention another non-conservative, Bill Clinton.  He has kind words for his former competitor and sometimes collaborator.  There is talk that there is bad blood between Clinton and Obama, but I think this is just Clinton going back to his Southern roots, not to support a fellow white Southerner, but instead to invoke a Brer Rabbitt moment, begging the Republicans not to throw his party into the briar patch.

In the general election, Newt Gingrich, mean, petty, condescending, vain, venal with a history of unfaithfulness, both personal and political, will get sliced up worse than John McCain did.  Currently, the polls put him slightly ahead right now in Georgia against Obama. If he's nominated, I'm convinced he will be an underdog to win his home state next November and take a hammering that throws his already shattered party into even greater turmoil.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Some favorite phrases from the books of Patrick O'Brian.

I am deeply enjoying reading the books of Patrick O'Brian, the English author whose series of novels about the British Navy during the Napoleonic era are sometimes called "the Aubrey and Maturin books", named for his two protagonists.  My friend Mike Strickland has said that this is the greatest heterosexual bromance in 20th Century literature, and even an irascible mathematician such as myself can find no counter-example.

The stories center around Jack Aubrey, who begins the series as a lieutenant but soon rises to the post of captain, and Stephen Maturin, a man of many talents, surgeon, naturalist and British intelligence operative.  Aubrey and Maturin are as different as chalk and cheese, but they are the best of friends through good times and bad, each of them willing and capable of risking life, limb and property to aid the other should he be in distress.

O'Brian is a great stylist as well as a fine writer of good old stirring naval action in the tradition of the Horatio Hornblower series.  He has many phrases he repeats often, and I have come to look upon these phrases as old friends.  Here are ten off the top of my head.

Popery. The most commonly used word in the books for Catholicism. Usually used by non-Catholics, but Maturin, Irish born and half Catalan by blood, is Catholic and even he uses the phrase when talking to his many non-Catholic friends.

Topgallantmasts. O'Brian is a remarkable researcher, and he loves the details of the rigging of the ship.  There are often paragraphs full of the precise sails being used at a given point in a voyage.  I've learned these paragraphs can usually be replaced by the phrase "They were sailing very fast", but where's the style in that?

Carronades and nine pounders. Remember what I wrote about O'Brian and his love of the sails?  He loves the guns aboard ship, too, and researched them just as carefully.

Coffee and toasted cheese.  Food plays a major part in the books, and coffee and toasted cheese is a common breakfast for both Aubrey and Maturin when they are aboard ship.

"Shall we play some music tonight, brother?"  Perhaps the most important thing Aubrey and Maturin have in common is a love for music.  Aubrey plays the violin and Maturin the cello, and while they may not be the best of musicians, the hours together playing and improvising are among the best times for both of them.

The happy Surprise. Many of the books take place aboard the H.M.S. Surprise, almost always under the command of Aubrey.  He is a just captain and not given to lots of flogging.  He likes the ship clean but he is not obsessed with it.  The one point of naval order he is obsessive about is getting the guns to fire quickly and accurately, so there are many drills with the guns.  The men like the smoke and noise and they like sailing with Lucky Jack Aubrey, who wins many battles that he easily could have lost.  When the Surprise is commissioned, it's an average sized boat, but both the French and the British start building bigger boats with more guns.  The Surprise is considered fit for mothballs for many a book in the series, but Aubrey still commands her and wins battles with her, capturing prizes that increase the pay of the crew, yet another reason the ship is called "the happy Surprise".

Testudo aubreii.  Maturin discovers a previously unidentified species of tortoise and names it for his friend Jack Aubrey, Testudo aubreii.  A lot of characters in the books are naturalists, and you can tell how keen they are by whether or not the Testudo aubreii is known to them.

"Like smoke and oakum". This is Jack Aubrey's favorite phrase for "we were going really fast".

"Never in life." This is Stephen Maturin's favorite phrase for "No, I would not."

"I give you joy". This is everyone's favorite for congratulations on some good news.  If either Aubrey or Maturin is saying it to the other, it is "I give you joy, brother".  Their true friendship is one of the great treasures of the books.

If you are already a reader of Aubrey and Maturin books, let me give you joy, brother, or if it is the case, let me give you joy, dear lady.  If you are not a reader, I give them my highest recommendation. Many fans say you must start with the first book and read all the way through, but impatient lubber that I am, I wanted to read about Maturin seeing the Galapagos, so I started with The Far Side of the World, one of the later novels, and now have gone through the next four after that, The Reverse of the Medal, The Letter of Marque, The Thirteen Gun Salute and The Nutmeg of Consolation.  I will likely read until the end and then start over at the beginning.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The nastiest heartbreak in fantasy football throws me into the popcorn machine.

Every week in fantasy football, you can rank yourself against the other teams as to how many points you scored.  If you score more than anyone, logic dictates you will win.  If you are the second highest scorer, the only way you can lose is to be matched up against the highest scorer.

Welcome to my week.

Spyder's Domain, a team that will not make the playoffs, is officially my nemesis now after beating me this evening, 251.20 to 241.16.  I had some chances, but Maurice Jones-Drew had a merely excellent game instead of a freaking awesome one, and that was the difference at the end.

I could have remained in second place if my brother Michael, the first seed in our league, had won his last game of the season, but he scored less than anybody else.

Logic dictates that if you score less than everybody else, you are destined to lose.

So unless there are score adjustments tomorrow that overthrow a victory somewhere, the Mutant Mercenaries will finish a respectable third place in the league and get thrown into the popcorn machine, the opening round of the playoffs. My opponent will be Vick's Money Store, the only team to make the playoffs with a losing record. I also started my big winning streak against the same team back in Week 6.

This is going to be fun.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Brave Last Dave update:
Still sucking eggs with four weeks left.

As I most recently mentioned last May, I joined a deadpool this year.  The idea is to come up with a list of 40 famous people before the beginning of a calendar year that you think will die before the end of that calendar year.  I don't like thinking about that very much, so I let the supermarket rags do most of my thinking for me, if that is the proper verb.  The Enquirer, Globe and the low rent Examiner predict someone is going to die quite often, so I trimmed down the list of people they marked for death that hadn't died by last New Year's Eve and submitted the list to the alt.obituaries deadpool.

By early spring, the list of hits I had was this.
  • Miss Anne Francis
  • Miss Elizabeth Taylor
The list of hits I have now... is exactly the same.  Not a single correct prediction since Liz died.  Currently in 61st place out of 70 people who have hits.

In simpler terms, sucking stinky eggs.

I'm going to put in another list for 2012.  A lot of the people on my list from 2011 list will be on my 2012 list because they were rude enough to survive.  I'll trim off some names I never really thought were in mortal danger and pick some of the people marked for death for the first time this year.

Example: did you know the great country singer Miss Kitty Wells is still alive? Me neither!  She's 92 and she's on my list for 2012.

If Miss Wells or a fan of hers stumbles upon this blog, I'd like to remind them just how bad my record is and there are people older than she is who are on my list and still among the living.

Example: Zsa Zsa Gabor.  What exactly is keeping that tough old bird on this side of the lawn? Experts can't agree.

So here I am having fun being in a deadpool.  To be honest, it's not my weirdest hobby, but it's in the top three for sure.

Friday, December 2, 2011

A suggestion for Netflix.

Currently, Netflix has a five star system. Notably, three stars means "I liked it" and two stars means "I didn't like it". 

I would like to suggest another option in between them, which we will call two and a half stars.

Two and a half stars will mean "My ambivalence about this film causes me to explain the many dichotomies in my feelings in Proustian length and detail, and if I may be immodest, in Proustian literary merit as well."

That's what two and a half stars would mean to me.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

New blog:
Geometric Decorations

I have started a new blog titled Geometric Decorations. The idea started with the geometric pieces I have been using for tessellations over the past few months. Now, instead of making a pattern, taking a picture then dismantling it, I am going to create pieces.  Another difference is that I am going to paint the pieces myself so I have a choice of colors.  To the left is the third piece I've made, sub-titled The Lucky Die Roll and given as a gift to my good friend Jodi Soares.  I have a copy of the game Robo Rally with hand painted pieces Jodi made, a prized possession. I can only hope she is half as happy now with this as I am with her work all these years later.

I'm going to add Geometric Decorations to my blog buddy list, so if you like these pieces you can click on the link when it climbs to the top of the list, which it will every time I complete a piece.  My idea is that the pieces I make this year will either be gifts for friends or pieces for my personal collection.  If I'm happy with the work at the end on the month, I will make more for sale to the general public.

Let me note that the pictures I have on this new blog will be very large so people can click on the bigger size to get a better view.  This means it will load slowly, so be warned.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The most popular single thing I've added to the Web.

Last year, the song Ghost Riders in the Sky was on heavy rotation in my brain, so I went over to iTunes to plunk down 99 cents to get a version.  I listened to several choices, including Vaughn Monroe, Johnny Cash and Dick Dale, but the one that really impressed me was an early version by Burl Ives.  I did a little research and discovered his recording of the song in February 1949 was the first available to the public,  released about a month before Vaughn Monroe's version with his band The Moon Men became a huge hit. (Stan Jones wrote the tune in 1948.)

I went over to the You Tubes and saw that this version wasn't available. I played around with the iMovie software and put the song into a very simplistic video format, the tune as the soundtrack over still pictures being moved like Ken Burns sometimes does in his documentaries.

In 14 months, there have been over 100,000 visits to the song, 91 comments, the overwhelming majority positive, 634 likes and 1 dislike.

To put 100,000 visits in perspective, a new Maru video can get that in a week. Over the past 14 months, this blog has had over 200,000 visits and the silly gossip blog has had over 600,000 hits. Comparing a single YouTube song to a blog is apples and oranges, because I've posted hundreds of things here over the same time period, while there is only one reason to visit the recording.

If you haven't heard it yet, here is the link to YouTube.  If you like the song, I think you'll like this version, very simple and sparse and very well done by Burl as a solo artist, just his voice and his acoustic guitar.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Complex football for November, both real and imaginary.

I promised to get back to my readers, assuming the species still exists, about the prospects for the local football franchises come early December. It's late November and I can confirm what I thought to be the case in early October. 

This could be the year. 

The 49ers are not mathematically a lock to be in the playoffs yet, but they are statistically a lock. They could still have a massive collapse and one of the teams in their division could catch fire. Because I am a cautious person, I will say the chance of a Niner collapse is remote but possible. I just can't see any team in their division starting to play well enough to catch them. The most likely 49er outcome is breezing to the division title and at least one home playoff game in January. In other words, the brie eating, chardonnay drinking 49er fans get to be as smug as they were in the heyday. 

The Raiders are not as clear a lock, but they are on top of their division and playing well. They have real hope of making the playoffs here in late November, instead of their recent pattern of sucking and making their fans miserable.

Doesn't suck to be a Bay Area football fan.
And then there are the Mutant Mercenaries, my fantasy football team. From 1-4 in early October to 7-4 now, in second place due to favorable tiebreakers.

The bad news is the next game is against my brother Michael's team, Cruel Dave, top of the league and on a ten game win streak since I traded Aaron Rodgers to him. (I swear to Lenny, it looked like a good idea at the time.)  If I lose, I can wave goodbye to second place with only one week left.  On the other hand, the chance to make the playoffs looks solid.

Still, the moral of this story is simple.

Winning football, real or fantasy, feels pretty good.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

It's mighty quiet.

If you haven't seen the protest against the chancellor of UC Davis, click on this video.

Hard to believe they could get a crowd of people that young to hold it together so well. The chancellor has to know her humiliation has circled the globe several times by now.

The politically expedient action at the state level in California is to leave taxes alone and raise fees.  This is a slowly boiling pot that is now destroying the chance for the middle class to get a quality education for their kids without going into massive debt.  Of all the goals of the Occupy Wall Street crowd, keeping public education a viable and reasonably priced option is nearest and dearest to my heart, in part because I had the chance to get just such an education and in part because I work in public higher education.

There needs to be a massive shake-up in the UC system.  I don't know who can force her to quit if anyone, but if it's the regents or the governor, it's time for them to do the right thing if she is unwilling.  The upper echelons at UC Berkeley need to be removed as well.

New blog buddy.
One I have known for a good long time.

My dad, the gosh darned pater familias, has started a blog of his own called The Middle American Party. The self-described Lincoln Republican (completely unfair title, he never voted for Lincoln) believes it's time for a third party more to the middle.  His first goal is balancing the budget and after that, he wants national health care and free education through college or trade school for all citizens.

If you want to read what he thinks in his own words, you can click on the link above.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Fall Dance Party 2011

Get This Party Started Pink
Burning Down the House Talking Heads
Secret Agent Man Johnny Rivers
Can't Stop Killing You Kirsty MacColl
Dust My Broom Elmore James
Lady Marmalade Labelle
Ranking Full Stop The English Beat
I Wish Stevie Wonder
Valerie Amy Winehouse
Pata Pata Myriam Makeba
Be Thankful for What You've Got Portrait
1999 Prince
Fall began nearly two months ago and I just get around to the Fall Dance Party.  Work has me busier than a pair of jumper cables at a funeral.  It's a strong selection this season, music from the 60s through to modern day.  There are some slow dances with Amy and Portrait, but also a lot of songs where the Padre Mickey Rule could be invoked, where a list is terminated because it's not going to get any better.  I for one wouldn't dream of getting up on stage after Miss Patti or Stevie or Myriam, but the party continues to the end, when Prince gives us a finale.
I wouldn't go on stage after the Purple One either, for that matter.

Get on up and dance if you feel like it.  That's kind of the point.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Bun in the Oven Alert™!
Wait, which blog is this again?

Oh, yeah, this is my regular blog, not the silly gossip blog.

But this is not silly gossip!  My adorable niece Holly and her handsome husband Cleavon are expecting their first child in the spring, late April or early May.  She's doing just dandy so far and reports no particular odd cravings, except that burritos are off the menu for a while.

Best wishes to all concerned.  Usually when I write that sentence on the other blog, I am completely not concerned, but this time I definitely count as family and friends, and I couldn't be happier for them.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Gene Simmons is never wrong.

If you've ever wondered what Gene Simmons looks like without make-up, here it is.

Not a pretty picture.

If you've ever wonder about the deep thoughts of Gene Simmons, you are making a bigger mistake than wondering what he looks like without make-up.

Gene Simmons is a Rick Perry fan.

Yes, the best bass player KISS ever had (and the only bass player KISS ever had) made a proclamation in August that there really wasn't any need for the electoral college or even an election, he liked Rick Perry and whoever he has liked since 1988 has become president.  End of story.

Except for the slight problem that when Rick Perry doesn't look bombed out of his mind getting sloppy over syrup (last week), Rick has brain farts so stinky, you can smell them in your living room when watching him on TV (mere hours ago).

Nice try, Gene, and thanks for playing.  Leave the deep thinking to someone else.

Nerd joke.

And who is getting credit for this nerd-infused pun?

Nerd god George Takei.

Good on ya, Mr. Sulu.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Joe Frazier, 1944-2011

Joe Frazier, who won the undisputed heavyweight crown by beating Muhammad Ali in Madison Square Garden in 1971, has died at the age of 67 of liver cancer.

I will readily admit my money was on Ali that night and for many years I thought Frazier was ungracious towards Ali. In retrospect, it was Ali who treated Frazier unfairly, labeling Joe an Uncle Tom when he was anything but.  It wasn't Frazier's fault that the people who hated Ali needed someone to root for and their was no Great White Hope on the horizon, so many bigots had to pin their hopes on Frazier.  Frazier had also given Ali financial help earlier in their careers, so Ali's taunts were a very personal betrayal to Joe.

There's a line in the movie Gattaca about a competition between a genetically engineered man and his normal brother.  They are swimming out from the shore and the normal brother leads his allegedly superior sibling all the way.  When the genetically engineered brother finally gives up and asks how he lost, the normal one answers "I had no plan to swim back to shore."  This is a metaphor for Ali-Frazier I.  Frazier won a very hard fought battle that night and was never quite the same. Joe beat guys like Jerry Quarry, Ron Stander and Jimmy Ellis after this, but the rest of his career is defined by losing to both George Foreman and Ali twice.

Many boxing fans now consider Ali "The Greatest", his nickname for himself. This is in large part because Ali was lucky enough to be in his prime at a time when there were other great fighters at their peak who could test him.  When I was a kid, Rocky Marciano was revered because he retired undefeated.  Nowadays, Marciano is usually ranked under Ali even though Ali lost several times, largely because Marciano never had that great fight against another top boxer in his prime.

In the beginning of his career when he was still Cassius Clay, he faced a hard hitting Englishman named Henry Cooper who decked him. He also fought some underrated fighters who were tough as nails like George Chuvalo and Oscar Bonavena. (Frazier beat Chuvalo despite being decked twice in the second round.)  But if Ali is The Greatest, it's because he proved it against great fighters in their prime, most notably two other deserving champions, Joe Frazier and George Foreman.

Best wishes to the friends and family of Smokin' Joe Frazier, one of the toughest and hardest hitting heavyweights who ever lived, from a fan.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The aggrieved party.

The modern Republican Party is more a list of complaints than an actual ideology.  The deepest feelings of the typical Republican voter are his hatreds.  Conventional wisdom says the complaints are a rejection of modernity, but I'd like to point out that Charles Darwin's 203th birthday is next year.  His views on natural selection and the origin of species, the underlying principles of all biology today, are a little long in the tooth to be called "modern".

Modern Republicans hate a lot of stuff. They hate people who worship differently than they do, from a deep hatred of Muslims to a contempt for atheists to a dislike for Mormons.  They hate science and fancy learning of all kinds and they hate being called ignorant.  They hate government and taxes and career politicians.  They hate abortion and they hate women who need help once their babies arrive. They hate people who look different from them or speak different languages, and they hate being called racists.

Enter Herman Cain.  Cain is clever enough to understand that white guilt isn't just for quiche eating liberals anymore and he is currently riding high in the polls, with no major drop-off yet in spite of his current scandal for sexual harassment allegations and the probably more serious problems about his fledgling campaign ignoring some major campaign finance laws.

Herman Cain's skin may be several shades darker than that of the typical Republican voter, but deep down where it counts, they are much the same.  Their hearts are as black as onyx.  He hates almost all the right people and things.  Unlike Rick Perry, he's not soft on illegal immigrants.  Having Mexicans die on an electrocuted fence was allegedly a joke, he now says, but he still wants the electric fence.  He does not give a shit who the leader of "Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan" is, regardless of the fact that Uzbekistan is currently on our side in the not yet completed Global War or Terror. He doesn't care that "9-9-9" is a burden on the poor and won't come close to paying our bills.

That kind of stuff is for eggheads, and Herman is proudly not one of those.

His only weakness so far is that he didn't realize his position on abortion skates very close to being pro-choice.  That's a course correction he can easily make.

More importantly for the modern Republican party, Herman Cain is not a career politician. The disdain for politicians runs across the political spectrum, as evidenced by Al Franken, Jesse Ventura and Michael Bloomberg, but the feeling is deeper in the right wing base, as we saw in 2008 when California Republicans nominated the no-hope candidates Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina. It used to be a person had to have a serious resume to be a candidate, but that's no longer the case.  Bloomberg is certainly a success, but Fiorina left a string of disasters in her wake, and Cain took a fifth rate pizza chain and turned it into a fifth rate pizza chain.

As usual, I am fascinated by the numbers.  The early polls tell us very little about what will happen a year from now, but about a month ago, the votes for all the Republican candidates combined in the opinion polls added up to about 70%.  A lot of people who weren't in the race made it clear they weren't getting in, the two most publicized being Chris Christie and Sarah Palin.  The total percentages for all candidates shot up over the 90% range and Herman Cain replaced Rick Perry as the main challenger to Romney. Cain is still either in first or second place both in national polls and likewise in state polls, but now the total percentages are slipping backwards to about 85%. The malaise returns to the Republican base, though of course they hate the word "malaise", both for sounding too French and its association with Jimmy Carter, who never used the word in his famous speech.

No matter how hard they try, the Republican Party can't seem to find that perfect candidate, both mean enough and stupid enough to truly satisfy their new core voter. Herman Cain is just the best they can do right now.  I'm sure stupider and meaner is coming, but probably not in time for the 2012 presidential election.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The sequence of events creates an epiphany.

I've been writing my silly tabloid blog for 22 months now and this morning a feeling came over me that I really couldn't put into words even yesterday.

I actively detest Kim Kardashian and all she stands for.

Kim tweeted her divorce on Halloween, her marriage which started with a lavish bash televised over two nights ending in just 72 days.  Why pick Halloween?

She didn't pick Halloween.  She picked a Monday, the last day of the week when you can be sure the supermarket gossip rags can get a story in that will be printed by Wednesday and on the stands around the country on Thursday.

How can I be sure?  Because I've seen the front covers this week and she is on seven of them, effectively the maximum possible. (There are a total of ten supermarket gossip rags, but two have a demographic that skews much older than the typical Kardashian fan and the last is only interested in the End of the World.)

Kim Kardashian is the poster girl for the 1%.  She is near the money spigot without an ounce of talent, just a pretty smile, a nice set of tits and an enormous ass, which has come into fashion in some circles now. She is not "creating jobs", merely spending money foolishly.  The young man with the sign standing in front of the portable toilet at the general strike today is 100% correct, the pointless pastimes of the idle rich are stealing from people who are just trying to make their way in the world.

Many people want to know what the point of Occupy Oakland is.  There are certainly a lot of signs pointing in a lot of directions.  But the facts are simple.  The United States isn't broke, it's just broken.  The ideas of community and commonwealth are derided by people who benefit from the many ways the few get rich and the many get screwed.

It's time for the many to ask for their fair share.

General strike in Oakland today.

The general strike is today.

I'm taking the day off from both my teaching gigs in Oakland and I'll be down at Frank Ogawa Plaza several times today, around 9:00, marching from Laney at noon and back at 5:00 pm.

And in my copious free time I'll be prepping classes.

You know, because that's how teachers roll.

If you're in Oakland, I hope to see you down there.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Re Occupied Oakland.
General strike in Oakland on Wednesday.

 Frank Ogawa Plaza, a.k.a. Oscar Grant Plaza, is once again filled with people.

 And this time we brought vuvuzelas!

To be fair, I shouldn't use the plural.  This was the only visible (and audible) vuvuzela.

 The theme last Wednesday included good looking and well behaved dogs.  

This theme continues.

 On Wednesday night, I noticed no smell of urine or weed.

This afternoon... no smell of urine.

If you get my drift.

 At the steps in front of City Hall, speaker after speaker got up and gave call and response, talking about what they did to organize today in different parts of the city.  This guy went to Fruitvale near International Boulevard.

What are they organizing, you might ask?  A general strike in Oakland for this Wednesday.  I have three jobs right now, but I can't say how many I'll have at the beginning of the year. My work situation is very tenuous and the future it doesn't look like it will get better any time soon.  

All my work on Wednesday is in Oakland.  

I will be on strike and I will be able to tell my students why this Monday.

This is a town where police tear gas peaceful protesters and IT DOESN'T WORK.

This is a town where a cop shoots an unarmed man in custody in the back, the video goes up on YouTube, some idiot L.A. jury gives the cop the least conviction possible and some even stupider L.A. judge gives the bastard the minimum sentence.

If you are down in the plaza on Wednesday, who knows?  Maybe I'll see you there.