This blog is still alive, just in semi-hibernation.
When I want to write something longer than a tweet about something other than math or sci-fi, here is where I'll write it.
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
I'm playing fantasy football again this season. I don't expect to set the world on fire, but it's an enjoyable pastime and a chance to insult several male relatives.
You know, bonding and stuff.
With my very last pick in the draft, I went on a flyer that someone would sign Terrell Owens, but Yahoo! says he is no longer to be saluted, so I went to pick up another wide receiver to replace his useless ass.
Instead of being clever, I chose "wide receivers" and clicked on "sort by fantasy points 2010" The best free agent at this position using our league's scoring system was... Danny Amendola.
I had Danny Amendola my first season, picked up as a free agent.
I had Danny Amendola my second season, picked up as a free agent.
As Al Pacino says in the only quotable line from that piece of crap Godfather III: "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in."
In correspondence to me, he must be referred to as Danny Fucking Amendola.
Thank you for your kind attention.
Monday, August 29, 2011
My sister Karla recently had some of out childhood photos restored by my friend Alan, and it's great to see them all. I put up the picture of my mom, Karla and me, and then the one of Karla and me on the rocker. The one I have been saving is of Johann, my childhood dog.
A lot of the family will tell you Johann was their dog, but technically, Dad and I brought him home, taking him from his family in Berkeley, and I was the one who chose him. His brothers and sisters were locked behind a short wall in a pantry and all the other pups were making one heck of a racket when we came to see them, but Johann was asleep. I picked him up, he woke up for a moment and licked my nose, then fell back to sleep as I held him in my arms, close against my chest.
As you can guess, my decision was made because I was in love. My dad was worried that he was the runt, and he likely was. But still, I had done what my dad asked of me reading all the books, so he let me choose Johann, soon known to nearly everybody as Yoyo.
It ranks among the best choices of my life.
Johann was a stunningly clever dog. When we walked across the street, he would show his sheepdog instincts and push at the heels of the youngsters, especially my younger sisters. His mom was obviously a Corgi, but dad may have been a hound that climbed over the backyard fence. Besides herding skills, Johann loved to play fetch like a retriever. It was my brother Michael who taught Johann to fetch a tennis ball, bring it back and drop it so it could be thrown again. He loved playing fetch so much, he would play until he was exhausted, and after exhaustion, he would chew the tennis ball until the cover was off. We used to joke that like the Native Americans used all parts of the buffalo, Johann used all parts of the tennis ball. As I recall, as much as he loved to chew stuff, he chewed tennis balls almost exclusively. He wasn't a chewer of shoes or baseball gloves or any of the other stuff we left lying around, as children are likely to do.
He also like playing with a soccer ball, but he was not big enough to get it in his mouth, so instead he pushed it around with his snout and shoulders. Once at the park, some kids had a soccer ball and Johann decided it would be fun to play, so he went and stole it. Well, he didn't really steal it, because once the kids started chasing him, he stayed in the general area, circling back towards them so they could keep up. He even decided to go straight back at the mob, so he nuzzled under the ball, flipped it up in the air, turned 180° caught the ball on his nose like a seal and plowed back through the crowd of screaming kids.
I have seen dogs that do more behaviors than Johann did, but in his defense I must say we didn't know much about training dogs. We never gave him any treat greater than our praise when we taught him something new to do, and trusting, loving soul that he was, he never knew about the whole "do something cool, get a tasty treat" racket.
He learned some amazing games with very strange rules. One was Sand Monster. Karla, Jenny and I would start screaming "Sand Monster! Sand Monster!" while we ran around the front room, and Johann understood he was this previously undescribed Sand Monster. It was a game of Tag and he was not allowed up on furniture for the duration of the game, though we did jump on the furniture, which was behavior we were not usually allowed. As we ran from couch to couch, he would chase us and growl, and if he bit our pant leg, we had to fall down and crawl to the nearest base, dramatically fearing for our lives. (You should be able to tell from the picture that Johann was a little dog, and even if he grabbed a pant leg as hard as he could, he did not have the stopping power to down the smallest of us. It was part of the game.)
When we stopped screaming and we petted him and told him he was a good dog - and he most certainly was - the game was over and his ferocious Sand Monster persona was forgotten as quickly as it was put on.
Now that I think of it, screaming kids were exciting and fun for him.
His worst habit was probably barking, but my dad recalls that once he came home, Johann would stop, since the Alpha of our pack had returned and our safety was in his hands.
I could reminisce about Yoyo for days on end, but let me close here with something I said hundreds of times, and I meant it every time.
Good, dog, Johann. Good dog.
Sunday, August 28, 2011
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
How much do I love Maru?
Are you new here or what?
But I have a question for cat owners about this latest video. Maru walks into a thin gap, a completely natural and obvious cat behavior, and then he does a back flip.
I never saw a cat do this move. It's hilarious and his little winks to the camera make it even better. (I have no idea how the person running the camera doesn't crack up on every take.) But I'm wondering if he kind of did it by accident and then mugumogu gave him a treat to make him repeat it.
So, cat owners, have you seen this kind of kitty flop before? I'm sure if you have, your cat was adorable doing it, though probably not as adorable as Maru, the greatest silent comedian stunt artist since Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd.
I'd be glad to hear from you.
Bruce Barlett, a domestic policy and economic adviser to both Ronald Reagan and George Bush the Greater, has called current Texas governor Rick Perry an idiot. Karl Rove, chief toady to George Bush the Lesser, is also not in love with Rick Perry.
Bartlett now considers himself an independent, and his poor opinion of Perry is not that surprising. The minions of Bush the Lesser consider Perry to be a braggart and buffoon and, more importantly to them, the opposite of a compassionate conservative.
Perry is not afraid to run his mouth and in many circles, this is seen as a plus. He's said that if Fed chief Ben Bernanke came down to Texas, "we'd treat him pretty ugly." Some say this is just an example of running against Washington. People whose ears are more attuned to the talk of the South hear a dog whistle of anti-Semitism against a Jewish banker from the Northeast.
I might agree with Bartlett's assessment, but as we saw with both Reagan and Bush the Lesser, being an idiot is no bar to elected office in this country.
But calling names is cheap and easy. I am much more interested in Jon Huntsman, former governor of Utah and current second tier candidate for president. Instead of insults, he has made a call to arms for reason. Last week, he tweeted "To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy."
Jake Tapper of ABC News asked, "Were you just being cheeky or do you think there's a serious problem with what Governor Perry said?"
Huntsman's response: "I think there's a serious problem. The minute that the Republican Party becomes the party - the anti-science party, we have a huge problem. We lose a whole lot of people who would otherwise allow us to win the election in 2012."
I'm not a Republican because I disagree with many of their beliefs of what the major problems are facing our country and what the solutions should be. But most importantly, it is a damn shame that this country should have a party so ready to overthrow the best ideas science has on important topics, both in terms of human progress and public policy. I understand the push against evolution, since Biblical literalists think this means denying the word of God. But the push against the science of global warming is just the petulance of ill-bred seven year olds who will not give up their toys.
As long as this is the position of one of the two major parties in this land, we have nowhere to go but down.
Sunday, August 21, 2011
I shrink the pictures down so they don't take forever to download, so it's hard to get an idea of the scale of these. You'll notice the tips of the final points of the outside stars are not purple, and this is because I only have 132 kites in each color. Because of all the empty space, this is one of the largest patterns I've created so far, several feet in diameter.
Saturday, August 20, 2011
When Glenn Beck left Fox News - and Roger Ailes said he did not mind the characterization of that departure as a "dumping" - he said he was moving on to bigger things. Now, he is in Israel for his Restoring Courage rally, and a whole bunch of politically connected attendees are suddenly remembering they have to wash their hair that day. Rep. Joe Walsh of Texas told Beck that the Orange Eminence himself, John Boehner, told members of Congress not to attend because he thought the meeting would be too political. Eric Cantor isn't going, even though he will be in Israel on the date.
And just in case you think it's just mean old Boehner spoiling the fun, Droopy Dog himself, Senator Joe Lieberman (Likud-CT) has canceled his appearance.
Apparently, you can get thrown out of the Republican hierarchy for being too crazy, especially if you lose the protection of Fox News. It looks like Beck is heading into Michael Savage country.
Bring warm clothes, Glenn.
Friday, August 19, 2011
It is very satisfying to see High Fidelity at the top of the list, because I wouldn't even made this poll except for Cusack's character obsessively making Top Five lists throughout the movie.
The second movie on the list is The Grifters. Besides Cusack, the thing this movie has in common with High Fidelity is director Stephen Frears. They work well together.
Grosse Pointe Blank sits in third place by itself. Like High Fidelity, a lot of the charm of this movie comes from a great soundtrack of 1980s music used as nostalgia in the late 1990s.
Then we come to the tie for fourth through sixth. Being John Malkovich is another bold choice for Cusack and the greatest success of eccentric screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and the most successful film of Spike Jonze, who still makes a lot of short films and videos.
Of the three movies tied for the final spot, Eight Men Out is my personal favorite. John Sayles directs this story of the 1918 Black Sox scandal that got eight players thrown out of professional baseball forever. This kind of punishment isn't handed out much these days, though Pete Rose and Barry Bonds have been ostracized well after the barn door has closed for them.
And last is Say Anything..., a movie that isn't my absolute favorite of Cusack's, but I would say it's the best work of director Cameron Crowe and Cusack's romantic interest Ione Skye.
Thanks to everyone who voted.
Thursday, August 18, 2011
Last week, I published a picture of my mom, my sister Karlacita! and myself, with Mom and the newborn baby sitting in the brown rocking chair and me looking glum. One might think this was jealousy about the baby.
What I wanted was the rocking chair. I loved that rocking chair.
This picture from a few months later shows that family harmony is once again restored. I'm in the rocker - oh, happy day! - and Karla has been put beside me. She liked the rocking chair a lot as well, and she was especially happy when I talked to her, about nearly anything. Every time I finished a sentence, she would say "Ooo!" or "Ahh!". In this picture, I'm reading from a greeting card. Usually, I would have my dinosaur picture book, another prized possession from my youth.
And so, your honor, I would like to present this as Exhibit B to challenge the idea I was just a selfish, mean and jealous older brother. I was more than happy to share, but my idea of sharing meant I got something I wanted and you got something you wanted.
An equitable position to be sure. Even at five years old, it was clear I wasn't going to vote Republican.
(To be fair, when I was five, Dwight Eisenhower was still the nominal head of the Republicans, a much nicer breed than the scum that run the party today.)
p.s. Thanks to my buddy Alan for restoring this picture with his superb PhotoShop skills.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Another Earth is a low-budget indie sci-fi flick. That might seem like a bad idea on the face of it, but I've seen some low budget movies about alternate realities or stories told in the near future that had some charm and thinking.
Another Earth is science fiction without the science. It is so depressing, you'd think it was a Communist era cartoon from behind the Iron Curtain. By comparison, Grave of the Fireflies is a light romp in the park. It gets a 61% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which proves that at least 50% of critics cannot be trusted.
This thing is so depressing, people who see it may ask for a change in their medication. It won't help. You'll just have to get it out of your system. I saw it Saturday and I'll still bummed out Tuesday morning.
This is a movie about the decisions we make. Here's a good decision. Save yourself the time and the money. Do NOT see Another Earth. If you never see it, you will never know how much you should thank me for this.
I know in my heart I have done the right thing warning you, and that will have to suffice.
Sunday, August 14, 2011
Thursday, August 11, 2011
I have photographic proof.
Here's a picture of yours truly, my mom Kara and my sister Karlacita! when she is just home from the hospital.
I look a little grumpy. I really loved that rocking chair and I probably wanted to sit in it.
Karlacita! had this picture as a Polaroid and it had a lot of imperfections in it over the decades. She sent it to my friend Alan to do some restoration work and it looks wonderful.
Thanks to everybody who made it possible for me to share this with y'all, which would include the Gosh Darned Pater Familias who took the picture in the first place. It does bring back some great memories.
Over at Osbourne Ink, someone found this old public service announcement page from a Superman comic in 1952. You can always tell a character is heartless in a comic book if they use the exclamation "Bah!"
Of course, I've heard Superman wasn't even born here, and he's never produced a long form birth certificate.
Click for larger and more readable.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
I haven't had a poll here at Lotsa 'Splainin' 2 Do in a very long time, so I say it's time for a new one.
What are your five favorite films of John Cusack? Back in the 1980s and 1990s, he made some great movies, mostly comedies, and while a lot of the stuff he's done this decade has been big budget cheese, he has still had some interesting choices in more offbeat stuff.
Here are twelve choices, listed in chronological order, with short explanations of each. There are some big movies like Stand By Me and Broadcast News I left off the list because his roles were too minor to be counted as John Cusack movies.
The Sure Thing (1985) An early Rob Reiner romantic comedy with Daphne Zuniga. Also the first time he worked with Tim Robbins, who shows up in several films on this list.
Eight Men Out (1988) Directed by John Sayles. The story of the players from the Black Sox who were thrown out of baseball for fixing games in the World Series. Cusack plays Buck Weaver, who was banned from the game not for taking money but for not ratting on his teammates.
Say Anything… (1989) Directed by Cameron Crowe. The picture of Cusack as Lloyd Dobler holding the boom box over his head is his most iconic image from his career.
The Grifters (1990) Directed by Stephen Frears. Co-starring Angelica Huston and Annette Bening, easily one of the darkest movies of Cusack's early career.
Bullets Over Broadway (1994) One of the first Woody Allen movies where the role Allen would have played years earlier is played by another actor. Unlike other actors including Kenneth Brannagh, Cusack does not try to do a Woody Allen impression in this film.
Grosse Pointe Blank (1997) Directed by George Armitrage. A hit man goes to his 10 year high school reunion. Co-starring Minnie Driver at her most adorable. The hit man is seeing a shrink, a plot device used later in Analyze This and The Sopranos.
Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil (1997) Directed by Clint Eastwood. The movie version of this popular book didn't do great business, but I still think it deserves to be included on the list.
Cradle Will Rock (1999) Directed by Tim Robbins. Cusack had a small role in Robbins' Bob Roberts years before, but this time he plays Nelson Rockefeller in this story about the art scene in the mid 1930s, when the public theater projects started by F.D.R. are being accused of un-American activities nearly a generation before Joe McCarthy makes his name with similar accusations after World War II.
Being John Malkovich (1999) Directed by Spike Jonze, written by Charlie Kaufman. Kaufman has written some of the most off-beat screenplays that Hollywood has produced over the past twenty years and Being John Malkovich is his biggest success.
High Fidelity (2000) Directed by Stephen Frears. This movie is why I decided on this poll. Nick Hornby didn't think his novel about a record collector would translate out of its original English setting, but Cusack and a wonderful cast, including Jack Black, the Danish actress Iben Hjejle, Tim Robbins, Todd Louiso and Cusack's sister Joan make this one of my favorite movies about music.
Max (2002) Directed by Menno Meyjes. Cusack plays Max Rothman, a Jewish art dealer in Germany after World War I trying to befriend a difficult artist named Adolf Hitler, played by Noah Taylor. One of the least known movies on this list, but one of my personal favorites.
Hot Tub Time Machine (2010) Directed by Steve Pink. A silly comedy to be sure, but it made me laugh. I put it on the list to round it out to an even dozen.
The poll will be up until the 19th, a week from Friday. You can vote for more than one film, since it's supposed to be a top five list.
Monday, August 8, 2011
A new art installation by Oliver Voss called The Bather now being shown in Hamburg, Germany, clearly has My People and Our Agenda in mind. The three non-submerged parts, the knees and head of a giant woman, stand 13 feet tall cover 96 feet in length.
Sunday, August 7, 2011
The screenplay is by Aaron Sorkin. He is best known for the quick back-and-forth dialogue style of his hit show The West Wing. Conversations are like tennis matches. The movie opens with such a conversation between Mark and Erica Albright (Rooney Mara). Mark is obsessed about status and very rude to her. She dumps him by the end of the scene. Her final line is "I don't want you to think women are not going to like you because you are a nerd. Women are not going to like you because you are an asshole."
She has a much shorter second scene in the middle of the movie. Mark sees her dining with friends in a restaurant. He goes up to her and asks if he can talk to her alone. She refuses. Both of these rejections are seen as creative fuel for Zuckerberg.
Mara's next role will be much larger. The Social Network's director David Fincher has cast her as the protagonist Lisbeth Salander in the American version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I saw the original Danish film version. People think of the book as being all arty and stuff. I thought it was a rape revenge story and the other two books were much the same. I'm not likely see the American versions.
Putting my opinions aside, there is a worldwide cult of Lisbeth Salander fans nearly as headstrong as the fans of Harry Potter or the Twilight series. The chorus of disapproval was long and loud when Ms. Mara was cast. She was too pretty. She wasn't tough enough. Lisbeth is supposed to be 4'11" and Ms. Mara has the nerve to be 5'3" in real life.
I did not hear this quibble about the 5'4" Noomi Rapace, the star of the Danish version. There may have been a similar firestorm in Europe when the first version was made. I wasn't paying attention to it. Most Americans knew nothing about her before this film, so there were no pre-conceived notions of what she was capable of doing. I'm no stranger to this feeling. Seeing a good movie with a cast unknown to me makes the willing suspension of disbelief much easier.
The title of this post mentions Spike Lee. He isn't making this movie. I brought him up because of his quote about actors which I used last month on this blog. Spike said, “You’re out there buck-naked and that is hard. (This is) the reason why actors are fucked up; can you imagine having a job where someone is, ‘No, no, no. Your butt's too big, your head's too big, you're too skinny, your nose is too big?’”
We are supposed to covet fame and fortune. The fortune part I understand. The desirability of fame eludes me.
Saturday, August 6, 2011
Friday, August 5, 2011
About ten months ago, I put together a video using iMovie of the original recording of Ghost Riders In The Sky by Burl Ives. This picture of Burl is from his early years as a folk singer, traveling around the country with his voice and his guitar. Ghost Riders In The Sky is not really a folk song, but a modern tune in the Western style. Burl recorded the simple version I found on iTunes a month before Vaughn Monroe turned it into a massive hit.
The difference in musical styles is significant and I like Burl's version better.
Honest people can disagree.
Someone named Markalson1938 posted this version of Burl singing the song. Way too show business for my taste, after Burl sold out. There is no way in Hell the second version Burl did compared to the first, which is an honest song by an honest artist.
I say this because I'm a nerd and facts matter. Some might like Burl's second version better, but hearing the original shows you how much people turned this great tune into an excuse for virtuosity, losing the simple, scary meaning of the tune.
A few people, most notably my sister in law Janelle, recommended a movie called Dean Spanley, a quiet little comedy from New Zealand that played theatrically in the U.K. but went straight to DVD here in the States. Usually, "straight to DVD" means "not very good", but Dean Spanley is charming and well-acted. Sam Neill is in the title role as a British vicar who has strong memories of a previous life, and the movie also features Jeremy Northam and Peter O'Toole as an estranged son and father and Bryan Brown as a "conveyor", a middleman who is able to get his hands on Hungarian Imperial Tokay wine, an elixir that helps Dean Spanley remember his previous life more vividly.
I am intentionally not giving much of the plot away, but I give this film a very strong recommendation. Right now, I've only found it available on Netflix in streaming mode, so if you have that option, give the movie a chance. If you like sweet and eccentric comedies set in period, Dean Spanley will be a pleasant evening's entertainment, one that might bring back memories of a former life to some who watch it.
Thursday, August 4, 2011
Monday, August 1, 2011
A few weeks ago at a family dinner, I asked the question "Does anybody watch True Blood?"
My adorable niece Holly answered, "You mean, vampire porn?"
Hmmm... yeah, that about sums it up.
Someone said I should watch it and I tried the first season. They had some really good actors in what turned out to be minor roles, minor in that the characters didn't make it to the end of first season. Most notably, the veteran actress Lois Smith played the grandmother of the main character Sookie Stackhouse and Stephen Root was cast as a newbie vampire. Both of them are killed before season one ends. Every season has at least one top notch actor in a supporting role and a lot of good actors seen in other HBO shows have continuing roles, like William Sanderson from Deadwood and Chris Bauer from The Wire.
There is a small difference. I watched Deadwood and The Wire from beginning to end and recommend them to anyone who isn't squeamish about dark stories or profanity.
I cannot recommend True Blood. Folks with a lick of sense will hate it.
I swore off the show after two seasons, but I heard Denis O'Hare, a great New York actor, would have a major role in Season 3, so I rented it on Netflix. I watched the show intently, devouring the discs as they came.
But even though I watched, I knew why it sucked as I watched it.
Like many HBO shows, there's nudity. Many attractive people of both genders get butt nekkid on a regular basis. Also booby nekkid. Lower naughty bits are scrupulously avoided. That's a positive point in my book.
It also has a great theme song and opening title.
These two major positive points are overwhelmed by the two main negative points.
The writing sucks on all levels. This is a dangerous world. There are many creatures we would call supernatural - vampires, werewolves, shape shifters and other beings - many of whom consider humans food. You would think humans would be wary and able to protect themselves, but there are multiple characters in the show just too stupid to live. For a mind reader, Sookie is pretty stunningly stupid, and her brother Jason, pretty close to the opposite of a mind reader, is at least twice as stupid as she is. Her best friend Tara, also stupid. Tara's cousin Lafayette, definitely on the stupid side as well, but his survival makes some sense, since he is a valuable pawn in a dangerous game being played by the vampires.
All of them are regulars, having lived through three seasons plus. They live being stupid because the writers are stupider than they are.
An alternate theory is the writers and producers think the audience is stupider than they are, and the second point backs up this view very well.
The editing sucks as much as the writing. And even though they have hired a lot of acting talent, the editors use some many cliches and musical cues, you can only assume they think the audience has lost too many brain cells huffing paint. You'd think they would trust the actors to play horror or disgust or betrayal, but no. The music has to tell you what they are feeling. It's stunningly cheesy on a depressingly regular basis.
So again, the high points of True Blood: butt nekkidness and a great theme song.
The low points: the writing and the editing.
I do not mention any of the major actors, because I don't consider the show's weakness to be their fault. I almost always blame the people behind the camera when something is this depressingly bad.