Monday, December 29, 2008

Realistic New Year's Resolutions

Every year I make resolutions. And every year, I break them within weeks or even days. So this year I have decided to make resolutions I actually have a realistic chance of sticking to:

  • I will join a gym and work out three times a week for the first three weeks. After that I will slip to twice a week, then once. In September I will realize that I haven't been for months. I will continue to pay monthly dues until mid-2010 before finally accepting that I'm never going back.
  • I will go on a diet and lose 10 pounds. I will come off the diet and gain 15.
  • I will give up drinking. Except at weekends, of course: no point being a puritan about these things. And weekends begin on Friday. Which means a drink after sunset on Thursday night is really just getting an early start on the weekend. And one drink with dinner during the week isn't really drinking. Nor is one before dinner, one after dinner, or one instead of dinner.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Profound thoughts on the nature of dogs

With a four year old son, I get to watch a lot of cartoons featuring anthropomorphic animals, toys or vehicles. And I've noticed one odd pattern: the least anthropomorphic is always the dog. Mickey Mouse has Pluto; Tigger and Pooh have Buster; and so on. The dog often has near-human intelligence, but can only communicate in barks. Even in Toy Story, the dog is... just a dog.

Also of interest is that all of the cartoon serials eventually get around to two dog-centric stories. The first is the one where everybody else is frustrated because they can't understand the dog's barks. And the other is the one where everybody else is forming a band and the dog follows the others around becoming increasingly sad because he can't play an instrument. That one invariably ends with the band discovering that they can't keep time, and the dog discovering that he can be part of the band because he can play the drums.

So the message we're teaching our children about music is clear: there is a creature in this world that has near-human intelligence and the bare minimum of musical ability, but will always follow your band around with fierce loyalty. And it's called a "drummer".

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Male health

If you're a middle-aged male you probably already know roughly where I'm going with this...

So I had my first prostate exam last week. Yeah, I know it's important, you don't want to die of embarrassment, etc., but that doesn't mean I have to look forward to it becoming an annual ritual.

But what I'm really wondering is, who the heck first came up with the rectal exam? I'd sure like to have been in the room when that conversation took place:

"You know, we could really save some lives if we had an easier way to check the prostate."

"Hey, I have an idea... You're gonna need a rubber glove..."

Monday, November 17, 2008

Three Things That Are More Dangerous When Organized

Organized labor.

Organized crime.

Organized religion.

Failin' Palin

OK, I can't let it go just yet. One of the things that most annoyed me during the recent election cycle was attempts by Republican talking heads to equate Palin's experience as Mayor of Wasilla and Governor of Alaska with Obama's experience in the Illinois and U.S. Senates.

What nobody seemed willing to acknowledge was that it's not just the quantity of experience that counts, but also the quality. As mayor, Palin had to hire a Town Manager for the first time in Wasilla's history -- hardly a testament to her executive ability. And in under two years as Governor, she managed to chalk up enough acts of nepotism and abuse of power to be found guilty of ethics abuses -- something that takes most executives at least a full term to achieve.

On reflection, maybe she has the qualities to be a Republican Vice President... but Democrats hold their candidates for national office to a higher standard.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Postscript

The election is over, and soon Sarah Palin will be largely forgotten, to be recalled only as a Quayle-like punchline to questions such as "Which VP candidate thought Africa was a country?".

But before she is gone, I am left with one nagging question. She first became celebrated for her line "the difference between a hockey mom and a pitbull? Lipstick!". The more I think about it, the more I realize that I have no idea what that is even supposed to mean. Seriously, in what way? Is she saying that she's unstable, vicious, and likely to attack innocent children without provocation? One thing I do know: McCain's people wish they'd kept her on a shorter leash. And possibly a choke collar.

Personally I think the following comparisons would have been better:

Q: What's the difference between a pitbull with its teeth in your kid's arm and Sarah Palin with the taste of power in her mouth?
A: Eventually, the pitbull will let go.

Q: What's the difference between a Palin supporter and a terrorist?
A: You can negotiate with the terrorist.

I'll be here all week. Try the veal.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Non-standard tests for food freshness

Don't waste food by throwing it out just because the "Sell By" date has expired. That's just a conspiracy by the Military-Nutritional Complex to get you to buy more food.

The following tests can tell you whether the food is still good to eat.

Meat: You open the fridge door. You hear voices shouting "Turn off the light! You're ruining the party!" Time to throw out the meat.

Milk: When milk has been colonized by bacteria, use the following test. Make a cup of tea. Pour the milk into the tea. If the colonists don't throw the tea over the side, it's still good to drink.

Cheese: If it's not moldy, it's good. If it is moldy, just cut the moldy parts off. The rest is still good. If it was moldy when you bought it, it's good forever. If it's been so long that you can't remember whether it was moldy when you bought it... then you should probably throw it out.

Sour Cream: There is no known test for sour cream. Really, the stuff comes that way. If it doesn't kill you, it's good.

Broccoli rabe, arugula, fennel bulbs: If you're reading this advice and you find any of these things in the fridge, you got drunk last night and woke up in somebody else's house.

If this doesn't make you a little teary...

...you're not paying attention:

Tuesday


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Overheard

Overheard while dropping my son off at daycare this morning: "I'm scared about Obama. The first thing he's going to do is make friends with Iran and Iraq because he's a muslim."

Now that is a special kind of crazy right there.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Republicans conceding election?

Self-styled "conservative" (read: social conservatives, people who believe in small government for businesses and big government for personal morality) Republicans are already floating the idea of a Sarah Palin presidential bid in 2012. The idea is so absurd -- even if she weren't, to any objective observer, so manifestly unqualified, her social policies make her completely unelectable nationally even if she could win the nomination -- you have to wonder if there is a hidden agenda behind the "Palin 2012" talking point.

My Republican friends (of which I have none) tell me this is an astute media move designed to prop up Palin's credentials in the face of withering criticism and concern for McCain's health: how can anybody continue to disparage her qualifications for VP if the party is already considering for the top of the ticket in 2012? Unfortunately, there's a huge flaw in this strategy: it only makes sense if the Republicans are already conceding 2008 to Barack Obama.

The other alternative is that Republicans still believe John McCain will win, but he has one of those TV diseases that kill you in a very precise span of time:

"I'm sorry, sir, it's terminal."
"Oh my God! How long do I have to live?"
"Four years, two months and seventeen days"

Monday, October 20, 2008

Eddies in the spacetime continuum

My son's school sent a note home reminding parents of upcoming holidays, and also advising that on November 2nd, "Time goes forward". Presumably this is for the benefit of people who worry about what happens to the spacetime continuum on the day that the clocks go back.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Another reason why obsessing about Star Trek is silly

Have you ever met one of those obsessive Star Trek fans that is really, deeply upset by continuity errors? Probably the funniest is listening to Trekkies complain about the change in appearance of the Klingons' foreheads between the original series and The Next Generation, and trying to come up with an "in universe" (as they say) explanation -- in other words, something better than "makeup techniques are better now and we have a larger budget" -- and debating endlessly about what is the "correct" explanation... as if things that haven't explicitly been depicted on screen "really happened" elsewhere in this fictional universe...

Although it's already pretty silly to care that much about a fictional universe, there's an even better reason to make fun of this obsession: if Star Trek technology existed, the universe actually could contain real "continuity errors". Not only does Star Trek's mythology encompass explicit time travel, faster-than-light travel (even if it's achieved by warping space) also implies time travel. With time travel possible, strict cause-and-effect is doomed -- history and your associated memory of it could actually contain discontinuities, paradoxes, and contradictions. Trek's many time travel stories certainly contain examples of individuals who are aware that time has changed to be inconsistent with their memories, as well as others who are not (often with no clear reason as to why some have memories and others don't...).

So the next time you get cornered by an obsessive Trekkie who wants your opinion on the critical Klingon Forehead question, just shrug and say "time travel".

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Palin Goes All In

It looks like the Republican campaign has decided that there's nothing left to lose by going all-in with the muck-raking and dirt-slinging. Sarah "Failin'" Palin is trying to establish a new world record for Guilt By Association between Obama and the Weather Underground. For the record, I think I'm closer to Kevin Bacon than Obama is to 1960s domestic terrorists.

The biggest problem with this smear campaign, though, is Palin's ongoing incomprehensibility. When she says "turrist", I never know whether she means "terrorist" or "tourist". You'd think that the context would make it clear. But not in her case.

Friday, October 03, 2008

The Three Economies

A serious one for a change. Chris Anderson of "Long Tail" fame has a post on his blog about how the world is diverging into two economies, which he succinctly labels Atoms (physical goods) and Bits (digital goods). This is an interesting idea but I think it misses a fundamental point. There are not TWO economies, but THREE: bits, atoms, and people.

Chris is, as ever, spot on about bits: the marginal costs of (re)production approach zero, and traditional economics no longer apply.

He is IMHO slightly wrong about atoms when he says that material goods tend to increase in price over time: in most material businesses, efficiencies go up with scale, marginal costs go down over time, and so do prices. Cars, air travel, you name it: mass production and process efficiencies push costs down. A TV costs the same in dollars that it did 40 years ago despite being vastly superior and despite (monetary) inflation. This is the lesson of 19th century industrialization and 20th century mass production.

HOWEVER the cost of atoms doesn't go down nearly as fast as the cost of bits, so by comparison atoms look increasingly expensive.

Thirdly, there is the economics of people: Business models where people are inherent to the value proposition (at least, for the immediate future). Musical performance, for example. The "care" part of healthcare. Education, especially higher education. Research. Skilled people scale even less well than material products. The costs of employing people for these jobs tends to stay the same over time (or rise), even as the Atoms and Bits that complement their tasks get cheaper, making the People costs an ever larger fraction of the total. Observers often complain that healthcare and college education costs consistently outpace inflation. Of course: it is because they are People businesses, so naturally their costs are going to rise relative to either Atoms or Bits.

This "Three Economies" model helps to understand the dislocations going on in some industries. Music is a great example. Before the 20th C it was essentially a People business: you paid to see people perform. Recording turned it into a People Plus Atoms business, and by the 1980s it was overwhelmingly Atoms: top bands often lost money touring, but did it to promote the sale of recordings. Then along comes the digital era, and now we are in the midst of a transition to a People Plus Bits business, where Pay For Performance once again dominates and recordings promote the performance rather than vice versa -- while backward-looking execs desperately cling to the People Plus Atoms model.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Least Necessary Remakes

Most movie remakes are second-rate exploitative pap produced by the creatively bankrupt, of course. In order to make my list, a movie has to be more (less?) than that. It's not enough to be incompetently executed, preferably on a budget hugely larger than the original, or devoid of redeeming artistic merit. To make this list, a remake has to somehow miss the most essential point of the appeal of the original.

Here we go:

Planet of the Apes: The most memorable and dramatic element of the 1968 original is the moment when Charlton Heston discovers what planet he is really on. Needing a new twist for the 2001 remake, director Tim Burton gave us an ending in which... nobody can figure out what the hell was supposed to have happened. Up next: Burton remakes Soylent Green. Heston has a non-speaking cameo as a dead body.

The Day of the Jackal/The Jackal: The 1973 original was a brilliant psychologically tense thriller in which the ruthlessly efficient assassin and doggedly determined detective converge in a nailbitingly tense finale. The 1997 remake gives us Bruce "One Note" Willis as an assassin whose combination of ludicrously over-complicated plans and incompetent execution makes him the least likely killer this side of Wile E. Coyote.

Deathrace 2000/Deathrace: The makers of the 1975 original took a cast comprising some of the least talented stock players of the day plus a threadbare budget and created a much-underestimated satire on the dehumanizing effects of violence as entertainment. The makers of the 2008 version gave us a forehead-slapping celebration of the same thing. Deathrace is like watching somebody else play a video game.

Rollerball: 1975 original, satire on celebrity culture. 2002 remake, celebration of same. See Deathrace above.

Psycho: The 1960 original retains the power to scare to this day, even for audiences familiar with its central plot twists. Gus Van Sant's shot-for-shot remake replicates every move of the original, even intentionally including many of its continuity errors, yet somehow fails to deliver its tension. With what may well be the cardinal definition of the unnecessary remake, Van Sant proves that it's possible to play all of the notes and none of the music. This is the film-making equivalent of karaoke.

The Day the Earth Stood Still: Yes, I know the remake isn't even out yet, but the casting of Keanu Reeves as the alien Klaatu when his acting skills far better suit him to the role of the robot Gort is enough by itself to get it on this list. Add to that the fact that 1951 original is intractably rooted in the Cold War fear of mutual destruction. Lacking the threat of nuclear warfare as a compelling driver, in the remake the aliens are, reportedly, concerned about mankind's destruction of our own planet's environment. So in his departing speech Klaatu is going to threaten us with... what, exactly? If we continue to destroy our planet, his people will send Gort to... uh... destroy our planet?

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Zen of Game Shows

Stuck in a hotel room this week, I finally watched "Deal Or No Deal". At first I thought it was the dumbest thing I've ever seen on TV. Yes, I know, there are a lot of shows that are offensive, stupid, intelligence-insulting garbage. This is worse: it is a game show without a game. It's like the producers spent so much time on designing the set, "interviewing" the models, and hiring the "talent", they forgot to actually think how to play. If you've never watched the show -- something I highly recommend -- it consists of the host, Howie Mandel, basically asking contestants how much money they would like, while a bevy of models pose on a staircase smiling stiffly.

After a while though, I began to wonder if I'd missed something really subtle. (This tends to happen when I spend too much time alone in hotel rooms.) "Deal Or No Deal" might, in fact, be a TV game show distilled to its purest essence. It strips out all of the frippery and goes directly to the heart of what every viewer wants to see: how much money will the contestant win? It is so dumb it might actually be clever. It is the Zen of game shows.

Mind you, that epiphany still leaves one baffling question: what the hell is that thing on Howie Mandel's chin? It looks like he had one face lift too many, and his pubic hair ended up just underneath his lower lip. One word of advice, Howie: Brazilian.

Friday, September 05, 2008

An ad about nothing? Or early-onset dementia?

I finally caught the famous Microsoft/Seinfeld ad last night... and I'm baffled. What were they going for? I read a lot of comments on various boards and I'm even more baffled at the people saying the ad was "clever". Trust me on this: I'm clever, that ad was dumb.

And as for the people saying "It must have worked, we're talking about it aren't we?": the maxim that all publicity is good publicity was already stupid 50 years ago. Apparently some people didn't get the memo in Junior High -- you know, the one about the difference between laughing with you and laughing at you. But that's OK, they can ask Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan to explain it.

Frankly, I thought it was creepy. Bill came across like a confused old man who had wandered off at the mall and stumbled into a shoe store, with Seinfeld as the concerned son trying to persuade him to come home without causing a scene. Maybe Microsoft is launching a new SPOT-based device for tracking seniors?

Just me?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Why so serious?



Am I the only who sees a resemblance here? Clean off that caked-on make-up and blood-red lipstick... muss up her hair a little...

Oh, c'mon. Why so serious?

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

In a world gone sad...

"In a world gone mad, only one man can deliver the voiceover..."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don_LaFontaine

Don LaFontaine, the voiceover guy, is dead. I have nothing funny to say about such a cultural icon. He wasn't just a voiceover actor, he was a voiceover actor on the edge.

Somebody once said that when you die, you don't hear God's voice -- you hear God trying to do Don LaFontaine's voice. I picture Don right about now telling God, "No, no, no -- try it like this."

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Translation Guide for Republicanspeak

Republicans often talk in a special code -- mainly because if Middle America ever caught on to what they are really saying, Republicans would be unelectable. So I offer this handy short translation guide to things you are likely to hear at the upcoming Republican National Convention:

Statement: We support State's Rights
Translation: In particular, the right to discriminate against black people

Statement: We are the party of personal choice and individual liberty
Translation: ...unless people make personal choices we disapprove of, so we're going to pass constitutional amendments forbidding gay marriage, abortion, or criticizing the administration

Statement: We support family values
Translation: We hate gays

Statement: I strongly support family values
Translation: I am secretly cheating on my trophy wife with Sven, a 17-year old Swedish masseur and personal trainer

Statement: Illegal immigration is damaging American values
Translation: The two dozen Mexican gardeners and cleaners that the INS hauled away from my house were doing a terrible job

Statement: We believe in the rule of law
Translation: If the President authorized it, it must be legal

Statement: The American people have given us a clear mandate to pursue our agenda
Translation: We gerrymandered our way to a congressional majority

Statement: Now is a time for bipartisanship, cooperation, and healing the divide
Translation: We blew our congressional majority

Statement: We are the party of fiscal responsibility
Translation: My pork is an earmark. Your earmark is pork

Statement: We should always honor military service, without question or hesitation
Translation: John Kerry isn't running this time around

Statement: The most important attribute in a candidate is experience
Translation: Our candidate is old

Statement: The most important attribute in a candidate is energy
Translation: Their candidate is old

Statement: This election should be about policies, not character
Translation: Our candidate has a character problem

Statement: This election should be about character, not policies
Translation: Our candidate has no policies. But he did spend several years in a POW camp. Did we mention the POW camp?

Statement: Their candidate is an elitist
Translation: Smart people prefer their candidate

Statement: Their candidate is a populist
Translation: Dumb people prefer their candidate

Statement: Democrats will RAISE YOUR TAXES!!!
Translation: We got nothin'

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Author of "100 Things to Do Before You Die" has died

Dave Freeman, an advertising agency executive who co-wrote "100 Things to Do Before You Die," has died after falling and hitting his head at his home in Venice.

He probably should have thought twice about putting "fall backwards onto concrete floor" at number 53.

Friday, August 15, 2008

More arrogant stupidity from ESPN

I've written before about the arrogance and stupidity of ESPN. This latest example combines both in equal measure.

Watching ESPN this morning, I noticed that their ticker listed the USA as top of the Olympics medal table, ahead of China. This surprised me, so I verified it on ESPN.com, and sure enough:



Yes, ESPN has the USA first based on total medal count, even though every other news and sports outlet outside the USA (yes, I did check them all) including the official site follows the long-standing convention that countries are ordered by number of Golds, then Silvers, then Bronzes.

Of course, listing the table correctly would require Americans to swallow their pride and acknowledge that China is actually leading the table, and on the list of things America is not very good at, accepting defeat gracefully and following international standards are pretty near the top. In fairness to ESPN, I should note that NBC and CBS are equally vain and stupid in their medal tables.

It would be extremely cynical of me, of course, to suggest that American coverage would suddenly see the merits of the international standard if the position were reversed and the USA had more Golds but fewer total medals...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Ecology

The teenager daughter of a friend of mine recently asked, quite reasonably, "How did your generation manage to make such a mess of the environment?"

I explained: Back in the '60s, we were all taught that "the Earth doesn't belong to us, we just borrow it from our children". Then the '80s came along, we got a good look at how our children were turning out, and said "screw this." The rest is pretty much self-explanatory.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Unusual Activity

In the past few weeks, one of my neighbors has had a constant stream of delivery men and contractors visiting her house.

I can't work out whether she's having a lot of remodeling done, or filming a 1970s-style porn movie.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

DVR Addiction

The pychiatric profession tends to define a behavior or dependency, however obsessive, as a "disorder" only if it interferes with your everyday life on a frequent or extended basis. So for instance they have no problem with men who like to wear women's underwear under their clothes if it doesn't affect their outward behavior. Just to pick an example. Completely at random.

Anyhoo... I think I'm approaching the "disorder" threshold with my DVR. My dependency has followed the following trajectory:

Bad: I get frustrated at hotel TVs because I can't back up or pause a program

Worse: I go to pause the car radio when the cellphone rings, then remember I can't. Again.

Worst: I suddenly realize I zoned out the last 3 minutes of a conference call at work, and reach for the "backup" button

I'll know it's time to seek treatment if I reach the final stage: reaching for the "backup" button during a face-to-face conversation...

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

I Think I'm Doing It Wrong

I don't think I quite get this whole "social networking" thing yet. Whenever I log in to Facebook, it asks me "What are you doing right now?".

And I always answer, "Updating my Facebook page".

Surely that can't be right?

Friday, August 01, 2008

Golden seal?

I just discovered that my conditioner contains "golden seal extract". I'm really, really hoping that's a plant of some kind.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Discerning class

Some Americans like to think that their society is free of class distinctions. Of course that's untrue. In fact, you can often determine somebody's class from the first thing that they say to you. Imagine for instance that you're at a party and you catch a man staring at your breasts. How he handles the situation will immediately give away his class:

Working class: Nice tits. Can I get you a beer?

Middle class: Nice blouse. Can I get you a martini?

Upper class: Nice tits. Who's your surgeon?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Known to the state

WARNING: Carl Zetie may contain chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm

Thursday, July 17, 2008

600th anniversary of a little known tragedy

Today is the 600th anniversary of a little-known tragedy in the history of the Catholic church that modern scientific knowledge could have averted. In the late 14th and early 15th centuries the Catholic church was riven by rival Popes and Antipopes, but few know the story of an attempt at reconciliation that took place in 1408. On this date, the rival pope and antipope came together at a neutral location on the French/Swiss border to discuss the schism.

Unfortunately, without the benefit of 20th century physics, nobody could have foreseen what happened next. As soon as they met, the pope and antipope mutually annihilated, releasing a blast of energy that destroyed the surrounding countryside and killed all in attendance. The church quickly covered up this traumatic loss, and it would be another decade before the papal lines were reunified.

In an amazingly coincidental footnote, what now stands on that spot is... the Large Hadron Collider!

Monday, July 07, 2008

Like father, unlike son?

When you're the president of an international sporting federation and a British tabloid newspaper accuses you of taking part in a Nazi-themed sadomasochistic orgy with five prostitutes, it's never a good thing when your strongest rebuttal is to deny that any Nazi costumes were involved.

It also doesn't help when your father was the notorious wartime leader of the British Fascist party who supported Hitler's policies.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Really, really disturbing



If you asked who I thought the most attractive female on TV or in movies today was, I'd have to go with this vegetable.

No, the one on the left.

Yeah, I know. Disturbing.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Drinking too much

Dean Martin is supposed to have said that you're not seriously drunk if you can still lie on the floor without falling off.

Make that "best two out of three" and I'm with him.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The liberal media elite conspiracy

I'm reliably informed by my republican friends (of which I have none) that there is a liberal media elite plot to force homosexuality down the throats of Americans. They cite as evidence the growing "insinuation" of gay characters into network TV shows.

Of course in reality this has been going on for years: look at "I Dream of Jeannie" for example. There's the "straight shooting" astronaut "bachelor" who has a secret that he has to keep "bottled up" because his military commanders wouldn't understand. Maybe they could get away with that in the 1960s, but these days the euphemisms are transparently obvious. And remember the transvestite so-called "mother-in-law" in "Bewitched" -- could it be any more obvious?

The bad news for conservatives is that this TV season, all pretense is out the window. Check out these shows that are confirmed on the fall schedules:


"Honey I'm Homosexual": After 20 years of marriage and three children, a marketing account executive in his 40s comes out of the closet. His boyfriend moves into the spare bedroom of the family home leading to all kinds of mixups with friends, family, and visitors. Hilarity ensues.

"Extreme Makeover: Homo Edition": "Queer Eye" meets "Extreme Makeover" with fabulous results.

"Sex In the City": Four friends in NYC lead a stereotypically promiscuous urban gay male lifestyle while trying on expensive women's clothes and shoes. Nobody complains that this is corrupting American children because they are heterosexual women.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The king is dead

George Carlin has died. As reminder of how great he was, here's one compilation of somebody's choice of 101 best Carlin quotes.

Just think: he said at least 101 things this smart and funny. That's about 100 more than the average person manages in a lifetime. And this is only scraping the surface of the greatness that was Carlin.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Coffee: Is there anything it can't do?

I'm going to live forever:

http://www.newscientist.com/channel/health/dn14151-guzzling-coffee-may-cut-heart-disease.html?feedId=online-news_rss20

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Security theater becomes theater of the absurd

On a few recent business trips, I've noticed a new policy at hotels to ask for photo ID as well as a credit card. I can't for the life of me figure out why. I did ask a hotel receptionist and she said it was to ensure that my credit card wasn't being used fraudulently.

And that makes perfect sense, because I know that if I'd stolen somebody's credit card, the first thing I'd do is use it to check into a hotel under the victim's name, triggering the credit card company's fraud alert system, and letting the police know exactly where they could find me for the next few days.

In fact, I think I'd go wait in the bar and order some nachos while I wait for them to show up.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Unfortunate choice of words

Germany rolled over Poland again (I'm talking about the Euro 2008 soccer championship here), but am I alone in thinking that the German coaches choice of words was a little unfortunate in suggesting that the victory was a triumph of the will?

Thursday, June 05, 2008

New "Law & Order" spin-off

In the criminal justice system, traffic based offences are considered especially heinous. In New York City, the dedicated detectives who investigate these vicious felonies are members of an elite squad:

Law & Order: SUV

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Myth of the Popular Vote

The latest sign that Hillary Clinton's campaign has officially reached the "Desperately Flailing" stage: claiming that if Hillary receives a larger share of the popular vote she should be the Democratic nominee, regardless of delegate counts, the official process, or other such minor issues.

There's just one teeny tiny problem, though: Hillary doesn't have a larger share of the popular vote.

And neither does Obama.

Neither candidate has a greater share of the popular vote for the simple reason that nobody has competed in a contest to see who can attract the larger share of the popular vote.

If this were a contest for the popular vote, both candidates would have conducted themselves quite differently. They would have spent more time and money in more populous states rather than small ones with disproportionate delegate counts; appeared on TV at different times and places; courted different endorsements; and probably even championed different issues. The voters too would have behaved differently, perhaps abandoning other candidates in favor of Hillary or Obama to make their vote count. There is simply no way of knowing how the popular vote would have broken down in a contest that never took place.

Any claim about the popular vote by either candidate makes as much sense as saying that the New England Patriots should be the Superbowl champs because they held the ball for more time than the New Jersey Giants of New York.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Best Ever Songs About Gender Confusion

3. Walk on the Wild Side, Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground

2. Get Back, the Beatles

1. Lola, The Kinks

Did I miss any?

Friday, May 23, 2008

Truly Wireless Networking

It's always bothered me that home networking requires so much wiring. If I want to install a switch or a router or a wireless access point, I need to connect to both an ethernet port and a power socket. This is especially annoying for wireless access points: I want them to be as high as possible, and for some reason all of the power sockets in my house are near the floor. (Is it just me, or is "wireless access point" a bit of a misleading name? Mine has both power and ethernet cables attached to it, and that doesn't seem right.)

For a while I've been toying with ways to get rid of all the wires. My first idea was to try to combine Power over Ethernet -- which eliminates the need for a power socket -- with Ethernet over Powerline -- which eliminates the need for network cabling -- and somehow eliminate both the power and the ethernet cables. Unfortunately, neither Power over Ethernet over Powerline nor Ethernet over Powerline over Ethernet works, it turns out.

But then I had an even better idea: what if I could combine a Power over Ethernet adapter with a wireless network adapter? Then I could have a truly wireless access point! Genius! If anybody wants me, I'll be down at the Patent Office...

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Idiotic Design

Advocates of so-called Intelligent Design claim that some biological systems are too complex to have evolved, so they must have been designed by some external intelligence (about which they, oddly, refuse to hold any testable theory...). What they really mean by this, of course, is "I don't understand how this could have evolved, so it must have happened by magic." There are so many things wrong with Intelligent Design it's hard to know where to start -- it's not just bad science, it's bad religion (but that's a topic for another, much longer post).

Personally, I'm an advocate of Idiotic Design. It's clear to me that some biological systems are too complex to have been designed, so they must have evolved without any external intelligence. Interestingly, most of the best examples for Idiotic Design are the same ones invoked by Intelligent Design advocates (at least, up until science proves them wrong, and then they start casting around for another example). For instance, consider the human eye: a horrendously complex sack of components with a blind spot in the middle of an upside-down projection of the world that's channeled to the opposite hemisphere of the brain, which then has to sort the whole mess out. And look around you at the number of people who are near-sighted, long-sighted, astigmatic, have glaucoma or cataracts or any number of other eye diseases. Who could possibly have designed such a bad solution to a straightforward problem?

The evidence, then, admits of only two possible conclusions: Either the eye emerged slowly through small random steps combined with selection pressure (i.e. evolution). Or it was Designed by an Idiot.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

How not to run a social networking site

With so many social networking sites launching themselves these days (and by the way, am I the only person who thinks that companies jumping on this bandwagon in 2008 are about 2 years too late unless they have something really different to offer?), you'd think they'd try to avoid stunningly obvious, stupid mistakes. Not so, it turns out. I lasted all of 24 hours on a new business-centric networking site (no names, no lawsuits...) because their business plan turned out to be:

1. Get your friends to email you to sign up.
2. Silently sign you up for for daily mass mailings including passing your name onto "trusted third-party affiliates".
3. Don't profit.

To their credit, at least they are smart enough to realize that nobody would opt in to the third-party mailings given the choice. But that's more than offset by being too dumb to realize that when I said that a late-to-the-party social networking site needs to be different, I actually meant better.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Iron Man movie is no clanker

I finally saw the Iron Man movie at the weekend and loved it. As I mentioned in a previous post, one of the things that makes this movie work for me is that Iron Man remains within the bounds of the possible and the credible (even as it stretches the limits of the plausible). However, there were three things that were so implausible they surpassed my willingness to believe, if only for a few moments:

1. The "arc generator" power source. How long had Stark known how to make one so small, so that he could knock one up in the cave when he needed it, yet kept this world-changing invention to himself?

2. The Audi. Stark is a billionaire, he loves beautiful cars, and out of every possible car on the planet he chooses to drive an Audi? My friend Dave, who I saw the movie with, drove to the theater in a nicer car than Stark.

3. The burger. After weeks in captivity, Stark returns home and he wants a cheeseburger. Fair enough. But he goes to Burger King for it? Let's get real. He's rich. He's powerful. He's in California. He's going to get his burger at In-and-Out.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Yet Another Disturbing Thought

OK, so Donald Duck doesn't wear pants. But last night I was watching an episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse with my son where Donald Duck goes in a swimming pool, and he does wear swimming trunks. Pants in public: no; swimming trunks in pool: yes. The only rational explanation I can come up with is that he's worried about embarrassing "shrinkage". Is it just me, or does this get more disturbing the longer you watch?

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Another reason most comic books insult your intelligence

Why do superheroes always insist on going head-to-head with the one villain who has the power to defeat them? For instance, when The Melter (yes, there really is a villain called the Melter) shows up in town, Iron Man just has to go out and face him and act all surprised when his armor melts (the clue is in the name, Tony).

If he had any sense he'd just get on the phone to one of his buddies: "Human Torch? Hey, since you're immune to heat and flame, could you take down this Melter guy for me? And in return, you give me a call the next time Human Firehose Man gives you trouble." (no, there really isn't a villain called Human Firehose Man.)

In fact, it seems there is only one force in the Marvel universe that is powerful enough to get a superhero to acknowledge that other heroes exist, and to call on them for help: declining circulation figures.

"Ahh! Look out! It's Declining Circulation Man! His Ray of Repetition has shrunk our readership! Only one thing can restore our audience to it's previous size!"
"No! You can't be thinking..."
"Yes! A crossover story arc!"
"Nooooo! It's too dangerous! It could kill all of us!"

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

On mythic heroes and modern heroes, gods and mortals

For once, a serious rather than sarcastic post, on the question of why the Iron Man and Batman Begins movies succeed, and Hulk and Thor will fail horribly.

And yes, the best thing I can get serious about is superhero movies. But this isn't really about superhero movies, it's about the changing nature of the Hero archetype in folk narrative, and its about gods and men. No, it really is. But I'm going to get there the long way.


The reviews are in and "Iron Man" is a resounding critical and popular success. The same was true of Batman Begins. I have a thought as to why these two movies worked, and it's this: both Iron Man and Batman exist on a human scale, albeit at the far end of that scale. Hulk and Thor are so superhuman, they are beyond interesting.

That means two things. First, we find their exploits to be credible, just bordering on incredible. Second, while their powers are impressive, their limits are well-defined. So Batman is a better martial artist than any real fighter who has ever lived -- but not so much better that you can't believe its possible. And when he takes on a dozen skilled fighters you believe that he can get hurt, and could even lose. You can believe that what he does might, barely, be possible; and you care because you believe that he is actually at risk.

Similarly, the tech in Iron Man's armor is beyond any reality today but (with a couple of exceptions, like where is the power source?) not beyond things we can imagine today. What is even more impressive is how little the concept has changed since it was created back in the 1960s (the main change has been the technobabble explanations of how it works: back then, it was all down to "transistors"). And like Batman, he has limits. Can he survive a confrontation with a main battle tank? Probably. A fighter jet? Maybe. A surface-to-air missile? Maybe not. A guy in a bigger, stronger Iron Man suit? This I gotta see...

Now think about Hulk, Thor, Superman, and similar heroes. Hulk is... there's no two ways about this... invulnerable. Indestructible. Nothing can harm him. You can't even restrain him for long because, as the comic books tell us, "the angrier Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets". So he can't be hurt, and there's no limit to his strength. Hmmm, I wonder who's going to win, Hulk or the other guy? The centerpiece of this summer's Hulk movie, apparently, is an extended fight between Hulk and an enemy from the comic books called the Abomination, who is just as strong and invulnerable as Hulk, only uglier. Two guys who can't be hurt going at it for twenty minutes? Wake me up when it's over. The audience for this movie is presumably people who enjoy seeing things blown up or knocked down. Adolescent males, in other words.

Thor, for those unfamiliar with this Marvel character, is an immortal Norse god come to Earth. He is, according to canon, about as strong as Hulk, plus he has an indestructible magic hammer that commands the lightning. How are they going to make us care what happens to him? You could drop a nuclear bomb on him and it might, at worst, singe his hair. In order to put Thor or Superman in any real peril, you basically have to temporarily strip their powers (e.g. with Kryptonite, in Superman's case, or by hiding his hammer for 60 minutes in the case of Thor -- no, really), and that gets pretty tedious after a while. It's also self-defeating: the best way to make these characters more interesting is to take away the powers that define them!

Of course, having a protagonist we can actually invest ourselves in doesn't guarantee success. You still have to get the tone right and have a good story with a meaningful character arc. Look at Batman and Robin and the other franchise-killing Batman sequels, for example. Character arc is the hardest part to get right in a sequel: when you look at the transformations of Wayne and Stark by the ends of their respective movies, you have to wonder what they can do next other than beat up more people and blow up more things and save the city again. (Incidentally, this is why none of the Star Wars movies after the first are very interesting. By the end of the first movie, all of the major characters have completed their Campbellian heroic journey.)

And this brings me back to my original point. Modern movie making offers us two kinds of hero. One is the Unchanging Hero, who is the same person at the end of his story that he was at the beginning. He is called to action, he responds, he succeeds, and he returns in glory (or, if the writer is feeling creative, in irony). John Wayne's heroes fit this mold, as does Indiana Jones, James Bond, and many others. You can trace the lineage of this story back as far as records exist. It's Achilles and Hector and Hercules and Beowulf and Gilgamesh. It's the story of gods and demigods and superhumans all the way back to the most ancient legends we know of.

The second kind of hero is the Unwilling Hero, popularized among screenwriters by Joseph Campbell's "The Hero's Journey". In Campbell's framework, the hero starts out as an ordinary person, then follows a well-defined arc involving a call, a refusal, a second call, a cast of mystical helpers, and so on. Think of just about any folk tale where the peasant slays the dragon after all the princes have failed. Or think of Luke Skywalker, the highly-publicised example that launched a thousand second-rate imitations. By most standards this tradition is also ancient, but it may be only half as old as the Unchanging Hero: say, 5000 years.

The Unchanging Hero is the product of a human psyche that was, in some fundamental way, timeless. The stories of Greek gods and demigods all take place in a timeless "now", there is no way that one can sequence them into a narrative. They are ahistorical. The stories of the Old Testament and the founding mythology of the Romans and the dynastic records of the Egyptians by contrast are chronological and purport to be historical and -- in an astonishing conceptual shift -- depict change over time. This is about as fundamental a shift as mankind has ever gone through.

And intriguingly, both of these ideas exist in modern storytelling. Hulk, Thor and Superman are like unchanging gods and demigods -- and I don't think it's a coincidence that they have godlike powers of strength and invulnerability. (Heck, Superman can even turn back time to bring the dead back to life!). So is Bond: you can watch pretty much the entire canon (with one important exception...) in any order, because the character does not change through the course of his adventures.

Iron Man and Batman on the other hand are like the human heroes of the founding of Rome or the Biblical conquest of Palestine. They do change over time and their narrative has a definite order to it. And again, it's no coincidence that their powers are recognizably human, not godlike.

Even more interestingly, we seem to be in an era of Hollywood movie-making at least where the Unchanging Hero is declining in favor of the Unwilling Hero. The most recent James Bond, for example, depicts the arc of a moral man becoming an efficient killer-for-duty. The Bourne Identity depicts the reverse arc.

So based on all of the above, here's my predictions for the blockbuster movies for the next few years:

Hulk, Thor, Superman Returns sequel (Superman Returns Returns?): Epic fails. May make a lot of money on opening weekend, but will leave a lot of disappointed fans.

Batman Begins sequel (Batman Begins Again?), Iron Man sequel: all depends on finding some new character arc for Wayne and Stark. If, like many other sequels, begins with an already-heroic character who does some heroic stuff then stops, it will disappoint.

Captain America: Potentially as good as Batman Begins, if they get the tone right.

Indiana Jones 4: This is the trickiest one. I don't know anything about the plot, but I predict that if it's just another episode in the Old Indiana Jones Chronicles with an Unchanging Hero, it will be the surprise flop of the summer. I think that the time for such heroes has passed by. But if it does something new with the character, it will be a surprise critical success rather than just a popcorn movie.


Personally, I prefer my movie heroes to be men, not gods.

Bush approval ratings at new low (no, this is not a repeat)

What the...? Haven't we been reading this headline every month for the past two years? I didn't think it was logically possible for it to get any lower. Before this is all over, they're going to have to start outsourcing Bush Disapproval to India because they'll have run out of Americans available to do the job.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Opposites Attack

Why are so many things in modern life named the very opposite of what they actually mean? Do modern PR flacks think we are all stupid, or do they just not even try anymore?

There's a long tradition of countries, for example, doing this: if a country renamed itself "The People's Popular and Democratic Republic of Wherever", it was pretty much equivalent to putting a sign over the door saying "Tin Pot Third World Military Dictatorship/Police State". Countries that are *actually* democratic republics with popularly-elected governments don't actually need to tell you that. Nor do they need to force-feed preschoolers with oaths of allegiance, or sing their national anthem three times a day, or put up flags on every post office, bank, and used car lot. Oh, wait...

Another political example that is more overtly cynical is pressure groups calling themselves "Citizens for XYZ" or, in local elections, "Residents for ABC". Anytime you see a name like, you can pretty much guarantee that the "Citizens" or "Residents" in question are actually a faceless company or industry lobby with a vested financial interest.

On a smaller scale, I noticed that my son's Disney DVDs have a "feature" that will automatically plod through minutes and minutes of previews and trailers before showing the main feature, taking far longer than just pressing "Menu" and "Play". I guess it's a good feature for parents that want to just be able to put the disk in and walk away... but it takes a disturbingly cynical mind to call that feature "FastPlay".

But what got me started on all this was a friend who called me up because he had an "ethical dilemma". After listening to him it struck me that whenever somebody uses that expression, its never about a choice between two ethical options, or even an ethical and an unethical option. What he really had was an "unethical dilemma"...

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Brace yourself

Recently I surprised my English friends by getting braces fitted to straighten my teeth. "Cosmetic" dentistry like this was rare enough among children when I grew up in England, let alone adults entering the second half of life (if I'm lucky -- last third of life if family history is any guide...).

The explanation is quite simple: I've been trying to pass the test to become a US citizen. At my first attempt I passed the oral exam easily, but failed the dental exam. If I want to become naturalized, I'm afraid I'm going to have to bring my teeth up to American standards.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Another reason Star Trek sucks

How many Star Trek episodes or movies contain a scene like this?

[Scene: Bridge of the Enterprise]
Ensign: Captain, a Klingon vessel just decloaked!
Captain Kirk: Quick, raise the sh---
[Much flashing of lights, whooshing of smoke, swaying of cheap sets]

or if you prefer Star Trek: Enterprise,

[Scene: Bridge of the Enterprise]
Ensign: Captain, they're charging weapons!
Captain Archer: Quick, polarize the hull pla---
[Much flashing of lights, whooshing of smoke, swaying of cheap sets]

Hasn't it occurred to anybody in charge of one of the most powerful, expensive ships in the whole of Starfleet to take the computer that identifies threats and the computer that raises shields and, oh, I don't know, connect them together? Then the scene would go something like this:

[Bridge of the Enterprise]
[Lights momentarily dim]
Captain Kirk: Ensign?
Ensign: Captain, a Klingon vessel just decloaked. The computer has automatically transferred power to the shields.
Captain Kirk: Excellent. Target their engines and weapons before their captain can give the order to raise shields. Oh, and target their bathrooms too. That always helps to keep the surrender negotiations short.


OK, maybe its not as dramatic, but its a lot more realistic, and would save me having to shout at the TV.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

More Movie Cliches: "Prepare to die!"

What does that mean exactly, when the hero tells the villain (or vice versa) "Prepare to die"? When you think about it, the only sensible answer is "OK, but I'm going to need two or three weeks. I have to pay some bills, cancel the newspaper delivery, and throw out the perishables from the fridge. And maybe I should increase my life insurance -- what do you think?"

Do the people who write screenplays think that (a) we are all idiots and (b) none of us has ever seen a movie before?

Come to think of it, that would at least explain why the theaters are full of formulaic sequels, stupid cartoons turned into live action, bad remakes, and worse movies-from-TV-shows that were never very good to begin with. We'll know Hollywood is totally done when we get a sequel to a bad TV cartoon as live action movie: "Deputy Dawg 2: This time, it's personal".

Oh wait: they already made "Scooby Doo 2"...

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Best. News. Ever

According to this BBC report, Daily caffeine 'protects brain'. By that theory, I should be a freakin' genius by now.

Or possibly, the amount of caffeine I take in is just enough to offset the negative effects of my cholesterol level. Mmmm, bacon...

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Clarifying Senator Clinton's claims

It turns out that when Senator Clinton claimed to have played a role in the Northern Ireland peace process, she misspoke again. What she meant to say was that she went to Northern Ireland and ate processed peas.





Monday, March 31, 2008

Phil the Greek didn't have Diana whacked, BBC reports

The inquest into the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, has concluded that she was not, in fact, assassinated by an MI6 "wet works" hit squad on the orders of His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, a.k.a. "Phil the Greek".

Everybody who really needed ten years of delays, a six month-long inquest, and about $15M to discover that, please raise your hand. Anybody?

Of course, some people will point out that what the coroner actually said is not that it didn't happen, but that "there is not a shred of evidence" to support the theory -- which just goes to prove what a good clean-up job MI6 did, right?

The only remaining question then is why, of all the possible headlines the BBC could have chosen for this story, they chose to go with this one...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Culture What?

One of the strangest things about being an Englishman in America is understanding the so-called "Culture War". It's not the "culture" part that throws me, it's the "war" part. Now I know that American politicians like to throw the "war" word around lightly -- cynics might allege that you can hide a multitude of sins when there's a war on -- but at least the war on terror and the war on drugs involve actual violence and real harm.

My issue with the Culture War is this: in order to have a war, you need to have two sides fighting. Each must be determined to the death to impose its goal on the other. The Culture War doesn't: it has one side fighting, and one side that just wants to be left in peace.

One side -- for the sake of argument let's call them, oh, Conservatives -- disapproves of other people's choices of lifestyle: how they dress, who they date, what movies they want to watch or games they want to play, what opinions they express, how they have sex... In fact, they disapprove of some of these things so strongly that they want to make them illegal or even unconstitutional.

The other side -- let's call them Liberals -- doesn't. It doesn't mind if conservatives wear suits and ties and skirts and stockings (even the men...), but it would like kids who wear baggy pants to be left in peace. It doesn't mind if conservatives watch "The Passion of the Christ" but would like the same freedom to watch "The Last Temptation". It doesn't disapprove of men and women marrying, but it would like men and men or women and women to be allowed to marry too. It doesn't want to deny Conservatives the right to live as they see fit, it just asks for the same freedom for itself. And when it does want to change the law or constitution, it wants to do so to permit things, not forbid things.

(Ronald Reagan is supposed to have once said in reply to Gorbachev's claim that the USSR, just like America, was governed by a constitution: "The difference is, your constitution tells the people what they can do. Our constitution tells the government what it can do." Hmm, to my surprise I find myself wishing that Conservatives paid more attention to what their great hero actually said...)

However, for Conservatives to make a "war" out of this, they can't acknowledge the asymmetry. They have to claim that the other side also wants to impose its values on them. That fundamental deceit is the only way that the leaders of the Culture War can maintain the War Fever necessary to motivate their followers. It's the kind of logical contortion that, for example, leads people to advocate laws and constitutional amendment that forbid some people from getting married, and then label those laws "Defense of Marriage".

What then should we call such a situation, if it isn't a war? Historical examples suggest we could call it the Culture Repression, the Culture Opression, or the Culture Intolerance.

But where my people come from, we know what to call it when other people are unwilling to let you live harmlessly in peace according to your own beliefs and standards, want to discriminate against you, make up lies about you wanting to pervert their traditional and sacred way of life, and are willing to go to extreme lengths to impose their own beliefs and standards on you.

We call it a pogrom.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Only in America (part #912)

I was at somebody's office the other day and while I was waiting for my appointment the owner tried to make small talk. And he came out with a remark that I hear a lot from Americans, and I have no idea what the appropriate response is. It goes: "You're from England? My sister's cousin lives in Ipswich!" Am I supposed to know her?

If you're American and wondering why this is funny, imagine the reverse scenario. You go to Britain and somebody says to you "American, eh? I have a distant relative in Toledo." Exactly.

The most bizarre part of this is, it has apparently been going on for decades. I recall British comedian Jasper Carrott doing a bit about this exact topic back in the 1970s after his first trip to the US: "British, huh? Do you know a Mrs. Jones in Southend?" "Maybe. Two eyes? Legs? Hair? Yeah, I think I do know her!".

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Why healthcare is so expensive in the US

Some people say its the malpractice liability insurance. Some say its because one third of the money gets burned up by admin costs. Some blame pharmaceutical companies for pressuring consumers to demand prescription meds for marginal irritations ("Do you worry that you blink too often? Or not often enough? Are you thinking about blinking right now? Ask your doctor about prescription Xyzzyor.")

My theory is that a lot of it is down to bored doctors messing with patients' minds. Like this conversation in the doctor's lounge:

Bob: Hey, Ted. I just sent that guy for an MRI on his head.
Ted: Really? What does he have?
Bob: Ear infection. But he looked anxious so I decided to screw with him.
Ted: Hah! And did you tell him "It's probably nothing" and then do that face?
Bob: Yep. And then I said "There's a small chance that the scan itself can induce brain cancer. But of course, it's your decision."


At least, that's what I'd probably do if I were a doctor...

Monday, February 25, 2008

Another disturbing thought

Donald Duck. Winnie the Pooh. Porky Pig. Why do none of these characters wear pants?

Even worse, Mickey Mouse does wear pants. Doesn't he ever look at Donald and say "Uh, buddy, did you forget something this morning?"

Am I the only one who finds this all profoundly disturbing?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

British Children's TV shows that sound dirty (but aren't)

I grew up in England thinking these names were perfectly innocent. Then I hit adolescence...

"Brian! Have you been muffin' the mule again?"

"Crap, I've got a blue peter."
"Yeah, well, I warned you about noggin' the nog."

Friday, February 15, 2008

Doing it wrong

I've often thought that you could have a really great time if the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Food and Drug Administration got together for a party: "Hey guys, we'll bring the food and drugs, you bring the alcohol and tobacco. Uh... probably better not to bring any firearms..."

Monday, February 11, 2008

Nursery Rhymes for the 21st Century

Georgie Porgie, pudding and pie,
Kissed the girls and made them cry.
When the boys came out to play,
He kissed them too.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.


Mary had a little lamb,
Six servings of grains
And seven servings of fruit and vegetables.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Rational explanations for movie cliches (part 2)

Cliche: Any car chase anywhere in the world invariably involves a collision with at least one fruit cart. Astonishingly, even highly-developed glass-and-steel financial districts permit rickety wooden fruit stalls to do business on their street corners. Even more astonishingly, every form of transport ever constructed is able to avoid fast moving, swerving cars... except for fruit carts.

Rational Explanation: It's an insurance scam. The fruit vendors save all the overripe, unsold fruit and stash it on strategically-stored carts. Whenever a high speed car chase takes place in their neighborhood, they attempt to push the cart into the path of the vehicle, then claim on the driver's insurance.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Middle Age (again)

Middle age is when somebody buys you a nose hair trimmer for Christmas.


And you are genuinely grateful.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Disturbing thoughts while watching American Idol

The lowbrow appeal of American Idol, at least in the early weeks, is in watching the hopelessly inept singers. I find it impossible to get through more than about 10 minutes of the show without using the word "delusional".

And that's fine, until you realize that you're laughing at three kinds of people. There are the ones that aren't nearly as good as their parents and spouses have told them, and they just need a reality check. There are ones who know they are bad but willingly humiliate themselves for 15 seconds of airtime, and that's just sad.

And then there are the ones who are absolutely convinced that they are great singers. Even after hearing from the judges, or hearing themselves back on tape, they remain convinced. They are the ones who leave the audition screaming and yelling. Clearly, the judges are idiots, the show is rigged, the music industry won't take risks... their denial is astonishingly deep and robust. These same people often also tell the camera how attractive they are, how snappily they dress, and how well they dance ... contrary to all the evidence on display.

This is hilarious... until you stop to realize that these people are delusional in a clinical sense. They are so out of touch with reality, it is harming their everyday lives. Some of them are practically stalking the peripatetic auditions. The rest of their lives are on hold waiting for a break that will never, ever happen for them.

And I can't help wondering: when did other people's mental illness become a fit subject for public ridicule and primetime amusement?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Old Movies Never Die

I love those cheesy 1970s fantasy movies made from Victorian novels that always seemed to star Doug McClure. My all-time favorite is "The Land That Time Forgot", but I have to confess I was disappointed with the two formulaic sequels, "The Land That Newsweek Forgot" and "The Land That US News And World Report Forgot".

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Rational explanations for movie cliches (part 1)

Being the rational, analytical person that I am, I seek logical explanations for movie cliches... this is the first in what will probably be a long series...

Cliche: Any time a police officer mentions that he has only a few days left before retirement, you can guarantee that he will be dead within twenty minutes.

Rational Explanation: City police departments employ secret death squads to hunt down and kill police officers close to retirement. This provides a huge saving on pension benefit costs.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Middle Age

Middle age is when you are too old to sell your body for sex but too young to sell your body for science.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Dallas Cowboys to ceremonially sacrifice punter

Ever since the tragic death of safety Sean Taylor, the Washington Redskins have been playing inspired football that has taken them on a 4 game winning streak culminating in a 27-6 drubbing of the Dallas Cowboys and qualification for the playoffs. Meanwhile the Cowboys have been in something of a slump, playing with little passion or energy.

Noting that Redskins players and coaches have been quick to attribute their success to their "guardian angel" Taylor looking down from on high, Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips announced Monday that the team had decided to shoot the punter. "We need the kind of help that the Redskins are getting", said Phillips at a news conference, "and punters are a dime a dozen."

If the idea works for the Cowboys, look for this new tactic to be quickly imitated across the league. Some clubs may be looking for sacrificial victims in the late rounds of this year's draft, while others will see it as an attractive alternative to placing players on Injured Reserve. Wide receivers who break a leg on the field of play may be shot where they lay rather than carted off and rehabbed, but this is subject to agreement with the television networks and the players' union.