Sunday, August 26, 2007

Sunday Bloggy Sunday

Just got back from a shoot in Colorado, where I played a self-satisfied University professor. I got to wear a silk shirt and wool blazer, and ride a scooter around the CU campus in Boulder in 105 degree heat. Fun! I got to do a stunt (get hit by Frisbee, fall over), and have a water balloon land on my head. Refreshing!

This will be part of a web series, called KollegeTV, or kollegetv, or … something…. We are aiming to launch the series (which I co-wrote with my director Bill Allard, and producer Peter Garrity), on October 1. I will keep you informed, whether you want to be or not.

There are many enthusiastic young people involved. I hope to god we do not betray their blind trust! But then again, it wouldn’t be the first time….

What we have so far does seem pretty funny to me though.

Book Review
I was asked last month to review a book, THE KILLER BOOK OF TRUE CRIME by Tom and Michael Philbin (Sourcebooks, Inc. Nashville, Illinois, 2007). I agreed immediately, because it made me think that I have Pundit Power at last, or at least I’d get a free book out of the deal.

I did! I passed the book on to the Wee Bride first, because she is a True Crime fanatic. She gave it a tepid endorsement. If you are new to the genre, she opined, you will find it interesting. Unless, of course, True Crime repulses you. But if you are a True Crime fanatic, there is not much new here.

There is some good stuff. There is a story about Jay Silverheels (Tonto, children), being pulled over for DUI in Manhattan. There are descriptions of shoplifting techniques, results of the JonBonet Ramsey autopsy (ew!), the most common locations for car theft (Modesto, California leads the list), most common stolen cars (1995 Honda Civic heads the list), the last words of condemned prisoners, John Wayne Gacey’s response to a questionnaire, etc.

However: the text is bedeviled by typos, repetitions, and lazy weirdness. In a segment about the real life murders that inspired THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, for instance, there is this: “On the day after the murders, my wife and I went to 112 Ocean Avenue to drive past. What I remember, mainly, are the religious statues outside the house, but also a sign that hung by the house number: HIGH HOPES. In light of what happened, in my mind it will always be savagely ironic, and very, very sad.”

For one thing, which author is talking? Tom or Michael? For another thing, yes, HIGH HOPES hung above a mass murder site is ironic and sad. And then…? Couldn't you have talked to the cops? Are you a reporter, assemblagist, or what? What makes this book different from, say, a blog?

All in all, I have to give this book one of those little tepid waving of the hand, parallel to the ground, at chest level sort of gestures. It was a fun read, but marred by the utter lack of an editor.

Sorry! Send me more books! I will read them! I will review them! Whether you like or not!

Speaking of which…
I’m about halfway through AGAINST THE DAY, Thomas Pynchon’s new doorstopper, which alternately makes my eyes glaze over or makes me laugh. It gave me a sudden insight about Thomas Pynchon, though. I’m a big fan of his, if only because he thinks big. I like big books.

Here's my insight: Pynchon, except for the CRYING OF LOT 49, does not have characters who, you know, seem to really want to DO anything. They’re always threatening to do something, or wandering around trying to avoid doing something, or doing something despite themselves…. But they mainly roam the globe in a state of confusion as to what and who they are, and what the world is. Even in his novel about Lewis and Clark, the two mapmakers seem to be more drifting than driven. In AGAINST THE DAY, there are brothers seeking to avenge the murder of their father, which does happen (at this point, halfway through), but accidentally. This ain’t Cormac McCarthy world (though I detect a disdainful nod to McCarthy in this trope).

One of Pynchon’s early short stories is called “Entropy.” Pynchon’s view of entropy seems to be more literary than scientific (and AGAINST THE DAY has a lot of physics in that same vein), in that everything seems to veer towards chaos and/or mystery. As explained by Pynchon, it seems like gibberish to me, but hey, I'm a fan....

Entropy itself, as I understand it, basically means that all ordered systems lead, eventually, to disorder. That makes sense to me. Snow melts. So what?

You scientist types out there, please don’t yell at me. It will only hurt my feelings, and increase either entropy or a world view first evinced by Vico and WB Yeats. Nobody wants that.

Except me and Thomas Pynchon.

Entropic news?
AP: “ Here's news that Fox's series ‘Anchorwoman’ wouldn't want to deliver: It's been canceled after one low-rated airing.

“The debut of the reality show about Lauren Jones' attempt to turn herself into a news anchor for a Texas TV station drew an estimated 2.7 million viewers Wednesday, according to preliminary figures from Nielsen Media Research.

“That number is about a third of the viewership Fox attracted a week earlier with the finale of its popular ‘So You Think You Can Dance.’

“Jones was a Barker Beauty on /The Price Is Right,’ Miss New York and featured WWE Diva before the series put her into the newsroom of KYTX Channel 19 in Tyler, Texas.

“Unaired episodes of ‘Anchorwoman’ will be available on Fox's website through Fox on Demand, the network said Thursday.”

Avoid the water slide, that’s all I’m saying.
Headline of the week, USA TODAY: “10 great places to absorb the reality of slavery”

From Terry Castle’s piece on Susan Sontag in LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS:
“She’d been telling me about the siege and how a Yugoslav woman she had taken shelter with had asked her for her autograph, even as bombs fell around them. She relished the woman’s obvious intelligence (‘Of course, Terry, she’d read The Volcano Lover, and like all Europeans, admired it tremendously’) and her own sangfroid. Then she stopped abruptly and asked, grim-faced, if I’d ever had to evade sniper fire. I said, no, unfortunately not. Lickety-split she was off – dashing in a feverish crouch from one boutique doorway to the next, white tennis shoes a blur, all the way down the street to Restoration Hardware and the Baskin-Robbins store. Five or six perplexed Palo Altans stopped to watch as she bobbed zanily in and out, ducking her head, pointing at imaginary gunmen on rooftops and gesticulating wildly at me to follow. No one, clearly, knew who she was, though several of them looked as if they thought they should know who she was.”

Come on, baby….
David Bamber in the London Telegraph: “The hokey cokey, the popular dance, has always been seen as an innocent, if raucous, form of entertainment. But an Anglican clergyman has now discovered a more sinister side: it originated as a parody of the Roman Catholic Church's Latin Mass.”

Here in America, we call it the “hokey pokey,” and while its origins may well be in “hocus pocus,” “ the words believed to be used by magicians when they were casting spells,” it nowadays strictly refers to a dance that has not been performed since 1967 at the end of a school prom which ended, alas, in my not getting laid.

Why libertarians should not inherit the earth….
From, “Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation and author of the GPL under which the GNU/Linux operating system is licensed, was in Peru during the quake, we asked if he would share his experiences with us. Here's his report.”

“I was supposed to take a bus to Chimbote that night. We thought for a while that the bus would be cancelled, because communications were out and the line could not tell that the roads were safe. That would have meant missing my speech the next day. However, the bus departed on schedule and I gave the speech as planned.

“I read that a church collapsed on worshipers during mass; later I heard that the priest had been rescued. Believers surely attributed the rescue to the good will of a benevolent deity. They probably did not attribute the collapse to the ill will of an evil deity, but it would be equally logical. In the 18th century, an earthquake destroyed a cathedral in Lisbon, killing thousands of believers. Many in Europe began to doubt religion as a result.”

Thank you Richard Stallman, for that heart-rending report. Glad you made your bus!

Mo Rove
ATLANTIC MONTHLY, Joshua Green, “The Rove Presidency”

Dick Armey, House Republican majority leader when Bush first took office, would offer the name tag that gave him access to the White House to President Clinton (whom he did not like, nor he him) to sign, so Armey could give it to some “schoolkid” as a souvenir. Bush?

“Armey said that when he went to his first meeting in the White House with President Bush, he explained the tradition with Clinton and asked the president if he would care to continue it.”

Armey said, “Bush refused to sign the card. Rove, who was sitting across the table, said, ‘It would probably end up on eBay.’”

Armey concluded, “The Bush White House was tone-deaf to the normal courtesies of the office.”
This little anecdote seems more telling to me than a thousand revelations of torture, lying, and bullying. The nation is being run by clueless impolite jerks. That’s. Not. Right.

Off to Wisconsin this next weekend to attend the 1st birthday of a niece. Will be back week after next with another exciting adventure. Stay tuned!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Stately Orotund Blog

I recently read that Walt Disney’s last words were “Kurt Russell.” Wow, I thought. I have since found out that it’s not exactly true. His last two WRITTEN words were “Kurt Russell.” Russell was still a “child star” at the time, though already kind of long in the tooth for that sort of thing.

Law in the news
In its defense against Viacom’s lawsuit for copyright infringement, YouTube wants to depose Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart. I’m sure they’ll be friendly witnesses. Comedians love it when people broadcast what they do and not pay them for it. Don’t they?

The new America
Alleged surveillance victims can’t sue the federal government unless they can prove they’ve been spied upon. That information is classified, however, and cannot be used as evidence in court. Which catch is that again?

More creepy stuff that I would sooner live without….
Specially security personnel, Behavior Detection Officers, have been trained to observe the body language and facial expressions of airline passengers for bad intention indicators.

Internet harks back to ancient days?
New York Times, author unnamed: “…I have come to feel that there is something stately, almost orotund in the generic restraints of e-mail. Macaulay might have used it for his ‘Lays of Ancient Rome.’ It is a form that Madame de Sevigné might have relished.”

Don’t ask me. I haven’t the foggiest. Stately and orotund are pretty much antonyms, near as I can tell. Well, not exactly, but being orotund is definitely a failed attempt at being stately. I don’t think Macaulay would have written LAYS OF ANCIENT ROME in e-mail. On the contrary, the daily demands of e-mail would probably have prevented him from writing LAYS OF ANCIENT ROME in the first place. Madame de Sevigne was a 17th century aristocrat who was a witty conversationalist and wrote a lot of letters, none of them in lower case, or using upper case to indicate shouting. I doubt she would have approved of LOL. (LOL)

And the “generic restraints of e-mail?” Bondage and discipline restraints? The restraints of behavior suggested by etiquette? (In e-mail? I don’t think so.) If anybody has any idea what that could mean, please drop me a line.

More from the New York Times, via reporter John Tourney….
“Until I talked to Nick Bostrom, a philosopher at Oxford University, it never occurred to me that our universe might be somebody else’s hobby. I hadn’t imagined that the omniscient, omnipotent creator of the heavens and earth could be an advanced version of a guy who spends his weekends building model railroads or overseeing video-game worlds like the Sims.

“But now it seems quite possible. In fact, if you accept a pretty reasonable assumption of Dr. Bostrom’s, it is almost a mathematical certainty that we are living in someone else’s computer simulation.”

“Dr. Bostrom assumes that technological advances could produce a computer with more processing power than all the brains in the world, and that advanced humans, or ‘posthumans,’ could run ‘ancestor simulations’ of their evolutionary history by creating virtual worlds inhabited by virtual people with fully developed virtual nervous systems.”

“… ‘My gut feeling, and it’s nothing more than that,’ [Dr. Bostrum] says, ‘is that there’s a 20 percent chance we’re living in a computer simulation.’”

His gut feeling reveals a 20 percent chance that we’re living in a computer simulation! Wow! This is the kind of stuff I used to think about when I smoked a lot of pot! And now Dr. Bostrum says it’s true, or could be, 20 per cent! Schoolboy metaphysics (i.e. we were all created a second ago, the rest is a dream) is true, 20 per cent, thanks to computer simulations, and Dr. Bostrum’s orotund gut!

Worth reprinting in its entirety, I hope…. (from New Scientist)
It's a speed record that is supposed to be impossible to break. Yet two physicists are now claiming they have propelled photons faster than the speed of light. This would be in direct violation of a key tenet of Einstein's special theory of relativity that states that nothing, under any circumstance, can exceed the speed of light.

Günter Nimtz and Alfons Stahlhofen of the University of Koblenz, Germany, have been exploring a phenomenon in quantum optics called photon tunnelling, which occurs when a particle slips across an apparently uncrossable barrier. The pair say they have now tunnelled photons "instantaneously" across a barrier of various sizes, from a few millimetres up to a metre. Their conclusion is that the photons traverse the barrier much faster than the speed of light.

To see how far they could make photons tunnel, Nimtz and Stahlhofen sandwiched two glass prisms together to make a cube 40 centimetres on its sides. Since photons tunnel most readily over distances comparable with their wavelength, the physicists used microwaves with a wavelength of 33 cm - long enough for large tunnelling distances yet still short enough that the photons' paths can be bent by the prism.

As expected, the microwaves shone straight through the cube, and when the prisms were separated, the first prism reflected the microwaves (see Diagram). However, in accordance with theory, a few microwave photons also tunnelled across the gap separating the two prisms, continuing as if the prisms were still sandwiched together.

Nimtz and Stahlhofen found that the reflected microwaves and the few microwaves that tunnelled through to the second prism both arrived at their respective photodetectors at the same time. This suggests an ultra-fast transit between the two prisms - so much faster than the speed of light that the experimenters couldn't measure it. Moreover, the pair found that the tunnelling time, if any, did not change as they pulled the prisms further apart. Because tunnelling efficiency also drops off with distance, however, Nimtz says that they could not observe the effect across distances greater than 1 metre (

"For the time being," he says, "this is the only violation [of special relativity] that I know of."

How can this be explained" The Heisenberg uncertainty principle dictates that a particle's energy and the time it spends in any one place cannot both be known with absolute precision. This means particles can sometimes sneak over a barrier if the time they spend traversing that barrier is short enough. Bizarre as it may seem, quantum tunnelling is not only a commonplace phenomenon in the quantum world, it also lies at the core of many processes we take for granted.

"In my opinion, tunnelling is the most important physical process, because we have it in radioactivity and we have it in nuclear fusion," Nimtz says. "The temperature of the sun is not high enough to organise regular fusion of protons into helium [without tunnelling]. Some people are saying that the big bang happened because of tunnelling. Recently, many people have argued that processes in biology and in our brain are based on tunnelling."

Aephraim Steinberg, a quantum optics expert at the University of Toronto, Canada, doesn't dispute Nimtz and Stahlhofen's results. However, Einstein can rest easy, he says. The photons don't violate relativity: it's just a question of interpretation.

Spoilsport alert! (from New Scientist, continued)
Steinberg explains Nimtz and Stahlhofen's observations by way of analogy with a 20-car bullet train departing Chicago for New York. The stopwatch starts when the centre of the train leaves the station, but the train leaves cars behind at each stop. So when the train arrives in New York, now comprising only two cars, its centre has moved ahead, although the train itself hasn't exceeded its reported speed.

"If you're standing at the two stations, looking at your watch, it seems to you these people have broken the speed limit," Steinberg says. "They've got there faster than they should have, but it just happens that the only ones you see arrive are in the front car. So they had that head start, but they were never travelling especially fast."

My daughter has a blog!
“The adventures of a T. Rex and his lady friend.” Check it out!

I’m so proud. Another generation on the road to creativity and no money.

Colorado’s calling me….
Off to do a project in Boulder. Might tell you about this later. Might not. I often want to tell you folks about what I’m up to, but I’m usually too pooped. It’s a lot easier to make fun of stuff that’s already out there. That’s what the blogosphere is all about! Of course, when newspapers and magazines and books are gone, because nobody wants to pay for information, there will be nothing left to make fun of. How could that happen, if this is all computer simulation anyway? Curse you, Dr. Bostrum!

Monday, August 13, 2007

I'll go no more a Roveing with you fair blog

“To spend more time with his family….”
When politicos resign to spend more time with their families, how much time do they REALLY spend with their families? Why aren’t journalists following up on this? Oh, right, I forgot. There aren’t any more journalists. They all resigned to spend more time with their families.

Duck’s Breath
Tonight is our last (sold out) show on our World Tour – well, Three County Tour, anyway. It’s been great fun, and we are all feeling very good about it. It’s tiring though. On opening night day, I took a nap, a hot bath, and then another nap. And I’m not a nap/bath kind of guy. I woke up from the second nap with a cat asleep on my hand.

Toys in the news 1
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - A giant, smiling Lego man was fished out of the sea in the Dutch resort of Zandvoort on Tuesday.

Workers at a drinks stall rescued the 2.5-meter (8-foot) tall model with a yellow head and blue torso.

"We saw something bobbing about in the sea and we decided to take it out of the water," said a stall worker. "It was a life-sized Lego toy."

A woman nearby added: "I saw the Lego toy floating toward the beach from the direction of England."

The toy was later placed in front of the drinks stall.

Oh no!
Rapper 50 Cent says he’ll quit if his next CD is outsold by Kanye West.

What shall we do? Where will we turn?

Movie trailer review
The child bride and I went to see THE SIMPSONS MOVIE, before which we saw a trailer for a new movie starring Alvin and the Chipmunks. Um, was there a yearning for this movie that I never heard about?

Well, okay, I’ll grudgingly accept that there was an aching hole in America’s heart that needed to be filled with computer generated singing chipmunks. But the scene that is shown in the trailer?
Here it is: “Dave” comes into a room with the chipmunks, where Alvin has what seems to be a turd in his hand. Dave yells, “Don’t eat that!” Alvin says, “It’s a raisin,” and pops it into his mouth. Dave leaves, and Alvin spits the object out, turns to Theodore and says, “You owe me big time.”

Number one, the scene doesn’t make any sense. Why would Alvin have Theodore’s turd in his hand?

Number two, even if America does want the hole in its heart filled with singing chipmunks, I rather doubt that it wants those chipmunks eating their own scat.

Number three, of all the no-doubt hilarious scenes in this upcoming movie, was this scene selected as the funniest? The one that will really make America flock to the multiplex to see the movie? I boggle.

Number four, somebody had to come up with this scene. Somebody had to sit down and believe that it would be funny to see Alvin the Chipmunk put a turd in his mouth. Not only that, actors had to say the lines. Highly skilled animators had to get Alvin putting the turd in his mouth up on the screen. And we had to pay ten bucks apiece to sit through the trailer. We’re doomed.

Other cartoon news…
Boston Herald: “Cambridge’s most famous mechanics are taking their offbeat radio act to television next summer, starring in PBS’s first-ever prime-time animated sitcom.” That’s right. CAR TALK: THE ANIMATED SERIES. We’re doomed.

The anonymous guy that does the “fake” Steve Jobs blog was outed by the New York Times. The blogosphere is all atwitter!

Oh, those pesky Russians dept.
Explorers have planted the Russian flag on the seabed 14,000feet below the North Pole to further Moscow's claims to the Arctic. Canadian Foreign Minister Peter MacKay said out loud to the CTV channel what everybody was thinking: "This isn't the 15th Century. You can't go around the world and just plant flags and say 'We're claiming this territory'."

Toys in the news 2
The owner of a Chinese toy company has killed himself. The company made toys for Fisher Price – many of which were recalled recently – including figures from SESAME STREET and DORA THE EXPLORER. The boss allegedly poisoned himself by licking the lead off Elmo until he died.

A new study suggests that young children who watch educational DVDs like BRAINY BABY and BABY EINSTEIN learn fewer words than those who don’t.

Dan Coffey, one of the Ducks, suggested that I should build an Ian Shoales piece around the news that Anderson Cooper, the news anchor, is launching his own brand of cologne. Dan wondered if other anchormen will get in the act, giving us, say, Eau de Cronkite. Good idea, Dan!

Now, I’m off to make people laugh. Onstage, in Berkeley. Where laughter is generally frowned upon.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Aug Blaug

Gearing up for the Duck’s Breath show next week, so I’m posting early this week. I should post every day, but golly, who has the time? If you’re in the Bay Area, come see us. We’re funny. We’re not getting any younger. All it takes is one aneurysm among our fold, my friends, and there goes the fun. Who knows? You may see one of us drop dead onstage! What a thrill that would be!

Here’s the info again:

Dear Friend of the Ducks:

We don’t get out of the house much any more, but when we do, we like to
wreak as much havoc as possible, before our handlers retrieve us, and
put us back on our meds.

So we will be running amok in the Bay Area this August, and we urge you
to join us. Let us now run through the schedule.

AUGUST 9/10/11, 2007 (THR/FR/SAT * 8 PM)
142 Throckmorton Theater
142 Throckmorton Avenue, Mill Valley, California 94941

The evening will open with a series of short sketches featuring (among
others) Doctor Science, Randee of the Redwoods, & Ian Shoales. It will
end with a thrilling climax: the re-mounting of our classic tribute to
the spaghetti western, “Senseless Cruelty,” featuring special guest, Bay
Area musical hero Joshua Raoul Brody.

Violence! Music! Belly laughs!

That will be a three day event. If you miss it, you will probably regret
it for the rest of your life. But should you miss it, don¹t worry, there
are two more opportunities to experience the glory that is Duck’s Breath
Mystery Theatre. And they are--

AUGUST 12, 2007 (SUNDAY * 7:30 PM)
The Palms Playhouse
13 Main Street, Winters, CA,

AUGUST 13, 2007 (MONDAY * 8 PM)
Freight & Salvage
1111 Addison Street, Berkeley, CA 94702

These latter shows will feature Duck’s Breath’s characters in a wide
range of short sketches including Art Show, Sister Mundhi-Mr. Johnson,
the Marones, and more - including new stuff! That’s right! New stuff!
From us!

Join us, won’t you? If not, why not? When else are you going to see us?
We¹re not getting any younger you know. Hello? Be there! Aloha!

What’s that?
What’s that on Rupert Murdoch’s wall? Why, it’s the stuffed head of the Wall Street Journal!

Minnesota Bridge
I was shocked at the news of the bridge collapse in Minnesota, a bridge I used to cross many times, coming home to Brainerd to visit my folks, back when I was a grad student at the University of Iowa.

Nobody knows what the cause of the collapse is yet, but I would venture to suggest that there has been a general decay of the infrastructure over the past few years. There was the cave-in in Boston. There was the destruction of New Orleans. Delayed flights. Hellish commutes. Helicopter collisions.

Lonely Girl
Will Bree die at the hands of the strange cult that abducted her? Will her friends save her in time? Will she once again play with hand puppets and engage with best friend Daniel in the precocious game "Proving Science Wrong?"

Yadda yadda.

Should we give him powers to monitor communications, with little or no supervision by the special court charged with tracking such activities and granting warrants? Gosh. I don’t think we should.

Did you know that, I dunno, 80 per cent of U.S. toys are made in China? Should that continue? Gosh. I don’t think it should. Unless you like lead in your offspring’s recreational tools.

The YouTube debate
Candidates were asked a question by a talking snowman, I am given to understand. We are doomed.

Senate Hearings Highlights!
White House aide J. Scott Jennings: "Senator, I'm doing the best that I can, and believe me, this is likely as frustrating for me as it is for you."

Chairman Leahy: "No, trust me, it is not."