Friday, January 27, 2006

Do NOT Call This Number

It’s a painful commercial to start with.
Two ‘real people’ in their mid-twenties staring into the camera, trying to explain how marvelous a service they used. They are doing their best to remain as still as possible, presumably so the camera lens doesn’t have to shift focus. The female has to catch herself as her over-tensed body tries to shift her forward.
Much more incongruous than any of this is the attempt to incorporate the hip-hop slang of the company’s web address (that’s right, web address) into their ceremonial treatise.

That’s bad enough.

But, at the very end, the owner himself must make an appearance. That’s right.
In this world of superficial judgments, you’d think a businessman would be shrewd enough to let the pretty blonde’s smile do all his talking for him. Not this guy.

As the couple stands framing the edges of the screen with plastic smiles, making like statuary (at least trying) and positioned at diagonals to funnel attention toward center screen, the man himself stands between and behind them. He’s already elevated two feet above their height (to make him look important?), but doesn’t let this stop him from bouncing on tip-toes at every syllable.

The altitude, the suit, and the gruesome smile make him look like a film version of Satan. But that doesn’t begin to touch on the grotesque eyebrows and hairline, or the rest of the face.
His speech is designed to emphasize his benevolent sacrifice at offering the viewer such magnificent financing.
And even though the utter stupidity behind this commercial would seem to rule out the presence of mind of a good con-artist, somehow I still don’t believe a word being said.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Reflections on the Fall

There are some jokes about the original sin that keep popping up. “First thing I do when I get to heaven: I’m gonna sock Adam right in the face.” That one I picked up at age seven in a copy of “The Reader’s Digest” and immediately adopted.
Another, less insightful crack laments Adam’s complicity in biting the fruit, for if Eve (who is assumed to have started this) alone had sinned men would have it O.K. these days and only women would be jerks. Or have to deal with an unfriendly afterlife.

That latter joke is an example of heavy-handed chauvinism in humor. It’s supposed to be funny for that very ludicrous ideology of sexism. It was never very funny in the first place, but it loses all humor once one has heard some idiot proclaim it as ‘fact.’

The truth of the matter is that Adam (male-kind) had messed it all up long before Eve’s (female-kind) teeth ever touched the forbidden produce.
[Genesis 3:6} “[Eve] took the fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband [who was] with her, and he ate.” Who was with her. The guy’s just standing there, letting this talking reptile convince his wife to do the one thing they are never to do. Did the wuss even bother to open his mouth?? Even more damning to our most fore father:
[I Timothy 2:14} “Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.” What kind of defense does Adam have left? He didn’t even fall for it and he just apathetically let’s all this stuff go on. Despicable.

One could well make the argument that the very first human sin was not Eve’s ill-advised nibble, but Adam’s disgusting inaction.


Woman is in place to keep man from destroying himself, and man’s purpose is to keep outside forces from destroying woman. It is a beautiful example of symbiosis, largely erected over the ruins of their very failure that made the need so large.

Sad, eh?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Be Human

It’s strange just how many connotations the word “human” has amassed.
Particularly incongruous is the use of “being human” for “being kind.” Just where did that come from?

“Humanity” is not an institution of kindness and warmth but selfishness. How many crimes have been committed simply out of a base human desire, out of a love of self? Pretty much… every crime in human history.

Kindness arises not from adhering to one’s self, but by conscious imitation of a “higher good” or the Perfect Entity.

But then, “human” is used perhaps more often for “flawed.” A much more fitting usage.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Everything Good On Is...

Last night’s “Bleak House” (part one of six) on PBS was very interesting. I regret to say I have not read the book (and probably will not for some years), so my review is a bit limited. But it was done skillfully and perhaps even engrossingly. It is written by Andrew Davies, the same man responsible for the scripting of 95’s magnificent “Pride and prejudice” miniseries and the ridiculous Pride & Prejudice appropriation “Bridget Jones” (I shudder to think on the relation).

The presentation may be a bit, erm, overstated… but I forgive it on that count.
And it is really quite enjoyable to see Inspector Lynley (that is, Nathaniel Parker) playing so well the Mr. Skimpole, a most Dickensian of characters.
Not to mention Charles Dance’s just barely understated turn as the eerie lawyer. His performance’s nuances, unfortunately, are lost in the whoosh noises and the like superimposed to heighten it. Alas.

Oh, yeah, and Scully the Alien Hunter does a pretty good job affecting a Brit accent for the lead role.
But these highlights shouldn’t detract from the rest of the cast. Just find time to watch it for many fine performances, however flashy the sound editing tries to get.


And tonight on the tube was American Experience’s “John and Abigail Adams.” Beautiful.
O.K, so they misinterpreted Adams’ central objectives in the Massachusetts constitution (for the full twenty seconds granted to it), and miscast and misdirected Thomas Jefferson.
But on the whole it was just a very well-told, very balanced picture of one of this country’s most important founding influences.
One of the things I like about it so much is that I can’t say whether it’s main focus was on the couple’s personal relationship or on the vast events so influenced by the Adams. Both are painted very well and fully.

And John Adams truly is a man worthy of remembrance and respect (despite the Alien and Sedition Acts, which I’ll try not to rave against for page after page).

The broadcast also took a good look at the Federalist vs. Republican dynamic, and the personal ramifications (and causes). And in everything where an actor , who did not physically resemble the man, was not expected to speak for Jefferson (which was done with a “gentleman’s drawl” to emphasize geographical distinctions), Thomas was represented quite fairly in triumph and fault.


Good show. (Please note labored British accent on that sentence.)

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Arming the Army: Print Vs. Function

When the U.S. military adopted the M-14, it didn't take long to realize it had made a mistake.
So a list of spec requirements were rushed out for a new weapon and in the 60’s the M-16 was adopted. As soon as it was used in combat, it was realized another mistake (bigger than the first) had been made.

So: new spec sheet, new contest.

First, everybody got exited over the XM-29, a huge (huge) battle-rifle/air-shot grenade combo. I’d hate to have to wrap my arm around that thing in combat. Or compete with it for a view of the target. Or, more so, have to lug that 18-wheeler around in a war zone. Or anywhere else.
This didn’t stop it from being touted on the cover of a (mostly) quality national magazine.
Thankfully, it lost. (The grenade-launcher part has now been separately developed into the XM-25, but I doubt it will be issued to any actual unit-based combatants.)

Then came the more-heavily touted XM-8. This one got front cover-age by two major technology mags, and was featured as the central weapon of a popular video-game.
It was very easy to carry around and (this was what impressed me) at least theoretically had the capability of being easily refitted in the field for available ammo.
But when it got right down to it, it looked more like a plastic toy than a lethal weapon, and the Army likes to think of itself as cool. (Though one could challenge that assertion by bringing up the adoption of the M-16.)
The XM-8’s funds were pulled late last year.

But now, also featured in a national magazine (sorry, haven’t seen any cover shots yet) is the FN SCAR. That’s Fabrique Nationale Special Forces Combat Assault Rifle. It is being produced in two variants (for the two major NATO-familiar rounds), designated L and H (light and heavy).
Both are capable of single fire and an automatic rate of 600 rounds a minute (one source said 500). Apparently no selection for restricted bursts (which is a concern in a weapon that looses ten rounds in a second), though. The SCAR is claimed to be capable of quick field alterations from assault rifle to sniper mortar, but is not said to be made to accept enemy munitions. (Alas, that’s really just too much to ask for. Heck, if it comes to that, our guys’ll just borrow the guns meant to fire other ammo.)

SOCOM has put in an order (for around a hundred thousand pieces, I’m told), and our Special Forces are expected to have their hands on them within a few months. Not bad, if it comes about. (Though, from its restriction to Special Ops, it seems SCAR is destined only to replace close-quarters weaponry, and the M-14. Nothing between, meaning the M-16.)

I am optimistic for SCAR’s success. It is small, and I have no way of saying just how well it will handle without more information (the grips seem a bit close together to hug under strain without cramping up), but it certainly looks promising. And the auto fire rate isn’t as uselessly profligate as the M-16. Over that weapon, obsolete at it’s introduction, it would surely be an improvement.
But there is also FN’s track record to go by. By rights their 280 FAL should have been adopted fifty years ago, rather than the M-14 which looked better on paper to some but whose functionality (not to mention objectives) was obsolete in the field.
If that had happened, if our boys in Vietnam had been equipped with the Belgian gun, who knows what grand direction our Army’s armaments might be headed today.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Explosive Findings

Inadvertent discoveries make for the most entertaining ones. And the most indignant scientists’ wives.

Hamburg, Germany, 1669: Alchemist Hennig Brandt boils fetid urine until the leftovers (in an air-exposure-preventing container) explode. Thus discovering elemental phosphorus.
Guy made himself a primitive light bulb to study by out of the stuff.

Nancy, France, 1832: Legitimate chemist Henri Braconnot messes around in his workspace with nitric acid, wearing only the wife’s cotton apron for protection. Said apron becomes splattered with said acid and, when hung up by the fire to dry, suddenly disappears in a flash of expanding gases.
Thus was discovered nitrocellulose (cellulose nitrate), or guncotton. A major technological advance and military advantage over gunpowder.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

United We Stand

The first two episodes of “The War That Made America” aired last night on PBS.

At a few points the writer’s really seem to be reaching in declaring things undisputed fact. I think in addition to going a bit too far in attempts at building a cohesive narrative from occasionally questionable sources, they insist on reading modern perspectives into decisions of 2.5 centuries ago. Not to mention placing now-current connotations of some words on their use in period quotes.

Despite, however, the portrayal that cannot escape the notions of today (or an apparently dismal budget), it is at first glance a largely true and educational program. And folk today could do with some education on this particular (vitally important) conflict.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Picky Me

Take today. When I see on one of my favorite desserts a newly-added emblem proudly proclaiming “Zero Grams Trans-Fat!!” what’s the first thing to leap into my mind?

“They better not have messed up the recipe!”

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Random Reads: THE MAD SCIENTISTS’ CLUB

by Bertrand R. Brinley
Published in book form 1965


Lake monsters, gas bags, flying lunatics, a haunted house… These are just a few of the things one can do with ham radio equipment, as every boy should know.
Every boy who follows the varied cast of pubescent males collectively referred to as “The Mad Scientists’ Club,” that is. Required reading for every male.

And one of the books to most profoundly impact my development.

Whether hoaxing sunbathing tourists or local government officials, solving ancient mysteries, winning glory, or saving the day, these kids are an example worthy of following.

Skeptical? But parents, it’s educational! Kiddo not doing so well in school? Says it’s boring? Shove this at him and not only will he learn to read just to be able to finish it for himself, he’ll spend the rest of his youth trying to be as smart as its protagonists.

I remember how impatient I was to be as brilliant as they, yet certain I would never understand the forces, currents, and principles that allowed them to do the amazing things they did. That certainty, by the way, was ill-founded indeed. I’m now smarter than my idols.

The club made its first appearance in 1961 on the pages of “Boys’ Life,” and was given its own book four years later. It’s the only one I’ve read, so if anyone wants to send the second collection of stories, or either of the following novels (one of them on the club’s origins) to me, feel free.


The first story has them wiring up radio equipment left and right. Today I could rig the apparati myself (I could only dream of it on my first reading) if I could afford all those receivers. That’s the most unrealistic thing in these tales, by the way. Some people sneer at the concepts and devices themselves, but they are sound in most places. The idea that a bunch of rural kids could afford the equipment is a bit trickier.

The second story has them trying to hatch a dinosaur egg, one of their few utter misunderstandings of scientific processes. Do they not know what fossilization is?!

In the third, they do some detectiving, with one of their number discovering how enthralling a girl can be. For this one they go the cheap rout and borrow some of the needed supplies from the State University’s Medical School.

And the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh have them doing everything from… well, never mind. Read ‘em.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Remember:

Martin Luther King, Jr.


He stood before the country and spoke out about what was wrong. About how to fix it and how not to fix it.
Harassed by the Federal government, framed and defamed by the same (in one of this country‘s greatest abuses of power in its history), he continued to spread forth his message. Only death could still his lips, but that did not destroy his message.

Today, his “I Have a Dream” speech has been repeated and recalled (and it’s title exploited) countless times. Still, his dream marches on.

And yet, today it seems that few actually remember him at all. They know his name, his face, they can hear his voice saying that one well-remembered sentence, but many do not know his works or his words as they should. Rather, he is the face of the Civil Rights Movement, the man who started it all, a personification of it. But by large his person is forgotten as such.

Perhaps that is a tribute, in a way, that a man can leave behind so much of himself in a trend he began for America that he is that trend to America. That seems the poetic way to see it. The brutal view would be that his work has swallowed him up, and that his good deeds have done so much that people needn’t bother remembering him for who he was.

Today those who do bother to recall his teachings often criticize him, claiming his refusal to commit, promote, or permit violence was mere weakness. I will say once here for myself that to accomplish what he did without violence was so apart from weakness as to be great strength.

I ask, how could lasting progress possibly have been made with distrust sown against the side of social justice by a movement of violence?

Just as burningly, how could a government agency so vilify, so dedicate itself to removing one who speaks peace as the FBI did to King? When several leaders speak against wrong and one of them advocates non-violent means of undoing it, why target him?
Today, allegations of perversions and hypocrisy first sown by the Bureau are considered settled historic fact, due to corroborative testimony from seemingly independent sources. And more recently King has even been named a plagiarist.
Perhaps people don’t wish to address the person of Martin Luther King, because they are afraid of what awaits them there. Better to remember an admirable idea than a questionable personality.

Honestly, I love truth too much to advocate remembering the good about a man and pretending that’s all he was.
But perhaps history may still clear the man as well as the dream. I have hope still.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Works Every Time

That Rubik’s Cube just getting to be too much for you? We’ve all been there.
They talk of a formula of turns—a pattern if you like—that’ll solve the puzzle for itself. A formula, as such, I never found. (Then again, I didn’t exactly try non-stop like some.)
But a solution? That I have. Easy.

Gather:
Q-tips
Blue
Green
Orange
Red
White
and
Yellow paint

Now you can impress all your friends with what a brilliant, radical dude you are, too!

Friday, January 13, 2006

Almost Let It Slip

Happy Friday 13. Or not.

Watchful Eye

The Premise: Due to the current predisposition toward conviction and the existence of dirty cops, innocent people are sitting out life in America’s prisons. (O.K, so that part’s just fact. And the show hasn’t said anything about predisposition to convict.)
The heroes set free the wrongfully convicted one poor soul at a time, led by an ex-cop with a stinging conscience and a lawyer who wants to make a splash.
The attorney figures growing publicity about innocents behind bars will make the Attorney General look uncaring and bring a shot at the office to himself. But don’t worry, the touching nature of the job is clearly going to sprout better motives in his calculating heart.

The Slot: Fridays 9/8c on ABC

The Title: In Justice


O.K, I’ve watched the first two shows. Tonight’s improved greatly on last week’s, er, jumble, bringing it up to even standing with all the other ‘mystery’ shows on TV in terms of writing quality. Is that good enough? No. But the show is trending upward.

In terms of premise… I quite like the idea of a show about innocence. It’s a good change.
So sick I am of seeing a “public servant” portrayed as the “good guy” for deciding on a hunch to ruin some guy’s life.
You know why so many shows let you see exactly what happened from the beginning? Who did it, how, etc. Because that way they don’t have to prove anything. The viewer knows who the bad guy is, so the viewer doesn’t have to question anything when the “hero” goes after that individual on flimsy or imaginary evidence.

There are other pluses in this series, such as the attempts at making the investigation’s realistic. None of the non-existent technologies of “CSI” (and everything else). An almost-right restricted office setup. Etcetera.

It needs to develop itself further in numerous areas, and lose some of the emotional glitter in addition to what people seem to consider “clever.” But it has a lot of potential to do just that, so I’m giving it a tentative recommendation. I really have high hopes here (as television hopes go for me any more).


But I think what is most impressive to me about is what follows:
In tonight’s episode, the initial defense case relied heavily on allegations that the arresting officer was prejudiced. “That, that racist cop!” is shouted by the defense several times. The former police officer on the team (Jason O'Mara of “Band of Brothers,” “Monarch of the Glen,” and “The Agency”) doesn’t buy it.

Ex-Cop: “This cop is not a racist. You‘re just trying to win votes by playing the ‘race’ card.”
Lawyer: “Did you read these depositions, Charlie?”
Ex-Cop: “Yes I did. And I can make Mother Theresa look like a racist with questions like those.”

Presumption of Innocence. ‘Nuff said.

UndErSCoRe: The Game

Bored? Below are your instructions:


Go into a good-sized library (multiple levels, preferably) and go to the third floor (second, for you readers in Europa). Hopefully, it’s fairly empty, as third stories generally are. Now, meander around until you find a section made up entirely of well-bound non-fiction volumes of approx. 1.5 to 3 in. wide, dating back to the 1940s. Don’t recognize a single title? Good. Find one shelved at just below eye-level, a book that seems particularly obscure. Not a particularly technical work, mind, just one nobody would ever bother with who didn‘t have to.

Sitting down (or not) read the first few paragraphs of the introduction to get a feel for the author’s tone and his respects toward his audience (all four of them, if you’ve chosen properly). At this point, just casually flip through. You may find it in the intro itself, you may find it in the first three chapters. After that it becomes less likely, but it could still be there.

Oh, what are you looking for, you ask? Those little pencil lines drawn under what at first appear to be random sentences. A lot of library books have them, you know. If you don’t find them on the first try, just go for it again with another book. I doubt that (utilizing the guidelines above) I’ve ever gone more than five books without finding them. If you get two or more losers, try one shelved along the floor—those can be rich, too.

Once you’ve found that forgotten cellulose relic with the appropriate graphite markings, just start reading what he-who-came-before decided was most important. No, you probably won’t get a feel for the whole book this way, but you may get a feel for a certain pencil-wielding tower of anonymity.
Keep an eye on the underlines themselves. Are they predominantly straight or squiggled, light or dark? If they vary from one to another, it’s just possible two and not just one have left their mental track-marks behind them. Keep a look on each one’s development of thought over the course of the chapters.


I’ve heard various academics gripe about these people, the ones who leave their penciled notes in library books. I am not one of those people (I seldom even leave notes in my own books unless I have a spare volume just for doing so), but I seldom get particularly miffed at the individuals who are. So long as it’s in pencil…

Just think about it. Someone picked up some offbeat book for some unknown reason and put a few pencil strokes in it. Maybe they intended to erase them before they returned the tome and just forgot about it. In any case, whoever comes after may erase if he so chooses. And it’s not like very many people are going to be reading this particular work. (Again, if you have chosen wisely.)


Try to see your little exercise as a pursuit of information. Form a framework of how the previous reader’s thought process worked. Just how intelligent was he? I mean, I’ve found things underlined that… yeah, the reader really didn’t have any idea what was going on. Other times the brilliance, insightfulness, downright genius of my predecessor has been made obvious. The way he or she managed to draw connections between seemingly unrelated things to draw a fuller picture of the truth of the book’s subject… Breathtaking.

But on a more personal level, who was it that read this book last? And what was he doing with the book? Was it a student (not unlikely)? A student of what? A prof? Just some ordinary seeker of knowledge? What were his/her assumptions about the subject going into the book? Coming out?


Say, maybe this exercise should be made a requirement for Psych courses.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

All I Want For Christmas…

is my two front teeth. Er, one tooth—in the front. Not quite “front tooth,” as it’s lower front and thus shielded by the uppers.
And no, this isn’t another semi-lucid rant on avaricious requests. Christmas is (in the words of a certain female high-school junior) ‘like, so over.’

Today, the annoying little tooth that protrudes apelike from my jaw—that little bit of ivory that tends to become decapitated any night I go into cold sweats—has been re-capped.

My dentist ground it away into an angular nub (more of a nub, that is) before building it up again with a mixture of ‘A1’ and ‘A2’ (two shades of tooth-rebuild stuff, one too light and one too dark) that was gradually hardened by UV (I think) light.

I don’t think the tooth-guru was entirely happy with the job he did, actually. It wasn’t his fault, it’s just that my mouth is so messed up that a perfect tooth impedes function rather than aiding it. Trust me, the initial tooth he built was perfect in every way other than being mismatched with my collection of pearly blunders I refer to as a jaw. He had to whittle it down to something that he was regretful of… But looking in the mirror, I say it’s a great job.
He is a true artist of the profession.

My tongue is still getting used to the intruder’s presence. Actually, at first I was afraid it would never get used to it, but three hours later I had managed to make them kiss and make up to some extent. (um… )

I have so far successfully and painlessly eaten several chocolate-chip cookies and one of my trademark pickles-and-jalepeƱos-only burgers. Not to mention some Perrier under the bridge tonight.

Though I seem to recall the dentist saying something about hoping the tooth lasted the night…
Ah, well, I’m optimistic. And I’ve decided to work on sleeping more peacefully. Think happy thoughts, think happy thoughts…

Monday, January 09, 2006

Things That Are Bogus

The Academy Awards®

The MPAA

Preprogrammed microwave-oven run times

Friday, January 06, 2006

Requiem

Due to uncontrollable circumstances, I was absent at the funeral today.

This was the day set aside to honor the life of and to inter the corruptible body of my great-uncle. I am saddened I was unable to be in attendance at the official ceremony, in addition to the substantial pain his leaving gives me. He was truly a “great” uncle in more than one sense.

I am grateful to be able to say in his honor, however, that the “remains” buried today are not all he left in this world. What remains of him here is his influence on his city, on his family, on everyone who knew him. That influence, so generously bestowed on me as well as many others, cannot be categorized as anything but wonderful.

We miss him, and will embrace his memory until we are with the rest of him again.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

“Up Where the Air is Clear”

Where I live just isn’t too ideal a place for kite flying. Seldom is there any wind, and when it does come it’s in opposing gusts. Then there’s the lack of open space to launch from.
More than the geographical and meteorological disadvantages, I never knew anyone who ever flew kites. There was no one to teach me.
But that didn’t stop me from having one astounding flight.

In fourth grade I found myself, through a confusing chain of events, the owner of a kite. If only out of spite for those events (and a respect for Charlie Brown’s aerial attempts) I decided that I would fly that kite.

I recall all of this because today the hot direct sunlight was for a time tempered by five-second bursts of bone-chilling, table-throwing winds alternating in direction. Identical weather to my day of kite-flying years ago.

That day I attached my kite to the fishing line on my pole. I thought that was an innovative touch. The rod and reel allowed for much greater control than a string on a spool, I reasoned.
The pole, however, was cumbersome and got in the way on my takeoff runs. The runs were already hard enough due to being on a short, twisted patch of uneven ground cut between walls of trees.
I would run as far as I could, waiting for a gust to hit just right, and then throw the kite in the manner of a paper-airplane while in mid-stride. That poor thing whacked it’s nose on the jagged rocks so many times…

I had just about given up as I was too exhausted from the running to keep on much longer. The sun was squeezing out all the liquid in my system, and the back of my throat was getting painfully dry. One last, stumbling run.
Launch it and… It catches.

The multi-colored bird rises probably less than five feet above my head when it drops suddenly as the wind reverses itself. But it’s back rising again as I whip the fishing rod to move it forward and thus create lift. I start running backward, toward the house, towing my wind-sail higher on the atmosphere.
I let out and bring in line in rapid succession to let the kite distance itself from me while still maintaining tension (and thus control and added lift).

Back by the house I stop and stare, gently idling the rod from one side to the other, compensating for the changing winds. The flyer is now high above the trees, about two- to three-hundred feet in front of me. It’s altitude is enough that the short dives between wind bursts are nothing to fear. It will climb again before two seconds are up.

The fishing pole was a good idea, after all. With it I am able to guide the simple wing back and forth through a right-to-left arc of about forty degrees, gently shifting up and down on the wind.

How much time did I spend? I don’t know. At the very minimum ten minutes. When I would later enter the house and see the wall clock it was about two hours after I’d gone out, but just how much was spent on my pre-flight maneuvers I’ll never know. Certainly half.

For now, I yell for the folks inside to come out and see. If they hear they can’t distinguish words and, well, I could be considered to have been a noisy kid. I give up on getting the family’s attention and decide to enjoy myself until said joy is too great not to be shared.

Finally, I reel in the kite far enough for it not to be caught in the trees, to let it down. In doing so, I’m not making the movements necessary to keep it on the wind, and it falls a little sooner than planned. Just short of the woods.
I’ll go inside and tell everyone, and then they can come watch. I’ll get it in the air again, no problem.

Inside I excitedly explained that I had been (contrary to forecasts) successful. When someone finally joined me outside the wind was wimpier and less frequent. I wouldn’t have gotten the thing airborne again anyway that day, as tired as I was from all the running prior.

That, years ago, was my one and only flight of a kite. Then again, it stands as the only time I’ve ever tried.

And now they tell me kites have to have these things called “tails.” Who knew?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah

(“and you know that can’t be bad”)

Yes, I must say the conclusion to The Big Game was exciting. I should know—that’s all I watched of it. (Unlike my sibling in the next room who watched the monster’s entirety, giving appropriately enthused advice to the crucial pawns.)

To be honest, though… Yes, the finale was all I watched of the game, but at half-time I did manage to catch a pseudo-orange marching band perform “She Loves You.” And I can’t get it (the real song) out of my head.

It was a good minute-and-a-half of play time, though. Quite fun. But that’s where I differ with the vast majority of my potato-chip-eating, hot-dog-grilling, beer-glugging fellow males. (O.K, I abstain from potato chips and beer, too.)
I fail to find a point in watching four quarters of a football game when I can get similar excitement watching the concluding moments without the boring stuff preceding them. It’s just bald-faced inefficiency.

Yes, one may argue that many ends are not so glamorous, consisting as they do of extensively-spaced scores, weasely punts, or just plain letting the clock run out (‘cause the leader holds the glorified jug of air).
But I say in that situation, why sit for hours of a bad game when you can sit for just minutes of the same bad game?

Efficiency. That’s what it’s all about.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Mum’s the Word

Tonight I watched Nova’s “The Mummy Who Would Be King.” Fascinating television.

It explores the issue of identity with a mummy housed unnoticed for decades in a curiosity parlor. Basically, it ends up trying to prove that the mummy is that of the “lost” Rameses I. It does this pretty well. Most convincing is not the array of scientific tests, but the job of tracing backward through history the various hands that held the mummy… right to Rameses’ last known resting place.

In the end, the program brought in Dr. Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities and one of the most famous living Egyptologists. His confirmation was supposed to be a climactic triumph.

All I could think about was how I’d seen Dr. Hawass live on TV a few years back claiming that the pyramids had not been built by slave labor—Oh no, that’s just a huge misconception. One can tell just by looking at a pyramid that it was constructed by great labor of love.
Well, people whitewash things even at the top. Or, more likely, they get to top by whitewashing things.

No matter, I still think the stiff is Rameses I.

Lost Bison of the UK

I was studying some of Alfred Miller’s notes on his 1837 expedition into the American West when I came across one of particular (if trivial) interest. These anecdotal memos (housed in the Walters Art Collection) were appended at some later date to the majority of the Miller watercolors I was viewing, apparently for publication—but precisely when and for what purpose I’m unaware.

This particular commentary (as printed adjacent plate 151 of the Revised and Enlarged Edition of The West of Alfred Jacob Miller) concerns an Indian buffalo hunt Miller’s party figured in, and its aftermath:
... While here our Commander secured seven of these animals (male and female) alive; had them driven to the Missouri, embarked on a steamer for St. Louis, and thence by same conveyance to New Orleans;—here they were placed on shipboard and transported to Scotland, as a present to the Marquis of Breadalbane, at Taymouth Castle.
Afterwards, while sojourning in Scotland, we paid a visit to these animals,—they were enclosed in a paddock, with a circumference of 5 or 6 miles, but had become completely tame;—they were however healthy and with an addition of two calves.

This note was necessarily written after 1840, for it was in this year that Miller began his two year visit to William George Drummond Stewart (both ‘Sir’ and ‘Captain’) in Scotland—Stewart having also been Miller’s host in the western explorations and, apparently, the giver of the seven bison.

Alfred Jacob Miller (1810-74) is an American artist remembered mainly for his studies of American native Indians from his journey of ‘37 with Drummond Stewart. He made sketches on location, which were the basis of watercolors and the oil paintings produced for Stewart’s Murthly Castle from 1840 to 1842.

Until reading his note on the Scots bison family, I was entirely unaware of their existence. My curiosity sparked some further research, which has so far led me to one solitary document.
An article entitled “Acclimatization of Animals,” from The Edinburgh Review (as printed in 1860 in Littell’s Living Age, 8th Quarterly Volume of 3rd Series, beginning 719th page, photographically reproduced here by Cornell U).
It seems to suggest that John Campbell, 2nd Marquess of Breadalbane, was attempting to build a preserve of animals resembling extinct varieties once native to Europe. The seven Bison bison specimens were, apparently, intended to replace the famed Auroch (classified there as Bison urus). Unfortunately, the fate of Taymouth’s American Bison population was that of succumbing to an epidemic of bovine pneumonia that swept Britain.

Today, there exist at least four specimens of bison in Scotland, apparently descended from a native species that has been declared extinct numerous times throughout history, but that keeps popping up despite it.
Any speculation that this current batch might truthfully be descendants of Breadalbane’s American strain (also thought lost) would seem unfounded without further information. Probably impossible.
I wonder if there’s been a good DNA analysis?

Monday, January 02, 2006

Loneliest Number (Since the No. 1)

Bad form to devote too many posts to what search engines are turning you up? Actually, I agree.
That’s still not stopping me from posting this.

I have just been turned up as the number two (2) result on two (2) Google searches.

Second place out of 8.5 million contestants for avoiding inappropriate comments.
Reprimands making for a hard day at work, are they?

Fewer competitors (3.34 C’s) in this next race, and yet all the more prestigious for its elite subject matter. Spinochordodes tellinii horsehair worms returned Subject to Review, once again, in second place.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

In the Wake of the BOUNTY

The Caine Mutiny [1954] would obviously be just a rehash of the old “Mutiny on the Bounty” tale, a highly romanticized (and idealized) version of the actual fate of HMAV Bounty. It’s just been transposed to the second world war with no other significant changes, right?

That’s what they want you to think.

The screen has been populated with a few well-placed characters designed to remind the viewer of previous tellings of Bounty, in particular the Clark Gable/Charles Laughton film [1935]. Most notably it is shot from the perspective of a boring young idealistic, idiotic newcomer the fleet, cut with the exact die as was the linguist in the older film.

But the Caine is not the same vessel as the Bounty. Small inconsistencies start to arise, as characters first shift roles in the play and then… That’s the point, it turns out: bending your expectations to and beyond their breaking point. Quite interesting, actually.

I just really wish I hadn’t read the box before I watched it. Really.
So I won’t be spoiling anything more for you.

I’ll just say this: If you can stand some cheese along the way, and care anything for the history of cinema, watch this. It won’t be great (as it certainly had the potential to be), but it will be good. Just don’t read anything more about it first. Trust me.

A Job Worth Doing

I’ve cracked the volume control problem on my new amplifier, effectively rendering it entirely finished. Actually, I had finished it at my last posting—just hadn’t realized it. The solution was quite simply to input only from headphone jacks built into other items. In this way, rather than going direct to the amp from a DVD player’s RCA mounts, the RCAs force the signal into the television set which spits it out at the one-eighth inch jack, which is connected to my custom-built (heh) amp’s input.
Actually, the approach is pretty much a “duh.” I’m disgusted I hadn’t thought of it sooner.

The amplifier will be perpetually set at it’s lowest output volume (plenty loud enough, I assure you) and amplitude will be closely regulated through the volume control on whatever (usually the TV, but sometimes a cassette deck, etc.) is outputting to it. Another nice feature is that by using the television, the volume can be varied by way of a standard IR remote.

I calibrated my balance control (a very necessary feature, but which should be a virtual one-time adjustment) listening to snippets of You’ve Got Mail before watching for the first time The Caine Mutiny [1954]. Expect a post on it soon.

Currently members of my family are gathered in the living room watching a Walter Cronkite-hosted New Year’s celebration. It consist of very nice classical performed by the Wiener Philharmoniker (Viennese Philharmonic). They are, of course, listening to it over my amplifier and speakers—and for the first time to the full degree. For I effected the crossover to the right-hand tweeter (via a 99 cent electrolytic capacitor) 8 minutes into the program.

Yes, my own—my very own—amplifier is performing beautifully. Actual price? Precisely the $2.99 plus tax it cost me to buy a plate of four RCA jacks.
Ahhh… the bliss of miserdom.