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August 31, 2004

My Son, The Eel

In my junior year of high school, I took the Occupational Aptitude Test designed to reveal which professional fields I was well suited for. I didn't have much faith in these exams, and had even less when my results came back. My highest score was for "zoology" where I scored an impressive 95%; my weakest subject was the one I only scored 14% on, and, somehow, it was "animal sciences."*

I've never really understood how I was able to pull off this feat. But based on The Squirrelly's six month checkup, I'd beginning to suspect that my ability to score all over the chart might have a genetic component.

Let's do the numbers

  • Length: 28 inches. That puts him in the 90th percentile! If this continues into adulthood, he will be well over 6 feet in height!
  • Weight: 16 1/2 lbs, the 30th percentile. So, we're lookin' at a tall, scrawny athletically trim guy.
  • Head circumference: Another 16 1/2, this time in inches. Which puts him in the -- 5th percentile? Duh-wha?! So: tall, slender, and, not unlike his dad, unable to hold more than a single thought in his head at any given time.
The doctor assures us that his current stats will likely have no correlation to his adult dimensions. But in the meantime we're gonna switch from "The Squirrelly" to "The Lamprey" and start renting him out as a chimneysweep.

He also has two teeth now, a fact he's happy to remind us of whenever we let our fingers wander too close to his maw. Frankly, I'm finding the advent of teeth to be a little disquieting. I mean, it's weird enough watching the stuff he was born with get bigger, but now he's generating entirely new body parts? Great -- now there's even more baby to take care of. The only upside is that it has me wondering if, as we keep extending the average lifespan, we'll someday discover that the human body grows still more appendages somewhere down the line. I'm rooting for wings at 140.

[Aside! Now that everyone who isn't the parent of a tottler has gotten bored and stopped reading, I can plug these two great children's CDs: "You are my Flower" and "You Are My Sunshine" by Elizabeth Mitchell. Check out youaremyflower.org and click "listen." I'm fond of "Freight Train."]

We've also started feeding him solid foods, although I guess "feeding" is something of a misnomer since it implies that some of the rice cereal actually goes down his gullet. As I move the gruel towards his cryhole, The Squirrelly likes to "help" by opening and closing his mouth at random intervals and wildly waving his arms around in an attempt to grab the spoon, all of which makes the process about as easy as threading a needle during a downpour while riding a roller coaster drunk. Fortunately, the approximately 1200 hours I spent playing Zaxxon as a teen left me uniquely qualified to tackle this challenge. Weird how that high school occupational test failed to pick up on this aptitude

* A second test claimed it would reveal the specific occupation the test taker would excel in. My #1 recommendation was for "model." This was a written exam, obviously.


August 30, 2004

Headline News

"ORAL HYGIENISTS FOR VERISIMILITUDE" SAY BUSH'S WARTIME FILLINGS FIXED "SELF-INFLICTED" CAVITIES

"George Bush was not honest about his flossing" claim dentists in explosive new ad

[ link | News]



Research Day: I Get Questions

I do not typically take requests for Research Day, but I've recently been asked an assortment of interest-piquing questions in a variety of situations, and I might as well get them all with one fell swoop.

Question asked by The Queen during a commute: Why does this minivan in front of us have a spoiler? This question was already tackled over at Answer bag, a pretty neat website I just-this-second discovered. In short, the function of a spoiler on the back of a race car is the same as it is on an airplane wing: air exerts pressure upon it, thereby creating a downward force on the vehicle. For a racecar this is good, because it presses the back tires onto the pavement and provides more traction, but given that most street vehicles (a) weigh considerably more than a racecar, (b) go considerably slower than a racecar, and (c) have front-wheel drive, the spoilers you see on the freeway are strictly for show.

Question posed by my mother over dinner: I was once on a plane that got delayed, and the captain said it was 'because the tarmac is too hot for takeoff'. Was he just making that up? Research Day typically falls on the 15th of the month, but this one got pushed back two weeks while I tried to track down any evidence of truth to the "too hot to take off" claim. When I came up empty, I tossed the query over to the Seattle Public Library Ask A Librarian service. They responded three days later saying, essentially, they had found nothing. All of which makes me think that this particular pilot was full of what my dear departed grandfather would have called "baloney slices." But if any readers know otherwise, leave a comment.

Update: Several readers suggested that the pilot wasn't saying the hot tarmac itself prevented take-off, but that the hot weather necessitated more tarmac that the airport had available. In the words of Allan: "As temperature goes up air becomes less dense, so wings generate less lift and thus airplanes require more runway to take off." Two articles on the subject can be found at Salon.com's Ask The Pilot column and Why airplanes like cool days better. Thanks, y'all.

Coworker's musing during Seattle's recent heat wave: When we have a hot day in Seattle, I wonder why it stays warm until, like, 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, whereas, in D.C. for instance, it starts to cool down right after the sun sets?: To get an answer, I wrote my local TV station's meteorology department. Here's what Scott Sistek, the KOMO Weather Producer had to say:

When it's 90 or more during the day, it's because we have an offshore wind blowing from the east. As the air comes down the western slopes of the Cascades, it sinks and warms. Overnight, that constant breeze sinking and warming has been known to hold up our overnight temperatures, whereas in the flat east, they don't have that problem (Although on warm humid days there, the humidity seems to make it feel a lot warmer at night than here).
Thanks, Scott. Wow, I thought you guys just reported the weather -- I never realized you actually produced it.

Question left on my answering machine by a friend I've had since the third grade: Is there a word that means 'to be buried alive'?: I posted this query to the discuss forum of http://www.file- ummmm I mean a website I heard might maybe exist. Anyway, within moments someone replied with with the word vivisepulture which was also the winning word in the 1996 National Spelling Bee. (Actually, the word itself didn't win, some freakishly intelligent kid did.) Thanks guy from, um, some website!

Random email from some guy: Saw your website with the "I don't want to grow up...Toys R Us" words. Do you have the soundclip of that or any suggestion as to where to find it? Here you go, Squirt.

August 27, 2004

The Bad Review Revue

Alien vs. Predator: "Take a wretched premise. Imagine the worst picture that could be made from it. Then imagine something even worse. That's Alien vs. Predator." -- Mick LaSella, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

The Brown Bunny: "An excruciatingly embarrassing display of ego and ineptitude." -- Jim Fusilli, WALL STREET JOURNAL

Suspect Zero: "It's not easy to make a thriller that's both incredibly convoluted and intensely boring, but director E. Elias Merhige scores on both counts." -- Ethan Alter, TV Guide

Yu-Gi-Oh!: "A shabby, joyless, 90-minute slab of advertainment." -- M. E. Russellt, PORTLAND OREGONIAN

Superbabies: "So bad there will be drinking games set around viewing it someday." -- Michael O'Sullivan, WASHINGTON POST


Sugar Substitute

How to watch boy-band Townsend's video:

  • Go to here.
  • Wait while the page loads up, which will take forever because everyone on teh intarweb is currently hitting it.
  • Get bored, wander off in search of coffee.
  • Return five minutes later to find a handful of queasy-looking coworkers crammed into your office and watching the now-playing video.
  • Try to stammer out an explanation as your workmates slowly turn to you with looks of unmitigated horror.

[ link | Links]


August 26, 2004

100 Demeter Dash

With the Olympics in Athens this year, I think the organizers missed a golden opportunity to incorporate some Greek mythological events into the games. Like maybe the synchronized swimmers could sing hypnotic songs and lure passing sailors to a watery grave. Or the weightlifters would have to clean King Augean's stables -- I'd totally watch that on TV.

America would totally kick ass in the Eternal Uphill Boulder Push.

Update: Paul from funkwit writes, "Great idea, Matthew ... but I bet the female archery competitors wouldn't go for it."

August 25, 2004

How Democracy Works

Hello, and welcome to the last 70 days before the US Presidential Election! For those of you new to the process, here's how things will unfold between now and November 2nd:

  • 95% of the electorate has performed their civic duty by paying attention to the candidates and issues surrounding the upcoming election, and therefore know who they are going to vote for. Because these people are responsible citizens of the republic, no one gives a rat's ass about them (except insofar as they can be shaken down for money).
  • Monies collected from the 95% will be spent on the 5% who have so far been too apathetic to learn about said candidates/issues.
  • The money can't be given to the 5% directly (as this would constitute bribery), so it will instead be given to television networks.
  • The networks utilize the public broadcast spectrum, so hypothetically the money will go right back to the people who contributed it, except it won't, because the government licensed the airwaves to the networks on the condition that they operate "in the public interest," which apparently involves taking millions of dollars to air ads that obfuscate the issues and misrepresent the candidates.
  • On November 2, the 5% of undecided voters will decide not to vote after all when they get drawn into an episode of some terrible sitcom that will be cancelled midseason after one of the aforementioned television networks realizes that it has squandered the millions of dollars they received for showing the ads funded by the 95% of people who paid attention.
I'm so glad we're exporting American-style democracy to the rest of the world.

Oh and hey, people of Washington State. Right now, according to most polls, Kerry is leading by 11 points. So, Republicans, I need a favor: next time a pollster asks who you are going to vote for, say Kerry. You don't have to actually vote for the guy, just say you're going to. Or we need about 30 points-worth of Democrats to say they are going to vote for Bush, that works too. What's important is that we get a vast majority to say they are going to go one way or the other, so we can get Washington out of "Swing State" category and the campaigns will stop blanketing us with ads. Because if I have to see one more commercial with Bush trying to look smirkily compassionate or Kerry trying to look stoically enthusiastic, I swear I'm going to write-in vote "Ben Dover."

August 24, 2004

Tricks Of The Trade

The Tricks Of The Trade article is now running at The Morning News.

A huge "thank you" to the hundreds (!!) of people who responded to my call for occupational secrets. Narrowing it down to 30 was tough, and I hope to post all the suggestions here in the near future. Again, sorry about the lack of names in the piece -- since 75% of the ones I chose were submitted as "Anonymous" we decided to run them all unsigned. I also shortened some, and, since they were all submitted in different tenses (past, present, subjunctive) and persons (first-, second- and third-person), I reworded most for uniformity of voice -- I hope no one is irritated by my heavy editorial hand. (Is it obvious how guilty I feel for altering your submissions?)

By the by, someone started a Metafilter thread on this topic, and more great tricks are being posted over there.

Again, thanks to everyone who wrote in. I have the best readers ever.

August 20, 2004

What Do You Want From Me, Blood?

I donated blood today. I'd love to say that I give blood out of a selfless desire to help the needy -- and, in fact, I do say when I'm trying impress girls -- but the truth is that I hate giving blood, and do it as infrequently as possible. I'd never give blood if the bloodbank guys weren't so persistent, pursuing like a relentless cyborg sent from the future to hunt down hapless victims, extract their bodily fluids, and then treat them to cranberry juice and sugar cookies.

The problem is that I have AB- blood, which is about as common as a good Ben Stiller movie. I think one in 200 people have it, maybe one in 500, something like that. I couldn't fall into the top .5% for intelligence or attractiveness or wealth, it had to be freakin' platelets.

So the bloodbank if forever calling to breathlessly warn me that my blood type is in "very low supply." And I know that I should just say, "Duh! Plutonium is in very low supply too, that's how rarity works. And who cares if you don't have any AB- blood -- no one can take it anyway. You're about as likely to pump a pint of my blood into an accident victim as a quart of yoghurt."

But instead I solemnly swear to visit my local bloodbank and donate. And one time out of every dozen I'll actually follow through.

Just blood, though. There's no way I'm ever going to donate plasma. I don't see why I should get stuck with a needle just so some rich guy can have a fancy-screened TV.


Guitar Pick

We discuss childrearing.

The Queen: The Squirrelly really loves that music class we go to.

Me: Oh?

Q: Yeah. The teacher plays guitar, and he loves guitar. She even gives lessons to kids, starting at age four, so we might want to sign him up for those when he gets older. I'm thinking he should play guitar or violin. Except violin is kind of geeky. So guitar, then.

M: Whoa! Whoa, whoa, whoa. He's only six months old, let's not get all life-plannie, here.

Q: I'm not being life-plannie.

M: I just watched you narrow his choice of musical instruments down to two and then eliminate half.

Q: Kids who play guitar are cool.

M: Granted, but we're gonna let our kid play whatever he wants to play.

Q: Oh, of course. I'll just make sure he wants to play guitar.

August 19, 2004

Tricks Of The Trade

A while back I read an interview with a birthday clown -- you know, one of those guys who gets hired to entertain a bunch of yard apes at a seven year-old's shindig? And the interviewer asked, like, "What if you're dying out there? What if the kids are hating it?" And the subject, the interviewee-guy (I honestly have no recollection who this clown was or why I was reading this interview) said, in a pinch, he could always resort to a Funny Word. When pressed for clarification, the clown revealed a fascinating (to me) trick of the birthday clown trade: apparently every year there are two or three Funny Words, which invariably crack kids up, and when things are going sour you can just blurt one out and bring the house down. But you gotta keep up-to-date, because the Funny Words mysteriously change over time, so while "booger" might have killed in 1998, 2004 demands nothing less than a "monkey."

Anyway, this got me wondering about other professions and other sooper secret tricks of the trade, to the point where I'd like to write an article for The Morning News on the subject. Or, to be more specific, I'd like to have a bunch of other people write the article for me.

If you'd like to contribute your own Trick Of The Trade, please do so using the form below. I can't promise I'll use them all, but I can promise that everyone who contributes will get to see a painting of Bea Arthur fighting a velociraptor. That's a defective yeti guarantee.

Name: Occupation:

Your Trick Of The Trade:



Update: Wow, getting some great one. Two comments. First, the vast majority of the tricks are coming in unsigned (i.e., just as "Anonymous"), which is fine but means that I will probably omit names when I compile them into the article. Just a word of warning, so no one gets irked when they don't get proper acknowledgement. Secondly, I'm getting a lot of tricks for the same 20 jobs -- you know, the jobs that everyone on the Intenet has (IT, Customer Service, Developer, etc.) so you get bonus points if you work in a slightly more unusual position like, you know, astronaut or pornstar.

August 18, 2004

What A Waist

I bought a new pair of jeans, and, after wearing them for about a month (not continuously), I've come to realize that they are too big for me. I'll probably need to gain another 15 pounds for them to fit comfortably. And, yes, this means I'll have to drink more alcohol, increase my consumption of carbs, and stop excercising altogether, but I don't really have an alternative. If I don't, the thirty bucks I spent on these pants will be, like, a total waste.

[ link | Misc]


August 17, 2004

Fly By Night

It's no surprise that birthrates in the United States dropped dramatically after the Wright Brothers' famous flight in 1903*. After all, is there a more effective form of birth control than the knowledge that sex might lead to pregnancy and pregnancy will lead to a child and sooner or later you will wind up on a plane with said child and he will scream for the entire trip and then everyone in the world will hate you? (Oh man, just typing that sentence made me want to join an abstinence league.)

And yet, that's what we did two weeks ago -- threw kid on one of them flying contraptions and shuffled off to Washington D.C. We purchased a ticket for The Squirrelly, though this was not strictly necessary (you're allowed to hold children under the age of 2 on your laps while in flight). I was against spending the extra money, but my wife was at one of her parenting support groups a while ago -- you know, those groups where, near as I can tell, they sit around a campfire and swap blood-curdling stories about terrible things that can happen to your child? And, anyway, when The Queen mentioned that we were travelling to DC, another mother assured her that any babies not shackled to a car seat when a plane hits turbulence will perforce fly out of their mother's arms and smash through the nearest window and be sucked into a turbine. So rather than become a party to hypothetical aeronautic infanticide, we sprang for the extra seat.

The Squirrelly was exceptionally well-behaved for most of the flight, wherein "exceptionally well-behaved" is defined as "dead asleep" (probably because we took a redeye to maximize the chance that he'd slumber through the whole ordeal). He went out like the proverbial light the second the plane left the ground. Alas, such was not the case prior to take off: when we got stuck on the tarmac for half an hour he got increasingly bored, restless, and shrill. By the time we started taxiing down the runway the people around us looked like they were in the midst of a plane crash, gripping their seat arms with white-knuckled terror, their faces frozen into grimaces of horror as our child continued to increase in volume and eventually forewent inhaling entirely in favor one continuous, unbroken keen. Fortunately their psychological defense mechanisms must have kicked in immediately afterwards, because, by the end of the trip, everyone had apparently suppressed the traumatic memories of our child's pre-flight freakout and they were all commending us for having such a charming critter.

We had also taken someone's advice and ordered vegetarian meals for the flight, despite the fact that we are carnivores to the core. We can't remember who told us to do this (although we are trying, because we want to punch them), but someone said that requesting the veggie option ensures you get a healthy, homemade meal instead of the standard airline fare. That turned out to be technically true, but the "healthy, homemade meal" turned out to be the culinary equivalent of a birthday party where no one shows up. I'll probably get sued by Northwest Airlines for revealing their top-secret vegetarian meal recipe, but this is what we received:

Ingredients

1/3 cup cucumber, chopped
1/3 cup onion, chopped
1/2 pita bread

Directions

Place first two ingredients in latter ingredient. Garnish with a packet of mayonnaise, four baby carrots, tiny tub of warm water. Serves 1/7th of a person.

We only got two meals, which didn't seem quite fair. So we took it up with the stewardess, explaining that, although The Squirrelly is an infant, we did pay for a third ticket and he should therefore receive a meal as well. We kind of had to go back and forth with the stewardess for a bit before she ceded the point and reluctantly agreed to breastfeed him.

All and all things went pretty well. And the we learned a Very Important Lesson about air travel with infants: if the baby ain't screamin', don't mess with it. You should resolutely ignore thoughts like "I bet I could make him a little bit happier if I stuck a pacifier in his cryhole," because a kid on a plane is like a brushfire, your attempts to sooth him are like either water or kerosene, and you won't know which until it's too late. In this respect babies are like dogs: it's best to let sleeping ones lie. (Curiously, this completely contradicts the Very Important Lesson we learned during out last vacation, that babies are not like dogs: you apparently can't just leave them at home for a weekend with a big bowl of water and a chew toy.)

* 100% made up fact.

August 16, 2004

Holding Back The Giggles

Confidential to the guy in sunglasses and muscle shirt who was driving around downtown Seattle this afternoon in a tricked-out, bright red convertible with the top down: your Herculean efforts to look cool are being largely negated by the fact that you are blasting Simply Red's "Holding Back the Years" at volume 11.

August 13, 2004

Movies: The Manchurian Candidate and The Bourne Supremacy

I so infrequently get to the movies these days that it was something of a minor miracle that I saw two films in two days last week. Unfortunately I squandered this historic opportunity by kind of going to see the same movie twice.

The first time it was called The Manchurian Candidate. When Angela Langsbury was told that Jonathan Demme was remaking the classic 1962 film in which she starred, her reaction was "What a shame -- it was perfect the way it was." Frankly I was inclined to agree, but my curiosity was piqued when the rave reviews started trickling in. Plus, I was was interested to see how they would drag the exceedingly dated piece into the 21st century.

Candidate is a nightmare of a movie, but I mean that as description rather than as criticism. The action takes place 20 minutes in the future (to borrow a phrase from Max Headroom), in a world that's a slightly exaggerated version of our own. As in the original, the plot centers around a conspiracy to infiltrate the US Government, although this time the Big Bad is corporate America rather than the Communist party. The story begins during the first Gulf War, when we meet Ben Marco, the leader of a unit doing reconnaissance in Iraq. When the squad is ambushed and Marcos is knocked out, Private Raymond Shaw bravely assumes control and manages to get the men to safety with minimal casualties. That, at least, is what Marcos has been told -- because he was unconscious at the time he has no independent memory of the event. But the recollections of the other soldiers are highly (uncannily) specific about Shaw's heroics, and even the US Government acknowledged his extraordinary actions by awarding him the Medal of Honor.

Fast-forward to today, where Shaw is a Vice Presidential candidate and Marco is stuck giving pep talks to Boy Scouts. As Shaw's political viability is predicated on his wartime heroics, Marco decides to use this opportunity to resolve a few niggling discrepancies that mar the otherwise perfect description of what took place during the gap in his memory. But even more troublesome to Marco is not the flaws in the legend, but the fact that, in his dreams, he "remembers" a completely different account of events, one that's as sinister as it is outlandish.

The second film I saw was The Bourne Supremacy, a sequel the surprise hit The Bourne Identity. (Actually, I don't know if the success of Identity was really unexpected, but it was a hit with me, and that was something of a surprise.) It's Matt Damon again as the titular Jason Bourne, a guy the CIA trained as a perfect killing machine and then tried to snuff after he lost his memory and went all "rogue agent" on them. As in the previous movie, sinister forces are again pursuing Bourne and he has no idea who or why -- and, thanks to his amnesia, doesn't even know if he should know who or why.

The tagline for the film could have been "This time it's personal." Pissed that he has again become a target after setting his affairs in order at the end of the first film, Bourne decides to seek out his attackers and take the fight to them. This gives the film a bit of a different dynamic than the prior installment, but there's still no denying that The Bourne Supremacy, is, at its core, a two hour chase scene. Because Bourne's CIA training apparently didn't include seminars on disguise how to change clothes, the baddies have little trouble locating him and, consequentially, he is always on the movie.

(The other thing always in this movie, alas, is the camera, to the point where I sometimes felt like I was watching The Blair Witch Supremacy. Most of the time I found this frenetic style is tolerable, but some of the action scenes look like the directory tied a rope to the camera and twirled it over his head. I know of at least two people who said Supremacy's "shaky camera syndrome" made them nauseated, and even I left the theater with a low-grade headache, so buyer beware.)

The Bourne Supremacy is an exciting and well-made movie, and contains one of the best car chase scenes ever committed to film. Still, about halfway through the film I had the disheartening realization that I had just seen this movie, albeit it a different guise. The protagonists of both Supremacy and Candidates are ex-governmental officers who are rushing to decipher conspiracies that are somehow linked to their memory problems. The directors of both films attempt to convey the paranoia their heroes suffer by giving the movie a "fog of war" feel, with assorted chronological and cinematic tricks employed to jumble the linear story. And at the end of either the viewer is left with the realization that there was considerably less plot in the film than the convoluted narrative structure would have had you believe.

Still, both films are quite enjoyable and either is suitable for an evening of light entertainment, so I'd happily recommend one or the other. But not both.

August 12, 2004

Hows Your News On DVD

My favorite movie of 2002 (well, excluding The Two Towers, which was in a class by itself) is finally out on DVD

[ link | Movies]


August 11, 2004

There Can Be Only One

Apparently they are making an Alien vs. Predator movie, perhaps because of the success of last year's Jason vs. Freddy. That's cool, I guess, but there are so many other matchups I'd rather see.

In fact, I think they should just go whole hog, pair up all the movie villians March Madness style, and settle the issue once and for all.

Click for larger, office-pool sized sheet.

Go Anne Wilkes -- I got five bucks on ya!

Update: Good gravy, how did I forget the Deliverance hillbillies?! Added them at arto's suggestion.

Also: Jason went ahead and filled out the sheet; Mr. Grooism wrote something similar to this in January.

August 10, 2004

The Works

Speaking of talking politics with John Moe ...

I'll be on The Works again this evening -- in Seattle you can catch it from 8:00 - 9:00 on 94.9 KUOW, the online stream should be posted to the website shortly thereafter. Update: It's live.

This week we discuss political blogs and their influence on mainstream media. Here are the blogs we mention by name:

Right Leaning

Middle Of The RoadLeft Leaning

And here are some articles on the subject.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, though -- there are plenty more. I also read The Washington Monthly, Wonkette, and the grandfather of all political blogs (even though it isn't technically a blog itself), The Drudge Report.

If you live in Seattle and have a political blog (like my buddy Duane), feel free to mention it in the comments.


Wrong Turns

I had lunch with John Moe. We talked politics.

JM What's really interesting about the Republican Convention is that, the day after Bush gives his acceptance speech, the jobs report comes out. And it could corroborate or contradict what he says about the economy.

MB: Well, except I'm sure Bush will pull some strings and get a sneak peak at it.

JM: True.

MB: So, really, we'll know what the job report says a day early, based on Bush's speech.

JM: Right. If it's positive he'll say, like, "we're turned the corner!" And if it's bad he'll say "We're still, um, approaching the corner."

MB: He'll say, "There's a light at the end of the tunnel. And we'll reach that light, and come out of the tunnel, and walk down the street for a bit. And then: there will be a corner."

JM: "Don't worry about it you guys, I've totally been here before and I'm sure there's a corner way up, up over there."

MB: "Remember a few months ago when I said we'd turned a corner? I wasn't lying, but, before we turned that corner, the economy was going down, right? After the turn we started moving horizontal -- perpendicular to the way we were going before. So if we want the economy to go up, we have to turn another corner, see? And that corner is just ahead."

JM: "There's like a record store, and then there's some guy ... in a hat? And I think the corner is right past that guy."

August 09, 2004

WWAD

The Catholic Church has been a little down on its luck recently, what with the abuse scandals and the Pope running out of people to confer favor on, to the point where he has to resort to blessing breakdancers. What they need is something that will not only refill their depleted coffers, but also enable them to earn the goodwill of people across the world like they did during the crusades.

That's why I think they should found What Would Atkins Do, Incorporated.

Here's how it works. The church opens a series of bakeries across the nation, selling all varieties of grain products: bread, muffins, pasta, you name it. Each outlet also employs a deacon, who sanctifies everything before its shipped to locals stores. It would be sort of like the kosher food deal, but, you know, Christier.

And voila: moneymaker! The 96% of the American population currently on the Atkins diet could enjoy all those baked goods they've had to forego, without having to worry about meddlesome carbs. Thanks to the (literal!) miracle of transubstantiation, those WWAD cinnamon rolls and bagels will turn into the (literal!) body of Christ after consumption, thereby converting a carbohydrate-laden doughnut into a the relatively carb-free hunk of Messiah. Dieters get to eat bread again and stave off eternal damnation, all at the same time -- it's win-win!

If WWAD, Inc. is successful (how could it not be?), they could even branch out by opening vineyards and launching a line of sanctified wine for vampires.

August 06, 2004

The Bad Review Revue

Catwoman: "The director, whose name is Pitof, was probably issued with two names at birth and would be wise to use the other one on his next project." -- Roger Ebert, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES

A Cinderella Story: "They took the most famous tale in the world and broke it." -- Stephen Hunter, WASHINGTON POST

Thunderbirds: "Kids of all sizes and genders are going to be disappointed." -- Pete Vonder Haar, FILM THREAT

Little Black Book: "Aggressively unfunny." -- Carla Meyer, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

I, Robot: "If you see it, the sequel will be your fault." -- Michael Atkinson, THE VILLIAGE VOICE

August 05, 2004

Supermagnet

Speaking of superheroes ...

We have an enormous and moderately ancient apple tree in our backyard that produces an astounding quantity of apples, all which drop over the course of a single months and none of which are fit for consumption. So once a week in July I have to go out and spend and hour or so picking up the damned things and throwing 'em into garbage bags.

Our vacation to D.C. fell right at the tail end of this year's apple-dropping season, and I put off going to the dump until the last possible moment. (Apparently it's called the "transfer station" now. I'm a little unclear on when we got so PC that we started coming up with euphemisms for landfills, but it'll always be "the dump" to me.) Although I knew the tree would still be dropping its treasures in our absence, my goal was to collect as many apples as possible so we wouldn't return a week later to a yard full of rotting fruit.

So Thursday evening I braved Seattle atypical 90 degree heat and picked up the last of the apples, throwing them on the side of the house with the moldering bags of apples I had collected previously and acquiring a pretty good sunburn in the process. And then, Friday morning, I got up bright and early, threw on my rattiest work clothes, heaved the bags of apples into my truck, and headed to the local dump a few hours before our flight was slated to leave.

On my way back I remembered a few more things we needed to pick up for our trip, so stopped at three places along the way: the grocery store, the drug store, and the pet store. Each cashier I interacted with was female, and each flirted with me as I completed my transaction.

Alas, having a cashier flirt with me is a rare enough event that I can state fairly definitively that this hat trick was no mere coincident, and can therefore only conclude that I have somehow inadvertently stumbled across The Secret To Attracting Women. Much as Barry Allen was a mild-mannered scientist until the night he was working alone in his lab and a bolt of lightening struck a nearby cabinet, dousing him with an melange of electrified chemicals and endowing him with the super speed that transformed him into The Flash, some unknown combination of grimy hands, unkempt clothing, disheveled hair, sunburned face, and pervasive odor comprised of sweat and half-fermented apples apparently made me irresistible to the opposite sex.

Were I not a married man I might well devote my free time to trying to suss out the exact recipe; instead I'll post my findings here and leave it to some single, energetic go-getter of a reader to crack the code. Let me know if you figure it out, and godspeed.

August 04, 2004

Movies: Spider-Man II

Holy smokes, I went and saw a movie.

As I've mentioned before, I was primarily a DC man in my comic-book reading days. I liked my heroes simple and my stories uncomplicated by the angst and social commentary that Marvel employed. I read The Amazing Spider-Man of course, because, duh, you were practically required to read at least one Spider-Man title if you wanted to keep up your end of a conversation at a comic store. But I can't say that I was ever a huge fan of Peter Parker and his woebegone adventures. It seemed like every issue his best friend would turn into a super villain and kill his girlfriend, or Aunt May would fall down a well, or whatever. And even when things went right, when Spidey defeated the bad guy and saved the day, he would invariably get pelted by garbage thrown by bystanders who had read the most recent Daily Bugle editorial. Sure, all this was to make a point -- that with Spider-Man's great power came great responsibility -- but it often left me wondering why Peter Parker even bothered. More to the point, it left me wonder why I bothered to read it. Hell, I was living the life of a junior high school student, so it's not like I needed any more grief. So perhaps it's no surprise that I was a bit lukewarm on the first Spider-Man film.

Still, I was excited about the sequel, because my favorite villain in Spidey's rogue's gallery has always been Doctor Octopus. Possibly Spider-Man's most lethal and powerful enemy, Dr. Oct was also a complete loser, an overweight schlub whose plans for world domination were as often thwarted by his own insecurities than by the efforts of the wall-crawler. Every match between the two was essentially "Guy Who Can't Get A Break vs. Guy Who Can't Get His Act Together," and I looked forward to seeing this brawl on the big screen.

But the first hour of Spider-Man II was a veritable primer on everything I disliked about the comic book, with Peter losing his job, behind on his rent, bummed about his non-existent love life, and agonizing over Aunt May's penury. And yet, for some reason, I found myself sympathetic towards Peter rather than simply annoyed by him. I'd love to cite my newfound appreciation for complex character studies as proof that I have matured in the 15 years since I stopped reading comic books, but since I know for a fact that that hasn't happened, there must be something else at work here.

If I had to guess, I'd say that "something else" is Michael Chabon, author of my favorite book of 2002 and one of three Spider-Man II story writers. Chabon has a gift for writing about both heroes (The Escapist in Kavalier and Clay) and regular down-on-the-luck schmoes (the professor in Wonder Boys), so it seems like he'd be a natural for tackling the Peter Parker / Spider-Man dichotomy. Chabon or no, I bought into the whole "tortured teen as superhero" backstory this go-round, where, in the previous installment, it left me unmoved. And it's a good thing, too, since the story was more "Spider-Man vs. Peter Parker" than "Spider-Man vs. supervillian".

And when it got around to those "Spider-Man vs. supervillian" scenes, the film did not disappoint. Okay, maybe there was a little disappointment, plotwise. For one thing, I like my Bad Guys bad, not just conflicted. And there were certain aspects of Doctor Octopus origins and motivation that were introduced in the unmistakable style of "well this doesn't really make much sense but HEY LOOK OVER HERE!!" But once the two superdudes started pounding the tar out of each other, all was forgiven. I wouldn't call the special effects in S-MII a vast improvement over those in the first film, but they had at least advanced enough that I wasn't sitting in the theater wondering why I'd paid $9 to watch an X-Box game. And at least one sequence, a lengthy brawl upon a train, ranks among the best fight scenes in recent memory.

(Better still, Doctor Octopus's tentacles look a lot like the "squids" the Neo and Morpheus fought. So if you squint your eyes just right while during Spider-Man II you can kind of pretend like you're watching a sequel to The Matrix that doesn't totally suck.)

Spider-Man II has been hailed by some as the best superhero film since Superman. I dunno if I'd go that far, but between this film and X-Men United I'd definitely say the superhero genre is hitting its stride. S-MII not only reminded me of everything I liked about The Amazing Spider-Man back when I was a reader, but even made me retroactively appreciate that those things that I disliked at the time. It's a rare superhero movie that actually makes me wish I'd spend more time during my formatives years holed up in my bedroom and wasting away the days with a stack of comic books.

P.s. See, this is the kind of meticulous backstory that makes Spider-Man such an intriguing character.

August 03, 2004

Ridge Raises Terror Level After Watching Cujo

Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge authorized the elevation of the terror alert level to "high" Monday morning after watching Cujo on NBC's Fright Nite Theater. "Mr. Ridge contacted the President at 4:05 AM and said he was 'pretty freaked out,'" confirmed White House spokesman Scott McClellan in a press conference yesterday. "He couldn't provide specifics about an impending attack, but asked that we go to code orange and send some secret service guys to his house to spend the night." Speaking with reporters earlier today, Ridge admitted to being "jumpy" after watching the edited-for-television version of Stephen King's 1983 thriller, but nonetheless defended his decision as "completely justified." He urged Americans to remain vigilant and be on the lookout for suspicious activities or St. Bernards.

[ link | News]


August 02, 2004

Bad Review Revue: Ebert On The Village

The Bad Review Revue usually appears on Fridays, but I just read Roger Ebert's one-star review of The Village and his closing paragraph merits an exception:

"Eventually the secret of [the movie] is revealed. To call it an anticlimax would be an insult not only to climaxes but to prefixes. It's a crummy secret, about one step up the ladder of narrative originality from It Was All a Dream. It's so witless, in fact, that when we do discover the secret, we want to rewind the film so we don't know the secret anymore. And then keep on rewinding, and rewinding, until we're back at the beginning, and can get up from our seats and walk backward out of the theater and go down the up escalator and watch the money spring from the cash register into our pockets."


Return Of The yeti

I bought one of those George Foreman Grills. It works pretty well, but I hate the way it makes everything taste like George Foreman.

Yeah, so, my plan to post while on vacation didn't really pan out, although you'll notice that my plan to not post the week before vacation succeeded marvelously. I'm back now, though, so get ready for me to, um, post, uh, several things ... that I've never posted .. before. Or, whatever.

[ link | dy]