Mar 31, 2006

next stop: the Twilight Zone

Today the freshfolks had their last in-class rehearsal of Act V of Romeo and Juliet. Third period, the students playing Balthasar and Juliet were absent--one home sick, one on a trip to Kansas. No fear; understudies were ready.

Fourth period, two students went home sick.

Balthasar and Juliet.

Oh, God! I have an ill-divining soul.

Mason rules. Gators drool.

or, obligatory NCAA bracket blogging VII

Now that my bracket is shot to hell, I offer a preview of the final four in verse, this time in limerick form.

The bracket-bust boys from George Mason
Are hotter than hot: they're capsaicin.
The Gators it seems,
Though they've beaten four teams,
Have turned from the chased to the chasin'.

Three cheers for LA's fabled Bruins
Who left my poor bracket in ruins.
But no more are due
For the boys daubed in blue
'Cause the future is set: LSU wins.

[sixty-eighth in a series]

Mar 30, 2006

Snakes on a Plane: never enough

Josh asks and answers the inevitable question, What should be the sequel--and prequel, for that matter--to Snakes on a Plane?

I offer Frogs for Snakes on a Plane, sequel to Frogs for Snakes. A down-and-out Broadway actor, unable to find work stateside, flies to India for a chance to star in a Discovery channel reptile-fest. When a luggage handler accidentally breaks open the wrong crate, all hell breaks loose in a bloodbath of Shakespearean proportions. By the end, the survivors learn a valuable lesson about trusting your friends.

what was the name of Mercutio's brother?


No, no, no.

You've got it all wrong.

What is the name of Mercutio's brother? What is the name?

There are multiple tenses in English--present, past, future, and so on. But the only one that matters to literary critics--and count yourself among them, even if reluctantly--is the Literary Present.

Literature is eternal. It lives on in our hearts, our minds, our souls. It lives forever because a massive literary industry cranks out English teachers like Peeps. English teachers stacked neatly in boxes, gaudy, motley. Chewed up and digested each Easter by sugar-starved tykes: or, vicious the more, microwaved by bored college students. English teacher marshmallow Peeps.

Where was I?


Because literature is eternal, it can never die. That, my friends, is logic. And since literature never dies, we must never speak of it as if it has died.

And to speak of the dead is to use the past tense.

Therefore we use the Literary Present.

What is, is, is the name of Mercutio's brother?

He doesn't have a brother.


[sixty-seventh in a series]

31st Skeptics' Circle up

The microphone's on at Terra Sigillata.

[Link via Skeptico]

Mar 28, 2006

Inside Man

Wittier than The Italian Job (either of 'em), more cynical than Ocean's Eleven (either of 'em--or Twelve), right up there with Rififi (for cleverness) and Big Deal on Madonna Street (for good humor) and Bob le Flambeur (for existential import) and The Killing (for clinical precision).

Denzel Washington and Clive Owen clash entertainingly--Owen's dispassion steadily inflames Washington's smoldering calm. (Jodie Foster is a throwaway character, inessential and ineffectual next to giants.) So much humor and tension in a claustrophobic New York street: Spike Lee directing his own Phone Booth? Nifty narrative structure and a few plot twists make the pacing--which is at times slow, but never uninteresting--perfect.

For its realistic and sympathetic treatment of race and sin in the post 9/11 New York microcosm, this is the Crash of heist flicks, and yet it's never preachy and contrived like Crash. (The music is better, too.)

It's the first truly good film I've seen this year.

Go thou and watch.

(Incidentally, Rififi, in the way of all heist films, is being remade. With Al Pacino!)

Update: Oh yeah, the heavy Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 debt. Scott Tobias remembers what I forgot.

Mar 27, 2006


It blows things up.

It's environmentally friendly.

At last, the explosive that will bring red and blue states together again.

need more irony in your diet?

Ed Brayton asks his readers to fisk this "monumental silliness" from--where else--the WorldNetDaily.

(Just to boast, I've already won an unnamed prize.)

Oscar Trivia, or Hollywood Ain't Fair

Which walked away with Oscar gold, leaving the other crying in its seat?

The Shawshank Redemption or Forrest Gump?
Taxi Driver or Rocky?
A Beautiful Mind or Amelie?
The Elephant Man or Ordinary People?
I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang or Cavalcade?
Psycho or The Apartment?
Marty or Rebel Without a Cause?

The answer to all: the wrong one.

Mar 26, 2006

what's gonna happen to me in the future?

Four questions are most important in this life:

1. Who am I?
2. Why am I here?
3. Where am I going?
4. Where's the remote?

All four, as you can probably tell, are intertwined. Your identity, your purpose, your destiny, and your happiness--to examine one is to examine all.

So let's look at question three. Let's define your future.

In about five minutes you will think Yes, yes, this is true. This is the truest truth. And somehow I have known it all along. You always lie to yourself like that.

In about six hours your eyelids will droop, your limbs will sag, and you will sink into a cheap sofa in front of a television set. You will take a piece of paper and stick it to the screen, marveling at the adhesive power of static electricity. You will be drunk. Or stoned. Or both.

In about one week your free lottery coupon will arrive in the mail, in between several junk fliers from Wal-Mart which you will barely scan before tossing into the garbage, along with the ticket. (You wouldn't have won anyway.)

In about three months you will have a spiritual epiphany in a dream, suddenly understanding all the mysteries of the divine and the sublimities of the human experience, and how they are somehow connected to a handheld infrared device that controls a talking picture box. Your insight will be forgotten when you awake to your FM radio alarm, for Styx erases epiphanies on contact.

In about six years you will be officially disowned by a society that has crumbled into nothingness. This will not distress you.

In about four centuries you will ride out time in your lead-lined coffin until dug up and worshiped by genetic mutants, the only survivors after the inevitable biochemical apocalypse. You will not mind being worshiped. You're dead, after all.

In about eight millennia every last particle of your body will have been digested by the cosmos.

[sixty-sixth in a series]

who predicted NCAA bracket correctly

The Christian Prophet sure didn't.

[sixty-fifth in a series]

Plato's Symposium in Romeo and Juliet: a work in progress

I sat down this morning to re-read Plato's Symposium, the Rouse translation, prompted by Stephen Greenblatt's introductory essay to Romeo and Juliet in The Norton Shakespeare.

Themes and images from the love treatise find their way into various speeches in the classic tragedy. I'm certain someone must have explored this in depth somewhere, but it's not easy to find the right sources. I want to intelligently discuss both with my students--but want to give credit, academically, where it's due. (Given that my students are closely reading R&J rather than Plato, superficiality is inevitable--but the goal here is to provoke thought and further study.)

As less than an amateur in understanding ancient Greek, I'm not sure if Rouse's translation effectively captures the spirit of the text.

So, this is a call for help from my well-read and intelligent audience (if I may flatter myself):

1. Among scholars, which translation of Symposium is preferred?
2. Are you aware of any scholar who has delved into this connection in great detail? If so, how/where?
3. What is love? (Baby don't hurt me, don't hurt me, no more.)

Mar 25, 2006

apropos of everything

Beethoven's schlocky, strangely affecting 9th is blaring on the radio. (This just after I watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, marveling once again at its frenetic brilliance.)

A generic Nyquil substitute is stuck in the middle of peristalsis, refusing to enter my stomach. Unstobbable nasal drib.

Is there a German word for the awkwardness of having a pill stuck in the throat until it dissolves? Langsamebewegungerdrosseln?

Jesus's birth certificate

In a discovery that may silence the remaining skeptics, Jesus's birth certificate was recently discovered at a New Jersey area college library by Rose Sherridan, an amateur historian. Its authenticity is being determined by a panel of linguists, archaeologists, and paleographologists.

The stained, weathered document announces the birth of a "Percival Josephson" (or "Josephsen"), September 28th, A.D. 1.

[sixty-fourth in a series]

obligatory NCAA bracket blogging VI: Christian Prophet edition

Dear ones, when you fret over your bracket picks, you forget the words of Christ, "What man by worrying can add a cubit to his stature?" Put aside your concerns and accept the gifts of God. Peace, blessings, and Texas over LSU in a tight match. Joy, harmony, and Memphis over UCLA, no contest. Love, light, and UConn over George Mason in a close one. Life, health, and 'Nova over Florida in OT. What you consider a miracle shows that your awareness is unreal in its unreality, interposed and interfering, intertwined and intersecting, for what is reality but the dream within a dream of God consciousness? Ride the wavelength of spiritual wireless.

Mar 24, 2006

how to make your sperms stronger

Sperms are strong of their own accord--but you can make them stronger with these quick and easy tips.

1. Leave them to ferment longer.
2. Grind them more thoroughly.
3. Increase weights and decrease reps, or vice versa.
4. Give specific praise instead of general compliments.
5. Include special characters ($ % ! & * etc.), numbers, and random strings of letters.
6. Slightly warm the surface level.
7. Diversify.
8. Add honeycomb carbon fiber construction.
9. Increase calcium intake.
10. Work together.
11. Implement tax cuts.
12. Do whatever doesn't kill them.

[sixty-third in a series]

prognosis: negative

Sure, they led their teams to the Big Dance. But how will J.J. Redick and Adam Morrison fare in the Really Big Dance--the NBA? Not so well, says Charley Rosen.
Congratulations to J.J. for a super-duper career against immature undergraduates whose coaches were easily outmaneuvered by Coack K. Here's hoping that Redick majored in an academic subject that will provide him and his with a viable livelihood.

Like Redick, Morrison had enough stuff to excel in a boys' game, but the NBA is for men only (except for an occasional man-child like LeBron). Like Redick, Morrison's off-the-ball movement and bull's-eye shooting versus largely inferior and dull-witted opponents was sufficient to make him an "all-everything."
Over the next few years we'll keep track of the two hoped-dashed starlets, and see if Rosen's right.

("Prognosis Negative" explained here.)

(Added: Morrison seemed like a lock for the Really Big Dance--but now he's not sure.)

Update 4/18/06: Morrison may go pro after all, spies in the Gonzaga organization report.

obligatory NCAA bracket blogging V

Four games tonight. (I may or may not watch any of them. Given that I cursed Gonzaga yesterday, I should probably avoid the telly.)

Today's picks are presented as a villanelle, because.

I put no money in a bracket pool.
I wouldn't win it even if I tried.
The lady Fortune is a mistress cruel.

Of the two Huskies, UConn has to rule
And Brandon Roy must sadly be denied.
I put no money in a bracket pool.

GM and Wichita State: each a school
That busted brackets as a nation cried.
The lady Fortune is a mistress cruel.

Will Villanova be the Eagles' tool?
Survey says: No. Our survey shall decide.
(I put no money in a bracket pool.)

And G'Town: will they make the Gators drool?
No chance. A reptile wins when they collide.
The lady Fortune is a mistress cruel.

Will Time, the judge of all, judge me a fool?
Or was I right to follow Caution's guide?
I put no money in a bracket pool.
The lady Fortune is a mistress cruel.

Update: Three for three! (I didn't call GM vs. WS 'cause I had no stake in it.) I was pretty nervous for UConn until the miracle comeback--it's tough to know just how nervous you should be when you're watching ESPN's updated scoreboard (no cable!).

I should write villanelles more often.

Mar 23, 2006

Jodie Foster looks sexier every year

Why do movie ads always do this?

Snakes on a Plane on NPR

No, really.

Now the question arises: can it still be cool?

obligatory NCAA bracket blogging IV

In honor of tonight's fourth annual Improv Show, I'll describe today's picks to the tune of "The Irish Quaffing Song." In the neighborhood of C...

LSU meets Duke today;
I picked the Devils blue.
Although sometimes I wish I'd rather
Gone with LSU.

Redick's lookin' pretty tough
But upset's in the breeze.
All in all I'm glad I haven't
Gambled any cheese.

(Oh, idy-didy-didy-didy-didy-didy-dy.)

The Mountaineers and Longhorns:
I picked 'em both to win.
But sadly only one of them
Will punch their ticket in.

I'm pretty sure the Texas squad
Will take care of Pittsnogle,
For since I picked the boys in orange
Dub-V will be Horn-swoggled.

(Oh, idy-didy-didy-didy-didy-didy-dy.)

Memphis takes on Bradley
'Cause Bradley took out Pitt.
And now the lowest seed is sure
To give the Tigs a fit.

I've pinned my hopes to Memphis,
To championship they'll cruise,
To face the UConn Huskies there
And there to promptly lose.

(Oh, idy-didy-didy-didy-didy-didy-dy.)

Last, not least, the Bulldogs
And Bruins get to brawl.
The Bruins have a fearsome front
And hope to win it all.

But Mark Few is a genius,
Batista boards can crash,
Mallon scores by hiding
Behind Morrison's moustache!

(Oh, idy-didy-didy-didy-dideee-dideee-dyyyyyy....)

Update: Memphis, no surprise. Damn you, Duke. And did you SEE the Texas game? (I didn't, until the improv show--which rocked, incidentally--was over.) A three to tie, and a buzzer-beating three to win. Sorry, Pittsnogle! And did you SEE the Gonzaga game?!! Crazy night for basketball. Damn you, too, Zags, another classic choke. Ah well.

who will censor the censors?

Julian Sanchez (via Kevin Drum) points us to this sad-but-amusing story from North Carolina.
The department recently released to News & Observer staff writer Kristin Collins its files on Ag-Mart, the Florida-based tomato grower that last year incurred the N.C. Department of Agriculture's largest-ever fine for breaking pesticide rules.

The Labor Department blacked out so much information that its files were nearly unintelligible.

Included was a copy of a 2003 News & Observer story, written by Collins herself and another reporter, in which words or phrases were blacked out in 67 places [emphasis added].
It reminds me of a short story (anthologized, sophomores sometimes read it) by Luisa Valenzuela titled "The Censors."

Living in a completely repressive society, the protagonist, Juan, has written a potentially incriminating letter to his lover, Mariana. Juan fears what the censors will do with it.
He knows that they examine, sniff, feel, and read between the lines of each and every letter, and check its tiniest comma and most accidental stain. He knows that all letters pass from hand to hand and go through all sorts of tests in the huge censorship offices and that, in the end, very few continue on their way. Usually it takes months, even years, if there aren't any snags; all this time the freedom, maybe even the life, of both sender and receiver is in jeopardy.
In order to stop the epistle from falling into their hands, Juan concocts "a consoling but unoriginal idea." He'll become a censor.

Once ensconced in his job, though, Juan changes, eventually relishing his role, quickly climbing to the upper ranks, enjoying his "truly patriotic task, both self-denying and uplifting." The terrifyingly droll conclusion:
His basket for censored letters became the best fed as well as the most cunning basket in the whole Censorship Division. He was about to congratulate himself for having finally discovered his true mission, when his letter to Mariana reached his hands. Naturally, he censored it without regret. And just as naturally, he couldn't stop them from executing him the following morning, another victim of his devotion to his work.

Mar 22, 2006

English teaching: exercises in narrative development

Been working on starting and shaping stories in my sophomore classes, and thought I'd share a couple brief lessons that have gone over well. Your comments are appreciated.

Building a Story From the Character Up
Hand each student a half-sheet of blank paper (computer paper, copy paper, etc.). Students draw and describe the personality traits of a character, any character. The ground rules:
1. Even if based on a real person or previously-imagined fictive agonist, the character has to be uniquely named. No lawsuits.

2. Drawing takes a backseat to describing, and physical attributes to foibles and faults.

3. Non-human characters are okay if personified or anthropomorphized.
Circulate amongst the artistes, offering suggestions and clarifying directions. (Typical: "What's a good name for a social butterfly?" "What's a word for someone who's too trusting?") After about ten minutes, it's on to step two.

Students then pair up and discuss their characters. Afterward, each will write her own story based on a putative interaction between the two, no matter how bizarre or unlikely (Mr. Toaster-head bumps into Rock Studly at a Star Trek convention). Again, the ground rules:
1. The characters must act in accordance with their prescribed traits.

2. The characters must act in accordance with their prescribed traits.

3. The characters must act in accordance with their prescribed traits. It's all about psychological realism and verisimilitude.
If time allows, let students discuss the creative process--if starting with pre-fab characters was a help or a hindrance to their writing.

The Plot Twist

Students begin a story with a generic starter. Some examples:
The sun burned through early morning fog on a cool November morning...

_______ clutched her cell phone as she ran through the park...

The door slammed...
After about 5-7 minutes, when they've had time to initially develop the narrative, introduce the first plot twist sentence, which they are to incorporate literally and directly into the flow: "In that moment, everything changed."

After another 5-7 minutes, introduce the second (and final) twist sentence, "And then the unthinkable happened." Students then take another 5-7 minutes to wrap up the story.

Let students share stories with each other, and then with the whole class. Don't forget to debrief about the creative process, and to point out the diverse (and crazy and random) ways different authors address the same basic constraints.

In my experience, most students will notice the ideas that paradoxically arise out of limitations.

Mar 21, 2006

save the AMC Narrows Plaza 8!

It is a thing of beauty, but it won't be a joy forever unless we act now to save it from destruction.

The AMC Narrows Plaza 8 is a theater frozen in time, a woolly mammoth cloaked in brown brick and beautiful 70s-era styling cues. I wish I had taken a camera when I last went. It's a time capsule, a monument.

Let's hope it meets the "specific criteria for a building less than 50 years old," so it can be saved for posterity as a memorial to the tackiest decade in American architecture, the greatest decade in American film.

Look at that empty parking lot. Without our help, the Narrows 8 won't last another decade.

ah, irony

"Rather, they desire to use relationships to replace reasons and argumentation, hoping that the emotional appeal of meeting a well-balanced, friendly believer who is enthusiastic about his Christian beliefs will go a long ways towards opening the hearts of nonbelievers to the Truth."

Except replace "believer" with "gay person," "nonbelievers" with "conservative Christians," and "Truth" with "homosexual agenda."

That's what happens when gay evangelists borrow from the hetero Evangelism playbook.

parking fees kicked to curb

In some Washington state parks, you can find signs declaring, "Parking fees hold the system together."

God help the system.

Mar 20, 2006

V for Vapid

132 minutes.

That's all you need to know about V for Vendetta, a ho-hum, mildly actionish Message Movie from the screenwriting Wachowski brothers, they of The Matrix. From their consistently pretentious efforts, we've come to realize that whatever can be said should be said as ham-fistedly and obviously and repeatedly as possible. (McTeigue, the director, carries over from the Matrilogy as well.)

Go elsewhere for plot synopsis and piquant criticism; I have little to add to the chorus of faint praise. It's watchable. That's all.

obligatory NCAA bracket blogging III

Anderson 2 is still my bracket of choice, with 450 points, enough for the 91st percentile.

Where I'm still confident:

Duke. They have to win so they can lose to Texas.

Memphis. They're headed to the championship.

Gonzaga. Why not? They've cheered me up by making it to the Sweet 16. They'll lose to Memphis, though.

UConn will beat the other Huskies.

'Nova had better beat BC, so they can crush Florida when the time comes.

I still have six of the Elite Eight standing, which might be enough to catapult me into the top 100,000 when the dust settles. And my championship picks, Memphis and UConn, both look strong.

Mar 19, 2006

the unofficial Snakes on a Plane teaser

This is for you, Josh.

from the mouths of dweebs: part II of our second annual installment

Another day of StuCo, another day of genius disguised as inanity.

On sensitivity: "Ladies and gentlemen, we've all seen them. They are the mentally retarded."

On the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, the high-stakes exam: "He tried to copy off me, but I foiled him!"

On the value of Microsoft: "How would our world be without computers? Without word processing?"

On trust: "It must be reliable. It comes from Popular Science."

On temptation: "When you're in prison you can't see breasts."

On jury duty: "This is a system that has been in place for as long as... for I don't know how long. A long time."

On prejudice: " that these convicted criminals can have a fair trial..."

On literacy, political style: [holding up a pocket-sized Constitution] "It is clearly written in the Constitution that each state must create an ethical code for its citizens."

On extreme skepticism: "Let me assure you, there is no proof of secondhand smoke."

On dubious distinctions: "What is the first thing you think of when you think of nuclear power? You think of the atom bomb, which has nothing to do with nuclear."

On neologism: "Or, in the context of nuclear power, plemeian in a way..."

On dipping one's toes in the gene pool: "And I don't want my descendants--whatever they may look like--to deal with it."

On malapropism, part II: "If nuclear pants can last 3,000 years..."

On... on... I'm not really sure: "Nuclear power... is morally wrong. It's sticking a cat in a microwave. [pause] That's not an analogy. I know people who are that sick. Just sick. [awkward pause] I never said they were my friends."

Part I of the second annual installment
the first annual installment

Mar 18, 2006

obligatory NCAA bracket blogging II

Anderson 2 is still the bracket of choice, wherein I predicted 25 out of 32 first-round games, enough to launch me into 55,463rd place with 250 points.

Not bad for five minutes' effort.

In the next round, my as-yet possibly totally correct predictions:

Texas over NC State.

Memphis over Bucknell.

Gonzaga over Indiana. (It's about time they shrugged off the albatross.)

UCLA over Alabama.

Connecticut over Kentucky.

Washington over Illinois.

Tennessee over Wichita State.

Villanova over Arizona.

Ohio State over Georgetown.

So far, teams with doubled consonants in their name are 6-6. Helpful, eh?

Mar 17, 2006

from the mouths of dweebs: our second annual installment

More Student Congress, more crazy quotes.

On the merits of lethal injection versus a firing squad: "What if I told you I could get you a nice, peaceful, relaxed death?"

On capital punishment via diplomacy: "...until your life is ended by the state department."

On the conservation of our most precious natural resource: "...considering that oil--and petroleum, for that matter--oil and petroleum are fast disappearing."

On important dates: "...when George Washington left office in... eighteenwhatever..."

On bombast: " we take our rightful place as the moral leader of the enlightened world."

On blaming the adolescent victim: "If she's in an abusive family, then obviously she shouldn't be in that family in the first place."

On crypto-fascist education: "We must preserve the purity of intelligence..."

On malapropism: "A woman will arrive at the hospital bleeding from the universe..."

On the utility of coats: "It keeps me warm, and keeps me from getting a disease."

(Read the original edition here.)

Mar 16, 2006

obligatory NCAA bracket blogging

Five brackets, composed in twenty minutes on ESPN's site just before the opening tip. Intuition? Nah. Randomness, mostly. I use a coin flip to decide when I can't. So far I'm faring badly, but at least there's no money at stake.

Last year's bracket champion correctly predicted 55 games. I'd have to win every upcoming matchup to get 56 and a shot at the title.

Nevada, Oklahoma, and NC Wilmington have failed me in my best bracket, Anderson 2.

My wife and I spent Happy Hour at Brewery City Pizza, watching the Gonzaga Bulldogs get beat up by Xavier for the first two thirds of the game. "We should go," I told her, after I had stalled as long as I could after the check came. "If I watch, they lose. If I leave, they win." ("They" are Gonzaga, the team I root for, no reason.)

I left.

They won.

I'm short. it's my birthday.

Thanks to my brother for kind words. (He neglected to mention that I'm also a debate coach, which is why I can't enjoy my birthday too much, in between writing sub plans and making last-minute calls before tomorrow and Saturday's state Student Congress meet.)

The real celebration won't take place until Saturday evening and Saturday next, where the two sides of the family will host respective felicitations for four March babies, three on my side, one on my wife's. Just in time for a bizarre stomach upset to come and go--I wasn't looking forward to passing on my mom's famed Nanaimo bars.

When the debate season is over, normalesque blogging will resume. Promise.

Mar 15, 2006

oh, by the way

The Sixth Incarnation of the 25th Birthday of the Skeptics' Circle can now be properly celebrated.

do as I write, not as I do

My signature is an indecipherable mess, a scrawl born out of equal parts laziness and haste. Upon autographing credit slips, checks, or petitions (I sign the ones I disagree with, just for the sake of democracy), I've been asked time and again, Are you a doctor?

Someday, I think.

I have no patience for those who require a neat, legible signature, and even less for those who require it hypocritically.

(Incidentally, feel free to peruse Rule 11, and make your best lawerly judgment as to whether an illegible signature somehow violates the rule.)

breaking the habit

For Christmas I received a sudoku page-a-day calendar from my wife--and this after having sworn off the addiction. I decided to finish the damned thing as quickly as possible.

Today, done.

Some frightening statistics:

91.25 hours spent filling in numbers (3 days, 19 hours, 15 minutes)
6 pens lost, broken, or spent
16,425 squares filled in (assuming an average of 45 empty squares)
4.93 puzzles per day

I've had enough. Forever.

state of Washington unveils stupidest tourism slogan ever

Washington State has a new slogan meant to lure in cash-laden tourists. And it sucks.

"SayWA." That's right. "SayWA." It took 18 months (!) of development and will be rolled out with a $442,000 ad campaign. Official bureaucratese:
“ ‘SayWA’ is a distillation of the sense of wonder that comes with discovery,” the tourism office’s Web site suggests. “It describes the moment when an experience becomes emotional. Where the traveler is no longer an observer, but a participant. The ‘SayWA’ moment.”
Meanwhile, back in the real world:
“Thirty-five years ago, I smoked dope and probably could have come up with something like that,” said Darrell Bryan, general manager of Victoria Clipper, the largest tour operator in the Northwest. “To me, it’s better to have no slogan than to come up with something like that.
Our suggestion: WA the *!&%?

Mar 13, 2006

Piggy's got the conch

Of all the independent projects manufactured by my students, the creepiest are the two retelling Lord of the Flies... as a children's book.

what won't a minor league club do for publicity?

Cheese, bacon, beef, and a Krispy Kreme doughnut, united in unholy matrimony.

A friend of mine once argued that foods that taste good separately should always taste good together. I'm not willing to test his theorem on "Baseball's Best Burger."

[via Obscure Store]

who invented nose hair trimmers?

Ah, nose hair. It saves the respiratory system from the vilest of fiends, but when grown too floral, it turns the wearer into one. Cheers, then, for the nose hair trimmer, that delightful invention that takes the guesswork and crudity out of the most delicate truncating task a face faces.

The nose hair trimmer was invented in 1859 by Dr. Jefferson Entwistle of Kennebunkport, a botanist by trade and barber by night. His earliest model was powered by foot-bellows. The user would step in place on the bellows while trimming, and the forced air would spin a propeller-shaped blade, which the user would gently apply to the nostril region.

The mechanism, notoriously unstable, disappeared from use after a series of high-profile accidents and litigation. Legend says that Abraham Lincoln grew his beard at a schoolgirl's request, but an obscure passage of his diary cryptically hints at a less jocund explanation:
I shall have to cover the scar. The scar of the great dissension we now face. The face of an angel, mangled by a mawkish mane. The better angels of our nature? Ah, it sounds foolish. Dam'd bellows!
Not until Edison blanketed the world in glowing electricity would a nose hair trimmer resurface to public acclaim, breaking into the market in 1902 and dominating the men's grooming landscape ever since.

[sixty-second in a series]

if the hills had eyes, they wouldn't watch The Hills Have Eyes

Spoiler Alert: This film is spoiled like a road trip bologna sandwich left on the dashboard in the desert sun.

I'm patient with a movie, if the payoff is right. I'll sit through seemingly endless exposition, if it builds sympathy for characters battling forces beyond their control. Flicks like House of Wax, with obnoxious, hateworthy protagonists, inspire bored glee, not terror. Others, like Caché, which includes one second of violence more shocking and terrifying than anything from the Gruesome School, are worth the wait, even if the payoff is ultimately frustrating.

The Hills Have Eyes, another dull remake of a lesser film, tries to ablute its sins in a bath of blood. And the sins are plenty. When the best character is killed first, and the most grating and stupid one is left to carry the plot... When the pacing is slow, then slower, and then slow again, building to a gigantic nothing... When every scene is telegraphed minutes ahead, and seems cribbed from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre playbook.... When even the "twist" ending comes as a stultifying non-surprise.... you have a mediocre blah-fest suitable for fans of hokum like Emily Rose.

The pluses, and they're few, involve visuals. The desert is both open and constricting, and heat radiates from the screen. Interior shots are suitably dark and greenish. Special effects are flawless, even if forgettable. But that's it. No new ground broken, no iconic images.

Last, a word about the (French) director's political why-do-they-hate-us subtext. (It involves newspaper headlines, Ripleysesque medical photos, and a memorable use of Old Glory.) Some critics have suggested that the film vilifies Red Staters. This may be true, but the Blue State representative, the wimpy dolt who becomes the reluctant hero, has to adopt a Bush/Cheney methodology to save his family, packing a gun or an ax when suitable. Red and Blue bleed the same blood, copiously, in The Hills Have Eyes.

Don't bother yours.

Mar 12, 2006

Sunday fun link, the work of Kelly Mark, a conceptual and performance artist.

Pieces I enjoy most:

Staff, where Mark stands around in an official-looking uniform, behaving unhelpfully.

Her Letraset Drawings.

I Called Shotgun Infinity When I Was Twelve, a neon sign.

Somehow, Mark's artwork manages to simultaneously mock, celebrate, and transcend its cultural referent. Jen Graves explains.

Mar 11, 2006

gotta run

The state speech individual events tournament is today at UPS. I'll be there all day. When I come back: I discuss The Hills Have Eyes, or A History of Mutants.

Mar 9, 2006

Squash City to squash smoking

Jacob Sullum initially noted that the city of Calabasas, California wants to punish those obnoxious, disgusting smokers who dare to light up in public, with jail time as a possibility.
The exceptions are private residences, up to 20 percent of hotel rooms, "smokers' outposts" in shopping center parking lots, and "any outdoor area in which no non-smoker is present is not reasonable to expect another person to arrive." The smoke-free areas, a.k.a. "everywhere else," include sidewalks, streets, bus stops, parks, the outdoor seating of bars and restaurants, and apartment balconies near common areas such as pools or laundry rooms.
Dr. Spin from the City of Calabasas wrote back that no, the crime would be a mere infraction, punishable by fine. Sullum went back to the text of the ordinance, [pdf] which clearly gives the city the power to level a misdemeanor charge. Snarks Sullum, "So the city's position is that although it has the authority the put smokers in jail, it will never use that authority. If so, why put it in the ordinance to begin with?"

One time, in a fit of rhetoric, I suggested that smoking might be entirely banned in the next two decades, and my conversation partner scoffed. When it's against the law to smoke outdoors, the prospect loses its far-fetchedness. We're going crazy for tobacco puffs.

(See also my commentaries on I-901, the anti-smoking initiative that exorcised Demon Second-hand Smoke from Washington State. Learn about calabazas here.)

a loose thread in the fabric of the cosmos

Just when you think Brian Greene may be on to something, along come a couple of California researchers who think that maybe black holes aren't real, after all.
The audacious idea comes from George Chapline, a physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, and Nobel laureate Robert Laughlin of Stanford University and their colleagues. Last week at the 22nd Pacific Coast Gravity Meeting in Santa Barbara, California, Chapline suggested that the objects that till now have been thought of as black holes could in fact be dead stars that form as a result of an obscure quantum phenomenon. These stars could explain both dark energy and dark matter....

Black hole expert Marek Abramowicz at Gothenburg University in Sweden agrees that the idea of dark energy stars is worth pursuing. "We really don't have proof that black holes exist," he says. "This is a very interesting alternative...."

Abramowicz says we know too little about dark energy and dark matter to judge Chapline and Laughlin's idea, but he is not dismissing it out of hand. "At the very least we can say the idea isn't impossible."
I wonder what Stephen Hawking thinks.

in a goodly mood

1. A freshperson came in this morning. "I know this isn't going to count for points, since we had our chance yesterday, but can you identify this quote? 'This wind blows us from ourselves.'" Easy, I responded. Benvolio, after Mercutio's long-winded Queen Mab speech. "Uh, okay," she shot back. How about 'For your broken shin.'" Easy again. Romeo. (In her journal, next to the list of quotes she had assailed me with yesterday, she had written "Crap," "Dang it," "Bad," "No way!," and "CRAP.")

"I'm just going to pretend this didn't happen," she said, crestfallen, backing out the door. "Yesterday was a failure, but I never came here today. Rewind."

2. After two months of waiting, I finally received the digital projector I had applied for, and put it to prompt use, slamming my freshfolks with another quotes quiz. "Why do we have to know these random quotes?" someone dared ask.

"Random? Random quotes? They're all from key characters, in key parts of the story, representing key themes and ideas. They're famous. They prove that you're reading closely and carefully. I choose them meticulously, purposefully. I don't ask you to know random quotes, ever. No way."

Incidentally, it kicks ass to have a digital projector in the classroom.

3. Sophomores presented their productions of a crucial scene from Medea. Some suprisingly bravura performances from quiet, unassuming students. Excellent costumes, and mostly excellent line readings. Extra credit went to the guys who wore lipstick. "We got it from my mom," said one.

That's a Freudian road down which I will not travel.

Mar 8, 2006

wipe that smirk off your face, Brendan Williams

In lieu of actual blogging (it's finals week), I point you to the shenanigans of my new favorite politician, the affable and humorous Brendan Williams.

[link thanks to Rick of OlyBlog]

Mar 7, 2006

Washington Supreme Court may curb epidemic of secrecy

Last week I mentioned the Seattle Times' effort to cast light on an alarming number of sealed cases in King County Superior Court. Thanks to public pressure, the state's highest court may soon shore up the rules against unnecessarily obscuring the labor of justice.
A Washington Supreme Court committee voted unanimously Monday for rule changes that would remove any doubt about how rarely court files should be sealed statewide.

Six of the court's nine justices sit on the committee, so the full court is expected to pass the changes when it meets Thursday. The justices have been considering amending the rules since last year.
Half a huzzah; we'll save the rest for the final word.

the challenge

Today I dropped a pop quiz on my freshfolks, some of whom I suspect have been scanning the pages of Romeo and Juliet with their eyes, but not uploading them into their brains. With over half the class flunking outright, I decided I'd give a second chance.

The wager: if you can find a quote from the first three acts of R&J that I can't properly identify, you get 20 out of 20 on the quiz. Period.

The rules:

1. Major characters only. Srs. Capulet and Montague, Romeo, Juliet, the Nurse, Paris, Tybalt, Mercutio, Benvolio, the Prince, Friar Laurence. (No Sampson, Gregory, Peter, citizens, servants, etc.)

2. One line, or two lines, to give me at least a shred of a chance. No single words or weasely tricks.

Bad example: "Commend me to thy lady." Said too many times by too many gentlemen.

Good example: "This precious book of love, this unbound lover, / To beautify him, only lacks a cover." Said by Lady Capulet (to Juliet, about Paris).

Accordingly, I've spent the better part of my evening studying, reading the play out loud and silently, being quizzed every hour or so by my wife. I'd say I'm at 85% accuracy. My goal is to give out zero extra credit tomorrow, but there won't be any brine if my students stump me.

After all, if I expect them to know this stuff, shouldn't I?

Update: "I hate to give out extra credit," I told them. "I studied all night." They laughed. Nervously. Twenty-five students (out of 53) stumped me, but only three succeeded on their first try. My boundless generosity allowed some to make five attempts--and still they failed, and still they kept trying. I can respect that.

Tomorrow's quiz is gonna be tougher.

Mar 5, 2006

"beanie baby" chaps cowboy directions


Beanie Baby "Cowboy [With Chaps]"
Carnauba Wax (cherry-sized clump)
Pyrex Custard Cup
iPod Earphones
Medium-sized Lime
Richard Dean Anderson

Slice and juice the lime. Set juice aside in custard cup.

Flick the lighter, bringing forth flame. With tweezers, hold clump of wax over the lighter until the wax melts. Carefully drizzle wax onto the Beanie Baby's chaps in decorative patterns.

WARNING: Flame is hot. Hot wax burns. Use common sense.

Before wax cools and hardens, dunk chaps in container of lime juice.

The Beanie Baby chaps will now be stylish, pliable and fragrant for up to six weeks.

Repeat process as needed.

Keep Richard Dean Anderson handy to explain how the iPod earphones, with a slight modification, turn the Beanie Baby into a surveillance device.

[sixty-first in a series]

for true fans only

Yes, friends, that's a very young and very hip Bill O'Reilly.

Seattle Times goes angling for a Pulitzer

King County Superior Court justices are inflicted with a strange malady: obscurantiasis, a condition marked by excessive secrecy and fear of light. Obscurantiasis is lethal to a healthy democracy. Its only remedy is a diet of solid constitutional principles and muck-raking journalism.

Enter the Seattle Times.
Document after document, file after file, has been sealed — and sealed improperly — by the judges and court commissioners of King County Superior Court. A wrongful-death lawsuit against Virginia Mason Medical Center? Sealed. A lawsuit accusing a King County judge of legal malpractice? Sealed. A lawsuit blaming the state's social-services agency for the rape of a 13-year-old girl? Sealed.

Since 1990, at least 420 civil suits have been sealed in their entirety [pdf], The Seattle Times found....

The judges have displayed an ignorance of, or indifference to, the legal requirements for sealing court records. They have routinely sealed files while 1) offering little or no explanation, 2) applying the wrong legal standard, and 3) failing to acknowledge, much less weigh, the public interest in open court proceedings.
Ironically, to unseal the wrongly-classified cases, the Times is being forced to meet the burden of proof ignored by the judges.
...[T]he court is requiring The Seattle Times to file a motion in every case. Feel free to file 400 motions, the court has said, a demand that imposes extraordinary expense and delay.

The judges who voted against the leadership's plan cited General Rule 15, a rule adopted by the Washington Supreme Court in 1989. The rule says that once sealed, records shall be unsealed only upon agreement of the parties, or upon motion and "proof of compelling circumstances."

But this is the same rule that says a file should be sealed only for compelling circumstances.

So: The judges ignored General Rule 15 while sealing hundreds of these cases. Now, they are requiring us to follow that rule to undo something that should not have been done in the first place.

And, if they follow the rule to its letter, they will require the newspaper to show compelling circumstances to unseal, while they sealed on far less. That would flip the presumption of open courts on its head.
The article notes that some judges have already reversed previous rulings when presented with evidence of their unconstitutional practices. But general noncompliance is the norm. Let's hope those staff writers at the Times have the will to carry this investigation through--and that other Washington papers (Hey Olympian! Hey News Tribune! Hey Spokesman-Review!) follow their lead.

The people of Washington have a right to know.

happy birthday to me, eleven days early

My wife is too kind. New strings for my classical guitar--one had snapped months ago, and I've been too distracted and lazy to fix it--and new brushes for my drumming needs.

Musical, yes, but quiet, so today I treated myself to Sleater-Kinney's The Woods, anything but.

I'm prone to overstatement, so forgive me for saying that S-K are the salvation of rock and roll. Forget the White Stripes, forget Queens of the Stone Age, forget Wilco, forget The Strokes, forget all other false prophets and pretenders and has-beens. The Woods is a pile-driving ass-kicking Zeppelin-resurrecting power trip.

(I won't retread; Kyle Ryan and Stephen Deusner effectively capture the album's essence, and Carrie Brownstein, speaking with The Onion, fills in the backstory.)

it's official

The results from the only movie awards that matter, here.

Mar 4, 2006

meet me at the reigning monarch of lactose products

We have a new fast food joint in the neighborhood, a Dairy Queen that replaced a stagnant Schlotzky's, a great move if the happy, sugared-up crowd of tykes tonight is any indication.

Turns out it's a flagship restaurant. The corporate website explains:
DQ Grill & Chill® Restaurant
The DQ Grill & Chill restaurant concept is our flagship concept. This concept offers a total food service program, featuring the full line of our famous DQ® soft serve treat products and an all new food menu. These restaurants are designed to feature food offerings while maintaining our DQ treat heritage. The interior is warm and inviting – different from, and better than the typical quick-service restaurant.
The details, elsewhere:
DQ Grill & Chill blends the best of Dairy Queen's heritage with the most modern innovation in quick-service food and design. The DQ Grill & Chill interior, which brings a new dimension to the QSR environment, features a modern, open-air grill and separate "grill" and "chill" sections. Comfortable booths, large wooden tables, warm lighting and music add to the overall inviting environment.
Well, not exactly. I mean, the interior certainly beats out the sterile over-friendliness of a McDonalds or Taco Bell (times are changin'), but the fake stone and low lighting and strange interior column-things (I'm no architect) are oddly medieval, like a late-night snack stop for Torquemada.

The halo effect wasn't working for me. With a two-for-one coupon, my Peanut Buster Parfait was cold enough for the price, but the vanilla ice cream was an inoffensive wallflower, the fudge waxy and bitter. (Peanuts aplenty, at least.)

I would have paid for the entertainment, though. A young father with four tiny tots was running a nonstop comedy routine, riffing on whatever bizarre behaviors they'd throw at him. Tot One, wearing a silver necklace matching Tot Two's, spilled ice cream on it. Tears. Dad rushed to the bathroom to wash it off, and returned wearing it. "It looks better on me," he said. Crisis averted.

Tot Three boasted that he had an adult-sized cone. Tot Four started crying out of jealousy, refusing to eat his until Dad promised he could have another if he ate the whole thing. "Look, I'm saving you from the burden of eating it all," said Dad to the uncomprehending three-year-old. His prediction would prove accurate, as Tot Three threw out 74% of the cone four minutes later.

fame is fleeting

For a brief moment in time, the gods of knowledge smiled upon me. Someone made me a Wikipedia reference. The link pointed here.

Now I can die happy.

Mar 2, 2006

need a bigger plate

Slow(er) times around these parts for several reasons:

1. WASL upcoming
2. Finals upcoming
3. New blog in works (political, educational--like this one, except narrower in focus)
4. National tournament qualifier upcoming today and tomorrow
5. State speech tournament upcoming
6. Improv comedy group practices

Pardon me while I stress myself into a giant walking ulcer.

welcome, critical thinkers

Whoa... lotta readers coming from Skeptico. Hi there. Look around, relax, enjoy the new sofa.

For those interested, I hosted the Skeptics' Circle a while back.

Update: But don't stay here long. Head over to the 29th Skeptics' Circle at The Huge Entity. Haiku alert!