Saturday, June 30, 2012

expecting some mail

I ran a red light yesterday. Didn't realize I was doing this until I was about three-quarters of the way through the intersection. This happened on Route 234 to Manassas; most of the traffic lights didn't have cameras on them, but I'm worried that the light I ran did. So I'm expecting a certain piece of correspondence from the local authorities within a week. We'll see.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

the legacy of Monica Seles, sexual squealer

A CBS affiliate website carries an (un?)intentionally humorous article on feminine grunting during tennis matches. The WTA (Women's Tennis Association) is planning to crack down on all the noise.

A plan to crack down on ultra-loud grunting in women’s tennis has been “unanimously green-lighted” by the WTA players’ council, representatives from all four majors and the International Tennis Federation, according to USA Today.

“It’s time for us to drive excessive grunting out of the game for future generations,” WTA CEO Stacey Allaster told the publication.

Umpires would use a handheld device to measure the on-court sound and rule whether it exceeds a to-be-determined acceptable level, USA Today reported.

But there’s a catch. The current generation of screamers – like Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka – would get a pass. The plan also wouldn’t apply to the men’s game.

I think the sex yelps add to the women's game. Already made enjoyable by those lovely miniskirts, tight, powerful asses, and vibrating thighs, women's tennis only benefits from the lovelorn cries of women giving it their all-- on camera and in front of thousands, no less. I already watch women's tennis in a state of semi-arousal, and have often thought about recording the yelps, overlaying them on a sex soundtrack, and spacing them out in more sexually realistic intervals (say, one yelp/grunt-- grelp?-- per second). Given the stadium reverb that accompanies the women's passionate cries, I suspect the sex track would also need echo effects added to it-- perhaps along with some sonorous Bach pipe organ (pipe organ: a Freudian phrase if ever there was one) music to get us all in the proper mood.

Someone needs to tell the WTA to halt this madness. By God, let the women grunt!


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

go thou and read

Bill Keezer has been discussing-- and often deconstructing-- The Christian Delusion on his blog. Go have a look-see. His most recent post (with links to previous posts) is here.


Monday, June 25, 2012

the real Yu Gi Oh

June 25 marks the anniversary of the start of the Korean War (June 25, 1950). It's a solemn day on the peninsula. Robert Koehler links to a piece about the beginning of the war here.

Trivia: the goofy Japanese manga/card game Yu Gi Oh is pronounced the same way that Koreans say the date of June 25th: "six-two-five" is "yugio" (yuk + ee + oh = 6 + 2 + 5).

The peninsula remains in a state of war: there is no peace treaty-- only an armistice that is violated regularly by the North, which fires shots randomly across the DMZ and perpetrates over 300 submarine incursions per year (almost one per day).


canine exchange

Dog 1: Hooooooooowwwwwwww was work?

Dog 2: Rough, bitch, rough.


Sunday, June 24, 2012

improv dog food

As you know I'm house-sitting for my buddy Mike and his family. Mike has a lovely old, gray-muzzled dog named Maia, half whippet and half black Labrador. Maia's large-- so large that she makes the floorboards creak when she crosses the floor. A big dog is a big eater; keeping Maia's food bowl full is no minor task.

Unfortunately, I have no idea where Mike keeps his dog food,* so today I winged it: since one of Mike's freezers is stocked full of 1.5-pound rolls of ground meat, I whipped up a concoction of ground beef and canned peas for the dog (peas are fine for dogs: see here). Maia scarfed (wolfed) this down in its entirety within five minutes: she loved it. In fact, I'd say she loved it a hell of a lot more than she loves her regular dog food: her original bowl of regular food took a full day to empty. I had thought this was fast; it was easy to imagine myself taking a whole day to eat a two-pound bag of potato chips. But two pounds of food in five minutes? Incredible. Maia needs to star in her own version of "Man Versus Food." Maybe we'll call it "Man's Best Friend Versus Food."

Now that I know that Maia is a fan of my cooking, I'll have to serve her smaller portions. I don't want her bingeing and purging, after all.

*Mike is on a cruise ship heading to warmer climes, and so is hors de contact for the moment.


the spectrum of women

From the sublime:

73-year-old woman climbs Mount Everest

To the ridiculous:

Woman Super-glued to Toilet Seat


Saturday, June 23, 2012

eating them out of house and home

I'm dog- and house-sitting for my buddy Mike and his family, residing in comfort at Mike's palatial Villainschloß, that hub of dire machinations and gleeful dwarf-beating. I'll be here until next Thursday, the 28th. This is a weird moment of transition for me, as my job at YB will be switching over to the summer schedule starting this coming Monday. This means going from a 3:30-9:30PM schedule to an 11AM-7PM schedule. Making that switchover while dog-sitting is going to feel bizarre. Luckily, one factor eases the transition: I won't be working Saturdays anymore-- at least not during the summer session. Hooray! That change begins tomorrow: I'm off like a drunkard's condom, baby!

In the meantime, I've been told that I have the run of the house, so I plan to do my worst and eat my friend out of house and home. YEAH!


Friday, June 22, 2012

presented without comment


at the TEF blog

I link to a L'Express article that discusses an 11-country survey about preferred sexual positions and other sexual tendencies and preferences.


Thursday, June 21, 2012

sacred and profane

At the TEF blog, I talk about a theological short story by SF writer Greg Bear.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Pure and simple, from the eighth dimension:


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

at the TEF blog

This week's MGRE Math Beast Challenge.


at the TEF blog

The answer to last week's MGRE Math Beast Challenge.



Someone is obsessed with this blog. Last night, this person was reading and reading, and I noticed that s/he had racked up over 120 minutes on SiteMeter. Today, I assume that that same obsessed reader is back, and s/he has racked up over 302 minutes. Should I be flattered or worried? Such obsession is great for my "average reading time" statistic: I've gone from under a minute to nearly two minutes.


Monday, June 18, 2012

Sunday, June 17, 2012

what's long and hard and full of semen?

A squid, apparently.

Here's one not for the squeamish, from South Korea: A semi-cooked squid inseminated a woman's mouth, according to a paper published in the Journal of Parasitology. After experiencing "severe pain in her oral cavity" when she bit into her seafood, the woman spit out her meal but continued to feel a lingering "pricking" sensation.

Doctors found that the 63-year-old woman had "small, white spindle-shaped bug-like organisms" lodged in the mucous membrane of her tongue, cheek and gums.

Despite having been boiled, the dead squid's live spermatophores, or sperm sacks, were alive and penetrated the woman's mouth. The sacks, which contain ejaculatory devices, forcefully release sperm and a "cement" that attaches the sperm to a wall.

"Prick"ing sensation. Heh. Trust Korea to deliver the weird, fucked-up news.

"I'll have the cumshot special, please."

It's said that people become more sexually active after they've been exposed to life-threatening situations (such as 9/11). This demonstrates the close linkage of eros and thanatos, I think: the urge to reproduce in the face of death. They say a man becomes erect and even ejaculates when strangling, hence the clandestine popularity of auto-erotic asphyxiation (all hail the Carradine!). Are our molluscan brethren any different, really? By shooting its juice into a woman's mouth, was this dying squid doing anything a dying guy wouldn't have done?

(Link courtesy of my buddy Tom.)


Happy Father's Day

To all the good and deserving dads out there.


Saturday, June 16, 2012

birthday tribute

To my buddy Mike, who turns a mighty, prime-numbered 43 today:

First, we bring out the "hip"-notic dancing girls (nnnnoooot exactly safe for work).

Next, we have a poetry recitation by a famous actor.

Third item on the program: a musical performance by Brit/Aussie musical comedian Tim Minchin.

Fourth up: an Eddie Izzard classic-- the Death Star canteen.

Finally, two "found" items from the Internet:

(Both of the above pics found at the Internet Hugbox.)

Happy forty-third, man. I'll be following you over the cliff at the end of August.


Friday, June 15, 2012

your dose of the bizarre

I stumbled upon a YouTube video titled "How Americans Sound to British People." In the video (which is actually titled "skwerl"), a young, twenty-something couple is speaking to each other in nonsense English with an American accent. I'm led to believe, based on the vid's title, that the actors (and the intended audience) are British, but at the end of the vid, the credits mention "Kino Australia," which leads me to believe the cast might be from Oz. Given the surreal nature of the mise en scène and the dialogue, plus the undetermined provenance of the video, I think you're in for a markedly surreal-- voire même David Lynchian-- experience.


You're welcome.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

muni de mon passeport

I've received my updated passport. Alas, the window of opportunity for SKKU has come and gone. But there may be other opportunities on the horizon; we'll see.

This new passport seems smaller somehow-- stiffer, less well-traveled than its predecessor. Un-stamped. Virginal. But the updated photo of me is brighter, less murky than the sinister image in the previous passport; funnily enough, I still look drunk in it.

The overall impression I get from this new, fresh-smelling passport is one of coiled eagerness: this document is going places, like a dog that's running impatiently ahead, tugging hard on the leash, ready to explore, to fill its head with delightful experiences.

What's that up there? Let's go see!

The future beckons.


US/UK differences with prepositions and diction

Short quiz!

Select the correct answer.

1. This is different _____ that. (UK)

a. from
b. to

2. This is different _____ what I expected. (US)

a. from
b. than

3. This is different _____ I expected. (US)

a. than
b. to
c. from

4. You'll need to _____ a decision now, Minister. (UK)

a. make
b. take

5. Let's order _____ . (UK)

a. takeout
b. takeaway

6. He got arrested for _____ . (UK)

a. drink driving
b. drunk driving


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

at the TEF blog

A fairly easy problem involving prime numbers. I've already left my own answer in the comments, so no peeking if you're trying to solve this one on your own.


AutoTune festival

1. Currently trending: Mr. Rogers on mental gardening.
2. Sagan, Tyson, Feynman, Nye: We are all connected.


Yew speak and write good?

A quick test for people who think they know American English.

1. Which is correct?

a. Thanks Fred.
b. Thanks, Fred.

2. Let's just leave this _____ .

a. between you and I
b. between you and me

3. She's a real _____ .

a. trouper
b. trooper

4. If I _____ I wouldn't have farted in the tub.

a. could have known about her phobia,
b. had known about her phobia,

5. Give this prize to _____ ate the most hot dogs.

a. whoever
b. whomever

6. Which is correct?

a. She said, "Sit down."
b. She said, "Sit down".

7. If you want to succeed in this company, _____ and don't make waves.

a. tow the line
b. toe the line

8. That was a strange proposition to Fred and _____ .

a. I
b. me

9. I try to brush my teeth _____ .

a. everyday
b. every day

10. This restaurant has a great _____ .

a. ambience
b. ambiance
c. either A or B
d. neither

11. I saw her in the woods-- _____ .

a. butt naked
b. buck naked

12. When I finally found her ring and ran up, gasping, to give it to her, she sighed and said, "_____ ."

a. Never mind
b. Nevermind

13. I'll _____ be there.

a. definately
b. definitely

14. The sky boomed with thunder and sizzled with _____ .

a. lightning
b. lightening

15. Visiting the White House is quite a _____ !

a. priviledge
b. privilege

16. I'm not _____ to being set up on a blind date.

a. adverse
b. averse

17. _____ elementary, Watson.

a. It's
b. Its

18. I felt so _____ about how disastrous her birthday party was.

a. bad
b. badly

19. Despite the chaos around him, Phineas was _____ .

a. unfazed
b. unphased

20. Which is correct?

a. I wonder where my car went.
b. I wonder where my car went?

21. She stared in frank amazement at his _____ dick.

a. enormous, twenty inch
b. enormous twenty-inch

22. As the Titanic tilted crazily, she held _____ the railing for dear life.

a. onto
b. on to

23. Watch out for the thundering _____ !

a. hoard
b. horde

24. All that has happened has been in accordance with the _____ .

a. prophesy
b. prophecy

25. Einstein, not merely a genius, was a kind _____ he once rescued a treed cat.

a. soul;
b. soul,

How'd you do?

Answers follow; highlight the space between the brackets to see them.

[1. B; 2. B; 3. A; 4. B; 5. A; 6. A; 7. B; 8. B; 9. B; 10. C; 11. B; 12. A; 13. B; 14. A; 15. B; 16. B; 17. A; 18. A; 19. A; 20. A; 21. B; 22. B; 23. B; 24. B; 25. A]

Scale of Achievement:

25: "I am a Jedi, like my father before me."
24: "Impressive. Most impressive."
20-23: "You are not a Jedi yet."
15-19: "You will pay the price for your lack of vision."
10-14: "Scruffy-looking nerfherder!"
5-9: "Your feeble skills are no match for the power of the dark side!"
1-4: "I have a bad feeling about this."
0: "Noooooooooooo!"

What language rant topics do the above questions cover? Highlight the [bracketed area below] to see.

[1. vocative comma: always use when addressing someone!
2. pronoun case: object of preposition
3. diction (trouper = member of troupe = stalwart team player, not a soldier)
4. verb tense in conditional sentences: if (pluperfect) ➞ main (conditional past)
5. pronoun case: "whoever" is correct as subject of clause
6. US vs. UK punctuation (too many Americans forget what country they live in)
7. idioms: people put their toes up against the painted line
8. pronoun case: don't be an idiot and use a subject pronoun when an object pronoun is called for
9. adverb of frequency = every day; "everyday" = adjective meaning "ordinary"
10. spelling trivia: some words have more than one acceptable spelling
11. idioms: village idiots mishear this as "butt nekkid"
12. compounds: or, more precisely, when not to use compounds
13. spelling: there is no "a" in "definitely"!!!!!
14. spelling/diction: "lightening" comes from the verb "to lighten (a load, the sky, etc.)"
15. spelling: no "d" in "privilege"
16. diction: adverse [conditions], averse [attitude]
17. spelling/diction: it's = it is; its = possessive adjective
18. diction: with a linking verb like "feel," you need a predicate adjective, not an adverb
19. spelling/diction: only someone who had never actually read the word "to faze" would get this wrong
20. mood: "I wonder" is always declarative-- NEVER interrogative!
21. punctuation: hyphenate phrasal adjectives before a noun; no comma for non-coordinate adjectives
22. diction: the phrasal verb's infinitive form is "to hold on" not "to hold onto," which makes the "to" separate
23. spelling/diction: you'd have to be a moron not to get this one
24. spelling/diction: as above. "Prophesy" (-"sigh") is a verb; prophecy (-"see") is a noun
25. punctuation: a semicolon separates two related or contrastive clauses

wrack and ruin at the TEF blog



Monday, June 11, 2012

2 men, 1 book

Two different reviews of Yi Munyol's Our Twisted Hero (Uri-deulae Ilgeureojin Yeong-ung):

Gord Sellar's recent review.

My admittedly more superficial review from 2004.


wrong about the bread

Yesterday's visit to Dukem, an Ethiopian-style restaurant in DC, featured a vocabulary lesson. Dr. Steve deduced it first: the mysterious term injera, on the menu, signifies Ethiopian bread. I had told a coworker at YB that Dukem's bread wasn't like the spongy, pancake-y, highly absorbent bread found at most Ethiopian restos; it was closer to naan. Wrong! My memory had betrayed me: Dukem's injera was no different from the bread I had eaten at other Ethiopian joints. I had also described it to a friend as a sort of soda bread, but Wikipedia contradicts me here as well, informing us that injera is yeasty.

So I was wrong about the bread. Wrong on three counts. What's my penance, Father?


Saturday, June 09, 2012

Belief-O-Matic results

I haven't posted Beliefnet's Belief-O-Matic quiz results in years. I just went over to re-take the quiz, and here are my results:

Unitarian Universalism (100%)
Secular Humanism (97%)
Theravada Buddhism (93%)
Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (88%)
Liberal Quakers (87%)
Taoism (81%)
Reform Judaism (80%)
Sikhism (80%)
Mahayana Buddhism (78%)
Nontheist (76%)
Neo-Pagan (75%)
New Thought (74%)
Scientology (74%)
Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (69%)
New Age (64%)
Jainism (56%)
Hinduism (55%)
Baha'i Faith (52%)
Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (47%)
Islam (45%)
Orthodox Judaism (45%)
Orthodox Quaker (45%)
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (41%)
Eastern Orthodox (35%)
Roman Catholic (35%)
Seventh Day Adventist (24%)
Jehovah's Witness (19%)

I've long described myself as basically a scientific skeptic and a sociological Christian with philosophical Buddhist/Taoist metaphysical sympathies. To entertain myself, I need to re-take the test to try and score 100% for a religion I target, e.g., Islam. How would I need to answer the quiz's twenty questions to score 100% Muslim?


innovation, not just miniaturization

Japanese scientists create a human liver from stem cells. Incroyable.

The process, as described, is somewhat queasy, but the concept remains fascinating.


prep day

I woke up thinking I needed to go to work, then realized that YB Near, my particular branch of YB, isn't open on Fridays. My buddy Dr. Steve is coming over tomorrow; we'll be heading out to an Ethiopian restaurant in DC called Dukem (or "Duke Nukem," as my brother David calls it). I went there a year or so ago with my brother and two other friends; since I was introduced to Ethiopian food in 2000, I've enjoyed it every chance I can get it, and Dukem is fairly popular. (The strikingly beautiful servers are also a plus.)

So today is prep day for me: gotta de-schmutz the carpet and the tile floor, gotta neatify my various rooms, gotta do whatever else needs to be done to roll out the red carpet for my buddy since eighth grade.

I had a really cool brush-painting idea, but I ended up not going with it. I had thought of painting a humorous alternative to the famed Ten Ox-herding Pictures of Zen Buddhism, which I had planned to call The Ten Cat-herding Pictures, in honor of that phrase about how "it's like herding cats." But because I always check Google to see whether anyone else has come up with the same thought, I did so this time... and found this clever piece of art.



Thursday, June 07, 2012


I hadn't realized Ray Bradbury was still alive, but it appears he has just passed away. I didn't grow up on a diet of Bradbury; my only real experience of his works boils down to required readings of Fahrenheit 451 and Dandelion Wine, the latter of which I couldn't stand, despite having been-- as I still am today-- a voracious reader. Two worthy tributes to Bradbury from my own blog newsfeed can be found here and here.


Wednesday, June 06, 2012

tinkering with "Tinker"

For my review of those two spy movies, I've added a wee graphic that I cobbled together. I've also posted the same review over at the TEF blog.


feast and famine

Last week was a pretty intense one at YB. We were short one teacher, so the two remaining staffers (plus one who was there only two of the four weekdays) shouldered a heavier load than usual. YB Near is a quieter branch than YB Far, and for the past few weeks, I haven't had the chance to work a full complement of classes-- a strain on the bank account, if nothing else. But last week was different: I had three full weekdays and a six-hour Saturday. Ideally, my Saturday schedule should be eight hours, but I was thankful to get six hours in addition to the full weekdays.

This week, by contrast, reflects the fact that school is winding down for most of the northern Virginia counties. Students are forsaking YB for reasons ranging from final exam prep (a bogus reason, if you ask me, since helping students prep for exams is part of what we do) to sheer laziness ("We're not doing anything in our classes, and I'm exempt from finals, so why come for tutoring?"). Next week will be just as sparse, then things will start to pick up as we take the plunge into summer. At that point, we'll shift to our summer hours, i.e., 11AM to 7PM weekdays, plus the regular 9AM to 5PM Saturdays.

For now, though, this pay period has been both feast and famine. Sometime soon, I hope to acquire extra work from our corporate headquarters (there's talk that I might get involved in curriculum design); that ought to help boost my income. (If you're reading between the lines, then yes, you got it: last month's windfall did much to get me out of a hole, but this month promises to be as dry as Hillary's naughty bits; the debt never stops rolling in).


poesy: sublime, sublimer, sublimest

As much as I enjoy Taylor Mali, I have to say that the most sublime public recital of poetry was performed by Judge Smails (Ted Knight, "Caddyshack") on the day he christened his boat.


Tuesday, June 05, 2012

at the TEF blog

The latest MGRE Math Beast Challenge.


at the TEF blog

Surprise, surprise: there was a way to solve last week's MGRE Math Beast Challenge without reference to Heron's Formula. Take a look.


Monday, June 04, 2012

"Ghost" versus "Tinker": a study in contrasts

It's difficult to imagine a more disparate pair of movies than "Mission: Impossible-- Ghost Protocol" (MIGP) and "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" (TTSS). While both films are members of the spy genre, their approaches to that genre differ in almost every respect. And yet, despite their diametrically opposed sensibilities, they're both thoroughly entertaining. Holding them up together for comparison will give us a chance to explore the depth of their differences, and also to ponder what it means to be entertained by a film.

Two quick, one-paragraph summaries, then, to orient the newbie.

MIGP (2011) is the fourth of the Mission: Impossible films. Tom Cruise and Simon Pegg are back as super-agent Ethan Hunt and super-techie Benji Dunn, respectively. Benji's passed his field exam, so he can now run around with Ethan while wearing disguises, speaking Russian, and even holding a gun. Benji's paired up with Jane Carter (Paula Patton), and the team soon acquires a fourth: William Brandt (Jeremy Renner, who's on a cinematic roll). The movie begins with several converging plot lines: (1) Ethan's in a Russian prison, gathering intelligence; (2) Benji and Carter, unaware of Ethan's real mission, have come to Russia to break him out; (3) Carter is fresh off a failed mission in Budapest, in which Russian nuclear launch codes have been stolen by a French assassin (who also killed Carter's boyfriend); (4) a terrorist rogue codenamed Cobalt (Kurt Hendricks, played by Michael Nyqvist) is planning to use those codes to provoke a nuclear war between Russia and the US as part of his belief that humanity is strengthened by the occasional apocalypse. That's the basic setup. What follows is essentially a chase movie: Hendricks blows up part of the Kremlin, pinning the blame on Ethan's team ("Ghost Protocol" refers to the US president's disavowal of Ethan et al.); in Dubai, Hendricks also gets the launch codes from Sabine Moreau (a disconcertingly baggy-eyed Léa Seydoux), the French assassin. The chase leads to India, where Hendricks and his sidekick Wistrom (Samuli Edelmann) break into an Indian TV station and manage to relay a missile launch command to a Russian submarine. The action-packed remainder of the film is all about stopping the missile. Does the team succeed? Well, what do you think?

TTSS (2011) is based on the John Le Carré novel of the same name (Le Carré, pulling a Stan Lee, appears at least twice in quick cameos). The story, which takes place in the 1970s, begins with a passing of the torch at the highest levels of British intelligence-- MI6, nicknamed the Circus: hoary old Control (John Hurt, looking miserable as usual) is stepping down along with his trusted lieutenant, George Smiley (Gary Oldman). Taking Control's place is puny, pugnacious Scotsman Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), whose brainchild is a network codenamed Witchcraft. Control's departure comes on the heels of a failed mission in Budapest (cf. MIGP, above), in which Control's man Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) is shot and apparently killed. Soviet agents spread the word that Prideaux had attempted the kidnapping of a Hungarian general, but in reality the mission was predicated on Control's suspicion that the Russians have had a mole inside the Circus for years. Control dies soon after his "retirement," and government intelligence liaison Oliver Lacon (the always-smarmy Simon McBurney) asks Smiley to pursue Control's theory. Smiley enlists the aid of young Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch-- he of the infamous cheekbones) to suss out the Circus members, all of whom had been given codenames by Control: Percy Alleline (Tinker), Bill Haydon (Colin Firth as Tailor), Roy Bland (Ciáran Hinds as Soldier), and Toby Esterhase (David Dencik as Poorman). One of these men is the mole, and each one could fit the profile. The movie proceeds as a sort of whodunit, with the selling of British secrets replacing the traditional murder victim. As Smiley meticulously and inexorably deduces his way to the truth, he comes to realize that, in the larger scheme of the Cold War, the Brits are the dupes: Russia's intention, all along, has been to use Alleline's Witchcraft network to spy on the Americans, with whom Alleline has been keen to make friends. Behind these machinations is the specter of Karla, a Russian operative who has risen in the Soviet ranks and is now the puppet master making the Brits dance. Does Smiley figure out who the mole is? You get only one guess.

On almost every level, with almost every aspect of filmmaking you can think of, these two movies are diametrically opposed. It matters little which aspect I begin with, so I'll plunge in with a discussion of how each film handles its main villain, then go from there.

Visibility of the main villain. The big bad guy in MIGP is Kurt Hendricks, an insane genius who, thanks to his espionage training and his time with the Swedish Special Forces, does his own infiltration work despite his advanced age.* The movie is at pains to build Hendricks up as physically imposing, and he enjoys quite a bit of screen time. Hendricks is, you might say, a very hands-on baddie, as physical as he is intellectual, always one step ahead of the IMF** team. By contrast, in TTSS, the main villain-- Karla-- is never seen directly: we receive only glimpses. His presence is nonetheless felt thanks to a marvelous script that makes him into a pervasive, Sauron-like phantom. When the normally taciturn Smiley has a drink and opens up to young Peter Guillam about his long-ago encounter with Karla, we learn that Karla never said a word during the encounter. The irony, here, is that this is normally Smiley's tactic: our protagonist quietly gathers data and makes his careful deductions before acting. I was very impressed with how the script made Karla a real presence, a real threat, throughout the movie. The search for the mole inside the Circus, which occupies most of the film, is actually a sideshow: the main event is the battle of wills and wits between Smiley and Karla.

Pace and visuals. Here as well, MIGP and TTSS stand in contrast with each other. MIGP is a young person's movie: its scenes are, for the most part, brightly and unsubtly lit, and the script propels us forward at breakneck speed. The Russian prison has its stark fluorescent lights; the dramatic Kremlin explosion (I wonder what Russian audiences thought of that) occurs in the daytime; the Burj Khalifa scenes-- even the sandstorm!-- were all the opposite of murky; even the interior and exterior scenes in India made use of strong color contrasts. TTSS, meanwhile, is drab and subdued: London is stereotypically gray (so gray that it was grey); the scenes in Budapest are either interior shots or cloudy exteriors; most of the London interiors are wan and shadowy. TTSS's pace is different, too; this isn't an action movie so much as a thinker's movie, and there were moments when I felt that the film had been directed by Clint Eastwood. The camera work is stately and unpretentious; there are no violent smash cuts to get our blood pumping, no complicated chase scenes. TTSS's antiquated costume design does a marvelous job of evoking the Cold War era,*** and most of its intrigue comes from ambient hints, subtle facial expressions, and layered dialogue. Which leads me to...

Expository dialogue. MIGP's script is written like a condensed version of the TV series "24." Most of its dialogue is expository-- not so much about revealing character as about keeping the viewer abreast of the rapidly changing circumstances. TTSS, on the other hand, uses dialogue both to develop character and to provide the watchful viewer with hints as to what is to come. While some of TTSS's dialogue is occasionally expository, the story requires the viewer to do his own thinking. When a character like field agent Ricky Tarr (Tom Hardy) delivers a long spiel, it's not so much the content of Tarr's discourse that matters as what Smiley makes of it.

Music. MIGP's soundtrack comes courtesy of the talented Michael Giacchino (juh-KEE-noh), who also scored "The Incredibles" and 2009's "Star Trek." I thoroughly enjoyed Giacchino's versatility in his scoring of "The Incredibles," a movie that mixed the superhero and spy genres. The music for that film had a cool retro feel at times, but easily transitioned into the more grandiose strains that we expect when titans are dueling-- all without losing that lighthearted tone that is a Giacchino trademark. I think this style worked less well with "Star Trek": I have a hard time forgiving Giacchino for creating such a catchy theme, then beating that theme to death in almost every scene. And the lightheartedness that worked so well for a Pixar animation didn't work nearly as well for a science-fiction blockbuster. I didn't hate the soundtrack for "Star Trek," but I did feel that it revealed Giacchino's limits. His score for MIGP confirmed those limits: I've begun to realize that Giacchino is a director's go-to guy if the movie in question isn't particularly deep. That said, the best musical moment, for me, was the soundtrack's soaring tribute to the majestic Burj Khalifa. The worst moments were the intros to Russia and India: both were painfully stereotypical. I cringed.

By contrast, the soundtrack for TTSS was marked by its thoughtful, slow-jazz leitmotifs. Original music was provided by Alberto Iglesias, who is not, as far as I can tell, related to singer Julio Iglesias, whose version of Charles Trenet's "La Mer" is what we hear during the movie's conclusion. TTSS's music is subtle, the opposite of bombast; it never dominates a scene. I don't know much about Iglesias's career in the movie business, but I can see him being in demand among noir directors.

Our protagonists, and how the good guys win. Because MIGP and TTSS occupy such different cinematic universes, it's nearly impossible to imagine a crossover film in which the respective protagonists have a chance to match wits. Ethan Hunt's kinetic modus operandi involves a lot of running, jumping, climbing, and hand-to-hand combat (I'm trying to remember whether he fired a single shot in the entire film); George Smiley, meanwhile, is like the spider that sits at the center of its web, immovable, patiently testing the vibrations and allowing all enemies and information to flow toward him. Smiley's style isn't merely the result of his age; it's a function of his personality. While Hunt and Smiley both recognize the need for teamwork, their management styles differ. Hunt's unspoken motto seems to be the Marines' "Improvise, adapt, overcome"; his team spends much of its time coping with faulty technology, and with an enemy who seems able to anticipate its every move. At the end of the film, Hunt even notes that "the only thing that functioned properly on that mission was this team." The socially awkward Smiley, meanwhile, isn't nearly so chummy with his underlings. At one point he tells his right-hand man, Peter Guillam, that he's sending the younger man "into the lion's den" and that Guillam will, if caught, have to disavow any knowledge of Smiley's activities, just as Smiley will do of Guillam's. It's a far cry from the ethic of "no man left behind," but Smiley's stance makes sense given the circumstances.

The IMF team's struggles involve playing catch-up against a clever enemy; Smiley and his men, meanwhile, gather their data and pounce only when they're absolutely sure. The closest Smiley gets to seeing any real action is when he removes his shoes while in the London-based Russian safe house and pads softly across the floor, gun in hand. In the end, when Smiley gets his man, there's no need even to fire it.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I found both of these movies, MIGP and TTSS, quite entertaining. MIGP isn't particularly cerebral; it's all about the chase-- the action, the adrenaline, the humor, the suspense. Kurt Hendricks, MIGP's villain, has a simple agenda: he wants to instigate a nuclear war as a way to pare down and purify the human race, for strength is born through struggle. TTSS, though, is all about the cerebral. It's not obvious what Karla wants, and Karla's presence is more inferred than revealed. Far from leading us viewers by the nose and keeping us abreast of the plot twists through clear-cut camera work and detailed expository dialogue, TTSS obliges us to deduce, interpret, surmise, and conjecture-- right along with the characters themselves. We're given hints, phrases, and shadowy implications. Much of the important information is non-verbal. The movie doesn't treat the audience as stupid, and it definitely rewards multiple viewings. The plot of TTSS is beautifully put together, and it's certainly the more profound of the two movies.

But both films are ably directed (Brad Bird for MIGP; Tomas Alfredson for TTSS), and both understand economy of expression: not a single moment is wasted in either film. How is it possible to be almost equally entertained by two such different stories? I imagine it's because the eyes and the brain need different sorts of food. Sometimes the eyes-- and the adrenal glands-- demand good, heart-pounding action; sometimes the brain harrumphs and demands a good puzzle. Entertainment comes in all shapes and sizes; surely there's room in this world for two very different approaches to the spy genre!

*This required a rather significant suspension of disbelief, but the story asks us to take on faith that the old, plump Hendricks is the physical match of Tom Cruise.

**IMF stands for Impossible Mission Force. Hard to say with a straight face.

***One of TTSS's main costume designers, Jacqueline Durran, said that she had deliberately chosen 1960s-style clothing as an exaggerated way to evoke the 1970s. I'd say her trick worked.


Ave, Gord!

Biology without evolution: Korean fundamentalist Christians are pulling a Kansas.


Sunday, June 03, 2012

my kids

Quite a few of our seniors at YB will be going on to great colleges.

One student will be switching to the GED track: there's no way he can graduate from high school with the rest of his classmates. I wrote about him here.

Two of our kids are inveterate talkers. It's impossible to shut them up. Will they also be going for the GED? Stay tuned!


Saturday, June 02, 2012

encouraging news for people looking to self-publish

Here. The first of ten reasons why you should avoid traditional "legacy" publishing:

1. Nobody Can Stop You from Publishing Your Book. Along the path to a legacy book contract you’ll be confronted by hordes of gatekeepers: literary agents, acquisition editors, editorial committees, bean counters, and publishing-house CEOs, all answering to the international conglomerates that actually own most major “American” publishers. Odds have become vanishingly small that you can run this gauntlet without being stopped dead in your tracks by a rejection letter.

You see, rather than gamble on fresh, challenging works by unknown writers, publishers prefer to play it safe. They invest mainly in the few established, best-selling authors, and they exploit trendy fads by releasing formulaic knock-offs of past bestsellers. So after Thomas Harris we were fed countless serial-killer tales. John Grisham’s success launched the “legal thriller” subgenre; Tom Clancy inspired armies of “techno-thriller” clones; Stephanie Meyer gave birth to legions of vampires. Now, E.L. James is making adult porn—oops, “erotica”—the literary dalliance du jour.

Ironically, many of these same best-selling novelists couldn’t buy a publishing contract early in their careers. Grisham’s A Time to Kill, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and Stephenie Meyer’s first Twilight installment were buried in rejection slips. So were such classics as Richard Adams’s Watership Down (17 rejections), Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead (12), Irving Stone’s Lust for Life (16), Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull (18), Vince Flynn’s Term Limits (over 60), and Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen’s blockbuster Chicken Soup for the Soul (a staggering 123 nays). Yes, the esteemed gatekeepers deemed these and many others unworthy of publication. If you want a good belly laugh at their expense, read about Chuck Ross’s famous hoax.

But modern self-publishing has changed all this. No longer can paternalistic curators stand between the writer and his readers. Any book can be uploaded easily and gain within days a global sales platform on Kindles, Nooks, and other ereading devices.

Doesn’t a lot of junk get published? Sure. But it always has. And now readers—not self-appointed arbiters of literary merit—get to decide which books are worthwhile to them. Now they have many more books to choose from, and many more authors are making a living writing them.

The other reasons?

2. You'll make a lot more money.

3. You'll get paid much faster.

4. You'll keep all rights to your work.

5. You can publish your book incredibly fast.

6. You can publish at your own pace.

7. You'll have total control.

8. You'll have complete creative freedom.

9. You'll have time to find your audience.

10. You'll be on the right side of history.

Read the rest of the article.


Friday, June 01, 2012

metonymy and synecdoche

I'm unconvinced that the concepts of metonymy and synecdoche are as well-defined as some eggheads say they are. This post on the subject, by an obviously well-meaning Brit, doesn't do much to convince me otherwise.

If I understand correctly, synecdoche (sih-NEK-duh-kee) is a technique in which a (physical) part comes to stand for a whole, or vice versa. Example:

Gitcher ass over here!

In the above imperative, "(your) ass" is a (physical) part that represents the entire (physical) person.

Metonymy (meh-TAH-nuh-mee), meanwhile, involves using a symbol or other indirectly related attribute to represent a person, object, or activity. The above-linked post says this:

Metonymy is similar, but uses something more generally or loosely associated with a concept to stand in for it. When Americans speak of the Oval Office, for example, they are really referring to the activity within it, the position or function of the President. It’s a linked term, and so a metonym. British writers refer similarly to the Crown, when they’re really discussing the powers, authority and responsibilities of the monarchy, which [are] symbolised by the crown. (Emphasis added.)

Sounds pretty authoritative, right? But when I turn to, I find this when I look up metonymy:

Compare synecdoche the substitution of a word referring to an attribute for the thing that is meant, as for example the use of the crown to refer to a monarch (Emphasis added.)

Was the above a reference to metonymy or to synecdoche? Because of the lack of punctuation, it's impossible to know.

Further confusing matters, the above entry notes that metonymy can also refer to a part-for-the-whole representation:

a figure of speech that consists of the use of the name of one object or concept for that of another to which it is related, or of which it is a part, as “scepter” for “sovereignty,” or “the bottle” for “strong drink,” or “count heads (or noses)” for “count people.”

So... "Gitcher ass over here" (part-for-whole) is synecdoche, while "count heads" (again, part-for-whole) is metonymy...?

That's as clear as mud to me.

I think I'll like this book

A new book for my awesome, 20-page-long Amazon Wish List: Dispirited: How Contemporary Spirituality Makes Us Selfish, Stupid, and Unhappy. Excerpt:

When someone tells me that they are “Not religious, but very spiritual,” I want to punch them in the face.


[Interviewer] What’s the most important take-home message for readers?

[Dave Webster, author] That the idea of being “spiritual, but not religious” is, at the very least, problematic. As I suggest in the book, mind-body-spirit spirituality is in danger of making us stupid, selfish, and unhappy.

Stupid—because its open-ended, inclusive and non-judgemental attitude to truth-claims actually becomes an obstacle to the combative, argumentative process whereby we discern sense from nonsense. To treat all claims as equivalent, as valid perspectives on an unsayable ultimate reality, is not to really take any of them seriously. It promotes a shallow, surface approach, whereby the work of discrimination, of testing claims against each other, and our experience in the light of method, is cast aside in favour of a lazy, bargain-basement-postmodernist relativism.

Selfish—because the ‘inner-turn’ drives us away from concerns with the material; so much so that being preoccupied with worldly matters is somehow portrayed as tawdry or shallow. It’s no accident that we see the wealthy and celebrities drawn to this very capitalist form of religion: most of the world realizes that material concerns do matter. I don’t believe that we find ourselves and meaning via an inner journey. I’m not even sure I know what it means. While of course there is course for introspection and self-examination, this, I argue, has to be in a context of concrete social realities.

Finally, I argue that the dissembling regarding death in most contemporary spirituality—the refusal to face it as the total absolute annihilation of the person and all about them—leaves it ill-equipped to help us truly engage with the existential reality of our own mortality and finitude. In much contemporary spirituality there is an insistence of survival (and a matching vagueness about its form) whenever death is discussed. I argue that any denial of death (and I look at the longevity movements briefly too) is an obstacle to a full, rich life, with emotional integrity. Death is the thing to be faced if we are to really live. Spirituality seems to me to be a consolation that refuses this challenge, rather seeking to hide in the only-half-believed reassurances of ‘spirit’, ‘energy’, previous lives, and ‘soul’.

I can tell already that I'm going to disagree with some or most of the author's contentions, but the book still sounds fascinating.