Monday, June 30, 2008

CotFSM (fini - 01)

Well, it's time to wrap up our little exposé regarding the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Earlier posts described their opposition to the "Intelligent Design" farce, as well as their whimsical "Global Warming vs. Number of Pirates" quasi-scientific data.

The above logo is from the CotFSM website, It combines their "Pirates" motif with the anti-Darwinist fish symbol. Take a close look at it, cuz...

CotFSM (fini - 02)'s a fish-&-chips joint that opened about a year ago, about a mile from our house. Hmmm. Does that logo look familiar?!

CotFSM (fini - 03)

Imagine that. Stodgy old Mesa has a business that subtly advertises the CotFSM. I'm sure there's a story here somewhere (the founder of the CotFSM did reside for a while in Arizona a couple years ago), but I doubt that any of the employees would know it.

CotFSM (fini - 04)

So I won't ask anybody there if they worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster - I'm sure I'd get a deer-in-the-headlights look. But if you're ever in the neighborhood, you'll find these folks on Lindsey, just north of University.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Hugh Cornwell - Hooverdam

Artist : Hugh Cornwell
Album Title : Hooverdam (2008)
Genre : Rock
Rating : ***** ** (out of 10*)

This Week I'm Listening To...
A long time ago, Hugh Cornwell played guitar for the quasi-punk group, The Stranglers (whom I've heard of, but can't say I've ever listened to). They parted company in 1990, and Hugh has been putting out solo albums ever since. Hooverdam (one word) is somewhere around his 16th release.
What's To Like...
There are 10 tracks on Hooverdam, and they're all catchy. The guitar-work is passable, but not exceptional. The lyrics are Dylanesque - lots and lots of rhyming (albeit, on simple sounds to rhyme), with the overall meaning of the songs coming out slightly surreal (just like you find in Mr. Zimmerman's best work - Mr. Tambourine Man, for example).
Best of all, this album is free. You can download it with the artist's blessing at his website : . Gotta love that.
What's Not To Like...
Eeeyeewww, the vocals are flatter than an anorexic fashion model. I thought every studio nowadays auto-corrected the singing. Apparently not. I'd tolerate these vocals in a live performance, but not on a studio album.
The song-order could use some tweaking. The first three tracks are mediocre, saved only by their witty lyrics. So you might give up on this album before you get to the best tracks (#4-#6 and #8-#10). All the tracks are made for radio-play, 3-4 minutes long each.
Hugh? Doesn't That Rhyme with "Who?"
I'd frankly never heard of Mr. Cornwell before a friend clued me in about the free download. I have no idea how Hooverdam compares to his 15 earlier albums, but judging from the dearth of reviews at RateYourMusic, he apparently hasn't generated much excitement since leaving The Stranglers.
Therefore, the release of a free album is a good marketing move. Hooverdam is a solid , if somewhat unambitious effort. You can't beat the price, and it serves to introduce you to someone you'd probably never listen to otherwise. Indeed, if Hugh ever comes to Phoenix, I'd definitely go see him. We'll give it 7 stars, noting that it would've been rated higher if the studio had done its job with the vocals.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Germany 3 - Turkey 2

Turkey's string of miracle finishes came to an end yesterday, as this time it was Germany who scored in the last minutes of the game to win 3-2. Once again, Turkey had more substitutes than first-stringers on the field, so things bode well for the Turks in the World Cup championships to be played in South Africa in 2010.

Congratulations Turkey! You played like lions, you never gave up, and you were the best story of Euro 2008! We salute your spirit.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Outland, née Bloom County. One of the five best newspaper comics ever. The others being Dilbert, Doonesbury, Non Sequitur, and Pogo. Click on the cartoon for a bigger image.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Ruled Britannia

Title : Ruled Britannia (2003; 560 pages)
Author : Harry Turtledove
Genre : Alternate History; (Drama)
Rating : B

This Week I Read...
It's 1597. England seethes under a long Spanish occupation, following the success of the Spanish Armada in 1588. Queen Elizabeth is in the Tower of London. The state religion is once again Roman Catholic. The Inquisition is rooting out all Protestant die-hards and other heretics.

Will Shakespeare couldn't care less. All he wants to do is write and stage plays, and get paid for them. But karmic forces are in motion. The English insurgents hire him to write a nationalistic play (Boudicca), while the Spanish oppressors hire him to write a eulogistic drama to memorialize their dying monarch (Philip V). The tension mounts as Will reluctantly finds himself forced to play both ends against the middle, but becoming unexpectedly wealthy as he does.

What's To Like...
Shakespearophiles will love this book. Turtledove cribs freely from various plays of the the Bard himself, as well as some bits of Christopher Marlowe's Tamburlaine. The result is a fine piece of drama that will appeal to even those of us who weren't thrilled about having to read one of Shakespeare's plays every cotton-pickin' year in High School.

The author serves up a delightful cast of characters. There's the witty and punning Wil Kemp who will keep you groaning & chuckling. His counterfoil is the bombastic fellow-actor Richard Burbage. There's the Mitonesque detective Constable Strawberry, who can take a simple statement and embellish until not even the Queen herself can make out what he just said. And the lovable-but-lazy manservant Diego, employed by the womanizing Spanish soldier and wannabee-writer, Lope de Vega. And finally, at center-stage throughout, we have the but-I-never-wanted-to-be-a-hero Will Shakespeare.

What's Not To Like...
Did I mention it's a drama? Therefore, don't expect much action. The book starts promisingly, with a pleasant public burning-at-the-stake, but that's pretty much it for blood-spilling until around page 500. (Yawns)

Turtledove takes great pains to immerse you in 1590's England. But that includes that dreadful renaissance English that made reading The Merchant of Venice such a royal PITA. You will find yourself getting tired of being repeatedly subjected to words like fain, liefer, gramercy, certes, 'swounds, bethinks, belikes, and a whole slew of other verbs prefixed by that annoying "be-". Forsooth, it besucks.

Finally, if you're English and Protestant, you will probably find this to be an uplifting tale. But if you're Spanish and Catholic, you may take umbrage at the stereotyping of all the occupiers as being either stupid or evil.

To Be Free, or Not To Be Free...
Plotwise, the story ambles to a predictable conclusion. The oppressors are ousted, the Queen is freed, and like Robert Asprin's Skeeve, Turtledove's Shakespeare somehow bumbles his way into becoming a hero.

Yet there is a subtle undertone to the story. In the end, as Shakespeare wanders through London observing the joyous celebrations of long-awaited liberty, he also notes that the English citizenry are treating the unfortunate remaining Spanish (and anyone perceived - justly or unjustly - as being a collaborator) with just as much brutality as the Spanish had doled out for nine years. Even the likable Diego, who has never done any harm to the English, and who only wants to sleep his way through life, ends up dead-as-a-doornail, a casualty in the name of Freedom.

But I digress. As a drama, Ruled Britannia rates an "A". As an action novel (hey, Harry! You at least cooda included the Armada's successful campaign against England in the story), it only rates a "C". That averages out to a "B", so that's what we'll give it.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Sudoku for Programmers

From a cool website that a friend turned me on to : We'll post a few more cartoons from this site in the coming weeks.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Golden Compass (Movie)

Movie : The Golden Compass (Theaters - 2007; DVD - 2008)
Rating : PG-13 (113 minutes)
Genre : Young Adult; Fantasy
Our Rating : B+

This Weekend I Watched...
Young Lyra Belacqua (aka "Silvertongue") is the chosen one. What it is that she's chosen for is not fully explained to her, but she has her daemon (Pantalaimion), a strange truth-telling device (the Alethiometer), and a kick-a$$ polar bear (Iorek Byrnison) to help her out.

In the meantime, she has to figure out whether Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter are good guys or bad guys; end the spate of child-nappings plaguing her world; avoid the nefarious designs of the Magisterium; and journey to the top of the world (north of Norway) to accomplish all this.

What's To Like...
There's a wonderful and complex plot to keep you focused. The movie sticks reasonably close to Philip Pullman's book, and it helps if you've read that beforehand. The cinematography is great, and the fusion of live actors with computer-generated images shows how far that art has come since Roger Rabbit.

Although The Golden Compass (both the book and the movie) is just the first part of a trilogy, there is enough of a sub-story to bring this portion of the overall tale to a satisfying conclusion.

What's Not To Like...
Much of the reasonable criticism has to do with the deviations from the book itself. The plot is "brightened up" a bit. In the book, the little boy who lost his daemon is doomed to wither and die; here he is simply turned over to his parents. In the book, Lyra's friend, Roger, also meets an untimely end; here the story ends before that event happens. There are several other places where the film strays (in the book, this is not the sole remaining alethiometer), but if you aren't a nit-picking bibliophile, you won't mind.

Then there's the fundies, who claim this movie will turn its viewers into practicing Satanists. I tried it on Liz; it didn't work. Nor will this movie have you searching for your personal daemon (think : animated soul). Sorry folks, it's just a well-told fantasy story.

Finally, and worst of all - either Nicole Kidman is aging entirely too rapidly, or else she really needs a better make-up assistant.

So what's with all the fuss?
The fundies' silliness notwithstanding, this movie also provoked the ire of organized religion as a whole. In fairness, TGC has nothing nice to say about the Established Church's equivalent here - the Magisterium.

However, the biggest "threat" to organized religion here is the overriding philosopihcal question being asked. Do we, mere commoners, have a right to search for answers, knowledge, and the truth on our own - or is that something to be left to the Church?

If you depend on your local pastor/priest/guru to tell you how to think about everything, you should probably pass on this movie. OTOH, there are some who find that the Church today concentrates far too much on acquiring money and power, and not nearly enough on meeting the spiritual needs of its congregation. For those of us who feel that way, this film is a welcome treat.

But I digress. In the case of The Golden Compass, the book is better than the movie; but the movie is still quite good. We'll give it a B+, and try to find time one of these days to write a review on the books themselves.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Turkey 1 - Croatia 1 (3-1 pens)

It was another game and another miracle for Turkey in the European Championship quarterfinals. With 7 of their 11 starters out due to injury or red-card suspensions, no one gave them a chance against Croatia.

But after 90 minutes, it was 0-0. Ditto after the first 15-minute extra period. Then with a minute to go in the second EP, Croatia scored, and their coach headed down the sideline, doing his victory strut.

But unbelievably, Turkey scored in that last minute, sending the game to Penalty Kicks, where the Turks prevailed 3-1. That puts them into next Wednesday's semifinal against Germany. No one is giving them a chance in that game either.

TRIVIA QUESTION : Of the 390 minutes played by Turkey thus far (we're ignoring the extra stop-time minutes), in how many of them has Turkey been leading?

Turkey 1 - Croatia 1 (part deux)

TRIVIA ANSWER : Turkey has led all of 9 minutes in their 4 games (390+ minutes total). They won 3 of those games.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Happy Summer Solstice!

It's the longest day of the year & the beginning of summer; so we'll post this picture (that I think is) of the moon & sun over the North Pole.

This is an important holiday for some of my multiple personalities. The Druid is obviously one of them. So is the Beaker people trader, who has visited (what we call nowadays) Stonehenge. Of course, in his day, there were no stones there, so it had a different name. Back then, it was a circular wooden structure and, along with another similar set up a couple miles away, was used to teach mystical truths about life/death, summer/winter, this world/the next, etc.

The Carthagenian general's religion is based on lunar deities, but frankly, he's not very religious. Seasonal highlights have little meaning for the Time Traveler. The Estonian Freedom Fighter could care less about the whole thing. The 1st-century AD Turkish Goatherder (not listed in my profile) has no idea what a solstice is. And the Sheepdog in Wyoming just knows it's a long workday, since the stupid sheep won't lie down until it's dark.

So Happy Summer Solstice, everyone! Let's go hang out in an oak grove for the night.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Dali-esque Fix for June

Find the "Invisible Man". Probably best to view this one full-sized, and then magnify it even more.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Kingston Trio - Sunny Side!

Artist : The Kingston Trio
Album : Sunny Side! (1963; 28 minutes)
Genre : Folk
Rating : ***** **½ (out of 10*)

This Month I Converted...
I found this LP for $8 at Bookman's, so I bought it and took it home and converted it. For a 45-year-old album, it was in pretty good shape - only a couple major scratches, and (more importantly) no skips. For the most part, the only K3 CD's you can find nowadays are "Greatest Hits" and live albums. Sunny Side! was their 14th studio release, and is one of their lesser-known efforts.

What's To Like...
It's vintage K3 stuff. By this time Dave Guard had quit the group to "seek other musical directions" (bad career move, Dave). He was replaced by a young John Stewart, who gave the group a more political-activist bent.

There's a great variety of songs here. Besides two tracks that make it onto most "K3 Best of" anthologies (a cover of Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind", and the track "Desert Pete") , you get the following genres : Spiritual (Sing Out); C&W (Jackson); Hawaiian (Marcelle Vahine); Silly (Goo ga Gee); Historical (Ballad of the Thresher) and several generic ballads. There is also a great Rod McKuen anti-war song (Two-Ten, Six-Eighteen), and a K3-penned tune, Rider, which was later covered by The Grateful Dead, and remains to this day my favorite Dead song.

What's Not To Like...
The inherent drawback of such a great variety is that some of the songs won't appeal to you. Jackson was much better done a bit later by Johnny Cash & June Carter. The Ballad of the Thresher, commemorating the loss of one of our nuclear-powered submarines, falls remarkably flat. Which is strange, since that tragedy affected our national psyche, much as the loss of the space shuttle Challenger would do 30 years later.

You want albums?! We'll give you albums!!
I'd be tempted to also carp about the shortness of the LP (barely 28 minutes), but The Kingston Trio was an amazingly prolific group in the early 60's. Here's a breakdown of their LP output : 1958 (1 album- their debut); 1959 (4); 1960 (3); 1961 (3); 1962 (4); 1963 (3); 1964 (2); and 1965 (3). I think only two of those are "Live" albums; the rest are studio efforts. At 10-12 tracks per LP, that's a lot of songs to learn.

The Kingston Trio were teh folk group of the late 50's and early 60's. Alas, the times, they were a-changin'. New voices such as Dylan, Joan Baez, and Phil Ochs, were leading folk-music in a different, more radical direction. Then Beatlemania hit, and by-and-large relegated the whole folk genre to "geezer" status. By the end of the 60's, the Kingston Trio had disbanded due to lack-of-interest. That's a shame really. We'll give Sunny Side! 7½ stars, and hope that their music someday becomes popular again.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Monday, June 16, 2008

Statistics Don't Lie

Courtesy of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, here's conclusive proof that there's a link between the number of Pirates in the world and Global Warming.

This may seem silly to you, but the "Scientific Proof" of Intelligent Design is just as ridiculous. The true scientific process is to run objective tests, collect the data, and derive logical conclusions therefrom. The Intelligent Design process is to start with a conclusion, find a patchwork of data (or invent some) that supports your conclusion, ignore all data that doesn't agree with your pre-formed conclusion, and then claim your conclusion is science.

It isn't. It's religious dogma. As a scientist, I'm offended that ID'ers try to pass their drivel off as science. I'm also offended that ID'ers want their dogma taught in high school science classes. Thank goodness there are folks like the CofFSM actively opposing this malarkey.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Turkey 3 - Czech Republic 2

It's too bad soccer ("football" to most of the world) isn't more popular in the US, cuz there was a GREAT game today (shown on ESPN2) between Turkey and the Czech Republic in the European Championship ("Euro 2008"). After 75 minutes in a win-or-go-home game, the Turks found themselves outplayed, and losing 0-2. In the final 15 minutes, they scored 3 goals to advance to the knock-out round to play Croatia.

If you were cheering for Turkey (and I was), this was an unbelievable comeback. Congratulations to Turkey, and good luck against Croatia, who is looking more-and-more like a championship-caliber team.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Oil on Mars

Ya know, Dubnutz is just stupid enough to do this.

Friday, June 13, 2008


Title : Relic (1995, 474 pages)
Authors : Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child
Genre : Thriller; Cri-Fi
Rating : B

This Week I Read...
Something is slashing and gnashing people at the New York Museum of Natural History, and eating their brains. Is it human, animal, vegetable, monstrous, demonic, or alien? Whatever it is, Margo Green better find out quick cuz the museum wants to open a new exhibition in 4 days, and they aren't about to let a few grisly slayings get in their way.

What's To Like...
This is a page-turner. It starts off fast; there are no slow spots; and you can finish it in a couple of days. There are a few twists to keep you on your toes.

The heroes aren't Mary Sues. (not sure what a Mary Sue is? See here). Indeed, the mayor of New York gets cast in a favorable light. When's the last time a politician got that treatment in a novel?

And the book actually comes to a conclusion! You don't have to read 10 sequels for everything to wrap up. Take that, Robert Jordan.

What's Not To Like...
Despite the twists, the story is somewhat predictable. The bad guys get chomped; the good guys live. The ending, although climactic, is also a let-down. Brain-Chomper gets his just desserts, but you don't get many details about his ultimate demise, and the Feds apparently snatch up the body before the authors can give you much of a description of the corpse.

Finally, you have to believe that life, and new exhibits, go on as always, despite employees and visitors getting mutilated and disembrained.

Oh Cri-Fi! Thy name is Crichton!
The teaser on the cover says it all : "Alien meets Jurassic Park". But as Cri-Fi, Relic just doesn't quite measure up to JP. Oh, there are some computer-generated read-outs, but one doesn't get the feeling that the authors made a lot of technical effort to make this scientifically believable. (*)

Still, it is a decent book, so we'll give it a B, and see if we can find it's sequel, Reliquary, at the used-bookstore.

(*) : There's one glaring loose end to this story. A plane carrying most of the Amazonian expedition crashes early in the timeline, giving rise to the theory that a "Curse" is involved. But it becomes evident later on that Brain-Chomper wasn't on that plane. So why did it crash? Inquiring nit-pickers want to know.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Prickly City (28 May)

Prickly City is a local cartoon strip. It is political enough to where it appears on the Editorial Page, not on the Comics page. It definitely is a cut below strips like Doonesbury, but it has its moments. What makes it unique is that it seems to take as many jabs at the Republicans as it does at the Democrats. Needless to say, I find the former more far amusing than the latter.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

We are the champions!!

Congratulations to the Arizona State University Women's Softball team, which sailed through the NCAA tournament undefeated, then trounced Texas A&M 3-0 and 11-0 in the best-of-three finals. The whole batting order was strong, but there's no doubt that the key was our pitcher, Katie Burkhart. Alas, she's a senior, so there is some rebuilding to do. This was the first-ever champtionship for ASU in softball. And oh yeah, 11-0 is the largest margin-of-victory ever in the championship game.

Saturday, June 07, 2008


This is Poochie, our latest foster-dog. Actually, he's a stray that Liz has brought home, and he bears an uncanny resemblance to Red, the last dog she came home with. You can read about Red here.

He's been with us since Wednesday night. Liz put up signs in the area where she found him, but so far no one's called. One wonders if he was dumped.

He's house-trained, loves walks and rides, and has a gentle disposition. Liz thinks he's part boxer; I think he's part pit bull. Maybe we're both right. Liz is going out today to put up more signs, this time with his pic. If we don't get any responses during the weekend, then Monday the deal changes to "Free to a good home".

Monday, June 02, 2008


As promised, a bit more detail concerning the Church of The Flying Spaghetti Monster. It's been around for less than 5 years. You can visit their website at for a lot more zany details. Wikipedia has a good write-up on them too.
While the emphasis at the CotFSM is on satire, they do serve a serious purpose. To quote their founder, Bobby Henderson, "I don't have a problem with religion. What I have a problem with is religion posing as science."
So when the Intelligent Design clods (the morons formerly known as the Creationists) tried to force science teachers in Kansas to teach their pseudo-science alongside the legitimate stuff, the CotFSM jumped in and demanded that their dogma also be taught. Their persistence paid off - eventually the IDc's backed off.
Folks, Intelligent Design is not a science. You can call it a philosophy; you can call it dogma; you can call it a religious belief. I'm cool to all that. But when you try to pass it off as "science", as a chemist I am offended. If we left the Church run Science, we'd still be learning that the Sun revolves around the earth, and that Dinosaurs either didn't exist (cuz they aren't in the Bible), or that Adam and Eve used to walk around with them (ouch! just try putting a leash on a Tyranosaurus Rex!).
In our next installlment, we'll present some of the FSM's "science". And a little later, I'll get around to the reason I'm featuring them.
Oh yeah, if you can't figure out "WWFSMD?", you definitely need to practice your acronyms more.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

How come no one told me...

... that the USA lifted its long-standing ban of Absinthe sometime in 2007?