Monday, May 31, 2010

Happy Memorial Day

Today, we remember and honor those who gave their lives for this country. Let us also resolve to bring the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Now. The Arizona Republic noted today that the latter war is about to become our longest-lasting war ever (surpassing Vietnam), and we have no chance of winning either one.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

To Annoy A Mockingbird

Something quick, as there's a party at our house for the second straight day. And we are invited to a third one tomorrow. We're just a pair of party animals. Not!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Basket Case - Carl Hiaasen

2002; 411 pages. New Author?: No. Genre : Witty Crime; Overall Rating : 4½*/10.
Basket Case is my second Carl Hiaasen book (the first was Sick Puppy), and I'm still not enamored with him. Maybe I haven't yet read the stories that made him a best-selling author.
My review in 50 words or less...
Jack Tagger, an obituary writer for a small Florida newspaper, investigates the scuba-diving death of a has-been rocker. Was it accidental? Witty throughout, Basket Case presents an excellent look at the moribund newspaper industry. Alas, as a crime-mystery, it leaves a lot to be desired.
The somewhat dyspeptic version of the review is here.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Two of my heroes

Today was a medical day. I had liquid nitrogen sprayed on my arm and toes, and an ultrasound on my leg. My leg isn't pregnant and my toes are froze.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

In a class by ourself

Move over, Texas. Out of the way, South Carolina. Begone, Kansas. You all have done some stupid things lately. But you're Mensa material compared to us here in Arizona. .

. We have Rogue State status. You don't. Nyah, nyah, and in-your-face Nyah.

You can read Navarette's article about us here. I can't wait for those drone planes to show up and start dropping bombs on anyone who isn't carrying citizenship papers.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Gay Pride Parade pics are up!

I took 238 pictures this year, mostly cuz I was trying out my new Canon camera. About 200 of the pics were of the parade; the rest were of the Pride Festival itself, which we attended for the first time ever this year. .
Besides these two photos, I've only posted 31 of the images from this year. Normally, I do 100 pics; but I chose to pare back this time. You can access them via My Profile, or click on the link here. Enjoy.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Funeral Games - Mary Renault

1981; 328 pages. Book 3 of Mary Renault's "Alexander The Great" trilogy. Genre : Historical fiction. New Author?: Yes. Overall Rating : 8*/10.
I'm not sure why I don't read more historical fiction. Maybe I will now, since I enjoyed this one. Mary Renault (1905-1983) wrote eight Greek-themed historical novels. This was her final book, published two years before her death.
My review in 50 words or less...
It's 323 B.C. Alexander The Great is dying, has named no successor, and has left no heir. Funeral Games chronicles the bitter fights for the throne. Lots of intrigue and skullduggery, with strong women characters in this historically accurate novel. Recommended to all history buffs.
The effulgent version of this review is here.

Monday, May 24, 2010

I'm sure there's a logical explanation...

...for this. But I'm not sure I want to know it.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Gaming Nightmare

FWIW, Tetris was one of my favorite games on the NES. The others in the Top 5 would be Contra, Bomber Man, Arkanoid, and Mario Bros.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Men Who Stare At Goats

The Men Who Stare At Goats (2010)
Genre : Comedy (94 minutes)
MPAA Rating : R
Release Date : 11/09 (DVD released 03/10)
My Rating : 5*/10
. Ewan McGregor plays a reporter in Iraq who crosses paths with a special forces operator (George Clooney), who claims to be on a top-secret mission that requires his Jedi knight-like abilities. They forge a Luke-Obi Wan type of relationship, and along the way, there are lots of flashbacks to when Clooney was part of a "New Earth Army" training program in the armed forces, under the guidance of a pony-tailed hippie named Bill Django (Jeff Bridges). Kevin Spacey plays the bad guy in the mix; and the goats play themselves. . What's To Like... The all-star cast does not disappoint. Men Who Stare At Goats features good acting from top to bottom. There are some laugh-out-loud funny scenes, and there is no romance. If you are someone "stuck in the 60's", you will find this film a hoot . . So why did this flop at the Box Office? Simple - the script sucks. The "Mission" is a total let-down, and while there's a hilarious closing scene (albeit, not realistic at all in a war zone), the ending itself is lame. . Still, it brought back some fine psychedelic memories. Umm... not that I ever personally did any hallucinogens, mind you. But I read about them in Reader's Digest. Umm... Yeah. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. . So we'll give it 5 stars. There's enough humor to compensate the lack of a plot, and the fine acting compensates for the bad ending. It's worth your time to rent this, but don't buy it. What it needs is for someone to wait 5 years, and then do a total re-make of the concept, as was done with the various Batman cinematic series. This cooda been really good. Unfortunately, it wasn't.

Friday, May 21, 2010

New Chess Strategy

The good news is : I have somehow made it to the third round in a chess tournament where I play online. Out of 152 players at the start, only 14 are left, and I'm one of them.
The bad news is : I now have to play someone named Vidas, a Lithuanian whiz who wins about 95% of the chess tournaments he enters at the site.
I have no chance against him with Black. But with White, I plan to employ the subtle opening shown above. I figure I can at least get a draw.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Little Green Men - Christopher Buckley

1999; 300 pages. New Author?: Yes. Genre: Satire; Modern Fiction. Overall Rating : 9*/10.
All of Christopher Buckley's books have fantastic covers. Every time I'm at the used-book store looking for Bukowski books, my eyes keep drifting over to the nearby Buckley ones. I finally gave in bought one. And found a great new writer.
My review in 50 words or less...
John O. Banion is a D.C. Sunday talk-show host with everything going for him. Until he's abducted. And probed. He dismisses this as a bad dream. Until he's abducted a second time. And probed again. A well-written, politically-neutral satire of all sorts of topics. Hilarious. Recommended.
The recondite-but-not-mephitic version of this review is here.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What's the Chinese word for "flood"?

I don' t know, but I bet it's in there somewhere. . Actually, see that Chinese character second from the bottom in the right-hand column? It's also in the left-hand column (just above the dot), and also in the top horizontal row across the bottom (third from the left). That's "shui" (pronounced "shway"), and is the (Mandarin) Chinese word for water. So I'm betting one of those is in a combination meaning flood.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

One Thousand and Counting

We passed a milestone in Afghanistan this week. On Tuesday, the 1,000th US soldier died in Afghanistan. You can read the MSNBC article (NYTimes article, actually) here. . Funny, I thought our mandate to Washington in the last presidential election was that we wanted out of Iraq and out of Afghanistan. Instead, we're increasing the troops in the latter, and are dragging our heels on drawing down in the former. Our boys are getting killed at an increasingly young age (according to the article), and we aren't winning the war in either country. So what are we dying for?

Monday, May 17, 2010

I agree with Homer & Jethro

The Supreme Court issued two interesting rulings today. The first is that juveniles convicted of crimes other than homicide cannot be sentenced to life in prison without parole. The court ruled 5-4 that that was "cruel and unusual punishment". Okay, fair enough. Makes sense to me. . The other ruling was that federal officials can hold sex offenders indefinitely in prison, even after their sentences have expired, if officials feel they are "sexually dangerous". You can read MSNBC's article about this here. . The vote was 7-2 on this, with the numb-nuts duo of Clarence Thomas and Anthony Scalia, a modern-day Homer-&-Jethro tandem, in the minority. My problem is, I find myself siding with Tweedledum and Tweedledumber. . I understand the logic of the majority opinion. Sex offenders are perverts with a capital "P", and no one wants an additional child molested because we let these creeps out on the streets again. But who decides if they are still "sexually dangerous"? And what meaning does their original sentence have it they aren't freed after they serve their time? . Even more chilling is how far we take this. Today, it's child molesters. Tomorrow, it might be anyone perceived to be a gang-banger. Or a drug-dealer. Or an alcoholic who might continue to drive while under the influence. Shouldn't all of us law-abiding citizens be protected from these as well? . But why stop there? Personally, I find Sarah Palin criminally dangerous. And Rush too. To be fair, they feel the same about me. Can we toss each other in prison and throw away the key? . If you don't want sex offenders out on the street, make the penalties harsher. Molest a child, and go to jail for life. Without parole. I don't particularly care whether you're a juvenile or not. Kill the child after you've molested them, and its a capital offense. . But don't corrupt our judicial system by holding them arbitrarily and indefinitely. This isn't Nazi Germany. When a person has served his time, he's entitled to be let out of prison. Slimeball or not. Now excuse me, I have to go give myself a lobotomy for siding with Tony and Clarence on this.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

RIP - Frank Frazetta

Frank Frazetta
b. : 09 February 1928
d. : 10 May 2010
. He was a prolific comic book and sci-fi artist of unbelievable talent. His hey-day was the 1960's, and even now, when you see one of his works, you know who painted it. He did three album covers for Molly Hatchet, and implanted an image of what Conan the Barbarian looked like into every fantasy reader's mind until Ah-Nuld came along in the movie series. . Personally, I think he was the reincarnation of Gustave Doré, a 19th-Century artist/engraver whose works undoubtedly influenced Frazetta. You can tell a Doré picture when you see it too. I'll have to find a couple by him and post them in a couple days.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

What Is The What - Dave Eggers

2006; 535 pages. Award : 2009 Prix Medicis Etranger. New Author for me?: No. See here. Genre : Fictional autobiography; modern literature. Overall Rating : 6½*/10.
This book first caught my eye at Target a few years ago. At the time, I had no idea who Dave Eggers was, but the dialogue in the book looked intriguing. It finally showed up at my local used-book store.
My review in 50 words or less...
The story of a "Lost Boy of Sudan". When Arab raiders ravage his village, he flees - along with thousands of other young boys - across hundreds of miles of desert to squalid refugee camps, and eventually to the US. Well-written and heart-wrenching. But it dragged at times.
The tear-at-your-heartstrings version of the review is here.

Friday, May 14, 2010

This is the dawning of the Age of Asparagus

Well, maybe not. But it is the weekend!!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

and the award for best DVD cover in 2010 is...

Yeah I know, there's still six months to go. But who's gonna top this? To boot, The Princess Bride is on my All-Time Top 10 Movies list. Not #1, of course. That would be...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Curse those ethnic studies!

Arizona continued to blaze the Path of Stupidity today, when our governor signed a bill that bans ethnic studies classes that "promote resentment" of other racial groups. You can read CNN's article on it here. . The measure has been a personal vendetta by our state school superintendent, the one very white Tom Horne, who has heard that a Tucson-area Mexican-American class may have said that Hispanics are an "oppressed minority". . Gee, Tom, ya think?! What subversive slander will those leftist teachers promote next? That blacks shouldn't be grateful for our colonial immigration program; a.k.a. "slavery"? That the Native Americans shouldn't be thankful for the whites solving their over-population problem? . The good news, Tommy boy, is that God is on your side. At least the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant one is. Now if we could only ban Gay Pride parades as well. These things promote segregation, you know. If we start letting these minorities feel good about themselves, next thing you know, they'll prefer hanging out with their own kind instead wanting to be colored honkies or closet gays.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sleepy Head - Mark Billingham

2001; 403 pages. This is Billingham's debut novel. New author for me?: Yes. Genre : Murder-Mystery. Overall Rating : 7*/10.
My Welsh colleague recommended this author to me. He's hooked on the series, and spends a lot of time looking for the books, as Billingham doesn't seem to have crossed the pond much yet. Which is a pity.
My review in 50 words or less...
Three women are dead, but they were "mistakes". Perfection comes to the demented psychopath when he successfully puts Victim #4 into something called "locked-in syndrome". Nice pacing, several twists, and a good ending; even if the overall structure was a bit stereotypical.
The poxy-yet-not-wittering version of this review is here.

Monday, May 10, 2010

It should've felt sweeter

The Suns finished sweeping the Spurs yesterday, closing it out in San Antonio. The papers made a big deal about the revenge factor - the Spurs have eliminated the Suns the last four times the two teams have faced each other in the playoffs. The Suns players played the whole thing down, complimenting San Antonio as a class organization . Steve Nash played with stitches over an eye that was swollen shut from a Tim Duncan elbow. But everyone was quick to point out it was an inadvertent jab. . I'm happy of course that Phoenix took the series. I work with a guy that's most obnoxious about his love of the Spurs, and he kept a low profile throughout the series. But somehow I expected the juices to be flowing a lot more than they are. Maybe it's because our "reward" for this is to play the Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe "Bad Boy" Bryant. . Or maybe it's because the really dirty Spurs players aren't there anymore. They finally discovered Bruce Bowen had no NBA skills other than taking out opposing players. And Robert "Slam 'em into the second row" Horry is also nowhere to be seen. Mano Ginobili still has a face you want to punch, but that seems wrong at the moment since he's sporting a broken nose. Tim Duncan oozes classiness. So does Coach Popovich. Tony Parker is French, so I have to cut him some slack. Indeed, the whole series, while physical, was cleanly played. . My only fear is that, when San Antonio evaluates their team in the off-season, and tries to figure out what was missing, they'll come to the conclusion that they just aren't dirty enough anymore. But who knows what any NBA team will look like next year, what with a plethora of free agents for sale, and oodles of salary cap $$$ to be spent.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

2012 (the movie)

2012 (DVD released - March, 2010)
Length : 158 minutes
Genre : Fluff Action
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Our Rating : 7*/10
. The end of the world is upon us. If only we had listened to the ancient Maya, a modern-day wacked-out comspiracy-freak/evangelist, and/or a couple geophysicists in 2010 monitoring the earth's core. . What's to like... Woody Harrelson (the evangelist) and Danny Glover (the US president) turn in fine performances, even though neither one is around by the time the final credits roll. The computer-generated graphics - specializing in falling buildings and erupting volconoes - are stunning. The humor will make you chuckle, even if it is sometimes a bit macabre (such as Sasha's demise). . The scientific explanation for the calamity is plausible. An unprecedented barrage of solar flares heats up the earth's core. This results in hundreds of huge volcanic eruptions, which in turn leads to a radical shifting of the earth's tectonic plates and magnetic poles. That causes things like California to fall into the ocean, thus spawning a series of tsunamis with waves so high they flood over Mt. Everest. . None of that is a spoiler because this isn't a Cri-Fi film. Nor is there any effort given to figuring out how some 7th-century Mayans somehow knew this was going to happen. And that may be the main drawback of 2012 - the movie exists for the cheesy plot, the great disaster images, and a bunch of laughs. This is true even of the action scenes - they're just too over-the-top for the viewer to take seriously. . Hare rama, Dalai Lama. Hare krishna, thanks for the fishna. Judging from the reviews over at Amazon, a lot of people hated 2012. Maybe they were expecting an epic. It isn't. As long as you recognize it for what it is - a fluff film - it does okay. This isn't the first movie to misrepresent itself. Heck, they tried to tell me Titanic was an adventure film when it debuted. . I give 2012 seven stars. It didn't cause me to flee to the mountain tops or try to appease the angry gods. It did entertain me for 2½ hours. That's good enough for me.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Well d'uh, Steve

Stephen Hawking, heir apparent to the niche Carl Sagan used to occupy, declared this week that - not only is time-travel consistent with the laws of physics - but also that he can think of three ways that it might be accomplished. You can read the MSNBC article about it here. . Am I supposed to be impressed? I've been time- and dimension-traveling for... well, for many indeterminable eons. It's hard to determine/describe lengths of time when you're a chrono-hopper. . Alternatively, Hawking could've just asked his neighborhood cow. . One last thing, Steve. You seem to dismiss time-travel to the past because of the cause-effect conundrum. For instance, that it's impossible because you could conceivably go back and kill your mother before you were born. . How silly. The fact that you are currently here, in the present (whatever that means), demonstrates that your little "impossible situation" doesn't/didn't/won't ever occur. I don't think the physics of time-travel gives a hoot about some hypothetical chrono-situational anomaly.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

My how time flies...

...when you're getting old. Jimi would be 67 now. Tiny Tim would've just turned 78 last month. And Jackie O would turn 81 in July. . .

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Tales Of Ordinary Madness - Charles Bukowski

1983; 238 pages. Genre : Modern Literature; Short Stories. Overall Rating : 4½*/10.
A collection of 34 short stories and essays written (ANAICT) in the 1967-72 time period, and mostly for various underground and adult magazines. Be forewarned : There's lots of cussing and R-rated topics. Delicate souls should not read Bukowski.
My review in 50 words or less...
Some great pieces here, but also some drivel. When he's on (sober, maybe?) Bukowski is a gifted writer. But the themes - booze, sex, smokes, crappy attitude, etc. - get very repetitive. Good if you're new to Bukowski or are a Bukoholic. Otherwise, it's a bit tedious.
The voluted, involuted, and even convoluted version of this review is here.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

it was 40 years ago today...

...that four students at Kent State University were gunned down by National Guardsmen for "failing to disperse" while protesting Tricky Dicky's invasion of Cambodia. Is that before your time? You can read the Wiki article on it here. Nine others were wounded and ironically, two of the students killed weren't even taking part in the demonstration. . To commemorate the event, last night police in Philadelphia tasered a teenager who had jumped onto the field from the stands during the Phillies' baseball game. .
Now I admit, the kid was a jerk. And I would have booed him and said bad things about his mama for him pulling this stunt. But does that justify tasering him? He posed no threat (watch the video of it out on YouTube), and people have died from being tasered. .
The truth is - we were living in a police state forty years ago, and we are living in a police state now. You can protest if you're a dittohead tea-bagger, and you can physically slap liberals at Town Hall Meetings on Health Care. But if you are protesting the war (remember Cindy Sheehan?) or interrupting America's pastime, you will be arrested at best, and shot or tasered to death at worst.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Mixing Movies

These just happen to be two of my favorite flicks. And I bet if Fonda and Hopper had had these super-kewl "bikes" back then, those redneck idjits would never have had a chance to blow their butts off the highway.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Tweet of the week

"This morning, I woke up concerned about (centaurs) & mermaids taking over our state. I heard that griffins commit 40% of all crime in AZ." (Arizona Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, following the vote on a bill that outlaws human/animal hybrids) . Yessiree. Our state economy is bankrupt, we're the village idiots when it comes to immigration reform, it's about to be legal to carry a concealed weapon - without any training - anywhere in Arizona (including bars!), but what really worries our state representatives is whether or not Smokey the Bear, Wolverine, and the Jolly Green Giant might someday be walking the streets of Phoenix. . Thank goodness Sinema at least sees the silliness of our dittoheaded representatives.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Night Watch - Terry Pratchett

2002; 408 pages. Book #29 in the Discworld series. Awards : #73 in the Big Read; Winner of the 2003 Prometheus Award. Nominee for the 2003 Locus Award. Genre : Fantasy; Humor. Overall Rating : 9*/10.
Another Discworld book, and another winner. I think I have all but two of the remaining books in this series (I'm lacking Men At Arms and Making Money) on my TBR shelf. Which accounts for about 30% of the books there.
My review in 50 words or less...
Sam Vimes and a psychopathic killer are transported 30 years back in time to an Ankh-Morpork ripe for revolution. A bad place for a good cop, but a killer can make a killing there. The emphasis is on the plot, which is unusual for a Discworld story.
The gormless, shonky version (not!) of this review can be found here.