Saturday, August 29, 2009

Requiescat in Pace: "Reading Rainbow"

After 26 years of bringing the magic of reading and books to an entire generation, PBS's wonderful and award-winning show (26 Emmys!) "Reading Rainbow" is going off the air. The last show aired yesterday. Here are two stories about that -- one by NPR and this more personal one that highlights the difference between how to read and why to read.

While I'm not at all happy with the manner of "Reading Rainbow" 's demise (US Department of Education, you're no friend of mine), I'm grateful for its existence. It was always about the fun, pleasure, and sheer magic of reading. Phonics can teach you pronunciation and the mechanics of reading, but it can't give you the happiness and purpose of literacy. (Here we are, worrying that people are turning into mushy-brained TV and video game addicts, and yet the edu-crats' philosophy on reading is -- oh, never mind. It's just going to make me rant.)

I grew up watching "Reading Rainbow" and loved every minute of it. Host and producer LeVar Burton was and is fabulous, and he deserves much credit for being a positive influence on a whole generation of American kids -- something that is even more glorious than his more famous TV roles (anyone else remember the delightful episode of "Reading Rainbow" visiting the set of "Star Trek: the Next Generation"?). Thanks for everything, LeVar!

So in tribute to the show, I give you the old-school opening of the show. Oh, such memories. Come on, sing along!

Japan: Going to the Polls on August 30

The upcoming Japanese election could be very interesting. The main issue seems to be "it's the economy, stupid."

Confronting History: Rachel Lucas Visits Auschwitz

One of my favorite bloggers, Rachel Lucas, recently visited Auschwitz and Birkenau. Don't miss her post (with photos). It is a powerful and sobering read. Blurb:
Someone told me a few months ago that Auschwitz would be a life-changer for me, and they were right, but I would like to emphasize that it is a good change. In the six weeks since I was there, the majority of my previous petty concerns have stopped mattering to me, completely. I just stopped caring about a lot of things that were truly pointless. It has been a very surprising and welcome change. My experience of life is different, in a good way. Something about that day in that place made me realize that if I don’t enjoy and appreciate every single moment of my charmed and comfortable life, then I am an unforgivable a**.

I don’t say that lightly. It is a real thing. All of us who are able to write or read blogs, we have it easy by any measure and we are fools if we don’t actively appreciate every single morsel of freedom and plenty that we have.

Pop Culture Commentary: the History of Sci-Fi and Fantasy TV

Check out this fascinating look at the history of science fiction and fantasy in modern TV after the original Star Trek-- plus an awesome graph (which is, nevertheless, not comprehensive -- for instance, I don't see Angel or that guilty pleasure of La Parisenne's and Kamikaze Editor's and mine, Supernatural ! The chart does begin at 1970, so that means I can't slam it for not including The Prisoner.).

Plus, a shout-out to the late, lamented shows Firefly, Farscape, and Kings -- gone all too soon and possibly too creative for their own good where TV execs were concerned. Journeyman was fun too while it lasted, and ditto Day Break and Moonlight.

One thing at least I'll say for sci-fi and fantasy TV: it's a welcome break from the apparently endless tidal wave of horrible "reality shows" and the also apparently endless tidal wave of boring cop/lawyer/doctor shows which seem more or less interchangeable.

History Remembered: Romans, Germans, and the Battle of the Teutoberg Forest

Here's an interesting story from the history/historiography files -- and also because I just want to say "Hermann the German." Ja!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Movie Madness: 100 Years of Special Effects

Now this is pretty darn cool! You can see the full list of movies included here and also at the end of the clip. They run the gamut from 1900 to 2008.

MM in the Kitchen: Bittersweet Chocolate Five-Spice Cupcakes

Here is an intriguing recipe of East (five-spice powder) meets West (chocolate). But will it be any good, I wonder?

Oh, as for Westerners finally discovering the joys of five-spice powder, WTTPWS. ;-)

Friday Fun Video: Big Buck Bunny

Here is a delightful animation project called "Big Buck Bunny." Enjoy!

Big Buck Bunny from Blender Foundation on Vimeo.

Health Care/Insurance Reform: Some Collected Thoughts

This is quite an interesting read, via Tigerhawk. Here is a blurb:
Indeed, I suspect that our collective search for villains—for someone to blame—has distracted us and our political leaders from addressing the fundamental causes of our nation’s health-care crisis. All of the actors in health care—from doctors to insurers to pharmaceutical companies—work in a heavily regulated, massively subsidized industry full of structural distortions. They all want to serve patients well. But they also all behave rationally in response to the economic incentives those distortions create. Accidentally, but relentlessly, America has built a health-care system with incentives that inexorably generate terrible and perverse results. Incentives that emphasize health care over any other aspect of health and well-being. That emphasize treatment over prevention. That disguise true costs. That favor complexity, and discourage transparent competition based on price or quality. That result in a generational pyramid scheme rather than sustainable financing. And that—most important—remove consumers from our irreplaceable role as the ultimate ensurer of value.
Add this, too.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Nerd News: Troubled Los Angeles Public Schools Hope for Improvement from Private Sector Competition

Well, well, well! Blurb from the news story:
In a startling acknowledgment that the Los Angeles school system cannot improve enough schools on its own, the city Board of Education approved a plan Tuesday that could turn over 250 campuses -- including 50 new multimillion-dollar facilities -- to charter groups and other outside operators.

The plan, approved on a 6-1 vote, gives Supt. Ramon C. Cortines the power to recommend the best option to run some of the worst-performing schools in the city as well as the newest campuses.

. . . The action signals a historic turning point for the Los Angeles Unified School District, which has struggled for decades to boost student achievement. District officials and others have said their ability to achieve more than incremental progress is hindered by the powerful teachers union, whose contract makes it nearly impossible to fire ineffective tenured teachers. Union leaders blame a district bureaucracy that they say fails to include teachers in "top-down reforms."

"The premise of the resolution is first and foremost to create choice and competition," said board member Yolie Flores Aguilar, who brought the resolution, "and to really force and pressure the district to put forth a better educational plan."
Choice, competition, private enterprise versus ineffective public systems . . . There's so much to talk about here! Some commentary from a former Angeleno here: "this is both long overdue and absolutely stunning."

Disgustingly Cute: Poodles Groomed to the Edge of Madness

Via Pursuit of Serenity, some highly unusual canine hairstyles. Is this art or animal abuse? You tell me!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Book to Read: P.J. O'Rourke's "Driving Like Crazy."

Think about P.J. O'Rourke's latest book, Driving Like Crazy, as a hilarious combination of Jeremy Clarkson (sarcastic wit intact), "Top Gear," and Mario Kart Wii -- or at least my description of said game as "completely unhinged vehicular pandemonium" that's also loads of FUN.

As a paean to the internal combustion engine, with arias devoted to various forms of hysterical self-inflicted Carmageddon scenarios and bouts of unrepentant automotive addiction, O'Rourke's book is an opera of gonzo journalism that had me laughing out loud.

I can't recommend a better book to be the last laugh of the summer -- end the season with O'Rourke's inimitable style, now behind the wheel of a car and cheerfully defying all known speed limits and safety protocols.

Here's a little blurb to get you interested:
But pity the poor American car when Congress and the White House get through with it -- a lightweight vehicle with a small carbon footprint, using alternative energy and renewable resources to operate in a sustainable way. When I was a kid we called it a Schwinn.

Quirky Euro Files: Weird Britain

Here is a fascinating list of odd British events.

One of my personal favorites? The "biggest liar" competition. Who can tell the most ridiculous whopper of a fib and get away with it? Liar, liar, pants on fire! (Too bad I'm not British, or I would submit the following deadpan declaration: "I am a serious academic scholar.")

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Quirky Euro Files: Coffee Art with Famous Faces

Dedicated to Il Barista, here's something fun by Danish coffee artist Søren Stiller Markussen (via Serious Eats):

More videos like this on

Monday, August 24, 2009

Nerd News + Quote of the Day: Watering Down the British A-Level Exams

Here's the sordid tale, and I simply must give you this quote of the day by British columnist Stephen Pollard:
In Soviet Russia, tractor production figures were always on the rise. In modern Britain we have our own equivalent: the annual increase in exam passes and improvement in grades, celebrated just as enthusiastically by the governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major as by those of New Labour. It is all built on a lie. As the Office of National Statistics reported in 2007, pupils capable of getting only a C two decades ago can now expect an A grade.

Pathetic, as the idiotification process progresses. Still, Pollard gets the MM seal of approval for best mention of Soviet tractors all day.

Nerd Analysis: Insane Government Spending Policy

Harvard economics professor Greg Mankiw has some terrifying numbers for you. OMG!

MM in the Kitchen: Cook Your Own Chinese Buffet Menu

This recipe madness is for the Cinema-Mad Sibling, who also does loooooove him some all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets. Gluttony is our favorite Deadly Sin, after all.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Taiwan: A Glimpse of Pingtung

Pingtung was where my dad had been. Here are some photos by some folks who went down there to help in the clean-up effort (thanks!). Pingtung County has a website available in English.

Taiwan: Google Maps Street View is Here!

Google Maps Street View is including Taiwan! Five specially-equipped cars are now running around Taiwan to take photos for Google Street View. Cool! (Via View from Taiwan.)

Friday Fun Videos: Love "World of Warcraft"-Style

It's time for a shoutout to the gamers! You get not one, but two Friday Fun Videos today! First from Pursuit of Serenity, a fresh bit of fun from CollegeHumor.Com:

Then, from the humorous nerds and geeks at The Guild (did you know Felicia Day holds a B.S. in Mathematics from the University of Texas? She's a bona fide geek. Kudos!), a music video about amorous avatars:

Today's videos in honor of Alessandra and Koz.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Taiwan: US Troops Land with Typhoon Aid

American troops are in Taiwan for the first time in 30 years, and they are on a humanitarian mission.

(OK, I await the first wild-eyed crazy campus uber-leftist to yell, "US out of Taiwan!")

On the other hand, some folks are quite pleased to see the Americans, who left from their base in Okinawa. I for one am very happy indeed to see my home country help out my ancestral country. I just wish those GIs could stay.

Oh, and the indispensable Michael Turton notes that thus far Taiwan has refused military aid from Beijing. OK, but there's no rescue for Ma Ying-jeou, whose approval rating is in the basement (down to a miserable 29% post-typhoon from over 50% recently). The basement's flooding, Ma.

More: China has sent some prefabricated houses, and the always-dependable Aussies have sent medical supplies, as did Singapore, Great Britain, and Israel. South Korea has sent rescue workers.

By the way, my dad is back in America from his trip to Pingtung. He's fine, and he reports seeing the water and buildings collapsing, including a hotel that later filmed by CNN while it fell into a huge rush of flood water. Yikes.

Almost forgot: here's how to help if you like.

Nerd Notes: Economics Professor Richard Vedder on Why College Costs So Much

Take a look and listen. Professor Vedder says what I've been saying all this time: that government meddling has created a higher education bubble along with a whole bunch of other negative unintended consequences. Education costs are going insane along with the watering-down of higher education.

Preach it, Professor Vedder!

OK, I'm sorry -- just saying "Vedder" makes me think of -- you know it! -- Pearl Jam. Sorry!

MM in the Kitchen: Raspberry Cassata Cake

Il Barista insists that raspberries taste like soap, but they look pretty good in this recipe! It'll be my next experiment, maybe, to be re-labeled Il Barista's Sicilian Soapberry Cake.

Movie Review: the Cinema-Mad Sibling Reviews "District 9"

Last night the Cine-Sib went to see the new sci-fi flick "District 9," which is set in Johannesburg, South Africa, involves insectoid space aliens, and has been receiving a lot of buzz for being an apartheid metaphor.

I saw it a couple of days ago, and maybe I'll get around to writing a review. The Cine-Sib liked the movie very much and wrote his review in haiku:

Shrimp from outer space
Are more human than we are.
Let 'em phone home, K?

Geek News: Paris as 3D Texture Mapped City on iPhone


Kitchen Notes: The History of the Cooking Show

For Il Barista, my cooking buddy: see the history of the cooking show.

We begin, of course, with the late, great kitchen goddess herself, Julia Child. We end with . . . I don't even want to go there. Celebrity chefs, cooking reality shows, Rachael Ray? YUCK.

Let me also take this chance to give a shout-out to another cooking-TV pioneer, the awesome Martin Yan! If Yan can cook, so can you! The day I met him was one of the coolest days of my life. (He was so very charming in person, and his recipes are delicious.)

Movie Fun: Men in Film

See how many of these famous faces you can identify! They appear in (more or less) chronological order. Fun!

(Plus, eye candy. Some of these guys were darn handsome devils in their day, no?)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Nerd Fun: the World's Most Beautiful Libraries

Curious Expeditions has an amazing photo gallery of the world's most beautiful libraries. I can't add much more than quote part of the explanation: "library-induced euphoria." Absolutely!

Book lust! (Via Oddee.)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Great Moments in Research: a Mathematical Model for Surviving a Zombie Attack

Some enterprising nerds at Canada's Carleton University and the University of Ottawa have taken research on infectious diseases and applied it to zombies. The result is a crazy mashup of pop culture and nerd neurons. Here are some details, including the equation in which S = susceptible people and Z = zombies (natch).

Bonus: An actual academic paper was the result. Entitled "When Zombies Attack!: Mathematical Modelling of an Outbreak of Zombie Infection," you can see the PDF version. I give you the abstract:
Zombies are a popular figure in pop culture/entertainment and they are usually portrayed as being brought about through an outbreak or epidemic. Consequently, we model a zombie attack, using biological assumptions based on popular zombie movies. We introduce a basic model for zombie infection, determine equilibria and their stability, and illustrate the outcome with numerical solutions. We then refine the model to introduce a latent period of zombification, whereby humans are infected, but not infectious, before becoming undead. We then modify the model to include the effects of possible quarantine or a cure. Finally, we examine the impact of regular, impulsive reductions in the number of zombies and derive conditions under which eradication can occur. We show that only quick, aggressive attacks can stave off the doomsday scenario: the collapse of society as zombies overtake us all.
This is just hilarious. Now go watch "Shaun of the Dead" IMMEDIATELY.

Quote of the Day: PJ O'Rourke on Politics and Politicians

The inimitable O'Rourke has some fresh observations. Quote:
Politics is the attempt to achieve power and prestige without merit.
Now go see the whole video.

It's from July, and I had forgotten to link to it then. The indispensable Insta-Prof jogged my memory.

Kitchen Notes: Amazingly Gorgeous Cakes

Take a look at these incredible beauties! These are the best of the best of the entries for an unusual cake contest.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Taiwan: Post-Typhoon Political Fallout

Ma Ying-jeou is looking all wet. Is this his Katrina moment? Or his Lien Chan redux moment? Ma, supposedly so telegenic and charismatic and all that, is behaving like an idiot by refusing to take any responsibility, and he's deservedly getting HAMMERED. For goodness sake, he's been blaming everyone else -- including the weather service.

UPDATE: Even the New York Times is covering this story.

Oh, and here's a terrible anecdote that nonetheless makes me more convinced that ever that (a) you can't depend on government for things, and (b) there is no substitute for self-reliance:
On Monday, during an earlier tour of his waterlogged nation, Mr. Ma was seen promising a bulldozer to a man who was searching for the body of his father. Two days later, after failing to persuade officials to make good on the pledge, the man, Lee Yu-ying, was forced to rent his own equipment to dig out his father’s mud-encased car. “What kind of help was that?” Mr. Lee asked TVBS, a cable news channel.
Poor Mr. Lee.

Geek Fun and Quirky Asia Files: the Korean Color-Picker Pen

Life imitates PhotoShop! Blurb:
Korean designer Jinsu Park designed a concept pen that adopts the eyedropper tool of Photoshop for real life. The color picker pen enables colors in the environment to be scanned and instantly used for drawing. the sensor detects the color and matches it to the color display. Then the RGB cartridge located within the pen mixes the inks together to create the color that has been scanned.

Disgustingly Cute(?): The Duck-Shaped Potato

Well, you don't see that every day!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

MM in the Kitchen: Cherry Clafoutis

Cherries were on sale (!), so I bought a whole lot of them. Now what to do, what to do? Try a recipe I usually can't try because cherries are too expensive, that's what! So I am going to attempt . . . *drum roll here* . . . cherry clafoutis!

The basic recipe seems easy enough, though here is a slightly more elaborate version (with amaretto for foodie boozehounds like YOU, La Parisienne and Il Barista) or you can try this one with kirsch and a whole vanilla bean (ditto what I said in the last parentheses).

I just went out and splurged on this goofy-looking gizmo too at one of my favorite cookware shops to window-shop.

UPDATE: The cherry-pitter gizmo is AWESOME!

Nerd News: Forbes Ranks Top US Universities; West Point #1

According to Forbes, West Point is the country's top college. (The school's website is here.)

The rest of the top 10 are:

#2 Princeton
#3 Cal Tech
#4 Williams
#5 Harvard
#6 Wellesley
#7 US Air Force Academy
#8 Amherst
#9 Yale
#10 Stanford

Here is the complete list. Here is a related article on how West Point beat the Ivy League. I'm amused to remember that not too long somebody wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post saying that the government should shut down the service academies.

Of course, use the usual caveat: all rankings systems are subjective in one way or another, etc., but the results are always interesting!

Taiwan History: Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda?

A fascinating idea from 1949. How different things would be today, eh?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Disgustingly Cute: Lileks Has Bunnies

James Lileks, whom I adore for this hilarious book of his, has found bunnies in his backyard. He wants suggestions for names. How about . . . Dinner? (I'm KIDDING! Sheesh!)

Storytelling: A Lost Art Rediscovered

This sounds good! Who doesn't love a great tale well told? By ancient bards, medieval troubadours, or these modern raconteurs, storytelling is magic.

Taiwan: Hundreds Missing After Landslide Buries Village

More terrible news as Typhoon Morakot and its aftermath wreak more havoc. Take a look here at some news video and photos. The typhoon reportedly dumped 2.5 meters (8 feet) of rain over a 24-hour-period. DANG!

Last I heard, a landslide buried 200 houses in southern Taiwan. Estimates for the number of missing people are ranging from 600 to 1000. Far too many.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Cinema-Mad Sibling's Haiku Movie Review: "GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra"

I have no intention of going to see the new "GI Joe" flick, now currently being savagely torn to shreds by critics everywhere.

The Cine-Sib, though, saw it this weekend, and he liked it. He has reviewed it with 4 haiku (4!). Here they are:

Awesome action yeah
Toy-to-movie done right on
Baroness is hot

Worthy of sequel
Perfect for us shallow folk
Scarlet is hot too

Van Helsing this ain't
Stephen Sommers, you're redeemed
More movies like this

Baroness spin off
Definite moneymaker
Lis'ning, studio?

Oh, for goodness sake. Can you possibly drool any more over the Baroness/Sienna Miller? I don't think she's very pretty at all. She's got that Gwyneth Paltrow "pale, skinny, snooty, ice princess" air. (No, I'm NOT going to post a photo of Sienna Miller! You can do your own research.) So, anyway, there you go, dear reader, my sibling weighs in as a member of the coveted 18-to-35-year-old male demographic.

As for me, I'm off to see "Julie and Julia" just for Meryl Streep's portrayal of that inimitable, awesome kitchen goddess, Julia Child. (We love you, Julia! We miss you terribly! How could you go and leave us to the tender mercies of Rachael Ray and Sandra Lee on Food Network? But I digress.)

Monday Therapy: Edible Art and the Cutest Sandwiches You've Ever Seen

Delightful . . . and delicious!

(If you so desire, there is a Hello Kitty Monstrosity of the Day in the photo gallery, but you can get it for yourself. This post is labeled "Monday Therapy," so I'm not going to make your Monday even worse by inflicting horrific Hello Kittiana on you, poor gentle reader of mine.)

Taiwan: Typhoon in the South

Michael Turton has lots of news links.

All I can say is, OMG! My dad's in Pingtung right now.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Kitchen Notes: The Man's Kitchen

It's an oldie but a goodie -- some more gender cliché fun!

Nerd Journal: I am Not Yet a Venomous Harridan?

I ran into a former student of mine in town today, and the cheerful undergrad told me (with some surprise in her voice), "You look cute!"

Well, hey! Maybe I haven't turned into a venomous harridan (yet)! It's amazing what a peasant-style summer dress, sandals, and lip gloss can do for one! You know, as a professional nerd who's usually bleary-eyed and coffee-stained, I will take whatever compliments I can get -- and run with 'em.

Then again, it's the WEEKEND. Perhaps I'm only a venomous harridan during the work week...

(On a related note, I have not yet found the polka-dot sundress nor the ribbon-y red sandals of my most recent fashion-based blog-hallucination.)

The Mouse in the ATM

Hilarious. It had made a nest out of shredded $20 bills!

European Thoughts on Socialized Health Care

Something from France and something from a Brit. Both France and the UK have socialized medicine, and they seem not to be doing so very well. Note the French facing up to the high cost. Hmmm.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Nerd Fun: John Quincy Adams on Twitter

No, really! Here is the explanation, and here is the Twittering.

Here's a refresher on the sixth president of the US, by the way.

Ave atque Vale: John Hughes

Moviemaker John Hughes has died unexpectedly in New York. Hail and farewell to someone who gave us some iconic pop culture films of the 1980s and 1990s, some of which captured the ups and downs of growing up -- and did it with both humor and insight. He essentially invented the teen movie, but nobody since has done it as well as he did.

Besides, what child of the 80s doesn't have a special fondness for Hughes? The best obit I can think of giving isn't really an obit; it's a tribute to the delight that Hughes brought. He didn't make artsy-fartsy Oscar-bait movies, but his movies resonated anyway; pop culture is the richer for their creation. What a great legacy! Even after all these years, his work still makes me smile. And out of all of it, my absolute favorite is 1986's "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." (If you've never seen it, go get the DVD immediately! This blog will wait -- go get the DVD!)

Here's a highlight out of a movie that's full of memorable moments:

UPDATE: Oh, I can't help it. Here's another great clip. Actually, Ferris has some pretty darn good life advice on the lines of "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it" and "Isms in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an ism -- he should believe in himself." Can you get a better cheer for the individual than that?

Friday Fun Video: "Women, Know Your Limits!"

Here is a hilarious little faux-retro video from a British comedy show, kindly sent to me by Pursuit of Serenity. It's two and a half minutes of, as he said, "gender cliché fun!"

"Look at these venomous harridans. They went to university!"

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Apocalypse Now: Choose Your American Doomsday Scenario!

You know, these days apparently everything is a potential apocalypse. When I created the completely snarky "I got your apocalypse right here" blog tag, I was KIDDING. But it's been getting a lot of mileage. Everyone and their grandma is busy concocting doomsday scenarios. Geez, you'd think this were the superstitious Middle Ages or something.

Here's more apocalyptic humor. Let's have some fun with the fearmongering, shall we? CHOOSE YOUR OWN DOOMSDAY SCENARIO!

Go straight to the interactive feature.

Well, well, well. Armageddon's never been so . . . er, entertaining? My personal favorite "we're all going to die" scenarios are alien invasion, robot overlords, and -- of course -- asteroid impact. I didn't see zombies as an option, though. Did you? It is NOT a real apocalypse conversation unless there are zombies, dang it!

By the way, I actually purchased this book (and lent it to La Parisienne). It's absolutely hilarious. Who doesn't need a field guide for the end of the world?

Disgustingly Cute: Duckling Rescued By Mom

So sweet it will send you into sugar shock.

On Demonizing Health Insurance

Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Pop Culture Commentary: Harry Potter and the Death of Reading

This is an interesting take, even if I'm not really on board for all of it.

The writer in part laments how many adults like to read Potter and calls this "cultural infantilism." Well, OK, maybe, but it is actually possible to read both Potter and "acceptable" (according to this writer) books. I'm looking at my bookshelf now, and I wonder how much of it is "acceptable" to the writer of that article. A random selection of fiction authors include J.K. Rowling, William Shakespeare, Jasper Fforde, Robert A. Heinlein, Jane Austen, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Virgil, Dante, Vince Flynn, Daniel Silva, Ovid, Homer, Lindsey Davis, Ayn Rand, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis (Space Trilogy!), and Jim Butcher. They can all write rollicking good yarns, and isn't that that we want? I don't see why we have to constantly muck up the pursuit of a good story with snooty-sounding elitist fretting about how we're all mush-brained idiots with low sloping foreheads for liking pop culture along with the great unwashed masses. Or whatever.

Part of me is thinking that the article singles out Potter because he's just such an easy target. Nowadays anything popular and successful invites attack simply by dint of being popular and successful. The attacks usually come from the snobbish self-proclaimed egotistical intellectual elite. You know, folks who use terms like "cultural infantilism." (Did I say that out loud?) From the way he starts off, you'd think we were all heading for "Fahrenheit 451" territory or something. Get real. (You know, during the Dark Ages, literacy plummeted all over Europe, but somehow everyone all muddled through and came out the other side -- and even created some glorious bits of cultural magnificence along the way. We're currently living in the most literate period ever in the Western world. Think about that for a minute. And think about the sheer power of LITERACY, being able to read and write. And more people can do this now than ever.) Besides, is reading/books/writing alone the standard of measurement for "cultural infantilism" or even cultural vitality? Hardly.

And the really weird thing is the complaint that because a ton of people young and old read the Potter books, reading is in decline. It seems kind of, oh, oxymoronic somehow. Isn't it a good thing that a bunch of people discovered (or rediscovered) the pleasures of reading a rollicking good yarn? Apparently not, since it was the "wrong" kind of book?

Anyhoo, if I may engage in a little hypocritical digression: In all honesty, adults loving to read Potter is nowhere near as alarming as adults -- OK, let's say it, adult WOMEN -- loving to read the "Twilight" books and mooning over the execrable Edward Cullen character. I tried the first book to see what the media fuss was about, and (curiosity killed the nerd!) I wanted to gouge my eyes out afterwards. Rowling at least has a good STORY. All I'm going to say is: the Battle of Hogwarts.

My advice for everybody: read what you like and enjoy yourself, for goodness sake. Life is short. Don't let "cultural critics" dictate to you what you should or shouldn't read. They can offer their opinions, and that's it. Your choices are our own. Read with your friends and talk about what you read -- one of life's great pleasures (add coffee and cake, natch). I would also suggest reading the classics both (A) because they're fabulous in themselves and (B) you need them so you can appreciate delightful riffs on them such as Jasper Fforde's "Thursday Next" novels or "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies."

Yes, yes, we should all read more good books, etc. etc., blah blah blah, yadda yadda yadda, und so weiter. But I'm not going to get into a big argument about what books are good ones (according to WHOM?). I can only tell you about books that I personally like and recommend. I'm going say, Go and have fun reading what you want to read, OK? If you have good books to suggest, please do so!

(You can also apply all this to movies too.)

Oh, and I owe you lot a "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" movie review, don't I? Oops. I've been too busy gushing over "Moon" and the information overload in the aftermath of Comic-Con. (In a nutshell, HP 6 was adequate, even good, but it wasn't anywhere near "Moon" or "Star Trek" for sheer delightful movie-going.)

Bill Clinton Visits Pyongyang

Here are some thoughts. The 2 American journalists are now free. Good news for them. Now, what about the 100+ Japanese and 1000+ South Koreans still held prisoner? What about the 23 million North Koreans who are essentially the hostages of the deplorable Kim regime?

Movie Madness: Notes on Lunar Industries and Stark Industries

The cat's out of the bag: in an interview with Cinematical, Sam Rockwell says that his character from "Moon" will be back for a cameo in director Duncan Jones' next film. Yay!

Bonus: The interview was primarily about "Iron Man 2." More yay!

In recent movie-going, Sam Bell and Tony Stark have been two of the most fascinating characters (albeit for very different reasons). Anyway, "Iron Man 2" should be completely awesome with the combined talents of Rockwell and Downey (not to mention Don Cheadle), all of whom will be busy stealing scenes from each other. Scarlett who?

A Message from 4 African Presidents: We Want Partnership, Not Patronage

This seems quite consistent with previous postings on the subject of "aid."

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Nerd News: Unemployed College Graduate Sues School for Tuition

I can't make this stuff up if I tried. Basically:

~Student graduates from university.
~Student cannot get a job.

Wow, the logic is just impeccable. *MM drips sarcasm all over her laptop.*

OK, we all know it's a tough job market for the graduating class of 2009, but this story is just plain crazy. Universities almost all have career counseling services, but that's not the same thing as guaranteeing employment for new alumni. Nobody can guarantee that, and not all the wailing from the student ("My school didn't do enough to help meeee!") can change that. Hey, here's a thought: what about helping yourself too? Here's another thought: what potential employer will want to hire you now, after this public temper tantrum? If I were an employer, I would have serious doubts about hiring a person like this.

Also, there is such a thing as a real-life job market that is affected by real-life factors such as unemployment rates, recessions, and so forth. Surprise! Welcome to reality!

Lesson of the Day: THERE ARE NO GUARANTEES IN LIFE. Grow up.

(On the plus side, maybe this will wake educators up from their silly habit of teaching people to feel entitled to things. Mwahahaha!)

Movie Madness: Looking Forward to 2010

From blogfriend Pursuit of Serenity comes this preview of 20 upcoming flicks! I do love movie previews, beginning with the return of Tony Stark. Ridley Scott's Robin might be nice too -- Russell Crowe! -- and of course ever-reliable Pixar is making "Toy Story 3."

Monday, August 03, 2009

Nerd Journal and Musically Driven Apocalypse Alert

FYI, it's 11:21 PM, I am working on bibliography for a Friday paper deadline, and I am listening to some -- God help us all -- Kylie Minogue.

Ugh! We're all going to die! But Kylie is so completely annoying that there is no way I can fall asleep . . . which is the point, I guess. I can't get your horrifying songs out of my head, la la la . . . (Oh, the Opera Diva is going to be soooooooooooo disappointed with me.)

Nerd News: UK Report Suggests Merging UK, US Universities

Why? So we can all compete against overseas universities popping up in Asia. O RLY?

I find it kind of amusing that it's the UK suggesting this "merger." Because, gentle reader, every year the annual global universities rankings come out (I post on it every year), and every year GUESS WHO'S ON TOP, BABY. Yes, the hated Americans!

Reliably, American universities dominate the charts. Only 2 British universities can consistently match or surpass the US Nerd Juggernaut, and those are Oxford and Cambridge. That's the cold hard truth, as is my statement that I don't know how much longer they can keep it up. As for Oxford: I've spoken with various Oxford nerds, and they all seem to agree: the place has problems of many kinds. (Some of them arise from the culture of the place and its various exclusionary hierarchies and arcane, obsolete mental blinders. I've been to Oxford on nerd business, and I came out of there frankly so happy to be an American nerd. That's all I'm going to say.)

In general: Europe's -- and the UK's -- universities are in trouble, and we've known this for a long time. In too many cases, famous universities are coasting on their names, not on their actual current quality. (Of course, this is true in the US too.)

Remember too how many talented British scholars (both students and faculty) leave the UK to come to the States. I've told you before about the great diaspora. There already IS "cooperation" -- of a sort: UK scholars are coming here. Add too the fact that international students flock to the US more than to the UK -- something the news story admits.

A final thought: maybe schools overall would be more effective and competitive if they were -- oh, I don't know, let's say something crazy and heretical here -- focused on teaching instead of social engineering and/or political activism and/or the Unholy Grail known as "Tenure."

Requiescat in Pace, Corazon Aquino

Asia's first female president and a symbol of Filipino democracy, former president Corazon Aquino has died from colon cancer. Here is a little opinion piece about the housewife who argued that personal freedom is a moral right and ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Photos here.


Hey, What's Scarier Than Swine Flu?

How about people in China dying from PNEUMONIC PLAGUE? 2 dead, with thousands more quarantined.

It's even nastier than its infamous cousin, bubonic "Black Death" plague. Did you know pneumonic death can kill you in 24 hours? DANG!

Monday Therapy + Nerdworld Soundtrack: "Uphill Battle" by Sons of Maxwell

This song seems very appropriate indeed for a Monday morning. It's also a nice addition to the ongoing Nerdworld Soundtrack. You may recognize the band!

Lyrics for "Uphill Battle" began like this:

Monday morning alarm clock's roaring,
and I'm tempted to stay safe in my bed.
All my glorious big plans that I have made
are lying in ruin in my head.
Everything I've carved in stone has quickly turned to clay.
It's like I'm fighting an uphill battle these days!


Sunday, August 02, 2009

Nerd Journal: In Which MM Regresses to Childhood -- Nerdy, Nerdy Childhood

I was looking around for a nice present to get for a sweet new baby whose parents are two dear friends of mine. Toys are fun! And, I think, too often wasted on the young -- kind of like youth itself, no?

Anyway, I found this delightful little turtle, and the thought crossed my mind: Heck, I wouldn't mind getting this FOR MYSELF.

Look at it! It's cute and plush. Ah, yes, but that's not what caught my eye. You know what did, right? You know me. I am fascinated not by cuteness or plushiness, but by THE SIMPLE AWESOME FACT THAT IT SHOOTS 8 DIFFERENT ACCURATE CONSTELLATIONS FROM ITS SHELL.

OK, accurate-ish constellations. But you remember: when I was small, I wanted to be an astronomer. Imagine turning your ceiling into a tiny planetarium. What young nerd wouldn't like that?

Now you all think I'm completely insane, don't you? Yep, I thought so. You're right, of course. But I'm still going to get a star-shooting turtle. And maybe, just maybe, I'll even give it to the baby it's intended for.

Quote of the Day: On Communication Between Men and Women

This rather tongue-in-cheek article is great fun. See this example.

On why men won't stop to ask for directions when they are driving and lost:
We know we’re lost. Of course we know that. But we are proud, simple creatures. You know that. We know that. To admit we are lost is deeply humiliating. It’s the vehicular equivalent of erectile dysfunction.
Hilarious! But come on, guys, now with GPS for the car, it's all OK, right?

Satire Alert: "Funding Dries Up in 'Cash For Incumbents' Program

Satirist Scrappleface strikes again with a perfect potshot at the government's already-incompetent "Cash for Clunkers" program.

Yes, I'd like to trade in a BUNCH of incumbents, please!

The HopeChange Chronicles: Obama Ignores Taiwan

I am not surprised, given Obama's increasingly shameful habit of ignoring allies and flattering enemies in the name of "nuance." Here is an unhappy account of Taiwan and Obama. I quote two professors/Asia experts from it:
US President Barack Obama delivered his first major policy speech on China without mentioning Taiwan or even mildly challenging Beijing on its human rights record.

Addressing the opening session of a two-day “Strategic and Economic Dialogue,” he described the meeting as “an essential step forward in advancing a positive, constructive and comprehensive relationship between our countries.”

Obama went out of his way to avoid anything controversial or upsetting to Beijing and appeared to be paving the way for a politically profitable trip to China in November.

Lee Edwards, a professor of politics and a Distinguished Fellow at The Heritage Foundation, told the Taipei Times that by ignoring human rights and Taiwan, Obama was ignoring US history and that he was sure that members of Congress would bring it to the attention of the White House staff.

“You can’t build bridges to new friends by burning bridges to old friends. I just can’t say that emphatically enough. It is very unfortunate and ill-timed,” Edwards said.

“The president’s approach shows a misreading of China. We know from history that if you kowtow to them they are going to take advantage. He should stand up for certain things. On his agenda should be human rights and the relationship we have had with Taiwan,” he said.

June Teufel Dreyer, an expert on US-Asian relations at the University of Miami, said: “He does not want to introduce contentious issues at the moment because the priority is to get some kind of cooperative relationship going. Of course these issues cannot be ignored indefinitely and at some point will have to be addressed. But I am pessimistic about it.”
You will of course remember this little foreign policy gem.

Movie Madness: Looking Forward to "Iron Man 2"

OK, Comic Con is over, and in the aftermath of the information glut, I have only a couple things to say:

2. May 7, 2010

Principal photography is, apparently, over!

The cast looks impressive, and though I am no fan of Scarlett Johansson, I'm pleased as punch that Sam Rockwell (recently brilliant in "Moon") is playing Justin Hammer. Here's hoping the sequel keeps the delightful action-humor of the first!

Plus, the viral marketing campaign has started. Check out StarkIndustriesNow.

Now for La Parisienne, because Mamma needs a new crush to purr over, here is a little gift:

Ladies, start your engines.

UPDATE 1: The response from La Parisienne: "We like something with a few miles on it." LOL!

UPDATE 2: Oh, all right. In fairness to the Cinema-Mad Sibling and all of MM's chivalrously male readers, here you go:

UPDATE 3: Hmmm, should I make a new "eye candy" blog tag?