Tuesday, November 30, 2010

News of Breaking Late Cheesecake Importance World

News aggregators are one of my favorite tools for finding things out. As I've said before, even though you don't see the widest variety of stories on cable news, there's plenty to be known, and whatever you want to know about, someone somewhere has likely reported on it recently.

That's the thing, though. Someone went out and wrote the article. It might be a lazily-done thing, but someone thought about the words they were putting down and actively said 'okay, this is good enough for me to submit'.

Someone, however, somewhere, one day got the idea that this was too much work. They would prefer to just have the computer write the story for them. This is how the scourge of automated news has come to be. Automated news writes stories according to an algorithm of some sort based on the writings of others. These writings are then combined, mashed up, and then presented as a unique piece.

Luckily for us, they do an awful job of it. Let's take this site here, which titles itself "Latest Update Headline News".

I'll use, just as an example, something totally innocuous and noncontroversial, a weird-news story: namely, that of a woman stripping naked on a flight from Chicago to New York. Let's start by showing how an actual human being working for the Associated Press- and reported in USA Today- reports on this:

Police have removed an emotionally disturbed passenger who stripped naked on a flight between Chicago and New York.
The incident happened Saturday night as Delta Flight 6562 began its descent into Kennedy Airport.

A Newsday news manager who was on the flight said flight attendants tried to cover the woman with a blanket while she yelled "No! No! No!"

The Newsday manager, David Holland, said that when the plane landed, other passengers got off before police removed the woman.

A spokeswoman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said the woman was taken to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center.

The woman's name was not released. She is not expected to be criminally charged.

And now to the automated version of events from "Latest Update Headline News", which for you may read differently from this, as the exact text may change over time:

Woman Strips Naked On JFK-Bound Flight: Police hаνе private аn emotionally uneasy newcomer whο nude exposed οn the moody between Chicago аnd Nеw York. Thе situation happened Saturday night аѕ Delta Flight 6562 ѕtаrtеd іtѕ skirmish іntο Kennedy Airport. Reports ѕаіd thаt thе Flight attendent hаѕ attempted tο cover thе women bυt ѕhе denied tο bе lonesome up. ѕhе announced NO NO NO!.

Thе reason οf hеr shameful try hаѕ nοt bееn tοld nοr thе name οf thе women revealed. Thе Newsday manager, David Holland, ѕаіd thаt whеn thе craft landed, οthеr passengers gοt οff prior to military private thе woman. Later οn, thе lady wаѕ taken tο Jamaica Hospital Medical Center.

Any questions?

Well, yes, but I meant about the quality of the articles. One was coherently written, the other is Babelfish News.

Why? Why would someone do this? There are two possible reasons, far as I can figure:

1: Someone is just that lazy. In which case, find another line of work. That's just plain awful.
2: Ad revenue. Someone doesn't even care if they have a coherent article. They just want someone to mistake it for one long enough to get them in front of some ads, which if clicked make that someone money.

It's not likely you'll come across these places very often- they're a drop in the bucket. But it's really troubling that they exist at all. Let's try and make sure they stay a drop in the bucket. Don't click their ads, and really, try not to click their links if you can pick them out.

Monday, November 29, 2010

RIP, Leslie Nielsen

Leslie Nielsen died last night at age 84.

In tribute, have some Naked Gun.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

All Hail The Chinese Strongmen

The BBC aside, state-run media's usually not all that great a source. It often tends to be a little heavy-handed towards glorifying the state and the party that runs it. CCTV of China is no exception.

And you will see examples of that in the piece provided today, but if you can get past that, here's ten minutes on how weightlifters get those big heavy things over their heads. It is, after all, an Olympic sport, with plenty of medals up for grabs, and China knows a thing or two about those.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Third-World Health News

In 1989, the United Nations called for the elimination of neonatal tetanus. A decade later, they tossed in maternal tetanus. I'm sure you know what a tetanus shot is.

Well, a few days ago, Mozambique managed to eliminate it; elimination being defined as less than 1 case per 1,000 live births. The WHO estimates there are 40 countries to go, but hasn't updated to reflect Mozambique, so really, 39 to go now.

Myanmar knocked it out back in June.

The death rate has come down 92% from the late 1980's to the last available numbers in 2008. But it's always those last annoying percentage points that prove the toughest. They were hoping to have it gone by now.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Double-Barreled Cannon

Chain shot was introduced to warfare in the 1600's by the French navy. This is two cannonballs or other projectiles connected by something, such as chain. The French used it to rip down the masts of enemy boats, to great effect, such that it became a common feature of naval warfare.

During the American Civil War, John Gilleland of Athens, Georgia tried to being the chain shot to land combat, with the one and only double-barreled cannon. It looked like any other cannon, except, well, double-barreled. It worked by placing a cannonball in each barrel, connected by a length of chain. If you wished to use it like a normal cannon, you could do that too; there were three fuses in back: one for each barrel, and then one for both together.

In April 1862, on Athens' north side, it was ready for a demonstration.

Now, the intent of the double-barreled cannon was to help cut down on the North's manpower advantage over the South. The South knew it had to do that much extra damage to the North, or else they were going to lose a war of attrition. The hope was to fire the cannon, cut a wide path of chaotic destruction, and advance through the havoc that had been wrought.

And to the cannon's credit, that is exactly what it did.

To its detriment, it did it a little too well.

The chain refused to stay connected no matter how many times they tried to fire. The cannonballs would come out, spin around wildly, and at some point the chain would always break, sending the cannonballs in two different directions of doom. One eyewitness of the first firing noted that the shot "plowed up about an acre of ground, tore up a cornfield, mowed down saplings, and [then] the chain broke, the two balls going in different directions." Another firing saw the chain break immediately, with one ball taking out the chimney of a nearby cabin, and the other turning a cow into hamburger. Some reports- unverified- claim there to be a handful of human deaths; in any case, the spectators all headed for the hills.

Well, Gilleland was happy with it. He sent it to the Confederate government in Richmond, Virginia, who sent it back, begging to differ.

It didn't remain totally out of combat, though. It saw a bit of airplay. After the failure as a weapon, it was moved to the Athens town hall as a signaling device. It got to signal in August 1864, late in the war. It, according to one account, was moved a few miles north of town, loaded with canisters, and fired sans chain.

This time, it had the proper effect. It turned out that if you took the chain out of the equation, the cannon fired just fine. Too late to save the gun's legacy, but good enough to win the day. The Northern troops saw what was getting fired and ran for their lives. After all, those crazy Confederates have a freaking double-barreled cannon.

Who knows what that thing's capable of?!

At least, that's one account. Other accounts disagree, saying that no canisters were fired, or that it was some other, normal cannon that did it and this story was just concocted to save the gun's reputation. In any case, the North did come into Athens in 1865, and disabled the damn thing just in case. It currently sits back at Athens town hall, used occasionally for ceremonial purposes.

Still pointing north.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

"Free Copy - Take It. We'll Replace It!"

And so it was that I obtained the oddest souvenir of my Hawaii vacation: the SkyMall catalog from the plane.

For anyone who has either never been on a plane, or who has never looked in that pouch in front of their seat, SkyMall is a catalog full of things you can buy- via credit card, of course- during the flight (or during the 48 hours post-flight, at least if you'd like bonus miles or discounts).

It is also some very fine in-flight entertainment.

Founded in 1990, SkyMall was created when Robert M. Worsley, flying to Seattle to Phoenix in 1989, thumbed through a Giftmaster catalog on the plane and was "startled by the poor merchandise". He set out to replace it with expensive and oddball merchandise which initially sold so poorly that SkyMall was forced to cover the cost of the extra fuel required to carry the catalogs. On top of all that, Wolsley had a heart attack in the middle of the 1991 company Christmas party. The company nearly died, being saved only when they started charging vendors by the page to appear in the catalog, and ceasing to carry inventory themselves, instead having merchandise directly sent to consumers (an initial plan was to have them order on the plane and have the purchases waiting for them at their destination). Since then, things have slowly, steadily improved for SkyMall.

That established.

When looking through the Holiday 2010 SkyMall catalog, the ridiculousness hits hard and heavy. In no particular order, and remember that all of these are actual products, linked to prove it:

"The water squirting remote controlled car." That's right, for those times when a Super Soaker just won't do, now there's an RC car you can fill with 8.5 ounces of water that can then shoot a target from 15 feet away. It's the Predator Drone of water gun battles! Amaze and piss off your friends by hiding in the living room while you get everyone wet in a manner where they can't get you back! Then gaze in awe, or actually, don't gaze, as the second the car's out of your line of sight, you accidentally run it into a wall, and then your friends stomp on it until it's a little pile of scrap! Only $99.95!

"The touchscreen video poker game." You know those little handheld poker games you can get at just about any store of sufficient size for around $15? Well, now you can get one with "touch-sensitive, color LCD with crystal-clear resolution" and seven kinds of poker included, all for the low, low, not actually low price of $99.95!

"The remote controlled tarantula. This remote-controlled tarantula scurries across flat surfaces like an actual arachnid, moving forwards and backwards on command. The spider's thorax and abdomen conceal two motors: one that drives a set of wheels that provide directional movement and one that enables the eight legs to twitch, allowing you to frighten unsuspecting arachnophobes day or night from 25' away. It has a hairy exterior, similar to the urticating hairs that cover a tarantula's abdomen, and its chelicerae suggest two hidden fangs." And you too can be an incredible dick to anyone you know who's scared of spiders for only $29.95!

"The "Keep Your Distance" bug vacuum." It's a two-foot vacuum, for bugs, that sucks them up and then zaps them. And if YOU'RE too lazy to swing a fly swatter, this can all be yours for $59.95!

"The marshmallow shooter." It's a toy gun. It shoots marshmallows 30 feet. It can also shoot foam pellets, but those aren't included. That's $24.95, BUT WAIT! THERE'S MORE! Are you just not sure what to shoot your marshmallows at? Then get the Marshmallow Target, which "plays one of four different sounds when hit. Requires two AA batteries", for only $19.95 more!

"The voice-interactive alarm clock." Knows 12 phrases, none of which are "Shut the hell up, I'm trying to sleep." $49.95.

"The Brobdingnagian sports chair." It's one of those fold-up fabric chairs, but 5 and a half feet tall. Sure to irritate any poor schmucks behind you, but the back serves as an ideal shield for any beer they wish to throw at you! Unless they stand up and are over 5 feet, 6 inches tall. This golden shower comes for only $149.95!

"These little helmets are guaranteed to be a big hit with true NFL fans." Namely, miniature helmets of all 32 NFL teams. I have a set of these helmets myself. They did not come with a wooden display case, but then, I don't need a wooden display case. And in any event, the helmets cost me far, far less than $99.99.

Speaking of, let's move on to the coasters. The SkyMall catalog provides for eight teams, five baseball, three football: the Cubs, Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals, Yankees, Red Sox, Cowboys, Jets, and New York Giants. The rest of Major League Baseball, though, is available through the website, along with the Alabama Crimson Tide. You get a set of four per team for the low, low, price of $39.99. That's only $10 per coaster. But really, what's the cost compared with the unthinkable scenario of that little tiny bit of wetness on your table?

Or dirt? On second thought, scratch that: you can buy the dirt! Authentic dirt! The baseball coasters come with a small bit of actual dirt included (the football ones with authentic FieldTurf)! You can also buy dirt in paperweight form, coming from either the inaugural season of the Minnesota Twins' Target Field, the final season of Old Yankee Stadium, or any old dirt from Fenway Park! Again, it's authentic; we're not screwing you with that garbage you've got in your front yard. It will, however, run you $49.99.

Or-- OR-- if you're a Twins fan and don't want your dirt authenticated from the inaugural season of Target Field, you can get your dirt alongside a picture of Joe Mauer! It's an extra $10, making it $59.99, but... Joe Mauer! A picture of him! You can also get Phillies dirt with a picture of Roy Halladay, Giants dirt with a picture of Tim Lincecum, Rockies dirt with a picture of Troy Tulowitski, Nationals dirt with a picture of Stephen Strasburg, or Yankees dirt with a picture of Derek Jeter getting his 2,722nd career hit! (That was the one where he passed Lou Gehrig for the Yankees team record, which everyone will immediately forget about the second he reaches 3,000.)

Or, if you're on a budget, you can get stupid old Wrigley Field dirt for $29.99. You cheap bastard.

Yankees fans can also have sod from Old Yankee Stadium- dirt with freeze-dried grass attached- for $99.99, a brick from Monument Park for $179.99, an even older brick from Old Yankee Stadium for $349.99, an autographed picture of Alex Rodriguez for $499.99, or a seat from Old Yankee Stadium for $799.99, which I hope you're buying for the historic value, because the seat itself is about as comfortable as you'd expect a baseball stadium seat to be.

"Take your favorite car for a spin every time you work on your computer." These are Road Mice, miniatures of various cars that function as computer mice. They're basically computer mice, but with turning circles. Wired for $34.99, wireless for $44.99, or you can have 'premium' computer-mice models of fancier cars for only $64.99!

"Give a gift of money or a gift card inside one of these games- they'll have to win the game to get their prize." For $14.99, you can force your friend to play pinball to claim their gift. For only $12.99, you can make them shuffle a little ball through a cubic maze difficult enough to where there's a chance they will never claim their gift at all and proceed to hate you even more than if you hadn't given them a damn thing! So much more thoughtful than doing something silly like tacking the cost of the game onto the value of the gift and just giving that to the friend, and so much more exciting than the utter predictability of still having a friend at the end of the night!

You know those inflatable floppy dancing guys you see outside car dealerships? Why, from the comfort of an airplane, you can buy your very own for $499! Or a hot air balloon for $1,895 (catalog includes inflatable Godzilla)! Or a giant inflatable panda with a shirt on for $2,295!

"Personalized New York Times birthday book." This is a book consisting of a reprint of the New York Times from the day you were born- a complete reprint, with the ads, the personals, everything. Perfect for anyone in your family who doesn't know enough to Google the same exact thing. Only $99.95!

"Irrational numbers wall clock." Are your clocks usable by normal human beings? You can fix that problem for only $34.95 by replacing the numbers 1-12 with a series of irrational numbers, such as pi, or the square root of 2! It's always 3.14159-o'clock somewhere! And if you're too embarrassed by your hometown to say it outright, why not get a personalized latitude/longitude welcome mat for $32.95? It says "WELCOME TO" and then the coordinates of your hometown.

For four dollars more, it's also available as a watch.

Is your garden just too tasteful? Why not mar the entire neighborhood with with a statue of a naked peeing child? "This classic image will bring timeless art to your home or garden." As well as many interesting visitors! A replica of Brussels' Mannekinpis can be had, complete with a "recirculating pump to create a fountain display" for a mere $198!

"Lightsaber Chopsticks." For the Star Wars fan who has everything! Everything. A disturbing amount of things. Quick, shuffle through any random catalog you can find and look for something he might not have yet. Aside from a girlfriend. Only $21.99. Or you can get a Jawa garden gnome for $34.99, a Darth Vader toaster for $54.99 (burns an image of Darth Vader into the toast!), or a Death Star cookie jar for $49.99.

And, of course, if you don't have the skill to hit a golf ball 200 feet with a golf club- that's 67 yards- you can purchase a trebuchet to do the job for you for $149.

Get moving. Black Friday's tomorrow.

Hawaii's Art Scene and the Shocking Difficulties of the Rapid-Fire Book Club

I am a day back from vacation, and that means I'm back online. This is the first Internet access I've had; I came home to a busted modem. First off, the Rapid-Fire Book Club has two entries to be made:

Farquhar, Michael- A Treasury of Deception: Liars, Misleaders, Hoodwinkers, and the Extraordinary True Stories of History's greatest Hoaxes, Fakes, and Frauds
Keale Sr., Moses K.; Tava, Rerioterai- Niihau: The Traditions of an Hawaiian Island

That second one did not come easy. Hawaii has a vibrant creative culture. They have their own music style (Don Ho, anyone?), and practice it extensively. Pre-existing songs will commonly be covered in the Hawaiian style, and even if you didn't want to hear it, it's pretty tough to get away from. Artists are even easier to find. I stumbled upon one by accident at one point, named Midori, when a painting caught my eye at a gift shop at Byodo-in Temple. As it turned out, she was the gift shop's cashier. (If you happen to be in the area, stop on by; she's quite good. Wish I could link her, but she doesn't seem to have a link to go to.) Dance is particularly alive and well; not just hula can be found, but also urban-style dancing, clubbing, and if you head out to the Polynesian Cultural Center, the show 'Breath of Life' will take it away, especially when the fire comes out. Paintings, sculptures, murals, jewelry, physical movement, and much any other kind of creative expression is completely at home on Oahu.

Except books, apparently.

Sure, there are your Hawaiian books, there are places to buy them. But there aren't many. It's Borders, Barnes and Noble, and then a smattering of utterly forgettable places that you forget even as you drive past them. And it's understandable. In a city that is such a global cultural nexus as Honolulu, visual and aural art can speak to everyone present, but the written word can only speak to those who speak that language. And when English, Hawaiian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Tagalog, and your more popular European languages all try to fight for airtime in one place, any one book will only have a limited audience.

Which makes it tough to find something good that you aren't just as, or more, likely to find back home.

Eventually, though, I settled on the book on Niihau. The reason for that is, as tough as it was to find a good Hawaiian book, it would be even tougher to set foot on Niihau.

Why? I'm not a native of Niihau. There are only just a few hundred natives of that island, and while they are able to freely travel to and from Niihau, you and I are not. It's known as the Forbidden Island for this reason. Niihau is a place that hangs on, as best it can, to old Hawaiian tradition. Niihauans keep their history primarily through storytelling which sometimes mixes with Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill-style tall tales. The book I purchased was originally published in 1989, and was the first real written history of the island. There are still very few titles out there about the place.

Which, being a guardian of old Hawaiian tradition, likely serves to further explain the dearth of literature on the islands. But seeing as the Hawaiian creative soul has been channeled into so many other outlets, it's rather hard to complain much about it.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Bad Idea, Take 87 Billion And One

I'm posting from the Apple Store at Waikiki, first time I've had enough online time to fire off a blog post all vacation. But I'll be damned if I let this place go a week and a half without an update. I've been keeping a near-daily upkeep since I began the blog in February, and the only reason I haven't gotten anything off since Tuesday is due to lack of having Internet access at all.

But, it's still got to be quick.

So... the dollar coin. You hate it. You've rejected it 87 billion times, and even so, a few sad, sad vending machines out there are still trying to get you to bring them your golden Sacajawea coins.

Perhaps you'd be interested if-- no, no, you won't be interested. But here's an Abe Lincoln dollar coin anyway that will serve to win you many bar bets by asking what coin Abe Lincoln is on, and get you in many bar fights by trying to actually use it as currency.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Rapid-Fire Book Club, Something To Read On The Plane Edition

Poking around, it appears Oahu has not much in the way of bookstores (aside from Borders and Barnes and Noble), so I figured I'd grab one extra for the trip before leaving.

I grabbed Waiter Rant: Thanks For The Tip- Confessions Of A Cynical Waiter, by Steve Dublanica, the man behind

And now back to trip prep and ungodly-hour driving to the airport, a half-asleep run through those full-body scanners, watching dad get a patdown because he forgot to actually take the metal out of his pockets (again; it wouldn't be a trip through the security check without dad making some kind of rookie mistake), an estimated 12 hours of flight, and then Hawaii.

More Stuff To Frighten Your Children

I enjoyed ruining your childhood memories by instilling a primal fear of Tinkerbell so much, I thought I'd continue down that general path today. I could just go Brothers Grimm if I wanted a quick hit. But Brothers Grimm is too obvious. Too easy.

I'm hitting up the Struwwlpeter, an 1845 "children's book" by Heinrich Hoffman, translated into English a few years later by Mark Twain, and which you might have heard Dwight Schrute read in an episode of The Office. The first edition of the book was printed anonymously, titled "Funny Stories and Whimsical Pictures with 15 Beautifully Coloured Panels for Children Aged 3 to 6".

Lies. Blatant lies.

Let's begin with the title character, Struwwlpeter, or 'Slovenly Peter':

See this frowsy "cratur"
Pah! it's Struwwelpeter
On his fingers rusty,
On his two-head musty,
Scissors seldom come;
Lets his talons grow a year
Do any loathe him? Some!
They hail him "Modern satyr -
Disgusting Struwwelpeter."

Which one to do next... let's go with the story of Augustus Who Not Have Any Soup:

Augustus was a chubby lad;
Fat ruddy cheeks Augustus had;
And everybody saw with joy
The plump and hearty healthy boy.
He ate and drank as he was told,
And never let his soup get cold.
But one day, one cold winter's day,
He threw away the spoon and screamed:
"O take the nasty soup away!
I won't have any soup to-day:
I will not, will not eat my soup!
I will not eat it, no!"

Next day! now look, the picture shows
How lank and lean Augustus grows!
Yet, though he feels so weak and ill,
The naughty fellow cries out stillÑ
"Not any soup for me, I say!
O take the nasty soup away!
I will not, will not eat my soup!
I will not eat it, no!"

The third day comes. O what a sin!
To make himself so pale and thin.
Yet, when the-soup is put on table,
He screams, as loud as he is ableÑ
"Not any soup for me, I say!
O take the nasty soup away!
I won't have any soup to-day!"

Look at him, now the fourth day's come!
He scarce outweighs a sugar-plum;

He's like a little bit of thread;
And on the fifth day he was-dead.

That's right, kids. Soup is the only food in the world, and going even one day without it will cause you to start visibly wasting away. In five days, you will die. Never mind the survival experts who figure an initially-healthy person can potentially, according to doctor's reports, go as long as 4-6 weeks without food (more typically, figure a week), and that victims of the Holocaust- much of which took place in, yes, Germany- managed to survive for several months on 300-600 calories a day. The obese- which we might classify Augustus as, given that he's chubby with fat ruddy cheeks at the start- can go anywhere from 3-25 weeks. Surely, he will live past Day 5.

But anyway. Onwards! Let's go next to the story of Flying Robert.

When the rain comes tumbling down
In the country or the town,
All good little girls and boys
Stay at home and mind their toys.
Robert thought, - "No, when it pours,
It is better out of doors."
Rain it did, and in a minute
Bob was in it.
Here you see him, silly fellow,
Underneath his red umbrella.

What a wind! Oh! how it whistles
Through the trees and flow'rs and thistles.
It has caught his red umbrella;
Now look at him, silly fellow,
Up he flies
To the skies.
No one heard his screams and cries;
Through the clouds the rude wind bore him,
And his hat flew on before him.

Soon they got to such height,
They were nearly out of sight!
And the hat went Up so high,
That it almost touch'd the sky.
No one ever yet could tell
Where they stopp'd, or where they fell;
Only this one thing is plain,
Rob was never seen again!

You've got to really look closely for this one to make any sense at all. If you do some interpretation on the last illustration, out in the far distance, you can see something that might be a tornado. It's almost certainly out too far to catch Robert with his umbrella, and even if Robert did get caught up, he could always, I don't know, let go of the umbrella. Nobody ever said anything about any particular attachment to it, merely a preference for walking in the rain.

As for the tornado itself, tornadoes do happen in Europe. They're not nearly as common as they are in the United States, but tornadoes do hit Germany, and everywhere else in Europe. So if that's what Hoffman was going for, no arguments on that. If he was simply going for a rainstorm, though, we've got issues.

But let go of the damned umbrella, Robert.

And finally, we simply must read the story of Little Suck-a-Thumb.

One day, Mamma said, "Conrad dear,
I must go out and leave you here.
But mind now, Conrad, what I say,
Don't suck your thumb while I'm away.
The great tall tailor always comes
To little boys that suck their thumbs.
And ere they dream what he's about
He takes his great sharp scissors
And cuts their thumbs clean off, - and then
You know, they never grow again."

Mamma had scarcely turn'd her back,
The thumb was in, alack! alack!

The door flew open, in he ran,
The great, long, red-legged scissorman.
Oh! children, see! the tailor's come
And caught our little Suck-a-Thumb.

Snip! Snap! Snip! the scissors go;
And Conrad cries out - Oh! Oh! Oh!
Snip! Snap! Snip! They go so fast;
That both his thumbs are off at last.
Mamma comes home; there Conrad stands,
And looks quite sad, and shows his hands;-
"Ah!" said Mamma "I knew he'd come
To naughty little Suck-a-Thumb."

I can't find for certain whether tailors in that era went door-to-door. But... um... yeah.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tinkerbell Is A Jerk

Yes, I wrote that. Today, you and your children- your children, surely- view Tinkerbell, and her conveniently ethnically-diverse friends, as cute, nice, friendly, slightly ditzy wads o'fun and wonder.

Cute I'll give you. But do not be fooled by the friendly persona. This is actually Tinkerbell's community service. In actuality, left to her own devices without her girlfriends present, Tinkerbell is a jerk.

You don't believe me? Take a look at the first minute and a half of this...

...and then pick up this clip at 50 seconds and go for the next minute or so.

You might think this a bit on the shocking side to watch. Tinkerbell wouldn't do that!

Oh, yes, she would. In fact, that's about par for the course, maybe a tad on the mild side for her kind. You have to remember, this is a fairy on the payroll of Disney. When you hear about something being 'Disney-fied' or 'Disneyed up' or something to that effect, you take it to mean that whatever it is has been toned down, glossed over, and made more family-friendly.

Fairies- and other mythical magical beings- are more accurately depicted as beings that view humans largely as playthings. As Terry Pratchett once wrote...

Elves are wonderful. They provoke wonder.
Elves are marvellous. They cause marvels.
Elves are fantastic. They create fantasies.
Elves are glamorous. They project glamour.
Elves are enchanting. They weave enchantment.
Elves are terrific. They beget terror.
The thing about words is that meanings can twist just like a snake, and if you want to find snakes look for them behind words that have changed their meaning.
No one ever said elves are nice.
Elves are bad.

By the way, it should be noted at this point that Peter Pan doesn't come off very well in those clips either.

You know the 2008 Angelina Jolie movie 'Changeling'? The one where she loses her son, then gets something back that isn't actually her son and then the trailer ends with her yelling "I want MY son back!" That's what a changeling is. In folklore, it was used to explain any child that failed to grow up properly due to what we'd recognize today as sickness or mental disability or even bad temper. It was believed that the real child had been taken away by the Fair Folk and replaced with one of their own.

Naturally, if this happened to you, you'd want your child back. If the parent didn't opt to merely do something spectacularly strange, such as carry water in eggshells, this is where things tended to get ugly for the changeling, which as we today know, was still actually their real child. One folk remedy instructed a parent to "Take it out to the meadow where you left your previous child and beat it hard with a switch." Other solutions took similar liberties with the changeling's welfare.

Of course, we no longer engage in this practice, right? Someone might want to tell Egypt, or at least Egypt circa 1982, as a folktale book from that year by Hasan M. El-Shamy reports localized beliefs involving jinn (genies) as "widespread".

Oh, yes, jinn. Consider them Middle Eastern Fair Folk.

A small sampling of their other exploits:

*In A Midsummer Nights Dream, you have fairies. Fairies that took the nectar from a flower which, when applied to someone's eyes, would cause them to fall in love with the next person they saw, and the fairy king, Oberon, first used it on his wife to get her to be attracted to someone else in a love triangle on the other side of the plot. 'First'. There were additional uses.
*Sleeping Beauty begins with a king and queen that have a daughter. They round up all the fairies they can find, and the custom is that each one gives the child a gift. The first six give the daughter beauty, grace, wit, and the ability to sing, dance and play instruments. The seventh, who you know as Maleficent, gives the gift of pricking oneself on a spindle and dying at age 16. The eighth softens it to merely sleeping for 100 years.
*Another fairy tale, Katie Crackernuts, sees a prince rendered sick unto death because fairies make him get up at midnight, travel to a hall, and dance to exhaustion.
*In more recent writing, Charles de Lint's 2004 book The Blue Girl features a character who is a ghost. The fairies here befriended him, told him they could make him fly (which they could; the Fair Folk can't lie), but when he tried to by leaping off the school roof, just for a laugh, they went ahead and let him fall. Then they wondered why his ghost was ticked off at them.

In conclusion: don't cross Tinkerbell. You don't know when she might slip back into old habits.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

What Art's Been Going For Lately

To be honest, this post began life as a Random News Generator, with Liechtenstein the lucky winner. However, it just so happens there's a pop artist with that exact last name, Roy Liechtenstein, and he made more news lately than the country did, which, by the way, today entered into an agreement with the United Kingdom to shed part of its reputation as a tax dodge haven by declaring the names of people who bank there without paying taxes in the UK. London has recently struck a similar deal with Switzerland, and is looking to add three more countries to the pile that it will not name so that the tax dodgers don't run off before they can catch them.

Great news, to be sure. But back to the artist. On Wednesday, Roy's 'Ohhh...Alright' set a personal best for Liechtenstein at auction, going for $42.6 million. His previous record was $16.2. This was part of a flurry of bidding on post-war and contemporary art in New York as of late, the week past running up a total bill north of $750 million. Two other record-setters:

*Alexander Calder, who had a standing mobile go for $6,354,000.

*Feliz Gonzalez-Torres of Cuba, who with a 90-kilogram untitled pile of wrapped candy upped his mark from $1.65 million to $4.4 million.

*Cindy Sherman, whose untitled work went for $2.8 million. No word on the previous record.

Records were also set by Mark Tansey and Rudolf Stingel, though no word on for what.

Andy Warhol failed to beat his record, but his 'Men In Her Life', a painting of a between-husbands Elizabeth Taylor, fetched $63.3 million, the highlight of a whole bunch of Warhol sales. His record stands at $71.7 million for 'Green Car Crash (Green Burning Car 1)'.

The big art bidding war, though, was in London by a small family-run auction house, Bainbridge's, for a Chinese vase from the Qianlong Dynasty, discovered sitting humbly on the bookshelf of a London family that wishes to remain nameless. They thought it was just a normal vase, but had it insured for 800 pounds because it looked pretty nice. As it turned out, 'pretty nice' was an epic understatement. They were housecleaning, brought in someone to figure out what some stuff in their house might be worth if they got rid of it, and he found the vase. Once he authenticated it, the media alarm was sounded.

Then several Chinese consortiums got involved. China is very keen lately on reclaiming cultural properties of theirs, similar to what Egypt's been doing for years (and Iran and India as well), and money is no object. And with deep-pocketed China bidding against deep-pocketed China, things got very expensive very quickly.

One more record, for Chinese porcelain, Asian art, and in fact anything that's not a painting or bronze sculpture, a ridiculous $85.6 million.

So if you're the offspring of any of these artists, is it something you'd want to get into as well?

For them, it's not really about the potential payday, but rather the artistic integrity. It thus depends on if you're comfortable living under the name and living with the fact that your work may be influenced by theirs. It's really pretty complicated.

But if you're not one of those offspring... seriously, go get yourself some art supplies.

Friday, November 12, 2010

We Need More (And Less) Of This

Earlier tonight- a day I spent putting time into my club-soccer book- I stumbled upon the Rachel Maddow Show. Tonight, she was spending the hour talking with Jon Stewart, who has been sick with what he calls "the bubons", which is a pretty good way to describe a bug that's recently been making the rounds more or less everywhere you look including my whole family (but not me personally, fingers crossed).

As it happens, that hour was one of the most intelligent and refreshing hours of television I have seen in quite some time. Here you have two very smart, rational individuals having a calm discussion about, mostly, the media's role in politics (including Rachel and Jon's own roles), and an amazing thing happened when they disagreed:

Neither one raised their voice in anger.

They found common ground. They ceded ground. They agreed to disagree. They did all this calmly, talking like normal human beings who just happened to be very very smart (and one of whom was very very sick). And what's more, they were kind of working without a net. Rachel had a small bit of notes, but by her admission, the discussion got away pretty early on from the intended set of questions because neither one was getting bored with the topic they were finding themselves discussing (which I have no problem with whatsoever; there is no sense cutting off a good debate with 'we'll have to leave it there'), and Jon had no notes at all. It's just two people in chairs shooting the breeze. It led to a smattering of factual errors, but really, you try having a discussion of that length sometime with that few notes and not screwing anything up. You probably fail at it all the time. So do I. I spend time away from the Internet. My memory's not perfect. (We'll see how they handle the errors they did make. They have time now to go over what they biffed; we'll see if corrections are forthcoming.)

The raw feed can be found here; it goes nearly 50 minutes, so set some time aside.

The problem is that the national debate in this country has become so utterly poisoned that I go around looking at reactions to the discussion on Facebook and Daily Kos and Penny Arcade- all places that saw the debate- and a not-insignificant number of people failed to pick up on the tone at all. They started to look for a "winner" (usually Maddow, giving no slack to Jon being sick, which, really, you try being at the peak of your cognitive skills when you're throwing up all day long), in the process completely missing the point of what was going on. They think Jon had a fall from grace, that he should stick to jokes. One said if she had seen this before the Rally to Restore Sanity, she'd have skipped it.

Why do we have to declare a winner and a loser? This is not what this discussion was. Jon and Rachel even expressed mutual respect for each other. Jon didn't even have to appear on the show. Sick, remember? He could have cancelled. Yet he showed enough respect for Rachel that he sucked it up and fought the bug (and at the close of proceedings, called Maddow his "ginger root".)

This is the core of the underlying political problem plaguing us. Too many of us have lost the ability to talk to one another. Worse, too many of us seem to look at someone with which we disagree on some things, look at another person with which we disagree on all things, and reserve our greatest contempt for the former, acting as if they're betraying us. If you don't agree with me on everything, you're the enemy and must be destroyed along with all the others.

That needs to stop. This isn't a football game, where it's one team fighting another team. This is the Royal Rumble: a whole bunch of people in one ring, every man for themselves. Two of our forefathers would tell you themselves-- Ben Franklin once said "We must all hang together or surely we shall all hang separately"; Abe Lincoln said "A house divided against itself cannot stand."

We may not agree on the best way to move the country forward, but an utter contempt for anyone that disagrees with us on anything sure as hell is not it. If we don't learn to listen to one another, we all go down together.

Think about this: If we were bombed tomorrow morning by a foreign entity, any one you care to think of, would we set our differences aside and do something about it, or would we sit around and bicker about which party is to blame and speculate about the impact on the 2012 elections for so long that the same entity bombs us a second time?

If you even consider for a second that it might not be the first option, it's time to have a serious think about just how far our regard for each other has fallen, and what you personally are willing to do about it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Things Black Holes Might Do

Burp. Or 'blow bubbles', as the article put it. I am probably going to make a mess of the explanation provided within, but here's my best shot:

You might have heard of 'Hawking radiation'- kudos if you have- but for those who haven't, it's a principle by Stephen Hawking that a black hole doesn't necessarily keep all the matter it sucks in forever, but rather leaks out the odd particle here and there, which pops up just outside the event horizon. How that's supposed to work, don't ask me. He's Stephen Hawking and I'm not. Eventually- billions of years down the road, maybe trillions- if the black hole doesn't suck in anything else, it will one day evaporate due to lack of mass.

That established, the article has found a big mass of gamma-ray-emitting gas, shaped like a pair of bubbles, on either end of the black hole at the center of the Milky Way. Douglas Finkbinder of Harvard, leader of a team of people that found it, thinks it might have come when the black hole took in a lot of matter at once and, basically, burped. Or "expelled jets of material".

Really, just click the link. I'm afraid to venture any further attempts on this one.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Tonawanda Kardex

In the modern-day NFL, it's easy to forget the league's roots; the years prior to the first Super Bowl are rarely brought up beyond vague references to leather helmets. It's often easy to forget any sports league's roots, in fact; the days before the league stabilized, expanded, and built the palatial stadiums they currently call home. It's easy to forget the sport's humble beginnings, when teams popped up anywhere that would have them, when games were played in less-than-ideal facilities more likely than not built for something else, when it was uncertain which teams would live and which teams would die, but it was certain that if the league wasn't careful, EVERY team would die. It often makes for some of the most fascinating stories any sport has to offer, as one can sit watching highly-trained athletes with highly specialized skills decked out in state-of-the-art equipment and marvel at how, many years ago, these same athletes would have been semi-random guys with day jobs trying to make do with whatever was handy that day.

I imagine part of the reason I take an interest in it is because, at least in the NFL's case, I'm in the catchment area of the last true callback to that era of the NFL, the Green Bay Packers- the last blue-collar, small-factory-town team. Other teams from that era exist, but the callback sputters out somehow for all but the Packers. The Chicago Bears are no longer the Decatur Staleys. The Detroit Lions are no longer the Portsmouth Spartans. The New York Giants are still the New York Giants, but... they're the New York Giants, not the Poughkeepsie Giants or the Utica Giants or the Syracuse Giants.

Most of the other teams from that era have simply died off. The graves of teams such as the Hammond Pros, Oorang Indians and Rock Island Independents go unmarked and unvisited, even teams that won titles such as the Providence Steam Roller and the Pottsville Maroons (whose title was later taken away and given to what are now the Arizona Cardinals, a transgression that Pottsville curses the owning Bidwell family for to this day). And even among these gravestones, there is one that is less loved than any other, seen only as a curiosity: the Tonawanda Kardex.

The official record will show the Kardex, otherwise known as the Lumbermen, as having lost one game in 1921, a road game, by the score of 45-0, and then folding. This is officially the shortest tenure in NFL history. In reality, it's a little more complicated than that.

Tonawanda, a suburb of Buffalo, first saw the All-Tonawanda All-Stars in 1916, playing semi-pro ball at a high school field. Coached by Walter "Tam" Rose, the All-Stars played in the the New York Pro Football League, which would later merge with a like-minded league in Ohio to create the NFL. The All-Stars-slash-Lumbermen would win that league in their second season, 1917, defeating the Rochester Jeffersons in the final. 1919 brought a trip to the semifinals.

In 1920, New York and Ohio joined forces to create the American Professional Football League, which would later be renamed the NFL. The Lumbermen were not part of the inaugural class, but would play a mixture of teams that were and teams that weren't. They went 7-1, including a 14-3 win over the Jeffersons on Thanksgiving (which, by the way, was the first year of the NFL Thanksgiving tradition.)

In 1921, however, the league worked to keep league teams from playing non-league teams. Tonawanda decided to take the plunge- it only cost $50 to join.

There were, however, two changes made. They were renamed the Tonawanda Kardex, after sponsor Rand Kardex, an company that six years later would become Remington Rand, the company that created UNIVAC. The other change was that the Kardex would be a traveling team. If they were going pro, the Kardex needed money, and Tonawanda, New York was not the place to go look for money. They wouldn't be the only such team; the Buffalo News reported at the time that there would be "eight or ten such teams to do the touring to the big cities where the dough lies."

First, though, was a tuneup against the Syracuse Pros, who were themselves in what would be their only pro season, and who Tonawanda had previously done well against. Syracuse would have won the game, but a last-second touchdown reception was pulled back on a holding call. The game ended a scoreless tie, contributing to Syracuse's professional lifetime record of 0-2-1, but not counted in Tonawanda's record. Next was supposed to be a game against the amateur Rochester Scalpers, but the game was cancelled. Instead, the Kardex would begin their professional career against the Rochester Jeffersons, who they knew they could take.

They couldn't. The Jeffersons crushed them 45-0, the worst defeat the Kardex had ever suffered. No further details on the game are available.

The writing was on the wall. The Kardex were not up to professional standards and they knew it, folding with only the one game on their record. The Professional Football Researchers Association shows they couldn't find any more opponents to play, but that was probably fine by them. The next season, the franchise fee rose from $50 to $1,000, but the PFRA figured the Kardex "wouldn't have operated had the guarantee been 10 cents."

Buffalo had another team in that era, but it was so haphazard and chaotic that Wikipedia is left calling it "Buffalo (1920s NFL teams)". And with this team and the Kardex, Buffalo's illustrious life of professional football was underway.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Not-Recommended Diet of the Day

27 pounds lost on Twinkies, Doritos and Oreos.

This was undertaken by Matt Haub of Kansas State, who did this diet in an effort to drive home the point of calorie-counting in weight loss. He also tossed in celery, vitamins and protein shakes, but now watch as porkenheimers the nation over start gleefully sucking down the Twinkies (while ignoring the celery, vitamins and protein shakes) while claiming it's healthy and that it's a "lifestyle choice" to not move under their own power.

Internal Programming Note

On the 16th, I'll be on my way to Hawaii via a stopover in Phoenix (yes, yes, I know my boycott; I didn't pick the tickets and am hoping to buy any in-flight food and drink either on the plane or in Milwaukee). I return to Wisconsin on the 23rd.

If I have enough time to make updates over the course of the trip, I will make an effort to do so. You're pretty much guaranteed not to get anything on the 16th and 23rd themselves; flying from Milwaukee to Phoenix to Honolulu- and coming back the same way- takes a little eensy bit of time.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

In Other Election News...

...we have a Russian performance artist named Oleg Mavromatti, currently based in Bulgaria, who has recieved some death threats accusing him of inciting religious hatred in a previous piece where he had himself crucified.

He has responded by creating a new piece, which he calls Ally/Foe, in which he is putting himself in an electric chair and putting it to an online vote on whether he lives or dies.

Clearly, this guy is unaware of the general demeanor of the Internet, in which normal people end up acting like jerks for no good reason. There's even a theory for it.

As I post this, the vote is not yet active. However, if anyone would like to head over and save him from himself, that would be greatly appreciated. The linked article supplies further information on just what's going on. He'll be in the chair for a week- and probably a whole lot longer than that if things go pear-shaped for him- and so you'll have that long to save his hide. The website is available in English, as well as Russian and Bulgarian. I want to stress here: this is a real person who, if you vote against him, has rigged it so he will really die. If you head over and then vote against him, that's on you.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Unseen Election

So I have Internet after all today. Cool. Let's go with that.

Okay, so the Republicans pretty clearly won the night. There is split control of Congress, but Republicans had a good night all the way down into state and local.


Yes. There is a 'but' to the whole thing. Look deeper. Really very deeper. Into the murky depths of the ballot. Specifically, have a look at the ballot questions. The referendums. More specifically, have a look at the referendums that did not get primetime play on the news.

There, you'll find something a little counterintuitive: the liberal sides of the ballot questions start winning more often. The GOP wave peters out to a degree. It goes deep, very very deep, but as deep as it goes, it's still a top-down thing. It doesn't quite reach the roots.

In Dane County and the city of River Falls, both in Wisconsin, a ballot question was put forward to express nonbinding support for medical marijuana. Dane County contains famously liberal Madison, but River Falls is in a much redder area. Now, you would think that if a highly-publicized campaign on legalizing marijuana in generally-more-liberal California failed, and if Republicans ran more or less roughshod over the Democrats elsewhere in Wisconsin, you would think this unnoticed, unremarked-upon-by-anyone ballot question on medical marijuana would fail as well.

But it didn't. It passed in both Dane County and River Falls. In fact, it outperformed the actual candidates in Dane County.

Spending bills that caught the eye of the media went down to defeat nationwide, as voters balked at, really, spending any money on anything.

But then here's Alaska- Sarah Palin's Alaska- approving $397.2 million in spending bonds for things such as schools, libraries, fish and game research, and even $80 million for a sports arena in Anchorage. That shouldn't have happened, should it? And would you peg Ohio voters as approving $1 billion in bonds of their own? And would you peg voters in Idaho as approving three different bond measures of their own, allowing for borrowing by cities, airports and hospitals? Without being subject to a vote, in fact?

The aforementioned California, through Proposition 19, decided against legalizing marijuana. But further down, in less-publicized Proposition 23 (okay, still publicized, but less so than 19, which is the point here), they also decided against suspending action on cutting greenhouse gas emissions until unemployment dips below 5.5%.

Oklahoma voters, as you might have heard, banned Sharia law. Kansas, meanwhile, you might not have heard, banned mental illness as a disqualification for voting.

A smoking ban was extended in South Dakota, 64-36.

Jan Brewer and the rest of the Republican Party dominated in Arizona, but they couldn't get an early-childhood education program killed.

Colorado killed a proposal to apply the term 'person' starting at the date of conception. They also killed three different proposed tax cuts.

Florida decided against increasing class sizes. ...well, really, they voted 55-45 in favor, but the measure needed 60% to pass, and it didn't get that.

And you'll note that I haven't even mentioned anything New England did.

So what gives? Why didn't these ballot questions, which being lower-profile would seem quite susceptible to succumbing to a conservative wave election such as this, not succumb? Why did they still break for the liberals in spite of everything?

My theory is this.

The current conservatively-advantaged enironment, as is widely figured, is built on rage. Voter outrage. That is the fuel, that is the life of the movement. And when that rage is focused on something, whatever stands in its way has a tendency to wither in response. But the rage can only be taken so far. There's only so much room on the front page of a newspaper; only so many primetime coverage that can be given out; only so much attention that can be paid to things before it all becomes a blur too difficult to make out.

Anyone out there with one of those deluxe sports packages, in order to see this for yourself, go to the channel that displays all the games on the screen at once. See how well you can follow eight, nine NFL early games at once. I'd wager you can follow one or two, three at the most. Any more than that and you will start going 'ooh, what's going on over there, hey, that guy's in the red zone WAIT WHY DO THE TITANS HAVE THE BALL NOW? SHOW THE REPLAY SO I CAN SEE HOW THE TITANS GOT THE-- hang on, the Chargers just scored--- THE CHARGERS JUST SCORED? GAH, THERE GO MY NUMBERS IN THE POOL! SOMEBODY GO TO COMMERCIAL!'

You can only be outraged about so much. Sooner or later, something is going to slip in under the radar. People like to complain about legislators not reading the bills. This is the voter equivalent. There's way too many bills for a legislator to be able to read without the help of a staff, and same goes for races on a ballot. And voters don't have a staff to help them. The rage subsides because the rage cannot focus on everything. And issues don't have a D or R by their name to tell you who's supporting what.

And when the rage subsides, when the attention goes away, when a race goes unremarked-upon by anyone... the true, subconscious feeling of the voters reverts to a somewhat more liberal norm. That's my theory, anyway.

And it's a difficult spot to be in, a catch-22. You want to campaign for your issues, but if you campaign for them, conservative outrage takes over, and even if you win your issues, you personally don't get to benefit from the win because you didn't campaign on it and you might have lost your own race due to your base not having anything to support you over.

So, absent the obvious- a taking-back of the topline narrative- what do you do about it?

Game Time

Internet's unreliable today, so scrounged around for a nice puzzle game for you.

Here's one. Atom Chain Reaction.

You have a grid, 18x15, of atoms. The atoms have four sides, with smaller electrons connected to two of the sides. Your role in the proceedings is to pick one of those atoms in the grid, and click it. The atom will rotate clockwise. Should either of the smaller electrons meet the electrons of a neighboring atom, that atom will then rotate. This will kick off a chain reaction that, if you've chosen wisely, will soon proceed to get large sections of the grid all going at once.

The object is to create the biggest chain reaction you can from that one click. I did some rounds before posting it, and the number to beat I'm giving you is 1,622.

It may look at first like luck, and a big selection to pick from- 270 atoms are in the grid- but if you pay attention to the grid layout before you click, you can anticipate enough of how the chain reaction will start to where you can narrow your search down to pick between a few likely-looking atoms.

American Idol, Sort Of

American Idol is running ads for the upcoming season regarding the fact that they represent, well, a broad cross-section of America. Fair enough, they certainly go to a broad enough cross-section of audition cities.

This would have passed by unnoticed and uncommented on, except for one little mistake: they started to show some of the actual winners and their hometowns. And the states seemed to... cluster. Texas. Alabama. Arkansas. Missouri. Oklahoma.

My brain sometimes latches onto the strangest, most inconsequential things. This turns out to be one of them. And with me, sometimes the only way to get it out and make room for something else, something more important, is to just go with it. I warn you in the profile over there to your right. I never said what kind of knowledge you'd be getting around here. Just knowledge of some sort. Sometimes you get election coverage, sometimes you get economic disaster in Albania, sometimes you get me turning my full investigative fury on an innocent American Idol commercial that did nothing wrong to anyone. Back in the glory of statistical masturbation.

This is probably how those studies end up happening on things like the pattern in which a skunk sprays when it gets run over by a Mack truck. People like me happen.

The show can let anyone it chooses through the audition process, any combination of people at all, but once they turn control over to the viewers, they lose almost all control over what cross-section of America survives to the end. So here's what we're going to do. We're going to pull out a map of the United States. We will then mark off, on that map, the locations of the hometowns (at the time) of every contestant in American Idol history that has placed in the top five.

First, we'll list them off.

1st: Kelly Clarkson, Burleson, TX
2nd: Justin Guarini, Doylestown, PA
3rd: Nikki McKibbin, Grand Prairie, TX
4th: Tamyra Gray, Atlanta, GA
5th: R.J. Helton, Cumming, GA

1st: Ruben Studdard, Birmingham, AL
2nd: Clay Aiken, Raleigh, NC
3rd: Kimberley Locke, Nashville, TN
4th: Josh Gracin, Westland, MI
5th: Treynce, Memphis, TN

1st: Fantasia Barrino, High Point, NC
2nd: Diana DeGarmo, Snellville, GA
3rd: Jasmine Trias, Mililani Town, HI
4th: LaToya London, San Francisco, CA
5th: George Huff, New Orleans, LA

1st: Carrie Underwood, Checotah, OK
2nd: Bo Bice, Huntsville, AL
3rd: Vonzell Solomon, Fort Myers, FL
4th: Anthony Fedorov, Trevose, PA
5th: Scott Savol, Cleveland, OH

1st: Taylor Hicks, Birmingham, AL
2nd: Katharine McPhee, Los Angeles, CA
3rd: Elliott Yamin, Richmond, VA
4th: Chris Daughtry, McLeansville, NC
5th: Paris Bennett, Fayetteville, GA

1st: Jordin Sparks, Glendale, AZ
2nd: Blake Lewis, Bothell, WA
3rd: Melinda Doolittle, Brentwood, TN
4th: LaKisha Jones, Flint, MI
5th: Chris Richardson, Chesapeake, VA

1st: David Cook, Blue Springs, MO
2nd: David Archuleta, Murray, UT
3rd: Syesha Mercado, Sarasota, FL
4th: Jason Castro, Rockwall, TX
5th: Brooke White, Van Nuys, CA

1st: Kris Allen, Conway, AR
2nd: Adam Lambert, San Diego, CA
3rd: Danny Gokey, Milwaukee, WI
4th: Alison Iraheta, Los Angeles, CA
5th: Matt Giraud, Kalamazoo, MI

1st: Lee DeWyze, Mount Prospect, IL
2nd: Crystal Bowersox, Elliston, OH
3rd: Casey James, Fort Worth, TX
4th: Michael Lynche, St. Petersburg, FL
5th: Aaron Kelly, Sonestown, PA

Man. If this isn't a testament to a talent show's credibility resting on the actual quality of the talent it finds. Riding high earlier on with Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood and Chris Daughtry and Bo Bice and Tamyra Gray, and then you look at more recent years and... Danny Gokey. Lee DeWyze. What the hell. The talent pool fell off a cliff after season 5.

But anyway. We will map the hometowns (as best as possible, anyway) to see what kind of pattern emerges, if any. Winners are shown in red, runner-ups in pink, 3rd place in blue, 4th in green, 5th in grey. The seasons are noted. So Burleson, Texas, hometown of Season 1 winner Kelly Clarkson, is denoted by a red 1.

Here's the map. Linked because it's way too big to fit here.

As the commercial indicated, it stacks up in the South, particularly in the top three. When fourth and fifth get added in, you start to see the Rust Belt pop up a lot as well. The Dallas, Atlanta and Los Angeles metro areas seem particularly prone to getting people deep into the competition, though Los Angeles didn't start making these showings until Season 5 while Dallas and Atlanta began placing immediately. And Birmingham, Alabama has come up with two of the winners, Ruben Studdard and Taylor Hicks, something no other STATE has managed.

Meanwhile, New York, city or state, hasn't put a single singer in the top five yet as we head into Season 10 (and not for lack of trying on the part of the show; auditions have been repeatedly held there). New England is also entirely absent. The Mountain West only has David Archuleta of the Salt Lake City metro and, if you want to be generous, Jordin Sparks of the Phoenix metro.

South Carolina and Mississippi are also absent. And with the series in well-publicized chaos, they may want to hurry. Besides, they're in the part of the country that seemingly has all the singers who are actually any good.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Post-Election: What Now?

Well, first, I did speculate about split control, which we appear to have gotten. Yay me. (I also predicted Feingold would win, so boo me and boo Wisconsin.)

But that's for Congress to worry about. What about you? What do you do now?

Take down your campaign signs, that's what.

Really. The election is over. There is no need to have any campaign paraphernalia on display anymore, regardless of whether you have won or lost. There's no point. There are no more votes to be gained by it. Even if people were to be convinced, it's too late. At the first opportunity, it's got to come down. All of it. Everything with the exception of bumper stickers should come down more or less immediately.

You do get a pass on bumper stickers, sort of. Those things are pretty hard to get off. But if you buy another bumper sticker at some point down the road, the next one you buy should be placed directly over the campaign sticker. (This is what I will do regarding my Feingold '10 bumper sticker, sad as I am that he lost.) And if you take some of it off, take ALL of it off. None of this taking off the 'McCain' part of a McCain/Palin sticker and leaving the 'Palin' part. Or removing Gore and leaving Lieberman, as I saw on one car yesterday. Both halves of the ticket come off.

Why? If you don't, you really kind of look like a jerk to the rest of us. The election's over. The rest of us would like to get down to the business of governing now (unlikely as it is with the group that just got voted in). We're all sick of the election. We usually wish it had ended weeks ago. We'd really rather not see a guy rub an election in our face that ended a long, long time ago. And there's always that one guy who leaves the signs up like Christmas lights in July.

I'm not kidding about July. I have seen lawn signs for a November election be left up through the following July. The more involved lawn signs you paint on a sheet of wood, but lawn signs nonetheless. Those come down too. The amount of work you put into the sign doesn't matter. It comes down immediately right along with all the others.

The Lieberman half of the Gore/Lieberman bumper sticker? That was an election in 2000. Even the guy that beat that ticket has served his two terms and left. A decade later, not even the bumper stickers are excusable. You can't cover up or remove a bumper sticker in ten years?

Most of you do this already. Note that I'm not talking to you. I'm talking to Christmas Lights Guy. We don't care, Christmas Lights Guy. You're a jerk. Take it down.

And don't dump the sign down the drain, either. Someone updrain from my house did that with their McCain/Palin sign and it got stuck right below the grate at the corner of my house, remaining in clear view well through the following summer.

Poetic, in a way. But still inappropriate.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

It's Election Day.


...why are you still sitting there? I'm not going to stall you today with anything to read. That keeps you away from the polls for time we don't have to play around with. They ain't holding more votes with better candidates tomorrow. The better candidates won't be along for two more years.

Maybe I didn't make myself clear enough.


Monday, November 1, 2010


Today is November 1st, which, aside from being the day after Halloween (nobody stopped at our house to ask for candy), or the day before the election (go vote or I will hunt you down), or the day that the baseball season maybe ends (fear the beard), or the start of the month you gorge yourself on turkey and mashed potatoes (yum), or one less shopping day until Christmas (my internal rule is don't shove Christmas in front of me until Santa's float shows up at the Macy's Parade)... aside from all of that, it's the start of NaNoWriMo.

That's National Novel Writing Month.

Here's how it works: From now, through to the end of the month, the task of someone participating in NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000-word novel, generally regarded as the minimum length of a publication-worthy book. If you manage to get additional words out, great. Nobody's asking you to write a book that actually HAS a snowball's chance in hell of publication. I guarantee you the novel will suck. Don't worry about it. That's actually the point, to get you less afraid of writing something sucky. Don't think about what you're going to write. Just write. Just dive in and write 50,000 words, ANY 50,000 words, by the end of the month.

I've written manuscripts before. Plural. I've written some godawful crap in my day, some of it in the manuscripts. It's useful to get all that godawful crap committed to paper (or MS Word, or what have you). Nothing makes you a better writer than experience, than knowing where you're strong and where you're weak, where you need to improve.

The 50,000 words will still be there when December rolls around. There IS a snowball's chance that, if things fell right out of your keyboard, you may not have something worth publishing, but you might have something worth salvaging. When the month is over, when you have your 50,000 words out, go back, look at what you've written, and see if you can't start sprucing it up.

If you think you're up for it, head over to