Sunday, July 31, 2011

End of This Particular Spree

I started doing the "one post every day, minimum, for July" thing on a whim; my friend and fellow blogger Sage, a.k.a. "The Boy Yo Momma Warned You About", swore to tweet at least twenty times a day (or a maximum of 2,800 characters/day) every day for the entire month of July. I thought, hell, if he can send a load of Internet text-messages every day, I can definitely do a blog post every day. 34 posts later, I'm all written out. (I was also researching and writing news articles, applying for writing gigs, reviewing shows, etc. on top of the daily posts, so it turned out to be a huge amount of writing). 

I think this'll help me when I start writing my senior thesis this fall. Doesn't matter if it's great or terrible, just sit down every day and write something about the topics you're interested in. Why? Because you said you would. Make it like practicing an instrument. Chew some ideas over with your friends, brainstorm and write everything down. I'm going to take the fishing-net approach to writing my senior I.S., at least for the start: don't try and harpoon one idea at a time, go catch all the little ideas and see which ones pan out.

This is kind of rambling, though, and talking about the near future isn't the point of this post. This past month, I wrote about the NFL. I wrote about opera. I wrote about... special relativity, and described how fireworks look from a plane, and analyzed movies and applied logic and broke down sci-fi tropes and posted photos and did research and wrote all kinds of wildly varying junk. And I just wanted to say, to everyone who spent time reading all of this babble, thank you very much for doing so. That means a lot to me. 

I definitely won't be posting as often in August (thank God). I'll be putting up more pictures on the Tisdel's Temerity Flickr account, upload limits permitting, and hopefully some videos that I'll throw on YouTube. I'll also be posting bits of whatever tentative body of work I settle on to start the Senior I.S. parade. I hope you enjoy what I've got to offer, and once again, thank you for reading. :-)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Philadelphia Eagles Look Mighty Like the Miami Heat Right About Now...

How they're paying for it I don't know, but Philadelphia is doing this year what the Miami Heat did last year, or what the Bears did in free agency with Julius Peppers and all the rest of their free agents. The Eagles have signed or traded for four former Pro Bowlers and one guy who probably should've made it... in the last four days. Nnamdi Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins, Jason Babin, Vince Young and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie have the rest of the NFC East shaking in their collective shoes about now. (Johnnie Lee Higgins doesn't, but just wait.)

Philadelphia, as a team, tied for 10th last year with 39 sacks. Babin and Jenkins, between them, had 19.5 sacks last year (and Jenkins played only 11 games). They will instantly make life easier for Trent Cole and Brandon Graham, who will likely be used in a rotation. Jenkins can play inside as well as outside, but the Eagles now have an enviable stable of guys who can get after the passer. They look a lot like the 2007 New York Giants on the line. 

The secondary is phenomenal. I've never been a Rodgers-Cromartie fan and I think he's overrated, but having a former Pro Bowler as your nickel back (not to mention one that's only in his fourth season) is an awe-inspiring possibility. If they keep Asante Samuel, and I don't know why they wouldn't, the Eagles are stacked. 

The reason why I think these signings are going to work, as opposed to the Redskins' traditional spending sprees that always fell flat, is because the collective talent level in Philadelphia was already so high. Two excellent receivers in DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, a competent tight end in Brent Celek, a good RB in LeSean McCoy, and of course Michael Vick himself. Their offensive line isn't great, but that's less of a factor with a scrambling QB like Vick. 

The only thing that could derail this express is injuries. The team got Vince Young to do backup duty because Vick is likely to miss time this year as well; it's the cost of doing business, so to speak, of having a scrambling QB. Jenkins has a long injury history, Graham missed most of last year and Jackson has also missed time. If Andy Reid can coach 'em, though, and if the Eagles stay healthy, they're officially the team to beat in the NFC (alongside the Packers). 

Stray notes:

-On the other side of the league, New England just keeps making itself better. Albert Haynesworth and Vince Wilfork on the same line could be almost unfair, if they get the former to work hard. 

-Unnoticed in all the scrambling, the Bears picked up former Jets bust Vernon Gholston. Keep an eye on this signing. Gholston is built like Hercules, but never fit as a 3-4 OLB or 3-4 DE in New York. If Rod Marinelli and Mike Phair can teach Gholston the ways of the 4-3 and turn him into a legitimate pass-rusher, look out below.

-Speaking of the Bears, I don't get their receiving corps moves. Roy Williams had his best years with Martz in Detroit, but that was four years ago and Williams isn't the Pro Bowl type. Plus, whatever happened to Greg Olsen? He's built along the lines of Jermichael Finley, but Martz never utilized him the way McCarthy's been able to deploy Finley. The Panthers got a steal there. 

-New Orleans and Green Bay always get compared because their coaches' fates were linked: Sean Payton was considered seriously in Green Bay before Mike McCarthy came on board, and Dom Capers was the Packers' third-choice defensive coordinator after Greg Williams (now the Saints' DC). Both teams look extremely deep at WR and RB, especially since the Saints just signed my longtime crush, Darren Sproles. If Drew Brees isn't throwing picks, I don't really know how you stop that offense right now. The NFL's opening game could be one of its best all year.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Photos from the Beautiful California Coast

Hey gang! No text-post today, but by way of my "31 posts in 31 days" goal, I've put up a collection of pictures that I took on the San Francisco coastline, in a park called "Golden Gate National Recreation Area". I have some hundreds more pictures from the trip, but I chose to take out the 63 from this location (that weren't duplicates, poor or stupid shots) and focus on nature-type shots (flowers, trees, etc). There are a bunch of decent ones and a very few very good ones, but I'm not going to tell you which I think are which, so hah. Find out for yourself!

You should be able to find them in the link below; if not, leave me a comment and I'll see what I can do. They are under "Tisdel's Temerity", my newly launched Flickr counterpart to this site, so hooray!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/65561393@N03/sets/72157627311775752/

Enjoy,

Andy

Thursday, July 28, 2011

...What the Hell Just Happened?

Today, a Haitian man offered me $20 to look up the name of a hotel in the Yellow Pages. He then told me that I "looked honest" and offered me $200 to hold $5,000 in cash for him for half an hour while he went off and slept with a prostitute.

...I am not making this up.

The guy came up to me while I was locking my bike outside Radio Shack. He asked me if I worked there (I'm wearing shorts and a cross-country T-shirt), asked if I spoke French (Me: "Un peu"), then asked me to find "Brownstone Hotel" in the Yellow Pages for him, and kept saying he'd pay me $20. I told him that I didn't have a Yellow Pages on me, and he said "Oh! They do" and led me into the check-cashing place next door. I looked through the yellow and white sections, and surprise surprise, no such hotel exists in Milwaukee. (Google Maps confirms this.)

This total stranger then proceeded to confide in me that he'd just met a prostitute up the block and was intending to go sleep with her, but he had $5,000 in "insurance money" that he feared she would somehow steal. He told me that I looked like an honest type, and offered me $200 if I would be back at this location in half an hour with the money. I told him that he could probably use the money more than I could if he was a recent immigrant, and he started talking about a will and inheritance money and a supposed $150,000 in cash that was waiting somewhere for him. I suggested that he open an account at North Shore Bank, which is up the street a few blocks from that location, and deposit his money there; he told me that he'd left all his identification at the hotel (another hotel?) and that the prostitute was waiting on him.

Of course, I turned the guy down. I was going to go buy a video camera, for Chrissakes, not get into some ridiculous Haitian imbroglio. How do I know that anything the guy is saying is true? What if the money wasn't his, i.e. stolen? What if he didn't come back; what the hell do I do with it? I repeatedly said no, and he kept saying "Don't you want to earn some money? You look like an honest guy!" Yep, and at the risk of self-congratulation, maybe a little too honest for this kind of shady weirdness.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Seven Steps to Successful Stone-Skipping

This is something I created as a 'tutorial' for an online application, and I thought I'd use it as my post for the day because it exhaustively details something that's generally simple and instinctive. Let's get to it: skipping stones like a BOSS!


Step One: The Water.
Your first task, as an aspiring stone-skipper, is to find a body of water and wait for a calm day. The closer to absolutely flat the water is, the easier it will be to skip stones upon. For safety’s sake, make sure that there are no people or boats in the area where you’re going to be skipping. If you can’t find calm water but still want to skip, your best bet is to skip parallel to the incoming waves, not straight into them. This gives you a decent chance of throwing into the relatively calm troughs between the wave crests.

Step Two: The Stone
Your second task is to find a good skipping stone. The ideal stone is flat on both sides, has its weight evenly distributed (so there aren’t any lumps that will throw off its flight) and fits comfortably in your hand. The stone should nestle comfortably into the natural curve of your relaxed hand, which goes from the tip of your index finger to the base of your thumb. However, any reasonably sized flat stone is a good candidate for skipping. If you live in an area with lots of slate or shale rocks, I’d recommend those; they tend to be very light and flat, and are thus easily skippable. If it’s your first time, make sure to use your worst rocks first—you won’t get your stones back, so be judicious.

Some good candidates.

Step Three: The Grip
Now that you’ve got the stone, you need a proper way to hold it. Relax your hand and hold it with your thumb facing up. Hold the stone lightly with your index finger and rest it on your middle finger, with your thumb on top of the stone (again, lightly) to provide balance. The stone should balance on your middle finger, about on top of your knuckle.


For your index finger, rotate the stone and let your finger slide across the circumference of the stone. Pick a point on the stone that ‘catches’ your finger instead of letting it slide past. That is going to be the point that gives the stone its spin. If you’re right-handed, the stone will come out of your hand spinning clockwise (counterclockwise for lefties) because that point catches against your finger as you throw. (For heavier stones, use your middle finger, or even both at once.)
That point at the top of the stone is an ideal "catch".
 

Step Four: The Angles
You want the stone’s surface to be parallel to the surface of the water when it strikes. When you throw, aim about 10-15 feet in front of you. The distance will vary depending on the size and weight of your particular stone, but that’s a good distance to start with. The stone should leave your hand on a horizontal line, sinking downward through the air instead of arrowing through it. For lighter stones, aim closer to yourself while still keeping the stone flat in your hand; a light, flat stone thrown over a long distance (25 feet or longer) will usually turn over in flight and sink immediately.


Step Five: The Wrist
Skipping has little to do with your arm muscles. The power comes from the snap of your wrist when you release the stone, which is also what facilitates the spin. The snap also determines the speed at which the stone leaves your hand.

As you throw, your upper arm should remain more or less stationary. Draw your hand and wrist back, to gain power, and then snap both of them forward when you release the stone. At the instant you snap the wrist, your index finger should be the only part of your hand that is affecting the stone’s flight. The thumb and middle finger are there to keep the stone flat, but they should be relaxed enough that the stone spins out of them without effort. Your index finger, hand and wrist should all work together to impart spin to the stone. Remember: your index finger should be mostly unmoving throughout the throw. It’s the stone that spins around your finger and, hopefully, leaves your hand on a flat line to the water.

Step Six: The Stance
Stand sideways, with your non-throwing hand closest to the water and your feet parallel to each other. Your side will be facing straight towards the water, and your feet facing about 45 degrees to the left or right of your side (if your side is 12:00, your feet will be at around 1:30 if you’re right-handed and 10:30 if you’re a lefty). As you draw your hand back and prepare to throw, shift almost all your weight onto your back foot. I find it also helps to drop your back shoulder a little, which will help you get the stone closer to the ground and make it easier to throw a flat trajectory. The entire motion looks a lot like a baseball pitcher’s throwing stance.

When you release the stone is a matter of preference. Some people find it easier to release when all their weight is on their back foot and the hand/wrist is the only thing going forward; others like to have their torso moving forward slightly, shifting the weight partially onto the front leg, as they throw. This is a matter of taste; experiment and find out what works for you.

Step Seven: Putting It All Together
The most important thing to remember is to keep the stone flat. Make sure it’s flat when it’s in your hand, and make sure to throw it so that it’ll be flat when it hits the water. This is key to getting the most skips out of the stone. A good grip and good angles will help you do this, and a good stance will make it easier for you to make a nice flat throw. After you’ve mastered this, you can play around with the speed and power of your throw, and find a combination that fits your throw best.

Finally, have some fun with your newfound skills! Get some friends, head to the beach, assemble your stones and start skipping as a group. Once you all have mastered conventional skipping, you can try more exotic things like skipping with your non-dominant hand, skipping multiple stones at once or skipping backhanded (like throwing a Frisbee). Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

James Jones or Jordy Nelson: Who Should Get Paid?

The Packers have a decision to make in their wide receiver corps.

Ted Thompson loves his wideouts, and one of the Packers’ biggest strengths since he came on board has been an extraordinarily deep group of wide receivers. With Greg Jennings and Donald Driver starting, and James Jones and Jordy Nelson backing them up, the wideouts helped take Green Bay all the way to the Super Bowl.

Now it’s contract time, and we have to look at the overall group. Driver will likely retire within the next year or two, and his production has fallen off to the point where he’s more of a No. 3 now than a No. 2. James Jones is a free agent, while Nelson’s rookie contract ends after this year. Whoever gets the contract will eventually replace Driver as the No. 2. So assuming they can’t pay both*, whom should the Packers sign to a long-term deal?
To answer that question, let’s take an in-depth look at both receivers.

 James Jones #89

Over four years (one mostly curtailed by a knee injury), Jones has caught 149 passes for 2,069 yards and 13 touchdowns, averaging 13.9 yards par catch. He has worked primarily from the No. 3 slot on the depth chart, and has fumbled six times. He led the team this year in average yards after the catch, at 5.16 per, and had two 100-yard games (Minnesota, Dallas). He had one 100-yard game in 2009 (Tampa Bay), one in ’08 (Jacksonville) and one in ’07 (Denver).

Jones definitely possesses more natural talent and speed than Nelson. He’s extremely good at catching low-thrown balls and bailing his QB out on the scramble drill (40 first downs in ’10 to Nelson’s 18). According to the Journal Sentinel’s Bob McGinn, he’s “built like a brick outhouse” and “able to snatch the ball as well as anyone on the roster”; witness his the one-handed touchdown against Minnesota or the fade route over Atlanta’s Brent Grimes for examples.

He’s also prone to drops at the worst possible times. Jones dropped a slant route against Dallas and go routes against Miami, the Jets, the Giants, the Eagles and the Steelers that likely would’ve all gone for touchdowns. In addition, a Rodgers interception against the Dolphins and a Flynn pick vs. the Patriots happened when Jones appeared to quit on the routes. Jones has the speed to outrun the defense on go routes, but he drops too many passes overall (17 in the last two years).

Jordy Nelson #87
Nelson has mostly worked out of the No. 4 slot for the past three years, catching 100 balls for 1,268 yards, six touchdowns and a 12.7 ypc average. He dropped four of 83 targeted passes in his first two years before dropping 10 of 92 this year (inc. playoffs). His résumé includes four drops in the Super Bowl, but more importantly, nine catches for 140 yards and one TD. Also has six fumbles in four seasons, including four lost. Has just one 100-yard game besides the Super Bowl, catching four for 124 against the Giants in ’10.
Nelson’s biggest strength is knowing when to step it up. Played extremely well against the Giants and in the four-game postseason, Super Bowl included. Also made the clutch touchdown catch on fourth down at Atlanta (regular season). His breaks aren’t particularly crisp, but he’s big enough (6’3”. 217 lbs) to effectively box defenders out with his body and keep them away from the football. Definitely the best run blocker among the WRs. Does a good job evading contact at the line of scrimmage. His route-running, hands and agility are all pretty average.

The Verdict?
I honestly don’t have a definitive answer. When I started this, I kept thinking about Jones’ copious drops, and thought that Nelson would be a better, more consistent option. But Jones is more talented and a better possession-type receiver than Nelson is at this stage, and also runs crisper routes.

Both players have benefited from their matchups against No. 3 and 4 corners, and of coverage slanted towards Jennings and Jermichael Finley. I think, however, that Nelson is a bit more suited to deal with defenses paying more attention to him. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of a contract offer they make to Jones, and whether they value Nelson’s big-game production more than they do Jones’ superior potential.
 
Best guess: Nelson.


*Ted Thompson will need cap space to sign players like Clay Matthews, Josh Sitton and Jermichael Finley to long-term deals in the next year or two. Also, Greg Jennings’ contract expires after 2012, so assuming that the Packers can pick only one receiver is a reasonable assessment.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Not Calling People Back Is Bullshit (Are You Listening, Corporate America?)

I’ve spent my fair share of time shilling myself to potential jobs and internships. Over the past year or so, starting with my internship search at American University and continuing throughout this spring and summer, I’ve probably submitted close to a hundred résumés, cover letters and writing samples.

Very few of them resulted in a job offer. That’s fine. I get that it’s a competitive environment, particularly journalism-centered jobs, and that I’m not right for every place, and that there are tons of qualified candidates out there. That’s not my problem. My problem is when I send an email or a printed packet to a lot of workplaces, I might as well be sending them into the Great White Ether. They just vanish, unnoticed and unremarkable, never to be heard from again. Even follow-ups or personal visits can’t induce a response.

This is BULLSHIT.

This is the single biggest thing that ticks me off about the job application process. I get that workplaces are busy, and I also get that when I’m applying to the office of a U.S. Senator (for example), I’m one of hundreds of gazillions of people who are applying. But someone has to be looking through all those résumés, right? Somebody’s paging through the digital archives and looking at all those emails from all the young and (slightly) desperate potential coworkers out there. So is it really asking too much for them to send a quick reply message?

Whether it’s an acceptance or a rejection or a copy-pasted statement of “Thank you for emailing the office of Senator Kohl”, ANY response is a good one. It lets me know that even though maybe nothing came of my efforts, at least I was noticed by the Powers That Be… and enough of those notices might result in a job, eventually. No reply email and it’s like I asked for an internship from the Moon. It’s discouraging, it’s depressing and it’s just plain inconsiderate.

Tell you something. When I’m the head of some major business endeavor or journalistic enterprise or what have you, my ground rule will be this: Everyone gets a call back. If they’re nice and polite and they provide contact information, everyone who sends their info to my company will get some kind of a response. It might be “I’m sorry, we’re not hiring right now,” it might be “I’m incredibly busy right now, but try me again next week and I’ll see what I can do” (and we’ll keep that promise; that’s another thing that drives me up a wall, broken promises) or it might just be “You’re probably better off looking elsewhere”. But no matter what, everyone gets his or her info looked at and everyone gets a response. That’s called being goddamn considerate.

(P.S. It’s easier to tolerate when it comes from, like I mentioned, an incredibly busy Senate office or something. But the local Kohl’s? Or some mom-and-pop endeavor that probably has a maximum of 25 applicants over the course of one summer? Come on, guys. You really have no excuse.)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Trimming the Hedges

So I'm out trimming my hedge, the one that runs along the left side of my yard and has an apartment building on the other side. I'm buzzing away with this electric hedge-trimmer, when all of a sudden one of my neighbors wanders up and starts talking to me. He says "What're you doing?" and I say "Well, sir, I'm trimming this here hedge." He says "Well do you live here?" and I say "Yes, I do, I live in the brick and stucco house right behind us." He says "Well, I'm sorry to bother you like this, but could you please stop trimming? I was actually going to make a sculpture out of that hedge."

The hedge in question.
Well, nobody has ever made a sculpture out of this huge thicket we politely call a hedge before, so I'm a bit surprised. I say "Oh yeah?" and he says "Yeah, I hired a professional to come in and do it for me. He said he could make something very avant-garde out of it, very socially derivative." I say "Well, that's an interesting idea, but how are you going to pay for it?" He says "Well, this professional does things in a very particular way. He has me deposit the money into a special account for him, and then he can draw upon it as he needs while he's trimming the hedge." I say "So you're setting up a fund for him? So he can't use too much money at once?" He says "That's right." I say "I assume you're going to be watching him while he does all this work", and he says "Yeah, I'm right overhead and two stories up, so I can see everything that he does while he's on the job". And I say "I hope so, mister. If you don't have sufficient oversight over the hedge fund's derivatives, you could wind up in financial crisis."

(Inspired by true events.)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Five Most Mind-Blowing Implications of Special Relativity

5. Loss of Absolute Space

In the olden days, before the earth cooled, people tended to believe in absolute space. If you drove for fifty miles, you had driven fifty miles, and that was it. You didn’t have to worry about what you were driving from or to, only that you had traveled a fixed distance. Natural, right?

The problem is, relativity means that everything is relative. You may be driving for 20 miles by your odometer, but the way you know that you’re moving is because you’re passing objects (pedestrians, trees, road-rage-crazed bastards in sports cars). Take away your frame of reference, put your car in deep space away from any gravity wells or other physical objects, and you’ll have no way to tell whether you’re moving*.

It gets better. Let’s say you find another car out in the abyss, and let’s also say it’s moving at 150 mph. To you, the other car is the one that’s moving, and you are stationary. But to the other driver, your car is hurtling along at 150 mph, and their car is floating innocently in space. Who’s right?

 Special relativity says that you’re both equally justified in claiming that the other car is moving, and what’s more, there’s no possible way to tell (without one of you turning on your engine and introducing your own acceleration) who’s right. The question of who’s right has no answer. In other words, you’re not measuring your velocity by some constant of space; you’re measuring it by your reference points, which are entirely relative.
Thanks for the illustration, Cousin Jerry!
4. Time Isn’t Absolute Either

Take the cars that I mentioned before. If you add huge clocks on top of them (I’m shamelessly borrowing from Brian Greene’s The Elegant Universe here, but only because there’s not really another way to illustrate this), both you and the other driver will observe your clock ticking slower than their own. The faster the relative motion between the two observers, the more the clock will appear to slow down. Again, there’s no way of telling which is which (in part because it’s hard to establish that events are taking place simultaneously) because you can both make the same claim to each other, and both be essentially correct.

This same effect happens in a different way, when you’re close to a large body and caught in its gravity well. If your car was orbiting the Earth and the other car was far away from the Earth, your clock would run slower than theirs because of the time-dilating effect of gravity. This time, because you’re introducing the outside force of gravity, it acts as a frame of reference; thus, both of you would agree that your clock is running slower than Driver 2’s.

3. The Faster It’s Going, The Shorter It Gets

I’ll save the buildup for this one and just say: the faster your vehicle is moving, the shorter it will appear to an observer perpendicular to the vehicle’s direction of motion. The vehicle will contract in the direction that it’s moving, in an effect called Lorentz contraction. The driver won’t notice; from her point of view, the vehicle will have the same dimensions it had previously. But to an observer, the vehicle will get marginally shorter as it increases speed.

Now, when I say marginally, I mean incredibly small; until you get up to half the speed of light, the difference is an infinitesimal fraction of an inch. But it occurs with every vehicle that moves at speed, relative to an observer. At 99% of the speed of light (hat tip, Wikipedia), an observer would see the vehicle as having almost no length at all.

2. Space and Time are One

This means, by the way, that the difference between “farther” and “further” is totally irrelevant, since they’re referring to the same thing. You may brandish this information in front of your English professors the next time they correct you. There’s a load of cool shit involving general relativity (which implies that spacetime is curved) and quantum physics, which holds that supposedly smooth spacetime is actually wildly chaotic on insanely tiny scales, but… oh, all right.

In general relativity, gravity is a consequence of spacetime. A massive body will create a sort of dip in spacetime, which means that lighter-mass objects will fall into the “dip” and orbit around the edges. It’s analogous to one of those things they have in airports and museums, where you put the coin in the top and it spirals around to the bottom, except that it takes place in a sphere around the massive body instead of just a funnel. Don’t ask me how to visualize it, I have no idea.
Like this, but we're sinking into the fabric in every direction simultaneously.
1. e = mc^2

Mass and energy are equivalent and can be changed back and forth; mass can become energy and vice versa. That sunlight hitting the ground outside could become a solid block of coal under the right energies, and we (people) could evaporate into electromagnetic radiation under the right energies. If that doesn’t blow your mind, nothing will. And this is a totally proven concept; it is applied every day in nuclear reactors, as mass (in the form of U-235) is changed into energy that powers our cities. I find this absolutely unbelievable.

*Acceleration changes the equation, but in a situation that's not influenced by an outside force, you'll have no way to tell. Also, windowless box: if you're inside of one, you'll have no way to tell whether the acceleration you feel is from your motion or from being near a gravitationally attractive body. Acceleration and gravity feel exactly the same.


Friday, July 22, 2011

How Shorewood Stacks Up

To my fellow Shorewood High School alumni, former teachers and former administrators:

If anyone ever thought that Shorewood was a below-average school...

According to state records of nationwide achievement tests, Shorewood ranked above the state average in November 2010 records in its grade 4,8 and 10 levels, in every single category. In reading, language arts, mathematics, science and social studies--15 categories in total--every solitary time, Shorewood overtopped the state averages. The same was true in 2009, 2008, 2007 and that's as far back as it goes. Usually, the difference between the Greyhounds and the average isn't even close.

Hats off to the District of Shorewood and its excellent staff and administrators.

Fact Package: Teacher Salaries in WI

Because I need something to blow off steam about, and because some random commenter (which you can find under this video) was yammering about overpaid teachers, I decided to put together a facts package on Wisconsin teachers.

According to http://teacherportal.com, Wisconsin teachers have the second-lowest initial teacher salary of any state (behind North Dakota only) at $25,222/year on average (the 2011 federal poverty rate for a one-person household is $10,890). They make an average salary of $46,390/year, 20th highest in the country (California tops the list with an average pay of $59,825), and has increased by 21.5% over the last decade (eighth-least in the U.S). Mississippi tops the list with an increase of 46.8% over the last decade. It should be noted that the site doesn't specify where it gets its data, or whether those stats include both college and K-12 teachers (although a specifically K-12 list on payscale.com shows that the number for each state listed is significantly lower than the number in the teacherportal link). Finally, the site doesn't specify when its data was collected.

Using that data, a blogger on freeby50.com correlated it with median income by state and found that under that figure, Wisconsin teachers get 89% of the state median income ($52,224). Can't say I'm that convinced by this guy; he mixes up the terms 'mean' and 'median', but he also appears to be the only person who's done this kind of analysis.

The best data probably comes from the U.S. Census, which concluded that primary and secondary schoolteachers in Wisconsin made $49,100/year in 2008. Primary schoolteachers made $49,200 and secondary school-teachers made $48,800. This is slightly less than the national average, which was $52,800 (both), $52,400 (primary) and $53,300 (secondary) in 2008. Twenty-one states had higher averages than Wisconsin; California again led with $65,800/year.

According to a different Census .pdf, the average went up to $52,900 in 2009.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Predicted Free Agent/Trade Destinations

Kevin Kolb: Seattle

Donovan McNabb: Minnesota

Carson Palmer: Retired. He’s been keeping the hard line all this time, I don’t see him changing it now.

Vincent Jackson: Chicago (I hope I’m wrong about this one)

Logan Mankins: Patriots

Matt Hasselbeck: Arizona


Nnamdi Asomugha: Houston Texans

Sidney Rice: St. Louis

Ray Edwards: Miami

Charles Johnson: Cincinnati

Marshal Yanda: Atlanta

Jared Gaither: Dallas

Doug Free: Chicago

Quintin Mikell: Denver

Ahmad Bradshaw: San Francisco

DeAngelo Williams: Denver

Santonio Holmes: San Diego

Pat Williams: Cleveland

Jonathan Joseph: Minnesota


Packers:

Mason Crosby, John Kuhn: Packers

James Jones: Jaguars (I have a feeling about this one)

Cullen Jenkins: Washington

Justin Harrell: Seattle (he’ll be cut, and Pete Carroll will give him a chance because Pete Carroll gives everyone a chance.)

Daryn Colledge: Carolina

Jason Spitz: Philadelphia (this one’s been some time coming)

Brandon Jackson: St. Louis

Atari Bigby: Philadelphia

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Stein Optical's Ads and Prices are Quite Misleading

My glasses stink. They're scratched up, chipped in spots, six or seven years removed from my current prescription, held together with a paper clip on one side (c/o damage from somebody's exuberant birthday party) and just plain silly-looking. I need a new pair, but I likely won't be going to Stein Optical (Shorewood location) for them, because I just visited them and came away rather put out. 

Stein Optical, a glasses store, has a poster on their window that says you can get two pairs of glasses for a total of $99 apiece. This is technically true, but in practice it's extremely misleading. Most of the frames cost over $100 on their own, and thus aren't included in the deal. Only their absolute shittiest frames, which cost a mere $60 and up, qualify for that deal. Also, you have to get their absolute shittiest lenses (described as "Coke-bottles" by the guy who helped me) to go along with it, so basically, what you have to do to qualify is buy the absolute lowest-end thing in the store. I wouldn't say that Stein Optical is lying in their ad, but it seems like the ad in the window is just something to sucker you in that hardly ever applies in practice. (Save the comments about how this is true for all adverts for someone who hasn't heard them before.)

The second thing I took issue with is the price tags on the frames themselves. They are only prices for the frames, and don't include the cost of the lenses themselves. This means that every frame on the shelf costs you $30-40 more than you see on the price tag. I know that the cost of a pair of lenses is variable depending on the prescription, but it's still not the most customer-friendly thing to do; nobody told me, and there were no signs that I saw, that the prices were separate until I actually went up to pay for them. 

It's counterintuitive because you see a pair of glasses with lenses on the shelf, and there's no reason to think that the price quoted isn't the total price of the whole package (and because the frames themselves are so damn expensive, the inclination is to see them as one entity). I could also see it being a psychological tool, because you don't see the entire price at once; you see a $100 frame and a $40 pair of lenses, not a $140 lump sum, which sounds worse. (I'm sure you are quoted a price when you get your eye exam there, but that costs you another $42! I brought in my eye doctor's prescription instead, which I got a few months ago at the last appointment.)

So to summarize, I will be looking for my glasses somewhere else, and if there's a better alternative to SO in the Milwaukee area, I encourage you folks to do the same. (It may of course turn out that this is standard business practice in the optics industry and there's nothing for me to do but shut up and buy the glasses; however, if this is the case, I will at least have the satisfaction of having shopped around for bargains. Jew-blood +10.)

Home Sleep Deprivation (is worse than the college version)

My horrible sleeping habits have officially gotten out of hand, and I'm turning to y'all for advice.

Yesterday, my dad and I drove about 13 hours between us, from Washington D.C. to Milwaukee. When I got home, I was so exhausted I couldn't tell the difference between 'your' and 'you're' (which, for an English major and grammar nerd, is like forgetting the difference between elephants and robots) and sat through an entire Beethoven symphony without noticing it (which got you tarred and feathered in the 19th century). So I'm completely gone, I go to bed at 1 and wake up around seven A.M. This is just not cosmically fair. I'm the kind of person who needs eight-plus hours to function best, and you would think that this would be the mother of all excuses for my body to pack it in for a night. Nothing doing.

It's not like this was just a one-night issue, either. I don't think I've gotten a decent night of sleep since coming home from college in mid-May. I've varied every single thing I can think of; slept in a cot, put a fan in my room, gone to bed ridiculously late or early, gotten drunk with friends, etc. Nothing has worked. I get a maximum of six hours of restful sleep, full stop.

So... would anyone care to suggest anything? Advice? I'm fresh out of ideas, but I have huge purple crescents under my eyes that I would love to make disappear.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

All _______ Go To Heaven

Proposition: All dogs, meaning good people, go to heaven.

Rationale: Every religion that believes in hell, and every subset of that religion, hypothesizes that only their beliefs will get you there. Fine.

BUT… believing that requires you to believe in a God that will save the undeserving and burn some of the virtuous.

There are two components to making it into heaven: being virtuous and following specific, sometimes arbitrary, rules laid down by the religion of the moment. The ROTM will tell you that these are one and the same. Suppose, however, that a person follows the generic principles of virtue laid down by the ROTM (doesn’t steal, holds malice towards none and is charitable to all, etc.) but doesn’t pray to the correct god, or at all. By the internal logic of the ROTM, he should and will go to hell (that’s seventeenth-century thinking).

I do not accept that a loving, caring God would doom a virtuous person because s/he didn’t worship correctly. The God I believe values deeds over adulation. So let’s try something else.

If your good deeds don’t get you into heaven, but God is a god that values deeds over correct worship, one must conclude that there is some limiting factor on God’s power.
If you believe in the omnipotence of God, this is incorrect, so it can’t be the reason.

Reasoning: Why would Mohammad predict that there would be 72 sects of the umma, and 71 of them would be wrong? Answer: If God says that you’re probably going to get it wrong, humans will keep searching for the right way. And if you’re searching, you’re keeping up interest in your religion, getting converts, having wars over who’s doing it best, making sure everybody notices you. It promotes religion as a whole, and if God is using religion as a vehicle to spread the basic virtues… well, now, that makes sense.

Monday, July 18, 2011

My Crazy, Wild, Wonderful Dreams

How can I describe the dreams of last night?

There was a ship, an army transport with walls impossibly high, where I suffered under a psychotic drill sergeant who wanted to throw my belongings and me over the side and into the steel-grey floor of the world, and where I chatted with angels and gods on the fantail.

Discontinuity

That took me, in some way I wish I remembered, to an art museum like the Californian one, but different and darker and heavier, where I played a children’s card game with an evildoer (in a huge black marble room with a stone sculpture of pagan gods) for the fate of the world. Then he took me (we weren’t finished) to a huge black stone, with lines in it like the London Underground and huge colored zones, and challenged me to figure out where in the network of torture chambers my good friend Charlie was being held. After much thought, I picked the Red Zone, and my parents and I started out for

Discontinuity

For the airport, where a friendly policeman escorted us through the hallway on one side of the Pit and asked chummy questions about where we’d come from. I left them at an old-style computer lab, where a voice cried out desperately that no one had ever used it, and would I please be the first? I jumped over the pit to the floor below and landed on a floor of glass. I looked through a telescope and saw a man with three ears and two heads, and when I reassured him that he was okay, he turned into toasted cheese and covered the planet Mars. I ran to the secret underground computer chamber, with walls made of sandy rock like Indiana Jones’, and looked through all my belongings from the year 2009, and opened a drawer that told me it held the fate of Germany inside and it must not be opened for fifty more years. I had to write something and put it in the drawer I became aware of the world expanding around me, perceived that there was wind and rain and clouds and trees and sky and

Discontinuity

I was outside the compound, firing mortar shells in and dodging return fire out, as part of the Eagles-Giants football rivalry turned warfare. I guess I was on the Giants’ team, because I finally got lucky and scored a direct hit on the Philadelphia Museum of Art, blowing up a priceless painting of Abraham Lincoln that I’d somehow seen before.

Reset, reset, reset

I made myself go back to the place I’d started and go shell the museum again, but this time without blowing up the painting. But this time I walked into the compound and through and out of it, into the rain forest outside, and found

Reset

(The dream just started resetting every so often from there. I have no idea what I found the first time.)

The second time I was a French sculptor with my wife. I ran out of the garden and turned left at the primal stone, then turned for the hill over which the sky was breaking. I found a cult of women trying to make themselves immortal in a complicated ritual involving the blood of Prince Fielder, but I seized a sword and changed the flows so as to make Prince immortal instead, and he looked at me with huge brown eyes and said he wouldn’t thank me. Then I crept up the hill and became a chauffeur, watched the royal court get squashed under a falling pillar and then killed the jester in a knife fight.

Atop the hill was a cult of women who worshiped the Adele penguin, and I guess I got to choose who was the high priestess. I cycled through photos of all of them, but woke up before making any final decision.

Shantih shantih shantih

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Lockouts

Here's the one big difference between the NFL lockout and the onrushing U.S. default deadline:

The NFL owners and players are rational beings who stand to lose more by missing games than they would gain by stalling the talks. So I have every expectation that we will have a new collective bargaining agreement within the next week, 10 days at the outside.

Nobody knows what the fuck the politicians--Obama, Boehner, Cantor--are, but they certainly aren't behaving like rational beings. They stand to lose a whole lot more than the NFL, in terms of money, prestige and elections, but for whatever reason aren't reacting the same way...

Hey, the U.S. may default on its debt, sparking financial disaster, causing us to lose our credit rating and be utterly humiliated before the entire world, but at least we'll have football to watch!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Sometimes A Great Universal Condition (Telepathy)

Sometimes, sci-fi will introduce a Game Changer. The most common one is a faster-than-light drive of some sort, but the basic thing is that it’s a Universal Condition. It’s not a one-off thing for one episode, and it isn’t a threat to be defeated. It’s a part of the universe, something you set at the start of the game.

Frequently, the Universal Condition has world-shattering implications. To combat this, there are often tons of restrictions on the Game Changer’s powers. Those powers are theoretically infinite, but in practice, they have to be controlled for the good of the story.

The example that works best are the telepaths in Babylon 5. Theoretically, telepathy could be a game-changing skill. You could put a telepath in a given location and s/he would be able to find out everything that’s going down in that location. Theoretically, on one of Bestor’s many visits to Babylon 5, he could walk into the station, scan the whole place and determine exactly who he wants, where they are and what they’re thinking at the time. Then he could immobilize them, or better yet, control their brains and make them walk right up to him.

But if Bestor was able to do all that, every episode with him would be exceedingly boring. The chases are fun, and later on when the main characters start hiding things from Bestor, it becomes imperative
that he not have Godlike Powers. So there have to be limits on the telepath’s ability.

"Also, I can kill you with my brain." -River Tam

First is distance. The guy can’t seek out someone on a different planet; he has to be in the same city-sized area. On a smaller scale, Bestor apparently can’t just cast his mind out and search for someone or something. He can’t pull a Cerebro and look all over the world; he's limited to scanning individual people. Plus, to scan someone, Bestor has to be in the room with that person, preferably within eye contact or at least line-of-sight.

Next is levels; Bestor may be as strong as human telepaths get, but even that isn’t massively strong, and the resident B5 telepath is a P5 to his P12 (which explains why they don’t instantly go to her whenever something goes missing).

Third is the ability to block. Bestor can be blocked by another telepath, and although he can overpower a telepath of lesser level, he’d lose to a group of telepaths. Certain drugs can also block or enhance telepathic ability.

Fourth are PsyCorps regs. Scanning people without their consent is a rule that’s broken more than occasionally on this show, but it is a rule, and one that’s generally kept.

Fifth, Bestor can’t control people’s actions.

Sixth, scans don’t always work out as intended. You don’t always find what you’re looking for, or find it immediately.

And seventh, telepaths generally have to go to some lengths to keep from hearing everyone’s thoughts. It can form an indecipherable background gabble, not a perfect interpretation of what everyone in the area is thinking.
This is the Cosmic Microwave Background. Start thinking about that in terms of background clutter and Bestor and telepaths and lots of random folks thinking, and you get some really scary thoughts.
So you can see how this omnipotent power is cut down to a size that fits what the show’s creators want it to do, bit by bit. You can modify an FTL drive in the same way: it only comes out at a certain place, it takes a certain amount of time to get there or to spin up, it requires a certain fuel, etc. You can take the abstract concept and modify it in any way you want. In other words, the writer can shape the reality and create the rules of the world to get the result he or she desires. I’d never thought of it in those terms before, and it’s scarily empowering.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Sentient Corporations

Whenever corporations pollute the environment or subvert the rules or outright cheat and lie to make a profit, we (the public) are pissed off. Not just because we’re getting screwed by a corporation, but because we feel a sense of moral outrage. They’re pumping toxic chemicals into rivers! Polluting the atmosphere! Cheating and losing millions of investors’ dollars! Why shouldn’t we be outraged?

Well, we shouldn’t be outraged because we shouldn’t be treating corporations like people in the first place. They have different goals, and expecting them to act like people and obey moral and environmental rules will disappoint you every time.

Here’s how I see it. In a capitalist society, there is one goal animating a corporation: Making a profit. Everything else is secondary or a subset of this goal. Without money, the corporation will go bankrupt and “die”; it follows that environmental and financial regulations, to name a couple, tend to stand in the way of this goal. That’s why corporations regularly subvert them or engage in underhanded tactics.

I find it makes the most sense if you think of a corporation as a sentient organism, that needs money the way we need food or water. And unlike with humans, the marginal value of money does not decrease as its gained. The more money a corporation has, the more money it wants.

Seen from this perspective, it’s easier to understand why corporations break the law. A CEO who pushes fracking policies that the public deems unsafe is only acting in his own best interests. And the thing about this system is, as long as the corporation is acting in its own best interest, it supercedes the opinions of people within the corporation. Individuals may embezzle, steal, act in moderation or otherwise not work towards the goals of the corporation, but these will eventually be found and replaced with people who will.

Corporations are doing what they have to do to survive. That’s not to excuse the scandals that seemingly appear every other week, concerning the many misdeeds of Company Z or Corporation Q, but rather to understand them. Who knows: maybe understanding them is the first step towards designing regulations that actually work.

(Hat tip: Charles Stross and Accelerando.)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

"No Reason"

Rubber, a French independent film, contains a monologue by the lead actor that declares ‘Things happen for no reason. ‘No reason’ is a part of every great movie’. Well, there’s invariably some explanation in movies that incorporate sci-fi or fantastic elements, some reason why things are the way they are. Superhero movies always have the origin story. Inception has a throwaway line or two about dreamwalking technology being developed by the U.S. military, a brilliant crossover from fantasy into techno-fantasy. Why is the Terminator indestructible? It has a “hyperalloy combat chassis”. There’s a perceived need to explain it to the viewer, to give us some reason why things are the way they are. That’s what we want.

But sometimes, the greatest things are deliberately left unexplained, or given an ambiguous explanation. I’ve always liked how Highlander’s powers worked; the characters themselves don’t have an explanation for them, and their effects on physical reality are almost random. That’s awesome! Being unaware of the tricks being played on you is part of movie magic, so it’s not illogical that their counterparts in the film itself could be good as well. Understanding is great, but for entertainment, sometimes inscrutability can be a virtue.

**EDIT**: I cheated just a touch: this has been sitting on my desktop since before I went to San Francisco, but I did't quite remember to post something today so I snuck this in at the deadline. Still on track for a post every day!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Bend It Like Beckham Is A Colonialist's Dream

Bend It Like Beckham is an excellent example of a film that espouses old-school British colonialist values. It depicts the struggle of an Indian family to hold onto its culture against the pervasive and stifling British culture that attempts to absorb the Indians into itself, and is ultimately successful in doing so. Furthermore, the Indian parents trying to raise their daughters as Indians are consistently portrayed as stifling their daughter’s dreams, while British culture—represented largely by a football team—is depicted as free-spirited and liberating.

The film refers briefly to a period in British culture where minority immigrants were excluded from and shunned by mainstream British society; Mr. Bhamra*, the heroine’s father, tells a story of being expelled from a British cricket club and Jess herself says “It’s not like it used to be”, referring to once-nonexistent diversity in British sports. This period has been succeeded by a shift in the dominant culture. Instead of excluding its immigrants, at the time of Bend It Like Beckham, British society seeks instead to assimilate its immigrants and make them indistinguishable from native Brits in terms of their culture.

The battle between the dominant British culture and the enveloped Indian culture is fought in the hearts and minds of the Indians’ children. For many—indeed, most—of the Indian teens and twenty-somethings in this film, British culture has already won out. The ‘kids’ (for want of a better term) speak in British accents, dress in British fashion (Pinky’s friends dress and speak in slutty fashion, and Tony’s friends are typical Western douchebags) and adopt non-Indian names (Jess, Pinky, Tony). Moreover, they display materialist obsessions typical of capitalist society, fawning over and desiring such things as hair and nail treatments, shoes, bras and fancy clothes.

Jess, however, is still deciding between the two worlds she is presented with. Her Indian parents attempt to influence her throughout the film by teaching her to cook Indian food, to dress in Indian fashion and to respect her elders. They are consistently depicted as restrictive of Jess’s desires, uncaring for her needs, and in the words of Jess’s teammate, “backward”. Jess resents this treatment and dreams of playing football openly in America; never in the film is she seen to take pleasure in an Indian custom or routine.

By contrast, once she is exposed to the world of clubbing, football and friendship that defines this movie’s British culture, Jess is a convert. Although she’s initially uncomfortable with the team’s culture, particularly in the case of locker-room nudity, Jess overcomes her initial misgivings and is accepted into a nominally color-blind team (it’s captained by a black girl, but most of the rest are white).

Jess’s struggle is emblematic of the struggles of her generation as a whole, specified through the experience of one Indian family. She has no interest in learning about her native Indian culture, as can be seen throughout the film. Rather, her inclination the entire time is to embrace what is portrayed as liberal, color-blind British culture rather than “backward” Indian culture. In that sense, the battle has already been lost on the level of Jess’s heart. But the deeper loss comes in the climax of the film, where Jess’s long-suffering parents cave and allow her to play soccer professionally. In essentially giving up on the idea that Jess will follow the Indian path, the Bhamras are also abandoning their attempt to preserve their culture in the person of their daughter. They are surrendering influence over her life to British values rather than Indian.

Although the Bhamras’ other daughter Pinky has been married off in Indian fashion, she is more squarely aligned with British values (materialism, concern with Western dress, British accent, snogging before marriage) and represents another failure to preserve proper Indian custom. Both her friends and Tony’s friends, the primary groups of young Indians seen in the film, also fail this standard as discussed above.

Of all the Indian youth seen in the film, only one measures up to proper Indian standards. Tony is quiet, polite, listens to his mother and is a model Indian youth in his elders’ eyes. However, he’s also either gay or bi (this isn’t quite clear) and thus an imperfect specimen of Indian youth (again, through his elders’ eyes, although they aren’t made aware of his sexual orientation in the film). This means that although the parents do not realize it, their sons and daughters have universally failed to become “proper Indians”. All of them have been ‘tainted’ by British culture.

Jess was the last, best hope to carry on the wishes of her parent generation and become a model Indian lady. With her ‘switching sides’, the victory of British culture is complete. Every Indian youth in the film has been assimilated into the dominant culture, and Indian custom and mindset survives in the minds of the children only in diluted form. Bend It Like Beckham perfectly illustrates the assimilation of the children of a group of immigrants, and depicts the victory of British culture in the war for the hearts and minds of its immigrants’ sons and daughters.

*The Bhamras are the Indian family in question; Jess is their daughter, Tony is a friend of Jess's, Pinky is Jess's sister.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Three Probable Impacts of the NFL Lockout

1. Rookies will not contribute worth a flying damn this year.

The Packers drafted Randall Cobb, their second-round wide receiver of the future, to use him in all sorts of crazy ways like Percy Harvin 2.0. The expectation among fans immediately after he was drafted was that he could line up in the backfield, in the slot, outside, run reverses, return kicks and generally make the Green Bay offense that much more awesome.

The problem is, wide receiver is one of the hardest positions to learn even in the best of times. Meaning, when you've had a full offseason to absorb the playbook. But in the lockout, teams can't get playbooks to their rookies, so the two months of study (or more) that rookies would have had up until now hasn't happened. When they get to training camp (assuming a deal happens before then), they're going to have to learn the entire offense in a month, which is akin to becoming fluent in a foreign language in six months. It just doesn't work unless you are heroically talented.

There's a school of thought that running backs will be a little less affected than other positions, running back being the position where rookie runners tend to have more success (Adrian Peterson or Steve Slaton or Chris Johnson, anyone?) but don't hold out hope for Alex Green to contribute in his rookie year, either. The plan was for him to be the third-down back, but the intricacies of blitz pickups and screen passes are probably best left to Brandon Jackson for another year. You don't want Jared Allen to take Rodgers' head off because the rookie RB missed a chip.


2. Veteran free agents won't fix your team this year.

NFL.com keeps posting articles guaranteed to tantalize fans of struggling teams, hypothesizing where big-name free agents will land and what holes on which teams need to be filled by which player. That's fine, but I wouldn't expect Sidney Rice or Nnamdi Asomugha to come in and be a world-beater on the Bears or Texans. The lack of time to learn the playbook and practice with new teammates also hurts these players, and the longer the lockout lasts, the more pronounced this effect will be. Scheme is so important in the NFL that veteran free agents will likely have little impact, early in the season.

3. But on the whole, veteran players who stay with their teams will be better than usual.
Players in their early to mid-thirties who would normally be going through minicamps and "optional" team workouts all spring and early summer now will have missed all of that. They'll be working out on their own, of course, but one would expect that veterans' bodies will be less tired come the summer. I would expect older players to benefit from the time off, and have a better season in 2011 than they might otherwise have had.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Top 10 Most Commonly Uttered Lines In The Afterlife

After an exhaustive* survey of souls in the Recently Arrived (+/- 5 years) portion of the Afterlife, Tisdel's Tirades' staff have compiled this list of the top 10 most commonly uttered sentiments. We hope you, the living, will take some consolation from the feelings of the dear departed; however, we also hope that you may take some lessons from their last thoughts.

Without further ado:

The Top 10 Quotes From Beyond the Grave

1. "It seemed like a good idea at the time."

2. "So I said 'You and what army?'"

3. "I could’ve sworn that was going to work!"

4. "And then they made me their chief."

5. "So I said 'I wonder what this button does—'"

6. "That’s when s/he said 'Oh shit! My spouse is home!'"

7. "Join the Army, they said. See the world, they said…"

8. "The last thing I remember was someone yelling 'Isn’t this incredible!?!'"

9. "…and then there was a shark."

10. "I got shot by James Bond."

(Bonus line, which we observed mostly emanating from souls that had occupied an upper-middle class position in life: "Jesus Christ but I was overweight!")

*Data based on a survey conducted between June 18th and June 22nd, Earth time, of total 56,021 souls. Souls represent an accurate percentage of all souls in the area, meaning all souls dispatched to the Afterlife within (+/- 5 years), and thus are not necessarily a cross-section of the Earth population. We strongly advise against any attempts to verify our work; please to god take our word for it, don't go check yourself. Lazarus treatments should only be attempted by professionals. If you found something like that in an old H.P. Lovecraft, well, we advise against trying that too but you probably won't listen to us. 

Transcripts of our interviews with several shinigami are available upon request.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

"You are perfect, just as you are!!" (hat tip, Comet, Yield and Something Else establishments)

There is a pivotal scene in Battlestar Galactica, season and episode 4,  where a bloodied and beaten Gaius Baltar declares to his conclave of women “God only loves that which is perfect, and He loves You. Because You are all perfect. Just as you are! You are perfect, just as you are!” and the crowd erupts in tears and joy.

Tonight, I had the great privilege to witness two gorgeous women tell each other that they were pretty, and then reply in turn “You’re pretty. No, no. you are.”

Beauty, obviously, is subjective—across cultures, across friend groups, across personal goddamn preferences. But to me, what is more attractive than any other quality is the ability to say “I am pretty. I am gorgeous, and goddamn it, you can deal with it or you can go home.”

That self-consciousness, that refusal to abide by any cultural sensibility (and believe me, the two women in question would’ve been deemed beautiful by any sane, straight panel of heterosexual males or homosexual females, from any culture) is insanely awesome. The self-confidence to say “Yeah. You know what? I’m pretty. I’m fucking gorgeous. And far more importantly, I am me. You can laugh with me or go to hell”, that is fantastic. Drunk, sober, these things are of scant importance. You are perfect, just as you are, and you have the moxie to say so. That is absolutely fantastic.

(Disclaimer: this post was written under the influence of intoxicating beverages. That does not invalidate any declaration that the poster makes; rather, it makes it more true, because it gives the poster the bravado to post whatever the hell he feels like and say whatever he decides is correct. This is. He is about to. May you enjoy this and all time-continuum-logical posts in the past or future.)

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Lost Opportunities in Game of Thrones

If.

If Joffery hadn’t cut off Ned Stark’s shaggy head… if Lady Stark hadn’t snatched up Tyrion and inadvertently started a war with the Lannisters… if Ned had sent his daughters away from King’s Landing while he had his many, many chances… if Robert Baratheon’s great love hadn’t been killed before the series even began.

Those are just some of the many, many fateful (and fatal) choices made in the first season of Game of Thrones. George R.R. Martin’s brainchild has a wonderful habit of subverting traditional fantasy tropes, and chief among the casualties has been the idea of destiny. You look at a series like The Wheel of Time or The Sword of Truth and it’s got prophecy written all over it. Everything is preordained and we basically know where we’re going, even if we don’t quite know how we’re going to get there.

Game of Thrones, at least the TV version, turns all of that inside out. Take the Targaryn saga. The “Stallion who will Mount the World” saga came to an abrupt end before Rhaego was even born. The Doth’Raki invasion of Westeros that the show absolutely looked like it was leading up to went down in flames. And it was all because of Daenerys’ one lousy choice. If she hadn’t chosen to save the woman who later killed her son and husband (basically), and allow that woman to work magic on them both, it’s probable that story arc would still be going strong. Not in this series. As with so many lines, all that potential goes away because of one bad decision. Sure, it was a Right Thing to Do, but the unintended consequences of things in this show are just amazing.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Lockout, Day CXI: Deal Close?

A few months ago, a decision like that of the Eighth Circuit upholding the legality of the NFL lockout would've produced acrimony and strife. The NFL would've scoffed at the NFLPA and the NFLPA would've railed at the NFL, each crying unfairness and each pandering to the media. But instead of that, we got an actual joint statement from both parties.

Regardless of what the text says, (we're committed to negotiating, etc.), can you imagine the parties making a joint statement like this in February? I view this as a sign that the two sides have really stopped trying to make themselves look good to the fans and gotten down to what's actually important, that is, working out a deal.

Stay tuned.

"Camelot!" "Camelot!" "Camelot!" "It's only a model." "Shh!"

A plot summary of Camelot, the musical King Arthur light-opera endeavor.

King Arthur of Britain and Princess Guinevere of Wherever are due to be wed as part of a political agreement. Gwen (I can’t spell her real name offhand) arrives at Camelot and, while agonizing over her soon-to-be-ended maidenhood, accidentally runs into King Arthur, who has been lurking in the forest trying to get a glimpse of his new bride. Arthur conceals his identity, calling himself Wart (a boyhood name), and convinces a hesitant Gwen to stay in Camelot. Gwen proceeds to kiss Arthur-Wart without knowing that he is to be her husband, introducing the audience to two of her biggest character traits: she enjoys the idea of men fighting over her, and she will cheat.

Arthur is unmasked and, while explaining his identity, manages to make the story of pulling Excalibur out of the stone sound downright boring. He also lets on that he has no idea how to rule or what he is doing. Meanwhile, Merlin (Arthur’s teacher, mentor and rememberer-of-the-future) is trapped in an enchanted glade, never to be seen in the play again.

While throwing around ideas with Gwen, Arthur comes up with the idea for the Round Table, yelling “Proposition!” every time he comes up with a new idea. He also laments incessantly about 1. the necessity of being civilized, 2. Merlin’s long-ago pastime of changing him into animals, 3. everything.

The Round Table begins to attract knights and damsels, most of whom are utter featherheads. One day, Lancelot du Lac rolls up, proclaims himself to be the most pure-hearted, pure-minded, physically gifted man on Earth and offers his services to the King. Arthur takes a liking to him; everyone else finds him an insufferable prick, since he is basically a seventh-century born-again. Gwen, in particular, conspires to have his arse kicked in an upcoming tournament.

The tournament arrives, and Lancelot is pitted against three successive knights in a jousting match. The action takes place with the cast looking out at the audience, and the sound of thundering hooves played from loudspeakers behind the audience, so you get the uncomfortable impression that the joust is somehow taking place right above your head. Lancelot beats the first two random knights, then accidentally kills the third before bringing him back to life by concentrating really hard. The Court is astonished, and Gwen instantaneously swings from “I hate that sonofabitch” to “Jesus Christ but you’re attractive!” Cue the affair. Arthur emotes wildly, agonizes about the affair and then grabs Excalibur, declaring that he’s going to do something about this right the fuck now. Curtain.

(It was here that I was thinking, you all like each other... can’t you sit down at a table and work something out? At least put it on the table that you know, Arthur, and give some permission for them to do it. You can’t stop it, so you might as well find a way to live with it. This does not happen.)

Two years later, Arthur still hasn’t done anything about anything right the fuck now, and Lance and Gwen are still fooling around. Enter Mordred, Arthur’s bastard son by way of some random chick. Another play might have played this for justice on Arthur’s side, but apparently he was roofied and this was long ago, so it isn’t cheating. Mordred gives a perfunctory here-I-am-this-is-my-motivation song, then sets off to destroy Arthur because… well, because fuck you, that’s why.

Mordred traps Arthur in the woods for a night, then catches Lance and Gwen agonizing over their relationship and how it’s hurting Arthur. After a long discussion, they bravely decide to do nothing and make out. They probably would still be there if Mordred hadn’t declared “Dammit, I’m moving the plot forward on my OWN if no one else is!” and ambushed them. Gwen is captured by Round Tablers, while Lancelot escapes. (One of the Tablers is the knight Lance resuscitated, and I was hoping he would to say to Mordred “Fuck you, motherfucker! This guy brought me back from the dead! No way I’m arresting him!” and let him go. Sadly, this also doesn’t happen.)

Fast-forward again. Gwen has been tried, found guilty and sentenced to burn at the stake. Arthur agonizes about it at center stage, while Mordred screeches about how he’s won and Arthur is doomed and blabbity blah blah. You want Arthur to just rear back and punch the sneering little shit in the teeth, but he’s too busy emoting and bawling about Gwen. Lancelot appears, cuts a path through the knights (unseen by the audience) and rescues Gwen.

Fast-forward again, to France. The Round Table is broken; Arthur’s half is lined up ready to fight Lancelot’s half. Lance and Arthur and Gwen meet before the battle, and the conversation goes something like this:

“I love you both!”

“I love you too!”

“I don’t want to fight you!”

“I don’t want to fight you either. Should we call the whole thing off?”

“Hm….. NAHHHHHH”

Seriously, it’s a personal feud between the commanders, but in this version Lance and Arthur are best friends even after Gwen cheated on the latter with the former! There is literally no reason for them to be fighting outside of the grudge, and since it doesn’t apply, there IS no reason! But they fight anyway, and it’s at this point where you really start wanting the writers to just flip the familiar Arthurian script and do something massively unexpected, but they don’t. Arthur grabs a random boy, knights him and tells him to go spread tales of the Round Table, then runs off to fight his best friend. Oh fucking joy. Curtain.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Götterdämmerung!!!

“This will stick with you. This will mark you. You will judge everything else by it.” –overheard conversation in the audience, after the finish of Götterdämmerung

Götterdämmerung, as performed by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, was unlike anything I have ever seen before. Movies, popular music, the other Ring operas, all other media… nothing comes close.

The music was fantastic, but since I am a musical/opera dullard compared to most of the theatergoers, the things I noticed most tended to be set design. Here are some notes I jotted down in the back of the program during the intermissions.

The production wasn’t set in a classical Valhalla world, but in a sort of updated American version of that world that reminded me of 1905 Chicago. The story is multigenerational over the four operas, so by the start of Götterdämmerung, we’ve made it to the Internet. The Norn, the daughers of earth goddess Erda who weave the rope of fate, were instead connecting cables inside the Internet. A cable breaks and they descend, in terror, to Erda.

I thought the design of the Gibichungs’ penthouse was inspired. Containing a sleek, modern bar and an expensive white couch, with pillows and barstools made of faux-leopard skin (and with a huge steel framework of windows and doors), the room did a great job of telling us about these people. They are the kind of rich people who have everything material, but nothing else.

There was not a single dull moment in Act II. I think that was my single favorite act of the entire Ring Cycle.

When Hagen calls together the vassals, about 70 black-clad men came onstage, the first chorus in the entire Ring. The scale of it was just incredible. They brought out all these vassals and another 30 or so maidens. The vassals were dressed in sort of standard goon fare—police armor, black clothing and so forth—which put an interesting spin on their vocal parts. It’s nice to see people dressed like that getting a voice for a change, and they also get a little characterization. They’re totally loyal to Gunther and zealous about it; they want nothing more than to protect him.

The fact that the double wedding/betrayal/counter-betrayal scene takes place in front of all the vassals also raises the stakes considerably. It’s not just Gunther’s personal sense of honor that’s at stake here, it’s his honor as witnessed by his entire kingdom. That gives enormous force to the accusations. There’s a lot to be lost or won here.

Hagen’s music is so damn evil! It’s just so black and brooding and dreadful, and Hagen himself is a complete villain!

And Brünnhilde… WHOA. This was Nina Stemme’s debut performance as Brünnhilde, and she absolutely nailed it. She has an incredible voice and the range to sing everything, but just as importantly, she can act as well. Brünnhilde is supposed to think that Siegfried is betraying her in the double-marriage scene, and she is pissed. And I’ve never seen a character in any medium sell anger this well. I was genuinely scared all the way back in the seats. You could see it in her face and body language and hear it in her voice. She absolutely sold the anger.

And the bitch of it is, they’re both right (in a way). Siegfried and Brünnhilde are arguing over two different topics,

Siegfried’s scene at the end of the first act, where he pretends to be Gunther to win Brünnhilde for Siegfried, was masterfully creepy. In this production, the Tarnhelm was a piece of chain mail instead of a helmet that Siegfried covered his face with, and it was incredibly creepy. He even changed his voice, sounding deeper and more menacing. 

The one other thing in the production that really worked were the anachronisms. The court of the Gibichungs was a more militaristic one than the original, and the guards mostly sported automatic rifles... but some had crossbows. When Siegfried goes hunting, he takes his sword Nothung and a M-16. There were a lot of wonderful anachronisms like that in the operas that made me smile (notably in Siegfried, where Mime and Sigfried live in a trailer park and forge Nothung in a jumped-up barbecue). 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Bonus: Memebase Failed Picture

I was trying to make a meme on Memebase.com the other day, and for some reason it wouldn't let me post it; I tried three times and struck out. So I said fuck it, took a screencap and am posting it here.

How Not To Tell A Story

So it’s Pirates of the Caribbean, movie 3, and grim times are ahead. The evil, law-abiding British East India Trading Company (which has for some reason expanded its reach worldwide) is headed for a thunderous showdown with the murdering, lawbreaking, good-guy pirate hordes.

Our Heroes spend most of the movie preparing for the showdown: first they have to go grab Jack Sparrow and the Pearl from the ditch the last movie stuck them in, then they have to all assemble at Pirate Stronghold Of The Week to convene the “Brethren Court”. After deliberation and argument up to the ceiling, they finally manage to convince the assembled Pirate Lords to elect a Pirate King, as according to the Pirate Code, and they all ride out and prepare for battle against the BEITC.


This is no small deal. There are (racist caricatures of) Pirate Lords from every (stereotyped) corner of Earth. There are battle flags being raised from all the great historical pirates of antiquity. Absolutely everything the pirates have is here on the table. And on the other side is a fleet composed of everything the enemy has, literally hundreds of warships ready to fight. 


So, to summarize: The characters have spent maybe the past 70 minutes of screen time getting to this godforsaken place, convincing the pirates to all assemble into one united fleet, and getting them to ride out and meet the enemy head-on. Two enormous fleets are ready to go. A humongous battle is clearly in the cards.

And we get… the Black Pearl and the Flying Dutchman duking it out for a solid 20 minutes.

Don’t get me wrong, that fight is pretty excellent. But what about the fleets? What about, you know, the fleet we spent the last hour and change assembling?

Well, the next time we see the pirate fleet is them celebrating at the end of the battle, which they took zero part in. As for the BEITC goons, the Dutchman and the Pearl combine to sink their flagship, and then they all go home.

Just like that.

The entirety of that time spent building up the fleet meant absolutely fuck-all in terms of the plot. They could have shaved off that hour of screen time, cut out those stupid scenes with multiple Jack Sparrows for good measure, and had more space for actual decent storytelling where the fat used to be!

And the Dutchman could've retired to the Bahamas a long time earlier than it did.