Friday, July 31, 2009

A piece of slightly Kloss eyed genius

Growing up, a lot of kids look up to sports stars and musicians. While I certainly had my favorites (Paul Molitor, James Lofton) I also had a more peculiar idol: Milwaukee Journal writer Gerald Kloss.

Kloss wrote a column called Slightly Kloss Eyed for the Green Sheet, the afternoon paper's weekday comics and humor section. I had the pleasure of seeing him in person (although we weren't introduced) during a tour of the company in the mid '80's.

Anyhow, I came across this today and thought it was worth a repeat here. In January 1974 a city of Milwaukee standpipe, a vertical pipe meant to guide water to the upper floor of a building, leaked during a fire.

"The great standpipe scandal was upon us. The city desk couldn't have been happier.

So many standpipe stories ran in the next weeks that a couple of office wags put together a list assigning fake standpipe stories to everyone in the newsroom, from the sob sister to the music critic. . .

Gerald Kloss, the Green Sheet poet, strolled in that morning and stopped at the bulletin board where, mildly amused, he read the list of assignments. Then he came to his own: "Eighteen lines of iambic pentameter couplets on standpipes beginning `Ah, Chloe.' "

He turned on his heels and strode to his typewriter. In less than an hour, 18 lines of perfectly scanned, iambic pentameter couplets were on the bulletin board. They began:

Ah, Chloe, erst I saw you standing there

Upon that naked shore, pristine and bare,

I fondly mused, "There is, indeed, a verity

In this, your very perpendicularity!

Standpipe-straight, not veering from the vertical,

Nor leaning left nor right en mode absurdical!"


The rest of the staff, some of whom had difficulty writing prose, to say nothing of poetry, gathered at the bulletin board in humbled silence, much like the awe with which the crowd must have greeted events at Lourdes. One suspects that if Kloss talked in his sleep, it came mumbling out as rhymed couplets. He couldn't help it.

He was a genius."

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Kinky Boots and Pong

I first laid eyes on this LOL British news piece courtesy of Matt on Facebook. In it a professional engineer designs and builds new uses for outdated technology, including the doo-dad in the title.

Enjoy!

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/8175612.stm

James Larsson likes to play '70s video game Pong with a fetish boot as a
controller and a whip to punish the loser.
It is just one of his novel ways
he makes use of old technology.
He has shown Ellie Gibson around his
workshop where he incorporates high voltage electricity, old video games and
even cats, into inventions reviving defunct technology.
These experiments
have been conducted by a professional engineer and should not be recreated.

Just a bunch of praise for me . . you know, the usual

Over on Facebook I bit*ed and moaned about accepting a writing assignment from the Journal, one I think is going to land me more hate mail than a low paying freelance gig is worth. I did it anyway, partly because I said I would , but also because the editor sent out a mass email saying I was tackling the subject, making the hemming and hawing a moot point:) I have to admit it spawned a whole batch of emotions in me.

One, a tinge of regret at being rather mercenary. Not that I would ever write in complete opposition to my beliefs for the sake of a few bucks. I stayed 'true' and all that. But I didn't relish the idea of dealing with the crap upon publication, and I wouldn't have done it if I wasn't so broke. Plus, I'll be honest. I live and die by the immortal words of Tom McIntyre, Joey Mac's Dad: "Make sure they always know your name boy!" I wasn't about to turn down another byline.

I was also rather proud of myself. I took a gig no one else wanted, did it well, and had a final draft in with about 18 hours to spare before deadline. Plus, doing it while expecting flack - I don't know, I felt professional, you know?

* * * *

Well, wasn't that a fine three paragraphs? My arm hurts from patting myself on the back so hard. I much prefer when others offer the praise, and so I'll bring this up:

In the wake of my piece on kids and the choices we've taken away from them, a local high school summer class was told to read the column and compose an individual email to me. Along with some intelligent questions and opinions, here's what they had to say.

* For one, your writing style is not only fresh and clean, but sarcastic and sassy.

* I agree with you on "injury-proofing" kids these days . . . Also, you look similar to Mr. Wilson, the sixth grade English teacher.

* I agree with you [about] the fact kids should be able to make their own decisions, because otherwise they will never end up learning. I like your to-the point style of writing which involves a sassy tone. It shows that something needs to be done about this ever growing problem.

I wrote each of them a letter addressing their concerns and thanking them - and their teacher - for the letters.

Praise for the wife, dirty slivers, and dead Congressmen

Lisa has spent all week volunteering at a Girl Scout day camp with our three oldest kids (Smiley is allowed to participate because of her presence). She returns each evening, we all have dinner, pack up some items for the next morning, and then 5/6th of this household retires to bed by 7 p.m. Obviously, I'm the little sliver of insomnia in the bunch.

Lisa will be taking the camera tomorrow so I hope to post some pictures of the camp soon . But I want to take this opportunity to say that Lisa often gets screwed here on the blog. She doesn't like to take a camera along ("You don't need pictures to remember something," she says) and she doesn't blog, so by default most of the memories here are my own.

Judging by the tales told over the dinner table tonight, those three kids are having the time of their life this week. They've also got a heap experiences over the last seven years that wouldn't have taken place without their Mom's efforts. So if this carnival ride of a life sometimes appears to have only one operator, think again.

* * * *
That sliver underneath my fingernail caused my finger to turn red and swell. Lisa told me to go to the doctor before I had to have it cut off, but I refused. "Worse comes to worse," I said. "I'll just look like a yakuza."

Then, two days ago it just spit out the splinter. Plop, one minute it's red and hurting, the next there's a dirty piece of wood in my palm and the pain is gone.

Cool. In like, a totally boy kinda way.

* * * * *
Some neat experiences of late:


* I met the wife and daughter of one of author Michael Connelly's research staff. He lives locally, but does a lot of legwork to flesh out the background for Connelly's novels. They said the author is a gem and a genuinely nice man, one who flies out his researchers for a party at the start of every NFL season. He also named a character in The Brass Verdict after their husband/father, but for the life of me the name escapes me right now.

* I ran into the editor-at-large for two national magazines (and yes, I asked: the magazines aren't hiring, they're cutting staff).

* Finally, I bumped into the daughter of former Congressman and local icon, the late Clement J. Zablocki. I told her how, just weeks before his death in 1983, I appeared on stage with her father.

I was (or so the press was told) the youngest Cub Scout in the District at that moment. Whether that was true or not, I leave to my diligent future biographers.

Anyhow, I was handed a hatchet and charged with cutting the ribbon to open some now forgotten Scouting event. I couldn't get the hatchet to cut through all the way, and so Clem came up, wrapped his hands around the handle, and together we got it done.



His daughter smiled when I told her the story. "That was my father," she said, a wistful look in her eyes. "He was a good man."

As she left I realized that the memory meant more to her than it did to me. To have someone relate a positive story about your father nearly three decades after he passes away . . . well, I'd imagine it doesn't happen often. I'm glad I overcame my original hesitation and approached her.

BTW - that scouting event was also host to my first television interview, one I never had a chance to see because it was broadcast on that fancy dancy new thing called Cable. :)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Double Star by Robert Heinlien



One of these days I need to check out some later Heinlein, circa the 1980's, just to see what it's like, because the old stuff is going to make me cry - and not tears of joy.

Double Star
is the Hugo Award winning novel about a kidnapped politician of the far future who is temporarily replaced by a down and out actor. That's pretty much the plot right there.

It's not a bad read, and I enjoyed 70% of it while I read it, but Hugo Award winning??? Was every other writer on vacation that year or what?

Here's the deal. Forget the slightly dated sci-fi concepts, as that's unavoidable. I don't deduct points for that. However, I found the main character of the actor a pompous, unloveable twit that needed a good wallop between the eyes.

I also found Heinlein's treatment of women ghastly outdated and hypocritical. It's weird - the guy has women in positions of power or responsibiltiy, and then he has them act like Victorian women suffering from the vapors.

The secretary is in love with her boss (natch! How come that never happened to me?) Throughout the book sexism reigns. Oh nellie, don't you dare use improper language around a lady and please sir - ignore her s-s-s-stammer whenever she's upset. Why, can't you see her lips are quivering from the emotional toll of being an adult? It's not her fault she doesn't have a penis.

Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

William Tell visits Russia's Got Talent

What a sad testament it is to human nature that I LMAO when I saw this. I have to think this is fake, although the judges of "Russia's Got Talent" certainly don't seem to be in on it. Again, I "think" it's fake, but I have no proof to dispute the folks online who are calling it 100% real.




UPDATE: I can't stop giggling each time I see it. I am a bad, bad person.

Unmasked: The Final Years of Michael Jackson



I don't think I've seen a book, outside of partisan political tomes, that's generated the kind of venom leveled at Unmasked. Online reviewers slam the book and all but wretch in print (although very few seem to have actually read it) and I've met an MJ fan whose face wrinkled in disgust when I mentioned I was reading a copy.

Much of the anger seems to surround a chapter that alleges Michael was homosexual. In the end the correct response to that is that it shouldn't matter if he was gay, straight, or asexual. However, I'll agree that the lurid need to 'out' everyone famous, whether they are truly gay or not, gets tiresome and offensive. Moreover, the allegations in that chapter are backed by 'secret' sources, all "sworn to anonymity", and some of it is counter-intuitive: somehow I doubt a hypochondriac like Jackson would be keen on having sex in a roach filled hotel room.

If he was gay, you won't find the proof here.

The problem is when author Ian Halperin engages in speculation, or ventures into an area where there are no hard facts to guide him, the book completely falls apart. His prose is readable but he injects himself into the story at every opportunity, often painting himself as the hero going the extra mile for a story. Frankly, it sometimes reads like a bad blog post.

But what the fans ignore - stupidly - is that the book, which originally set out to pin MJ as a chronic molester, ends up exonerating him.

Whenever Halperin has documents and on-the-record sources to guide his hand, the book maintains a steady and believable footing -and there are certainly enough resources about the alleged molestation cases to fill the bill. Among other evidence, the book includes a *45* page transcript of a session between his '90's accuser and a child psychiatrist.

This isn't the time or place to go over all the facts, but it appears to be a clear case of extortion orchestrated by a man who'd had his medical licence suspended for unethical behavior and who (oddly) dreamed of Jackson financing his screenplay. Many of the media 'revelations' were also patently untrue, and often seem to have been consciously manipulated by D.A. Tom Sneddon.

Most shocking - his accuser, who comes off as an intelligent and well spoken teenager in the transcript, stated to authorities that Micheal was circumcised. This, along with other 'distinguishing marks' he identified, were the reason behind the infamous nude photos the D.A. took of Jackson.

The problem? To quote the doctor on scene: "The subject is clearly not circumcised."

At the time the media jumped on the photos as 'proof' of the accusations, when at the very least they strongly cast doubt on the intimate details of the case.

As for the trial in the middle of this decade . . . start to finish it appears to be a farce. To quote Stephen King:

This came down to a prosecutor either so sure Jackson was bad or so offended by
Jackson's combination of celebrity and wackiness that he rushed into a case that
looked shaky from hello. It looked worse as Tom Sneddon went along, and had
become nearly ludicrous by the time Jackson's ex-wife left the stand. No matter
how pure Sneddon's motives may have been (and I'm not saying they were, believe me), he began to look like a man pursuing a vendetta, one whose chief hope of
securing a conviction lay in the obvious fact that the trial was a sideshow and
the accused was . . . well, a freak.


Would I let my kids sleep in the same bed with a grown man? HELL TO THE NO. Did Jackson display horrific and naive judgement in continuing his behavior even after the '90's debacle? Yes. Was Jackson, as one detective theorized, a grown man only in business affairs, and a 'regressed 10 year old' otherwise? It certainly appears so.

An interesting book, and I'd give it a read . . .just maybe not at full price.

Smiley's Insect Picnic

Those of you who know us and are on Facebook have probably already seen these pics, but what the hay. My mother-in-law took Smiley to an MPS Recreation Department class called "The Insect Picnic", just as she took LuLu and YaYa in prior years. Here's what she had to say on Facebook:

Had a busy day, and boy I'm tired. Worked at "Share" with two grandaughters then on to the Insect Picnic from Milwaukee Rec. with my Grandson. I did some walking in the woods at Hawthorn Glen, we then ate worms in a bun, aunts on a log, beetle juice, salad, and worms in dirt.


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Thanks Jeanne. He had a great time, and I'm sure Ginger's already looking forward to her turn :)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

More Pointless, Grainy Photos

Continuing the (mostly) pointless picture posting . . . the other day I took the kids and their friends to the park, and it turned out to be one of the most miserable, frustrating, "please kill me" trips home ever. Constant meltdowns by LuLu, fighting between her and her sister, their friend complaining . . .ugh.

About the only worse trip lately was when I picked up LuLu from school last week. She completely spazed because I wouldn't stay to let her play on the jungle gym. There's nothing like being a 300 pound man, across from an elementary school, dragging a six year old to a van while she screams "NO! NO! YOU CAN'T MAKE ME GO! STOP! STOP!" and strangers look on wondering if they should be dialing 911.

Deep Breath. Exhale.

Ok, anyhow, there was one good part about that walk home. Out of the blue Smiley and YaYa regained their composure and tried to calm down the rest of them by putting on a show.

(yeah, I can't explain why my phone routinely decides to change the photo resolution setting to "COLECOVISION" every other day. I'll work on it.)

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Jonah and Smiley - July 23rd

My sister and her kids are currently on the east coast, en route to a vacation cottage in Cape Cod where they'll take part in a Reunion for her ex's family. On the way out the door Smiley stopped to hug his cousin, and I snapped this rather grainy camera phone pic.

BTW, at age 15 years and 5 days Jonah now stands a good inch taller than me, and I'm a few inches past six feet. It's weird to think of Baby Jonah and picture him having to hunch down to look me in the eyes. I better get used to it though. Smiley has my genes on one side and Scandinavian/Germans on the other. I'll be lucky if he doesn't surpass my height by eighth grade :)

Sprint PictureMail

Friday, July 24, 2009

Sword Song: The Battle For London



Sword Song is Bernard Cornwell's continuation of the Saxon Tales, a history of Britain's 9th Century King Alfred the Great as seen through the eyes of his reluctant heathen warrior, Uthred.

Uthred, the son of a deposed northern ruler, is hungry for revenge and loyal to Danish (read: Viking) religion and culture, but is bound by an oath to serve the pious Alfred as he solidifies the island into a single nation.

Enter a new wave of Danish warriors, men who threaten both that nation and the fragile peace of the time. Somehow Uthred and the King's army must find a way to take back the city of Lundene (London) if river traffic is to continue and the Danish invasion be thwarted.

Start to finish this is a rollicking, estrogen free adventure. It is bloody and unrepentant, just like the crass and Thor worshipping Uthred. It is also written very well, as you can expect from a Cornwell novel, mixing in history with a rich and vibrant cast of characters.

Recommended.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Crowley: "I have nothing to apologize for."

CNN) -- A Cambridge, Massachusetts, police officer said Thursday he will "never apologize" about how he handled the arrest of prominent black Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.

"That apology will never come from me as Jim Crowley, it won't come from me as sergeant in the Cambridge Police Department," [said] Sgt. James Crowley . . . "Whatever anybody else chooses to do in the name of the city of Cambridge or the Cambridge Police Department which are beyond my control, I don't worry about that. I know what I did was right. I have nothing to apologize for."


* * * *

You know, for all my problems with my neighbor, if they saw someone trying to force their way into my house and called the police, I'd owe them a thank you. If it turned out I was the guy at the door, and simply lost my keys or the lock was stuck, the thank you would stand and I'd also thank the cops who showed up to protect my life and property. I sure as hell wouldn't berate them, argue about their need to verify I was the homeowner, or scream at them and drag in my political friends.

Is racism real? Sure. *Could* it be an issue here? Of course. Or, it could be what it seems like - a rich guy doing what some rich, well connected people do best, abuse and berate people of lower socio-economic stature.

That's a pretty posh area right? People living there probably don't worry about the exhaust pipe of their rusty Escort falling off on the way to work, or break into sweats when they see a Utility Company van pull into the alley. I'd imagine at some point, no matter where you started from, you lose perspective.

On the other hand I've lived in plenty of places where crime was a problem, and so I appreciate a bit of honest investigative work, even if afterwards I'm a little ticked off at the intrusion.

From what I can tell, he should have stayed cool and it would have been over and done in a few minutes. And no matter what party you belong to, it was WAY out of line for the President to comment on behalf of a friend in a criminal matter, especially when he admitted not knowing the details. The White House is doing damage control as we speak, but even if my man Dubya had spoken the words, I'd be saying "WTF?".

UPDATE:
I saw a clip of Gates on CNN and I am now certain of my position. Arrogant and pompous when faced down by friendly interviewers, I can only imagine his tone and behavior when confronted by police.

BTW - He's 5'7". While this might sound flippant, I assure you I'm serious: In my 35 years on Earth, I've found that most (not all) men who fall well short of six feet carry a massive chip on their shoulders, one that tends to cause them to overeact in situations where they believe their masculinity is threatened.

* * * *

On a Boston radio program this morning, Bill Cosby suggested that President Obama spoke too soon on the controversial arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates.

“I’ve heard about five different reports [on the details of the arrest],” Cosby said on Boston’s WZLX. “If I’m the president of the United States, I don’t care how much pressure people want to put on it about race, I’m keeping my mouth shut.”

“I was shocked to hear the president making this kind of statement,” Cosby said referring to the president’s remarks during last night’s press conference. . .

Cosby cautioned those from coming up with their own conclusions, but gave the president some leeway.

“People who have not been there, people who don’t know are beginning to have their own personal feelings, but they weren’t there,” Cosby said.

“Does this include the president?” asked the FOX25 reporter.

“It includes everybody,” Cosby said.

Journey's 'Separate Ways' - the literal video

From dascottjr, the Youtube master of literal music videos, here's Journey at their best.

"count my close-ups, here's #2 . . . 3 . . .4 . . turn head left, watch the chords in my neck protrude, dude"

Smiley runs afoul of the law

Ok, when we took my nephew for his haircut there was a 45 minute wait list, and so we got back in the van and went shopping for a dehumidifier. Smiley was buckled into his booster seat in the 3rd row.

A few miles down the highway I looked into the rear view mirror and saw a flash of orange - his shirt color - streak past.

"What the hell? Smiley! You get back in your seat NOW!," I said. While not oblivious to the wrath he was going to incur, he was intent on finding whatever it was he'd lost in the van - probably a small bouncing ball he got out of a vending machine earlier.

"Smiley! NOW!" I said. Screw it. I hit the turn signal and headed for the nearest exit, with the little guy still tearing apart the second row of the van. As we were stopped at a red light on the off ramp I looked up into the mirror.

I guess that piece of shiny glass had it in for me. There was a sheriff's deputy right behind us. A moment later she hit the siren and pulled us over.

The deputy strolled over, asked for my license, and went over the obvious: she'd seen the boy bouncing around the car on the off ramp. In our increasingly intrusive society, the mere sight of anyone without a seat belt on is legal justification to pull you over, even without antother violation.

[And let's be honest - it's also a way for cops to pull you over on a whim, if they "think" they saw you without a belt.]

I explained that he *had* been buckled in when we got on the freeway, but that he'd taken it upon himself to unbuckle. Thinking it might do some good at home if the boy got a good scare in him, I told him he'd gotten us into trouble with the police.

"He didn't do anything wrong," said the Deputy. "You did. You're the adult, it's your responsibiltiy to make sure he remains in his seat."

Yeah. Sure. I'll get right on that, as I'm going down the expressway in rush hour traffic.

The price of the ticket? No points, but $206.

At that, I balked. Kindly, politely, calmly, but I balked. My story wasn't even a story, it was legit. After all, hadn't I drawn the deputy's attention by actively trying to get him back in his seat?

Wadaya know, the deputy seemed to debate this point, and asked to examine our car seats. Thank heavens I'd already dumped the bodies and had nothing to hide, so I said sure. Four car seats/boosters, neat and tidy. One point for me. She asked Smiley how old he was and he answered "four" but that was the last understanable statement out of his mouth. I'm no fan of his speech problems but the garbled answers seemed to lend credence to my tale of chaos.

The deputy went back to her jeep and we waited some more. When she returned there was a ticket, but not for $206. Instead of citing me for Smiley, she wrote me up as the offender. I was wearing my belt, but I didn't complain. A driver gets only a no point, $10 ticket. They much prefer if you endanger yourself instead of others.

"I've got two kids of my own, and the youngest makes as much trouble as yours," she said. "So I'm going to give you a break this time."

Thank you Deputy. I mean that. $200 might as well be $2000 right now.

Then she asked to speak to Smiley again, and laid into him with a lecture on listening and staying buckled. He seemed strangely unimpressed, almost blase, and I'm not sure how much sunk in.

Not that his troubles ended when we pulled back onto the road, no sirree. Mom and I had something to say about it, that's for sure.

* * * * *

Neat bit of trivia: We hadn't been to Sport Clips since last September, when I took the same two boys for a back-to-school trim. While Smiley and I waited today a very hot young receptionist came over to us. "Oh, he's sooo cute. I remember him. He has the speech problem right?"

Ten months go by, and the girl remembers him. That echoes tales we've all heard about the Little Man. Just the other day one of his teachers bumped into Lisa at a store. She said that a staff member from his summer school location had made a special point to tell her all about this adorable little boy she taught for the summer - Smiley.

Play on playa, play on.

The Haircut

You may remember seeing this picture of my nephew/Godson in the First Communion posts. Note the long flowing hair. I hate that look, but in the end I'm just the middle-aged Uncle, and so it stayed.




Until today. He's staying with us for a few nights and asked if I'd take him for a haircut. Since we owed him a birthday present, I agreed. Smiley and I accompanied him to Sport Clips and the fun began.

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Here's the final result. As I said to him. "Good. At least now you're more Jonas Brothers and less Demi Lovato"


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Jonah

It's a great improvement, and I hope he agrees!

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Meanderings of a Cluttered Mind

Well, just to complete my Jedi training in Dork, I called the phone number in the spoof ad on the cover of "Monster", the book I reviewed yesterday. Calling 212-364-1177 connects you to the switchboard for Cryptobiological Containment and Rescue Services, est. 1977. As you "continue to hold" you are offered prompts to order humane traps to snare all sorts of mythical creatures. My phone died out before I heard all the options.

Quite a hoot. Not as much fun as dialing 867-5309, but a nice way to pass 30 seconds while you pick your teeth with a matchbook cover.

Moving on . . .

* * * * *

A crazy few days here. On Saturday evening, as YaYa and I drove to church, we ran over a large screw and got a flat tire. Good luck finding someplace to patch it on the weekend, right? Wrong. Wal-Mart's tire center was not only open, but charged half as much as I'm used to paying.

RIP Sam Walton, ya done me right this weekend.

While we were waiting YaYa was a doll, which surprised the hell out of me. Hell, I was bored. But she acted like it was a grand adventure and even told me how nice it was to browse the store together. We picked up a freeze-dried ice cream sandwich from the camping section, and were surprised as heck to find it tasted pretty close to the real thing.

* * * * * *
I've got a splinter lodged deep under my pinkie nail. I trimmed the nail back as far as I dare and removed what I could, but some of it will just have to work its way out. Man oh man, there's a reason that's considered a real, honest-to-goodness torture technique.

* * * * *

I left today to walk an errand with YaYa and my niece, with no plans in the works for dinner. I came back 15 minutes later to find Lisa had scrambled together a steaming plate of sumptuous BBQ chicken breast, carrots, and salad. It was easily one of THE BEST pieces of chicken I've ever had, and I bow to her heavenly cooking skills.

Looks like Lisa rocks in *two* rooms of the house ;)

* * * * * * *

Smiley's bus was more than 45 minutes late dropping him off from school today, and I won't mince words: my head was a bleepin' mess of nerves and worst case scenarios. Ugh. All I can say is at least I don't let those fears control my whole world, as I still let him hop aboard each morning.

* * * *

Speaking of the school bus, it pulls out of here in six hours. Time to hit the sack. Later!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Monster by A. Lee. Martinez


Monster, the human hero of this novel, is a cryptobioligical containment specialist; in plain English, an exterminator that deals in magical and demonic beasts. He's got a Demon as a girlfriend, one who's not sure if being with him is better than returning to hell. His partner is a being from another dimension who manifests himself as a piece of origami. His skin changes color daily, the result of a nasty crypto bite, and with each change he temporarily obtains a different power.

In Monster's world magic exists, but has largely been forgotten by the world. Many people cannot see it or its effects at all, while others can view it but quickly forget. Judy belongs to the latter group, and her life to date has been one calamity after another.

Together, they must save the universe from an immortal virus seeking to overthrow reality.

This isn't high end literature, obviously, but it's quick, it's relatively original, and most importantly it's entertaining. I'm not sure they left adequate room for a sequel, but I'm hoping Martinez can pull one off, because these are characters I'd like to visit again.

Well done.

3.25 out of 4.

Monday, July 20, 2009

"One Small Step" - on the 40th anniversary of the Moon Landing, and why we need to go back


Given my fascination with history it seems incredible that in 1994 I lived through the 25th anniversary of the Moon landing without paying the slightest bit of attention. I had a good reason though, as the Slapinions family was a bit preoccupied: that day featured the birth of my oldest nephew/Godson.

Happy Birthday Jonah!

* * * *

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing. To me the events of July 20, 1969 stand as an incredible accomplishment, and a lasting testament to what can be done when science and human desire merge to achieve the impossible.

I was born five years after Apollo 11. For me, walking on the moon was a subject found in history books, not science fiction. Unfortunately, it has remained soley a thing for the history books. In my lifetime - which again, began so shortly after that great day - a human being has never walked on the moon, nor even approached it in orbit.

I'm still left shaking my head as to where we went off track. (The space shuttle, remember, was and is more a PR tool than an advancement, as it can only stay in low Earth orbit.) How did we strain so hard, rise above so many obstacles, triumph so spectacularly - only to sulk off into the shadows and lie content with what amounts to retirement?

What went wrong?

Well, for starters we 'won'. We beat the Soviets to the Moon, we accomplished JFK's ambitious goal, we scored the propaganda coup. Few things fertilize apathy more than success, and I'd say this was a prime example.

There is also the fact that this was an American endevour, fueled by national pride and creating more in turn. Yet even as Apollo 11 was en route to fufill JFK's quest, his youngest brother would drive off a bridge and a young woman would drown, ending the Kennedy's quest for the crown and our confidence in their perfection. While Armstrong made his historic walk a newscaster named Cronkite would describe the scene. A year earlier Cronkite had stepped outside the bounds of journalistic neutrality to render a verdict on a war. Inspired by this suprising breach a new generation of journalists would publish the Pentagon Papers and, later, take down a sitting President.

I myself have never felt it, by I'd assume in the wake of those events it was a bit harder to root for the home team.

I can understand those factors. I don't necessarily agree with them, but I understand. What I have never been able to grasp, what I hope NEVER to understand, is the foolish notion that space exploration is a waste of resources best spent here.

Whether we venture into space or not, some things are writ in stone. There will always be some degree of poverty. There will always be sickness. There will always be a natural disaster, or a war, an epidemic or a cause celebre to advance.

That was the case when our species first left Africa to migrate across the globe. It was the case when Europeans first ventured across the Ocean. It was true when America expanded westward, when the Wright brothers abandoned their bike shop to soar in the air, and it will be true a thousand years from now when we first set foot on a world revolving around a distant star.

To grind progress to a halt, to silence the inate curiousity that has been the hallmark of our species is madness. It's cowardice and an inferiority complex masquerading as idealism and compassion. Frankly, it doesn't even make sense. The amount of money spent by NASA is a drop in the bucket to any number of foolish and short-sighted programs we sponsor every year - even before the days of the 'stimulus'.

And for the record: in the nearly forty years since we stopped visiting the Moon, have we cured any major illness of note? Have we stopped poverty, or hunger? Have we ended wars, settled our cultural differences, or even united behind a single, viable economic theory?

Spend money on NASA, or spend it on something else: either way I guarantee you the answer to the above questions will be the same in a half century.

We need to return our focus to the future, and that lies outside this globe. We need to return to the moon - and beyond.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

10 years later - The Assasination of JFK, Jr.?

Today marks the 10th anniversary of JFK Jr.'s death. That just seems unbelievable, doesn't it? I was going to post this later in the year, but it obviously deserves to post today.


I think I told you before that I live in a very nice, very left of center neighborhood, one that likes to believe it is bohemian and cultured and West Coast. There are gay bars and bike paths and ratty little coffee houses/theaters. The menus here invariably feature at least one veggie burger and a gluten free alternative, and there is the worlds largest Rainbow flag display not 3/4th of a block from me.

I enjoy the atmosphere, as a matter of fact, although I believe it largely based in fiction. The area is still comprised mainly on blue collar types who like beer and brats and listen to 'TMJ in the morning. Nothing wrong with either group.

Anyhow, there is a fashionable little burger joint within walking distance. In a box on their counter they keep several DVD's, all of which can be taken home on the 'honor system', and you are encouraged to burn a copy and pass it on. These are 'Truther' DVD's, the ones where aliens or Bush or the CIA are said to have rigged the Towers to implode on 9/11, and a collection of other odd propaganda. On my latest visit I picked up a copy called "The Assassination of JFK, Jr."

Wow.

I can't find the strength to view the film again to snatch verbatim quotes, and I'll be up front about turning it off before it was over (per constant requests from Lisa and a guest). But let me give you the rundown, with absolutely no editorial changes in tone.

First, the Kennedy's were and are a noble and intellectual clan. JFK Sr.of course, wanted us out of Vietnam (then why put us there?) and so was slain . . . by Jewish bankers who were financing the military/industrial complex. They had George Herbert Walker Bush arrange the deed.

[Dangit, I promised editorial honesty. They weren't called "Jewish" bankers, they were "Israeli" - in this context, what I view as simply a transparent euphemism.]

Then Bobby was killed, and Ted was drugged to frame him for Chappaquiddick.

Cue up JFK, Jr. John, we are told, was not a no-good useless rich guy (their words, but reduced 90% in vitriol), but a deep and intellectual man who believed all of the above conspiracies and was slowly but surely gathering power to overthrow his enemies.

For this reason, George W. Bush left a campaign stop in Iowa and disappeared from the public scene for three days. In this time he arranged and orchestrated for someone on the plane (?) to close the fuel valve and intentionally plunge the plane into the icy waters of the Atlantic, killing themselves and John in the process.

In short, Dubya assassinated Jr. in the latest round of the fifty year old Kennedy-Bush shadow war (which, apparently the Bush's won hands down, if this guy was even half right).

Now I'm going to assume, Dear Reader, that you have some common sense and write this off as paranoia. But even so may I point out that there is no explanation, no good explanation, why a (then)current Presidential candidate would seek to assassinate a man who, by the admission of the film itself, would not be seeking the office for years. Nor would said candidate have to personally arrange the deal (not while ol' Rove is still around ;) or vanish from the public eye to do so. And the Kennedy's, if they had half the honor and power the film grants them, would never let the death quietly pass from attention.

I understand the Cult of Personality surrounding some politicians, then and most assuredly now. But much as I liked John Kennedy Jr. - and I sincerely did - to label him a closet intellectual silently gathering power while avoiding the attention of the demonic Bush clan . . . well, that's loony.

For much of his life, bless him, he *was* just your average rich man's son, stumbling through life worried about his looks, women, a lackluster career, and more women, and not in that order. Nothing wrong with that life if you can get it, and all the power to him for enjoying it. Maybe after twenty years of 'clean living' he'd have pushed forward into the Presidency, but we'll never know.

Here's what we do know: avoid the film.

Thursday Night Mutterings

If you didn't go out and buy a copy - and shame on you if you didn't - here's a link to my column in the Journal-Sentinel.

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Bravo TV's The Fashion Show cut Reco just before the finale. What the heck was that? I had the feeling that's where they were heading when they took pains to highlight every flaw on the runway. Apparently his work is inferior to dark, gloomy, "fashion" based on "aborginal people wearing Western Clothing". Again, how the heck did James-Paul advance over Reco?????

Here's hoping he gets his own label and buries the yahoo's that were chosen over him (although I liked Anna's [admittingly disjointed] collection).


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Some misc. local news.

First, the Patrick Cudahy fire appears to have been accidentally set by two brothers, one a Purple Heart recipient in Iraq, who fired off a military grade flare during a holiday BBQ. According to their Mom, they were "just being idiots". The flare landed on the plant's roof, setting off the $50 million fire and idling 1800 jobs.

Way to party responsibly guys.

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We got a letter today from Milwaukee Public Schools urging precautions, but not panic, in light of the continuing strength of the Swine Flu here. Just a few days ago the virus claimed its fourth victim here, a 13 year old girl.

Milwaukee has recorded 3,268 confirmed cases, 700 more than the entire state of California. That's a disturbing fact, one that has brought attention from The Harvard University School of Public Health, which hopes to isolate the cause of the outbreak here.

What's worse is that health officials are acknowledging that the number of cases will "ramp up" again in the fall.


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I saw WI Senator Russ Feingold (D) question Supreme Court nominee Santomayor on the question of the 2nd amendment and the right to bear arms. Her response, which was replayed in full on a local newscast, went round and round in circles and told us nothing at all about her legal or personal opinions. I have no doubt she'll be confirmed and replace Souter in the left-wing of the Court, but how sad is this process? It's all just a sham, where the person who can keep their mouth shut the longest gets the prize in the end. Ugh.

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The economy is improving, is it? All is on the upswing? Huh. I've heard differently.

Harley Davidson just announced they're cutting 1000 jobs, at least half of which will come from Wisconsin.

Marine Outboard Motors has warned that they're thinking of yanking 2000 jobs from Fon du Lac.

The father of one of YaYa's classmates just lost his job, as did the mother of another.

People continue to apply at my current employer, many quite vocal about their need for a job, "any job".

Nationally, TIME says the expected bancruptcy of CIT, a large small-business lender that has been refused bailout assistance, threatens to restart the financial crisis.

Mostly anecdotal evidence or conjecture, certainly. But as much as I'm hoping for an economic rebound (and this family needs it just as much - MORE - than most) I don't see it yet, at least not here.

You know when I think things are well and truly on the way back to 'normal'? Think back over the last 15 years. What did Subway push, push, push in all their advertising? What did they stress in the restaurants themselves? What did they use to differentiate themselves from the pack?

Nutrition. Health-conscious food. They were the 'smart' choice. And it worked extremely well.



And yet what do you here from them for the last year? Five dollar footlongs, five dollar meal deals, price, price, price, even if what they're selling is a cheese covered mess that eschows all the principles they worked so hard to establish in the public mind.

They're desperate, and they know consumers in this economy value their pocketbooks over a heart attack twenty years down the road.

When that changes, and they go back to their nutrition based advertising, then, THEN this thing might well and truly be over and done.

Or my theory might be full of sh*t. :) We'll see.

FYI

I have a column in today's Journal-Sentinel. If you're in the state, please pick up a copy.

The Haunting in Connecticut and the divine Ms. Madsen



At the All-Star game party my buddy Tre asked me why I like horror movies. I gave him a coherent response, but the more I think about it, the more it simply comes down to this:

Most horror movies suck. I seem to be on a quest to find a really good, really scary movie not called The Exorcist. Once I find that, I think I'll be good for a while.


The Haunting in Connecticut certainly isn't the Holy Grail I'm searching for. It sucked. Royally. Beginning to end stink-a-rooni, softened by the fact that it was big budget and the folks involved really seemed to try. Try and fail, but try.


1.5 out of 4.


BUT . . . the movie did feature the lovely Ms. Virginia Madsen.



Oh, the thoughts the tween and teen Danny had about her . . . whoo. I'll spare you the puberty induced fantasies, but even now, Botox and all, isn't she just gorgeous?

One of my first sightings of Madsen was in Electric Dreams, a neat little '80's romantic comedy about a PC that gained sentience (if I remember, this milestone in evolution came about after soda was spilled on the keyboard). Of course the PC becomes jealous of its owner's new love interest (Madsen) and trouble ensues.

Loved the movie. Loved the Boy George soundtrack. I think I have the cassette of the music here somewhere, having special ordered it as a kid with my measly piggy bank money.







Oh, there was one scary bit about The Haunting . . . but it came from our own house. During one horror scene our screen door flew open and slammed against the side of the house, while the wind chimes I have on the inside of the wooden door began to ring.

Kind of spooky. But it still doesn't raise the movie's rating.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The 2009 MLB All-Star Game Party

It's become a tradition for me to host an annual party to watch the MLB All-Star game. My firm "Males only" policy was challenged by one of Lisa's friends this time around, but common sense and testosterone won out in the end. The two oldest girls were fawned off on relatives, Ginger was fast asleep, and Lisa joined her friend to watch a movie.

[Thanks do go out, however, to my sister C for helping get the house in order, and to Lisa for cooking most of the food. Much love to you both.]

This years spread included sloppy joes, baked beans, pasta salad, a vegetable tray, assorted chips and dips, cookies, brownies, watermelon, and fresh blueberries.

Oh, and Schlitz.

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My Dad attended with Smiley in tow, as he'd taken him to the park for most of the afternoon.

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Socialist was there, flipping off the camera as usual.

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My buddy Tre made his annual pilgrimage for the game (and brought the beer and salad). Also present was Bob, the father of one of LuLu's friends, and Jason, the significant other of our friend Jessica.

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As usual not much attention was paid to the game, at least until the last few innings. The game flew by at a staggering 2 hours and 31 minutes and featured an RBI double by Home Run Derby champ (and Milwaukee Brewer) Prince Fielder, but in the end it was the same old same old. The American League pulled off another in a long line of wins, Mariano Rivera notched a record fourth save in the ASG, and home field advantage again rests with the Junior circuit.

In fact, while I feel the conversation was above par tonight, the most talked about aspect of the game wasn't the actions on the field. Instead it was the man-love for Obama that the Fox crew, led by Joe Buck, gratuitously displayed. For nine innings and change not only did they drop his name every other sentence, but they insisted on asking each player about him. "Nevermind your game winning sac fly sir. Wasn't it great to meet President Obama?"

In fact, Ryan Braun's first at-bat was largely unseen due to an Obama interview at the same time. Unforgiveable.

When a group comprised of Republicans, Democrats, and a Socialist join together to gag on your affection and crack jokes unprintable here, well, ya may have gone a little overboard Mr. Buck.

I'm just sayin'.

A great time, a great tradition, and a great night. I'm already looking forward to next year.

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The Unborn



The Unborn is the story of Casey Beldon, a 19 year old woman who has horrifying, seemingly delusional visions about a young boy. As she seeks a medical explanation she learns she is a twin, and that her brother died in utero. His fetus had been possessed by a dybbuk, a malevolent wandering spirit of Jewish folklore who first took the guise of a boy killed in Auschwitz. The dybbuk has haunted Casey's family for generations, leading directly to the suicide of her own mother.


Now the dybbuk wishes to once again gain entry into our world. It looks upon Casey as the means to accomplish the task, and only a skeptical Rabbi stands in its way.

First the bad news: You know you're getting old when you nearly turn off the TV after realizing a horror movie is all about teenagers. Enough already. Could we please have a film where the ghost picks on someone old enough to legally drink?

Second, I'm all for women. I'm all for looking at women. I'm all for looking at half-naked women. And I'm all for looking at half naked women that look like this:


But in the first third of the movie Odette Yustman's body was displayed multiple times for no other reason than to show off her underwear clad butt. Great to look at, rather inconsequential to the plot.

So let's put it bluntly Hollywood: I'm a big boy. If I want to look at naked women, I'll happily rent a porn. I'd appreciate less ass and more story from a conventional film, if you don't mind.

Just my opinion.

Here's the good, and yes, it far outweighs the bad. The relationship between Casey and her boyfriend seems remarkably mature and sincere for their ages, much less for a horror film. The acting is pretty good, minus the over-the-top antics of Casey's friend, and the story is sound.

Best of all, it was a pretty creepy movie, especially for the last half hour. There were some genuinely frightening moments there at the end, and if the postscript wasn't my favorite, at least it wasn't a cheap "Gotcha!" moment like many of these films.

What can I say? I liked it.

2.7 out of 4

Monday, July 13, 2009

How Much is that Baby in the Window?

In our living room there is a large bay window looks out into the street. It is one of Ginger's favorite pastimes to climb atop the loveseat by that window and just watch the cars, people, and birds that pass by our house.

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There's no danger to the lass, as there's nowhere for her to fall, but I always feel bad when I see her in the window. What do strangers think? Do they walk by and think "The poor girl must be so sad. OMG, where are the parents?"

I should point out she's usually clothed, and the diaper only ensemble was a fluke.

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I LOVE this last shot.

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

May Crowning

Many Catholic, and some Orthodox and Anglican churches, celebrate the ritual of May Crowning. Around May Day ( sometimes Mother's Day), it is traditional for a statue or icon of Mary to be decorated with a crown of leaves to signify her position as Queen of Heaven and Mother of God.

This year YaYa's second grade class, fresh from First Communion ceremonies over the previous month, was given the honor of the Crowning. From a practical point of view this boiled down to a chance for her class, which had been divided and shoved upon their home parishes for Communion, the opportunity to proudly display their Communion outfits to the rest of the school.

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During the Mass YaYa was one of the kids to walk up and present the gifts of Bread and Wine to the priest. Afterwards, it was time for picture taking and a social get-together in the church basement. Here's YaYa and her classmate Annabelle:

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and their class

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For most of the social YaYa wanted nothing to do with us - no anger involved, just the usual urge for a kid to hang out and play with her friends.

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But she came around in time for some pictures with her parents:

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It was a very pleasant and friendly way to spend a weekday morning.

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