October 31, 2009

Subtlety in horror

Most 20th-century horror films seem to relish the gore. I don't think anyone would suggest that "Saw" or "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" were subtle.

August Heat is different. I read the final sentence and had to re-read it to really recognize what W. F. Harvey had just done. It's wonderful.

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October 30, 2009

May all your wishes come true

If ever there were an example of the adage "Be careful what you wish for," The Monkey's Paw is it. It tells the tale of an artifact brought to England from India by a member of the British Army when his tour ended. Legend has it that its owner gets three wishes.

There's an artful bit of warning early in the story when the sergeant is asked how he came to acquire the thing.

"It had a spell put on it by an old fakir," said the sergeant-major, "a very holy man. He wanted to show that fate ruled people's lives, and that those who interfered with it did so to their sorrow. He put a spell on it so that three separate men could each have three wishes from it."

His manner was so impressive that his hearers were conscious that their light laughter jarred somewhat.

"Well, why don't you have three, sir?" said Herbert White cleverly.

The soldier regarded him in the way that middle age is wont to regard presumptuous youth. "I have," he said quietly, and his blotchy face whitened.

"And did you really have the three wishes granted?" asked Mrs. White.

"I did," said the sergeant-major, and his glass tapped against his strong teeth.

"And has anybody else wished?" inquired the old lady.

"The first man had his three wishes, yes," was the reply. "I don't know what the first two were, but the third was for death. That's how I got the paw."

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Another story from the anthology: Algernon Blackwood's The Empty House:

Inside the house the silence became awful; awful, he thought, because any minute now it might be broken by sounds portending terror. The strain of waiting told more and more severely on the nerves; they talked in whispers when they talked at all, for their voices aloud sounded queer and unnatural. A chilliness, not altogether due to the night air, invaded the room, and made them cold. The influences against them, whatever these might be, were slowly robbing them of self-confidence, and the power of decisive action; their forces were on the wane, and the possibility of real fear took on a new and terrible meaning. He began to tremble for the elderly woman by his side, whose pluck could hardly save her beyond a certain extent.

Anyone who says there's not enough time in a short story to build suspense has never read this.

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October 29, 2009

That Droid commercial's music

You've seen the white screen iDon't commercial for Verizon's Droid if you've been watching baseball or football. The song is by a woman calling herself Mozella. Here's her website. Here's the video for the ad.

Here's a link to the video for the entire song.

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A Halloween horror story

I first read Man-size in Marble in an anthology of ghost and horror stories called The Haunted Looking Glass. What makes the anthology special is that the stories were selected and illustrated by Edward Gorey.

Here's the description of the setting:

The church was a large and lonely one, and we loved to go there, especially upon bright nights. The path skirted a wood, cut through it once, and ran along the crest of the hill through two meadows, and round the churchyard wall, over which the old yews loomed in black masses of shadow. This path, which was partly paved, was called "the bier-balk," for it had long been the way by which the corpses had been carried to burial. The churchyard was richly treed, and was shaded by great elms which stood just outside and stretched their majestic arms in benediction over the happy dead. A large, low porch let one into the building by a Norman doorway and a heavy oak door studded with iron. Inside, the arches rose into darkness, and between them the reticulated windows, which stood out white in the moonlight. In the chancel, the windows were of rich glass, which showed in faint light their noble colouring, and made the black oak of the choir pews hardly more solid than the shadows.

I don't know about you, but I can see and feel that.

The entire text of Man-size in Marble can be found here.

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October 28, 2009

Best Nike baseball commercial ever

Given the number of home run hitters on both the Phillies and the Yankees, I give you:

"Cy Young winners over here!"

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Wait. Dylan has a Christmas album?

Yep. Brand new, released October 13. Here's Ken Tucker's review from NPR, with audio. Here's Christmas in the Heart at Amazon.

From what I've heard of the music, I think I agree with Tucker that the man has his tongue in his cheek and an eye half-closed in a wink while singing these songs.

Dylan, producing himself under the name "Jack Frost," is surrounding himself with sweet choral voices and arrangements straight out of a 1960s middle-of-the-road or "countrypolitan" album. It's just that instead of hearing Johnny Mathis or Eddy Arnold crooning, you have Dylan croaking

It's certainly different hearing "Adeste Fideles" sung in that distinctive Dylan voice.

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October 27, 2009

Lieberman, faux-Democrat

Even knowing that United States Senators are self-aggrandizing egos encased in human form, Joe Lieberman's statement today that he would vote with Republicans against health care reform is unusual. Reprehensible, too.

This is the guy who only retained his committee chairmanship by the skin of his teeth when Harry Reid told us "he's with us on everything but the war." He's the guy who was defeated in a Democratic primary and promptly declared himself an Independent and won re-election that fall. He's the sanctimonious jerk who fell all over himself condemning a Democratic President for misdeeds with an intern.

But declaring you'll vote against the top domestic priority Democrats have had for the past 60 years or so? Even for Lieberman, that's arrogance.

I don't know how much leverage Harry Reid has, but I'd threaten him with the loss of that chairmanship unless he voted with the Democrats, and I'd follow through on it if he didn't.

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October 26, 2009

Device advice

Are DVD players designed to fail? We have one (an Aspire AD-N820B) whose tray seems to be jammed shut. I can't get it open, not even enough to get a pair of tweezers around it to pull.

It's not like it's worn out from heavy usage. I'll bet we've played about fifteen movies and a dozen CDs on it.

This isn't the first time we've had this happen with DVD players. The open/close function is the only mechanical part of these things, so I suppose it's not unusual that it would fail first, but it's aggravating to have to replace a player every two years or so.

Anyway, who's had good experiences with DVD players and what brand/model did you buy? Under $100, please; if they're going to break every two years I don't see the point in spending as much on a player as on the television itself.

Note: I think we own six movies on DVD. Upconversion (which I don't understand entirely; feel free to explain it to me) doesn't seem to be a necessity. It might be unavoidable, from what I can tell of the products currently on the market, but I don't have a huge stock of movies I want to convert to HD.

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October 25, 2009

For the Angels today

Beat the Yankees!

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October 24, 2009

October baseball in N.E. U.S. = Rain

Thanks entirely to the owners and commissioner and their desire to maximize profit, we have an entirely-predictable rainout of the scheduled Game Six of the ALCS this evening.

If the teams played a shorter regular season they could still have two playoff rounds before the World Series and finish before November. Or they could collapse the three divisions in each league back to two and have a League Championship series between the winners of those divisions to determine who represented each league in the Series.

I know. Pie in the sky. Greed will always trump common sense. I'm sure it's just a coincidence that the Commissioner's office is on Park Avenue in NYC, not too far away from Wall Street; nothing bad has ever come from that location.

I was counting on baseball to keep me from hearing Tim Tebow's name all afternoon, too.

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October 23, 2009

Conspicuous consumption? Not!

Heh. The cable company just called to try to sell us cable phone service. You should have heard the "gulp" when we told them we had nine separate phone jacks around the house. Apparently six is the maximum you can get for free.

One in each bedroom (4), one outside, one in the kitchen, two in the family room, and one in the playroom. That doesn't seem too outrageous to me.

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Angels - Yankees

So back to NYC for a Game Six. When the Yankees got six runs in the top of the seventh yesterday I didn't think that was gonna happen, but the Angels proved me wrong. Fuentes did his best mid-season Brad Lidge imitation (or his best NLCS Game Four Jonathon Broxton imitation) but wiggled out of it.

Another thought: how big a psychological advantage is Mariano Rivera? As I watched him last night I thought "I'm so tired of watching him be great. Retire already, Mariano!"

Yes, I know he's had a few post-season failures, but not very many. Does anyone doubt he's the best closer of all time?

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October 22, 2009

Alas, alack and crap

As my friend N points out in the comments below, his Phillies beat my Dodgers yesterday to win the NLCS 4 games to 1. There's any number of reasons why, but the number of walks and hit batsmen the Dodgers' pitchers issued in front of guys who then hit the ball out of the park was a big one. The Dodgers' ERA was 7.38, meaning they allowed 7+ runs per nine innings. The Phillies' ERA was 3.01 per nine innings. That doesn't cut it.

Composite Box Score

Good luck to the Phillies; I hope they beat the Yankees (assuming the Angels don't come back and win three straight in the ALCS).

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October 21, 2009

Ah, air travel

I took our houseguest to the airport this morning at 8:30 a.m. Her flight to Sydney was scheduled to take off at 10:45 a.m. That means she should be landing right about now.

Yuk. I remember flying from London to L.A. in 1984; 13 hours in the air. I was exhausted, and I was 34 at the time. I can imagine how our guest must feel; she's considerably older than I was then.

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Ain't modern technology wonderful?

I've been lucky in ovens; I've never lived anywhere which didn't have one with a self-cleaning feature. Press "Clean;" Press "Start." Three and one-half hours later, get a damp paper towel and run it over the interior of the oven.

No Easy-Off® for me.

Somebody remind me to go check it at 3:00 p.m.

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October 20, 2009

I got nuthin'

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October 19, 2009

Author recommendations

There's a small niche in crime/mystery novels for the likable burglar. Lawrence Block finds it with his Bernie Rhodenbarr books, which I mentioned here. Donald Westlake found another slice of that niche with his Dortmunder books. I've just recently found Dortmunder, and I enjoy him.

One of the aspects of these stories that makes them palatable for the reader (I think) is that they are typically non-violent. The law itself makes that distinction: Merriam Webster's Dictionary of Law defines burglary as "the act of entering or remaining unlawfully (as after closing to the public) in a building with intent to commit a crime (as a felony)." The same source defines robbery as follows: "the unlawful taking away of personal property from a person by violence or by threat of violence that causes fear."

Neither Bernie nor Dortmunder threaten anyone with violence in the course of their crimes. There's a threat to the victim of loss of his property, if he even knows his property is at risk, but he never feels any personal threat. The reader understands this; the essential criminality of the protagonist isn't repellent. Dortmunder is Everyman except that his profession is theft rather than insurance sales.

Both Block and Westlake wrote (and in Block's case still does; Westlake died last New Year's Eve) books with harder edges. Block's Matthew Scudder is an ex-NYPD officer turned private investigator and a recovering alcoholic. Westlake wrote nearly thirty books featuring Parker, who's a career criminal, perfectly willing to use violence including murder for gain. I've read a couple of the Scudder books; I've not yet read any of Westlake's Parker series.

If you liked the original Ocean's Eleven, Topkapi or The Thomas Crown Affair you'll like Bernie and Dortmunder.

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October 18, 2009

Space shot

Somehow I never thought I'd see this in anything other than an artist's rendering:

Earth & Jupiter, photographed from Mars.

It includes the planets' moons as well.

Amazing. Via Making Light

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Mixed up priorities

We've got a terrible budget shortfall out here, and various organizations are trying to fundraise to keep themselves afloat.

Through 10/15 there had been approximately $95,000 collected for state libraries through the Friends of the Library and another $85,000 had been donated directly to the state library. There had been approximately $1,000,000 collected through 10/8 for high school sports.

There's something wrong with that picture.

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October 17, 2009

Saturday feel-good music

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October 16, 2009

Amazon reviewers for the win

Via Edge of the American West comes a pointer to a gallon of milk for sale at Amazon. Yes, Amazon.

That's not the fun part, though. The fun part is the reviews. Read through some of them. Refrain from ingesting coffee or other liquids while doing so. You have been warned.

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October 15, 2009

"Oh, those bases on balls"

When Frankie Frisch was the broadcaster for the NY Giants in the early 1950s, that was the phrase he used when a pitcher walked somebody. He hated walks.

He was certainly right tonight. The Dodgers' pitchers walked seven guys and they all came around to score. That allowed the Phillies to beat the Dodgers 8-6 in Game One of the NLCS.


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A disturbance in the Force

In light of RNC Chairman Michael Steele's "cow on the tracks" remark yesterday, where is the Flash animation of Mr. Steele morphing into a Guernsey or Holstein?

O Internets, you've let me down.

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October 14, 2009

At this hour?

Eight thin-cut boneless pork chops won't fit into a #10 skillet, so I had to get up today and cook the three I didn't cook for dinner last night. Frying pork chops at 10:00am feels odd, somehow.

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October 13, 2009

Spare me the stupidity

I'm reading Charlie Pierce's Idiot America. The genesis of the book was apparently an article he published in Esquire in December 2005. When you read the subtitle you can see what his goals are with this book: to explain How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free.

He cites three ways in which stupidity takes hold:

  1. Any theory is valid if it sells books, soaks up ratings, or otherwise moves units.
  2. Anything can be true if somebody says it on television.
  3. Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is determined by how fervently they believe it.
I'm reminded of this when I see "man in the street" interviews with people who say "Oh, no; no swine flu vaccine for me!" On last night's CBS Evening News I heard a college student (!) say this: "I'm pretty healthy; I'm not getting a shot."

Look, idiot. The point of being vaccinated is to keep you healthy.

We have been and will be inundated with people on TV telling us "there are questions about the safety of the Swine Flu vaccine." Hell, there are questions about the safety of hamburger, too. Does that mean you're not going to Jack-in-the-Box or Wendy's or Burger King? The damned vaccine has had far better and more thorough vetting than the average burger made from parts of multiple cows from different locations.

I plan to get the H1N1 vaccine the moment I'm eligible. You should too.

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October 12, 2009

Ethical coffee

We have a visitor from Australia who arrived bearing a gift of coffee. The lady who runs the company lives in the same town as our visitor and is known to her, and our guest thinks she's honest. So I prefer to believe that the company's claim that it pays a fair price to the farmer for his or her beans is true.

I can vouch for the flavor of the coffee; it's good. We have a sack of the Dark Roast Whole Bean (there was a moment of panic when I couldn't find the lid for my 20-year-old Krups grinder), and it's not oily or bitter. It's got more flavor than the mass-produced stuff we usually buy, that's for sure.

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October 11, 2009

That was impressive

At 10:00pm last night I was in front of my television watching the live telecast of the canonization of Father Damien. It was a beautiful and solemn event, and one greatly anticipated by the Catholic population of Hawai'i. Father (now Saint) Damien is beloved out here for his work with patients afflicted with leprosy on Molokai in the 1800s.

I think the only institution which can compete with the Catholic Church for ceremony is the British monarchy.

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October 10, 2009


I'm as hardcore a Dodgers fan as there is, but if you'd told me before the series that they'd sweep the Cardinals in three straight I'd have said no way. I thought they could win, but it would take five games.


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Baseball in words and music

Terry Cashman's "Talkin' Baseball"

Talkin' Baseball (Willie, Mickey, and the Duke) @ Yahoo! Video

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October 09, 2009

Obama wins the Peace Prize

I heard this news last night on the 11:00pm (HST) NPR newscast, and I admit that my first thought was "for what in particular?" My second thought was "Ah! For not being George W. Bush."

Phil Nugent agrees with my original thoughts, but says it better:

The Committee has done its best to suggest that Obama was given the award because of the things he wants to do, but I suspect that he was given the award for something he is, or rather isn't: i.e.. he isn't George W. Bush, or Bush's designated successor. Which ought to be recognized as a very low bar, but there's more to it than that.

The Bush years should be--will be--remembered as the country's moral low point since the end of slavery, a time when an inane little man with no qualifications but his family connections lost a democratic election, was appointed to the job of leader of the free world anyway, by his father's old cronies and party colleagues and with the complicity and approval of the press, and then proceeded to spend his full term ignoring the needs of the country and its people while using the time to instead order up legal rationales for an imperial presidency dedicated to the justification of torture and wars of choice, while creating a climate of fear that was meant to provide a reason for all of it. It was a horror show, and for those of us not of boundless faith, there were moments during it when it felt as if it would never end and that the most rotten people in America had succeeded in permanently reshaping the country and its values to make a better climate for their lizard skins. This all must have been dismaying to the many people in Europe who love what this country is supposed to stand for, who have a special place in their hearts for its history and its stated ideals and principles, and who were especially saddened, in 2004, to see a man voted back into office as recompense for having been caught wiping the Constitution and his own beloved Holy Bible with his diarrhetic ass.

I would add, though, that the Nobel Committee often names as its recipient someone whose aspirational goals the Committee agrees with. See Bishop Desmond Tutu, who was awarded the Peace Prize in 1984. From the press release announcing his selection:

The Committee has attached importance to Desmond Tutu's role as a unifying leader figure in the campaign to resolve the problem of apartheid in South Africa. The means by which this campaign is conducted is of vital importance for the whole of the continent of Africa and for the cause of peace in the world. Through the award of this year's Peace Prize, the Committee wishes to direct attention to the non-violent struggle for liberation to which Desmond Tutu belongs, a struggle in which black and white South Africans unite to bring their country out of conflict and crisis.

Apartheid didn't end until 10 years later.

There's precedent, then, in awarding the prize in hopes that the recipient's good works will continue.

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I'm a mean rotten person

I just got a push poll telephone call similar to the one described here from some poor minimum-wage-earning schmoo working for the NRA. I was asked if I'd listen to a message from Wayne LaPierre, the outfit's Executive VP, and then respond to a one-question survey. I said "Sure," and then was subjected to a one-minute taped message telling me the UN was trying to force the United States and the rest of the world to ban all guns.

Then the poor telemarketer asked me the question: ""Do you think 3rd world dictators, along with Hillary Clinton, should dictate our gun rights here in America?"

As I said, I'm not a nice person. I responded, "I think Wayne LaPierre and the NRA should have been drowned at birth."

It was mean but satisfying.

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October 08, 2009

Oh joy, oh joy!

dodgers60.jpg versus cardinals-va.jpg

Wow. The Dodgers got a two-out rally in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat the Cardinals and take a 2 - 0 lead in the best-of-five NLDS. That's the 13th time this year they've won in their last at bat of the game.

Bonus track: via True Blue LA, here's Vin Scully's call of the winning hit.

Even more bonus: Here's Scully's audio synched with video from the moment the rally began. Best line: talking about Holliday's error, he says "hopefully he's wearing a cup."


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October 07, 2009

Surely you jest

Lessee, you're a radio station calling yourself SportsRadio1420, and it's the first day of the Major League Baseball playoffs.

So what are you broadcasting? Football talk shows, of course.

Not one of the three games today is carried on the "All Sports All the Time" radio station in this state; this despite its affiliation with ESPN.


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Memories of F Scott Fitzgerald

Among players in the baseball playoffs, the Phillies' Chase Utley is the one whose name would have fit right in with The Great Gatsby.

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October 06, 2009

Poor poor timing

We had to go see the ophthalmologist this afternoon, so we left when the Tigers - Twins game was 3-2 Tigers in the seventh inning. We got back two hours later, just in time to see the Twins win in the twelfth inning.

From what I can tell from the box score and from David Pinto's live blog over at Baseball Musings, it looks like it got a lot more exciting after we left the house. Rats.

Ah well, tomorrow it's the Dodgers - Cardinals at 9:37pm Eastern. That's when I start caring for real.

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October 05, 2009

"The List"

I've recently become a fan of Rosanne Cash and her music, so I was pleased to hear she'd soon have a new album out. There's a twist, though: instead of writing the songs on this one, she's interpreting twelve songs from a list of one hundred that her father considered essential to a knowledge of country music.

How did that list come about?

"When I was 18 years old, I went on the road with my dad after I graduated from high school. And we were riding on the tour bus one day, kind of rolling through the South, and he mentioned a song," Cash says. "We started talking about songs, and he mentioned one, and I said I don't know that one. And he mentioned another. I said, 'I don't know that one either, Dad,' and he became very alarmed that I didn't know what he considered my own musical genealogy. So he spent the rest of the afternoon making a list for me, and at the end of the day, he said, 'This is your education.' And across the top of the page, he wrote '100 Essential Country Songs.'"

Here's an opportunity to hear the entire album from NPR's First Listen.

She was interviewed by Terry Gross on Fresh Air today, too, talking about the album. She said a lot of funny things, but one of the best had to be this (paraphrasing): "I haven't published it [the list] to the Internet or anywhere else because I want to do Volume Two, and I don't want anyone else to do it first."

Now that's honesty!

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Weather influences shopping

Mine, anyway. Our ten-year-old iron stopped working properly today, so I went down the hill to get another one. I went to Longs Drugs first and only found about five selections. That didn't seem broad enough, so I started out of the mall to go to the local hardware store to see what they had.

While I was inside the mall the skies opened up. It had been bright and sunny when I headed inside, so I didn't bother grabbing my umbrella. Mistake. It was pouring buckets when I started back out, so I said "Screw it," went back into Longs and bought a Black and Decker iron for about $20.

If I'd had the umbrella I'd have passed it up.

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October 04, 2009

Well, nobody got hurt, anyway

Last night I was minding my own business reading a book while listening to the radio at 12:15am when I heard a screeching noise from the wet street outside. That was immediately followed by a huge bang.

If you look at this picture, just out of the frame to the right is a concrete post with a mailbox on it, just like the one that is in the picture. Somebody in a Nissan Sentra came down the hill, lost control, and completely wiped out that post, and I mean sheared it off at the base. It wound up on the left side of the driveway seen in the photo.

I looked out the window and saw the driver open the door and back out of the car. I headed out to see if I could help, and by the time I got there the driver was nowhere in sight. Comparing notes a little later my neighbor, whose mailbox it was, said he saw the driver take off running down the hill.

The hood of the Nissan was crushed, the bumper was torn off, and the airbag had deployed. It occurred to me that the keys might still be in the car, so I reached in, turned it off and pulled them out of the ignition. I don't think the engine was still running, but why risk a fire, I thought.

The cops showed up in a hurry, and as it turned out, the driver lived right down the street at his aunt's townhouse; it was her car. I guess the cops ran the registration through the DMV database and found the owner's address, because they chased him down where he lived. He admitted he'd been drinking; I don't know how he thought running away was going to solve anything.

Fortunately, he apparently wasn't injured (I didn't see him), but we had a lot of overnight excitement.

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October 03, 2009

Dodger win! Dodgers win!

It took a few days more than the team and the fans thought it should, but the Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the Colorado Rockies tonight 5-0 to win the National League West Division. By winning the division the Dodgers locked up home field advantage for the first round of the playoffs, meeting the St. Louis Cardinals Wednesday at Dodger Stadium.

Woohoo! Back-to-back league titles for the first time since 1977-1978!

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Bad kitchen practices

If you're sectioning an orange, do not cut your finger. Citrus juice and open wounds don't mix. In fact, the cut hurts worse than it otherwise would.

This has been another in a series of "Things Not to Do."

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October 02, 2009


Back in 1967 I was trying to find the right college to attend; at the time I wanted to study anthropology and archaeology. The U of Arizona had a good reputation in those areas of study, and by virtue of my parents' declared residence I was eligible for resident tuition there. So off I went.

I discovered that I really didn't want to study much of anything at age eighteen, but that's another story. While I was taking Intro to Anthro courses in 1968 I had the opportunity to see and hear Louis Leakey speak about the latest discoveries from the field, particularly at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania.

All of that is to say that while I never went on with my studies I remain interested in anthropology, so I was fascinated by the news yesterday that a "new" (fifteen years ago, actually, but it takes a long time to study fossils) find had provided a lot of new evidence to study. While the earliest known hominid can be dated to roughly 6 - 7 million years ago, there's very little physical evidence of that creature available to study. With the discovery of Ardipithecus, we now know much more about hominids who existed 4.4 million years ago, or 1.2 million years before Lucy, the Australopithecus afarensis hominid who's been the most famous skeleton in the world till now.

If it fascinates you too, I strongly suggest you read Carl Zimmer's blog post about it rather than trying to get accurate background from the enthusiastic-but-uninformed mainstream press.

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October 01, 2009

Awesome promo video

Heh. Polar Bears in Space!

Done for U of Alaska - Fairbanks, presumably by some of the students, not professional public relations people.

via Incertus in the comments at Balloon Juice.

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Makes sense to me

Why has President Obama gone to Copenhagen? He'd have you believe it's to lobby for Chicago's bid to host the 2016 Olympics. I like the explanation offered up by Gail Collins today:

I prefer to think that Obama suddenly agreed to go to Denmark not because Chicago couldn’t win without him, but because he just needed a short break from thinking about Max Baucus.

And who could blame him for that?

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