Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hi-Yo Silver & Away! It's Whodathunkit?!: The Three Things You REALLY Want To Know About The 2010 World Series.

Whodathunkit!? is a joint venture between The Best Of Everything and Nonsportsmanlike Conduct! So you can read it twice -- saving you money!

The World Series is set -- so it's only about 2 weeks until I don't have to worry about baseball box scores showing up in that little box in the corner where I check to see if the Buffalo Bills have scored any points. (Note: They haven't.) And when they do run that score, at least I won't have that momentary confusion that comes sometimes when the baseball teams share an abbreviation with the football teams. Seeing "SF: 0 NY: 3" just gets my hopes up that there's a football game on somewhere -- even a football game between two teams I don't care about is better than a baseball game, in almost every instance.

And yet, I like the World Series. I don't watch it. That'd be nuts. Who has time to watch the World Series? Or any baseball game? It's so slow. Election returns come in faster than a baseball game -- and it takes 12 hours from the start of voting for us to get some news on who's winning.

No, I don't watch the World Series, because baseball games are too long (mirroring the season that's too long.) Cut those games to five innings and I'd give it a shot. I'd devote about an hour of my time to watching the game, and in exchange I'd get to see only good pitching, as without 9 innings to cover teams could pitch only the starter and jettison some of the dregs they keep around as "middle relievers." With fewer opportunities to score, teams might try more aggressive base-running and batters might be jumpier about swinging, so there'd be more action.

Plus, you only see about 3 pitchers in the postseason anyway -- teams throw guys like C.C. Sabathia about every 3 hours, on "short rest" or "long rest" or "whatever rest," so it's not like having 5 or 7 games with 9 innings (or more) guarantees you'll see other pitchers; it's just a guarantee that you'll see C.C. when he's fresh, then when he's a little tired, and then when he's exhausted. My plan would at least avoid seeing him exhausted.

Faster? More action? Better pitching? I realize that baseball purists are shuddering right now, but baseball purists are losers, so I don't care if I offend them.

In any event, I doubt that Bud Selig will make the change anytime soon; less is more is not a mantra that baseball, or any sport, wants to take up. Leagues get bigger, games get longer, seasons get longer, star players become more widely dispersed around the bigger leagues, the quality of play suffers, revenues drop... and ticket prices still go up while owners still get rich, so nothing will change, although leaders of the sports will talk about doing something like contraction in order to pressure players into taking less money.

So you and I are stuck with 162 baseball games per year -- 150 more than anyone watches, I bet -- plus countless playoff games plus a World Series that could end as late as November 4. What are you going to do to kill all that time, besides wonder what sexy costume you're going to wear this year to the Halloween party? (Sexy Big Bird appears to be the hot commodity this year, by the way.)

The answer is: You're going to learn The Three Best Things You Really WANT To Know About the 2010 World Series -- as Whodathunkit?! cuts past the wheat and the chaff of "sports stats" and "predictions that aren't" and "Mike & Mike" to give you information you can use to impress people at your World Series party.

But, since nobody has a world series party -- the Series stretches over a week, after all -- you could just mention these at the next office meeting to prove to the Boss that you're good for something. So here goes:

1. How'd The Lone Ranger Become The Lone Ranger?

The Texas Rangers Baseball Team are named for the Texas Rangers Law Enforcement group, which raises a question: If announcers constantly feel the need to say "The New York Football Giants" even though there's only one Giants team in football and it's in New York, so that if you just say "New York Giants" everyone will know you're talking about the football team, how come announcers don't feel the need to say "The Texas Rangers Baseball Team" to avoid confusion with the Texas Rangers Law Enforcement, which, after all, still exists? Think how confusing this hypothetical headline might be without that clarification:

Texas Rangers Beat Up Santiago Casilla.

Without clarification -- that it's the Baseball Rangers -- you might think you're reading a wishful-thinking headline from an Arizona resident.

The Lone Ranger was, of course, a Texas Law Enforcement Ranger, equipped with the pistol and white hat that mark the Texas Rangers to this day -- apparently they do wear them -- and equipped with a mask which was of dubious utility in hiding his identity -- and it's not clear why he needed to hide his identity in the first place.

According to The Texas Rangers Hall Of Fame (Law Enforcement Division):

The Lone Ranger is the sole survivor of an ambush that killed five of his Texas Ranger comrades. With the help of Tonto, a friendly Indian who cames to his aid, the Ranger buried his five companions and recoverd from his injuries. In order to mislead the outlaws into thinking that all of the Rangers died, the Lone Ranger dug a sixth grave which was left empty. Hiding his identity with a black mask, he set out with his new friend to track down and apprehend the outlaws.

Now, I don't know how much to trust that site -- how credible is a site that also claims Buck Rogers was a Texas Ranger (Space Division, apparently?) But I'd question it even without the addition of the Space Cowboy stuff -- because of this:

The Lone Ranger wears the mask to keep the people he's hunting from... knowing that he's hunting them? And he dug a fake grave just in case the outlaws were to go back and check?

Think about that: assuming the bad guys did go back and check on their handiwork, who was supposed to have buried those bodies? The outlaws thought they'd killed all six of the Rangers -- so how'd the bodies get buried? A supposed master of disguise, the Lone Ranger (who's name is usually given as John or Dan Reid) had blown his cover before he even left the scene of the massacre.

And the people who were supposed to have massacreed him? Supposedly it was "Butch Cavendish" and "a man named Collins." Collins had infiltrated the Rangers (Law Enforcement Division) and was, for his troubles, later shot in the back by Butch Cavendish. That information comes from the Wikiepedia page on The Lone Ranger, and to show you how reliable Wikipedia isn't, consider that the page on The Hole In The Wall Gang correctly lists the leader of the Hole In The Wall Gang as "Butch Cassidy," but I didn't need them to tell me that: I knew it already, because as a kid, I took piano lessons, and one song that I was asked to learn to play was "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head," a song my dad wanted me to learn because he liked the version of that song that played in the movie Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid. That became the only part of that movie I ever watched:

And you can see that my ability to go from a baseball team to a Robert Redford movie in a conversation is what makes me such a great addition to any party. But don't bother inviting me; I'm pretty antisocial and don't go to others' houses to watch sporting events, which means that usually, I end up just saying this stuff to The Boy or Sweetie until they get bored and walk away, leaving all the salted-in-the-shell peanuts for me.

So there's method to my madness.

2. What's the most popular walk up song ever?

Also called "at bat" songs, the walk up song is an only-sometimes-noticed thing in sports: The last mention of it I could find on ESPN was in 2004, when they listed the at-bat songs for all 30 major league baseball teams' starting lineups -- on Page 3, a spot I didn't even know existed on their website. The Giants' roster was heavy on light metal and pop rock -- ZZ Top and Van Halen made the list-- while the 2004 Texas Rangers (Baseball Edition) went with a stranger mixture of hip-hop and movie themes: In talking about OF David Delluci's choice of "The Godfather Waltz," the site notes:

Recently, Dellucci requested "The Godfather Waltz," a k a "The Godfather Theme" as his at-bat music. An Italian American, Dellucci thought the tune fit him well. Right before the next game, the outfielder got cold feet and began debating whether to use the song or not. The Rangers staff played it anyway, and it has become all the rage in Texas. Fans call up the stadium by the dozens asking what the song is from, and why they recognize it. In turn, Dellucci has become a fan favorite.

Delluci's apparently not playing baseball anymore
, but here's his song:

MTV picked a 2010 all-star roster based on the at-bat songs chosen by players, and some usual suspects showed up there -- "Crazy Train" by Ozzy Osbourne, "Enter Sandman" for a closing pitcher, that kind of stuff.

The weirdest song on that list -- it's not just me saying that, but MTV, too -- was "My Chick Bad," the song picked by Phillies SS Jimmy Rollings:

MTV heralds that as "pushing the envelope." The lyrics to the song, though, make it clear that in playing that song at a public ballpark, it's not so much "pushing the envelope" as it is "finally proving that Tipper Gore lost her fight."

A site called "Operation Sports" has what purports to be an updated list of walk-up/at bat songs for the San Francisco Baseball Giants, and outside of my iPod it's the only list you'll see featuring both BeeGees and Led Zeppelin. (The official SF list is here.) The Texas Rangers (Baseball Edition) have their own list, on which appears "Crawl" by Kings of Leon...:

That's not how you know "Kings of Leon," though. You know them from the song "Molly's Chamber,"

...a song featured in a Jetta commercial. I was going to put the Jetta commercial on here so you could see it, but Jetta has forbidden embedding the commercial -- so they want you to see their commercial, but only when they feel like showing it to you. In response, I suggest that Volkswagen owners begin pretending their cars are subject to sudden unexplained acceleration, the way Toyota owners did last year. We'll show them not to forbid embedding videos.

Fernando Perez of the Rays said that during college, he chose "The Price Is Right" theme for his walk-up music:

But I couldn't find, anywhere, anything purporting to claim what has been the most-used at bat/walk-up song in Major League Baseball. So, since nobody else anywhere has determined what that song might be, I've decided that I will simply pick it for myself -- that's how facts work, right Republican Party? -- and I've decided that it's a fact that the single most popular walk-up/at bat song ever used by Major League Baseball is...

"Una Paloma Blanca," by The George Baker Selection:

Watch for it in the Series.

3. It's a World Record! Or not - -while records may be set, or not set, in the World Series, do you really care about those baseball records? Evidence* (*my personal opinion) suggests no. Since it's a proven fact** (**see foregoing note) that every single baseball player, ever, has taken steroids and also been helped by Delaware-candidate-style black magic*** (***my last chance to make fun of Christine O'Donnell before she goes down by 20 points next Tuesday), we all know that Major League Baseball records are meaningless.

But what about records tangentially involving baseball? Well, those obviously have all kinds of meaning, and can be used to sprinkle into the conversation whenever the action in the game starts to lag**** (****which will be constantly; it's baseball, after all.). So here's a few baseball-related World Records to keep in mind while you don't watch the World Series:

Fastest Mile Run While Balancing a Baseball Bat? 7 minutes, 17 seconds -- which is faster than I can run a mile not balancing anything. The farthest anyone's walked while balancing a baseball bat is 7 miles, according to that same site. The longest throw of a baseball belongs to Canadian -- finally something for Canadia to celebrate!-- Glen Gorbous, who threw one 445 feet, 10 inches, back in 1957. Women, you're lagging behind. The longest throw by a woman was only 296 feet, back in 1931. (No 21st Century Woman has challenged that throw?)

"Sensei" Karl Varley of New Zealand -- what is it about New Zealand and World Records? -- claims the not-officially-recognized-by-Guiness record for most baseball bats broken in under 60 seconds:

I didn't count, but apparently it's more than 23. But for weirdest-baseball-related records, I'm going with largest toast at a single venue. No, it's not a giant piece of toast, much as I'd like that; it's the 27,126 people who simultaneously toasted each other after the fifth inning of a game between the Tokyo Yakult Swallows and the Hanshin Tigers.

What's interesting to note about that record is that there were 27,789 people at the stadium -- so over 600 people refused to take part in that toast. Spoilsports.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Pizza Girl returns! (The Best World Records (You Wouldn't Think Would Be A World Record), 2)

I now have a goal for the day.

Remember how I said that setting a World Record requires just you thinking of something so weird to do that nobody else has ever done it, and then going and doing that thing? Turns out that was not the only way to set a World Record. You -- or I, because this is what I'm going to work on today -- can set a World Record simply by taking something we're going to do already, and just doing it faster or longer than anyone else has ever done it.

Which brings me to my goal, and today's World Record (You Wouldn't Think Would Be A World Record):

2. Fastest Time To Eat A 12" Pizza.

According to Guiness, the "Fastest Time To Eat A 12" Pizza" was set by Josh Anderson, of Wellington, New Zealand, all the way back in March, 2008. Josh Of Wellington took 1 minute 45.37 seconds -- note that they measured it down to the hundredth of a second -- to scarf down whatever it is that passes for a pizza in New Zealand (likely a pepperoni-covered sheep.)

1:45.37? That's an eternity. Here's Josh in action:

Did they have to use forks? Were those the rules? Why wouldn't you just roll that baby up and dig into it like a pizza burrito (or, "pizzarito" ("pizzarito" Copyright 2010 The Best Of Everything).)? That was the slowest I've ever seen anyone eat a pizza.

In fact, I know I can beat that. And I've got all day to do it. Plus, it's about time the record was broken. Josh From Wellington's record has stood for over two years -- which is way longer than the previous record stood: before Josh From Wellington gradually ate his way into the Book Of World Records, the prior fastest time for eating a 12" pizza was a glacial 2 minutes, 19.91 seconds, set by a guy in Belgium back in December, 2006.

And think about this: If you did set a World Record, and then somebody broke it, how would you cope? Would you go around claiming that you used to have a World Record? Isn't that kind of sad?

Other records:

1. Largest Sushi Mosaic.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The 13 Best World Records (You Wouldn't Think Would Be World Records.)

I love World Records. You love World Records. Everyone loves World Records. Maybe not to the extent that I do, but still, we all love them. World Records are, like our own kids or other people's puppies, pure pleasure. (I say "other people's puppies" because you don't want to own a puppy; that's a lot of work. You want to visit a puppy.)

And what I love Best about World Records is that nowadays, anyone can set a World Record. It used to be that you had to be a great athlete, or a brilliant test pilot, or at least a giant mountain to set a World Record, but no longer. With the increased democratization of human civilization...

...note: The prevalence of World Records has nothing to do with "the increased democratization of human civilization," but things sound more impressive when you say that. Try it yourself, with any sentence, and see if I'm not right. Say to your husband right now "With the increased democratization of human civilization, you really ought to stop eating Cheetos right before bedtime." It didn't work when Sweetie said it to me, but it might help you and your spouse work things out...

with that democratization & whatnot, anyone can now set a World Record. All you have to do is think of something so weird to do that nobody else has ever done it, and then go do that thing. You'll have a World Record.

Of course, when you do that and become famous, that'll now let people know that the Weird Thing you did can be done, and a few months later, someone else is going to set their own World Record with your weird thing, so your fame will be short-lived, but short-lived fame is what America's all about, now, isn't it? So that's okay.

Over the next few days, or weeks, or however long it is until I move on to something else, I'll detail those extra-special records for you, beginning with:

1. The Largest Sushi Mosaic.

You thought I was going to talk about Toast Mother-In-Law, didn't you? But that mosaic is too prosaic for inclusion on this list. 9,852 pieces of toast doesn't stack up (literally) to the 8,374 pieces of sushi made into a mosaic that also featured 120 kilos of rice and 65 kilos of Norwegian Salmon. (I wish that people who wrote for news sites remembered that everything in the world should be geared towards Americans, who still use units of measurements invented by the Pilgrims to celebrate religious tolerance [of religions they like] and religious intolerance [of religions they didn't.])

And remember what I said about finding something weird, doing it, and then holding the World Record for only a short time? It's true here: The previous World's Largest Sushi Mosaic Record was set by a group of students in Mumbai, who in March, 2008, made a 5,814-piece, 15 square meter sushi mosaic.

They did that in order to break the previous Sushi Mosaic World Record, set by a group of certified Polish accountants in November, 2007.

Somewhere, you just know there is a group of Kenyan Stenographers gathering up Norwegian salmon, all set to take down the latest record.

The Seven Best Underrated Instruments (The List Of Links.)

It's a MiniBest.

I know, it was supposed to be 10, but again I'm calling it quits early.

Also, is it weird that three of them were harp-related?

Whatever. Here they are again for your clicking & linking pleasure:

1. Tuba

2. Harp.

3. Triangle

4. Glockenspiel.

5. Bassoon

6. Jaw harp.

7. Eigenharp.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Best Death (And Resurrection) In Pop Culture

Have you ever wonder what a doornail is and why it's version of death is so exemplary?

The expression dead as a doornail has staying power, after all. One site noted that the expression is not only more than 650 years old (making it that rare piece of human civilization not invented in the 16th century) but also went on to claim that the saying, dead as a doornail, has outlasted some other versions that were popular when it was first introduced -- back then, apparently, people were apt to compare this dead thing to almost any other dead thing, making up such expressions as dead as a stone, dead as mutton, and dead as a herring.

Try that on someone today: go to a funeral, look in the casket, turn to whomever is standing next to you (probably Aunt Myrna), and say "He's dead as a herring, all right." Don't plan on attending the wake.

I'm thinking about the expression dead as a doornail (and, now, dead as a herring) because yesterday, while I got Mr F and Mr Bunches up and helped them get dressed, I was watching The Best Death (And Resurrection) In Pop Culture, and it got me to thinking about how, in most entertainment, characters must die -- actually die-- and then be reborn as part of their heroic (or not so heroic) journey.

It's a trope in comic books -- the superhero or supervillain or girlfriend that dies and comes back in the next issue or a little while later, a cliche so common that when Spider-Man killed off Gwen Stacy:

(um... spoiler alert? It's a pretty old story, after all...) Marvel had to go to great pains to assure readers that this wasn't a trick (or just another lazy literary gimmick)

Since then, and maybe before then, it seems that every comic book character has lived and died, sometimes multiple times. Batman (Spoiler alert!) died and came back to life in Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, killed by Superman, who would die not long after that in a ridiculous story that featured a Giant Walking Magic Crystals Killer named "Doomsday" (because apparently all the good writers had off that month) walking to Metropolis, where he hugs Superman to death or something like that.

One of these things killed Superman.

It's not just comics where people get to -- make that must -- die, and it's not just people dying that's become a must-do in American entertainment. People must die and be reborn. They have to go through the worst and come back or we simply aren't entertained, it seems, and what began as comic book trifles has spread, it seems, to every area of entertainment.

Television has lots of characters who have gone through death and returned to tell us about it. "Dead is dead," Ben Linus said on Lost (which, by the way, I finally finished watching. Even though I wasn't caught up enough to watch the finale when it aired, I managed to watch the entire series while getting caught by only one spoiler, ever [Sweetie and Middle told me [SPOILER ALERT! BECAUSE I'M NOT THE KIND OF PERSON WHO WRECKS LOST FOR OTHER PEOPLE!] that Charlie dies], and that means that I managed to achieve the Most Amazing Accomplishment Humanity Has Ever Witnessed: Avoiding anyone telling me how Lost ended. I should get a Nobel Prize plus a chance to move on to Double Jeopardy!, where the scores can really change.)


Oh, yeah: people on Lost were not dead as a herring, or even a doornail; first, Locke showed up being alive and all even though he'd been in a coffin on the plane. That turned out to be a sort of dead as a red herring because shortly after Ben said Locke was dead and dead is dead, it turned out that the new Locke was the Smoke Monster, who himself had been killed by Jacob and had come back not as, well, someone dead but as a smoke monster who could do all sorts of things, including walking around talking to people and trying to get off the island.

So dead is dead unless you're Batman, Superman, the Smoke Monster, or pretty much anyone else in the world of entertainment, where everyone is seemingly moments away from being killed and resurrected. Kenny on South Park was routinely killed off in almost every episode I've ever seen -- sometimes as part of the plot, sometimes not. In one memorable episode, Kenny was killed off and had to save Heaven using his skills on a PlayStation. Other times, Kenny goes to Hell and comes back to warn people.

TV Tropes and Idioms has collected up some examples (some extremely nerdy examples, for the most part. Try getting out of your mother's basement once in a while, Tropes writers!) of people who died and came back in pop culture -- ranging from the Mother/Car in My Mother, The Car, and, seriously, how did that show ever fly back in the 1950s or 1960s or whatever old-timey backwards unimaginative repressed era it aired in? I thought people in the 1950s were staid, Ward-Cleaver-esque types who were content to have a desk and an inkwell and milk delivered every day, but apparently they lived a miraculously imaginative inner life where people were reincarnated as cars and men lived in sin with talking horses and... well, that's all I can think of, but, really, those are two pretty revolutionary ideas, if you look at them in the right way.

From reincarnated mothers to the Bionic Woman to the characters on Lost, TV has long relied on resurrecting characters from the dead -- even going so far as to have a Power Ranger die and come back as the White Power Ranger, which is proof positive of the correctness of my long-held secret theory that the Power Rangers were just a not-so-cleverly-disguised recasting of Tolkien's The Lord Of The Rings, or maybe it's the other way around (I forget which came first), but either way, both featured a character dying and then coming back as a Whiter version of themselves, with whiter being a synonym for more powerful.

Don't call me racist. I didn't write the stuff. I'm just reminding you that Gandalf The Gray fell (MIDDLE EARTH ALERT!) to his death fighting the Balrog (which I always kind of thought was an anagram for something else; I'm terrible at anagrams, but being terrible at them doesn't stop me from thinking that everything's an anagram, especially made-up words like Balrog, which is one reason I have such a hard time reading fantasy nowadays; every word is made up and I spend all my time trying to think Well, is this an anagram of something, or did the author just decide to call this creature a "retaenam?")(Also, I'm pretty sure that Ethan Rom on Lost was, actually, an anagram for Other Man. Am I right, J.J. Abrams?)

After Gandalf the Gray fell to his death, causing much mourning and at least three chapters of really boring prose (seriously, The Lord Of The Rings books really dragged at times, am I right, J.J. Abrams?), he returned as Gandalf The White And More Powerful, although, to be honest, I can't exactly remember what Gandalf ever did that made him more powerful, or powerful at all. As I'm sitting here writing, I'm trying to remember what magic Gandalf ever performed to warrant his rap. Here's what I've got:

-- He used ventriloquism to trick the trolls in The Hobbit.
-- He blew smoke rings that changed colors and floated over his head.
-- He did a fireworks display at Bilbo's eleventy-first birthday.
-- He broke the bridge the Balrog fell off of.

And his staff glowed. That's it. That's all I've got. If Gandalf was so great -- or Saruman, for that matter, or even Sauron, why didn't any of them ever perform any magic whatsoever?

Even that One Ring didn't do anything but make people invisible. J.R.R. Tolkien, I call shenanigans. I bet even Harry Potter could outwizard Gandalf, and Harry only knows two spells.


Yeah, I read the books, and, no, I never had much of a social life in high school. Why do you ask?

Gandalf wasn't the only character to come back from the dead in Lord of The Rings, either. Frodo, I'm pretty sure, died when he fought that giant spider in the tunnel in a scene that obviously J.R."R" Tolkien copied from J."K." Rowlings because nobody who doesn't want to get sued to death would imply it was the other way around, and after dying was revived by that Elfen Gatorade given to Sam in the forest, only to go on to be completely useless as the two of them made their way through Mordor.

And with that simple act of plagiarizing Rowlings' sixty years before she'd get around to writing her own Spider-Attack scene, Tolkien opened the floodgates for centuries of literary deaths-and-resurrections, including, I'm told, the book Candide, in which, according to this site,

most of the important characters either do not die, or, if they die, they come back to life again rather miraculously, as when Pangloss is hanged but survives, or when Cunegonde is raped and disemboweled, yet survives. Thousands die around them, but the main characters remain curiously invulnerable to the disasters they witness.

Candide was written by Voltaire, who, years later, would be revealed to be a giant sword-wielding robot made up of vehicles piloted by teenagers. (Not really, but if you'd told that to me in high school, I might have actually read Candide.)

Other famous and outstanding characters have included Tom, of Tom and Jerry, who I'm told has died six times (but one of them was a dream, so that doesn't count, right Patrick Duffy.)(Raise your hand if you thought I was going to say right, J.J. Abrams.)(Now put it down; I can't see you anyway.)

Why do such deaths-and-resurrections amaze us? Why have they become de riguer for entertainment? And what does de riguer mean, anyway? Is it some kind of anagram? Is it French for snails? The French are always trying to get Americans to eat snails, as revenge for the French-And-Indian War, which I'm pretty sure (a) happened and (b) they lost.

I think deaths-and-resurrections are so popular because they're one of two things: they're either a shortcut to success, or they're proof that this person can survive anything. Or they're both.

By shortcut to success, I mean that a person dying-and-coming-back-to-life can be seen to have won, somehow, simply by getting back to where he or she was in the first place. This same thing happens in Christmas movies (as I pointed out previously in a post I can't find right now): People, characters, have to have their lives start out at one level, and then have something bad happen to them, and then they fight back from the bad thing to get back to where they were in the first place, at which point they're happy even though technically speaking they're no better off than they were when they started. That's the plot of every Christmas movie ever made, and practically ever movie ever made, including Jaws, in which the people on the island seem a little unhappy, then 90% of them get eaten by a shark, which is then [EXPLODING SHARK GUTS SPOILER ALERT!] blown up, after which everyone's happy again. But their lives are the same lives they had before they blew up the shark (which I think came back to life in Jaws 2, and which will definitely be making a cameo appearance in the screenplay I'm writing, Nightmare On Elm Beach: Jaws Meets Saw's Final Destination, in which the shark sets a series of diabolical traps to kill a bunch of teenagers in their dreams, only to find his plans thwarted by that Saw guy, who it turns out isn't dead, either, but is working as the Rube Goldberg of the Underworld, responsible for setting up all those traps that keep killing people in the Final Destination movies. Saw becomes enraged that Jaws is messing with his plans, and so they...

... well, I'm not going to give the ending away. Suffice to say everyone lives and dies several times, and that it'll also feature my new 5-D Superstring Technology for films, a way of projecting the movie in several alternate dimensions at the same time, so that every possible outcome can take place simultaneously, leaving you, the audience, totally satisfied because you'll never have to collapse that wave form and find out if the cat is dead or alive; with 5-D technology, the cat is both. Take that, Schrodinger!

I think I left a Dangling Parentheses there, so let me take care of that: )


The death-and-resurrection is the ultimate Get Back To Where You Once Belonged moment: a character who dies and comes back to life ought to be grateful for just being here, and it allows a writer (of a comic book or movie or old-fashioned radio play) to have a character realize Important Things About Life without actually finding a way to improve that character's life. Rather than have a character grow and change through conflict like Joseph Gordon-Levitt in 500 Days Of Summer, lazy writers can have a character go through nothing worse than a bad case of appendicitis and walk down the street at the end of the movie smiling and humming and appreciating the scent of a flower or something.

And, yes, I know that Joseph Gordon-Levitt didn't change all that much in 500 Days of Summer, but it was the only movie I could think of at the time except Inception, a movie in which characters die and come back to life routinely, making that movie a Candide-esque adventure in death and resurrection, but it doesn't count because it's all happening in a dream (see Tom & Jerry note, supra).

When dying and coming back is used as more than just a lazy way to a happy ending-that's-not-really, it's meant to be more Symbolic and Important-- the ultimate price to pay and the ultimate challenge a character could face. It serves as proof how tough the hero is, how villainous the villain is, and how significant all of this is. Unnamed Smoke Monster on Lost, we're told, can't be killed -- and we're proven that because he was killed and now he's come back as a Smoke Monster and if he died once how can we kill him again? He's SUPERvillainous!

But facing off against those resurrecting supervillainous people are heroes themselves who can die and come back -- heroes so brave and strong and tough that they can stare death in the eye and walk away, and thereafter aren't scared of anything anymore, or, if they are scared they can suppress it because they've died once, so how bad can dying again be? (That's why some writers have to up the ante -- once you've killed off a character and brought him or her back, you've got to find some way to make them scared again. So Constantine must worry that if he dies he's going back to Hell, which is worse than just dying, after all.)

Above all, for us regular people who don't have utility belts, a glowing staff that helps with our ventriloquism, or some such, death poses the ultimate challenge: It's the final barrier in our lives, a door that once we open it, we're not going to be the one to close it behind us and we're not coming back through it. So having our heroes and villains die and come back serves, maybe, as reassurance that death isn't final, that there's something better out there, or, if not better, at least something that's no worse than this life -- and use that knowledge to avoid our fear of that door while simultaneously admiring those who go near it or pass through it.

Death is one of the most significant moment of our lives, after all -- but it's the only moment we may not get to talk about with our friends or share with a loved one or blog about later on with snarky comments. (Firsties!) It's the only thing we'll ever go through that we fear we might have to go through entirely alone. Every other significant event involves someone waiting for us on the other side: birth, high school graduation, weddings, Sonic having two-for-one cheeseburgers... there's always a way to bring someone along or have someone there waiting for us.

But we don't know whether that's true with dying -- so while we're alive, we tell stories not just about people who died and went on, but about people who died and then came back, because we're not so sure we want to leave this all behind, anyway. Life may have its down moments, we know, but it's got it's good parts, too, and we can't be certain that the parts we liked -- Voltron cartoons, cheeseburgers, our wives and kids and parents and friends -- are going to be over there on the other side, especially if we go first.

Dying and coming back show that not only can we overcome adversity, but give us a reason to think that maybe dying will be like coming back, and we can then continue where we left off-- but in a more heroic manner, more sure of ourselves and ready to take on challenges. Which is the lesson learned from The Best Death (And Resurrection) In Pop Culture, that moment being the time [SPOILER ALERT!] Spongebob died at Shell City.

If you've seen the Spongebob movie (we all have, right?) then you know what I'm talking about: Having traveled to Shell City, a souvenir store, to rescue King Neptune's crown in order to save Mr. Krabs from being blasted by the kind as part of Plankton's evil plot (got all that?) Spongebob (and his friend Patrick) are captured by the Cyclops (a deep sea diver) and put under a heat lamp to dry out and be sold as trinkets to tourists. The lamp dries them out, but as they're dying, Patrick and Spongebob bravely fight, singing the chorus to The Goofy Goober Song.

If you haven't seen it, you have to. I quite honestly got goosebumps just typing that out. It's an amazingly effective scene, the most traumatic and touching death of a pants-wearing sea creature I've ever witnessed.

And it's all the sadder because SpongeBob does die -- he's dead as a herring, almost literally, and deader even than a doornail, his little pants flopping spongelessly...

... until a final bead of sweat he gave off runs down the table and down a cord and shorts out an electrical outlet, starting a small fire that sets off the sprinkler system, which then wets down our heroes and brings them back to life, so that they can ride David Hasselhoff back to the Krusty Krab just in time to face Plankton down by dressing as a guitar playing wizard.

That might be the single most ridiculous sentence I've ever written. And also the single best ending to a movie ever written.

When SpongeBob dies, he represents every part of the dying-and-coming-back themes. He's the hero who must face the greatest danger of all on his quest -- worse than monsters in a gorge or toughs in a bar or a fish that has an ice-cream vending Granny in its mouth -- and overcome it. But he's also us, a guy who just wanted to live his life but got caught up in events beyond his control, events that ended up killing him, but even that didn't stop him. He was able to return to his old life and pick up where he'd left off, and if he wasn't better in material things (although I think he did get that promotion to manager) he was better for the experience.

That's the final lesson of dying-and-resurrection, I think, the final thing we as writers and readers and talkers hope to take out of telling these stories. Spongebob, after he died, went back to being a fry cook. Those people on Lost (by now you know there's spoilers, right?) found themselves in their old lives, only a little moreso. Gandalf died and came back to help the others win the war so that the magic could leave Middle Earth. In each of these, and maybe in Candide, the person who dies comes back to a life that's maybe about the same as it was, but that person values it more. And in telling those stories, not only do we learn to value the lives we have now (hopefully) but we give ourselves a glimpse of what's next -- and we can believe that even if it's not better than this life, it'll be no worse, and we'll appreciate it more.

Not a bad lesson to learn from a sponge.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

The Nine Best Spoken Word Songs.

The other day, on my Friday's Sunday's Poem, I did something that stemmed mostly from laziness but which I, in the interest of literature, tried to claim was actually being done to make a point. About which, don't knock it, because "laziness-turned-into-claimed-literary-technique" is actually the driving force behind every single innovation in Western literature.

Take Mark Twain, a guy who gets a lot of credit for writing in jive, or at least what passed for jive back then. Twain's books are often described as being written in dialect, with passages like this actual quote from chapter 3 of The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn:

So ah jes tol' Jim thet we'd hef ta take th'reft inter town 'n' trade it fer the two tickerts to dancin' wif der stars on accounta I sez he wouldn't bleev Jennifer Grey's nose lessen he sawr it wif hiz owned eyes, but Jim, he jes' said he hates on that reality terribishun.

And for that Mark Twain won a Nobel Peace Prize?

The point being that Twain gets all kind of credit for writing in "dialect" but really he's writing in lazy. There were no word processors back then, remember: Twain had to write the entire book in charcoal on the back of a shovel, and he had to do that for each copy he sold, making it very time- and labor-intensive to write anything, which is why short stories were so popular back then (especially when one considers that the readers then had to carry all those shovels home to read them. That's actually why people had so many kids back then -- to help carry the Book Shovels. That, in turn, led to a genetic modification in children that made them hate reading, a modification that wasn't cured until J. "K". Rowlings discovered penicillin.)

As you can see from that foregoing passage, I am something of an expert on literature and literary techniques, able to fabricate fake Mark Twain quotes at the drop of a hat. ("The drop of a hat" being another Twain-ism.) (See?) So take it from me, and don't bother checking with any other reference source anywhere, when I say that Twain only wrote in dialect because it was easier to do that with the charcoal and shovels and all -- only coming up with the "dialect" cover story when editors he presented the manuscripts (shovels) to said, and I quote "Whut ther heck is this'n supposed ter be?

Twain would later drop the so-called "dialect" when, in the 16th Century, a team made up of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and George Washington Carver and J. "K" Rowlings invented the world's first steam-powered word processor. While it was a bulky machine (taking up most of the buildings in what we now call "The Smithsonian Institute,") the word processor, or, as it was called back then, "Dr. Carver's Patented Fantasmagorical Machinical Steam-Driven Words On Paper Typographiatric Servant" (DCPFMS-DWOPTS for short), revolutionized the writing industry, allowing people like Twain to right in "real" English and allowing poets like Shakespeare and Tennyson to quit making sonnets and get on with writing terribly long boring things like "Richard The Lion-Hearted" and "The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock." (They had to write things like that because the DCPFMS-DWOPTS was pre-programmed to be physically incapable of writing about heart-achingly beautiful emo vampires loving high school girls.)

So where does that leave us now? With this: literary technique is bunk, but America is built on bunk, after all -- we're a country that never failed to grasp at whatever important-sounding, educational-seeming, grandiose-promising bunk was being handed to us, whether it be "stories in dialect" or "the day the oceans started to recede" or "Kate Gosselin will someday go away, right?"

America is built on bunk like literary technique because while literary technique is a mostly pointless nonsense (like campaign speeches, and shows on CBS), it serves to make a point nonetheless -- only, generally, not a point being made by the author, to be clear. Remember, the author didn't use the literary technique to make a point, or use the literary technique at all; the author was just writing a story or poem or sitcom for CBS. The literary technique was generally grafted on after-the-fact by people who needed a job (English majors) and who cleverly decided to tell us all that there is a great deal of meaning or this or that or that other thing in the book or poem or CBS sitcom we're watching, meaning that only they can discern and that we, in our unsophisticated state, can only hope to glimpse.

And the place that English Majors In Need Of A Job have most found a home for literary technique is in poetry -- a genre of writing that has never been very popular (except during the Poetry Mania era of the 16th Century, when poetry was first invented) and never been very understood... but which became must less popular, and much less understood, once those English Majors got a hold of it and began telling us that William Carlos Williams' red wheelbarrow was so much more than just a red wheelbarrow, it was a desire for social justice. It was a raging cry against an impersonal fate. It was an allegory of biblical era mores.

And you thought it was just a farm implement. Those English Majors told you otherwise... and made you hate poetry, didn't they, because they insisted on taking away the fun of poetry and the lyric quality of poetry and the story of poetry, and in the place of those things, they told you to look for symbolism and something called a "metonymy" and made you read about J. Alfred Prufrock, and told you not to read to the end of the line but to keep reading until you hit some punctuation to destroy the rhythm... and then they invented free verse and sent self-righteous kids who wanted to be in show biz but had no talent to poetry slams and poetry was almost killed off right then...

... except that an unlikely group of heroes rode to the rescue: rock stars. Well, I shouldn't say unlikely, because rock stars are actually the most likely group of heroes, in any situation. Whenever disaster strikes, we turn to rock stars -- as we did in for Hurricane Katrina and for the Haitian Earthquake in the 2000s and as we did with famine in Africa in the 1980s, with Live Aid and Band Aid and We Are The World, and as we did in the 1990s, with...

... man, you people in the 1990s were selfish. You didn't help anyone, did you? Stupid grunge rockers.

Anyway, rock stars rode to the rescue of poetry, even though most people don't know it yet, by co-opting a so-called literary technique themselves -- taking poetry and spoken word and weird symbols and probably even a metonymy but I'm not entirely sure what that is, just as I'm not entirely sure what a synecdoche is -- taking all those things and repackaging them with cool music and making them sound like songs so that people would like them, but just to make a point -- because that's what literary techniques do, the rock stars didn't rest with just regular ol' songs.

They also made spoken word songs.

Songs where there's music and all, but the singer is... just talking.

Talking in seemingly-symbolic, rhythmic, metonymicalsynecdochal metered words.

In other words: reading you a poem while music plays.

Yes, Rock Stars have fought back against English Majors in a bold attempt to make music fun again, in a rashing blow against ponderous literary techniques and interpretations and all the other stuff that Mr. Schaeffer tried to get me to like in 9th and 10th grades but I didn't like them. I liked poetry, but I didn't want poetry to be all bogged down by tying it to William Jennings Bryan's efforts to avoid the gold standard. And rock stars have allowed me to again enjoy poetry without all the literary technique bunk that has been grafted onto and dragging down poetry.

And all that is why I came up with the list i'm finally getting to, The Nine Best Spoken Word Songs, songs that have cool music and great lyrics, but no singing. They're poems, just poems being read with music, and I offer them up to you so that you, too, might throw off the yokes of pretend-literary-technique and years of being berated by English Majors about how you just don't appreciate the delicate symbolism of that Grecian Urn and how it really isn't an urn at all, it's something like "the threat to the ozone layer."

That being the maximum possible amount of ado I can give to this, here, without further ado, is the list, with no explanations, no comparisons, no symbolism. I'm not an English Major (Political Science, 1995, UW-Milwaukee). I don't want to wreck them for you. Just enjoy:

9. Short Skirt/Long Jacket, Cake.

8. A Child's Introduction To The Drums, Ruckus Roboticus:

7. O Superman, Laurie Anderson.

6. Everybody's Free To Wear Sunscreen, Baz Luhrmann:

5. Beautiful World, Colin Hay:

4. Little Acorns, White Stripes:

3. Don't Let Me Explode, The Hold Steady:

2. Mr. Mastodon Farm, Cake:

1. Handlebars, Flobots:

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Here's Some Science I Can Get Behind.

I've been awfully critical of "science" from time to time, so it's only fair to laud it when it does something great -- such as holding a concert to celebrate music and science together (as I've done so often here, at posts like this and this.)

I'm talking about the live "Powers Of Ten" Concert to celebrate the USA Science & Engineering Festival. The concert will be this Sunday, October 10, at the "Elsie and Marvin Dekelboum Concert Hall " at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, University of Maryland.

The program says that the concert will take you on a musical journey from "quark to cosmos," with 20 songs mixing pop, rap, classical, and jazz -- and all of it scientifically accurate.

I got invited with a VIP pass - -just goes to show you how listening to Modest Mouse songs can lead to big things -- but I can't attend, since it's a little long of a drive from Wisconsin to Maryland. The event is free, but requires tickets to get in, so get going now. Also, watch this blog for information on webcasts.

Click here for more information.

Also, here's a video that demonstrates the "Powers of 10" quark-to-cosmos journey:

Saturday, October 02, 2010

The future has arrived, and it has a stupid name. (The Best Underated Instruments, 7)

It's a Minibest!

What a week for science this was! Window lasers, the declaration by scientists that they've actually FOUND alien lifeforms... if ever there was a week that we should celebrate science, this was it. And I'm going to celebrate science in the most obvious way -- by selecting a musical instrument created not by the aimless wanderings of art but by the goal-driven demands of pure, hard, science: the eigenharp.

But first those lasers and aliens: The news was abuzz this week with the revelation by scientists that they'd found a "Goldilocks" planet. Settle down, fans of fairy tales and cosplay: they're talking about a planet that exists the right distance from its sun ("not too hot, not too cold") to have water, and therefore life, because, as scientists always tell us, where there's water, there's life. (People who fish Lake Erie can testify otherwise, maybe, but let's ignore them.)

The "Goldilocks" planet orbits around a star scientists call "Gliese 581," because scientists suck -- when they aren't simply claiming that hobbits exist, they're determined to bore the rest of us to death by doing things like calling stars "Gliese 581," instead of calling them cool things like "Aldebaran." The Goldilocks planet itself is called either "Gliese 581g" or "Zarmina's World," (after the scientist's wife)(and that actually is an okay name, so good job, Zarmina's husband), and it's a mere 14 million miles away from its sun -- about 1/6 as far away as we are, so the year there only lasts 37 days. Which means it's never too long until summer arrives again -- and you'll love summer on Zarmina's World, with its 160-degree temperatures.

You may not be so crazy about the fact that because the planet barely rotates, then depending on where you are it's almost always dark, or almost always light... except for the part where it's almost always sunrise. There's a part of the planet where the sun is perpetually rising, something that might be cool until you get sick of it, around the time you're seeing your 3,164,473rd consecutive sunrise.

The other thing you might not be so crazy about is the fact that you're very definitely certainly going to be sharing your planet with alien life forms. This is the part of the story that for some reason -- probably to avoid panic over the inevitable alien invasion -- is being played down: The fact that scientists have said that there is, for sure, 100% sure, alien life. Says Zarmina's husband:

"[the] chances for life on this planet are 100 percent."

100%. Not almost 100%. Not 99%, or very certain. 100%. That's all the percents there are -- so Mr. (Dr?) Zarmina's Husband announced to the world that there very definitely certainly 100%edly is alien life.

And the AP led with "Goldilocks?"

Luckily, in a related story that nobody except me realized was related, scientists also have discovered a source of protection against the Zarminans who are probably on their way here right now: window lasers.

Previously, death rays powered by pure light were so expensive and complicated that they could only really be owned by the Grand Moff Tarkin and Bill Gates' buddies. But thanks to "environmentalists" who wanted to "save" the "environment," we now all have the power to destroy our friends, neighbors, tourists at the pool, or the odd Zarminian who wanders by asking to be taken to our leader: window-based death rays, as were recently discovered at a Las Vegas resort.

That resort, the "Vdara," is in Las Vegas and it doesn't just lead the world in stupid names -- it also brings a new level of commitment to the service industry, promising to pamper you in luxury with its fancy rooms, high-level room service, quality buffets, and scorching heat rays that will burn you to a crisp.

That's right: It seems that once again saving the environment is going to require a sacrifice, and this time the sacrifice is you. Or at least, your lawyer

Bill Pintas, a Chicago lawyer and businessman, recently was sunning himself by the pool when he became so uncomfortably hot that he had to move. "I actually thought that, Oh my God, we've destroyed the ozone layer because I am being burned," Pintas told NBC's TODAY show. "My head was steaming hot. In fact, my hair felt like it was burning ... I could actually smell my hair burning." Pintas sought refuge away from the sun's rays, where he described what happened to hotel employees. "I said to the staff, 'I don't know if you know what's going on out here, but I was being burned,' and they're like, 'Yeah, we know. We call it the "death ray." ' "

As an aside, what kind of lawyer talks to hotel busboys about the ozone layer? Did he think they could help? "I don't know if you know what's going on out there, but if you could get me another pina colada and help pass a worldwide treaty cutting carbon emissions by 33% in the next five years, I'd probably leave you at least five bucks for a tip." Did the hotel staff maybe include the head of the UN? Or Al Gore?

When contacted, a spokesman for the hotel said that the hotel actually preferred that employees refer to the phenomenon not as a "death ray" but as a "solar convergence," and added: "We're just trying to create a pleasant, relaxing pool experience for our guests." They have a funny notion of what "pleasant" and "relaxing" mean; perhaps they're Zarminian? After all, a solar death ray might seem pleasant to someone who constantly basks in the glow of a 160-degree sunrise.

The death rays are apparently caused by the heat-resistant, reflective windows installed in the hotel, which reflect the sun to such a degree that it becomes concentrated and lethal (at least to lawyer's hairlines.)

But, lest you think that death rays are still only for those rich enough, foolish enough, or mobster-connected enough to go to Vegas, take note that even common folks can now afford to melt their neighbors. The energy-efficient and highly reflective windows Vdara uses to create its solar-converging-death-ray come standard on many a house now. Building inspectors in Massachusetts blamed energy efficient windows for the blowtorch-like melting of neighbors' siding. Noting that temperatures from the window reflections reached as high as 248 degrees, the experts added that "Any double-pane window can cause this effect."

Even yours.

So how does this all tie into the eigenharp? Consider what the eigenharp is. Here's a picture of it:

That's right: It's a musical instrument that looks like a gun. So now you have a Second Amendment right to rock out, one that even Scalia can't take away from you. Open carry for musical instruments? You betcha.

But more importantly, the eigenharp is, as I began this post so long ago by noting, a musical instrument created by science. Science doesn't just find alien life forms and name them after science's wife. Science doesn't just accidentally vaporize humanity in order to save $50 on heating bills each year. No, science also contributes in other ways, like creating musical instruments such as the Eigenharp. Forget the 16th century. Forget craftsmanship. Forget strings and wood and varnish and brass and all that old-school musical stuff. The eigenharp is a thing of modernity, a thing of technology and, possibly, a thing that has a breath-alyzer attached, judging from that picture.

For a more accurate description, let's hear from the creators themselves. According to Eigenlab, the Eigenharp is...

A professional level instrument which allows the musician to play and improvise using a limitless range of sounds with virtuoso skill. The unique design of the keys makes this the most expressive electronic musical instrument ever made. The Alpha can play and record loops, change scale and key, transpose, alter tempo, program beats, create arrangements, switch and layer multiple sounds, all while the musician is performing live on stage.

It also, they note, requires a computer to play. Or these guys:

The Eigenharp, in the truest spirit of science, manages to outmusic every other instrument. Your piano has 88 kesy? The eigenharp has 132. Plus two "strip controllers." Are you a fan of wind instruments? The eigenharp has a breath pipe. Like pipe organs? There are "numerous" pedal inputs. The only thing it's missing is a miniature Davey Jones playing a tambourine. (That option is extra.)

Plus, it's the first musical instrument ever based on the Star Wars movies. Aside from the "Jar Jars." But the less said about those, the better.

Sure, you say, that all seems neat, but the real question is, can it make music? Of course it can. Has science ever let you down? (Other than this? And this? And this?) Just listen to it:

And listen to this, too, in case you're not into techno and maybe want something more classical and a little oriental sounding:

By now, you may be asking yourself, how did the Eigenharp come into existence? And then you may be adding to yourself I bet it was a bar bet, wasn't it? All the greatest inventions, like the space shuttle and that gum with candy in the center and the gum is shaped like the fruit that the candy is the flavor of, all that stuff came from bar bets. Especially because it really does look like that thing from the cantina scene. So what's the truth? Did these guys get drunk in a pub one night and make a bet that one could make an instrument identical to the cantina scene?

Well, you'd be wrong if you thought that. Not about the space shuttle and the gum; those were actually the result of bar bets. But the eigenharp, as much as it seems to simply be a guy living out his Live Action Star Wars Fantasy, actually comes from a much purer place: The dream of a guy named "John Lambert."

John, according to the Eigenlab website, had a vision of making "the world's most expressive electronic instrument," and, more importantly, a musical instrument that could best play the Cylon theme from Battlestar Galactica:

Instantly, that video is the single best remnant of Battlestar Galactica. If they'd ended the show with that, instead of this, it would be remembered fondly.

That's all the history that Eigenlab gives about the Eigenharp, so maybe I'm wrong; maybe it really was a bar bet. Maybe next, Eigenlab will come up with an actual Boba Fett life sized flying suit that people can use to get to work (and shoot missiles at cars on the way, to pass the time.)

There are actually three kinds of Eigenharps, including the Pico, which Eigenlabs boasts can be played by anyone. I'd like to put that boast to the test, and to be honest, I'd like very much to own an Eigenharp of any kind, because the more I listen to it, the cooler it sounds, and I also believe it to be the newest instrument in the world -- it's only been around since 2009, after all, while all our other instruments were invented in the 16th century.

But I'm kind of intimidated about buying one; the website has FAQs about the various instruments, and my question was going to be How easy is it, really, to play? so I checked the FAQs to see if that question was there. It wasn't, but this question was:

Does the Eigenharp Pico have the drum sequencer featured?

The answer to that was no, not yet, and then something about downloading. Since I don't even know what a drum sequencer is, I figured it best not to go find Sweetie's purse and steal a credit card and order an Eigenharp Pico yet.

In fact, the only thing I don't like about the Eigenharp is the name; keeping in the tradition spawned by the Internet, Lambert and crew named their instrument in the silliest way possible, combining familiar old words in stupid new ways. (See also "blog", "vlog" and "Tweet.") Why invest billions (I assume/made up just now) in creating the instrument of the future and not at least give some thought to a better name?

And there's no doubt that it is the instrument of the future. Check this out:

That's what they're watching on Zarmina's World's version of MTV, right now. Get used to it.

Previous Instruments:

1. Tuba

2. Harp.

3. Triangle

4. Glockenspiel.

5. Bassoon

6. Jaw harp.