Monday, October 31, 2011

Indie Book Review: Table of Contents/Explanation

All the books/ authors I've reviewed:

The House On The Corner, by Andrew Leon

Eminent Domain, by Erin O'Riordan and Tit Elingtin

Blood Calling, by Joshua Grover-David Patterson

Lyon's Legacy, by Sandra Ulbrich Almazan

A Dead God's Wrath, by Rusty Webb

"A Hero's Journey," by PT Dilloway.

Indie Book Review
is a feature I hope will (a) become a more regular feature here and (b) not lead to lawsuits when author Michael Offutt realizes I stole the idea from him, more or less. Plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery, as Stephen Ambrose would say, provided someone else said it first.

Anyway, as an Indie book writer (or "author") myself, I have long complained that nobody supported me in my Indie book writing, and then one day I thought "Hey, I should do that." No, not complain about not getting support, but instead, go out and support people who write indie books.

And so this is that: I am going to read Indie books and I am going to review them and more than that, I'm going to help those Indie book writers promote themselves, here on the WILDLY POPULAR (if I keep saying it, it's bound to come true, right, Oprah?) blog, The Best Of Everything by quizzing them about their book along with reviewing it. And because I'm me and you're not...

... are you?

... I'm going to make that quiz one I like -- 10 1/2 questions, including one impossible problem and one question that, as the name implies, is not even properly a question.

You'll see what it all means by reading the reviews/quizzes. Here's a list of all the authors whose works I've reviewed.

Friday, October 28, 2011

#Occupy Trick Or Treat, and other Secret Origins of Hallowe'en (POP!Best!)

POP!Best! is my weekly look at The Best in pop culture from the preceding week. You know, because you don't hear about pop culture anywhere else in the universe.


This week Anna Carrera, top-notch reporter at WAOW in Wisconsin, tweeted a link to a story she'd done about a kid busted for carrying pot-laced candy at a local high school, which instantly brought to mind all those stories about tainted candy that circulate every year around Halloween. (Stories my own parents dutifully passed on to me, resulting in my addiction to/crippling fear of Pixie Sticks, a cupful of which I keep on my desk but which I eat only sparingly, "sparingly" meaning "only on Sundays, when Mr Bunches makes me have one because he is oddly fascinated by watching me pour sugar into my mouth.")

That story bugged me all week because (a) I really have very little control over what my mind does and when it is supposed to be doing things like "preparing briefs" or "remembering to put gas in the car" it is instead thinking "I wonder where it began, this idea that candy got tainted?" and (b) I don't really have a (b), although I did when I started that expression.

I mean, everyone knows by now that there really hasn't ever been an actual incident of poisoning on Halloween; even the recent pot-laced candy story isn't all that new: stories about pot-laced candy go back to at least 2006 when the feds - -in a crackdown aimed at breaking up the California medicinal marijuana trade -- busted a guy who was making such "clever" pot-laced candy-knockoffs as Buddahfinger, proving again that stoner "humor" is not funny.

Except for this:

Anyway, the feds continue to crack down on everything from pot-laced pretzels to "Cheeba Chews" snuck into town in a Ninja Turtle backpack, and even a lawsuit by Hershey's alleging trademark infringement didn't seem to put an end to the practice. (My favorite part about that last link is not the story; it's the fact that the story about a trademark lawsuit against an imprisoned drug dealer was reported on "Fantasy Football Cafe Forum." Your home for news!) And even earlier, a clever attempt to smuggle marijuana by putting it in mini-Snickers' bar wrappers was foiled when the bag ended up at the dead letter office and was taken home by a postal worker, which has to be every bit as against the rules as using your government position to encourage a woman to get freaky with her sex toy, but not as good a lead for Gawker.

And even though none of those stories had to do with Halloween, that doesn't stop authorities from warning parents not to let their kids inadvertently go as Cheech & Chong this year.

But where, I wondered, does the story come from? How did it become taken for granted that Halloween candy could be tainted? How, in short, does an urban legend start?

Once upon a time, in America, candy was even more evil than it is today.

So I went looking for the answer to how this particular urban legend began, doing so during an insomniatic Friday night while I watched Sports Center and wondered how I could get that job, and I am now able to report to you that the actual inception of the tainted Halloween candy story is...

... I don't know.

The reports of tainted candy appear to have coalesced from three stories: The dad who poisoned his son using Pixy Sticks to collect on life insurance, a boy who accidentally overdosed on his uncle's heroin and the family tried to cover it up by sprinkling heroin on his Halloween candy, and the poisoned Tylenol capsules in the early 1980s, according to Mental Floss, which goes on to note that as early as 1959 there were reports of sharp objects in candy but the first documented instance of that wasn't until 2000 -- which makes it seem like the guy got the idea from the rumors, not the other way around.

But poison candy goes back way farther than just the halcyon days of the 1950s, when Ward would come home from his job at the Corporation (which back then was benign, and not yet a person!) and laugh over a hearty 37-course dinner with the boys before sneaking off to the lodge to slip razor blades into apples. In World War I, reports surfaced that the Germans, or, as they were called back then, "Hessians," (I know they weren't called that, but it's fun to say Hessian, and anyway, whatever happened to Hessians?) were poisoning candy and dropping it on French villages, and back at the turn of the century, in 1899, parents began blaming poisoned candy for their children dropping dead. Doctors, or, as they were called back then, "people who had no particular training but who were allowed, for some reason, to operate on other people" blamed not poisoned candy but meningitis. In reality, the likely cause of death was probably "living in 1899."

Even parents in 1899 were repeating an old myth -- that same article says that in 1874 the "National Confectioners Association" had commissioned a report to debunk myths that candy caused kids to die-- and if they did so in 1874, you know that the rumors had to have been flying around via that 1800s' version of the internet (Pamphlets. Seriously) for a long time.

The article where I got a lot of that information makes a significant point: People back then blamed candy for everyone dropping dead because the things that really were making them drop dead (again: living in 1899) were harder to deal with, those problems being things like poverty, rot, slime, gas leaks, robber barons, and the fact that most "medical schools" prior to 1930 were diploma mills that provided no practical education and didn't require you to go to college before attending them.

In short: blaming candy was easier than fixing society, which may be why the single biggest news out of the White House this week was that Michelle Obama wrote a book about vegetables.

So there's this guy, and he keeps running into the Devil...

Since I don't know exactly where the rumor that all candy will instantly kill you if you take it from your neighbor's hand started, let's (a) blame it on the Hessians, and (b) move on to other Halloween history that raises important questions like "Why would someone actually try to get into Hell?"

That's the question I asked myself after I decided to look into the secret origin of the Jack O'Lantern and learned that Jack O' Lantern's exist because of "Stingy Jack," a guy who got his name because, apparently, he was stingy. Although being stingy had nothing to do with why we still know about Jack and his O'Lantern; his nickname was irrelevant to the fact that he tricked the Devil into something or other.

I'm not being lazy there; I'm being accurate and there's a difference: People don't agree on what Stingy Jack, who really should be called something like Tricky Jack but I didn't make him up, so I didn't get a vote in the matter, did to trick the Devil, but they do agree that he tricked the Devil. Some say he tricked the Devil into climbing an apple tree, a story that needs a little fleshing out: Why did he want the Devil to climb the apple tree? Why was he talking to the Devil in the first place? Why an apple tree? Is that a biblical reference? Is that why we give out apples on Halloween? Does anyone really give out apples on Halloween? Those people suck.

Also: No. We give out apples on Halloween because they were symbols of immortality (that star you see if you cut the apple in half the right way) and because if you peeled an apple in front of a mirror in candlelight, you would see an image of your future spouse, which I would go try but it's the middle of the night as I write this and I'm easily freaked out. (Once, when I watched Jeepers Creepers by myself late at night I couldn't go to sleep until I watched Disney's Hercules.)(True story.)

(People disagree about the mystical powers of apples vis a vis future spouses. This site says you have to slice the apple and eat it by candlelight to see Future Ms. Right, and then peel the whole peel in one slice and throw it over your shoulder to learn her initial, and also that if you put an apple under your pillow you will dream of your future husband, to which I'll add "And your wife will probably say 'What, exactly, are you doing with an apple under your pillow?")

A different version of the Stingy Jack story has Jack inviting the Devil to have a drink with him, but not wanting to pay for the drink -- always buy the first round, the party never gets smaller -- so he tricked the Devil into becoming a coin, (and then didn't pay anyway, keeping the coin in his pocket)(Is that the Devil in your pocket or are you just... what? It really IS the Devil? I'm out of here!) only to later trick the Devil into climbing a tree, the Devil not having learned his lesson the first time around.

All of the Stingy Jack legends end the same way: Jack eventually dies and goes up to Heaven where, despite his obvious skill in tricking the Devil, he's not wanted on account of his general meanness, so he goes down to Hell to try to get let in even though whole point of all this trickery was to avoid Hell, but the Devil, who's the kind of person who carries a grudge (but you'd guess that about him, wouldn't you?) won't let him in, and so Jack wanders the Earth, with naught but a piece of Hellfire to light his way -- that piece of Hellfire having been given to him by the Devil, who's really not such a bad guy after all in the end.

I mean, Heaven didn't give Jack a flashlight or even one of those reflective strips of tape to put on his costume.

Jack carried his Hellfire in a turnip (or, as they're known now, "pomegranate") and that's why we now put candles in pumpkins and if you think I skipped a step there, you're right, but so does every other source; nobody says why turnips ended up being pumpkins, so there must be some sort of transitive property of foods nobody really eats that says turnips = pumpkins.

Does the story of a guy who so doesn't want to pay his bills that he repeatedly consorts with the Prince of Darkness and eventually is banned from Heaven and doomed to walk the earth in misery carrying a Hellfire-bearing turnip sound like the kind of play you'd want to put on for middle schoolers? Stanford Middle School thought so, which is why those plucky youngsters put on a show entitled "Watch Your Back For Stingy Jack!" But this play takes a uniquely American, no-doubt-Tea-Party inspired look at this heartwarming family story:

On a present-day Halloween night, Laura and her friends gather around Laura's dad, Bill, to hear the mysterious origin of the Jack-o'-Lantern. Through Bill's narrative, the girls learn about the ghost of Stingy Jack, a mean tax collector from old colonial America who haunts the town after being robbed of his fortune. With horrifying twists surrounding lost treasure and curses, audiences will leave with one thing in mind: never let the light go out! A rollicking introduction into the folklore that inspired the Jack-o'-Lantern.

See? You didn't know that taxes were actually collected by a tool of the devil. But now you do, so never ever pay taxes again.

And now onto something more wholesome: Asphyxiation!

Speaking of heart-warming traditions and future spouses, how about choking to death to find out if you'll get married that year? That is the horrifying story behind apple-bobbing. Apples apparently have a long tradition of being associated with romance, going way back to when Hippomenes tricked Atalanta into marrying him by beating her in a footrace; he only outran her by tricking her along the way with three golden apples, proving that woman can not resist an apple.

According to a book written by an actual Wiccan Priest -- the book is Halloween, the priest is Silver Ravenwolf, which I'm pretty sure was the author's D&D character's name as a kid -- the custom of bobbing for apples began as a New Year's tradition in which people would try to get apples and the first one to choke on one would be married that year. Oh, the single life!

Which brings us to trick-or-treating, and if you think I skipped a step there, I did, again. Trick-or-treating, many sources will tell you, began as a combination of the custom of souling, in which poor people would go around and sing for the dead souls of people in exchange for food. According to what is a no-doubt reliable source on this subject (the website "Things That Go Boooo!" ),

The American tradition of "trick-or-treating" probably dates back to the early All Souls' Day parades in England. During the festivities, poor citizens would beg for food and families would give them pastries called "soul cakes" in return for their promise to pray for the family's dead relatives.

The distribution of soul cakes was encouraged by the church as a way to replace the ancient practice of leaving food and wine for the returning spirits on Halloween night. The practice, which was referred to as "going a-souling" was eventually taken up by children who would visit the houses in their neighborhood and be given ale, food, and money.

So, if you are keeping score, in England, where many of our ancestors came from, kids could go around on Halloween and get beer and money. In America, where many of our ancestors came to, people try to stop trick-or-treating by claiming candy causes meningitis.

(That's in case you needed proof that perhaps the best-and-brightest were not the ones who left. Proof beyond "also, many of our ancestors settled in Minnesota," I mean.)

Trick-or-treating is, of course, not an American invention -- the meningitis, remember -- and has been around long enough to have been written about in that godawful Olde Englishe that Chaucer also used and which for some reason schools insist on making kids read. In his poem Hallowe'en, Robert Burns wrote about trick-or-treating:

The lasses feat, and cleanly neat,
Mair braw than when they're fine;
Their faces blithe, fu' sweetly kythe,
Hearts leal, and warm, and kin';
The lads sae trig, wi' wooer-babs,
Weel knotted on their garten,
Some unco blate, and some wi' gabs,
Gar lasses' hearts gang startin'
Whiles fast at night.

Then, first and foremost, through the kail,
Their stocks maun a' be sought ance;
They steek their een, and graip and wale,
For muckle anes and straught anes.
Poor hav'rel Will fell aff the drift,
And wander'd through the bow-kail,
And pou't, for want o' better shift,
A runt was like a sow-tail,
Sae bow't that night.

Or at least, I'm told he mentions trick-or-treating. I can't understand a single word of that. And there's like 37 more stanzas. The poem is no less comprehensible when translated into Belorussian, which it has been.

Here in America, trick-or-treating was originally called guising, according to St Nicholas magazine, which is rapidly becoming my go-to source for information, and, according to Wikipedia, the term "trick or treat" wasn't used in America until 1934, when the Helena Independent broke this story:

Pretty Boy John Doe rang the door bells and his gang waited his signal. It was his plan to proceed cautiously at first and give a citizen every opportunity to comply with his demands before pulling any rough stuff. "Madam, we are here for the usual purpose, 'trick or treat.'" This is the old demand of the little people who go out to have some innocent fun. Many women have some apples, cookies or doughnuts for them, but they call rather early and the "treat" is given out gladly.

I'm sure that august local paper went on to warn parents that the "treat" (or, as it was sometimes called "Hessian Pomegranate") was likely laced with marijuana and razors.

Why did trick-or-treating get so popular, given that Americans were 100% certain that candy, and not stagnant sewage water in the streets, was killing their kids? It probably had something to do with stopping kids from blowing up churches and corpse-stealing -- the spoilsports!

Early Hallowe'en efforts had focused more on the "trick" end of the spectrum, and the tricks ranged from pipe bombs to blocking railroad tracks to stealing corpses from a medical school to hang in front of a butcher shop. Adults fought back with all the restraint adults have traditionally shown in dealing with kids: Two children were shot, one for tapping on a window and one for soaping another window.

Surprisingly, having the death penalty for minor pranks didn't stop them -- that same website notes that the "pranks" escalated to killing cops and cross-burning, and

Extreme pranking incited extreme measures on the part of the police. It was normal in the 1920s for a city like LA to add 800-900 extra men for the night or to post one hundred men on the LA rails to guard the tracks against Halloween mayhem. It wasn't a huge leap from this large-scale defensive position to an offensive one. In 1942, for example, the Chicago City Council voted to simply abolish Halloween.
See where I got the headline from? Again, surprisingly, an overwhelming show of force didn't manage to quell the unrest, and so America got tricky and decided to bribe the little monsters via trick or treat, the theory being: give them candy, and they'll stop killing our police officers and toting corpses around, probably because they'll die of meningitis.

Trick or treating still wasn't immediately popular. Again, from that site:

Some homeowners were downright hostile: a woman in Miami (1950) gave red-hot coins to a gang of kids who demanded money. Police in Greensboro, NC rode around on Halloween night with 5,000 packages of cookies to give to gangs of kids in hopes they wouldn't bang on homeowner's doors. There were angry pieces in the newspaper claiming it was extortion; even some of the kids themselves protested: the 1948 Madison Sq. Boys' Club parade featured signs saying, "American boys don't beg."

Hmmm. You see where this is going: There will be stories next year that kids are being handed out red-hot coins laced with marijuana.

In any event, in these troubled times, it's nice to think back to a those golden days of our country, when people were more innocent, and America was a nicer place where neighbors said hello, people never locked their doors, and police were sent out to bribe pipe-bomb carrying hooligans before they could riot. Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The 24 Best Lines I Heard On "Better Off Ted" Episodes I Had Playing In The Background While In Theory I Was Working.

There's really no reason for this post to exist, other than I like Better Off Ted, and I was, in theory, working while playing that show on my computer.

1. "I work full time and I have an 8-year-old daughter. I don't even have time for a one-some."

2. "I feel like my heart has been kicked in the testicles."

3. "I don't want a sex disease. Especially one that's been assigned to me by my supervisor."

4. "What am I supposed to do, go back to Wisconsin and work in the cheese mines, after I made that big speech, threw down my cheese shovel, and walked out?

5. "Children: They have so many uses. They're like adorable Swiss army knives."

6. "Now I know what a beard of fingers would feel like."

7. "That's just something the elevator said."

8. "I just lied to myself about opening a jelly jar. Which is worrisome."

9. "I'm terrible at insults. As a child, I was beaten up constantly. The best comeback I could come up with was 'You're right, I'll work on that.'

10. "Can't we develop one product that doesn't end up being used to kill people? Even our fat-free cinnamon roll led to that new sticky bomb."

11. "We can't leave work in the middle of the day. We're not Somali pirates!"

12. "No one respects us. Not even that cafeteria lady with that hideous tongue birthmark that looks like a smaller and more hideous tongue."

13. "I was the best thing that ever happened to Derek Spooner until he froze to death in the cooler while getting high!"

14. "One minute you're flying high with Chet, and the next you're buried in the desert with a bullet in your skull. Or whatever the kid equivalent is. Probably something with poop."

15. "Finally I have a good reason not to be implanted with an orangutan embryo."

16. "Cows. Well, no, we don't make cows. Although we have made a sheep."

17. "Never give up. That's what I always tell my daughter. She tells me to stop telling her, but I can't. Because that would be giving up."

18. "At Veridian Dynamics, we can even make radishes so spicy that people can't eat them. But we're not... because people can't eat them."

19. "The point is, the company's not comfortable with him working on new projects until we're sure he's not going to sue us for whatever did, or probably did not, happen."

20. "Kids: God's little awkward moment machines."

21. "I have tons of ex-boyfriends, Ted. Well, not tons, but many. A few. Just the right amount."

22. "It's not my fault I don't listen when you talk."

23. "Yeah, I think babies have to be notarized."

24. "And the next time some survey asks how happy you are, you check very or I'll give you something to be happy about."

25. "Another time, another place, two other people... it could have been magniflorious."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I'm going to sculpt Han from SOLO PAPER CUPS. Get it? (Star Wars References)

So it turns out that Chewbacca was named after the Russian, or Ukrainian, word for dog. Did you know that? And did you know that Russian and Ukranian are the same language? Because I didn't know either of those things until I used all the investigative powers*

*clicking on links

at my disposal to track down that valuable information that will no doubt brighten your day, help you convince your boss to get a raise, maybe make your wife not leave you, and convince that guy in the parking lot to quit giving you noogies every afternoon.

He's kind of a jerk, that guy.

Here's the story behind the story. First, I became aware of this:

That's Chew-Bacco, which needs no explanation but I get paid by the word**

**I don't

So I'll point out that it's a Chewbacca, made out of chewing tobacco?

Get it?***

*** I do.

I saw that on Geekologie, but being the curious sort of guy I am, I thought to myself, there's got to be some story behind that, right? Because who just one day gets up and sculpts a miniature Chewbacca and gets it on the web? I figured it was some kind of protest against man's inhumanity to man, so I clicked the link and got to "Technabob," or I think that's what it's called because they use logo-y letters and it's hard for old guys like me to read. There, I saw this:

Despite being named after the Russian/Ukranian word for “dog”, I’ve always thought that Chewbacca’s name sounded like a hurried version of “chewing tobacco.” Apparently artist Terry Border thinks the same, so he made this literal interpretation to share with the world.

And there's that picture again. So then I clicked the link that Technabob, which sounds like a bad robot name, provided to prove the veracity of that audacious Russian/Ukrainian word claim, and got to a Wikipedia page *4

*4 of course. That was pre-ordained. Any Star Wars reference is never more than three clicks away from a Wikipedia link backing it up. Wikipedia and Star Wars are the kissin' cousins of geekery.

that featured this word:


That, according to the pronunciation on the page, is pronounced something like so-bock-uh, and the Wikipedia page says the word is actually Iranic in origin, which means I'm now on a terrorist watch list, and the page also contains this helpful phrase, written in the original Russian/Ukrainian/Iranian

собака на сене

That means, dog in the manger, and if you're language has an idiom for dog in the manger you are raising your children, or your dogs or both, wrong.

Anyway, that Wikipedia page also says that the Ukrainians use the same word for dog, which doesn't surprise me because all languages just steal from English, a fact I can prove by noting that the French had to pass a law to get people to stop calling it an iPod and start calling it le baladeur, so let's finish this up by noting that "artist Terry Border," as he's respectfully known at Technabob, was featured on for anthropomorphizing foods, like this work titled "We Were Made For Each Other":

Which means that what began as a Star Wars Reference has now devolved into pointing out that you can be treated as a serious artist if you just steal ideas from Kramer.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

On The Radio (POP!Best!)

POP!Best! is a weekly look at pop culture from the 7 days prior. Usually it's a little more upbeat than this.

Today finds me in a meditative mood of sorts; I've been thinking all week about Norman Colwin, a guy I'd never heard of before who died this week at 101.

I heard about Norman Colwin dying on the radio, which is fitting, because Colwin was called the 'poet laureate of radio' when he wasn't being called a 'citizen of the world.' I don't know what the latter means, but I do know what the former should sound like, and the brief (radio) broadcast I heard about Colwin's death made me miss someone I'd never even known existed until just that moment, and want to know more about him.

Radio, I think, gets kind of a bum rap these days, and maybe rightfully so, provided that you narrowly define radio. But I've always liked radio, in all its incarnations as I think of them, including things that aren't really radio.

I once wrote a post called "Football On The Radio, The Importance of Being Close To Canada, and a Quick Latin Lesson" (I'll link to it below.) In that post, I reflected on how I used to listen to football games on the radio, waxing poetic:

I first started listening to football on the radio back when Sweetie and I began dating. She lived about 60 miles from me, and sometimes I'd go drive my Ford Festiva up to visit her on Sundays. We'd hang out, maybe watch the Packers, maybe eat dinner, and then I'd have to drive home ... I would tune in to the NFL game, whichever game was being played, and listen to that,

...As I drove past sleeping farms and dark houses with warm glows flowing out of their windows, I'd focus on the road as the announcer told me someone was back to pass, it's up, and I'd drive and wait for it's caught or dropped or picked off and he's heading the other way.

The invisible men playing football in my mind ("kicking off, my right to my left..." announcers would say, and I'd picture them on the dashboard of the car) have always been larger and stronger and more enjoyable than the life-sized men playing on the football fields in real life
The radio has always been a big feature of my life. When I lived in Milwaukee, as a college student, I worked in the admissions office of the University. This was in the early 90s, before the Internet and iPods and even CDs were still pretty new. So we listened to the radio in the office. Every city had an assortment of music stations back then: there was the Oldies station and the Classic Rock station and the Top40 station and, if you were lucky like we were because we had two major colleges in Milwaukee, you had a "New Rock" station that played bands like Belly:

I remember listening to New Rock 102.1 when Belly, a group I loved, came out with their new album: the DJ said "Belly's just released a new album that sounds great. Here's their hit song "Feed The Tree," which was off their old album, and I didn't get how New Rock could get away without playing new rock.

I know now: Years later I read an article that talked about why radio stations don't put new music on more often, or more challenging music, and do you know why? It's because of us, and also because of how easy it is to change the radio station when you're in the car, which is where most of us listen to the radio, always. Most people, if they hear something unfamiliar, change the radio station. So radio stations play mostly familiar stuff, even the ones that promise new rock. The new rock they play is the same old stuff new rock fans want to hear.

I'm still that way, a lot. My radio now is my iPod, filled with songs that I download sight-unheard, and podcasts, and sometimes I'll put my 11,000 songs on shuffle and then click until I hear something familiar, if I'm in the mood for something familiar, although these days I'm at least slightly more adventurous in my music listening, which is how I got to hear new music that I downloaded based on its description, music like Regina Spektor, whose song Fidelity I downloaded without ever hearing it, and then loved it, and then went and got all of Regina Spektor's albums, which, fittingly enough for this post, includes "On The Radio":

A song that talks about ascribing some significance to listening to the radio so late at night that the DJ is asleep and plays the song November Rain twice, making the moments even more memorable.

Back in the 90s, we'd listen to music at the office, but we also listened to talk radio, which then was in its infancy and hadn't become nothing-but-conservatives. I recall a show called "That Jay Marvin" who tried to be kind of moderate, but moderation has no place on talk radio. I also recall listening to The Mark Belling Show and being goaded into calling and arguing with him by my boss, who would wander in, hear Belling saying something, and say "Call him up and argue with him" and so I'd do that because it beat filing, and the other office workers would go listen on the radio in the other room and laugh as I tried to argue a proposition I knew nothing about.

Once, Mark Belling told me an argument I'd made was the stupidest argument he'd ever heard. I kind of take that as a badge of pride, and also, I've heard that exact phrase repeated to me twice in my life. (The other one was a judge. Long story. But it was a stupid argument.)

Later on, a few years later, when I came back to Milwaukee after living in Washington D.C. and Morocco for 3/4 of a year, I moved into an apartment but couldn't afford a TV right away, so all I had was my stereo and a radio to listen to. At night, I'd listen to talk radio again, conservative talk-hosts slowly giving way to Art Bell Coast-To-Coast, and Art would talk about aliens and demon possessions as I laid there in the dark, the radio echoing off the bare walls and hardwood floors of my apartment.

Radio's been a big part of my life in part because I'm always doing something else: I'm driving somewhere or typing something or playing with the twins or working in the yard, and I can listen but I can't watch because I've got to watch what I'm doing. But, truth be told, I've always been somewhat impatient with visual media anyway.

I grew up reading books, graduating from comic books to book-books, and a book is like a mental radio: Someone feeds words into your mind and you build them into a world. I read almost every single book in the Hartland Public Library, and I'm not kidding about that. When my brothers and friends were watching TV (movies being a rare thing back before VCRs and cable) I'd be reading.

I've always liked the images I get in my mind, actually, more than the images that life actually throws at me. I've got a wonderful imagination; it's in overdrive, all the time. I fall asleep imagining stories and literally dream them up to begin writing them. It's really hard to compete with the special effects my mind can create.

I remember when they made The Lord Of The Rings into movies. I was concerned because in my experience, the movies never looked the way they should. I liked my Middle-Earth, my Frodo and Sam and Sauron. I didn't want to see someone else's versions of them, and was relieved that Peter Jackson actually made things look, more or less, right.

In that Football On The Radio essay, I noted that having listened to a portion of a football game on the radio once, I came home to find the game was being taped by The Boy, and watched the plays I'd just heard, and found the actual real plays to be less exciting than the plays I'd imagined, listening. Radio is like that: It can broaden the scope of what you're hearing by making your mind work.

Which brings me, temporarily, back to Norman Corwin. Here's what he's most famous for, in a world where, really, he wasn't famous at all anymore: The broadcast "On A Note Of Triumph." You can hear it at that link, which goes through NPR, or you can do what I'm doing and listen to it as you read this:

That's Corwin's broadcast on V-E Day, an hourlong celebration of the winning of the first half of the war. It's worth listening to, for lots of reasons, not just because you cannot imagine any radio (or TV) announcer these days talking like this:

"The superman of tomorrow lies at the feet of the common men of this afternoon."

Corwin was in part, lucky: he was a radio broadcaster when only radio was broadcast, and he was a radio broadcaster when the U.S. achieved the greatest victory in its history -- but luck isn't just there for the picking; it has to be taken and run with. Lots of people get lucky and blow it. Corwin got lucky and didn't.

His career, if you read about it, was more than celebrating "far flung ordinary men, unspectacular but free" (seriously, go listen to it! Just put it on in the background while you read this). His biography notes that he published books of prose and poetry, got an Oscar nomination for his script about Van Gogh ("Lust for Life") and then, at the age of 80, came back to NPR and recorded a series of programs including "Good Can Be As Communicable As Evil", again speaking in words that almost nobody would dare to use, talking about how even if simply being kind won't cure all evil, it's still worth doing... now:

So long as conscionable and caring people are around, so long as they are not muted or exiled, so long as they remain alert in thought and action, there is a chance for contagions of the right stuff, whereby democracy becomes no longer a choice of lesser evils, whereby the right to vote is not betrayed by staying away from the polls, whereby the freedoms of speech, assembly, religion, and dissent are never forsaken
(People in Wisconsin, and other areas, who stayed away from the polls now realize how foolish it is to forsake the freedoms of speech and vote as they exercise those freedoms to exorcise the people who rushed into the gap left open by those who didn't vote. But that's for another day and another blog.)

I've been listening to Corwin's broadcast as I type this -- hearing the crowds in Piccadilly and Times Square, and Corwin's words: ("This is it, kid. This is the day. This is what we were waiting for... but through the din and clamor we can hear a voice... listen: a flash across the dark Atlantic.. listen closely..." and he teases you until you can't wait to see what it is you're supposed to be listening for.

(I'm not going to tell you what you're to be listening for. Listen to it.)

I wouldn't have listened to Corwin's broadcast if he hadn't died; I didn't even know he lived, and I wouldn't have probably cared about Corwin's death if I wasn't one of those people who loves radio and even loves what radio has become and thinks it should become more.

Radio isn't dead, even if you don't like listening to nothing but conservative talk-show hosts on AM Radio; sure, they've taken over but that's just temporary, just like the rightward swing in politics is temporary, and we have to hope that no permanent damage is done under the fever-throes of fervor, to either the body politic or radio.

Radio these days isn't a wasteland, after all; every city still has their same stations: Madison, where I live now, has a "Classic Rock" station on which I listen to Alice Cooper's musical choices on Sunday nights, and they have a Top 40 station, and they have a New rock station that doesn't just play new rock and they have a hard rock station, and they even have one of those automated "We Play Everything" stations that, frankly, I like, because that's the closest radio comes to my iPod, playing Escape (The Pina Colada Song):

and then immediately following it with Macarena:

And I'm not going to apologize for liking either one of those, even if I sometimes do make up my own words to macarena and they go something like this:

Come on now a say a macarena
Why did you say that word the macarena?
I said the word cause you said say the macarena
Hey, macarena!

But we also have NPR, and we have the local talk radio station that has local hosts who talk about interesting things like local fetish shops (Hi, Forward With Kurt!) and, of course, sports radio -- we have two of those.

And then I have podcasts, which let me listen to radio when I want: Planet Money and Freakonomics Radio and Stuff You Missed In History Class and This American Life and the Savage Love podcast and more (I subscribe to about 10 of them), all of which I can listen to during what is otherwise dead time.

Dead time like when I was driving to court yesterday morning, leaving at 6:45 a.m. and driving until 8:15 a.m. and then driving back from 9:30 to 11 -- three hours in the car, time I would, absent radio, have spent just staring at the scenery.

I love the radio. I love listening to the more-sophisticated-than-me people on NPR's pop culture podcast -- a podcast is just radio, after all -- talk about X-Men: First Class or the Royal Wedding, and I like hearing Dan Savage alternately rant and laugh and offer sound advice, and sometimes, as I began noting in that earlier post I wrote, I just want to hear another human voice; sometimes, driving around in deserted landscapes at night, worn-out, it's nice to just listen to people talk, and to talk back to them, even if they can't hear me.

"That's crazy," I'll say, or "Well, right," listening to someone saying something and having a one-sided conversation.

I never got much into music videos, and a lot of the time, I treat TV as a radio -- I'll put on a TV show I like (usually one I've seen before) and listen to that without watching it, cleaning up the kitchen while Arrested Development plays over the computer speakers.

Most people are visual people, I know. But not me, not that way. I don't want to be told what to see, which is one reason I stopped reading comic books and found them, ultimately, unsatisfying. I want to imagine my worlds.

And I think that radio, using that term loosely to include podcasts and music and iPods, entertainment that is audio only, can be more than it presently is. I wonder, sometimes, why we have 24-hours sports-talk radio but no pop culture talk radio, and at those times I think "I should make a The Best Of Everything podcast and create pop culture talk radio," which is egotistic, I know, because if you look at podcasts for even a second you'll see that there's a plethora of pop culture talk radio, but there could be more, right?

I could do it, too. I don't just listen to radio; I've been a DJ, on a college radio station that for some reason broadcast only over cable, so you had to have cable radio to listen to us and I'm pretty sure nobody ever listened, but that didn't stop me from going on the air twice a week and playing indie rock and reading public service announcements for a whole semester, talking to people who might not have even been there.

I bet I'd have liked Norman Corwin. He seems like he was the kind of person I imagine myself to be: focusing mainly on one thing but doing lots of things and doing them well, back in the era when people did do lots of things. As we've become a more-visual, more-focused, culture, sometimes, I think, we've narrowed our scope. Look at the Founding Fathers. They did a zillion things. I read biographies of people in the 1700s and 1800s and they did everything. They were scientists and doctors and writers and politicians and farmers and then in their spare time they developed a theory of gravity:

Sir Isaac Newton PRS (25 December 1642 – 20 March 1727 ...was an English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist, and theologian, has been "considered by many to be the greatest and most influential scientist who ever lived."

That's the first sentence of Newton's page on Wikipedia. Norman Colwin's begins:

Norman Lewis Corwin (May 3, 1910 – October 18, 2011) was an American writer, screenwriter, producer, essayist and teacher of journalism and writing.

My own Twitter tagline is "Lawyer... writer... and also... um..." and when people these days ask what I do, what anyone does, would any of us reel off a string of things we do? We wouldn't.

When celebrities these days, for good or bad, do more than one thing, we mostly try to push them back into that one thing. I'm as guilty as anyone; I laugh at Keanu Reaves writing poetry and discount the political opinions of Gwyneth Paltrow (the latter probably being more likely the right move than the former, maybe) and DJs make fun of Billy Bob Thornton or Russell Crowe being rock stars as well as movie stars.

Actors and directors, we get. Actors and writers? We say no way.

And maybe that's a result of the increasing visualization of the world. Maybe video really did kill the radio star -- maybe, as we got more and more used to being told what to see, we learned to only see one thing -- there couldn't be more than one way for Harry Potter to look after we saw how Harry Potter looked, and maybe that has slowly conditioned us to be only one thing, our minds narrowing in ways we can't even comprehend until after it's already occurred, a world that can only be one thing because our minds no longer know how to do anything but replay the image we were given.

That's what I fight against, sometimes: the feeling that we can only do one thing, or even one thing at a time. Why must I only be a lawyer? Or a writer? Or, worse, why must I only write one kind of thing? Why can't I be all these things at once?

I'll put it this way: If you did listen to Corwin's description, taking you from the celebration in Times Square across the Atlantic to Europe, how did you picture that passage as he described it. (Again, if you didn't listen to it, why not? Just put it in the background. It won't take any of your time.) Did you fly, disembodied, across dark waters to an England that was celebrating wildly? Did you travel on an airplane? Did you whiz low over the waves of the Atlantic or soar above the clouds, seeing both North America and Europe on either side of that cold ocean?

As Corwin talked, you could do any of those things, but if he'd shown you, using CGI or live-action, you'd have only done one thing.

Norman Corwin was a radio pioneer, but more than that, he was a way of thinking. There is a world where any thing is possible, and there is a world where only this thing is possible. I worry, sometimes, that we're moving from the first to the second, or that we've already done it, and Norman Corwin's life ending seems to me to be proof of that happening.

And maybe I'm stuck in that world. But if I have to live in that world, nothing keeps me from keeping on driving down dark roads, listening to voices from far away, giving me the building blocks of football games and wars and relationship problems and more, building my own worlds in my mind, and making sure that I can be everything I imagine I am, and the world can be everything I imagine it to be, even if only for a little while.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Baseball: The Grand Illusion! (WHODATHUNKIT?!: The 3 Best Things You REALLY Want To Know About the 2011 World Series!)

WHODATHUNKIT!?, like John Stamos' career, is a joint effort between The Best Of Everything and Nonsportsmanlike Conduct!

Another major event, another major post -- WHODATHUNKIT!?, remember, is my post that, for every single major event in the world, provides you not the usual load of garbage the media foists off on you, but a unique brand of garbage that only I foist off on you: namely, three things that you probably didn't know about the major event, but which, once you do know them will fill you with wonder, a sense of mystery, and, provided that you subscribe to the payperview, 5D-version* of this blog, dark energy.

*5D version not available in Albuquerque, because screw you, Albuquerque.**

**They know what they did.

This year's World Series, like every World Series, qualifies as a major event, not just because I'm going for that coveted "I'm 78 years old and I love baseball" blog demographic***

*** I see you there, Mr. Kascheski! Hi!

but also because, as I understand it, nearly 14 people will annually tune in to watch the World Series, which, let's face it, is still more than will watch the entire run of that "new" Tim Allen "show" about how "men" leave the "toilet" seat "up."

Don't mind that last sentence. I was trying a little thing to see if extra quotation marks would give me a little gravitas, and I have to say, I think it "worked."

I watched a little baseball this year, "a little"*4

*4 Gravitas! Which, when you think about it, could actually be the Latin word for Dark Energy. And, having said that, I'm 90% sure that in about three months we will read that people at the Large Hadron Collider discovered gravitas, because who's paying attention? Besides me, I mean? And I'm not, really, because I've also got the TV on and I'm sort of listening to Colbert.

meaning only three innings of game 6 of the Series between the Brewers and the Cardinals before I fell asleep Sunday night. I feel bad about that, because the Brewers gave up four runs before I tuned in, and then when I was watching they were doing pretty well (or "pretty good" as I say when I don't feel I'm being watched by the Grammar Police) and then I fell asleep and they lost, which kind of proves that Dark Energy really exists because it was clearly influencing the Brewers through my "efforts" at watching them on TV.

Speaking of the Large Hadron Collider, did you know that you can help look for the Higgs Boson (a/k/a, The Best Way to Prove that "Scientists" Are Making It Up)? It's true: If you're the type of person who leaves his home computer on (Guilty!)*5

*5 Wait, I meant to plead not guilty! No! Get these cuffs off of me! Fools! Only I can stop them!*6

*6 I've had a little too much coffee already today. Does it show? And, more importantly, do you think that by using all these footnotes I'm subconsciously emulating that one guy who wrote Infinite Jest and then died and everyone wrote all that nice stuff about him so I went out and bought Infinite Jest, spending $18 on it, only to find it completely unreadable, giving up on it 70 pages in, and then I felt sad that I'd wasted my finite book money on a book that was terrible, and so I've never forgiven him and can't even remember his name?

then you can use your home computer to help search for the Higgs Boson (which doesn't exist, and might as well be called a gravitas) by joining the LHC@Home 2.0 effort: a program which will let your home computer simulate complex particle collisions and then send the results back to the Large Hadron Collider, which will compare them to the results it obtains, and, who knows, maybe YOU will discover the Higgs Boson *7

*7 You won't

And, in doing so, earn yourself a Nobel Prize -- because that's what that other guy got the Nobel for, remember: Taking photographs of space and comparing them to each other.

I've got a screenshot of what it looks like when your computer is simulating those particle collisions, so you'll know what to expect:

Try not to get too amazed by the science-osity of it all. Also, note that that screenshot, which is an Actual Screenshot of Science, proves that dark energy is all around us 'cause it's really dark in space.

About time I got around to the World Series, don't you think? Me, too:

1. Who invented the curveball? Trick question! There's no such thing as a curveball!

Well, okay, there's a little such thing as a curveball. But not really. Just about a year ago, a two researchers published a paper that showed that while curveballs move a little, the real effect of a curveball is... all in your mind!

Darn. I was hoping for some spooky music and effects there.

Anyway, the researchers found that the curveball's "break" or deviation from a straight line, is real, but very gradual-- not the drop that most viewers expect.*8

*8: A curve ball, contrary to what I always thought, doesn't curve right or left, but down: it has top spin, which makes the air pressure higher on top of the ball and pushes the ball downward, making Dizzy Dean's famous defense of a curve ball's actually curving ("Stand behind a tree 60 feet away and I'll whomp you with an optical illusion!") not make much sense, unless that tree was one of Larry Niven's integral trees.

The researchers hypothesized that the curve that viewers, and batters, claim they see isn't a curve at all, but an effect of switching from central to peripheral vision: The batter, they said, sees the ball using central vision until it's traveled 2/3 of the way to the plate, at which point they start using peripheral vision -- until the ball is at the plate and they switch back to central vision, which makes it seem as though the ball has dropped more because of the switch. Peripheral vision, they explain, has trouble distinguishing between various motions like velocity and spin, and the eye tends to follow the motion of the ball (downward) making it seem further like the ball is dropping.

Too much reading? I could've put the video first... but then all those words I typed would still be bottled up inside me, waiting to get their shot at fame. You wouldn't want to deny a word its time in the limelight, right? So now, give a word a hug and watch the video:

With that question answered, let's move on to question 2!

2. No, really, who invented the curveball?

Well, aren't you singleminded! As I was trying to find out the answer to that question, I wondered to myself "How many pitches are there in baseball, and how many are banned?" So I went to Baseball, which ought to know, and found out the answer, which I will quote verbatim:

There are many, many types of pitches in baseball.
Okay! Moving on!

Actually, Baseball Reference lists four standard pitches (four-seam fastball, curve ball, slider, and change-up, the latter being a pitch thrown exactly like a fastball... only it comes in slow, and throws off the batter.)

Then, the Reference has 5 variations on the fastball:

The Two Seam Fastball, a fastball in which the fingers are held along the seams rather than across them, causing more movement and a slower throw,

The Sinker, which is a two-seam fastball thrown near the edge of the strike zone and is intended to drop out of it entirely,

The splitter, a sinker with a better downward break (or thrown against batters with worse peripheral vision?), a pitch that isn't used much because it causes injuries in pitchers,

the Cut Fastball, a ball thrown inside from an opposite-handed pitcher (lefty pitcher, righty batter, for example) that, when it works best results in a broken bat, and

the Running Fastball, which is a cut fastball when it's thrown by a pitcher with the same-handedness as the batter.

Don't those all appear to be simply standard pitches thrown in a particular area? That'd be like football calling a handoff a short pass with no gap between the quarterback and the running back.

But then there's all these trick pitches:

The Circle change, which looks like a two-seam fastball but then breaks in an opposite direction to that expected,

the Palmball, a changeup that's actually a fastball thrown using the palm of the ball to slow the pitch down, thereby making the batter swing before the pitch gets to the plate...

...and the existence of that pitch really does suggest suggest that a lot of this is in the batter's mind and tricks of the eye, doesn't it? A batter sees a fastball motion and swings but the ball isn't there yet and so he misses -- that's not pitch location or curve. That's just tricking the batter...

and the Gyroball, which made news not long ago because nobody believed it existed; the gyroball is a pitch that "falls faster than a fastball, but slower than a curve, and hardly breaks inside or outside." It's thrown with a spin that mimics the way a football spins -- the axis more or less parallel to the trajectory. The gyroball gets to the plate faster than the batter expects and makes the batter late on the ball, and because it's spinning looks like a breaking ball when it's not...

... which, seriously, it is all just illusions, isn't it?

There's also a two-seam gyroball, both of which tend to make the batters swing under them and miss, expecting the ball to drop more than they do.

The Japanese invented the Gyroball, and also

the Shuuto, a ball that breaks down and to the right, so, not very exciting. I expected more, so back to America with

the Knuckleball, a ball Baseball Reference describes as "tantalizingly slow but dances all over the place."

So like Christina Aguilera:

That really was just an excuse to put that picture in there.

Here's Sean O' Leary, knuckleballer:

And the first couple pitches I watched in that video didn't seem to move at all, but let's get a little more Baseball Reference hyperbole before exploring that. Says the BR:

It's been said that a knuckleball screws everybody up, as "the hitter can't hit it, the catcher can't catch it, and the umpire can't call it."

They don't attribute that quote. I bet it was Gandhi. Was it Gandhi? It was probably Gandhi.

Now go back and watch that video. At about 1:30 Sean throws a bunch of pitches that all appear to go perfectly straight. The slowed-down one about 2:32 in particular looks like it would've been knocked out of the park by everybody but me; I have lazy eye.

Other pitches with funny names include the "Eephus" an "impossibly slow" pitch invented by by Rip Sewell of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1930s -- "basically a lob to the catcher", BR says, that's not really used, a "Forkball" which "tumbles out of the strike zone (rather than breaks out of it) when thrown" that's a "brain scrambler" when the wind is blowing, and the:

Vulcan Change-up This is similar to the forkball. Often called V change or the "trekkie" because of its unnatural grip. It is held like the Vulcan greeting that is used by Spock the Vulcan in Star Trek (The dude with pointy ears in Star Trek). This pitch drops like a regular change-up, but just puts a little more friction on the ball. Basically it is a different way to grip a Change-up.

Cue the Sexy Vulcan!

And the "Slurve," a slider thrown at curveball velocity that is supposed to fool the hitter by taking longer to reach the pitcher...


... and the "Screwball" or "backwards curveball", a pitch that breaks like a curveball thrown by an opposite-handed pitcher, which now I'm all messed up because people keep saying that the curveball drops but that makes it sound like it goes left or right, so which is it, baseball! I swear, I'm this close to dropping you and running off with cricket.

And then there's a bunch of other curveballs like the "12-6 Curveball", the "Sweeping Curveball" and the "Knuckle Curveball" and the "Spiked Curveball" and the "Knuckle Slider" and finally, the "Yellow Hammer," which sounds like a cut-rate superhero from the 1930s but is actually an even slower curveball that supposedly drops more than a regular curveball because it's only thrown at 50 miles per hour or so, but by now I don't know what to believe because it's all so confusing, so I'm going to assume that the pitcher doesn't even throw the damn ball and in fact, let's just admit that baseball doesn't even play the game anymore: all of baseball is just one game that was played at Comiskey Park in 1972, and they're using CGI to change the uniforms for you and if you go to a game in person you're just subject to Mass Hypnosis and it didn't really happen. There is no spoon! The cake is a lie!*8

*8: I still don't know what that means, but I like it.

Also, I wasn't far off on that Yellow Hammer. Remember this?

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog was one of the greatest things ever made.

3. Seriously, can we find out who invented the curve ball?

You know, I haven't even touched on what pitches are banned yet -- like the spitball -- but you know me: I give the people what they want:

You need serious help.

so let's get down to the nitty-gritty of The Fabulous Story Of The Invention Of The Curveball. From Wikipedia:

Baseball lore has it that the curveball was invented in the early 1870s by Fred Goldsmith or Candy Cummings (it is debatable).

*Tries to pull at hair, doesn't have much hair, thinks better of that, contemplatively takes a sip of coffee while mulling what to do next.*

So ALL OF BASEBALL is ONE BIG TRICK, and the batters probably aren't even wearing pants, and yet that's the $(*#&%$#($^& best you could do about the invention of the curve ball?

Where is the mythos? Where is the legend? Where is the shrouded in time... etc? George R.R. Martin could do a better job with that, and all he did was take The Silmarillion and cut-and-paste "human" and "elf" and then say "battle-axe" a lot. You need to begin with something like...

...In a tiny unheated room of his parent's cottage in 1872, a young Alexander Graham Bell huddled over a fire built with a mixture of myrrh and polonium dust, communicating with the ghost of Lord Alfred Tennyson. Bell had been chosen as the pitcher in the Firste Annuale Worlde SeriesE starting the next day, but his arm was possessed by demons, according to a doctor who had considered diagnosing him with "muscle spasms" but had rejected that because this is 1872 and "muscles" haven't been discovered yet...

See where I'm going with that? That's way better than what you've got.

Whatever it's origins*9

*9 Mine is better than baseball's, so go with mine: magic!

the curve ball also was featured in a story published in 1884 in the magazine "St Nicholas," a popular (?) children's magazine at the time, which now raises into question all that crap they taught us in school about how hard life was in the 19th century with people dying of black plague or having to cross the plains or at least fight in wars or something; I don't know. I didn't really pay attention. But I distinctly recall being told that life was hard back then -- something about meat-packing, or maybe the Gold Standard? -- and if life was so hard, why were kids reading popular magazines?

Life was so hard that kids hardly had time to do the word jumble, is that what history tells us? Screw you, history. And Albuquerque, while you're at it.

The story in St Nicholas was called "How Science Won The Game," and was about a boy who used a curve ball to beat the other team, even though the curve was thought to be dishonest. You can actually read the whole story here. Spoiler Alert: Jack and his friends run off to meet a strange man in a hotel who says to them "Let me feel your arm" and then proceeds to compliment Jack on his muscles and then tells Jack and his friend to meet him outside in the alley behind the hotel.


Then he gives this advice to Jack: "Keep cool, and pinch tight."

Jack, of course, doesn't turn the guy in to Chris Hansen, but instead goes on to master the curve ball and win the Big Game, but here's the thing:

They win the game because Jack hits the ball to first base, but that guy commits an error and the right fielder backing him up throws home but Jack's friend, the not-at-all-symbolically-named Win, scores by jumping over the catcher.


So the only science really involved was the Fosbury Flop, and, once again, Baseball has pulled a slight-of-hand -- promising you science (the curve ball) would win the game but really just having a bigshot sports reporter get credit for writing the story (as it turns out, the story was supposed to have been written by Hotel Guy about this game, because news was in short supply in those days so kids' baseball games got major coverage from all media.)

Here's a college player winning the game... With science!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Announcing ...

What is it?

Well, what it sounds like: A Blogathon in which every day for 100 straight days I will ask you a Star Wars trivia question straight out of this book I got at a PTA fair the other day (the book is going unnamed to avoid me getting sued for copyright violations, so take that J.K. Rowling.)

Each day, I will post a question, and each question will be worth a randomly-generated number of points (between 1-50) for a right answer. The first person to post the correct answer gets the points for that question. But each person who posts an answer gets entered in the weekly drawing for a prize (a free book or t-shirt or other item) with additional prizes awarded for great comments or other reasons as I feel like. The more comments the more entries -- but it starts over each week.

The person with the most points at the end of the 100 questions wins the grand prize: they will get a printed copy of any of my books they choose, and awarded with a memorial sweatshirt commemorating their glorious victory! And because each question is worth a random number of points, don't sweat it if you joined late or didn't get some right at first -- you could sweep the last 10 and get 50 points each... maybe.

As an added bonus:
those of you who have a book to hawk or a t-shirt to hype or something else to sell: if you mention it in a comment, I'll throw it in as a weekly prize somewhere along the way and help boost your sales!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The 8 Hottest Moms (Currently) On TV Shows... (MiniBest)

...and it only took me 1 1/2 months to get around to posting number two:

I'm on the record as saying it's not just looks that make you attractive. Yes, Gloria from Modern Family is hot in an obvious way*

*obvious beauty is the worst, as Friends pointed out.

... but that's not what makes someone hot. Just like with Allana Harkin (who was elevated to the number one position by being funny, because funny +pretty > pretty only*),

*that's math, and math doesn't lie except when it pretends that dark energy exists

Gloria, as Sofia Vergara is primarily known for playing, has plenty of other attributes, like

1. She can shoot a gun. Which, I am opposed to guns, but let's face it, that's hot.
2. She's sneaky.

3. And, well, that's it.
4. Well, those things, plus this:

I mean, it's not all about personality.

Previously, On The Eight Hottest Moms (Currently) On TV Shows:

1. Allana Harkin

In Just Exactly How Life Looks you'll be introduced to unforgettable people living remarkable lives. Cowboys wander in a timeless desert. Scientists meet in secret to plot a new way to get attention, and money, from people. A man and his would-be lover try to find lions on safari, and more. The people and places in this book spring to life fully-formed and full of anxiety and imagination. They worry about the time they have had and the time they have left. They bury their loved ones and look for new friends. They talk and laugh and hope and cry and die, while their friends and family and enemies and Gods watch them, seeing, in their faces and actions and fears, a portrait of just exactly how life looks.

Click here to buy it on Amazon; or look for it on your Kindle!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"Someone had a grade-A lungfish decorate their home." (THIS is a THING?!)

I think, for a change, I'm out in front on a trend, so it's time for me to explain that trend, and in doing so, make sure that I make it so uncool that it stops being a trend. I have to do that; I can't help it. I'm not ready to be cool or trendy. I never learned how to handle it. I'm far more comfortable being "the guy who knows that Ambush Bug started as a villain and then briefly was a hero before settling in as a kind of wacky one-off adventure kind of guy who battled a sock and got kicked out of the afterlife."

The thing that I know about maybe before many of you know about it is...

Bad Lip Reading!

What THIS THING is, in a Nutshell: "Bad Lip Reading" is what the creator of a series of hit Youtube videos does: He plays the videos, without sound, and interprets what the person is saying.

It makes more sense if you watch:

That's the first one of these I watched, because I'm a political guru who is a mover-and-shaker i in this world, sort of like James Carville if James Carville had done anything worthwhile since 1991 and/or had eyebrows, and also because anything that makes fun of Crazy Eyes Michele Bachmann is worth promoting.

How I, and maybe You, heard about THIS THING: I first heard about it on Gawker, which I now read on my cell phone and which I won't pretend I fully understand, as Gawker talks about a lot of pop culture things that I only know exist because Gawker talks about them, which is sort of like hearing someone from Bombay tell you about something they once saw in Australia: it can be interesting, and mystifying, and at some point my mind is going to wander while you talk about it, because I don't always get the place or people references.

But I digress. Gawker one day while I was killing time before a court hearing had this story:

Lip-Readers Transcribe Rick Perry’s Disturbing Psychobabble

Certain Internet forces with apparent magical powers have synced Rick Perry's lip movements during a speech to strange, alternate words that nevertheless are probably more coherent than what he was really saying. Does that make sense? It is hard to describe this sort of witchcraft.

With this video:

Since then, Bad Lip Reading has started to be noticed by the media more and more. Gawker posted that on September 27, Rolling Stone got a hold of the phenomenon October 7, and now you're hearing about it... from me. Because I'm third in that line.

Or fourth, behind "," which broke the story on September 28, 2011. Curse you, Beaumont Enterprise! Scooped AGAIN!

When Did THIS THING Start!? That's the other thing that convinces me I got in on the ground floor of this, bought Apple at $1 a share, created Google, or none of those things: It started only six months ago, which, sure, in Internet time means that all of this stuff is now so fossilized that the Republican debates are about to declare it a tool of the devil the way they declare everything including Hermain Cain's mysterious "9,9,9" plan to be a tool of the devil...

That actually is not a Bad Lip Reading. But really, given that Michele Bachman says stuff like that, don't you kind of go back and watch that actual Bad Lip Reading video and think "I bet that's what she talks about when the cameras are off?"

Anyway, the whole Bad Lip Reading THING that THIS is started just seven months ago with this:

That's Gang Fight, the reinterpretation of Friday, which you probably gathered. It was posted March 21, 2011, and has already been viewed almost four million times. That's...

*attempts to look for pen and paper, can't find one, realizes he long ago lost the ability to do math, doesn't want to open up the calculator on the laptop screen because that always causes it to crash and anyway Mr F took the equals sign key off the keyboard, so nothing ever adds up*

... a lot of people per month!

When did THIS THING officially pass into pop culture? Although Rebecca Black remains a pop culture hot potato, sure to attract attention everytime she pops up, that wasn't the video that really drew a lot of widespread (as opposed to hipster) attention; it was the Michele Bachmann video. Posted October 3, 2011, Bachmann's video has already been viewed 950,000+ times. That's more than 100,000 people per day, so not quite Nyan Cat territory, but still impressive.

That level of interest was, I'm sure, generated by the fact that Michele Bachmann is sort of the Rebecca Black of the Republican Party, only far less sympathetic, and by the fact, too, that Republicans obviously don't know how to use the Internet or don't get the joke: The Rick Perry video is averaging about 500,000 views a week, while the Obama video:

Has only garnered 700,000 or so views in 3 weeks, most of them, I'm sure, from FOX News reporters who think they've found a scoop and were about to Do It Live! only to be told it's not real, after which they still considered just running with it anyway, because FOX news viewers at this point are completely incapable of distinguishing fact from fiction, as evidenced by the fact that a recent FOX News viewers poll found that 1,456% believed Obama once strangled Baby Jesus with a fish tie.

Is THIS THING still going on!? Hard to say; in that Rolling Stone interview, the Bad Lip Reader him?self said that he produces other songs and doesn't want his identity revealed, because he doesn't want to be known as the Everybody Poops guy:

Which (a) is the song I emailed to everyone I know (my wife, and three oldest kids) when I found this site, and (b) what would be so wrong as being known as the Everybody Poops guy?

Oh, right.

He's posted 11 of them so far, only recently branching into political videos, which he said he did because he wanted something quicker to do in between the more elaborate Bad Lip Reading Music Videos.

It seems like Bad Lip Reading is going to go on, as he's got sort-of plans to do at least one more video. He told Rolling Stone:

Maybe I'll do Biden next.

That'll definitely kill it off, though.

Can you sum up Bad Lip Reading for people who just skimmed this post and want a quick takeaway?

This headline, from the National Journal, adequately tells you what this phenomenon is going to be in mere minutes:

LOL Pols: 'Bad Lip Reading' Videos Lampoon GOP Candidates, Obama

LOL! Seriously! You should LOL about this BLR! About BHO! Also, it's more popular than Auto-Tune The News, whatever that was. Keep your old memories off my Internets, grandpa.

Oh, and I didn't forget: