July 31, 2006

That's not what you're really seeing, sir

Ah, optical illusions. They're loads of fun.

Let's start with a digital one. It's an animated gif that plays with the persistance of vision creating a green dot where no green dot really is. The instructions are pretty simple - stare at the black crosshairs for a few seconds and see a green dot appear where the pink dots are disappearing. I think you'll have to click on the picture below, because - for some reason - blogger doesn't seem to like animated gif's.

That's a pretty standard one, similar in form to the ones where you stare at an image for a while and then stare at a blank white space and see the negative image. Here's other examples called Queen Elizabeth II or bird in a cage.
I thought about posting links to my favorite optical illusions, but there are just so many that I enjoy. Instead, I'll drop links to a few sites that have bunches and bunches of great optical illusions:The last illusion I want to mention is this one which still mystifies me. If anybody can explain it to me - the sixth one in the flash presentation - please leave a comment.

July 30, 2006

Monopoly - the Here & Now

I hate Monopoly. Hate it. Can't stand it.

I hate the fact that everytime the game is played, somebody ends up miserable. Either it's me because I feel like I'm a smart, fairly mathematical guy who should do well at the game but often doesn't, or it's somebody else who gets racked off because I want follow the rules and not "loan money from the bank", or it's just somebody who wants to give up because the game has been going on for seven hours and nobody is any closer to winning than they were at the beginning of the time.

I hate the fact that there are something like 47150 versions of the game so you can buy your favorite Muppet, Superman Returns, NASCAR, Chicago White Sox, Elvis, Rudolph, Duel Masters, and every other stupid possible corporate tie-in property.

Heck, I even hate the McDonald's Monopoly tie-in.

And for some stupid reason, I hate the new Here & Now Electronic Banking edition even more.

One of the old-school charms of Monopoly - and there were few for me, I'll be honest - was the arranging of your money - either tucking it just under the board, arrayed from white on the left to orange on the right or the "more mature" stacking of the cash from bottom white to top orange. The money is/was a cool enough feature that the Monopoly website offers pdfs so you can print more money if you need it - and if you were too cheap to just order more from Amazon.com. But the new edition gets rid of all of that by handing each player an electronic debit card that automatically keeps track of the cash you've got.

No more free parking. No more loaning of money. No more skimming by the banker. And no more learning math for little kids.

It's crap.

And I have no idea how some of the stuff would work. Like would two players have to swipe their cards whenever rent is paid? Would you have to swipe the property and then the card to buy something? So many questions...

Be warned, however, that if you're on a hunt to buy the Here & Now edition of Monopoly that has the electronic banking (if you like that sort of craptacular thing) that there appear to be various versions of the Here & Now edition.

There's the London version (board details here) both in "limited edition" and "electronic edition" as well as a US version that might or might not come in the same limited/electronic editions.

If you're trying to find out more about Monopoly, check the following sites:

July 29, 2006

This is news?

Apparently the ESPN guys are a little frustrated with the lack of big trades being made leading up to the trading deadline. To spite us, they're filing pieces of crap like this.

C'mon, guys, at least start making up some rumors and posting them in front of the Insider wall instead of behind it. That'd at least give us cheap bastages something to read.

One nation...on a grill...

In a pun-heavy press release, the Milwaukee Brewers announced the addition of a fifth tubular meat product to their traditional sausage race: Chorizo.

The puns ranged from "trying to spice things up" to the fact that the newbie would only race once this season before being sent down to the minors "for more seasoning" and it every bad spicy food joke in between. Even CBS got into the act, opening their story by saying that "[i]t could have been wurst."

The Saturday race with Chorizo's debut comes on Cerveceros Day at Miller Park as the Brewhas are paying tribute to and trying to tap the Hispanic market, throwing out stats about 4% of the Wisconson population being Hispanic (and growing, as it is in most of the nation). This is a trend that has become more and more prevelent throughout the US - marketing to an exploding Hispanic demographic.

National organizations are making this new "ethnic marketing" (I especially recommend reading the third point to find the least politically correct information there) a huge priority. Nearly every marketing agency (incluing the National Mail Order Association) is getting in on the act.

Even in MLB, it's not just the Brewers who are in on the act.

I do have a final question, though. Wouldn't you have expected "El Picante" (as his press release says is his nickname) to have tanner legs? There seems to be some sort of disconnect between his skin/casing colloration up top and down low. I'm starting to think that Chorizo might have some artificial coloring - sort of a fake grill coloration. Please note that I don't have any sort of insider information here, I'm just speculating, but I think there could be something to the question.

July 28, 2006

The rule of the stat boys

If you're a baseball fan who's hanging on the web, you've got to be checking some of the cool sabrmetric stuff on the web.

Things to read

Stuff I wanna read (you know, in case you were curious)...

  • Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq - heard the author on NPR a few days ago
  • Lost Girls (collected) - new Alan Moore, an automatic for me...plus a good quick review from Wired magainze
  • League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier - more Moore...not-yet-released third volume of the League...the first two were outstanding
  • 100 Bullets - supposedly a great comic series...this is the first collection
  • Top Ten - more Moore...another one that's supposed to be a great ongoing series but that I haven't picked up yet...PLCH has the second volume but not the first
  • Astro City: Family Album - third volume in the Astro City run...the first two were outstanding...wonderful, totally new world of heroes that reference so many parts of the genre
  • Invincible: The Facts of Life - another ongoing series, this I've read the first four collected volumes but haven't been able to hunt down #s 5 or 6...
  • Shakey: Neil Young's Biography - I dig Neil as an artist (though his last couple of albums have left me cold) and have always been a little curious as to his past
  • Kurt Vonnegut's books - I haven't read nearly enough of them
  • Invisible Monsters - some of my favorite books were written by Chuck Palahniuk...might as well give his others a try
  • Survivor - another Palahniuk that's on the list
  • The Sandman Papers: An Exploration of the Sandman Mythology - The Sandman series is one of the most impressive pieces of comic writing that I've read...anything that looks at that in more depth is worth at least a glance
  • The 25th Hour - great film, supposedly a very good book
  • Crimes Against Nature - might give away a bit of my political stance, but that's life
  • Infinite Crisis - in the DC universe, it's supposed to be Earth-shattering...might as well know what's happening...sort of the same with Civil War over in Marvel world

July 27, 2006

And that makes six...

In case any of you folks out there weren't aware of the fact, I'm a pretty big fan of Kevin Smith's works. Someday I'll throw you folks a decently long entry rating each of his films so far, but that's not today. Today, rather, it's a simple review of his newest flick, Clerks II, - which I got to see thanks to a former student. Thanks, Gus.

In reviewing Clerks II - no longer subtitled "Passion of the Clerks" - I am reminded of a quote from Abraham Lincoln.
For those who like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing they like.
It's a pretty simple thing here. Kevin Smith has been making vaguely the same movie for a while now. Well, not exactly the same movie, but he's been telling the stories of the same group of NJ folks for a while now, and if you've enjoyed their stories so far, you'll probably enjoy them a little while longer.

This movie does absolutely nothing to undercut what has gone before. It isn't going to tarnish the memory of the original Clerks. And it probably does add some to the mythos of the Askewneverse. It's also thoroughly entertaining for those in the know, and I think even those of you who haven't been along for the whole ride will probably enjoy the film.

That being said, it's amazingly crude and has missteps in direction that keep it from being any sort of great film.

The plot is pretty basic. Dante & Randal now work at Mooby's - a fast foot joint that has some history in Smith's Jersey films - flipping burgers and being no less positive toward those that they've been hired to serve. We enter the story on Dante's last day at work and in New Jersey, even, as he's headed off to Florida with his fiance the next morning. The departure, of course, doesn't happen nearly as smoothly as Dante might expect as there are love complications to work out, a police matter to take care of, and a best friend who has to clear the departure.

It's that best friend who - in the end - provides the greatest challenge. Jeff Anderson, as Randal, carries the bulk of the story, throwing down the wittiest bon mots and being the final emotional center of the flick. Dante seems content - remaining true to form from the original film - to allow his life to happen to him, simply taking whatever he happens to be handed, complaining about it, but never doing anything to change his situation. Anderson doesn't do much more than Dante, but he has at least gained a knowing acceptance of both his station in life and what he hopes to gain from that life, and his near-final scene in which he opens up to Dante is probably the best dramatic scene that Smith has filmed since Chasing Amy.

The two new additions to the cast - Rosario Dawson and Trevor Fehrman - are both quality additions to the usual cask of inmates that Smith gathers for every film. Dawson's character breathes life into the Mooby's, trying to keep the titular clerks focused on customer service while not always taking the hard line that she puts forth. She comes across as the perfect girlfriend that every geek has ever wanted, contrasted nicely with the girlfriend that every geek thinks he wants as played by Smith's wife, Jennifer Schwalbach (I spelled it without looking it up, fingers are crossed).

Fehrman, more simply, is nothing short of hilarious in his role as the more innocent Mooby's clerk who takes the vulgarity and crudity of Dante and Randal in stride, trying to both match them in claimed life experiences while trying to stay true to his faith. It's a wonderful balance, and he's a great find. Here's to hoping that we get to catch him in more films.

So, we've got the pretty standard elements of a good Kevin Smith movie: crude but funny dialogue, a plot that's not too deep as to get in the way of the chatter, Jay and Silent Bob's non-essential but thoroughly entertaining presence, and winking references to other Smith films - though, honestly, there aren't even as many of those in this film as had been in many of Smith's others - maybe Smith was trying to make this flick accessable to the un-initiated out in the crowd.

Heck, Smith even throws in a real, honest-to-god coreographed dance number (not just the outtake of him lip synching to "Fat Albert" from Dogma, but a real scene with professional dancers hoofing it. What's not to like?

Four specific scenes bothered me, and I've got one larger worry about Smith's future as filmmaker.

First, the two montages were, I thought, poorly done and somewhat surprising from Smith. He's long been self-criticized for being a director who films people talking, often using semi-static two shots without much camera movement. The montages seemed to be nods to that criticism as Smith tried something more mainstream. In that realm, as in that of my next complaint, Smith is a rookie. His best looking film in his run was Dogma, and I think he used a different director of photography on that one. For his future films, I do hope that Smith tries new things but that he also gets some assistance and/or tutoring in those things. It's one thing to be loyal to the folks who've helped you out and to keep working with them, but you run the risk of becoming insular and not growing.

Second, there's a scene with Dante and Randal in which the camera spins around the characters, showing us something about drama and conflict, I guess. Once around might've been okay. The camera continues to spin 'round the characters for what seems like two minutes, however, leaving me a little motion sick. Again, nice try by Smith, but it doesn't work.

Third, halfway through the movie, the two leads ditch work and head to race some go-carts. The go-cart scene does pretty much nothing to further the plot, allowing only for some introspection from Randal that could very easily have been folded more naturally into the Mooby-centered plot. The momentum of the film is broken by three a couple of minutes of Randal and Dante zipping around the track with no dialogue. For a director who is so dialogue-heavy, this may seem like a welcome diversion, but instead it seems like a randomly-added break for the crew.
"Hey guys, let's go ride go-carts and film it!"

"But, Herr Direktor, why do we need to ride the go-karts?"

"Shut up, I'm the director, and if I say we ride go-carts, we're riding' go-carts!"
My final complaint is more of a curiosity. Where does Kevin Smith go from here? He's now made seven films. Six of them centered around the New Jersey world of Leonardo and it's surrounding towns, telling the entertainingly vulgar stories of the people that Smith created/remembered there. His career path seemed to be headed in the right direction:
  • Hilarious, low-budget debut showing talent
  • Sophomore effort that got panned in comparison but has become a cult favorite
  • Third film that showed real growth, some maturity, and a personal voice (his best, in my opinion)
  • Fourth film with big actors, a bigger budget, but still keeping true to himself, telling another personal tale but in a more veiled way - even courting controversy

  • And then things seem to have taken a step backward

  • Fifth film more juvenile than the first, claiming to be a fun way to wrap up the storylines and to use fame and fortune to give a fun shout-out to all the folks who'd worked with him before (understandable - guy gets famous and does a fun flick because he wants to, even makes a joke about it during the film)
  • Sidestep out of the continuum to make a non-Askewneverse flick that gets savaged by the press and only minimally appreciated by his fans (me included)
  • Back into the Askewneverse for the film that comes after his alleged last film in the storyline
Where does Smith go from here? He's got projects lined up that he's talked about on his various websites (QSEntertainment, ViewAskew.com, and NewsAskew.com) - Ranger Danger, a Clerks cartoon movie, Fletch Won, Green Hornet - but he's pulled out of at least two of those and hasn't shown much of an inclination to step beyond his comfort zone of the Askewneverse.

I dig Kevin Smith's movies, and from everything that I know about the man, he's one of the few artists whose person I think I dig as much as I dig his work. He seems a genuinely funny guy who seems to care about the people that he's met and befriended along the way. He's willing to give shoutouts to those who have helped him and to not forget the folks he knew before he became the Kevin Smith.

And I hope he can grow as a filmmaker, because I don't want him to become the next Woody Allen - hopelessly trapped in making the same film over and over (nebbish main character has chance at doing something but doesn't because he's too afraid - and spends whole movie talking about that neurotic fear).

I'll be looking forward to Smith's next effort.

At least it's not more movies...

Two neat movie-related things have happened across my screen in the past couple of days.

First, imdb.com has added a neat little feature to their movie listings. As shown on the right, when you scroll through the cast list for a flick, now, you get little head shots of many of the actors. Kinda neat, and I'm guessing will become more prevelant as they get more head shots that will work well.

The second comes courtesy of Kyle who was nice enough to point out (in the comments section 'bout a week ago) a new website from Michael J. Nelson (the human on Mystery Science Theater 3000). On the website, he's planning to offer movie commentaries that you can (for a small fee - $1.99 right now) download and watch instead of the official DVD commentaries.

Right now, he's only got one up for Road House, but I'm okay with that since it's one ripe for sarcastic commentary. I haven't downloaded the commentary yet because I don't have the Road House DVD to watch it with, but that won't stop me from pimping the site.

The non-official commentaries are a neat idea that even some filmmakers have been getting into lately. The one that comes foremost to mind - and has been blogged about extensively - is Kevin Smith's commentary for Clerks II which should be released over at News Askew on the Monday after the movie gets released (which should be July 24th - after this post is written but before it's posted).

Enjoyable but occasionally minorly profane review of Clerks II, by the way, over at YouTube. No real spoilers in the review, so it's safe to be watched any time, folks. There's also a mildly entertaining clip of Kevin Smith chatting with a well known critic who walked out of the theater and caused a scene while doing so.

July 26, 2006

The Us Weekly of sports

I try not to follow celebrity gossip. It's one of the things that I've been trying to work on about myself of late.

It's not that I've had a huge issue with reading People, Us Weekly, or The Enquirer or anything, just that I don't want to spend my time pondering every miniscule detail of the lives of people who won't ever impact mine in anyway (see Cruise, Tom; Holmes, Katie; Spears, Britany; et al).

And yet I'm weirdly fascinated by Deadspin which I've seen people refer to as the "Us Weekly of sports."

It's the semi-trashy, knee-jerk reactions to the newest sports stories, complete with opportunity to post your comments on each story.

In case you were curious as to what drew me to Deadspin, it would be this story about Harold Reynolds getting canned from ESPN.

Yeah, I should be more productive...I know...

But instead, I continue to watch dozens of movies all summer long...

Shut up, I enjoy it...

Must Love Dogs is cliched, predictable, gossamer thin, and guilty of using the background of the final scene to reassure us that every plot line wrapped up neatly and happily.

Wait, strike that though. Let me restate it a little more simply and succinctly.

Must Love Dogs is a romantic comedy.

It is truly representative and archetypical of the genre. We meet the two destined-to-be-lovebirds in the first couple of scenes - seperately. Both are heartbroken and not quite ready to date again. Their friends and family - in great movie form - meddle and force them to "get back in the game". A montage or two of failed first dates ensues, and our couple finally meet. But things don't go well. There are sparks, but they're nervous. They fumble and part.

A rival appears. He seems like a great guy, but he doesn't quite mope or talk the way our hero does, so he must not be the right guy. So our leads try again. Sparks fly again, showing us a "real connection" but fate intervenes not quite letting the date get consumated.

They fumble and part again, thinking that things have ended between them. Each - more hurt now than before - blindly wanders intomeaningless dating until they happen together another time and finally realize the wrong headings on which they've placed themselves. Fluff is forgone for the sake of a cute climax followed by a teasing ending that begins to suggest that perhaps things didn't work out - until Mr. Right steps out from behind the grocery shelves, letting us know that it all worked out.

I am, for some reason, reminded of "Title of the Song" by Da Vinci's Notebook. (Be warned: cute but frivolous. Funny for a few times but ultimately unsatisying.)

If it weren't for the wonderfully charismatic leads, the movie would have been naught more than a formulaic pastiche. Instead, the casting of Diane Lane and John Cusack (who - according to imdb - rewrote much of the dialogue to match his speech, and it fits him very well) raise the movie above that into the realm of "nice way to spend a couple of hours". The supporting cast - Durmot Mulroney, Christopher Plummer, Elizabeth Perkins, Stockard Channing, and a few more whose names I didn't recognize - also help in raising the level, proving that a rising tide lifts all boats.

It's not a classic. It's not even the best romantic comedy of the past few years, but it's enjoyable.

At least it was the first time through.

Elektra, on the other hand, is a disaster.

Jennifer Garner finds herself doing little more than cashing a paycheck in this train wreck of a tale of a recently deceased assassin who loses her taste for her profession when she is hired to kill a good man and his likeable daughter - who's supposed to save the world - or something, the movie never quite explains what some old prophecy said about the girl, but we know she's supposed to be important.

The movie is shot in music video style, showing some neat visuals but with no consideration for how those visuals should flow one to the other. We see Elektra in a fight with a dozen white sheets suspended in the air around her. She slices through the sheets on her way to the bad guy, but the fight is ultimately as unsatisfying as is the rest of the movie...but it's got a few pretty pictures.

The bad guys aren't terribly terrifying. The good guys aren't all that inspiring - though the blind one does spout some pretty vague ideas that are supposed to pass for Zen wisdom - or something, I guess.

I continue to do my due dillegence in working through various comic book movies, and this on was made less painful by the presence of my ever-handy laptop and internet connection to distract me.

July 25, 2006

Hey, somebody believed it...

The religion of one age is the literary entertainment of the next.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Luckily we've got a whole bunch of literary entertainment at our disposal.

Here in the US, the most widely-known mths are pretty much all Greek and - to a lesser extent - Roman. The gods of the two pantheons are often confused, somewhat rightfully as the two pantheons are quite similar.
  • MythMan.com offers nice reference help with the Greek gods
  • MythWeb.com offers more of the same, nicely presented
  • Winged Sandals doesn't have as much info but is a lot more fun to play around on
  • Mythography does a nice job presenting the Roman pantheon
Honestly, though, I enjoy the Norse myths a whole lot more than I do the Greek or Roman.There are, of course, as many other gods and pantheons as there have been societies in the past. Thankfully, there are sites that are pan-pantheonic:
  • GodChecker.com offers the most comprehensive information on the web
  • Flickr has a nice set of Lego gods and goddesses
  • Thorshof offers you some help in "Choosing A Heathen Diety"
Don't foget to make the appropriate sacrifices and to check out the more modern gods from Neil Gaiman's American Gods.

Quick comic hitters

Just returned a whole bunch of trade paperbacks and thought I'd throw my thouts out to the world. As a general comment, it wasn't a good week for choosing comic books for me. Most left me rather blah...

JLA Classified: New Maps of Hell - decent enough but standard JLA stuff. The team has to work together to beat some bad guy who will destroy the world/species if the JLA doesn't win. Nothing special here.

Superman:Doomsday Omnibus is the first of the really large but in color trades that I've seen from DC. They've begin putting out huge collections of black and white reprints for a cheap price, trying to follow Marvel's model to get casual readers a cheap way to get background of the big characters. I've got issues with Doomsday which cause me to have problems with this trade. Doomsday is a great creation. He was just about the only villian I can imagine being effective as an actual threat to Superman much less to kill him.

But he shouldn't be showing up a half dozen times in the next five or so years. He's a big gun, a rare case who should make an appearance once a decade at most because he's too big, too terrifying (to the comic characters) to show up every year or so. Here we see him being faught and defeated over and over, making him too common - in spite of the fact that we keep being told that "he's the ultimate evil, unstoppable...evolving to never be beaten the same way twice". My advice, read the Death of Superman and Superman/Doomsday: Hunter/Prey trades and leave this giant trade behind.

The House of M cross-over event gave Marvel some pretty good chances to write sort of Elseworlds versions of their characters - how things might have been if everybody was happy instead of prosecuted. They took characters that most folks knew and twisted their lives while still keeping many of the aspects true and together. House of M: Uncanny X-Men left me cold, however, but I think that might be more of a reflection on my feelings about the X-Men rather than the quality of the trade. The X-Men have done so many possibly future stories that I can't keep any of them together in my mind, so this one just left me wondering what the "real history" of the characters was. If you're an X-Men fan, give this a try. if not, continue to steey clear. Plus, it's got Alan Davis's art, and I just don't care for that - never had, even when he was doing the JLE stuff in the early 90's.

Supreme: Story of the Year worked. Majestic: Strange New Visitor doesn't. Apparently this happened at a time when Superman had been taken from Metropolis (I have no clue as to why - there was a weird period of Superman that I just kind of lost track of). In the midst of the time storm (?) ravaging the city, a Superman-esque hero appears to save the city. Majestic is basically a Superman with stilted, psuedo-scientific "I'm from the future so I'm smarter" dialogue. I don't know if Majestic has his own comics, and - if so - whether he's a decent character over there, but here he just seems like a Superman clone - especially when Supes shows back up and tries to cram Majestic into his mold even further. Get a secret identity, Majestic. Be like me, Majestic. Be like me, Majestic. Meh...

In the Green Lantern world, I took a tour through Rebirth and Recharge. For most folks - at least for most folks who came along before the current JLU on cartoon network stuff - Green Lantern is Hal Jordan. He's not the original GL, and - until the past year or so - he wasn't the current GL. He was the GL of the sixties, seventies, eighties, and the very early nineties.

Then things went awry. Hal Jordan went bad, destroyed a city, scrapped the whole of the GL Corps, killed Sinestro, died, went to Hell, and became the Spectre - spirit of vengance. It was all pretty complicated. In the first of these volumes, Rebirth, we get to see the...um...well...rebirth of Hal from the dead. He's become unhappy with being vengeful, so he forces himself free from the Spectre - leading nicely into Infinite Crisis's Spectre without a host.

rebirth sees Hal break free and help the GL Corps fight some sort of spirit of evil, yellow demon thing that's apparently been causing the yellow impurity in the GL rings. It really doesn't make sense to me - nor does the reappearance of the supposedly dead Sinestro. It's pretty much all just a way for the DC writers to bring Hal Jordan back into the fold, proving yet again that no comic death is forever (see Todd, Jason; Barnes, Bucky; Queen, Oliver; Kent, Clark; et al.). It's a decently engaging story line that tells enough of the backstory that folks who haven't been around DC for decades will be able to follow things through.

Recharge is the next step in the line, showing the first steps in the Guardians trying to restock the Corps and training the newest recruits. Some sort of aliens mount an attack on Oa.

In combo with the two - art and story are both decent enough. Nothing marvelous or required reading for even the DC folks out there, but decent enough for a lark.

On to the Marvel trades...

I'll let the review over at TheAxis.com speak for X-Men: Kitty Pryde Shadow & Flame:
Kitty Pryde goes to Japan and fights a bunch of ninja types who have a bafflingly irrational plan to blackmail her into leading them. Kidnapped dragons are involved, for those with a burning desire to find out what happened to the Japanese dragon who appeared in one issue of Uncanny X-Men in the mid-1980s.
It's entertaining enough, though. Kitty Pryde is one of the fan favorites of the X-Men, and it's a deserving title. Sort of the way that The Thing is the heart of the Fantastic Four, Kitty's the heart of the X-Men. She's the innocent one who came in late, and she's been carrying things ever since - solid powers, suprisingly effective, brutal when need be, and she's some sort of ninja - which is where the plot begins. It's a fun one.

Hey look! Wolverine: The End tempts readers - yet again - into thinking it was about to reveal something about Wolverine's history. And then it doesn't. Shock! Surprise! Less surprising, however, is that it's another crappy X-Men story.

Oh, just when I thought there couldn't be any more craptacular X-Men, along comes X-Men: The New Age of Apocalypse. I really don't know why I'm even still trying to read the X-Men stuff. This is horrible. The artwork's bad. The storyline doesn't make much sense and comes from a futuristic something or other that I really don't understand. Crap - stay away.

And then there's Alan Moore.

Promethea Book 1 isn't his greatest work. Promethea is a character, a demigod who shifts from human host to human host as decades pass, taking on the atributes of whichever image of Promethea each host has. We enter the story as she has taken on a new host and while Promethea's old enemies are trying to take advantage of the weakness.

Alan Moore's finest work transcends the limits of comic books. This doesn't quite do that, but even his less than best makes this is best trade I read this week. Give it a try. The artwork is rich, calling to mind some of the best of the Sandman by Gaiman - and the twists of mythology, switching back and forth between the "real world" and the imaginary one make for a rich read. I picked this one up just so I could work my way to the fourth book in the series, one that supposedly contains one of the single greatest issues in the comic book medium. I'll keep reading just to get to issue 32 at this point.

July 24, 2006

Spandex on the big screen

    The Good
  1. The Incredibles
  2. Batman Begins
  3. Spider-Man II
  4. Batman (1989)
  5. Batman Returns
  6. X-Men II
  7. Superman II
  8. Mystery Men
  9. Spider-Man

  10. The Fair
  11. Unbreakable
  12. Batman (1966)
  13. Batman Forever
  14. Superman
  15. Superman Returns
  16. X-Men
  17. Fantastic Four
  18. Supergirl
  19. Superman III

  20. The Poor
  21. The Hulk
  22. Daredevil
  23. X-Men III
  24. Batman & Robin
  25. Elektra
  26. Judge Dread
  27. League fo Extraordinary Gentlemen
  28. Superman IV
    Based on graphic novels/comics but not superheroes
  1. Sin City
  2. American Splendor
  3. Road to Perdition
  4. Hellboy
  5. The Rocketeer
  6. The Crow
  7. Darkman
    Flicks I haven't seen
  • Blade (I-III)
  • Catwoman
  • The Phantom
  • The Punisher
  • Return of Swamp Thing
  • The Shadow
  • Spawn
  • Steel
  • Teengage Mutant Ninja Turtles
To follow along about upcoming comic book movies, check out either of these websites.

July 23, 2006

The vast differences...

No, not the vas deferens...sickos...

I'm talking about the vast differences that exist among the histories of the major league franchises - as exhibited in the Hometown Heroes promotion from MLB. The basic set up is a simple one: each team has five nominees for "most outstanding player in each club's history". You vote for one out of each five and go from there. Apparently there's going to be some sort of three-part series about the results (September 26, 27, and 29) on, of course, ESPN.

I noticed some amazing differences, however, among the fates of the various clubs.

Let's start with the four newest expansion teams: the Marlins, Diamondbacks, and the Rockies.

The Marlins (two WS crowns) have five good players but not a single great one:
  • Josh Beckett (41-34 in five years)
  • Luis Castillo (.293, 20 HR, 271 RBI, 281 SB in ten years)
  • Jeff Conine (.288, 198 HR, 968 RBI, 791 R in fifteen years - only six of them with FLA)
  • Rob Nen (45-42, 2.98 ERA, 314 SV in ten years - only 4.5 of them with FLA)
  • Dontrelle Willis (46-27, 3.27 ERA in three years)
Heck, there's not even a single great year there. Willis had a couple of really good years, so did Nen. Castillo's the epitome of a light-hitting middle infielder with speed. There's certainly no greatness anywhere there. Not a single season that deserved discussion in the MVP voting.

The Diamondbacks (1 WS crown) have one hall of famer, one good player, one over-the-hill star, and two above average guys.
  • Jay Bell (.265, 195 HR, 860 RBI, 1123 R in eighteen years - five of them with ARI)
  • Luis Gonzalez (.285, 316 HR, 1251 RBI, 1219 R in sixteen seasons - seven with ARI - one MVP-ish fluke season, one of the all-time great fluke seasons)
  • Randy Johnson (263-136, 3.11 ERA, 4372 K in eighteen seasons, six with ARI - four Cy Youngs with ARI, one runner-up finish Cy Young)
  • Todd Stottlemeyer (138-121, 4.28 ERA in fourteen seasons - only three with ARI)
  • Matt Williams (.268, 378 HR, 1218 RBI, 997 R in seventeen seasons - his last six with ARI)
At least there's an easy choice there. And how does Curt Schilling not get a mention? He had two great pitching seasons there. Sure, he only had three total years, but he got them a WS and two runner-up CY to his teammate. Travesty...Stottlemeyer and Bell don't deserve to carry his jock.

The Rockies (1 wild card) have a bunch of (shocking) hitters:
  • Dante Bichette (.299, 274 HR, 1141 RBI, 934 R in fourteen seasons - seven with COL)
  • Vinny Castilla (.278, 315 HR, 1078 RBI, 876 R in fifteen seasons - eight with COL - never any good outside of the rare air)
  • Andres Galarraga (.288, 399 HR, 1425 RBI, 1195 R, 128 SB in nineteeen seasons - five with COL)
  • Todd Helton (.337, 271 HR, 915 RBI, 924 R in nine all-COL seasons)
  • Larry Walker (.313, 383 HR, 1311 RBI, 1355 R, 230 SB in seventeen seasons - 9.5 with COL)
All these guys have their offensive performances diminshed because of where they played - especially Castilla who never hit worth a crap outside of COL. Helton is the clear, I think, choice here as he's been the solid rock of the franchise nearly since its inception. Walker did, at least, win an MVP in COL which makes things closer, but I'm thinking that Helton is the choice.

The Devil Rays (no winning seasons):
  • Wade Boggs (.328, 118 HR, 1014 RBI, 1513 R in eighteen seasons - two with TB
  • Carl Crawford (.289, 33 HR, 220 RBI, 308 R, 169 SB in four all-TB seasons)
  • Roberto Hernandez (64-65, 3.33 ERA, 324 SV in fifteen seasons - three with TB)
  • Aubrey Huff (.288, 120 HR, 421 RBI, 374 R in six all-TB seasons)
  • Fred McGriff (.284, 493 HR, 1550 RBI, 1349 R in nineteen seasons - 4.5 with TB)
One washed up hall-of-famer, one washed up near-hall-of-famer, one never-that-great reliever, one decent but not special talent (Huff), and one still-up-and-coming player in Crawford. Blech. No wonder they've never won anything.

Odd to see that the Marlins - with two WS titles - have the worst collection of top-five talent of the crew with ARI only coming up higher because of Randy Johnson's amazing five-year run.

Some notes about the older teams:

  • Many of them have five hall-of-famers as their nominees:
    • Baltimore - Murray, Palmer, Ripken (soon enough), Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson
    • Cleveland - Averill, Doby, Feller, Lajoie, Speaker
    • NY Yankees (suprise) - Berra, DiMaggio, Gehrig, Mantle, Ruth - easily the best group
    • Oakland - Eckersley, Grove, Henderson (soon enough), Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson
    • LA Dodgers - Campanella, Koufax, Reese, Jackie Robinson, Snider - the second-best collection of talent
    • Philadelphia - Ashburn, Carlton, Chuck Klein, Robin Roberts, Schmidt
    • Cincinnati - Bench, Morgan, Perez, Frank Robinson, Rose (shut up)
    • Pittsburgh - Clemente, Kinger, Mazeroski, Stargell, Honus Wagner
    • San Francisco - Bonds (soon enough), Marichal, Mays, McCovey, Ott (or maybe this is the second-best collection of talent)
  • Rod Carew is the only guy to show up twice - for the Angels & Twins
  • The Angels are sad enough to have Jim Abbott on their list (inspiring but not a great player). Nope, Frank Robinson does, too - for Cincy and Baltimore.
  • How the frickin' heck does Greg Maddux not end up on the Atlanta Braves list? Sure, he's not gonna beat out Warren Spahn or Hank Aaron, but he's easily the equal of Chipper Jones, John Smoltz, and Phil Neikro. The latter three had more time with the team, but not better time.
  • Tug McGraw over Dwight Gooden for the NYMets is also a crime.
  • Randy Jones (100-123, 3.42 ERA in the 70's, 2 SV, two seasons with more than 13 wins, three winning seasons ever) might be the worst non-new expansion nominee for any team - San Diego in this case. But I'm not sure I can name a better choice (already have Brian Giles, Gqynn, Hoffman, Winfield). Peavy's too young. Caminiti had the steroid thing, only four years with SD, one MVP though. McGriff only had 2.5 years with SD. Sheffield had one outstanding year there but was traded halfway through his second year. Maybe it is Jones - blech.
  • Wait, Brian Schneider (MTL/WAS) is probably worse than Jones - .256 (in the 2000's), 37 HR, 185 RBI, 143 R in six seasons. Caught stealing 6 of eight times attempted. Vlad Guerrero, Tim Raines, Andre Dawson, Steve Rogers, Pedro Martinez - all should be on ahead of him. In fact, the Montreal/Washington ballot is the most egregious with Gary Carter (deserved), Livan Hernandez (okay player but less than Guerrero, Raines, Dawson, and Martinez), Schneider (horrible choice), Rusty Staub (not a great player and only in MON for 3.5 years), and Vidro (see Livan's comment). What the heck is MLB trying to do in attempting to neuter the history of Les Expos de Montreal? They've treated that franchise worse than any since the mid-1900's.
My choices - by team:
  • Baltimore - Ripken but close with Frank Robinson
  • Boston - Ted Williams, the greatest hitter to ever live in a run-away with Clemens in second
  • White Sox - Nellie Fox but with Frank Thomas probably ending him out by the end of his career
  • Cleveland - Nap Lajoie but a tough call over Tris Speaker
  • Detroit - Ty Cobb easily
  • Kansas City - George Brett, again easily
  • Cal/LA/Anheim Angels - Rod Carew but what a derth of greatness (Abbott, Baylor, Carew, Finley, Salmon)
  • Minnesota - Harmon Killebrew (how does Kent Hrbek get a mention - Johann Santana owns the Hrbek spot in another year)
  • NY Yankees - Ruth but not as easily as you might think over Gehrig and Mantle
  • Oakland - Rickey Henderson more easily than most people would think
  • Seattle - Ken Griffey, Jr.
  • Tampa Bay - pass
  • Texas - Ryan though he's very much overrated and Ivan Rodriguez might pass him in another year or two
  • Toronto - Roberto Alomar
  • Arizona - Randy Johnson in a runaway
  • Atlanta - Aaron but with Spahn in solid second and Maddux (not on the ballot) third
  • Chicago Cubs - Banks close over Sandberg
  • Cincinnati - Bench close over Robinson & Morgan
  • Colorado - Helton close over Walker
  • Florida - Nen close over Castillo
  • Houston - Bagwell edging Biggio and both blowing Ryan out of the water with Dierker being barely worthy of mention
  • LA Dodgers - Snider barely over Jackie Robinson and Koufax
  • Milwaukee - Robin Yount barely over Paul Molitor - there probably aren't two more closely-matched on the whole ballot
  • NY Mets - Seaver close over Piazza
  • Philladelphia - Schmidt
  • Pittsburgh - Wagner in a runaway
  • St. Louis - Musial with Pujols needing ten more years like this to challenge him
  • San Diego - Gwynn with the gap between Hoffman and him closing
  • San Francisco - Barry Bonds edging Willie Mays
  • Washington/Montreal - Tim Raines who isn't even on the ballot - Gary Carter of the choices presented
Greatest players not to appear on any team's ballot (in no particular order):
  • Walter Johnson - Washington Senators, defunct
  • Christy Matthewson - NY Giants, defunct
  • Greg Maddux - Braves, WTF?
  • Rogers Hornsby - Cardinals, Cubs, Browns
  • Jimmie Foxx - Boston, Phil/Oak A's
  • Alex Rodriguez - Seattle, Texas, NYY (wouldn't make the latter cut but definitely makes the former two)
  • Tim Raines - Montreal, NYY (see A-Rod)
  • Pedro Martinez - Montreal, Bos (see A-Rod)
All stats curtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and as of the beginning of the 2006 season.

Again with the flicks...

The Sting won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1973. (I think I might've taken American Graffiti over it, but I don't know two of the other nominees, so I guess this one wasn't a bad pick.) In checking out IMDB, I saw this user comment about the film: "A Lightweight, Clever Throwback to the Big Cons of the 1930's", and that's a pretty good summary of the film.

The cast is excellent. Redford and Newman are, as always, likeable leads, and I'm guessing the combination of the two was pretty much box office gold in '73. The rest of the cast is composed of a bunch of that guys. They're the sorts of actors who have appeared in tons of movies you've seen, and you recognize them, but you can't remember their name - except for Ray Walston, who's great.

The plot is tight and has a nice twist that is only slightly obvious (but probably wasn't the first time I saw the movie - like twenty years ago), but it hasn't aged well. Now it looks like a nice older movie that had a bunch of likeable guys doing stuff that wasn't really all that bad - even though it was all illegal, of course.

It's fun for an anfternoon when there's nothing else happening, and it might grab you for a few minutes if you were flipping channels, but it's certainly no Road House.

I had heard some aweful things about Fantastic Four, but I was pleasently surprised that it wasn't all that bad.

Sure, it's not a spectacular film, but it's a decent adaptation of the comics. It does the required duty of setting up all the characters, telling their origins, giving us enough of a backstory to know why they all ended up together, and we get a bad guy for them to fight while the players come together as a team. It's pretty standard fare for just about any team-up movie of the past fifty years (not just comic book ones).

Four fifths of the main cast is nicely chosen with Reed doing the reasonably dorky and oblivious routine pretty well, some guy doing a good Johnny Storm hot head, and that guy who dated Alyssa Milano on Charmed doing a decent interpretation of Dr. Doom. Sure, he wasn't the nutty Latvarian, but the character worked decently well - a bit more along the lines of the Ultimate Doom, really.

Jessica Alba didn't work for me as Sue Storm, being way too pushy a character for the historical Sue. I guess she might've been going more for the Ultimate version of the character, too, but it didn't work for me.

That was balanced by Michael Chiklis who did a great job as the tortured and reluctant hero Ben Grimm. He really carries the film and gives the viewers an entry into the world of the FF. He's the emotional center of the group - as he is in the comics - and really does a great job.

The fight scenes are decently done as are the special effects.

It's a decent first film - not great, admittedly, but survivable. Maybe I had my expectations lowered enough that the film shone in comparision, but I enjoyed the flick.

In terms of comic book films, it's certainly above The Hulk and Daredevil and Electra - which I just saw tonight. Review will follow...

July 22, 2006

A better way to see things

We're visual people. One of the things that we do best is to look at data and find patterns that we didn't necessarily expect to see. And for a long time, people have known that it's often easier to see those patterns if the data is presented visually.

One of the areas that present tons of data that are kind of enjoyable to look at is baseball. Even in ye olden days, every batter had a dozen stats (HR, avg, slugging, SB, hits, runs, RBI, W, ERA, K), and thankfully, a bunch of websites have begun to find ways to present this data graphically instead of just running all the numbers in huge, long charts. (Not that a website with the stats for every baseball player in history is a bad thing, you understand.)

First up, there's the Hardball Times whose site presents graphs showing timelines of the division races. They're the source of the graphic I've presented above. It's a great way to look at, for example, the NL Central and see just when it was that the Reds hit a rough patch. My honest guess is that the blue line won't be getting closer to the brown line anytime soon.

There's also fangraphs.com that has really been at the forefront of finding effective visual ways to present baseball numbers. They're developed a graph called the win probability graph showing how each and every event - every hit, every strikeout - changed the chances that each team would win the game.

On the graph on the left, for example, you can see that in the Reds-Rockies game from July 16th that it was Rich Aurilia's single in the eighth that really made the difference, taking the game from a 70% for the Rockies to a 90% win for the Reds with one swing. Fangraphs also has some great graphs allowing you to look at individual players and check out how their tendencies (grounders vs fylballs, power vs speed, etc) have changed over their career. You could look at, for example, what's wrong with Mark Teixeira.

Finally there's BaseballGraphs.com that presents loads of data - including the 1990 season summarized. Here you can see that based on runs scored and runs allowed, the Reds were probably the second best team in the NL in 1990 (their last worls series title year). The Mets' stats predicted that they'd be over .600, but they ended up seven games below that predicted record.

And it looks like the Reds were doing it with pitching, rating high on the vertical scale (low ERA = higher) and left on the horizontal (high runs scored = far right).

Of course it doesn't matter because a flag flies forever.

All of this is relevant because I'm heading to Detroit today to check out a game in Comerica. We'll be in the first row over the wall in the very left-most corner - section 144.

Enjoy the day, folks...

July 21, 2006

Back to the small screen

I'm going to do what I can to not refer to The Station Agent as a little film.

I make no promises, though.

The Station Agent is an excellent film, introducing us to three lonely people who come together in touching and hilarious starts and stops to make for a wonderful friendship.

We come into the story via the main character, Finn, who inherits an abandoned railroad station house when his employer, landloard, and friend passes away. Fin doesn't drive, so he walks to the depot, taking days to get there and never changing from his ubiquitious black suit. Once he gets there, he avoids contact with anyone, rarely initiating conversation with anyone and answering with little more than single-word answers.

Our next character enters the picture as a motor-mouthed java jockey whose snack truck is parked in the depot's old parking lot. The final piece of the trio enters when she runs Finn off the road twice in one day.

All three are lonely but showing it in very different ways. Through the catalyst of Joe's incessent friendliness, the three open up to each other, reluctantly engaging in the moments of both triviality and honesty that make up the strongest friendships. The development of the friendships isn't without its occasional missteps and hurts, however, and those are the things that make the film truly revealing and wonderful.

And - in a way less than mature comment - it has a midget.

Or a dwarf. I think he's technically a dwarf.

And then there's Donnie Darko. This is one seriously dark and messed up film. I grabbed it from the library's stacks because I'd heard so many good things about it - some from Kevin Smith, I'll admit - from lots of film folks. Don't know that I actually know anybody who's seen the film, at least not anybody who'd mentioned it to me.

Donnie Darko's a seemingly simple story that ends up being pretty complicated. The titular Donnie is having some emotional instability and apparently seeing a six-foot tall, sicko rabbit from the future. And it's not the kind of six-foot tall rabbit like in Harvey. Nope, this is the kind of rabbit that tells Donnie to shatter water mains and burn down houses. It's a solidly sicko rabbit - from the future.

And, honestly, that's about as linear as the storyline gets.

Donnie's a young man with problems who happens to find a girlfriend while being told that the world is going to end on Halloween. The movie tells the story of how we get there and back again.

It's not exactly all sunshine and daisies with Donnie doing some pretty dark things and experiencing a near tragedy or two along the way. And in the end there's not a lot of clarity to the story either. Things happen without much scientific or even pseudo-scientific explanation, and the film never seems to worry about that fact, though some more clarity can be gained by watching the outtakes - many of which were supposedly included in the director's cut that was released last year.

This lack of clarity ultimately weakens the film enough that I'd recommend seeing that director's cut rather than the original version that I saw. It's certainly a dark film. Not a bad one, but a little slow, a little dark, a little confusing.

And - in a fact not entirely unlike my last comment from the Station Agent review above - it's got Patrick Swayze in it.

In honor of that last note, my favorite Patrick Swayze films...
  1. Road House - with new DVD release
  2. To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar
  3. Red Dawn
  4. Donnie Darko
  5. Dirty Dancing

July 20, 2006

Truth in advertising

Pretty much says it all, doesn't it?

I have no clue why the domain is Insurance And News, but I don't really care because they have 1500 of Your Favorite 80's Videos!

July 19, 2006

Cute but kind of scary

It's always nice to know that some people like to balance the sweet with the scary. This site allows you to send an ecard with some of Jim Benton's artwork. The Happy Bunny line is full of nicely attitudinal little bunnies. Have fun.

In a couple of days there'll be reviews of a couple of recent movies - The Station Agent and Donnie Darko. Then it's the Fantastic Four and The Sting - both of which were yesterday's entertainment. Enjoy the summer, folks...

Oh, and we're back on the right dates now.

July 18, 2006

Ya knew it had to be coming...

I've commented before on the surfeit of KitKat options in the world, and it appears that the chickens have finally come home to roost.


What do you believe? I gotta know...

I've said it before. I need to know how you feel. I need to know what you think I should be doing with my time.

Should I be supporting strippers, loving my child, spaying and neutering my pets, remembering EMTs, bringing them home, or never forgetting?

I'm so confused. Without your guidance, I will never know what to do.

Oh, and if you really feel that strongly about it, use something that can't be removed in like half a second.

Thanks to ebay, OnlineNoveltyItems, and XpressMart for most of the images.

Happy Anniversary to me!

I'm typing this up on July 17th (even though it'll be posted as though it was the 18th - hey, I'll be caught up tomorrow, shut up) which means that this is my realistic anniversary post. It's been a full year (four hundred twenty one posts) of spewing my craptacularly worthless miasma into the interweb, so that's gotta be worth something, right?

Feel free to celebrate in whatever sick and twisted way you think would be most appropriate.

A special thanks to those of you who have been reading since the beginning: Becky...um...and...well...there's...yeah...

Very Inconvenient - but important

I'm a science teacher, a concerned citizen, and an admited democrat (though I went so far as to support Nader a couple of elections ago). It's be tough to find someone more targeted to see An Inconvenient Truth than I am.

Truth be told, the film left me feeling conflicted.

As someone with some power to spread messages - through my blog, through my classroom, through my circle of friends - I feel that I should promote the movie because of the message that it conveys. I do honestly believe that global warming is the issue that threatens our planet to an extent that no other issue ever has simply because it is so large and has been building for so long that any action that we hope to take to stem the rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will have to be a massive effort, one with support from nations the world 'round.

I believe in the issue, the cause, and the campaign - all of whom are central to this film.

What leaves me conflicted are three things - I don't know that the film is nearly as good as most reviewers have written it to be; I really wish that the messanger had been someone other than Al Gore; and I wanted much more concrete detail and evidence than was presented in the film.

The lecture on which this movie is based, one given by Gore in a dozen nations and hundreds of cities, is an excellent one. The tone is lighthearted enough at times that the presentation doesn't seem pedantic but serious enough that the seriousness of the issue being discussed is able to get through. Graphics from numerous well-known sources - Futurama, Day After Tomorrow, CNN - are interspersed with masterfully presented graphs showing the relationships between rises in global temperature and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. Hearing Gore deliver this presentation in person must be a gripping, moving experience.

The science is stunning and the likely consequences from our inaction so devestating that I would hope that anyone who sees this film will be moved into action, shaken out of a malaise and forced to make even small lifestyle changes to fight the good fight on any front possible.

I fear, however, that much of what is said is going to be said to people who already believe all of this and who are sympathetic to both Gore and his message. The film's presentation of the lecture finds Gore presenting in a lecture hall that feels like a movie set, the sort of "real-life" setting that shows up in any town-hall debate held between presidential candidates every four years. The set felt very artifical to me, and I think the presentation would have been more effective if filmed in front of a more typical lecture audience, one more akin to the university lecture halls that we see from time to time in the film as Gore speaks his way around the world.

Interspersed throughout the film, we get glimpses of Gore's background, helping us to understand why he has chosen this cause to champion. We visit the Gore family farm where he first learned about the glory of nature and of hard work. We see into his college days where he first heard about global warming. We hear of his sister who died of lung cancer, likely brought about from smoking - a tragedy that lead his father to abandon growing tobacco on the afore-mentioned farm. We also get a montage of hanging chads, court decisions, a consession speech, and a swearing in to remind us that our nation just might have been different had this man been leading us for eight years rather than the current office holder. We even get an opening joke from Gore reminding us that he "used to be the next president".

All of this, I feel, dilutes the message at the cost of selling the messenger. Many pundits have proposed Gore as a possible presidential candidate in 2008, his presence back in the ring a likely follow up to his media presence because of this film. I believe Gore when - in many of those interviews - he says that he has no intent to run again, but I do wish that nearly every film review didn't make mention somewhere along the way that more of Gore's personality appears here in the film than in the whole of the 2000 presidential campaign. After the nastiness and bitterness of that campaign, Gore has become nearly as polarizing a character as has President Bush. I fear that the message of this film, one that - as I have stated - may be the most important issue of our times - is being lost because of the messenger who is bringing it.

The flip side of that fear is that knowledge that no other public figure likely has the personal investment, the political clout, the statesman stature, and the practice to bring the message to the masses. I am thrilled that Al Gore has given this lecture and allowed/encouraged the lecture to be filmed, but I wish that it hadn't been Al Gore doing it all.

My final issue with the film is that I wanted more detail. I understand that within the scope of a one-hundred-minute film designed to be seen by non-science people it would certainly be difficult to present every piece of evidence, to reference every article that is mentioned as evidence, but that is what I want, and I fear that is what we need.

In my review of Good Night and Good Luck, I recounted that Edward R Murrow knew that he had to be note perfect, as clean and above reproach as possible because the stakes in that battle were simply too high to allow for even the possibility of loss. This film left me with that feeling - knowing that the stakes are too high to risk losing. Because of that, I hate to see websites and hear pundits (typically people without science training, I will admit) challenging Gore's statements and assertions and knowing that I simply don't have the facts at my disposal to argue Gore's side without reproach.

Because of this last, I have taken time to hunt down some websites that attempt to refute Gore's argument - focused primarily against the film - as well as some supporting his argument. I have begun to look through them and encourage you to do as well if you do care about the future of our planet.

America's Got Talent - and no shame

Recently I caught a commercial for America's Got Talent - the NBC show that allows people to get their fifteen seconds (let's be honest, the pace of life has sped up a whole lot since the 70's)of fame. Some of them have some really impressive talents, but others are just plain awful. Honestly, though, it's the latter group that is so much fun to watch. Today I offer you some of the more entertaining videos from YouTube.com, and they're totally moppet-free.But let's be honest, America's Got Talent is just a rip off of a concept that Chuck Barris did a whole lot better on the The Gong Show. To give you an idea of the joy that was The Gong Show here are a few clips collected from (surprise) YouTube.com. Sadly, though, there are no clips of The Popsicle Twins.The true star of the show wasn't the acts, however, it was Chuck Barris himself. He was such an awful host (and he admitted it) that he was amazingly enjoyable to watch. Chuck was the difference between America's Got Talent and The Gong Show. It's one thing to see people make fools of themselves, but it's another to have a charistmatic host let us know that it's okay to laugh at and with these folks. Regis, you're no Chucky Baby.After The Gong Show went off the air, Chuck's professional fates headed southward as a nation that had embraced him simply moved on. And then Chuck wrote a little book (later made into a movie) telling the world the story of his time - during the Gong Show-era - as a CIA hitman, killing people in exotic locales around the world. There were, of course, questions about the veracity of the tale, but Chuck has never publicly recanted the story. Chuck really is a fascinating man whose career spans some of the great, wacky days of television, and if you'd like to know more, check out one of these interviews:

Ah, the sonorosity

You know, you just have to love the sound of a great voice. There are some people who could read the phonebook and get us all to listen.

I'm thinking about James Earl Jones, Johnny Miller, and Sam Elliott.

Plus there are the guys who do voiceovers for movie trailers. Those guys rock (and the video's really entertaining).

The hometown nine (again)

There is a concept called the success cycle in sports - particularly in baseball. As summarized by Ryan McConnell, the cycle states that
The cycle runs through three stages: Rebuilding (selling off older players and restructuring the team), Building (having a solid core but needing to rearrange the talent around that core), and Competing (having a winning team and adding players to push it over the top).

Assessing where your team is in the cycle is a critical talent necessary for every front office in baseball. Making a trade or roster move at the wrong time in the cycle may not hurt your team immediately but could have horrendous long term effects on the success of the organization.
Yesterday Reds management made what I - and most of the folks I can find online - think was a misstep in this cycle. They believed themselves to be in the Competing stage in the cycle, believing that they needed only a couple of players to put themselves over the top, and in what appears to be a much greater misstep, seem to have believed that two relievers that I had never heard of were those couple of players.

The Reds were competitive in one of the weakest (as the recent dartboards pointed out) divisions in baseball. The current leaders - the St. Louis Cardinals have a decent record but against a weak schedule and with a lot of luck, they currently rank sixteenth in the majors in projected record. The Reds are just behind in 18th. No other division has their best team ranked anywhere lower than tenth (the Padres).

Depending on your definition of competitive, the Reds just might have (prior to yesterday's trade) qualified. They were competitive for the rights to make the playoffs and get their heads handed immediately back to them by a team that is competitive for the NL title (which the Reds were not) or for the World Series title (which the Reds were not remotely close to).

Even if they were competitive, however, they won't be now because they got weaker at two positions who play everyday in return for getting marginally stronger at two positions that play every couple of days.

In my view, this is not the time to sell the future and assume that your team is truly Competitive. If they can't possibly win the Series, keep building.

Heading into the season, the Reds looked to have one simple but glaring weakness: their pitching. With a likely rotation of Aaron Harang, Bronson Arroyo, Elizardo Ramirez, Eric Milton, and Brandon Clausson, the Reds looked again to be serving up gopher ball specials to visiting batters. Through the first half of the season, Arroyo has been excellent (9-6, 3.12) while Harang (9-6, 3.70) and Ramirez (3-6, 4.14) have both been better than expected. Milton (6-4, 5.19) and Claussen (3-8, 6.19) have both stunk, but the offense can carry two bad pitchers.

Instead, the Reds' weakness turned out to be the bullpen - having blown thirteen saves in thirty-three chances, ranking twenty-first among all MLB teams and being reviled in the press of late. Things were coming to a head, and the Reds' first move (last week's trade for Eddie Guardado) was a good one. They took a flier on an eperienced pitcher with a track record for success but who had found himself in a bad situation and with failing confidence in that situation. The Reds gave up little to acquire him, and it was a typically low risk-high reward trade.

The trade yesterday, however, befudles me. The Reds gave up a full-time starter (Felipe Lopez) and a part-time starter in a brittle outfield (Austin Kearns - who was finally finding his health and stroke). They also threw in the towel on Ryan Wagner, their first-round draft pick in 2003 who didn't seem to be panning out. In return, they got an aging (36) replacement shortstop who can't hit and is a bad (though by all data, not quite as bad as Lopez this year) fielder in Royce Clayton (welcome back, stinky). The major goal of the trade appears to have been to acquire two relievers in Gary Majewski and Bill Bray, neither of whom anybody seems to have heard of.

Majewski has an ERA of 3.58 this year and a career number of 3.27 in two and a half seasons. He doesn't strike people out (96 in 162 career innings), and he puts too many runners on base (WHIP of 1.38). As a bonus, he's already blown five saves this year.

Bray has an ERA of 3.91 and a WHIP of 1.43 in this, his rookie season. He has struck out 16 batters in 23 innings and at least hasn't blown a save (not that he's had many opportunities, having only been credited with even one hold).

These are not the saviors, and the two prospects thrown in by the Nationals seem to not impress anybody that I can find on the web.

This move stinks of narrow-visioned leadership that saw a problem and did everything possible to solve that problem, thinking only of the short term and not at all of what solving that one problem would do to the rest of the team.

I am, yet again, disappointed in the management of my favorite team. This is why Cincinnati prepetually seems to be a second-rate baseball town.

For more scathing reviews of the trade, check these pages:The best attempt at actually explaining the trade came from Baseball Primer member Sam M. who commented
I don't know how anybody could possibly think this makes any sense whatsoever for the Reds.

OK, I'm going to try.

"Our bullpen has been an unmitigated disaster. We are in a position to contend this year, but to do that we simply had to add some quality arms in the pen to help us convert some of those leads into wins. To do that, we knew we'd have to give up something of value, and obviously Austin Kearns is a very valuable player. We feel, however, that we have the offense to compensate for his loss. Majewski and Bray will make a huge difference for us late in games, and that was a primary need if we're going to stay in this race in the second half.

As for Felipe Lopez, we just have to get better in the field. It's that simple. We know he's a talented player, but unless we start catching the ball better and making the other team beat us, we're not going to be able to win consistently. Royce Clayton is a fine player, and he will solidify our infield."

I haven't looked at any press releases or anything, but their story's got to be something along those lines, doesn't it?
It's clear, however, that even he doesn't believe his words.