What the Dog Saw

Another fantastic read by Malcolm Gladwell, this time with vignettes on everything from Ketchup to pitbulls to the interconnection of feminism and hair dye.

If you haven't read any of Gladwell's books yet, you really should. The details inside are infinitely interesting, and the people he interviews are always memorable. But, it is the lasting idea that you must always question your beliefs that really gives his books value.

Gladwell has the rare ability to see something obviously true and say that it's not so obvious at all. Then, he has the unique mindset that makes him painstakingly research just how these things work.

His books also have this unique ability to bring together elements that are so disparate that you can't imagine how he's going to relate them to one another, but he always manages it, and with a type of success that makes you wonder just how many other things might be involved in seemingly simple parts of our day.

In this book, you'll learn about the Dog Whisperer, two different takes on the Enron failure, more than you'd ever expect to know about the birth control pill, Jana Novotna, solving the homelessness problem, and the truth about criminal profiling.

Catching fire - Just finished

Finally finished Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, and, of course, all I can do now is count the days until the third volume ships. It looks like none of my librarian friends were able to get an advance copy, so I'll have to wait like all the rest of you suckers.

The story picks up a few weeks after The Hunger Games, so, if you haven't read HG, you should probably stop reading right now and go get a copy. It's impossible to talk about the sequel without spoiling everything. And Hunger Games is such a compelling page-turner, you'll be happy to give up your entire Sunday reading it. Honestly, most people I know who have read it did so in just two or three sittings. It's that much fun to read.

Now, my first and only real criticism of Catching Fire is that it begins so slowly. The tumultuous action of HG hooks you from the very beginning. But Collins really takes her time in this volume, working hard to establish a world that is politically and socially interesting, and setting the stage for the events that will happen later in the book.

Again, we meet Katniss, Peeta, Gale, and Haymitch, who all maintain their unique character. However, District 12's win, we learn, has had heavy ramifications throughout the country of Panem. As the two victors begin their Victory Tour (not unlike the Jacksons in 1984), Katniss learns that President Snowe, the leader of the known world, has special plans for her, as well as certain expectations of behavior.

When the tour doesn't go as Snowe has planned, and the presence of Katniss and Peeta causes unexpected repercussions in the Districts, he decides that there is still one more way he can have his revenge while squashing any hope of revolution.

After this lengthy exposition, Catching Fire really takes off, and once again, we're back in the thick of the action, and Katniss the Appalachian Amazon is kickin' ass and takin' names. Haymitch is communicating in his cryptic way, and Peeta becomes the baffling object of protection while the world seems to be spinning out of control. The big reveal in the last chapter reminds us why we love this series so much, and leaves us with an unquenchable thirst for more.

New characters include Finick, the crazy-gorgeous career contestant from District Four, Nuts and Volts, the inventors, and Johanna, who seems to like getting naked all the time. Everyone's favorite designer, Cinna (who we desperately hope will be played by Christian Siriano), returns, as well as Effie, the annoying scheduler lady.

Overall, the book is a great read, but it ends so abruptly that it leaves you with a narrative hole the size of District 13. Guess we'll just have to wait until Fall.

Please cast Christian! He's the only person who can be Cinna!

The classic pass kicks my ass

So, I have a minor interest in magic. I have no interest in being a stage magician or anything like that. But, I love the work of magicians, and I could watch them for hours. I saw a comedian once who said that all magic is essentially the same: paying money for someone to tell you that you're stupid. And, I used to believe that. But, I've realized that there is a lot more to it.

Last year, someone introduced me to the work of Derren Brown, a modern mentalist who uses the most amazing form of misdirection: he pretends to use modern psychological "science" to explain how he does what he does. In particular, he uses the buzzwords and catchphrases of a certain pseudo-discipline called ""Neurolinguistic Programming", and he's brilliant at it.

Anyway, what I've come to realize is that Magic can be a satire of the modern world, and, more importantly, an opportunity to apply knowledge learned in real scientific fields to the world of people. In particular, all forms of magic rely on something called "Cognitive Bias," a study that was revolutionized by a pair of Israeli researchers named Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman.

Since there is no such thing as real magic, and at heart most of us realize that fact, it is the duty of the performer to bend minds just a little, and the best way to do that is by studying the existing flaws in our decision-making processes. Brown is the master of that.

Anyway, I have studied quite a bit of magic over the last couple of years, but what interests me the most is card magic, because it is direct, fast, requires little setup, and, like playing the guitar, your success is based solely on your dedication to practicing a lot of movements that can be foreign, unnatural, and even painful.

I have been told that the highest barrier to doing card magic at a professional level is the ability to flawlessly perform a movement called the "classic pass." I probably do 500 passes every day, and I'm currently at a level just north of pathetic. I honestly think I might spend years getting it down, but I know it's worth it, in some way.

Here is a VERY good pass done by Ari Woolf:

But, if you want to see the greatest living performer of the pass, let me introduce you to Mr. Fujii Akira.

Fujii-san does the classic pass.

Unfortunately, YouTube embedding is disabled, so you'll have to click through.

Anyway, my wrist freakin' aches right now. But, at least it's right hand, so I can still play guitar and make my left hand ache later on.

Who the hell is Seth?

So, we took a rough defeat last at pub trivia, and the question that stuck with me was "Who was the third son of Adam and Eve?"

Well, most everyone knows about Cain and Abel, because of that whole murder thing. But, if you're not a Bible scholar (or, in my case an Atheist heretic) you wouldn't have a clue about the first Bobby Brady, the first Theodore Seville.

However, I was informed that some of our players had some religious background, but they were useless. I, in fact, had started reading the Bible last year, and hadn't made it too far, but, I remembered that Adam died in Gen 5, so I knew I must have read about this third son, since he had to have shown up in the first 10 pages of the Bible. Anyway, here is why nobody can remember the third son, who, by the way, was named Seth:

He only shows up in about 6 lines of scripture, and he doesn't do anything.

Gen 4: 25-26

25 - And Adam knew his wife again; and she bore a son and called his name Seth. "For God," said she, "hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew."
Sucks to be a child that your parents only had to replace the one who died

26 - And to Seth also there was born a son, and he called his name Enosh. Then began men to call upon the name of the LORD.
Coincidentally the same name his murderous brother gave his kid.

Gen 5:

3 - And Adam lived a hundred and thirty years, and begot a son in his own likeness, after his image, and called his name Seth.
Sucks when your dad is 130 years older. I guess catch is right out.

6 - And Seth lived a hundred and five years, and begot Enosh.
Which is why he decided to have kids while he was still young.

7 - And Seth lived after he begot Enosh eight hundred and seven years, and begot sons and daughters.
I wonder how many years his kids had to take care of his old ass. It's my nightmare to live that long.

8 - And all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years; and he died.
I like how the Bible knows how to really put the period at the end of a sentence. And he died.

So, yep, he lived a hell of a long time and had some kids. Congrats.

Poutine at Soleil

So, the missus and I got it together on Saturday and went to Soleil in Westwood in order to try out their Poutine.

We sat in that table in the middle!

As I am not Canadian, ni Quebecois non plus, I have no credentials to judge this poutine. But, I do have a mouth, and that is at least some qualification.

So . . .

Thin, crispy, tasty french fries (Soleil's frites are fantastique) covered with soft white cheese curds and some sort of brown gravy which I can't identify. Great flavor, nice saltiness. My only complaint is that the curds were a little cold and it threw off the overall temperature of the dish. Other than that, however, I enjoyed the poutine very much.

I also had Brian's sandwich, which was a nice slab of beef cooked about medium with mixed greens on a baguette. The star of that meal, however, was the peppercorn sauce. If they bottled it, I'd buy it. As the waiter suggested, it would taste good on just about anything.

Pat Robertson is a real dick

On January 12, the tiny island nation of Haiti, often called the poorest in our hemisphere, suffered a devastating magnitude 7.0 earthquake. 1994 showed just how much damage an earthquake measured at the substantially lower magnitude of 6.7 could do in the highly populated, yet thoroughly modern Northridge, California. In a nation with little modern infrastructure, no building codes, depleted topsoil on hilly terrain, and pervasive poverty, we are currently seeing the immense human toll such a quake can bring.

And, in the midst of so much suffering, pain, starvation and death, Pat Robertson, that fucking swine, had the audacity to utter the following words on his program:

"Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French ... and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, 'We will serve you if you'll get us free from the French.'"

"True story. And the devil said, 'OK, it's a deal.' Ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after another."

For what it's worth, "true story" is the line I normally use when I'm telling an obvious lie. "So, there I was, nuzzled in the bosom of the Amazon princess - true story." In this sense, Robertson is at least following my conventions, if not those of conscience and Christianity.

I can't think of anything more sickening than a rich Christian condemning people for being poor and unlucky. I mean, their Archbishop died when the diocese office fell in on him, for crying out loud! I'm really at a loss for appropriately mean things to say about this condescending and evil man.

This is what an asshole looks like.

The clock, it moves

Seems like just the other day I was talking about the Doomsday Clock, and here it is in the news again, for the first time in three years. An announcement, with live streaming video, will be made tomorrow, January 14.

It seems that something has happened that has either brought Doomsday closer, or pushed it back a few years. Honestly, I have no idea.

It seems that there are a lot of possible factors on both sides:

  1. Korean Nuclear Testing - +3 Doomsday Points ™
  2. Iranian Nuke Program Continues - +3 Doomsday Points ™
  3. US - Russian Arms Reduction Talks - -2 Doomsday Points ™
  4. Global Climate Change - +2 Doomsday Points ™
  5. Pandemic Diseases - +3 Doomsday Points ™
  6. Terrorism Uncontrolled - +2 Doomsday Points ™

I take it back. It seems pretty obvious which way they're going to move it.

Google will no longer censor searches in China

Quick, read this article, because it's probably going to be all anyone talks about for the next few days.

After researching the cause of numerous sophisticated hack attempts on their servers, as well as those of many other large companies, Google has announced that they will no longer be filtering searches in China.

In a one-page statement released on January 12, Google less-than-subtly implies that they believe that the Chinese government is responsible for these security threats, and that the purpose for carrying them out was to access the accounts of Chinese dissidents at home and abroad.

In retaliation, it seems, they have opted to discontinue all search filtering and censoring in China, and are actively reconsidering whether they should do business there at all.

Personally, I think they are 100% in the right on this, and it's about time they reversed their controversial filtering policy. It's ridiculous to hide behind the shield of Chinese law while behaving in a categorically un-American way. I felt that it was a giant slap in the face to all the American people who made their technology a massive success to take that technology and apply it as a means of mass control.

As Orwell pointed out, you only have to restrict access to words in order to prevent their assimilation into new ideas. By allowing selective filtering, and in some cases a complete lack of search results for certain keywords such as "freedom" and "democracy", Google was complicit in an act of totalitarian thought control over close to one quarter of the Earth's population.

New from MIA

MIA posted a really cool new song and video today. Is motherhood pushing her in a new direction? Who knows? But, whatever it is, I dig it. Some scratchy lo-fi effects, nice flange/phase on the vocal melody. Something very different from her experimental hip-hop stuff, and, I think, much better than that old favorite "Jimmy."

Is that a tweaked out sample of Bjork's "All Neon Like" I hear at the end?

"There's space for ol dat I see."

Sarah Palin returns, like a bad relative

Sarah Palin, a woman who gave new life to the term "Seward's Folly", is back on the scene. And where else, but Fox News.

The beauty queen turned governor has done what many of us have expected for a long time, and has mavericked her way into lockstep with the Republican mainstream's greatest ally.

She began her new career as she has begun so many things, by saying something entirely asinine in her press statement:

“I am thrilled to be joining the great talent and management team at Fox News. It's wonderful to be part of a place that so values fair and balanced news’

I'm sure there must be someone who believes that, but I haven't met him.

As for that higher calling . . .
Remember back in July, 2009 when she made that bizarro resignation speech, promising "no more politics as usual?" Well, for a change, she was telling the truth. No more politics at all, is more like it, and thank God for it.

A lot of people are still living in this happy magic land where Sarah Palin is the Republican future. But, seriously, people, she's no Hillary. She's a package of vote-bait with little substance. She's an outsider, because she has no qualifications to get in.

Modern politics is exactly the opposite of leadership, and the idea of running Palin as a "real" Vice-Presidential candidate is something from the extreme edge of manipulation and cynicism. In my eyes, she's not a figure of hope, or the triumph of the underdog. She's a glaring example of politics-by-demographics.

Not coincidentally, the characteristics that got her her last couple of jobs are the same that have gotten her this one. Rupert Murdoch is just a guy trying to make a dollar and he does it by getting people to watch television, no matter what's on it. He'll even skewer himself if it gets him an ad buy.

Right now, he's got a cable news network filled with angry, nasty people, and watched by millions. Fox's crazy cable news has better ratings than any of the major stations, and Palin will fit right in to the shtick.

Fox Personality Reason to Watch Who's watching
O'Reilly Wondering which liberal he is going to constantly interrupt Angry out-of-work white people
Hannity To learn which new ultra-patriotic thing must we all do (Formerly to laugh at Colmes) Internet tough guys
van Susteren To learn what Sarah Palin is doing Plastic surgery consultants
Beck To feel less alone about being fat, stupid, and having bad hair. Fat, stupid people with bad hair.
Palin To find out what stupid thing she'll say next. Stoned liberals

It will be argued by some that at least she's eye candy, and that's better than anyone else on the network. Well, she's not my type, I guess. And, if you're going to elect someone just because she's a milf, go with Yulia Tymoshenko. The Ukranians did.

Overall, I think this is the end of the road for Mrs. P. It's been rumored that she'll be taking home something in the low 7-figures this year working at FNC, and she'll be a hero to millions of fly-over soccer moms. Plus, she'll get to live in warmer weather than she's seen in a long time. There's no reason for her to ever get back into real politics. Those who can, do. Those who can't, well, they go to Fox News and spew vitriol at those who can.