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books & writing

Lisa reads This Will Make You Smarter, edited by John Brockman

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This Will Make You Smarter is a challenging book that leaves you with a lot to think about. The essays are short — some  shorter than a single page — that cover interesting scientific concepts, new and old ideas to help us think about the world.

The founder and publisher of the online science salon, Edge.org, John Brockman, does  a great job editing this collection, turning more than 100 essays on a wide range of topics into a coherent manuscripts that works its way across the spectrum. You start out talking about one concept and smoothly work your way into another — it definitely kept me interested in topics that could potentially be pretty dry.

There are too many important concepts to cover them all, but there were a few that I found really interesting. [Read more →]

fashion & clothingThe Emperor decrees

The Emperor decrees that that sideways baseball caps and sunglasses worn inside shall cease, immediately

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I have been declared Emperor of the World. Let us not waste time explaining why or how; let’s all simply accept the fact that we are better off, as a result; hence, my next decree:

Emperor’s Decree No. 49: With summer coming, the Emperor feels it necessary to ban two distinctly summertime-ish behaviors related to apparel.

Behavior the first: Wearing sunglasses inside. This must cease, immediately. Sometimes we forget. Sure. The Emperor gets that. (Not everyone can be as perfect as he.) But repeated “forgetting” looks a lot like posturing. Just quit it. Leave the glasses in the car and, while we’re at it, cut the 75-ounce coffee barrel down to a 16-ounce and lose the neon key lanyard. You’re not convincing anyone that you are a wayward movie star on a caffeine-driven collision course with legend-making doom on some metaphorical “Dad Man’s Curve.”

Behavior, the second: Guys who wear their baseball caps sideways. There’s no way out of it…if you do this, you look like a dolt. If you think you look cool like this, you are a dolt. Also, you make people want to punch you. (This fact has been documented by the Imperial Psychologist; in fact, 97% of healthy young men feel compelled to smash the teeth of guys with their baseball caps on sideways.) The Emperor must foster peace among his subjects.

The Punishment: Offenders will be strapped down and forced to listen to Kevin Costner reading The Complete History of Fashion from 32 B.C. to Present (Volumes 1-80).

The Emperor shall grace the world with a new decree each Tuesday morning

bad sports, good sports

Bad sports, good sports: Former high school football star exonerated, misguided

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The high school years are a time of promise, a time for dreams, and a time for exploring potential. Most of us get through it having experienced some degree of success, and we move on to our lives, whether that be college or the working world, with only our own personal limitations to hold us back.  Some people, though, have those opportunities snatched away for no reason, and all we can do is lament their misfortune. Brian Banks, a big-time football prospect from California a few years back, spent five years in prison after being falsely accused of kidnapping and rape by a girl from his high school. He was released last year, and this week, his conviction was overturned after his accuser recanted her story. Where he goes from this point will be fascinating to watch. [Read more →]

Bob Sullivan's top ten everythingeducation

Top ten rejected prom themes

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10. Moon Over Newark

9. Limo Rental or College Tuition?

8. Sorry I Knocked You Up

7. I’ve Had My Fill of Clearasil

6. Give ’Em Enough Grope

5. Not Even Burger King Is Hiring

4. Abstinence Makes the Fond Grow Harder

3. How to Fake an I.D.

2. STD-palooza!

1. Journey to the Center of My Pants
 

Bob Sullivan’s Top Ten Everything appears every Monday.

environment & naturepolitics & government

Los Angeles bans plastic bags

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books & writing

Book Review: VISIONARY: The Odyssey of Sir Arthur C. Clarke

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Out of a sense of professional obligation (I teach a “Sci-fi and Fantasy” class and I knew nothing about the guy, outside of a few short stories and that movie) I agreed to review a biography of Arthur C. Clarke. I was being a dutiful teacher, but, at the same time, I welcomed the opportunity to learn more about a writer who has remained something of an enigma to me. In the end, I emerged enlightened and deeply interested in further exploring Clarke’s work. VISIONARY: The Odyssey of Sir Arthur C. Clarke, by Neil McAleer, is more than a good biography: it is important book — a much needed addition to the existing canon of literary biographies, especially in a time when critics and scholars are finally accepting science fiction as a valid literary genre. [Read more →]

books & writing

Lisa reads The Professionals by Owen Laukkanen

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What a ride! The Professionals is the kind of book that you get about 75% through, then you set it down because you don’t want it to end…then you spend the next hour looking at it, sitting on the table, until you can’t take the suspense and you grab the book and finish another chapter or two. I cannot wait for the movie.

Four friends, sit around and talk about their lousy employment options. Student loans, a degree in history and looking forward to a lifetime of jobs in grocery stores and coffee shops will make anyone desperate. Desperate enough to consider a life of crime — or at least a few years of it. Kidnapping — easy targets, reasonable ransoms, no violence — seems like a good option if you don’t get greedy. Or as long as you don’t kidnap the wrong guy.

Now, the kids are on the run from the good guys as well as the bad guys. One mistake and things go from bad to worse. It makes for a fabulous read that’s part caper flick, part high-speed chase and perfect for a action thriller. I raced through this on the train from Sheffield to Manchester, finished it on the flight to Atlanta. I really enjoyed it — it’s the kind of book that leaves you torn between wanting to know what happens and not wanting it to be over quite yet. It’s not really fun — these aren’t fun situations — but it’s a good thriller and one you should put on your TBR list. It’s also a story that I think would make a great movie. Someone ought to option this for a screenplay. I’d buy a ticket (and I know how it ends!). There is also a second novel in the works, featuring the cops from this one, state police officer Kirk Stevens, and FBI agent Carla Windermere.

For more on The Professionals, visit the author’s website, www.owenlaukkanen.com. My copy of The Professionals was an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

politics & government

Back to the high life and into the breach again!

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Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o’erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O’erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill’d with the wild and wasteful ocean. — HENRY V

True story: Although I get queasy when I think of the modern Republican party in general, in 2000 I changed my registration from Independent to Republican so I could vote for

John McCain in Washington state’s closed primary. Interestingly, by the time Washington rolled around, McCain’s fate had long been decided; however, I still voted for him. I respected him as an honorable man and an American hero with a  principled, bi-partisan and practical approach to things. I have some minor tweaks and twinges from my service – I have  no idea how someone as wracked with pain and trauma and injury as McCain is can be as active and aggressive as he is. Of course, he’s a bit sociopathic – but then, he was a fighter pilot and they all have their issues. McCain is a throwback to guys like my Dad and his generation. I’d love to sit down and have a cup of coffee with him and just bullshit. It would be wonderful – he’s a man’s man.

But, I have spent a lot of the last five and a half years being pissed off at John McCain. He did something totally frivolous by selecting Sarah Palin; he compounded it by running to the right of his absurd opponent in the Republican primary for re-election to the Senate; his desire to be president had trumped country first when he rejected John Terry’s overtures to join the campaign on a national unity ticket in 2004 only to lust, LUST, after Liebermann and on and on and on. He endorsed Mitt Romney whom he is known to hate, which is just sad; he continues to oppose most forms of gay rights despite the best efforts of his wife and daughter to get him to think; he hasn’t raised unholy hell about Arizona’s drift to insanity whether with the Papers Please thing, the birtherism thing, and so on so much as drifted along on that current. He’s been a spoiled brat whining at Obama. What the hell happened? [Read more →]

Michael Cade's audio files

Audio files: The awesome, evil genius of “Friday” producer Patrice Wilson

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Some of you may recall the catchy viral strains of Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” which was popular on the Internet last year.

This year, journalist Jon Ronson visits “Friday” producer Patrice Wilson to conduct a viral experiment. Ronson’s theory is that journalists wield too much power in the subject/chronicler relationship. To subvert that dynamic, he submits entirely to the whims of Wilson.

The results, which are very funny, can be seen below.

[Read more →]

art & entertainment

Mitt Romney: our King Joffrey?

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“There’s a wild and crazy man inside of there just waiting to come out.” – Mrs. Romney on her husband

I used to watch Mitt Romney and think, “He’ll make a fantastic villain on Dexter.” (Maybe not one to hold our interest for an entire season – he’s no John Lithgow – but definitely a two or three episode arc.) Either that or he could be in American Psycho 3 – yes, there was already a sequel and it starred Mila Kunis – as the new Patrick Bateman: perfectly attired, great hair, then he opens his mouth and it gets weird. Indeed, Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign often seems to be less about taking the White House than dropping as many subtle clues as possible he’s actually a serial killer. (I’m almost positive Christian Bale quips, “Corporations are people, my friend” before attacking the hooker with a chainsaw.)

Now I take that back: Mitt Romney is no Patrick Bateman. Mitt Romney is Prince Joffrey. Both born rich and destined for power. Neither with a knack for handling the common man. And each of them with a line that cannot be crossed.

For Game of Thrones‘ Joffrey: You don’t hit the king.

For America’s Mitt: You don’t use blonde highlights.

It’s time to ask ourselves: will Mitt Romney make more sense if we stop thinking of him as a human being… and start thinking of him as character from George R.R. Martin’s Songs of Fire and Ice? [Read more →]

art & entertainmentbooks & writing

Gatz and Gatsby

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The curtain rises on a dingy office. It could be the 1980’s: a man sits silently at an ancient computer screen and pushes buttons but nothing happens.  In frustration, he rifles through a box next to the computer, and finds there a copy of  F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. He begins reading aloud –  and gradually, without undue artifice, other co-workers come and go and assume various roles. Our original Office Man becomes Fitzgerald’s narrator, Nick Carraway, while his colleagues provide other dialogue. Thus adapted to the stage, the short novel unfolds over six hours like a brilliant origami of the layered contradictions in American life. [Read more →]

televisionThe Emperor decrees

The Emperor decrees that there shall be no more “knowing smiles” in automobile commercials

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I have been declared Emperor of the World. Let us not waste time explaining why or how; let’s all simply accept the fact that we are better off, as a result; hence, my next decree:

Emperor’s Decree No. 34-A: While directors of automobile commercials will continue to be permitted to cast the ubiquitous “slightly-graying-youngish-but-not-old man” in order to send a message of a certain level of maturity which doesn’t preclude the ability to woo and subsequently satisfy multiple women several times each in one evening, said directors may no longer instruct these actors to drive the car whilst wearing a self-satisfied and slanted “knowing smile.” The Emperor has found that every car commercial made in the past twenty years has contained an exact duplicate of this smile and he has had quite enough. (Worse, such a smile implies that the character in the car knows everything about everything and, as anyone who is likely to avoid the Imperial Dungeon of Eternal Woe knows well, only the Emperor himself has this quality.) Further, that smile is downright nauseating. Directors shall find another way to induce the impotent sheep in the purchasing world into buying a car–some method other inspiring them to say: “I will be like that handsome and no-doubt sexually successful guy who knows everything, if I drive that car.”

The Punishment: Violating directors (and, what the heck, the actors, too) will be forced to have dinner with Rush Limbaugh. Twice.

The Emperor will grace the world with a new decree each Tuesday morning

bad sports, good sports

Bad sports, good sports: The Miami Heat are the kings of drama

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The NBA playoffs started a few weeks ago, and the second round is more than half over. There has been plenty of drama, and much of it has recently been focused on the Miami Heat, as expected. Once the Heat assembled its current roster before the 2010-2011 season, adding LeBron James and Chris Bosh to a team that already had Dwyane Wade, the expectations for this bunch went through the roof. They are currently being severely tested by the Indiana Pacers, a team that was given little chance coming into the series. The drama of the games themselves is great, but most of the theatrics have been off the court.  I have little patience for any of it, honestly. [Read more →]

Bob Sullivan's top ten everythingeducation

Top ten signs you’re not going to graduate from high school this year

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10. Your guidance counselor gave you a booklet on how to operate a fryolator

9. In History Class, you identified Roe v. Wade as “Two ways to cross a stream”

8. On the true/false test, you answered every question “C”

7. In your high school yearbook, you were voted ‘Most Likely to Appear in Next Year’s Yearbook”

6. Nobody believes the dead hooker in your locker was planted there by the Secret Service

5. Every paper you handed in was limited to 140 characters

4. During your Computer Science final, you were caught Googling yourself

3. The last time you picked up a book, before you finished it you ran out of crayons

2. You’ve been in the tenth grade since the first Bush Administration

1. You were caught cheating – with the principal’s wife
 

Bob Sullivan’s Top Ten Everything appears every Monday.

politics & governmenttrusted media & news

Obama inserts himself into more than just Presidential bios

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educationvirtual children by Scott Warnock

Private school migration: The slow draining

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Here in New Jersey, education is a front-and-center topic. Public schools are under pressure. I live in Riverton, a small town with its own K8 grammar school that sends its students to a high school in the town next to us, Palmyra. Palmyra and Riverton are in many ways a unified community of 3.5 total square miles, sharing activities and services, like our youth sports teams. [Read more →]

books & writing

Lisa reads Carry the One by Carol Anshaw

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Carry the One has a dramatic beginning: it’s the evening of Carmen and Matt’s wedding and they are surrounded by their family and friends. It’s a non-traditional, very Bohemian wedding at a farmhouse owned by Alice, Carmen’s sister, and Jean, both artists. It’s the wee hours of the morning and several party guests — drunk, stoned and sleepy — are making their way home when there is a tragic accident. A young girl is killed on a dark country road. One guest will take the blame, but they will all carry the guilt.

For the rest of their lives, the accident will play in the background — their relationships, their careers, their friendships are all tested and changed. Their lives are already intertwined: Carmen’s sister, Alice, and her brother, Nick, were in the car when the accident happened. Nick’s girlfriend, Olivia, was driving. Alice’s new lover, Maude (sister to Matt, the groom) was in the car, as was Tom, Jean’s married lover. (If you’re confused, don’t feel bad. It took me a while to sort them out in my head.) Even Carmen and Matt, who weren’t in the car, carry the guilt of letting them all drive off, knowing they weren’t sober enough to be behind the wheel. As one character says, “When you add us up, you always have to carry the one.” [Read more →]

black helicopter watchpolitics & government

Austrian economists in league with Somalian pirates!

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If this is a reasonable response, why do we need the nation-state? Or, multi-national states?

I just saw this particular piece about insurance companies providing armed escorts and establishing convoys for the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. Seems that NATO, the UN, the EU and the various entities in that area have been unable to secure the seas and so private business has turned to the old profit motive. I immediately thought of letters of marque and the use of privateers…in other words, in a world in which austerity by government has passed economy and spiraled down to suicide, DYSTOPIA rules the waves. Now, I claim no expertise concerning the Law of the Sea, but I thought privateers and letters of marque went out with wigs, wooden ships, and the rise of the modern state.

After all, the events that established the United States as a world player if not power were those against pirates in the Mediterranean. Great Britain became great behind the wooden walls of the Royal Navy. Hell,  Julius Caesar first gained notice for action against pirates who had captured and ransomed him; Pompey became a hero of Rome (again) for eradicating the eastern Mediterranean of pirates.  And on, and on  and on…if government can not protect its commerce, care and educate its people, provide for the common defense, provide for the common defense thus securing the blessings of liberty for itself and its people then it has no purpose. Why do we need it? It’s ironic that the the fast patrol boats the article alludes to are surplus Swedish Navy ships…the relevance of the Swedish Monarchy will soon be exceeded by the irrelevance of the nation state.

Ayn Rand is chuckling in hell; Jefferson is shaking his head in heaven with Aristotle and Burke while sipping some suddenly bitter claret; Hobbs and Locke just spit coffee all over each other in shock in response to Drake’s news as he walked in the Spectator Coffee House in Piccadilly ; and, Decatur, Jones and Hull are staring at each other utterly dumbfounded. As they should…

A few things reassure me. Mercenaries have worked so well in the Horn of Africa and middle east in the past. I’m sure this future is as bright as any other flock of tame wild geese in history. Another is that bureaucracies get somewhat irate at threats to their survival. With the EU in economic disarray and the Greeks threatening the Euro, a private navy for rent protecting critical sea lanes might encourage the EU to do something kind of meaningful. Like imitate Jefferson and bitch slap some bad guys.

technologyThe Emperor decrees

The Emperor decrees that ye will use the damned microphone they gave ye

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I have been declared Emperor of the World. Let us not waste time explaining why or how; let’s all simply accept the fact that we are better off, as a result; hence, my next decree:

Emperor’s Decree No. XXIV: If there is a microphone provided, use it. Enough with the [begin nasal, whiny voice]: “Can you hear me back there? I don’t want to use this thing if I don’t have to…” [end nasal, whiny voice]. It’s 2012. Use the freaking microphone. Luddite. You’re not “warm” for not using it. You’re not “more personal.” You’re not lovably uncomfortable with technology. The only thing you are is “not loud enough,” so snap out of your naturally-acoustic hippie trance and take a courageous leap into the present tense.

The Punishment: The punishment (which shall not be described here, in detail, for fear of shocking those with sensitive constitutions) is, shall we say, one that is inspired by the generally tubular shape of your average microphone. Let it suffice to say that those metal windscreens are not, strictly speaking…comfortable.

The Emperor shall grace the world with a new decree each Tuesday morning

that's what he said, by Frank Wilson

Life itself is grace

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I have lately found myself in a grand funk. The condition is well described by a sentence at the very beginning of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn: “There was nothing I wished to do which I could just as well not do.”

This doesn’t happen to me very often, and when it does I can never quite figure why. It descends upon me and envelops me, like a dense fog. This time it may have had something to do — I can’t say for sure — with a project of mine. I have been gathering the reviews I wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer with a mind to making a selection of them for an eBook. [Read more →]

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