Monthly Archives: July 2008

The third time it’s enemy action

I’m getting pretty tired of ideas from my blog showing up in Hollywood movies. First it was the references to Roswell and ancient Etruscan artifacts in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which you read here first. Now I see that the trailer for Tropic Thunder features a scene in which the theme song from The Jeffersons is used in a failed attempt to bridge the racial divide — which you read here first.

Hey Hollywood, those are just the crumbs you’ve been stealing. There’s more and better where they came from. Have your people call my people.

At this rate…

How do you like that — the same weekend that my blog turned two years old, my Google AdSense account — the little kickbacks I get every time one of you clicks on the ads that appear next to one of these posts — also passed a major milestone: I’ve earned ten dollars! At this rate I’ll be able to retire, when the time comes, on over one hundred AdSense dollars!

Come to think of it, that’s only if you consider my mounting AdSense balance to be an arithmetic progression. On the other hand, ten dollars is a thousandfold increase over my balance the last time I reported it almost two years ago. With just two data samples it’s impossible to tell whether the progression is arithmetic or geometric. If the latter, then my balance has been growing at better than 1% per day. At that rate, by the time I retire you will all bow before benevolent supreme dictator Bob and his 8.7 duodecillion dollars, mwa ha ha ha ha ha! Even if the dollar collapses, that oughta be worth something on eBay. Thanks, AdSense!

Deux bornes

It’s July 25th, 2008, the 30th birthday of Louise Brown, the world’s first test-tube baby, but more importantly, the second anniversary of the day I surmounted the first-post obstacle and started this blog. To be honest, I never thought I’d keep it up as long as I have. Let’s see how I’m doing on the things I claimed I’d be writing about.

  • Fatherhood. Check. (1, 2, 3, etc.)
  • Learning to play music. Check.
  • Improving my fitness. Check.
  • “Greatest hits” from my old website. Check.
  • Reliving past glory:
    • Book-writing. Hardly at all.
    • Plane-flying. Check. (1, 2, 3, etc.)
    • Company-starting. Check. (1, 2, etc.)

I also expanded on this day-one comment:

you should not get the idea that fatherhood put an end to my adventures; on the contrary, it’s my biggest one yet

But I never posted any of my “clever movie-connections puzzles,” so expect to see some of those in the next few weeks.

It’s fitting that on this anniversary, I’ve found ways 12 and 13 that I’m like primordial blogging inspiration Ken Jennings:

And now, to mark the occasion, a few parting thoughts from the Bob-o-matic:

Thinking of upgrading your conventional picture-tube TV to buy a box of detergent powder from a bunch of cops standing around outside and asks the driver got a stern talking-to from some prudish supervisor at work? Did you know about that scene without picturing the camera away from the shadow of the Jedi wish to take the ferry to where he was making me have. It was hard, very good, ’cause you ain’t got charm. The last century, and matzo meal, or those with whose wit and wisdom I could start. When a train came, his own creation, but that was what allowed capital to be ruled by fear. Fight Club, I knew. Oh well, considering that, when I started to become a drag race — which made me finally to disconnect my cable TV provider, complaining about the nuances and complexities of the existing Star Wars on DVD, the girls got in that film gave me a grievous injury at the Primadonna again will be reinforced when we discovered that the story.

I want to suspend my disbelief

[This post is participating in South Dakota Dark’s X-Files blog-a-thon.]

I can’t resist a good blog-a-thon, and South Dakota Dark’s X-Files blog-a-thon, anticipating tomorrow’s release of the new X-Files movie, seemed as good as any. For the past couple of weeks I watched the date of the blog-a-thon approach and waited for a good idea to strike. By the time it began on Sunday, none had yet. And I don’t appear to be the only one — sad to say, the X-Files blog-a-thon appears to be even more sparsely attended than my “I Can Do It Better” blog-a-thon of a few months ago.

What can account for this? The X-Files was a major pop-culture phenomenon in its time. Was its time too recent? It takes a while to ferment a classic after all. Those who were fans while the show was on the air have long since moved on, finding no shortage of well-written, well-acted conspiracy/mystery/thriller/science-fiction shows. (I’m thinking particularly of Lost, whose jaw-dropping third season I just finished on DVD last night.) And it takes more than a scant decade for a new nostalgia-minded fan base to build.

As for myself, every time I tried to think of what to write about The X-Files, my mind kept drifting instead to The West Wing. Why was that happening? I think I know, and if I’m right, it doesn’t augur well for tomorrow’s premiere.

During the late 90’s, Andrea and I used to love sitting down and watching The West Wing each week. It took place in a progressive paradise where, even though the moneyed interests sometimes won — it was about presidential politics, after all, and dealt believably with moral and political dilemmas — at least the public interest was usually uppermost in the minds of the fictional senior officials.

Star Trek had nothing on The West Wing when it came to enticing visions of an enlightened possible future.

That all came to an abrupt end during a few wrenching weeks in late 2000. The real-life presidential election results were up in the air, hinging on voting irregularities in Florida. The bad guys gamed the system and bent the rules to get the count to go their way. The good guys, being too principled, didn’t put up enough of a fight. During those weeks there were reversals of fortune and counter-reversals and counter-counter-reversals. I was a wreck. I followed every development as closely as I could and each scrap of news flayed my nerves raw. Democracy itself was under attack, and everyone involved in the battle had a stake in the outcome — meaning there was no disinterested authority to help settle the matter reasonably, not even, in the end, the Supreme Court. That authority vacuum felt like a taste of anarchy; the election battle, a gang fight in a bad neighborhood where the cops never patrol. The bad guys won, democracy lost — and at once The West Wing went from uplifting, optimistic, educational entertainment to simple-minded, far-fetched wish-fulfillment fantasy. The very thought of watching another episode was almost too painful to bear. We did try a few times, but we weren’t entertained and we weren’t optimistic for the future. The show’s only remaining power was to remind us of the brutality perpetrated on our ideals and the ease and speed with which it had been done, and was continuing to be done.

I think something similar may have happened to X-Files fandom. After seven and a half years of George Bush, who could be entertained by the idea of a shadowy government conspiracy? Who would even find such a story remarkable? Our real-life news is a constant barrage of conspiracies and corruption taking place in broad daylight. Cigarette-Smoking Man, with his furtive ways, would be laughed out of the Bush administration! The Lone Gunmen wouldn’t be three weirdos in a basement shining light on official misdeeds, they’d be DailyKos! As for Mulder and Scully, if they wanted to keep their jobs at the FBI they’d have to accept assignments trumping up new terrorism fears, busting consumers sharing mixtapes, or cracking down on porn. (Hmm, that’s one Mulder might actually like.)

Well, there’s one thing that George Bush hasn’t managed to ruin, and that’s a good working relationship between two intelligent people with a lot of integrity and courage and a little sexual tension. If the producers were smart and made the movie be about that, then tomorrow’s premiere stands a decent chance.

If you can’t beat ’em, beat ’em by joining ’em

What can we do when the President is bought and paid for, opposing the public interest at almost every turn? Demand investigations. But what if our Justice Department is bought and paid for too? Demand Congressional action. But what if Congress is bought and paid for? Why, vote them out of office. But if the voting-machine industry is bought and paid for, and local election officials are bought and paid for, then what? Agitate for a popular uprising. But what if the mass media is bought and paid for in order to pacify the electorate and to reinforce the status quo? Turn to more democratic means of getting the word out. But what if the “more democratic means” is under the control of the (bought-and-paid-for) corporate establishment?

At this point it looks like there’s only one choice: get money out of politics somehow or other. Meaningful campaign finance reform and other similar measures have the virtue that they address the very root of the problem, and the drawback that they will never, ever happen. (In part because of entrenched interests, but also in part for the legitimate reason that campaign spending has been equated with free speech, which must not be curtailed, especially in a political campaign.) Not to mention that any mere legislation, depending as it does on enforcement and judicial interpretation, is weak medicine in the current environment.

So are we screwed? Are we doomed to suffer the worst that tyranny and endemic corruption can ultimately produce?

I thought so, until I thought of two movies (because that’s how I think, in movies): The Untouchables and Schindler’s List.

You wanna know how to get Capone? They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way!

Why are we (the good guys) denying ourselves the use of the most powerful weapon in the other side’s arsenal? I’m talking about bribery. To borrow a page from the NRA (“Guns don’t kill people…”), bribery itself is not the problem; the problem is what people are being bribed to do. There aren’t thousands of evil people in the Establishment. There are just a few; the rest are all whores. The thing is, when only evil people employ whores, the whores only do evil. But the nice thing about whores is that they’ll do whatever you ask as long as the money’s green.

Oskar Schindler understood this. He became one of the greatest heroes of the 20th century by using bribery for good for a change. At the cost of his personal fortune, he bought, via bribery, the lives of hundreds of Jews who were otherwise doomed. To him, it was nobler to befriend and enrich Hitler’s murderous sociopaths and actually accomplish something, dammit than it would have been to disdain those methods and let the “Schindler Jews” perish in the name of not lowering himself to the Nazis’ level.

That was just one man’s wealth. Imagine how much good we can bribe Establishment whores into doing if we pooled our resources! We could bribe Brian Williams into reporting the real news. We could bribe Nancy Pelosi into putting impeachment back “on the table.” We could bribe any number of high-ranking officials to ease their troubled conscience and spill everything they know about Bush administration misdeeds. (As if there were any shortage of evidence.) I thought of this, rushed to the nearest domain registrar and discovered that bribe4good.com was available, and started thinking about how to design a website where citizens could contribute money and dicuss how best to use it to fight bribes with bribes.

Of course, even though there is presently a raging epidemic of illicit bribery, and even though law enforcement agencies routinely look the other way, you better believe that if the good guys started using bribery, the law would crack down faster than you can say, “I’m shocked, shocked!” And forget about keeping secret a slush fund that consists of contributions from millions of individuals (hey, why not dream big), all of them with a say in how the bribes are to be allocated.

But perhaps a modified version of this idea could still work. Instead of setting up a slush fund and proactively bribing those in a position to fix our country, set it up as a reward fund instead, meting it out to those who contribute to achieving specific goals. “Presidential signing statements declared unconstitutional” — $100,000. “War crimes trials for torturers” — $250,000. “Expose attempted bribes between corporate officers and government officials” — twice the amount of the bribe.

I call it Healthy Lucre and have an embryonic demonstration website up and running. Watch this space for further developments.

Once there was a country called America

A court ruled that George Bush has the legal authority to arrest and detain any U.S. citizen indefinitely, without a warrant or judicial review, and without any right to a trial.

His Department of Health and Human Services is now defining the use of birth control as “abortion.” (They must have read my blog and drawn the wrong conclusion.)

Subscribers to Comcast basic cable TV in Pittsburgh can no longer get the news on MSNBC (whose show, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, is occasionally critical of President Bush), but they can still watch the Republican propaganda channel Fox News.

It’s been revealed that the Bush administration gave $43 million to the Taliban just four months before 9/11.

And this is just what’s been reported in the past day. My prediction for tomorrow: schools abolished; election coverage placed under state control.

Remember the legend of Keyser Söze in The Usual Suspects? That when bad men held his family at gunpoint, Söze shot his wife and children himself rather than allow the bad guys to threaten him that way?

That’s what we’ve done to the America we once loved. The Constitution — BAM! The middle class — BAM! Clean air and water, reliable infrastructure, basic services — BAM! BAM! BAM!

That’ll show the terrorists.

Oh Gorby, where are you when we need you?


GORBACHOV: THE MUSIC VIDEO – BIGGER AND RUSSIANER from Tom Stern on Vimeo.

T minus 100

It’s 100 days until my birthday! (And how cool that the hundredth day before my birthday is Bastille Day! Well, it’s a little cool. Oh, OK, it’s a meaningless coincidence.)

To goose my weight-loss regime, which appears to have stalled once again — though I am holding my own against the “Google 15” — I am adding a daily exercise regimen for the first time, inspired by hundredpushups.com: each day I will do one more push-up than the day before, starting with one today and culminating with a hundred push-ups by my birthday.

If I keep exactly to that plan, the total number of push-ups I’ll do is 5,050 — one today, two tomorrow, three on Wednesday, four on Thursday, and so on. The sum of the first N numbers from 1 through N is, in general,

(N+1) × N/2

an elegant intuitive proof of which is as follows. List the first N numbers, let’s say 6 for this example:

1 2 3 4 5 6

The sum of the two “outer” numbers is 7:

1 2 3 4 5 6

Removing those, the sum of the next two “outer” numbers is also 7:

2 3 4 5

Removing those, the sum of the final pair is also 7:

3 4

That sum — N+1 — is repeated N/2 times, giving rise to the formula

(N+1) × N/2

“Wait a minute,” I hear you say. “What about when N is odd? Then there’s one extra innermost number with no partner.” That’s true. In that case, the number of pairs that add up to N+1 isn’t N/2, it’s only (N-1)/2:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Here N is 7, and there are 3 pairs that add up to 8 — 1 and 7, 2 and 6, 3 and 5 — and 4 is all alone in middle. So the sum is:

(N+1) × (N-1)/2 + the middle number

But the middle number is always (N+1)/2, so this becomes:

(N+1) × (N-1)/2 + (N+1)/2

which is the same as

(N+1)/2 × (N-1) + (N+1)/2

which can be read as adding one more (N+1)/2 to a collection of N-1 of them, for a total of N (N+1)/2’s:

(N+1)/2 × N

which is the same as

(N+1) × N/2

which is the same as the original formula above whether N is odd or even. QED.

OK, let’s get this regimen started. Rrrrrnnnnngghh — one. Whew.

A mind is a terrible thing to waste on obscure pop-culture trivia

My kids’ latest favorite thing is Indiana Jones. Thanks to the release of the newest movie, the attendant schoolyard chatter, and the impossible-to-avoid merchandising, Jonah’s and Archer’s zeal to see the original Raiders of the Lost Ark was stoked to a fever pitch, and ultimately we just couldn’t resist, especially considering that Raiders is awesome. After filling in the kids with a little history (about the Nazis), a little Bible lore (about the ark), and a little science (about archaeology) — and after stern warnings about fighting being lots of fun in the movies but not OK in real life — we sat down for a family viewing, and we all had a great time.

Inevitably Andrea raised the question, “Did that guy ever do anything else?” referring to Paul Freeman, the actor who turned in a memorable performance as Belloq, Indy’s Nazi-collaborating rival.

Opening a mental filing cabinet I said, “I only remember seeing him one other time, in a British TV series on PBS of all things, a year or two after Raiders. I think it had something to do with solving mysteries with science. It might have been called Q.E.D. Come to think of it, Sam Waterston might have been in it!”

When I went online to confirm this, I found that my recollection was faulty in one way: I had seen Paul Freeman two other times, including in the very funny Sherlock Holmes parody, Without a Clue, in which he played Professor Moriarty. But I was exactly right about Q.E.D. — it was a British TV series about solving mysteries with science, its few episodes aired on PBS between one and two years after Raiders, the star was Sam Waterston, and Paul Freeman was indeed in one episode. I remember being disappointed that he was nowhere near as suave as he’d been in Raiders. (But that was OK, because Sam Waterston was the main attraction. In my house growing up, we were all big fans of Waterston thanks to his droll performance in the movie Hopscotch.)

Incidentally, despite my having seen Freeman in a total of only three roles, his filmography lists nearly a hundred film and TV appearances I managed to have missed.

Now here’s a Lucky Strike extra: co-starring with Freeman in Q.E.D. was Julian Glover, who a few years later would play Indy’s other Nazi-collaborating rival, Walter Donovan, in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Obviously

[Cross-posted at DailyKos.]

President Bush has been pushing and pushing to get Congress to pass a bill granting him expanded warrantless surveillance powers, even though the existing FISA court already served as a rubber stamp to approve almost any wiretapping the Executive Branch wanted. Why then would he need such powers? Obviously it’s to conduct surveillance that even the FISA court wouldn’t approve — i.e., surveillance not essential to national security.


Cheney and Rumsfeld
The White House, 1975

What was it that the Nixon administration was busted for? (You know, the administration in which Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld served?) Oh yeah: spying on its political rivals.

Bush has also insisted that any such bill include retroactive immunity for the telecom companies that complied with his illegal orders by conducting electronic eavesdropping on Americans without duly obtained warrants. So they can never be sued for those illegal acts. So the facts never have to come out in court. Bush has shown so little concern for the law to date — undermining Federal agencies, approving torture, striking out bits of legislation he doesn’t like, defying Congressional subpoenas — and has suffered so little in the way of consequences, why would he need to make sure the facts of past warrantless wiretaps never came to light? Obviously because those facts are so heinous that for once, Bush and his friends would be in serious trouble if exposed.

Where is it that Bush recently made a huge purchase of land? Oh yeah, Paraguay — that haven for state-level criminals fleeing justice, where the notorious Josef Mengele and other Nazi officials ended up after the fall of the Third Reich (which was funded in large part by Bush’s grandfather, by the way).

Fortunately, the Democratic Congress beat this legislation back a few times, albeit with difficulty. They were responding to outrage from the public about the bill’s frontal assaults on the Constitution: the vast new powers being handed to the Executive branch, the near-elimination of protections against unwarranted search and seizure, the institution of precisely the kind of tyrannical authority that moved the Founders to rebel in the first place. There was no corresponding outcry in favor of the law, except from telecom lobbyists.

As recently as May it seemed like this issue was finally dead until the next Congress — and the next Presidential administration. Crisis averted, right? Not so fast: all of a sudden, the bill was back in Congress, and before you could say “Bush and Pelosi sittin’ in a tree,” it had been rammed through the House of Representatives. There was an interlude during which a vast coalition of citizens, rights groups, legal experts, whistleblowers, and editorial boards raised an almighty uproar (and a lot of cash) in opposition to the bill — and then yesterday the Senate passed it anyway, at the behest of a president whose approval rating is the lowest in the history of presidential approval ratings. Wasting no time, a gleeful Bush signed it today. It is now the law of the land.

(That is, it’s the law of the land only if you believe that when Congress passes a bill and the President signs it, that makes it the law of the land. The only thing saying it’s supposed to work that way [besides Schoolhouse Rock] is the Constitution — that document that we just keep ignoring anyway, and about which Bush is on record as having said, “It’s just a goddamned piece of paper.”)

What can account for this abrupt reversal, this unaccountable betrayal, this act of seeming political suicide? Why did Congress — the Democratic Congress — stir itself to such swift action for the benefit of George Bush, a terrible, evil, and unpopular president, their sworn enemy, the man whom we elected them to bottle up before he could do any more damage to our beloved nation?

Some might say that the administration has to do nothing more than publicly utter “national security” and the spineless Dems wet their pants with visions of Republicans calling them “soft on terror” at re-election time. A year or two ago that might have been all it took, but I think most Americans can tell that the Bushies have gone to that well a few times too often. I don’t think it is the source of electoral fright for Congresspeople that it once was.

Cynics would say that the telecoms and/or the administration simply bribed the hell out of our lawmakers. I’m sure that played a part, but there’s clearly something more at work here than run-of-the-mill payola.

After seven and a half years of George Bush I think I know his administration well enough to say with confidence that they would never use just a carrot when a carrot and a stick would work so much better. It seems likeliest to me that an element of blackmail was involved. Has the Bush regime been collecting damaging intel on legislators? Has it done such a thorough job of spying on its political rivals that it can now use some secret dossiers to compel them to legalize spying on political rivals? Is this how it’s been getting them inexplicably to roll over on issue after issue despite the public humiliation and the clear will of the electorate?

If I were a lawless cabal intent on a scorched-earth looting of America, that’s certainly how I’d operate.

So obviously Bush and his gang have some pretty good dirt to hold over the heads of our elected officials. To be blackmailed into commission of a gross dereliction of duty — directly contravening their oaths to uphold the Constitution — some of our Congresspeople must have some major skeletons in their closets. The kinds of secrets that would cost them their fortunes or land them in jail.

Well Congress, you may have just cut off the public’s avenue for investigating Bush’s abuses, but we will need justice sooner or later, and if those skeletons really are there to be found… well, Rambo said it best when he was hung out to dry by a weaselly bureaucrat:

Citizens, here is what to do in the meantime:

Become a StrangeBedfellow!

Film clips

[This post is participating in Culture Snob’s Self-Involvement blog-a-thon.]

Culture Snob has asked for blog posts about movies that elicited very personal reactions, a subject on which I’ve written at great length here at gee bobg. I don’t have anything new to write on that subject right now (except to publicly recite my mantra for upcoming movies that look cool: “Dark Knight, please don’t suck, please don’t suck, please don’t suck”), so instead here’s a short retrospective of things I’ve said about how movies have affected my life.

To begin with, there’s Star Wars, which enveloped me in a miasma of intense fandom from age 10 to about age 20, at which point the mist began to clear and I finally started being able to think critically about it.

I had already developed the odd habit of recording, memorizing, and reciting the dialogue of miscellaneous TV shows when Star Wars came along and spurred me to perfect that strange hobby. Thanks to that (and to obsessive audio-recording of movies on HBO) I became something of an expert in verbatim, memorable movie dialogue, which contributed to the initial courting of my wife — I presented her with a transcript of The Princess Bride, written from memory, which amazed and delighted her (and which she still keeps handy) — and led me to a unique and lucrative entrepreneurial adventure.

(It was not my first movie-based entrepreneurial effort.)

Then there’s Koyaanisqatsi, the movie that was the first one I ever watched with my later-to-be-wife, and the strange way that came full circle when the aforementioned lucre ultimately got us invited to the gala premiere of the final film of the “Qatsi” trilogy.

More recently I’ve been better able to appreciate the message that some films have for parents and those facing middle age. Which is not to say I don’t sometimes return to those few films that transport me back to childhood by evoking New York the way I remember it.