Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"You'll Do More Before 9 AM..."

Listening to the radio this morning in the car I heard a recruiting advertisement for the the US Army. The tag line at the end promised, "You'll do more in a few years than most people do in a  lifetime."  That caught my attention because when I was growing up in the early 1980s that tag line went slightly differently.  It used to say, "You'll do more before 9 AM than most people do all day."  

Even as a teenager I thought that was an unusual point of emphasis when trying to recruit high school kids to join the military. I wonder if it says anything about changing attitudes among 18-20 year olds today that this tag line has now been revised in this way.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Chinese Spy Caught "Red Handed"

Last night  CBS's 60 Minutes aired a piece examining the extent of Chinese espionage in America today, including hidden camera footage from the FBI in which one such spy and a Defense Department employee are caught 'red handed' exchanging cash for secrets in an SUV.  I particularly enjoyed the part at the end where, after their transaction is concluded and the Defense Department employee exits the car, the FBI surveillance tape captures the Chinese spy pulling out his own hidden recording device.  You can watch the  entire 13 minute segment HERE

Friday, August 27, 2010

Leia's Metal Bikini.Com

Personally, I was never as entranced as some by the metal bikini that Princess Leia wore as a captive of Jabba The Hut at the start of Return of the Jedi.  In fact, until I saw it parodied on an episode of Friends in the 1990s I was totally unaware that among guys from "Generation X" like me it apparently remained a powerful object of adolescent attraction even into adulthood.

But if I told you that there was a website devoted solely to every aspect of this outfit; one which features hundreds of photos of fans dressed in that same costume, would you click on it?  Only you can answer that for yourself..... HERE.

Dead Spy Was Apparently A "Keen Cyclist"

Did you see the story earlier this week about the British spy who was found murdered in his London apartment? His dead body had been mysteriously dismembered and stuffed in a duffel bag.  The discovery of his body (a full two weeks after he died) set off a wave of speculation that he may have been killed by an enemy agent, or perhaps by the "Islamists" on whom he was reportedly spying.  Well, more details are now emerging about 31 year old Gareth Williams that paint a very different picture.  The first clue, perhaps, that there was more to the story may have been that he was apparently a "keen cycling enthusiast."

He was indeed a 'spy.' In a sense. But not a James Bond-type spy.  He was an introverted math prodigy who worked as a code breaker for Britain's GCHQ (the rough equivalent of our National Security Agency, or NSA).  It's now emerged that he had few friends and no open relationships, but according to an article in the Daily Mail newspaper today HERE, "gay magazines and the phone numbers of gay escort men were found in the apartment near the agent's body."

Perhaps they were merely plants to throw investigators of the trail, however, as some have speculated.  His parents were apparently totally unaware that he might have been gay.  So they may have been dismayed by the further revelations in the same article, "The latest reports on Mr Williams include claims that bondage gear and equipment associated with sado-masochism had been discovered in the flat he used in Pimlico, London, while it has also been claimed he had links to a male escort."

Disturbingly, no one seems to be able to explain how someone holding such a sensitive post could have been missing for two weeks before police were called.  And it's also now been revealed that Mr. Williams travelled to the United States several times a year to liaise with the NSA. 

Oh, in case you don't recognize it,  that photo above is of Sean Connery in one of his post-Bond films, the 1973 science-fantasy Zardoz.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Well Adjusted, Surely

Have you ever considered home-schooling your three daughters?  If so, had you also considered incorporating Dungeons & Dragons into the curriculum?  If you have, then you should read THIS.  Here's an excerpt:

"My oldest daughter - known on this blog as Elerisa Celerna - expressed concerns over this. When we first got started and I kept changing my mind about what system we would be running (AD&D 2nd Ed., then D20 SRD, and finally Pathfinder RPG), we kept making changes to hers and her sisters' character sheets. The other girls just kind of rolled with it, but Elerisa by nature is a bit of a rules lawyer... "

Monday, August 16, 2010

KFC Franchisees: What Happened To The 'F'?

KFC franchisees are apparently suing the parent company, Yum! Brands, angry that their increasing emphasis on healthier grilled chicken over tradtional fried fare has been a financial failure for Kentucky Fried Chicken and has hurt the brand.  You can read the article HERE.  Here's an excerpt:

"Tempers flared again when KFC launched a grilled chicken giveaway on Oprah in May 2009. Management told franchisees to expect a couple hundred customers to redeem online coupons at each store, says Pat Dempsey, who owns seven franchises with her husband. Thousands showed up. Dempsey says she and other franchisees ran out of food and had to placate angry customers... Grilled chicken sales have dwindled since, says Larry Starkey, who owns seven franchises in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Grilled chicken accounts for about 16 percent of all 'on the bone' chicken sold, according to Starkey. He says an internal survey of 642 franchisees showed almost 50 percent of stores' grilled chicken is thrown away."

Sunday, August 15, 2010

"Return of the Jedi" Deleted Scene

At the "Star Wars Celebration" this weekend, George Lucas has reportedly revealed that the original Star Wars trilogy will be released on Blu Ray in 2011, and that Return of the Jedi will include this never-before-seen 1 minute deleted scene. It features Darth Vader telepathically reaching out to Luke Skywalker while Luke puts the finishing touches on his new lightsaber in a Tatooine cave.  This was originally intended to be the opening scene in the film, apparently.

Friday, August 13, 2010

New Steve Rude Documentary

Steve Rude has been one of my favorite comic book artists since the mid-1980s, when I first discovered his most famous creation: Nexus.  I almost met him once twenty years ago at the San Diego Comic-Con. I saw him standing at his table just a few feet away, but was too afraid to walk over and introduce myself.  He's in  his 50s now, married with two children.  Disillusioned, he recently left comic books behind to concentrate instead on fine art. A new documentary about him apparently focusses on his ongoing struggles with depression and money. Here's a five minute trailer.  I found it compelling and sympathetic.  But it's also a little hard to see a personal hero so vulnerable.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Dan Rostenkowski Has Died

Dan Rostenkowski, a democrat congressman from Chicago who was the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee (before Charlie Rangel) from 1981-1994, died yesterday at the age of 82.  As noted in his New York Times obituary that you can read HERE, he was first elected to Congress in 1958 at the age of 30 and was its youngest member for many years.  But Rostenkowski is best remembered today for his spectacular fall from grace starting in 1994 when he was indicted on 17 counts of abusing the congressional payroll.  It all began with an investigation into abuses at the House post office. 

Rostenkowski was suspected of buying $22,000 worth of stamps with public money and then converting them into cash.  Then he was accused of, among other things, hiring 14 people on his congressional payroll who did little or no work, and of misusing his House expense account to bill Congress for $40,000 worth of furniture and crystal.

It was all relatively petty for the powerful Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.  Rostenkowski fought back against the charges and refused to resign. “I did not commit any crimes,” he told reporters. “My conscience is clear, and my 42-year record as an elected official is one I am proud to once again run on.”  It's amazing how familiar that sounds today in light of Charlie Rangel's impassioned defense against the charges against him and his 40 year career in Congress.

Rostenkowski subsequently lost his re-election bid. Two years later he negotiated a plea deal to the charges against him and served 15 months in federal prison.  What's not mentioned in this obit, however, is that, despite having been convicted of mail fraud, until his death Rostenkowski still received one of the highest Congressional pensions, over $100,000 per year. 

Jon Stewart On Charlie Rangel 2

On The Daily Show last night Jon Stewart did this seven minute piece on Charlie Rangel's address to Congress earlier this week. Especially funny, I thought, was Stewart's analysis of Rangel's convoluted defenses to the ethics charges against him. ("Ok, this one I understand actually. You incompetently exerted your influence in exchange for a benefit you didn't really want," says Stewart, who then goes on to speak in Rangel's voice.  "I mean sure there may have been a quid pro quo.  But the quid was accidental and the quo was for sh*t.")

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Alcatraz: The Shoddy Rock

The first prisoners arrived at the new federal prison on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay on this date back in 1934.  I was surprised by how recent that was, since Alcatraz was closed again for good in 1963, just 29 years later.  

You may have heard that it was closed in part because the prison was much more expensive to run ($10 per inmate per day) than the average federal prison ($3). But the other two reasons are more intriguing.  The prison buildings themselves were apparently suffering from extensive premature saltwater corrosion. This was traced the money-saving decision during construction in the 1930s to pipe in salt water rather than fresh water to the buildings for most uses.  This had the unintended consequence of corroding the pipes, so salt water seeped into the concrete, causing it, in turn, to weaken and begin to crumble. (Thus the inmates in the infamous 1962 Escape from Alcatraz were able to 'dig' out of their cells using modified spoons.)  That escape attempt highlighted the need to rebuild substantially all the buildings on the island, if it was going to continue as a prison. The third reason is more prosaic. Apparently San Francisco Bay was being badly polluted by sewage from the 250 inmates and 60 Bureau of Prisons families.

So in essence "The Rock" was done in prematurely by shoddy construction and inept design.  It's interesting to me that it's not remembered that way today.  Imagine the hue and cry that would be raised if a similar situation occurred now.

Late Night Comedians On Jet Blue Flight Attendant

This is a 2 minute compilation of Jimmy Kimmel, Jay Leno, and Stephen Colbert (among others) with their takes last night on the Jet Blue flight attendant who freaked out as his flight arrived at its gate in New York.  I thought Stephen Colbert was especially good.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

In Search Of... Stonehenge

I was fascinated by Stonehenge as a kid.  (How was it built?  And why? Were aliens involved?)  I fulfilled a childhood dream by making it there in the winter of 2003. What struck me most was something that's not shown on television: two major roadways run right by it on either side.  Big trucks and other traffic rush by constantly, really breaking the mood.

I liked the TV show In Search of... a lot as a kid in the 1970's. I've enjoyed re-watching some of the old episodes and lovingly critiquing, with the benefit of 30 years of hindsight, some of the explanations proffered for the mysteries the show examined. An episode of In Search Of... titled "The Mystery of Stonehenge" first aired in 1977. You can watch a 10 minute segment from this episode by clicking HERE.  "There are a number of theories as to whether there is any reality to the magic power of megaliths," explains a so-called expert, Francis Hitching, interviewed in this clip while standing in front of Stonehenge. "It is known that around some of these sites, underneath tombs, around the standing stones, there are anomalies in the Earth's magnetic field. And here I think may lie the secret to the power of these megaliths. Is it just possible that people in those times somehow knew how to tap the electromagnetic anomalies that were in these stones and used them in their healing? Is it also possible that they used it, as birds do, and dogs seem to, in telepathy?  They could find their way by these stones. They could perhaps communicate from one stone to another.  They were perhaps like a giant psychic grid which could be used for telepathic purposes."

I remember being a little iffy about the 'psychic telephone' theory, even as a kid.  But I wish that In Search Of.... had explained that Hitching was then (and presumably remains) a self-described 'dowser' who had also written a book called Earth Magic that was published the same year as this interview.  That would have given his theories on Stonehenge a little more 'context.'

Last week I watched a National Geographic Channel documentary called Stonehenge Decoded. It re-examined Stonehenge in light of new archaeological discoveries, focussing on the work of British professor Mike Parker Pearson. He has theorized that Stonehenge was linked, more prosaically, only with another site a mile away called Durrington Walls (once the location of a wooden equivalent to Stonehenge). Pearson believes that the area around Durrington Walls Henge was a place of the living, while Stonehenge was a domain of the dead. A journey from Durrington Walls (the site of a large Stone Age settlement) along the nearby River Avon to reach Stonehenge would have been part of a ritual passage from life to death to celebrate past ancestors and the recently deceased.  

This documentary also vividly illustrates some generally accepted current theories about how Stone Age people could have hauled the huge stones from their source 180 miles away in Wales and then built the monument, given the technology of the time 4,500 years ago.  This perhaps answers the open ended note on which narrator Leonard Nimoy ended this episode of In Search of... while standing alongside a 'cosmic' poster of the Milky Way galaxy.  "The question which still eludes us is who erected these working monuments.  Clearly they were the work of people more advanced than we had thought possible for that time.  We can speculate that our ancestors were possessed of knowledge that was somehow lost to succeeding generations.  Or perhaps they had 'help'... "

Not quite.  Here's a 2 minute preview of this new National Geographic Channel documentary that vividly answers these questions and debunks the concluding 'implication.'

Lost Gold of the Dark Ages

A month ago I wrote HERE about how a middle-aged British hobbyist with a metal detector recently stumbled upon one of the largest finds of Dark Ages gold ever discovered. It lay just beneath the surface of an unprepossessing English farm adjacent to a major roadway.  ("In coming days, I just couldn't keep the objects from coming out the ground.  It was frightening, in the end.")

Last weekend I watched a new National Geographic Channel documentary about this find called Lost Gold of the Dark Ages.  It details many fascinating aspects of the horde, including how authorities attempted to keep it quiet initially while rushing to dig it all up in plain view at a site by the side of a freeway.  (The farmer who owned the land, who was in on it, told neighbors that police were looking for a dead body.)  The show also examines multiple theories about how the gold got there and what exactly the impressive, but mysterious, artifacts may have actually been. It airs again next Sunday, August 15th apparently.   Here's a 2 minute preview:

Chicken McNuggets Provoke Rage (Repeatedly)

I don't know why I find stories that involve both fast food and crime so compelling.  But why ask why, I guess.  Below is a 30 second video of a woman freaking out at a McDonald's drive thru recently after being informed that Chicken McNuggets were not available on the breakfast menu. (She was later sentenced to 60 days in jail for this attack.)  

This is reminiscent of that infamous case a year ago of a woman who called 911 because another McDonald's was out of Chicken McNuggets.  (The caller was later fined for misuse of 911.) You watch a 2 minute piece that includes 'highlights' of that call HERE.  Here's a partial transcript of that call:

Operator: Do you need police, fire and ambulance?

Woman:  Police.

Operator:  Where?

Woman:  I'm at the McDonald's on ummm Delaware.

Operator:  What's going on there?

Woman: I ordered uhhh ummm the Chicken McNuggets with a small fries...."

He Grabbed Two Beers On The Way Out

By now you've probably heard the story about the 39 year-old Jet Blue flight attendant named Steven Slater who, after his flight landed in New York and arrived at its gate, got on the intercom and cursed at a passenger (who was prematurely grabbing his overhead baggage, apparently, and then became abusive after Slater told him not to) before opening the emergency door and sliding down the inflatable slide.  He then ran across the tarmac to his car and fled home.

It seems that he was just really fed up with his job and quit spontaneously in an almost theatrical way. (That's his photo above.) What he allegedly said over the intercom tells the whole story. "To the passenger who called me a motherf**ker, f**k you… I've been in the business 28 years. I've had it. That's it."

An under-reported detail of the story I really loved is that he apparently grabbed two beers from the galley just before he launched himself down that inflatable slide.  You can read more about the story HERE.