Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Food Lesson #1

I learned a hard lesson today: Never put guacamole on a 6" Tuna at Subway. It's the messiest thing in the world.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


"I'll destroy you all!!
Photo by Marge
What's the most urgent threat faced by the world today? Terrorism? Climate change? Asteroids?

Not according to Moody's. The greatest menace our planet faces in the next two decades is old people! There are too many of 'em, and they're growing exponentially! By the time they reach critical mass around 2030 the malevolent aged will be sucking the world economy dry, with 34 major nations thrashing blindly about in a condition economists call, with hushed, trembling voices, "Super-Agism!"

Is your nation Super-Aged already? Well, take this test: 1.) Are you a doddering old coot (<-- inclusive term) of 65? 2.) Is 20% of your country's population just like you? If you answered, "Yes, consarn it, ye young whipper-snappers!" both times, then you are a plague on humanity. Right now that only includes ancient 65-year-oldsters in Germany, Italy, and Japan, but just you wait. Age is like cockroaches, and sooner or later it will overwhelm us all!

What are we to do? What regrettable but necessary measures will your children be forced to take so that the pillars of civilization won't crumble down around their iPads??

Two words: Soylent Green.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Giant Urban Spiders

Living in your cupboards right now!!
No, no, no, this is not good news! Scientists find that spiders in cities are getting bigger and bigger! No doubt caused by radiation from all them atomic bomb tests, just like the old movies predicted!

When will mankind ever learn not to tinker with nature???

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Review: Sandburg's Lincoln Miniseries

(This is a review I did for Amazon of one of my all-time favorite films, which recently finally came out on DVD)

I saw Sandburg's Lincoln (originally just called Lincoln) when it first came out in the 70's and it burned itself into my brain because it was just such a well done Lincoln biography. Since then however I've only seen it repeated once, and I always hoped it would come out so I could buy it. It certainly took long enough but is well worth the wait.

Hal Holbrook gives a masterful performance as Lincoln, with all the riveting countrified genius history says he had. This Lincoln is as utterly convincing stretched out whittling and telling stories, as he is delivering his 2nd inaugural or debating Stephen Douglas. He totally inhabits the part, a job made easier I'd think by the wonderful actors he's surrounded with. In particular, Sada Thompson is quite his equal as Mary Lincoln.

Their portrayal of the relationship that existed between Mr. & Mrs. Lincoln is the best I know of. Sure Mary is a difficult woman, and Thompson covers the tantrums and squabbles, but these are one of the most loving Lincoln couples ever shown. You see how Lincoln gave strength to Mary through her troubles, but you also see how she gave strength (and good advice) to the President. What comes out is a 3-dimensional couple, not just the cardboard cutouts of Mary as a witch and Lincoln as the patient saint.

Another great actor in this is Beulah Bondi. She only appears in the first episode playing Lincoln's step mother Sara Bush Lincoln, but her scenes with Holbrook frankly just break your heart. I tear up whenever I see it. Sandburg's Lincoln was one of Bondi's final roles (she just did 2 episodes of The Waltons after this) and it is a fitting crown to her career.

A Few Drawbacks

A few drawbacks: Some people are put off by the fact that Holbrook was heavily made up to more closely resemble Lincoln. Some other actors (like Sam Waterson in Gore Vidal's Lincoln) prefer to play the part with virtually no make up. But Holbrook's make up is very well done and as I say he completely inhabits his role. I find that after a few minutes I entirely forget that this is Hal Holbrook in make up and after that adjustment Lincoln's face looks absolutely authentic to me.

Some viewers also feel that this presentation of Lincoln is episodic. And they're right, because Sandburg's Lincoln was originally presented sporadically from 1974 to 1976. Each episode covers a particular theme in Lincoln's life and they were not presented in chronological order. This resulted in some unavoidable anomalies: for instance, 2 different men (Lloyd Nolan in 1975, Whit Bissell in '76) played Secretary of State Seward. And you see 2 episodes with Lincoln in the White House before you get to see him as a young prairie lawyer. This set has rearranged the episodes into a more chronological order.


One other point: As the title suggests, this miniseries was based on Carl Sandburg's biography of Lincoln, not necessarily the most accurate. Mr. Sandburg included several "facts" and events in his 6 volumes that are great for dramatic purposes, but a Lincoln scholar will tell you didn't really happen. One of them has a major effect on one of the episodes in Sandburg's Lincoln.
which is no doubt the best written biography -- but

In the 'Mrs. Lincoln's Husband' episode, Mary is accused of having confederate-leaning sympathies and perhaps even of being a traitor. Lincoln's political enemies conspire to use this accusation against him. And Mary Lincoln's loyalty was actually questioned during the war, making difficulties for her husband. In Sandburg's biography and in the miniseries, Lincoln eventually defuses the whole thing by appearing unannounced to vouch for his wife before a congressional hearing called to examine the question, something that Presidents never, ever do (separation of powers and all that). It's a very dramatic story that sounds Lincoln-ish and has been popular for a long time. But, regrettably, it never really happened.

Despite these slight reservations though, this miniseries is well worth being added to any Lincoln fan's collection. The performances are wonderful, it shows things usually skipped over by Lincoln films, and gives you a good feel for what it was like to be with Lincoln. Personally, I believe this is one of the best -- if not *the* best -- depictions of him in film.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Average or Cursed?

So what about you? Does your life seem like an endless, grinding nightmare? Or a happy-go-lucky paradise? Or something in between?

Well, you're not alone, whichever of them it is, and now the Gallup Poll has produced this handy chart so you can see how all the other people out there are getting along. Take a look and see whether you're living a cursed existence, or just an average one.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

RIP Don Pardo

Don Pardo
I'm very sad to hear the news that Don Pardo, the renowned TV announcer, is dead. Everybody who's ever stayed up watching TV on the weekend knows his voice from Saturday Night Live. In fact he's the only person who's been on the show all the way through.

I remember hearing his voice as the announcer on Jeopardy when I was a little kid. Don Pardo's voice was part of the background noise of my life -- there, but almost ignored because I'd gotten so used to it. But you can tell when it is gone.

RIP Don Pardo.

"To Boldly Go Where Lots of People Have Gone Before!"

Photo from  The Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth
We've had people in space since 1961, and they've all been taking pictures with wild abandon ever since -- even in the dark! NASA now has almost 2 billion photos stored up at, and about 1/3rd of them were taken at night, which in the space flight biz is whenever you're on the dark side of the Earth.

But unfortunately in all their training our camera-happy astronauts have never learned to jot down what it was that they were trying to capture for posterity. The end result is that we now have 666 million high tech photos of black. Black with a splotch of yellow and white in the middle, and no idea what they're of.

Then there's the fact that until 2003, they were mostly blurry.

And so now, citizens of planet earth, a lonely space agency turns their eyes to you and asks for your help. They figure that if you happen to live in that blotch of yellow and white you're more likely to recognize it, or at least can tell the difference between that and a random picture of some stars. Computers are lousy at doing that but we humans are great, so rather than building a robot to do this NASA needs your eyeballs. But if you don't feel like doing that job, the also have some nice grunt work for you sorting photos into buckets.

Interested in widening the frontiers of knowledge? Sign up at

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Next Job

(This is a cross-post from my theology blog, Authentic Light)

Well-Used Tools
Photo by Biser Todorov
Today in church we sang a song called Be Still, My Soul, and this line really impressed me -- or more to the point, God really impressed me with this line:

Be still, my soul,
your God will undertake to guide the future,
as in ages past...

To me "your God will undertake" makes the lyrics much more solid and real. Katharine von Schlegel, who wrote them back in 1752, doesn't say, "Don't worry because God is always guiding the future from eternity," like many hymn writers would. No, she says, "Don't worry Christian, because God is rolling up his sleeves, getting out his tools, spitting in his hands and rubbing them together, and 'undertaking' his next job -- guiding the future." He is a worker (John 5.17); God gets dirty hands and splinters while he constructs this future.

Just like he has dependably done for "ages past."