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July 2008

Keith Colquhoun's Novel "Beyond Reason"

British author and journalist Keith Colquhoun has written several novels, including one about journalists (Goebbels Gladys) and two that have journalist characters, Killing Stalin and his recently released Beyond Reason (Solidus Press-- An ex-journalist appears during the last chapter in a cameo).

He has been kind enough to conduct an ongoing e-mail correspondence with me, which included an early look at his most recent novel, which features the relationship between two Anglican priests, one a plodder, the other a cipher. The phrase "can't put it down" is frequently bandied about, but I used it here without reservation because it is literally true. Once I picked up this novel, I devoted full time to it (putting me even further behind in my New Yorker reading) because the plot pulled me in--I wondered where we were going, and was satisfied with the answer.

Given that I'm an ex-journalist and one of my best friends is an Episcopal (Anglican) priest, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Well-written, fast-paced, entertaining, and, like his other works, endearingly eccentric. If you are interested in a good novel that doesn't read just like every other novel, and some thoughtful chatter about the state of religion, wrapped into an entertaining package, you'll like Beyond Reason.

Political Briefs

Get Smart

3 stars out of 5

Mel Brooks and Buck Henry's silly and trivial idea from the 60s (a stupid, bumbling spy), gets refurbished and, with no offense meant to Don Adams and Barbara Felton, greatly improved with Steve Carell as Maxwell Smart and Anne Hathaway as Agent 99. Summary: Not as bad as the reviews (whereas, according to my daughter, Love Guru is as bad as its reviews, which makes me sad for Mike Myers, whose work I generally love).

In this iteration, Smart is not a bumbler and an idiot, but a naive genius. It still works for me. Several reviewers said there was too much action-adventure and too little humor. I'll agree with the first part; less blowing things up would have been fine. And we could have done without some of the touchy-feely. But there was plenty of laugh-out-loud fun too. Maybe you had to have been there for the original television series, as I was (I admit it--huge fan. Also loved its serious doppelganger, Man from Uncle). In this society, we get trained to laugh at comedy catch phrases (Wanna buy a duck? You eeeediot! Schwing. Now cut that out! Hey, Abbott! Tain't funny McGee) regardless of their context. So, that could be part of it. I admit, there were times when I laughed alone. But there were also enough times when all of us, young and old, laughed together that I can't believe it's just TVLand reruns.

Get Smart (the movie) is funny, good but not great. Go rent some of the TV episodes. Now that's Mel Brooks/Buck Henry at their unbridled best. Would you believe, their second best?

Roman De Gare

3 stars out of 5.

Boy, there's nothing the French like better than a confusing non-linear narrative huh? That will show Hollywood! The audience--we spit on the audience. Let them follow the "plot" if they can. Or so it seems. Anyway, while this subtitled mystery flummoxed me, they at least offered an explanation at the end (no spoilers here), which is more than David Lynch would have done. And, best of all, it was one of those rare French films which featured neither Gérard Depardieu nor any of the other old familiar faces (except Dominique Pinion, the ghost writer, who has been in quite a few French films that made it to these shores). Entertaining if you like being both baffled and perplexed, and don't mind being poked every few minutes by the person sitting next to you, looking for an explanation. Entertainment? Maybe. Art? Maybe. Brain-teasing? For sure.

Up the Yangtze

3 stars out of 5

This is a documentary so good it makes you wonder if it is really a documentary. I mean, how can they find people as perfect as "Cindy" and "Jerry," and how did they get some of the footage? No spoilers here, but there is at least one scene that is amazingly out of left field, and makes you wonder how the filmmaker was allowed to be in the room, or allowed to use the footage. Three cheers for Yu Shui as the reluctant Cindy, Chen Bo Yu as Jerry, and Chinese-Canadian filmmaker Yung Chang, for preserving the look and feel of the banks of the Yangtze river before it disappears behind the Three Gorges Dam. A masterpiece of long-form documentary work. See it if you care either about good documentary work, or the Chinese countryside.


by Craig Reynolds

Sorry I was away last week so its double helpings, even if some of this may be a little stale...

As we may think was the title of Vannevar Bush's influential 1945 article which envisioned many aspects of personal computers and the Internet. But wait, that web timeline goes back at least to 1934 to a Belgian proposal to build a network of electric telescopes: The Mundaneum Museum Honors the First Concept of the World Wide Web. A contemporary look at how tools like Bush's Memex can alter our thinking processes: Changing the way we think, not to mention the way we practice law: What’s Obscene? Google Could Have an Answer. Speaking of those promised electronic brains: Whatever happened to artificial intelligence? More historical notes: 'Oldest' computer music unveiled. Other Internet news: Hackers hijack critical Internet organization sites and New Flavors of Web Addresses Are On the Way. Open data (Sir Tim Talks Up Linked Open Data Movement) joins open access, open source, and now, Open-source hardware?!

Space: turns out Mars has lots of water and is rich in minerals, one Phoenix staffer says "I'm absolutely gobsmacked...": Mars Phoenix "Shovel" Hits Hard White Layer Just Below Surface, Scientists ponder whether ice on Mars ever melted and Mars Lander Scrapes Icy Soil in Wonderland. Maybe an explanation for the northern lowlands: Huge Meteor Strike Explains Mars’s Shape, Reports Say. Meanwhile not on Mars: 'Super-Earth' planets discovered.

Green: NASA's Hansen Tells Congress "Stop Burning Coal" 20 Years After His First Global Warming Warning. A bold step to restore a natural wonder: Florida's $1.75 Billion Everglades Deal Quenches Thirsty State and Florida to Buy Sugar Maker in Bid to Restore Everglades. Car talk: Honda rolls out new zero-emission car and U.S. drivers should think in gallons per mile: report.

Photos: two weeks ago I posted a link to one of these pictures without knowing the origin, mystery solved: Golden Ray photos of amazing mass migration. An amazing technological feat: CMU System Estimates Geographic Location of Photos. Be an informed consumer of digital media: Digital Forensics: How Experts Uncover Doctored Images. Lovely collection of airborne photography: Pictures From the Sky.

Robots: Robot snakes slither forward and The Flight of Dragonfly Robots.

Technobits: Clone cell cancer 'cure' hailed --- Gay Men, Straight Women Have Similar Brains --- US committee suggests their own para-athlete is "not disabled enough": A Disabled Swimmer’s Dream, a Mother’s Fight --- Get Out of Your Own Way ("Studies Show the Value of Not Overthinking a Decision") --- Chrysler Brings Web to the Road --- Intel researchers shine light on ray tracing --- Google to Unveil New Ad-Planning Tool --- AP vs. The Bloggers: A Portentous Sideshow --- dangers of malware: Probe shows kiddie porn rap was bogus and A Misconfigured Laptop, a Wrecked Life --- The 5 Creepiest Advertising Techniques of the (Near) Future --- amazing: The Lego Secret Vault: Lego Secret Vault Contains All Sets In History.

Neal Vitale Reviews: Kung Fu Panda

4 stars out of 5

I normally wouldn't pile on, with a second review of a film that Paul has already covered (June 8 column) and one which I give the same rating (4 stars), but I get to that evaluation a little differently than Paul. Kung Fu Panda is funny and endearing, with strong voiceover performances by Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, and the rest of an eclectic cast that includes Lucy Liu, Ian McShane, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, and Seth Rogen, but it does drag at times and the plot is telegraphed and predictable. But, for me, the film is award-worthy simply on the basis of the animation - it is beautifully done, with exquisite detail, echoing the loveliest of the Chinese martial arts genre (think Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). As a visually stunning work, Kung Fu Panda is not to be missed.

New Marjorie Wolfe column, Sedaris on Sinter Claus, Stumbleupon, Dan Grobstein File

Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe has been kind enough to make another contribution to my web site: Mama, I Got 80% On The Ap Physics Exam; And, By The Way, I'm "Shvanger"*

Dave Sedaris writes an essay about Santa Claus's Dutch counterpart! He somehow makes Sinter Claus seem absurd!

Rest in peace, George Carlin, complete and utter genius. Who but a genius could go from "Al Sleet, the hippy dippy weatherman," to "The 7 words you can't say on television" in just under a decade. You didn't believe in God, so I won't say you're in my thoughts--because if I did say that, you'd ask me where.

Thanks nephew Paul. Not. He turned me on to, which in turn led me to the street sign generator, and will, no doubt, kill countless thousands of house in the future.

Dan Grobstein passed along this:

Dan Grobstein File

  • Citizenship test. [Editor's note: Passing is 24. Dan got a 29. I got a 28, and I teach U.S. History. Neither of us knew how many amendments have passed congress but not been ratified (six, including the ERA), and I thought Bush jr. was born in Texas. I don't think either of those questions are fair.]
  • People will lie to you
  • quote:

    The Office of Management and Budget, President Bush's administrative arm, has shot down a service plan to add five active-duty generals who would oversee purchasing and monitor contractor performance.

    The boost in brass was a key recommendation from a blue-ribbon panel that last fall criticized the Army for contracting failures that undermined the war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan, wasted U.S. tax dollars, and sparked dozens of procurement fraud investigations.

  • The republicans vote their supporters bread and circuses while Rome burns.
  • By the way, last week I saw Bill Clinton give a talk and then was interviewed at Radio City in NYC. I found out about the series too late to see John Edwards speak. The blurb said that Anderson Cooper and Tim Russert would share the interviewing duties for the series. I guess Russert was scheduled for my talk because the guy who did interview President Clinton was one of his appointees. I didn't recognize the name.

    Clinton did not mention Obama by name. He did talk about what the "next president" faces and said that Dubya will have to find something to spend the rest of his life on that interests. Clinton said that one of his own problems is that he's interested in everything. He said he was very proud of Hillary and did mention McSame by name when he said that Hillary had gone with him on a fact finding trip to the northernmost point in the US to investigate global warming. I guess Clinton is in the "former presidents shall speak no ill of the current or other former presidents" mode.
  • A Fair and Balanced Tim Russert Obit
  • Four Centuries of Letters
    CENTREVILLE, Md. (AP) -- For four centuries, they were the ultimate pack rats. Now a Maryland family's massive collection of letters, maps and printed bills has surfaced in the attic of a former plantation, providing a firsthand account of life from the 1660s through World War II.
    "Historians are used to dealing with political records and military documents," said Adam Goodheart, a history professor at nearby Washington College. "But what they aren't used to is political letters and military documents kept right alongside bills for laundry or directions for building a washing machine."
  • [Ed. note: God, I love the Internet. Best hypocrisy detector ever.] Who wrote this?
    Aside from getting himself impeached, President Clinton's most signal impact on the Constitution, and the rule of law it embraces, will have been in the area of foreign affairs. As his domestic agenda met with frustration in a Republican Congress, President Clinton exercised the powers of the imperial presidency to the utmost in the area in which those powers are already at their height--in our dealings with foreign nations. Unfortunately, the record of the administration has not been a happy one, in light of its costs to the Constitution and the American legal system. On a series of different international relations matters, such as war, international institutions, and treaties, President Clinton has accelerated disturbing trends in foreign policy that undermine notions of democratic accountability and respect for the rule of law.
  • [Ed. note: I am proud to say this is true]

    A group going by the regal-sounding name of the Presidential Memorial Commission of San Francisco is planning to ask voters here to change the name of a prize-winning water treatment plant on the shoreline to the George W. Bush Sewage Plant.

  • | June 25, 2008
    Op-Ed Columnist: More Phony Myths
    Karl Rove is trying to spin his myths, as he used to do with such devastating effect, but it won’t work this time.
  • US
  • | June 25, 2008
    Religion and Its Role Are in Dispute at the Service Academies
    Students and staff at West Point and the Naval Academy are raising questions about the military’s commitment to policies against imposing religion on its members.

  • quoting DailyKos:
    At the presidential level, Democrats haven't won more than 50 percent of the vote since 1976, and they have won more than 50.1 percent of the vote just once (1964) since 1944.
    Get that? In the last 64 years and 16 presidential elections, Democrats have won more than 50.1 percent of the vote just once. Woeful.
    Obama aims to change that.
    Never will a campaign predict a landslide, but if only, say, half of the assumptions that guide Obama's general election strategy are true, his campaign is, in essence, preparing for a landslide in the popular vote. There's no way that 10,000 Obama volunteers in Texas won't influence his vote totals there even if he doesn't win.
    If Obama can score, say, a 10-point victory in the popular vote (running up margins in states like Illinois, New York and California and losing Texas by narrower margins), it will have real-world implications not just to down-ballot races, but also to his agenda.