A Bag Too Clever By Half

Posted in Life on February 27th, 2012 by Brian

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Puma “Clever Little Bag” side-by-side with a traditional shoebox:

The Clever Little Piece o' Landfill

The text on the Clever Little Bag reads:

CLEVER LITTLE BAG

Well it’s smarter than an old fashioned shoebox because it uses 65% less paper. Even better, it means you don’t need an extra carrier bag and you can use it over and over again. Clever huh? Follow the Puma eco-table reuse this bag.

www.puma.com/cleverlittlebag

All the grammar errors are indigenous to the bag itself. Apparently, it will also save 40 billion commas and 100 million hyphens to protect the environment.

So. This clever little bag will protect the environment, how?

Instead of a fully biodegradable or fully recycleable cardboard box, we have half a cardboard box and a reusable bag. A reusable bag that’s about the size of a children’s shoe shoebox that I can use perpetually as a carrier bag. Is that what I need? Let me run down the reusable bags I have already: Book bags from every library I’ve ever befriended, a tote bag from the company that buried my mother, little cloth bags that contained linens or something, and a laptop bag. Guess which of these I use. Just one.

No, I have no use for a bag of this size. It’ll probably go right into the garbage can.

Whereas one of those demonic cardboard shoeboxes, when they’re not being recycled or breaking down quickly in a landfill, are excellent storage boxes for mementos from lovers past or gee-gaws of a certain size. I mean, really, who ever gets rid of a shoebox?

I think Puma has outsmarted itself in its quest to have a nice story to tell the environmentally conscious, which is to say, semi-conscious, amongst us.

My Bubble Sense Is Tingling

Posted in Life on February 26th, 2012 by Brian

What’s a good sign that a bubble is inflating? The experts don’t see a bubble inflating:

Even as homeowners and commercial landlords count their losses from the great real-estate bust, Midwestern farmers are experiencing the biggest property boom in a generation.

The rapid run-up in land values is bound to make some people nervous, especially older farmers who remember how property values collapsed during the farm crisis of the 1980s. Farm economists, though, don’t yet see signs of a land-price bubble.

Economists, the experts, are always the last to know.

I’ve Stood On That Corner Many Times

Posted in St. Louis on February 25th, 2012 by Brian

Arizona man charged in hit-and-run crash in Webster Groves:

Kathleen Kinderfather of Webster Groves was struck about 7:15 p.m. Thursday at Big Bend Boulevard and Elm Street by a 2011 Nissan Altima, police say.

Lt. Andy Miller of the Webster Groves Police Department said Kinderfather was standing on a triangular traffic island in the eastbound lanes of Big Bend when she was hit.


View Larger Map

That’s over by the grocery store where I’d sometimes pick up a pastry during a morning walk. I’d reach that particular traffic island if I walked through downtown Old Trees and followed Rock Hill Road all the way down to Big Bend, or perhaps down to Jackson and then over to Alma, although that route was rarer for me.

It’s strange, because I’d flagged that intersection as more dangerous on the east side of Elm if you’re trying to cross Big Bend heading south. Elm is two lanes northbound until Big Bend, when the rightmost lane is a turn only lane onto Big Bend. Drivers making that turn are generally too busy looking at traffic, blindly following the truck ahead of them, or trying to sneak through after the right turn arrow goes from yellow to off to notice a pedestrian in the crosswalk there. I’ve been narrowly missed a number of times over there.

I hope the old lady pulls out all right.

Book Report: Barton Fink/Miller’s Crossing by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen (1991)

Posted in Book Report, Books, Movies on February 23rd, 2012 by Brian

Book coverThis book collects two screenplays by the Coen brothers. I haven’t seen either of the films, although I have seen one or more of their films (answerable by the question “Have you ever seen a movie with John Turturro and John Goodman?”) (Additional parenthetical: I saw O Brother, Where Art Thou?.)

The book starts out with a film editor who did not have a good relationship with the brothers and ended up getting removed from a couple of their films. I’m not sure what it adds, but there it is.

Barton Fink is the story of a playwright from New York whose first Broadway success draws attention from Hollywood, where a studio lures him out to work under contract writing a B-picture about wrestling. Fink has to adjust to life in California and the pressures of writing something unnatural to him. He befriends the secretary of another writer drawn to Hollywood like himself and an insurance agent that resides in the hotel with him. Suddenly, there are bodies and shooting. Rather abruptly. Then it ends. Not a very satisfying thing to read, and I admit I sometimes confused Barton Fink with Ed Wood, which I’ve also never seen. But now that I’ve read one of the two, that problem is solved.

Miller’s Crossing is more straight-through with its themes. It’s a mob picture, with the lackey of one crime lord playing angles to try to prevent a mob war and to make time with the crime lord’s moll, either protecting or giving up her brother to another crime lord who wants him killed for chiseling. There are crosses, double-crosses, frame-ups, cover-ups, and a bunch of other stuff in it. It works better all the way through than Barton Fink, mainly because we’re not given a story about the problems of mobbing and then a climax about how hard it is to write a movie.

As I mentioned, these are screenplays, which is so much different from reading a play. The last screenplay I read was for Casablanca, way before this blog existed, and I don’t remember it being as complex in descriptions of shots. It reminds me of what I read in David Mamet’s On Directing Film (at least I think it was from that book) about capturing individual shots and scenes–as the Coen brothers are writers and directors (and producers), they would write a bit more from that perspective. However, if it’s not your native argot, the visualization based on shot names, you might miss some of the stage direction.

A worthwhile read, and undoubtedly it’s a textbook in some film classes.

Books mentioned in this review:

For Ten Bucks, Is A Little Vibranium Too Much To Ask?

Posted in Uncategorized on February 22nd, 2012 by Brian

Ladies and gentlemen, the overpriced Frisbee-with-a-strap Captain America’s Flying Shield:

Captain America's Frisbee

But be warned: This is not a real shield:

Captain America's Frisbee

If it’s not impenetrable, why is it $10 at Walmart?

Book Report: Thoughts in Verse by Bernice Marie Cockrell-Petrie (1989)

Posted in Book Report, Books, Poetry on February 21st, 2012 by Brian

Book coverThis is a chapbook from a little old lady who wrote poems about her home, her friends, and her family in the 1970s and 1980s. Its pages are typewritten (and, in some places, corrected with correction fluid and hand printing), and it’s bound by a comb binder, probably something provided by Kinko’s or the like (my chapbooks from five and six years later were saddle-stapled, which is a more professional look, I think, but this book might have been to thick for that treatment).

So I could have gone into the book with a sense of literary superiority (I’m concurrently reading Kipling’s poetry and some more by Ogden Nash), but somehow I developed a little affection for the book as I read it.

Her prolific period comes in the early 1970s, and as each poem is dated, one can read the poems she was writing up to the date of one’s own birth (if one is about forty years old) and through historical periods of one’s life. So it has that effect on one like me.

The topics of the poems are her friends and family, as I mentioned, so at times it’s like flipping through someone else’s photo album.

Other poems deal with her home, animals around them, herself, and her relationship to God. It’s pretty lightweight stuff, except it was meaningful enough to her to put to verse.

And the poems aren’t very good, but they’re not especially bad either. She has a fair sense of rhythm, relying on iambs a bunch, and she end rhymes. So she put some thought into them, unlike a lot of free versers who just blat out anything and think it’s profound.

So I enjoyed the book for what it was: an amateur writing what she thought. The copy I have is a second edition, which could very well mean there were more copies of it in the wild in 1990 than there are copies of John Donnelly’s Gold out there. Fancy that.

My Vocabulary, She Expands

Posted in Life on February 20th, 2012 by Brian

Ah, the words one learns.

In creating the post below, I looked up the spelling of the word algorithm to make sure I was spelling it right (I was), and I encountered the word algorism which does not have to do with the environment or making millions on carbon credit schemes while opposing strange financial schemes that originate on Wall Street.

I’ll have to use algorismic in a sentence today and hope I don’t get slapped. Also, I need to add them both to Firefox’s dictionary since I’ll be typing them on the Internet frequently in the near term.

That’s One Complex Algorithm

Posted in Books on February 20th, 2012 by Brian

So I go to Barnes and Noble to spend my birthday gift card, and I pick up three volumes of Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories: The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, The Bloody Crown of Conan, and The Conquering Sword of Conan.

It all started when I saw The Complete Chronicles of Conan around Christmas time, but it was gone before I could buy it with a gift card. So I’ve thought about buying the paperback versions I listed above, but have been hemming and hawing until I got a $50 gift card (the books, in the store, are $17 each plus tax, unlike the lower rates you get if you click the handy Amazon links). So I bought them with the card today and a couple grubzits of my own.

So Barnes and Noble, in an attempt to remain relevant, replicated a bit of Amazon’s functionality by producing a list of recommendations that printed out with my receipt:

You might also like other books by this same author!

It recommended the other books on the shelf by Robert E. Howard that I did not pick up today.

That’s a stunning bit of artificial intelligence there, wot?

Book Report: Charters of Freedom by National Archive (1952)

Posted in Books on February 20th, 2012 by Brian

Book coverThis book is really an oversized pamphlet prepared by the National Archives in 1952. It has photographs of the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, but the size and quality of the reproduction is such that you can’t actually read the text, and the book does not include it. What the booklet does include is a couple paragraphs about each document, why it was created and by whom, along with a photo of the related mural at the National Archive. At the end of the book, an epilogue of sorts explains what happened to each document after its creation and how it came to the National Archive.

An interesting little read, but I was hoping for the text of each when I bought the book. I am slightly educated but disappointed.

Books mentioned in this review:

More Waste of Books

Posted in Books on February 19th, 2012 by Brian

James R. links to more art made out of books. He has a sample picture and a link, but I could not bear to click through to see the other “works.”

I guess it’s far easier for a younger, less literate generation to see books not as creations in their own right or ends in themselves. Instead, they’re just bricks in the artists’ little mash-ups of life.

That tears it: I must hoard more.

Former St. Louis Post-Dispatch Sports Editor Carries Class Warfare Pitchfork

Posted in St. Louis Post-Dispatch on February 19th, 2012 by Brian

Kevin Horrigan, former sports editor for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, has moved over to writing commentary (What happened to that other guy, the former television critic they had manning their editorial desk? Who cares?) Today, Horrigan tells people that they’ve made too much money and have too big of homes:

The size of the average newly constructed home in the United States fell to 2,392 square feet in 2010. The Journal was writing about homes that are 10 to 20 times that size and feature amenities like shooting ranges, bowling lanes, saltwater “plunge pools” and — my personal favorite — the 15-bathroom (plus powder rooms) home being built in Connecticut for Lee Weinstein, founder of Xand, a data storage company.

Fifteen bathrooms? I’m not sure how much is enough, but I’m pretty sure it’s somewhere south of 15 bathrooms.

The people who are building these homes are folks like you and me, except they’ve inherited a billion dollars or they are Saudi princes or NFL quarterbacks married to supermodels or they’ve built tech companies. Their wealth permits them to dream big when it comes to dream houses.

Got that? They have too much. Claro!

Note how Horrigan characterizes these people: Sarcastically, he says they’re like you and me, but they’re:

  • they’ve inherited a billion dollars
  • they are Saudi princes
  • they’re NFL quarterbacks married to supermodels
  • they’ve built tech companies

Got that? They’re lucky or lucky or, just maybe, they’ve worked hard for their money.

Horrigan’s piece mentions the Wall Street Journal piece appearing last weekend, but it doesn’t link to it. Allow me. Now, let’s run down the list of people mentioned in the article and what they do:

  • Anthony Pritzker, heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune. The article also mentions that he founded a private equity firm.
     
  • Cliff Asness, hedge fund manager.
     
  • Lee Weinstein, founder of Xand, a tech company.
     
  • Melissa and Doug Bernstein, founders of an educational toy company.
     
  • Jim Ellis, founder of a cell phone insurance provider.
     
  • Larry Ellison, founder and CEO of Oracle.
     
  • Gene Pretti, manager of an investment firm.
     
  • An unnamed Dallas businessman.
     
  • Tom Brady and his wife.
     
  • Prince Abdulaziz ibn Abdullah ibn Abdulaziz Al Saud.
     
  • wife of Bruce Karsh, founder of Oaktree Capital Management.
     

That’s one heir, one quarterback, and one Saudi prince. And eight people identified by their occupations, of which three founded tech companies. The others founded other kinds of companies or worked in finance.

Maybe Horrigan just looked at the pictures, the five of which more closely aligned with his characterization.

You know, I’m getting to that age where I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be mega-wealthy, and this realization comes with some sadness on my part, too. But I don’t actively resent people who do succeed or people who inherit wealth or a better position in life than I did. I mean, really. Let them have their fun. And if I strike the lottery, I’ll join them briefly until I blow all my winnings and declare bankruptcy.

Sometimes I think this class warfare resentment is just a comfortable way to translate bitterness and disappointment into personal superiority. I’d say I don’t understand it, but I think I do. I just can’t tolerate it.

Book Report: Please Don’t Eat The Daisies by Jean Kerr (1957)

Posted in Book Report, Books on February 19th, 2012 by Brian

Book coverI’ve actually read this book before, some twenty years ago when I was in college or high school. You see, I remember it from the television series which was still running in syndication on KPLR in the 1980s.

I don’t remember much from the first reading of the book, but I must have felt enough affection for it that I bought it when I saw it at a book fair again. So I picked it up as a nice episodic read.

Jean Kerr wrote these essays, a collection whose topic matter is not quite as domestic as the television’s sitcom sensibility might indicate, in the early 1950s, which places her smack dab between Clarence Day and Erma Bombeck. Kerr does fit in between them. She was a Tony-award-winning playwright by the time this book came out, she was married to a drama critic, and they had a pile of kids and moved to Connecticut with their help, so it’s in Clarence Day’s upper crust world, but because it’s the 1950s, we see elements of Bombeck’s–and our–world. Dishwashers, for instance. The Kerrs had them during the Eisenhower administration.

As I mentioned, the book tackles some domestic topics, such as the give-and-take with her children who become very literal in obeying instructions and directives when they can think of something not expressly prohibited. Ms. Kerr’s lifestyle is not purely domestic: she mentions that she stays up late and sleeps late so she can write and that the help takes care of the children part or most of the time. So some of her essays are more literary in nature–she satirizes Mike Hammer (in the early 1950s–remember, Mickey Spillane created the character in 1947, not in the 1980s for Stacy Keach), she makes light of a French novel (Bonjour Tristesse), and she talks about the theatre world of New York and Broadway quite a lot.

So the book is varied in content, intelligent and domestic. Smarter than Bombeck, certainly, maybe just more sophisticated. Kerr makes offhand allusions to Kipling, and she expected her readers to know what that meant. Maybe they did then. But I doubt they would now, which is why Kerr isn’t widely read anymore. Come to think of it, neither are Day, Bombeck, or Kipling. I’m all alone out here.

Books mentioned in this review:

A Lesson Partially Learned

Posted in Uncategorized on February 17th, 2012 by Brian

The editor of TheGloss.com writes for Slate about her experiences working at a bar with a college degree and some degree of literacy. She says, self-consciously:

I was a terrific little snob who thought she knew everything, and subsequently, I was about to learn a great deal.

It quickly became clear that I was not the first literate person to don a miniskirt. Sometime during that first week, I was hiding in the backroom reading Margaret Atwood. I was sitting on the counter next to baskets of party mix because my feet hurt, which they did for the entirety of my shot-selling career. One cocktail waitress swept in, asked what I thought of Atwood’s novel “Oryx and Crake,” did a tricky little analysis where she compared it to “The Handmaid’s Tale,” mentioned some other female dystopian writers I’d never heard of, and then went out balancing a tray of shots on one hand.

As ridiculous as it sounds, that was the first time I became aware that clever people are buried in every nook and cranny of life. It is astonishing that no one pointed this out to me sooner. The girls working at the bar — they were so bright. Another shot girl had a journal that she filled with poetry that was — that rarest of all rare things — crisp and clean and very, very good. This was never a bar where everyone knew your name, but the cocktail waitresses came to know one another’s reading lists, and pitch letters, and audition schedules extremely well.

That is, she learned to recognize there in the wilderness of people working for a living that there were other clever people.

Who are the clever people?

The ones who read books like she does, the ones who write poems and other things that have to be pitched through letters, and the ones who want to act.

Take it from me, a literate guy with a college degree who likes to read books (not just the pulp ones) who spent years after college working in a variety of environments, from retail to warehouse to printing plant before entering the “professional” world where kids come out of college into $60,000 jobs without having to first learn how the world works.

Take it from me: There are more types of cleverness in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Cleverness is not just reading and writing. Cleverness can be doing a job well, with sprezzatura, because the person has learned it so well to have innovated tricks into it. Cleverness can be looking at something mechanical and immediately having a 3-d exploded view of it so one can take it apart, repair it, and put it together again without extra pieces. Clever can be so many things.

(Link via Instapundit.)

I Feel Impugned

Posted in Books on February 16th, 2012 by Brian

Tam K. on certain reading tastes:

One thing I liked about Black Site and One Rough Man was the lack of gear queer stuff that is so endemic on the seedier end of Action Porn. (Which are just Harlequin romances for men. Seriously, the “Gold Eagle” imprint that does Mack Bolan and all those is owned by Harlequin and the stories are done in the same formulaic way.)

::coughs uncomfortably::

I am reading some Kipling, too. Honest.

Post-Dispatch Asks: Should Slavery Be Legal?

Posted in Government Overreach, St. Louis Post-Dispatch on February 14th, 2012 by Brian

That’s not how they phrase it, of course. They say Should government order companies to make certain drugs?

That is, does the government have the moral right to compel labor?

Because making certain drugs is making things more abstractly. Rregardless of whether it’s a particularly politically expedient opponent (Pharmaceutical Companies, according to the AP Stylebook, are always bad), compelling someone, somewhere to work because the government wills it, not because the compelled corporation gets something out of it, is morally wrong.

They call that slavery sometimes. When it’s not for the children or the sick, I suppose. But if they need shelter, should the goverment compel builders to provide them shelter?

Book Art I Could Do Without

Posted in Books on February 13th, 2012 by Brian

Frankly, book art, that is, “art” made by destroying books, makes me feel more squicky than the sawed-apart bodies they run through the science centers every couple of years and the sliced-up shark art that mercifully stays isolated in Manhattan.

But if that’s your bag, baby, Gimlet suggests this soon-to-be working bathtub made from books.

Oh, the humanity.

Book Report: The Castro File by Joseph Rosenberger (1974)

Posted in Book Report, Books on February 11th, 2012 by Brian

Book coverThis book is the 7th entry in the Death Merchant series. Every once in a while, I like to wander away from the Executioner series and the SOBs series to see if I might be missing out on any other good pulp paperback series from the seventies and eighties.

And, brothers and sisters, this book is not one of them.

The series deals with a mercenary hired by the CIA for particularly dangerous operations. Richard Camellion (get it?) will do anything for $100,000, as long as it involves killing commies, but not innocents or something. This time around, the CIA sends him to Cuba to derail a Russian plot to kill Castro and replace him with a double to prevent the Cuban dictator from detenteing with the United States.

The plot is okay, but the execution is awful. We have a chapter of action to start off when the Death Merchant’s cover is blown in Havana, then we have some chapters of flashbacks of the Death Merchant meeting with the head of the CIA, the Cubans getting together and talking about their goals, the Russians talking about their operation, and then another chapter of action or so after the board meeting ends. And the action chapters aren’t so great, either. All the exclamation points! Body parts doing balletic things! Derogatory terms for the bad guys in the narrative!

I was going to rank this book as amongst the worst of the genre I’ve read when a visit to the author’s page on Fantastic Fiction uncovered why this book tied with COBRA 2: Paris Kill-Ground: They were written by the same author 13 years apart. And apparently, he had not gotten any better.

On the other hand, the fellow has more individual titles in print than I’ve sold actual copies of my novel, so take that for what it’s worth.

Books mentioned in this review:

Country and Western Music Can Stop Right Now: It’s Reached Its Pinnacle

Posted in Music on February 9th, 2012 by Brian

Billy Currington, “Like My Dog”

Sorry, David Allan Coe, but this is the perfect country song, lack of Mama, prison, trucks, trains, or getting drunk aside.

I Need One Of These

Posted in Books on February 8th, 2012 by Brian

Please, gentle reader, click the ads in the sidebar a million times so I can have bookshelves like one finds in the the Morgan Library.

Thank you, that is all.

Film Report: Rhineland (2008)

Posted in Movies on February 8th, 2012 by Brian

DVD coverFull disclosure: This is a small independent film from a production company in St. Louis. I’ve worked with some members of the team on an Internet video that depicted me in bed with another man (I was young and needed the money). So take it for what it’s worth. I bought the film and did not receive it as a free gift. </fulldisclosure>

The film depicts some raw recruits trained in anti-armor as they’re thrown into combat and a mine squad at the tail end of World War II. There’s a young idealistic sort of n00b, a grizzled, disdainful sergeant, a world-weary lieutenant, and some other guys, and they get various infantry assignments as the army presses onto the Rhine.

Technically speaking, it’s a very adept film. They used a lot of vintage vehicles from World War II that they gathered from collectors in the St. Louis area, including a half-track that I saw driving around Old Trees once in a while. They rely on shaky cam a couple times for verite, which I could have done without. But you don’t think you’re watching some kids playing soldier in Illinois.

The story, though, is a little thin. The incidents and scenes run a bit long, the n00b changes into a veteran in a matter of moments, and even as the n00b is changing, the sergeant remains disdainful until the end.

So it’s a good looking piece of work that could have benefitted from a better story.

DVDs mentioned in this review: