A Totally Sucky Movie Game No One Else Will Play

So when I was watching my traditional Christmas movies last week (Die Hard and Lethal Weapon), I noticed that both movies starred two different actors (or an actor and an actress) in small roles:

Actor Lethal Weapon Die Hard
Mary Ellen Trainor Dr. Stephanie Woods Gail Wallens
Al Leong Endo Uli

Tonight, we watched Coming to America, and we got a similar effect, and oddly enough it was Die Hard II:

Actor Coming to America Die Hard 2 Die Hard with a Vengeance
John Amos Cleo McDowell Major Grant
Vondie Curtis-Hall Basketball Game Vendor Miller
Samuel L. Jackson Hold-Up Man Zeus Carver

Okay, Samuel L. Jackson is bonus credit, but isn’t it weird how the Die Hard series is the touchstone in this? Six degrees of Kevin Bacon? Insert Die Hard, and you immediately knock off two degrees.

I reckon it’s because producers and directors prefer to work with known quantities for their projects (Joel Silver, for example, was behind Lethal Weapon and Die Hard), but it’s still amusing and impressive to identify groups of actors who appear in several movies that are not sequels of each other.

Gentle reader, I invite you to do the same. Drop a couple of your own eureka moments in the comments, or post such on your Web site. Or, I guess, you can bother me with the list of the obvious when you see them. I mean, crikey, I know Clint Eastwood used a bunch of cowboy actors from his films in Every Which Way But Loose. Show some originality!

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Book Reports: The Empty Trap by John D. MacDonald (1957)The Executioners by John D. MacDonald (1958)

I bought these books, paperbacks, from Hooked on Books for $2 and $3 respectively. So that’s a testament to how expensive books can be at Hooked on Books and also a testament to how much I like John D. MacDonald.

The Empty Trap details a revenge-based story told partially in flashback. A hotel manager finds himself working for a syndicate-connected hotel owner and discovers that he has no way out of the business. Unfortunately, the woman telling him this is the hard-but-soft songbird wife of said owner. The hotel manager figures the only way out is to absquatulate (meaning 1) with some of the mobster’s money and the mobster’s wife; the mobster thinks the hotel manager and the wife should indeed absquatulate (meaning 2). The goons leave the now-former hotel manager for dead in the Mexican desert, but in leaving him only mostly dead, they set the stage for revenge.

The Executioners reminded me a lot of the movie Cape Fear (or at least the promos I’d seen of the movie), and a quick glance at Amazon.com reveals why. The book was the source for the movie. Ah. As you might already know with that hint, a man and his family suffer the unwanted attention of a released felon against whom the father testified. The police and other locals provide little help, so the family goes on the run and finally has to make a stand.

Both books have plots that have become stock over the last fifty years, but I read them to see how John D. MacDonald did them. He did them well and rapidly; these books weigh in at fewer than 170 pages each and respresent the best of the immediately post-pulp era.

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Spoken Like a True Quality Assurance Person or Media-Friendly Economist

Researcher: iPod earbuds could damage hearing:

The ever-popular earbuds used with many iPods and other MP3 players may be more stylish than the bigger and bulkier earmuff-type headphones, but they may also be more damaging to one’s hearing, according to a Northwestern professor.

“No one really knows for sure” the levels at which iPod users listen to music, but “what we do know is that young people like their music loud and seldom worry about any decline in hearing ability,” Dean Garstecki, chairman of Northwestern’s communication sciences and disorders department, told Reuters.

We don’t know, but we know it’s bad.

If only we had some metaphor by which we could grasp the danger so we could better clamor for government regulation, such as warning labels or a mandatory cap on the volume these things could produce.

The earbuds commonly used by iPod listeners are placed directly into the ear and can boost the audio signal by as many as nine decibels — comparable to the difference in sound intensity between an alarm clock and a lawn mower, Garstecki said.

Reuters and the researcher are partying like it’s 1979, though, because we’ve heard this particular chorus since the introduction of the Walkman, which replaced the practice of carrying a portable tape deck with the speaker pressed against one’s ear.

Or we would have heard the particular chorus, if we weren’t deaf. Instead, we’ve had to read it on the Internet.

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Wow, I Though He Was Dead Already

Mourn a moment with me for the recently departed poet: ‘Tiger’ creator Blake dead at 87

I was under the impression that WIlliam Blake had died a long time ago, but you know how colleges are these days, imparting the young with bad information. Let’s eligooglate the man with his most famous work:

    The Tiger

    Tiger, tiger, burning bright
    In the forests of the night,
    What immortal hand or eye
    Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

    In what distant deeps or skies
    Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
    On what wings dare he aspire?
    What the hand dare seize the fire?

    And what shoulder and what art
    Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
    And, when thy heart began to beat,
    What dread hand and what dread feet?

    What the hammer? what the chain?
    In what furnace was thy brain?
    What the anvil? what dread grasp
    Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

    When the stars threw down their spears,
    And watered heaven with their tears,
    Did He smile His work to see?
    Did He who made the lamb make thee?

    Tiger, tiger, burning bright
    In the forests of the night,
    What immortal hand or eye
    Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

No, I didn’t click through the headline on CNN.com. Why do you ask?

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Wherein Brian J. Speaks Ex Cathedra About NSA Cookies

As a QA dude who understands cookies, I officially call this a non-story: Despite federal ban, NSA Web site places ‘cookies’ on visitors’ computers to track Web surfing:

The National Security Agency’s Internet site has been placing files on visitors’ computers that can track their Web surfing activity despite strict federal rules banning most of them.

The government apparently bans permanent cookies, but allows session cookies. The NSA explains the brief presence of permanent cookies this way:

Don Weber, an NSA spokesman, said in a statement Wednesday that the cookie use resulted from a recent software upgrade. Normally, the site uses temporary, permissible cookies that are automatically deleted when users close their Web browsers, he said, but the software in use shipped with persistent cookies already on.

“After being tipped to the issue, we immediately disabled the cookies,” he said.

Completely believeable, especially if the NSA site uses third party components which probably use cookies independently of the official site policy. Granted, a little QA probably would have caught this, but who can afford the time or money for testing and adherence to standards?

So I agree with Jeff Jarvis that anyone trying to make hay out of this is simply happy to continue yipping the letters NSA. Kevin Aylward notes that the DNC Web site uses cookies set to expire in 28 years (the expiration date of the cookie served as “evidence” of the insidious nature of the plot).

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Waiting for the Christian Riots in Sweden

Anti-Christian Jeans Are a Trend in Sweden:

Cheap Monday jeans are a hot commodity among young Swedes thanks to their trendy tight fit and low price, even if a few buyers are turned off by the logo: a skull with a cross turned upside down on its forehead.

Logo designer Bjorn Atldax says he’s not just trying for an antiestablishment vibe.

“It is an active statement against Christianity,” Atldax told The Associated Press. “I’m not a Satanist myself, but I have a great dislike for organized religion.”

Active statements against religions whose adherents regularly stab those who make active statements against it or whose adherents routinely blow up innocent commuters remain strangely absent.

(Submitted to the Outside the Beltway Traffic Jam.)

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What’s The Right To Private Property Worth?

In Clayton, it’s:

“We remain convinced that the project to keep Centene’s headquarters in Clayton and generate 800 new jobs is in the best interests of the people of Clayton and the entire region,” [Clayton Mayor Mike] Schoedel said.

You, citizen, might see successful businesses in attractive locations in downtown Clayton, but that’s why you’re not a visionary civic leader ready to strip that land from its owner and award it to a more powerful local corporation. So shut up, and suffer your betters’ whims.

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Pope Extends Right to Vote to Fetuses

Pope Benedict says:

“The loving eyes of God look on the human being, considered full and complete at its beginning,” Benedict said in his weekly address to the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

Ergo, who are we to oppress those little complete human beings and deny them all the rights of full and complete human beings, including the right to vote and to hold drivers’ licenses?

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2005: The Year’s Reading In Review

As some concede defeat in the Fifty Book Challenge, you, gentle reader, have suffered through no fewer than 96 book reviews this year (and one forthcoming). Here’s my list from 2005*:

* My personal annual goals list runs from December 25, 2004 through December 25, 2005; hence, the first items on the list have post dates in 2004. Also note that these reflect books I have finished in the time period and that I might have begun the books in college, I count them if I finish them.

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Book Report: Ruled Britannia by Harry Turtledove (2002)

I bought this book from the discount rack on the Barnes and Noble in New York at the end of September, and I read it in October, but I have yet to post a report on it as we gave it to my mother-in-law as a gift for Christmas. But here it is, gentle reader: my first foray into Turtledove’s alternate history, as best I can remember it.

The premise of the book: The Spanish Armada succeeded, and King Philip deposes Queen Elizabeth and locks her in the tower of London. A London-based playwright, William Shakespeare, becomes intangled in a plot to overthrow the Spanish and must compose a play designed to fire up the British at the same time as he’s commissioned to write an elegaic play for Philip.

The book’s language and research undoubtedly capture a lot of the time period; the English is modern, but the sentence construction tips its hat to the middle English of Shakespeare’s day. Unfortunately, the book slips into a bit of repetition that made me impatient for it to get on with the story. Also, as I was not a student of the detailed history of the era, some of the subtleties are lost on me.

Still, it’s an interesting question and perhaps one of Turtledove’s lesser efforts–after all, the blogosphere raves about his other work. I won’t totally pan it since I did give it as a gift (perhaps a passive-aggressive response for Deliver Us From Evil). However, if you’re speed-reading in an effort to make the Fifty Book Challenge, this book presents a speed bump.

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Book Report: Floodgate by Alistair MacLean (1983)

This book is the third MacLean novel I’ve read this year (see also Caravan to Vaccares, Partisans); ergo, you can assume that I like the author. Enough to pick up his books at the local library for a quarter when the local library needs to cycle out extra books for more space for Internet connections. I shouldn’t complain, as I get something for my buck (cheap thrillers remembered from my youth) while the library gets something (room, pennies on the dollar for books) and other users get something (free Internet connections, although I’m not sure how many people in Casinoport and its satellite communities need free Internet connections).

But I digress. This novel, one of MacLean’s later works, suffers from the excessive dialogishness one could ascribe to many of his works. A Dutch policeman must work against a terrorist organization that will bomb The Netherlands’ dikes if its demands go unmet.

There you have it. The policeman must infiltrate the group, and that’s it. No real plot twists, and perhaps a gaffe that one cannot explain. MacLean might have been radio telephoning it in as he transplanted his tales to the modern (1980s) era, but they still read quick and linear, drawing one along to the inevitable conclusion–and a short conclusion at that. So if you’re looking for something similar to Clive Cussler, but clocking in at only 200 pages, I’d recommend any MacLean. But if you’ve a high school or small community library ca 1986 with numerous volumes of MacLean, perhaps you ought to start with Where Eagles Dare.

On further review of that last sentence, I realize this might be my first exposure to this particular novel (unlike the others I’ve read this year, which I reocgnized by their covers). In my youthful (1986-1990) reading of MacLean, I probably didn’t encounter this novel, as it was so new. Weird reflection upon my library, and my reading: my library and my collection really begins at about 1990, when I went to college. All the Agatha Christie novels I borrowed from my high school library and all of the sundry novels I tore through at the rate of 1 per day in high school. If they’re not on the shelves, I have no record of their reading; hence, I must read them again! For all intents and purposes, my literary life began but 16 years ago. I pity you, gentle reader, who suffers through these book reports and only but now know what you’re in for.

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