Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Elephant’s Butt: Nature’s Bomb Shelter

I’ve weathered a great deal of mockery for my recent decision to hide myself from the world—to hole up, as it were, inside an elephant’s butt. I can withstand this teasing with ease and good humor from my pungent place of safety and solitude, but what I won’t stand for is the notion that setting up shop inside the asshole of an animal, like Luke Skywalker squeezed into an eviscerated Tauntaun,1 is somehow weird or unusual.

Nothing could be further from the truth!2 Establishing a Hathienda is a reasonable and effective away of escaping attention, assassination, the pressures of unrelenting fame, and even jealous mistresses and/or future ex-wives. Ask yourself this: have you—or has anyone else you know—ever heard of someone being found hiding in an elephant’s butt? Admit it, you haven’t, and nobody else has either.

This proves it works.

The human race has a long and distinguished history of pachydermal posterior peregrination, and among its proud practitioners you’ll find a Who’s Who of memorable missing persons.3 Among the notables who have taken up temporary or permanent residence between an elephant’s buttcheeks are:
Jimmy Hoffa.
Union leader Jimmy Hoffa disappeared into an elephant’s ass on July 20, 1975, and after almost a third of a century still has yet to reveal himself. Not only are his whereabouts unknown, but searchers—including several police departments—have yet to even agree upon whether he’s hidden in an Asian or an African elephant, or whether he’s hiding in a zoo or has found his way back into the wild. The theory that this elephant was subsequently buried under Giants Stadium has yet to be seriously addressed.
Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna.
Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia (perhaps better-known to Americans simply as Princess Anastasia), daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, escaped death at the hands of the Bolsheviks by hiding out in the last surviving Siberian woolly mammoth. This woolly mammoth—quite conspicuous in early twentieth-century Russia, even in the midst of a violent revolution—then escaped detection by shoving itself inside the bunghole of a passing squirrel and tip-toeing off across the Ural Mountains. The squirrel is known among Russian folklorists as The Saddest Squirrel in the World.
Amelia Earhart.
Earhart, the famed aviatrix—which, weirdly, is apparently what female pilots actually were called at the time—flew her Lockheed L-10E Electra directly into the asshole of an especially large (and presumably irritated) elephant at an airspeed approaching 150 miles per hour on July 2, 1937, on the island of Nikumaroro. How the gifted pilot was able to discreetly ship such a large animal to this remote Pacific island—not to mention spiriting it away secretly after parking a five-ton airplane in its atoll4—is part of the enduring mystery of Amelia Earhart.
Tiger Woods.
For the sake of what’s left of his reputation, both with the general public and with the ladies, let’s hope he’s not taking dates back to his place at the moment.
Osama bin Laden.
Tora Bora translates from Farsi as “wrinkly grey buttocks.” The U.S. Military searched all over Tora Bora, but found neither hair nor hide of bin Laden there—again, this proves it works.
Bill Buckner.
It’s widely believed that former baseball player Bill Buckner, a veteran of twenty-two major league seasons with more than 2,700 hits and 1,200 runs batted in, retired to a life of seclusion in an elephant’s butt several years after making a memorable fielding error in the 1986 postseason that allowed the New York Mets to escape elimination in Game Six and eventually win the World Series.5 This, however, is an urban legend. Buckner retired to Boise, Idaho, not to an elephant’s rectum—although confusing the two is understandable.

1. And I thought they smelled bad on the outside.
2. Or is it “farther from the truth”? I can never keep these straight.
3. All the following information has been generously provided by the U.S. Government Office for Bullshit Statistics. They’re also in charge of the budget.
4. Ha! Sorry.
5. I for one believe that far too much attention has been paid to Buckner’s error—although I admit that, given the high stakes when it happened, I’m not surprised—at the expense of recognizing his workmanlike production over a long and consistent career. He wasn’t spectacular, but he was a good ballplayer for a long time. And given how quickly tens if not hundreds of thousands of Boston fans turned into cocky, insufferable dicks after their team finally ended their World Series drought in 2004, I think we owe all the 1986 Red Sox team a warm thanks for falling apart and keeping their fans quiet, bitter, tormented, and pathetic for an additional eighteen years. Here’s hoping they find a way to trade the Bambino away again.

Now That's the Holiday Blues

Oh jeez. I think Some Guy has watched too much 2012, seen too many pets posing with Santa and spoken to too many illiterate people. Or perhaps he merely decided to find a safe place to hide from impending Armageddon. I'm just glad he decided to put on the body condom before, uh, entering.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Merry Christmas!

In my first posting from a mobile device I wish my Blogmate and all the good readers of Bowling in the Dark a very Merry Christmas! More to come in the days following the holiday.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

2012: Final (maybe) Thoughts

Lest you think I simply have an irrational hatred for Roland Emmerich and/or his movies, and would have panned 2012 regardless of whether it was actually good, I readily admit that when Independence Day hit the theaters in 1996, I paid to see it and I enjoyed the hell out of it. If I caught it on TV right now, I'd probably watch it again, and while I'd likely mock some of the goofier parts of it—and there are plenty of these—I'm sure I'd enjoy it again.

But Independence Day is, of course, thirteen years older than it used to be, and so am I. Tastes tend to change as we age, standards tend to become more refined.

I lived in a dormitory as a college freshman and sophomore; Independence Day came out during the summer between my first and second sophomore years.1 Near the end of my freshman year (a bit more than a year before the movie was released) an acquaintance of mine from a few doors down the hall barreled through my half-opened door, wide-eyed, giddy, and a bit shocked, desperately looking to get his hands on a ruler and a camera.

I didn't have a camera—he ended up borrowing my roommate's—but I was about to hand him my ruler until he explained why he needed it: he wanted to measure and photograph, presumably so he could show his grandkids, the amazingly huge dump he'd just taken.

You probably can tell where I'm going with this unnecessary little story, but in case you can't, I'll spell it out: where people of a certain age (say, around twenty-one) might see the most amazing, astounding, exciting thing ever, a somewhat older, slightly more discerning person looking at the exact same thing may just see a big pile of shit.2

1. This is not a typo—I was on the six-year college plan. And now I'm using the internet to criticize others for their underachievement, laziness, and stupidity. I think that's funny.
2. In case you're wondering—and who wouldn't be?—I never did try to catch a glimpse of the record-breaking turd, either live and in person or by tracking down the photograph. Some things are best left unknown, including about 75% of the things that go on in a dormitory bathroom.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Appetite for Destruction

WARNING: The following half-assed review of the half-assed movie 2012 contains a ton of spoilers, most of which you've probably already guessed. But if you haven't, and you don't want me to ruin the movie, here's a summary: don't go see it.

It’s with some shame that I admit to having recently seen 2012, director Roland Emmerich’s latest enthusiastic effort to destroy civilization. I do take some pride in the fact that I didn’t pay to see it—my boss paid for the tickets as part of our office Christmas party—but at the same time, my ticket was still paid for, and I feel bad about that.

My conscience would have been less troubled if we’d snuck into the theater for free, and managed to ruin the film for a big crowd . . . but what I would have needed to do to actually ruin this particular movie, as it turns out, is a little too disgusting to even contemplate, much less describe.

I’d like to say that I went into the theater unbiased and open-minded, but astute Bowling in the Dark readers would realize this was bullshit. I did my best, though, to keep an open mind—which in this case amounted to telling myself maybe it won’t be as shitty as you expect.

Boy, do I hate being wrong all the time.

Some might say—and, for all I know, may already have said—that Roland Emmerich is simply Austria’s answer to Michael Bay, infatuated with special effects rather than story, car crashes instead of credibility, explosions instead of, uh, something good that starts with “e.”

This is patently untrue. Emmerich is German. But he, like Bay, has shown that he’s dead set on blowing shit up regardless of the consequences to common sense, steadfastly and nobly refusing to let mundane details of science, logic, plot, characterization, or good dialogue get in the way of telling a bad story.

While Emmerich has directed at least a couple of movies that don’t feature the end of a major city, or a continent, or human civilization as we know it, he clearly has what can only be described as a raging, mega-huge boner for the apocalypse. For your reading pleasure, I’ve compiled a partial list, in no particular order, of things and places Roland Emmerich has damaged or destroyed in his movies and, in parentheses, what destroyed them:

  • New York City (monument-destroying alien lasers)
  • White House (ditto)
  • Less awesomely-explosive parts of Washington D.C. (giant laser-induced fireball)
  • New York City, again (giant lizard)
  • Los Angeles (alien lasers)
  • Area 51 (alien lasers)
  • Los Angeles, again (tornadoes)
  • New York City (water, then cold, then ice, then Russian freighters, then wolves)
  • Al Gore’s credibility1
  • Two British helicopters (cold, more cold, and one dumbass opening the door to let in the cold)
  • Los Angeles, again (earthquake, falling into the Pacific Ocean, insufficient buoyancy)
  • That guy who played Bilbo Baggins (more cold)
  • Yellowstone (volcanic explosion)
  • Las Vegas, Nevada (earthquakes, liquid hot magma)
  • Paris Casino, Las Vegas (budget constraints—too difficult and expensive to destroy the real Paris)
  • Other less-important, non–New York City parts of the Northern Hemisphere
  • White House, again (crushed by aircraft carrier)
  • Woody Harrelson (volcanic explosion)
  • Washington Monument (gravity, earthquake, tsunami—take your pick)
  • Hawaii (liquid hot magma)
  • Delhi, India (tsunami)
  • St. Peter’s Basilica (heavy-handed anti-religious symbolism)
  • Thousands of Italian Catholics crushed by toppling St. Peter’s Basilica (see above)
  • Unsportsmanlike-Conduct Jesus statue, Rio de Janeiro (director’s need to destroy something religious in the Southern Hemisphere)
  • Poor old bell-ringing Himalayan Buddhist monk, some 600 miles and 14,000 to 20,000 vertical feet from the ocean (tsunami, somehow)
The repetition in the above list suggests that human civilization really ought to build new photogenic monuments for moviemakers to destroy, but redundancy isn’t the biggest problem with 2012. And it’s not the convenient falling back onto one of its director’s favorite stock characters, the sniveling weasel politician—although he does that as well. (See below for examples, and see if you can pick out the Mad Scientist character!)

The biggest problem with 2012 is that it’s completely, utterly preposterous. And yes, I expect and even look forward to a tiny bit of preposterousness in my movies. Even a good disaster movie requires our willing suspension of disbelief, but this one asks for two and a half hours of suspension of thought . . . which is about fifteen minutes past my limit. The lowlights include, but are not limited to, the following examples:
  • The Earth’s core overheats thanks to neutrinos. In real life, these particles pass through our bodies harmlessly by the tens of trillions every second, but in the movie they're dangerous because they’ve mutated. Mutated neutrinos. And they’ve mutated so that they heat up the core of the Earth, but nothing they pass through on their way to the center of the Earth—like, say, air, land, people, the oceans. 
  • John Cusack’s limousine can outrun earthquakes, which may explain why it can make the a thirty-six-hour round trip from L.A. to Yellowstone and back—including a night’s stay—in what appears to be about twenty-four hours. 
  • A twin-engine prop plane and a thirty-year-old camper outrun a pyroclastic flow.2 At one point, John Cusack's character outruns it on foot
  • The hellish volcanic firestorm that obliterates Yellowstone National Park, drops ash on Washington D.C. (2,200 miles away), and blots out the sun worldwide, musters only enough of a breeze locally to knock apocalypse nut Woody Harrelson giddily off his feet.3 
  • The entire surface of the Earth (which is, by my math, very large) shifts by thousands of miles in a matter of about twenty hours, conveniently placing the lost, crippled, low-on-fuel Russian cargo plane directly above its desired landing spot, without causing the slightest bit of catastrophic air turbulence. 
If you see this movie in the theater, that dull thumping you will hear is not a sub-woofer, it’s the sound of logic being kicked repeatedly in the crotch for 158 minutes.

All that said, though, I can’t bring myself to simply warn you away from this movie. It scored off the charts on the Unintentional Comedy Scale—I haven’t laughed so hard at a movie since The Hangover—and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy myself. But when you leave a movie about a global apocalypse and the near-end of the human race, is enjoyment really the right thing to be feeling? I don’t think so, which means either I’m a bit sick or 2012 was crap. So go check it out and let me know if I’m a bad person for getting a good belly laugh out of the end of the world. Do me a favor, though—if at all possible, sneak in without paying; you’ll help me sleep better tonight.

1. Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth apparently re-used glacier footage from The Day After Tomorrow. The problem is that the glacier footage was wholly computer-generated—i.e. fake, made-up, not real—which strikes me as kind of a no-no in a documentary. And, of course, it should be noted that this particular fake footage was taken from a movie that had nothing to do with weather that could happen in the real world.  
2. A pyroclastic flow (a “fast-moving current of hot gas and rock” occasionally thrown out by erupting volcanoes) can travel at speeds up to 450 miles per hour—faster, even, than an American RV.  
3.The film tries to redeem itself a few moments later by incinerating Harrelson’s character on the spot, but I’m sorry, that’s just too little, too late.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Knowledge is Power

One of the many intriguing observations Carl Sagan makes in his bestselling 1995 book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark is that slaves in the pre-Civil War United States of America were not permitted to learn to read. This in itself is not exactly a revelation—I imagine that it’s more or less common knowledge—but how Sagan relates this fact to modern-day America, where most of us were told from a very young age that knowledge is power, is keenly insightful and more than a little disconcerting. As Sagan put it, quoting Frederick Douglass along the way, this
was a most revealing rule: Slaves were to remain illiterate. In the Antebellum South, whites who taught a slave to read were severely punished. “[To] make a contented slave,” [Douglass] wrote, “it is necessary to make a thoughtless one. It is necessary to darken his moral and mental vision, and, as far as possible, to annihilate the power of reason.” This is why slaveholders must control what slaves hear and see and think. This is why reason and critical thinking are dangerous, indeed subversive, in an unjust society.

Now, it’s probably fair to say that being fined or whipped—or even both—isn’t as harsh a penalty as being, say, sent to prison or killed (or both), but it’s also fair to say that these punishments are exceedingly vicious given that they were meted out for teaching someone to read, an activity so contemptibly familiar that distressingly large numbers of unashamed Americans don’t even bother with it anymore.

According to a poll released in 2007 by Associated Press–Ipsos, 27% of Americans didn’t read a single book in 2006. Now, reading at a pace of a single page per day would be enough to get through an average-length book in a year. That’s less than five hundred words a day—maybe five minutes’ worth of work for a slow reader—but roughly 80 million Americans either couldn’t do that or didn’t bother to try.1

Granted, this statistic applies only to book-reading, so it’s very possible that some or all of those 80 million people read something else over the course of 2006. American readers have thousands of magazines to choose from and at least five or six surviving newspapers to read, not to mention millions of street signs, cereal boxes, and insightful billboards.

And some of this decline in book-reading could be attributed to the Internet, where the staggering volume of free and easily accessible reading material at least somewhat compensates, one could argue, for its dubious relevance, quality, or sanity. But be honest: do you really think that folks who don’t read books (or magazines, newspapers, or cereal boxes) go online to find reading material?

Neither do I.2

And granted, that AP-Ipsos poll is from three years ago; it’s possible that since 2006, some of those millions of non-readers have turned things around. Given how easy it is (or, at least, should be) to go from reading zero books a year to reading one—by my math, a net increase of just one book—a measurable improvement here should be a piece of cake. But it seems at least likely that reading in the United States of America—much like common sense, common courtesy, the 33⅓ RPM record, the barbershop quartet, and the leprechaun—runs the risk of continuing to dwindle into insignificance. That’s dangerous, Sagan tells us, and while he’s focusing mainly on scientific literacy in The Demon-Haunted World—rather just on literacy in general—I’m inclined to agree with him.

An illiterate society is an ignorant one; an ignorant society is an illogical and superstitious one, easily swayed by hucksters, tricksters, charlatans, demagogues, and dictators. Knowledge really is power, and ignorance is slavery.

In The Demon-Haunted World, Sagan draws connecting lines between laughable (and sometimes horrible), obvious superstitions of our past to their surviving descendents, the superstitions and pseudoscience of today. As he sees it, Dark Ages humanity’s belief in demons (specifically succubi and incubi),3 astrology, and witch-burnings don’t differ significantly from modern humanity’s fixations on the “face” on Mars, alien abductions, astrology (still alive and kicking, for some reason), the healing powers of crystals and magnetism, the Bible Code,4 Ouija boards, the “lost continents” of Atlantis and Lemuria,5 and pretty much every word ever printed in the Weekly World News.

There are plenty of ways to have your mind taken away from you—you could trash it with drugs and alcohol; you could be struck by an anvil or a falling piano, Tom and Jerry–style; you could, like Phineas Gage, have a giant metal rod explode through your skull; you could have your head ripped off by bloodthirsty Care Bears.6 But don’t just give it away for nothing. Our abilities to learn and to reason are what makes us human—that and some crazy genetic bullshit I won’t even try to understand7—don’t let ’em take them from you without a fight.

1. Some time ago—probably right around the time the AP-Ipsos poll came out, in fact—I had a brief conversation with a woman who claimed, without embarrassment, to have read only five books in her lifetime. She was probably in her early thirties, and had had to read a couple of the books for school—two books in (presumably) twenty-four semesters being not a particularly bruising pace—and one of the other three on her list was a book on the Atkins Diet. Call me picky, but I don’t think that counts.
2. To be fair, I suspect that readers and non-readers alike go online for roughly the same things: a. porn, b. shopping, c. porn shopping, d. fantasy football, e. porn . . . x. to settle bets, y. to check e-mail, and finally z. for insightful reading material.
3. Sagan makes a very convincing connection between the Dark Ages’ succubi and incubi (horny little demons who, although their existence was commonly accepted, went completely undetected by anybody except the humans they seduced in the night) and today’s alien abductors (horny little bald aliens who probe their victims quite thoroughly and rudely). These aliens have apparently mastered space, time, travel across impossible distances, and the ability to slip silently and undetected from the exosphere through skies blanketed by radar by a watchful military, all the way down through solid walls and into your bedroom . . . and they're sex-obsessed but haven’t the faintest clue what’s going on with human biology. If it's generally (of not universally) accepted nowadays that these demons were mere myths, why are we any more willing to give credence to their little grey-skinned descendants?
4. Sagan doesn’t mention the Bible Code in The Demon-Haunted World; that addition is mine. I hope sooner or later to share my thoughts on the subject, once I figure out more or less what they are.
5. Think Atlantis, but in the Indian Ocean. Or possibly the Pacific. An old roommate of mine once told me, at great length, about the “serious” book he was reading about the search for Atlantis. I still don’t know whether to cringe at the subject matter and at how ready he was to believe it, or just be happy that he was reading.
6. Don’t even try to tell me you don’t think this could happen.
7. I’m using irony here. Get it?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A New Reason to Hate the Yankees

I am not one for hating on the Yankees. Yes, the New York Yankees make more money than any other team in baseball, and of course they, correspondingly, spend more money on players than any other team. For reasons that I understand but do not agree with, this makes some people irate and many others quietly perturbed. Don't hate the Yankees because they operate within the system at their maximum potential to win baseball games. Further, I concede that the system may be flawed but do not agree with implementing a salary cap. I have not heard a cogent suggestion for how to fix the issue that I can get on board with.

So I am conceptually fine with the inherent advantages the Yankees have in the economics of baseball. But what if the Yankees get an additional competitive advantage from the vast (and evil, by the way) media outlets in the immediate vicinity of New Yankee Stadium? Having just traded for Curtis Granderson, a very good, if somewhat over-rated, center fielder formerly of the Detroit Tigers, it appears the GM of the Yanks shipped off some prospects to fill a hole with a player they can certainly afford. Here's the rub - they got the player they wanted and only gave up an over-rated prospect (to be fair, he could be pretty good eventually) and a marginal major league starter and a couple relievers (neither very good - these grow on trees in major league baseball). What if the mega-media outlets, who talk about the Yankees' prospects all the time, have contributed to that team's prospects being over-rated on a consistent basis? This would lead not to better home-grown players on the field, but to better players available by trade. Consequently, not only would the Yankees be able to buy the best players, but because their prospects are hyped way more than any other teams' maybe they also have the advantage when it comes to trading for the best players too.

Gosh. Maybe this is a bit out there, and certainly not something I would normally advocate. And I definitely do not qualify as an expert on any teams' prospects. But after watching the rumors float in the world of the LA Dodgers that such and such teams want the Dodgers' top four prospects plus some major league talent for certain players in trade, it does make me wonder if other teams believe the hype given to the Yankee youngsters by the Yankees media conglomerate a bit too much when I see trades like the Granderson deal.

Maybe something I'll look into. Any ideas how to prove this from the Bowling faithful? Just what we need - another reason for everyone to hate the Yankees.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Think of the Consequences!

On my good days, I’m filled with a cheerful belief that maybe American society isn’t as frivolous, silly, wasteful, and occasionally downright embarrassing as I sometimes suspect it is. On those days, when the sun is warm on my face, birds are signing, or I just haven’t slept enough to think clearly, I tend to hope and even—dare I say it—believe that maybe, just maybe, we’re not moseying naively down the path toward willing personal and cultural self-destruction, much less sprinting down it, clambering desperately over one another to get to the end first in case there’s a TV crew waiting for us there. It’s a nice feeling to have, this optimism.

My bad days, on the other hand, usually involve something like this:

The image above was listed as one of ten “Holiday Essentials” in a flyer mailed to me by a nearby mall. Why the retailers didn’t have the guts to describe these as “Christmas Essentials”—given that Santa Claus is fairly well established as a genuine Christmas icon, rather than merely a “holiday” one, and there are slim odds of even finding, much less offending, a Santa Claus fan who doesn't celebrate Christmas—is neither here nor there; I don’t care all that much about it one way or another, but regardless, it’s a topic for another day.

What really concerns me about the above is this: as your pets get older, more mature, more wise to the ways of the world—but still wide-eyed with wonder and innocent of heart—how can you bear to tell them that they didn’t actually get to meet the real Santa Claus?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Religion Embraces Evolution?

I appreciate Some Guy saying that he followed Monty Python's Flying Circus religiously. And while I can, unfortunately, confirm that he was a dork in high school (weren't we all?) I need to thank him for providing the foreshadowing to my post. For as I constantly strive to seek universal Truth (that's with a big T) I start to tackle the human condition known as religion (see what I did there - my bias on display already!).

The recent book "The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures" by Nicholas Wade explores his theory that people have a genetic impulse to worship due to the natural selection benefit provided to early societies that adopted religion. I have read books on the historical development of religion, by both atheists (such as Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion") and those of faith (including "The Dawkins Delusion" which I recently started), and I intend to put Mr. Wade's new addition on my list as well. Fortunately, my new favorite newspaper columnist, John Tierney of the New York Times Science section, did read it. The money quote (which includes a quote from the book itself):

In “The Faith Instinct,” after discussing some of the challenges to traditional beliefs (like the arguments of scholars that Jesus had little to do with the invention of Christianity, and that Muhammad might not even have existed), Nicholas notes that music appreciation, like religion, is a universal human faculty that draws people together, stirs the emotions, and exalts the mind to a different plane. He then observes:

Is there not some way of transforming religion into versions better suited for a modern age? The three monotheisms were created to meet conditions in societies that existed many centuries ago. The fact that they have endured for so long does not mean they were meant to last for ever, only that they have become like some favorite Mozart opera that people are happy to hear over and over again. But the world of music did not achieve final perfection in Mozart.

This is a brilliant observation by Mr. Wade. I hazard to guess that high-ranking officials in each of the Big Three Religions (in case you live under a rock - uh, a rock with Internet access - the Big Three consists of Christianity, Judaism and Islam) agree with portions of this sentiment. They DO need to evolve, and have done a piss-poor job of this in, oh, say the past 600 years. While standing around in their official garb (hey - it's a word!), the priest the rabbi and the imam (no, sadly this is not the beginning of a joke) would be loathe to admit that people only go because it has been something they are used to hearing over and over, like Mozart. It may not be a good reason, but it may just be the most common reason. And just like fans of the New York Yankees, they need to understand Mr. Wade's point - that just because they've been the winner before does not mean their institutions should endure.

Dawkins presents his argument in unabashedly indignant fashion, and this can feel like a club of the figurative head while reading his material. A biologist by education, Dawkins can (somewhat ironically - check me here, Some Guy) be "holier than thou" in his assertions, almost daring people to argue with him and giving off a vibe that if you beleive in God it is because you're not smart enough not to. But he brings with his arrogance a certain scientific credibility in his arguments. This is something I believe, for obvious reasons, the faithful cannot counter, for much of their argument boils down to "we believe it all happened, so it must have". This doesn't make it wrong, just as it doesn't make it right. On this issue, rarely do people use logic over emotion, and the discussion quickly breaks down.

Perhaps Dawkins' fatal flaw is that he doesn't distinguish between religion, faith and god, three very different ideas. God is the all-powerful being itself, and faith is the belief in.....well, something. But religion, while presumably based on the first two (faith in God) has become an entirely separate, almost corporate, entity, which can seemingly exist regardless of the actual existence of a supreme being. And maybe this is where Wade will shine, as he seems to identify a need to worship as something separate from the existence of god (or God, which ever he's talking about). Tierney wraps up his article discussing one idea for the evolution of religion:

What would the product of such a transformation look like? One possibility that occurs to me is a version of environmentalism, but with better music and with rituals that are more elegant than sorting garbage. A Church of Green could provide some of the same moral lessons and communal values as traditional religions, and I suspect it’s no coincidence that green fervor is especially prevalent in European countries where traditional religion is on the decline.

I can't wait to read Wade's contribution to the ancient and escalating debate. What do the faithful of Bowling in the Dark think?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Rest in Peace, Ken Ober

In keeping with our recent but solidifying tendency to report news items long after they’ve been beaten into the ground by more timely and better-staffed news outlets, we would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and mourn the passing of Ken Ober, who died in his home in Santa Monica, California, on November 15, 2009, at the age of fifty-two.

A comedian, television producer, and radio personality, the affable Ober was probably best known for his late-1980s stint as the host of MTV’s game show Remote Control. On the air from 1987 to 1990, Remote Control was a goofy and irreverent homage to (and, later, a component of) pop culture, specifically television. Its oddball categories and characters—Sing Along with Colin, Dead or Canadian, Stickpin the Trivia Delinquent, the Fairy Pixie, Stud Boy, and Beat the Bishop—were funny and entertaining enough to be remembered by plenty of MTV viewers with a thirteen-year-old's mentality, which, of course, made up the bulk of its viewership.1

It’d be more than a little over-the-top to suggest that Remote Control was a cultural landmark—even in comparison to the formidably low standards of MTV, game shows, or television overall—but it was fun, unusual, and entertaining. However, the show also deserves a certain amount of dishonor for its role in bringing to life one of modern television’s most dismal plagues:

The reality show.

At the time Remote Control originally aired, MTV broadcast little to no original programming. They aired plenty of music videos,2 sometimes more or less randomly, sometimes grouped together thematically in shows like Yo! MTV Raps and Headbanger’s Ball,3 but their non–music video content consisted, according to my very hazy memories from twenty years ago, primarily of reruns of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which I for one watched almost religiously.4

Remote Control may have lasted only a handful of seasons, but its success was enough to get MTV thinking that if a more or less first-rate game show could get good ratings, there had to be a cheap ways to get second-rate entertainment out to its mostly undiscerning audience. Eventually somebody came up with the morally dubious but financially brilliant notion of grouping together a handful of young, self-absorbed, questionably mature, personally incompatible, unpaid and untrained strangers, shoving them under a microscope and poking them with a stick5 until they pissed each other off—and then filming the resulting explosions, editing out the parts that didn’t involve real or perceived racism and sexism, destruction and/or reinforcement of broad stereotypes (sometimes at the same time), booze, sex, aggression, narcissism, and confrontation. And The Real World was born.

Teenaged MTV viewers, with their underdeveloped ability to tell the difference between shit and Shinola—it’s science—moved enthusiastically from Remote Control to The Real World, which, after a few years, was followed by MTV’s Road Rules, a groundbreaking, never-been-seen-before all-new kind of reality television best described as “The Real World in a camper.”

Since then, the reality TV phenomenon has exploded like a
gremlin in a microwave
, its roster of shows including but not limited to

American Gladiator; Big Brother; The Apprentice; Celebrity Apprentice; I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here; Survivor; Fear Factor; The Mole; The Simple Life; American Gladiator again, for some reason; America’s Next Top Model; America’s Got Talent; American Idol; American Chopper; American Hot Rod; The Bachelor; The Bachelorette; The Biggest Loser; The Amazing Race; Wife Swap; Who Wants to be a Millionaire; Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire; Who Wants to Desecrate a Corpse; Who Wants to Desecrate a Celebrity’s Corpse; The Anna Nicole Show; and The Running Man.

I’m not about to tell you that any of the above shows6 destroyed Western culture as we know it, crapped on the Constitution, or made Jesus cry—although I’d like to think that Wife Swap, just because of the title, came close—but I’ll be damned if I can find anything in that list that didn’t lower television’s already dreadfully low standards for what passes as quality entertainment.

It’s not fair, though, to pin all of the blame—maybe not any of it—on Ken Ober. Granted, his game show did give exposure to Kari Wuhrer, Colin Quinn, and Adam Sandler, and if Ober were still alive and this thought had occurred to me, I’d probably want to give him some good-natured grief about it. But nobody—and I mean nobody—watching an goofy MTV game show in 1987 could have predicted that it would have led to Little Nicky or Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time, much less to the unholy spawn of reality shows that have been torpedoing IQs and TV standards for the last twenty years.

I’m not about to say that Ken Ober was a towering figure in my childhood, but he seemed like a friendly, funny guy, he hosted a fun show that is and deserves to be remembered warmly, and fifty-two is far too young to go. So a heartfelt goodbye to the quizmaster of 72 Whooping Cough Lane, Ken Ober; we’ll miss you. Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye.

1. I have a legitimate excuse: I was thirteen at the time.
2. That’s right, younguns, I’m old enough to remember when MTV actually played music videos. Gather ’round, I’ll tell you stories of the golden video days of yesteryear.
3. Which featured VJ Adam Curry, who fit into the heavy metal scene only slightly less comfortably than Downtown Julie Brown or, say, Elton John.
4. I would have had good odds of turning out to be a high school dork no matter what, but memorizing sketch after sketch of Monty Python’s Flying Circus pretty much made it a dead lock. But it was so, so worth it.
5. Apologies for the mixed metaphor here. It’s late.
6. The ones I didn’t make up, anyway.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving From Us. Specifically, From Me

The staff here at Bowling in the Dark, all the way from the overworked payroll department to the overstaffed executive lounge, would like to wish our readers a warm and wonderful Thanksgiving to share with their friends and family, or, if they're so inclined, with affable or even unfriendly strangers. Spend your Thanksgiving snowboarding with sasquatch if you want, for all we care—we’re not in the business of telling you how to enjoy your Thanksgiving. Not yet, anyway.

One thing for which we here at Bowling in the Dark are very thankful is the lively and free exchange of thoughts and ideas and shit. A good example of this exchange comes in the form of a recent post on the venerable blog The Year of the Beard.

In that post, The Year of the Beard’s host, our distinguished fellow blogman Dr. Brainsmart—who, if my sources are correct, has advanced degrees in both smartology and smartonomy—responds to our own Squid Bandit’s recent commentary on the possibility of a salary cap in major league baseball, and also researches the many faces of Alex Rodriguez and how they help him to be the well-rounded butthole he is. It's worth checking out, and not just because it's free almost embarrassingly easy to do so!

I’d throw my two cents in, but (1) I’m smart enough to get out of the way when two heavyweights start punching, and (2) I’ll be too busy stuffing turkey down my gullet to complete a coherent thought for at least a couple of days. The lack of coherent thought has never stopped me before, but I’m trying to mend my ways.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all, and remember, there are only 393 shopping days until Christmas 2010. So get cracking!

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Salary Cap Would've Stopped Hitler!

Alan Greenspan comes to me for discussions on economic theory and Bud Selig gets my input of baseball issues of the day, so I occasionally feel the need to spew my knowledge to the masses. It’s just the right thing to do, yo. Hence, we’re here to celebrate the Yankees of 2009 and World Series Champions (I hate that “world champions crap – did they beat everyone in the world? No!) as they prove the point about money being meaningless in baseball. Huh? you might ask? Didn’t the Yankees spend way more than everyone else and buy the title? In the words of the great White Goodman, let me hit you with some knowledge.

Rob Neyer of ESPN has a terrific blog, called Sweetspot. Check it out. It’s not quite as terrific as Bowling in the Dark…but not much is. Some Guy and I have a media behemoth on our hands, and the Rob Neyers of the world can get in line! Anyway, Neyer wrote a good blog entry about this topic. The basic point is that the Yankees can buy a playoff spot every year, but the last eight years (many of which the Yanks outspent everyone by even more than they did this year) taught us that the championship cannot be bought (only some timely talent and Lady Luck can grant that).

Isn’t revenue sharing a good thing? How about the luxury tax? The Yanks pay way more than anyone else – is that a bad thing? It’s a problem that the clubs are not required to re-invest monies earned through the luxury tax or in revenue sharing in the team. This has NOTHING to do with a salary cap. Simply implementing a rule that says “All clubs must invest the money they receive through the luxury tax or revenue sharing back into the team payroll” would probably alleviate a lot of what the lazy mainstream media types are complaining about.

I find it irritating when people talk about teams forcing cities to build them new stadia (plural of stadium?). It’s not true that a team does not have to pay for a new stadium. It’s simply market forces. The team says “you, Mr. City, build me a stadium or we’re leaving”. And most of the time Mr. City does just that, not calling the bluff of the team. The City of Tampa has called the bluff – no new stadium for a long time. It’s ludicrous when the team doesn’t build its own stadium. For the Yankees to get this grand new stadium (with some tickets costing $5K a game!) for free is a bunch of garbage. But no one made Mr. New York City do that for the Yankees. Screw you, Mr. New York City!

Next – we all talk about “small market” and “large market” teams. Do you know which teams are which? Below is a chart of the baseball markets arranged by population, using numbers from the 2000 census:

Markets of more than 10 million people

21,199,865 New York Mets, New York Yankees
16,373,645 Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers

Markets of 5-10 million people

9,157,540 Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox
7,608,070 Baltimore Orioles, Washington Nationals
7,039,362 Oakland Athletics, San Francisco Giants
6,188,463 Philadelphia Phillies
5,819,100 Boston Red Sox
5,456,428 Detroit Tigers
5,221,801 Texas Rangers

Markets of 3-5 million people

4,682,897 Toronto Blue Jays
4,669,571 Houston Astros
4,112,198 Atlanta Braves
3,878,380 Florida Marlins
3,554,760 Seattle Mariners
3,251,876 Arizona Diamondbacks

Markets of 2-3 million people

2,968,806 Minnesota Twins
2,945,831 Cleveland Indians
2,813,833 San Diego Padres
2,603,607 St Louis Cardinals
2,581,506 Colorado Rockies
2,395,997 Tampa Bay Devil Rays
2,358,695 Pittsburgh Pirates

Markets of 1-2 million people

1,979,202 Cincinnati Reds
1,776,062 Kansas City Royals
1,689,572 Milwaukee Brewers

A few things jump out on this list, at least to me. Look at the 5-10 group. Why are the Cubs, White Sox, Orioles, Nationals (get a pass for recent move), Phillies, Tigers and Rangers so bad more often than not? Okay, perhaps one could argue that more recently the salaries have grown more disproportionate, and the Cubs and Phillies (at least) have been competitive. But then why are the others so bad? One may also argue that the 5-10 is too large a spread to look at. Perhaps, but note that the first three cities share two teams each. The same person is highly unlikely to attend games of both teams or buy stuff from both teams. Next, look at the 2-5 million ranges (smushing two groups together – and yes, I just used the word “smushing”). Atlanta, Minnesota, Toronto, Cleveland, Arizona and St. Louis have been fairly regularly competitive. What advantage do they have over Houston (also pretty competitive, but less consistently so than the first group), Seattle, San Diego, Colorado, Tampa and Pittsburgh? Florida is a special case, as they have no attendance and build up for a run then tear down (no other team has this particular model). I also think Minnesota is a special case, as its owner is one of the richest in the league, and they don’t spend up to their revenue level. So how does one analyze that?

In fact, the most compelling argument FOR a cap may just be the final four teams on the list. Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Kansas City and Milwaukee have certainly been the most inept teams over the last 20-30 years. But does correlation equal causation? Certainly, a significant part of the reason for their ineptitude is revenue-driven. But it’s important to recognize that a significant part is also inept-management-driven. Is the fortune of those four teams enough to drive the creation of a salary cap? And if you believe that it is, how do you explain the similar results seen by fans in Baltimore, Dallas, Detroit and Chicago (until recently)? Thus, I think that population is not what you’re looking for as an explanation.

Population is only a part of the equation. What you really should look at is team revenue. This is somewhat population-driven, but not always. Seattle is a large-revenue club. Oakland is a small-revenue club. Why? Too many reasons to list here. But the point is that if you talk population and not revenue, you’re not seeing the entire ball of wax. Is there a correlation between revenue and post-season potential? Of course. Let’s explore that next.

There is a good book that I have only read parts of thus far, called “Baseball Between The Numbers”. Since only 12 of 30 teams can make the playoffs in a given year, most teams won’t come close to making the playoffs (2008 being an outlier there, as deep into the season there was a disproportionately large number of teams still “in the running” for a playoff spot – I think this is also evidence against the need for a salary cap, but I digress). So let’s look at playoff appearances over time, since one of Some Guy’s main arguments has been that the higher-spending teams will be more consistently competitive than the lower-spending teams. Doing some statistical analysis that I am way too dumb to understand, the authors found that the correlation between team revenue and post-season appearances (the R-squared) is .51. Meaning that half of getting to the post-season is determined by revenue. Is that enough for a cap? I don’t know. But the authors make a good point – teams make a lot of money by getting to the post-season, so could the correlation really be telling us that those who make the post-season have higher revenues? Maybe, but this isn’t what we want to know. So they did a comparison of appearances in the playoffs to TV market size – go back to the above chart. It is here that my analysis above really shines (the chart was from a different source, and the analysis was all mine. Eat it Greenspan!). The correlation between post-season appearances and TV market size is only .11, meaning that only 11% of the reason for a team making the playoffs is due to TV market size. This, it should be obvious, is not enough to support creating a salary cap.

I really believe that when people say “a salary cap would be good for baseball” they really mean “I hate the Yankees for being able to buy all the best players.” “Baseball Between The Numbers” goes on to discuss how the authors believe a cap would (or would not) affect the competitive balance, and I won’t go into that here. But to quickly look at football’s cap – the Cowboys and the Raiders spent the most money on salary in 2008 (there are many complicated ways to fit lots of salary into a hard salary cap under the NFL rules). Where did that get both of those teams? The lesson, from this admittedly tiny sample size? Even with a cap, there are teams that have more money to spend than others – and even then, you’re still not guaranteed to be any better than any other team.

Rob Neyer thinks that the Yankees can buy their way to the playoffs every year. He’s a smart guy and maybe they can, but most large-revenue teams cannot. It’s pretty hard to argue, however, that revenue has no bearing on the fates of baseball teams. Spending has escalated in the past twenty years, but in 1990 the Baltimore Orioles were the highest spending team. The Dodgers have spent money like scary monkeys for a long time, with only the recent playoff fruit to show for it (and that is in SPITE of some terrible spending, on the likes of Juan Pierre, Andruw Jones and Jason Schmidt).

Okay, maybe money is not irrelevent, as the first paragraph of my post suggested with tongue firmly in cheek. But spend wisely, my billionaire team owning friends. Go ahead and try to buy your way to the playoffs. Good luck once you’re there.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Best Blog Ever Humbly Announces Fourth Follower

The word is out on Bowling in the Dark, the smash hit blog recently described by experts1 as “probably the best blog ever,” which today modestly announced that it had acquired its fourth follower in just its second month of existence.

This blindingly rapid expansion of Bowling in the Dark’s fan base is gratifying and humbling, despite being not at all unexpected. We are, after all, pretty darned cool.

Statistics2 suggest that, if the list of followers continues to quadruple each month—a perfectly reasonable expectation, as far as we know3—by February 2010, Bowling in the Dark will have more worldwide followers than L. Ron Hubbard; by September it will surpass the size of the Republican Party4, and by March 2011, Bowling in the Dark will reach approximately 17.1 billion followers.

After it was brought to our attention that this last number exceeded, by some 10.3 billion, the entire population of the Earth, Bowling in the Dark staff pseudoscientists conducted an in-depth analysis of the calculations and the fundamental assumptions upon which they were based. They have concluded that this admittedly unusual—even shocking—projection can mean one of only two things:

1. Years of scientific research by luminaries like Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey5 will finally pay off with meaningful communication between humans and animals. And these apes, after rapidly tiring of internet pornography, will gradually find their way to us. We’re confident they won’t be disappointed—they entertain themselves by throwing their own feces, for Pete’s sake; we’re at least a couple of notches classier than that.6

2.The human race will encounter extraterrestrial intelligence. The rest of the progression will be eerily similar: a. find internet, b. get tired of pornography, c. search blogosphere for intelligent life, d. settle enthusiastically on Bowling in the Dark. It’s quite possible that our blog will turn out to be the very reason an alien civilization would seek out our planet in the first place. Whether these extraterrestrials will be of the Reese’s Pieces–eating, glowing-tummy type or the “enslave all humanity” type—or even the friendly-Brian-Dennehy type who loves old people, or the susceptible-to-Earth’s-simple-viruses type—we can’t be sure. But frankly, as long as they read us and love us and occasionally leave entertaining and insightful responses to our posts, we don’t really care how many of Earth’s monuments they demolish with their colossal lasers.

That’s right, readers, a breakthrough of truly astounding, even cosmic proportions is right around the corner. Pretty soon you will be talking to, or potentially fleeing from, angry talking monkeys or our new alien pals and/or overlords.

What’s better is that you—yes, you—can help make this happen. Tell your friends about Bowling in the Dark, and tell them to read us and love us with all of their withered, inadequate little hearts.

We here at Bowling in the Dark are grateful and appreciative—in addition to other synonyms for “grateful”—for your support during our early struggle for survival, and that support will not be forgotten for hours or even days. But remember, if you don’t tell all you friends about us, the terrorists win. And if you tell only half your friends, the terrorists may make it to overtime and force a tie, which still moves them up in the standings.

Don’t let the terrorists make the playoffs! They’re better funded than the New York Yankees, and almost as evil.7 It’s up to you.

1. Source: Some Guy, personal communication, November 21, 2009.
2. That we have just made up.
3. Although we admit that have been drinking heavily.
4. The Republican Party of Puerto Rico.
5. You know her, she was played by Sigourney Weaver in that movie about the gorillas in our midst. I think it was called Project X.
6. Although we do admit to enjoying a good old-fashioned Feces Fight every once in a blue moon.
7. See note 3.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The End of the World is Nigh, if We’re Lucky

Recent events have led me to consider the possibility that the apocalypse may well be upon us after all, despite my previous confident statement to the contrary. The good news (if it can be called that) is that, given the horrific nature of this particular tragedy, it’s likely that at least some folks will actually start looking forward to the end of time.

There’s no good way to sugar-coat this, so I’m just going to come right out with it: Bob Dylan has released a Christmas album.

Quibble if you want with the fact that this “news” is actually more than a month old—the album was released on October 13, 2009—but to do so runs the risk of missing the fundamental point here, which is, at the risk of repeating myself, that Bob Dylan has released a Christmas album.

Now, before I get carried away, I should take time to make a couple of things perfectly clear:

1. I don’t hate Christmas music. I do wish that, even during the heart of the actual Christmas season (not to be confused with the Christmas retail season, which is roughly fifteen months longer), the stores I have to visit would sprinkle in a non-Christmas song every ten or twenty minutes. The universal Department Store Approved Christmas Song playlist is only about six songs long, and for me the repetition gets very old very quickly. And I do get more than a little irritated when I hear Christmas songs in stores well before Thanksgiving, or even before I’ve even finished my Halloween candy.1

2. I also don’t hate Bob Dylan. I’m not especially familiar with his work beyond the tracks that would end up on a greatest hits album,2 and I’m certainly not one of those self-important fans that humps his leg by calling him a prophet, but he’s not bad. In fact, I’m listening to him as I write this, in the hopes that I’ll be inspired by whatever the hell it is he’s trying to say.

Bob Dylan is, without a doubt, an intriguing and insightful lyricist and a gifted songwriter. “Shelter from the Storm” is one of my all-time favorite songs; “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Positively 4th Street” seethe with fascinating anger, and “Highway 61 Revisited” has that awesome Sideshow Bob whistle in it. “It Ain’t Me Babe” is great, too, although Johnny Cash did it better.3

I may be wrong here, but my assumption is that people who listen to Christmas music—and, more to the point, buy Christmas music—do so not because they want to hear an original, brand-new Christmas tune (name a good Christmas song that’s come out in the last thirty years) but because they want to hear an old, old, old song reinterpreted and revitalized by a gifted musician.4

And the obvious problem with Bob Dylan—and, thus, the main reason that I fear his Christmas in the Heart album is a sign of the apocalypse—is his voice. I’m not quite deluded enough to believe that I’m the first person to notice that his voice tends to suck, but yes, his voice does kind of suck.5 But even Dylan’s biggest fans, in their best efforts to put a positive spin on a voice that sounds like a man swallowing a clump of burning hair, can’t do much better than to use words like unique, distinctive, or unorthodox.

Good for these folks for their positive outlook and for having access to a Thesaurus, but let’s be honest, you could also use the words “unique” and “distinctive” to describe the sound of, say, a rhinoceros making love to a tuba, and that wouldn’t make me any more inclined to listen to it.6

You know who else has a distinctive and unique vocal delivery and enunciation? This kid here. He can barely stand, can’t remember to sing into his microphone, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t speak any English.7

If you’ve been waiting to hear a rendition of “O Come, All Ye Faithful” by a guy with a live, seizure-prone chicken shoved up at least one of his nostrils, now’s your chance. And if it’s narrow-minded for mocking this album without listening to it, I can accept being narrow-minded.8 The way I see it, the one thing that makes Dylan’s music truly interesting—his writing—is gone, and if my other option is to listen to him struggle his way through songs I’ve heard (by my count) around 1,600 times each, I’d prefer to hide out in my secret, soundproof underground bunker, crossing my fingers that Emmerich’s 2012 is actually a documentary.

1. I’ve been coming home with less and less Halloween candy since I hit my mid-thirties, but the songs seem to start playing earlier and earlier every year, so the change has been minimal.
2. Like, for example, Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, which, not coincidentally, is the one Dylan album I have.
3. Johnny Cash had chunks of guys like Bob Dylan in his stool.
4. Which explains why Pat Boone’s In a Metal Mood was so totally, totally awesome.
5. And I’m the first person ever to notice it.
6. “Unorthodox” would apply if it’s the tuba that’s making love to the rhinoceros.
7. Of course, we all know that Paul is dead, but if he wasn't, I'm sure this video would make him feel good.
8. Which is a pretty broad-minded thing for me to say, isn’t it? Clever, huh?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Tom Cable Is Worse Than Adolf Hitler!

No, sadly I do not have any neat Photoshop pictures of Tom Cable, the embattled (and battering - ha!) head coach of the NFL's Oakland Raiders, with a tiny mustache of the Hitler variety. But with all the press Cable has received recently one might reasonably think Cable to be more of a problem than a mustached Barak Obama, even if one thinks Cable may not rise to the level of the former Austrian-born leader of the Nazi party. But Cable hit people - he's worse than Hitler!

It doesn't take a Jessica Simpson level of intellect to grasp that battering your fellow human beings is not a generally good thing. Clocking an unsuspecting assistant coach is perhaps slightly worse than the average assault. Beating your wife or girlfriend is decidedly lower - pretty close to the bottom of the barrel actually. Of course saying that Tom Cable is akin to Adolf Hitler is the kind of belligerent, chest-beating, over-the-top-for-over-the-top's-sake argument is what Some Guy rightly despises. But sometimes, hidden in the idiocy, and sheer volume, of the enraged masses is a nugget of truth. No, Cable has not been charged with a crime yet, let alone been convicted of one. But since when does that matter in this era of instant analysis from talking head media types? This just in - it doesn't. There is a logical conclusion that that is perhaps being overlooked in the panic to have something to say. Maybe Tom Cable is not a good person.

The problem with sarcasm is sometimes my heart's not in it. Like now. Is it wrong of me to sort of agree with the enraged masses? I find myself in an odd position on this issue. Some Guy and I recently discussed this issue, and the topic of "innocent until proven guilty" was raised. As discussed in the Cable press article linked above, there has been discussion of suspending Cable due to his recent altercation with the assistant coach in addition to the allegations of violence made by his ex-wife. The United States Constitution, I think I read somewhere, provides that people in this country are free from prosecution by the government until it is established that an infraction was committed. Innocent until proven guilty. Note that, in spite of what the uneducated masses may believe, this is a protection only against government prosecution.

This does not apply in the private sector, or to one's reputation in society. Tom Cable is the leader of a popular (if wildly unsuccessful, recently) professional football team (yes, the Oakland Raiders for those of you not paying attention - or already asleep) playing in an incredibly profitable corporate entity (the NFL) with highly visible members (all the games on every TV in the country on Sundays). If this person, looked up to by the numerous Raiders' fanatics (and the dozens who actually think they are close to being a winning football team), is accused of something as serious as assault and battery on not only a current member of the coaching staff but also his former wife as well as another former girlfriend, why shouldn't the NFL suspend him during the investigative process?

On the other hand, is it right to judge a man based on his worst hour? A good friend of mine is a talented guy. Smart. Athletic. Funny. Handsome. A real triple threat. Unfortunately, when he runs fast, particularly in parking lots for some unknown reason, he can't help but fall sprawling to the pavement in a jumble of skinny arms and legs, blood and asphalt, usually with a confused look on his face. Yes, he ends up resembling squabling retards bleeding on the ground but that should not detract from the quality human being he otherwise is. Maybe it's not fair to judge Tom Cable on the strength of a few unproven allegations, when he may well be an upstanding guy.

The National Organization for Women (NOW) has pressed for Cable to be suspended. I happen to be of the opinion that the National Organization for Winners (yes, I just cleverly made that up!) should have pressed for Cable's firing before now due to the team's awful showing. I don't mean to make light of the situation - I believe these allegations, while indicating a man who needs professional anger management treatment, merely compound Cable's failure to do his job. I see no reason the NFL or the Oakland Raiders should feel obligated to treat this issue with kid gloves. Put him on the shelf and investigate - maybe he is a great guy, but don't you owe it to the fans of the NFL to make sure that he's not a danger to others before trotting him out in the spotlight (such as it is in Oakland) every Sunday? Then get the man some help. Oh, and while you're at it, get the Raiders some help too.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Enough with the Hitler Shit Already

The jury is still out on whether we, as a society or as individuals, are stupid by nature or merely stupid in select situations, but ample evidence suggests that stupidity is a
, very common human trait.

To me, though, there’s a big difference between the kind of self-inflicted stupidity that’s generally harmless to society as a whole—see, for example, almost any YouTube video involving a skateboard, dirt bike, or motorcycle—and the kind of stupidity that is deliberate, is destructive, and—simply by existing—is all too common.

For example: a small but disproportionately loud (and seemingly growing) segment of our society’s willingness to compare anyone you don’t like or disagree with to Adolf Hitler.

This ignorant and ineffective rhetorical tool—which has been described, semi-humorously, reductio ad Hitlerum—has been around for hundreds if not thousands of years,1 but from where I sit, it appears to have gained plenty of traction in the last decade or so, with folks who’ve used it in “criticism” of Presidents George W. Bush or Barack Obama.2 Rarely both of them at the same time.

The pictures in the links provided above (I’ve decided not to post more than the one at the top of the page; I’d rather not run any more risk of becoming part of the problem), on their own, prove only two things:

1. Assholes now have access to Photoshop.

2. For some folks, being simultaneously utterly uninformed and obnoxiously opinionated is creeping ever closer to becoming the rule, rather than the exception.

If it ended there, it’d probably be fine, because even with the power of the internet behind them, random assholes don’t generally get a lot of support.3 But increasingly, more-mainstream and noticeable sources are jumping on the “You’re just like Hitler” bandwagon. The very lowly regarded anti-evolution film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, rather than arguing a defensible point, more or less stated that an acceptance of the theory of evolution lead to the Holocaust.4 And perhaps worse yet, the very highly regarded late Kurt Vonnegut, famous for the kind of incisive, darkly humorous, sometimes silly, often stinging satire that suggests a fertile, active, and insightful mind, actually stated—willingly, for all I know—that “The only difference between Bush and Hitler is that Hitler was elected.”5

Folks, George W. Bush wasn’t (and still isn’t) like Hitler. Barack Obama isn’t like Hitler. There are people out there who can conceivably be compared to Hitler—Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao Zedong, Cecil B. deMille—but if the best argument you can muster, at any time, anywhere, is “[insert name here] is like Hitler” or “The Nazis also were in favor of [some particular activity],” then either this actually is the best argument you can make because your position is garbage from the start, or this is the best you can do because you’re way too ignorant of the facts at hand to actually voice an opinion in the first place.

It doesn’t take much qualification to make this statement. Mine are:

(1) several hundred games of Axis and Allies, a World War II board game in which I suddenly (and quite coincidentally) lost interest right around the time I found out that our favorite whipping boy was suddenly much, much better at it than I was,

(2) a rudimentary understanding of the second World War, beefed up by couple of high-school history classes and some reading on my own time,

and most importantly,
(3) a willingness to think rationally, at least once in a while, and an unwillingness to barf out the most offensive, hyperbolic, and obviously mistaken bullcrap I can think of simply to get attention.

Clearly, if I can cobble together enough knowledge to make a reasonable and understandable argument, any trained seal can do it.6 To fall back on such a stupid argument shows not the harmless, occasionally amusing kind of stupid, but a willful and dangerous ignorance.

Vegetarians, failed painters, folks with one testicle, and people with stupid mustaches all have something in common with Adolf Hitler, but that commonality is irrelevant.7 It’s meaningless. If you’ve Photoshopped a little toothbrush mustache onto a picture of anybody,8 or made this argument and thought it was actually relevant or thoughtful instead of embarrassing to yourself and to logical thought and rational discourse, grow up, read a history book, and realize how stupid you’ve been making yourself look.

1. This is an obvious lie. Few if any comparisons to Hitler were made before, say, 1933, and certainly none at all before 1889, excluding, of course, possible remarks from psychics or time travelers.
2. I use quotation marks around the word criticism not because I’m one of those “people” who mistakenly “use” quotation marks for “emphasis.” I’m using them—the quotation marks, that is—for what they actually do in this context, which is to change the meaning of the word. For more of my disjointed thoughts on sarcasm, please see here. Cross-references are neat.
3. Too bad for me.
4. I haven’t seen the movie myself, and don’t expect to, but commentary supporting this statement can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Some of these sources may well be perfectly reputable instead of sneaky propaganda shills for Big Science.
5. A secondhand source for this quote can be found here. In a 2003 interview with the Utne Reader, Vonnegut quipped that he’s “mad about being old and I'm mad about being American. Apart from that, [I’m] OK.” As of November 8, 2009, he’s no longer old, American, or okay. So it goes.
6. With apologies to those of legions of Bowling in the Dark readers who are, in fact, trained seals.
7. I can’t prove the testicle thing. But, then, why would I want to?
8. You’re an asshole.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

An Apology from Some Guy

I had a tough time sleeping last night, and it wasn’t because my lovely and demented—er, devoted—future wife, Some Gal, was fidgety; I think she was out before she even hit the pillow. What was bothering me, I decided, was that I’d done something as shameless and lame as posting something written by some other writer, and my conscience—or, more accurately, the haphazard collection of misguided impulses and uninformed, illogical notions that I cobbled together to replace my actual conscience, which ran for the hills a long time ago—tweaked me for it.

Yeah, sure, I didn’t try to pass Sagan’s writing off as my own, and it was clearly a well-written and intriguing piece from a gifted writer, but still I worry that I’ve disappointed the legions of Bowling in the Dark fans who flock to this site at a rate of dozens per decade to read original content—the half-formed pearls of half-assed wisdom from Some Guy and his esteemed colleague, the Squid Bandit—not the warmed-over albeit insightful and even potentially moving musings of the brilliant, famous, and/or dead. From now on, if you want to read Carl Sagan’s thoughts, go check out his blog instead.1

So, for those of you who have stuck with Bowling in the Dark through its trying but thrilling month or so of existence, thank you, and my apologies for letting you down.2 It won’t happen again.3

I would also be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to apologize to my bestest pal ever, the English language, for failing to notice that the word “flashlight” in our banner was misspelled for almost twenty-four hours. There’s no excuse for this kind of bullshit. Sorry, buddy.

1. Good luck with that. Sagan may be a better writer than I am, but at this point in our careers, I’m a hell of a lot more prolific.
2. Unless, that is, you didn’t notice, don’t care, or approve. In which case, you can take my apology and stick it.
3. I am lying.

Monday, November 2, 2009

You Are Here

Almost twenty years ago, the spacecraft Voyager 1, having flown past the distant boundary of the solar system, was made to turn around in order to take a look back at the home it had left far behind. In the picture it took, Earth appears, from roughly four billion miles away, as a barely-discernible blue dot amid a vast sea of black.

For a while I sat and tried to figure out something smart, clever, or deep to say about this, but was essentially silenced by the enormity of empty space.1 So instead I’m just going to cop out, and simply reproduce here what astronomer and author Carl Sagan had to say about it.2 According to a page on Planetary.org, Sagan had to more or less badger NASA into turning Voyager around in the first place to take the photo, and I’m glad they listened:
Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there—on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”3

1. The marketing folks for Alien were right: in space, no one can hear you, uh, blog.
2. This blogging stuff is going to be easy if all I have to do is put down what other people say about things. I suppose I could pretend I’d written it all in the first place, but I’m not famous enough to get away with it, and I don’t have tenure.
3. Apologies if I’m using this text in violation of copyright. Believe me, I’m not making a cent off of it.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Entirely Reasonable and Insignificant Rant of the Day

You want to know what drives me absolutely insane? Or, to put it as eloquently as only Chad Kroeger can, "That shit makes me batshit crazy!"? I cannot stand it when people wear hats that still have the store stickers on them. Sometimes even the dangling tags. What the hell is with that? Am I being curmudgeonly when I think that those people are idiots? Maybe I'll carry my nail clippers with me and offer to nip those things off the next time I see that. Dumb.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Dodgers Fan's Best Day

Gosh, the layers are just peeling away, aren't they? Yes I have layers, like a onion, or a parfait. And I just revealed one - I am a fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Another is that I just got my computer back up, so thank you to Guy for holding down the fort! Anyway, on the eve the Dodgers' nemesis, the Phillies, play (and dominate) game one of the World Series against the Yanks, I'd like to celebrate my favorite baseball day of the year - the day the Dodgers lost game five and were tossed out of the playoffs. Yes, just last week!

Yes, the self-loathing by this blogger continues, but no I am not batshit bananas like those crazy-dumb 2012ers. I merely had my favorite baseball day when the Dodgers lost. "How is that possible?" you might ask? Or maybe "Who gives a crap"? Really, both are fair questions. Maybe the answer to the first will also provide an answer to the second.

My eight year old son played in a Fall baseball league. He was not the best player on the team, to be kind. He was one of the younger ones, playing with boys up to three years older, but he was still relegated to right field and hit in last in the batting order. He developed a habit of not swinging, learning that he was as likely to walk as to strike out. And that's all he did for most of the season. Encouraging him to swing appeared to be futile - he's not exactly a "pleaser" and sort of marches to the beat of his own drummer. He would swing if he wanted, and for most of the season he didn't care to.

The previous game he had swung hard for the first time in at least six games, putting the ball into play in two at-bats, but being thrown out at first both times. Hitless going into the penultimate game of the season.

He came to bat in the bottom of the third inning with runners on first and second. The other team had made a pitching change that inning and the new guy threw harder than the first. The first pitch my son bailed out, as the pitch flew up and in with some velocity. The very next pitch he hammered the other way, driving a legit double to right (it might have been a triple, but Rickey Henderson he's not). The entire team and all the parents started cheering madly, knowing the significance of that hit.

I am a huge baseball fan, and my favorite team had its best season in twenty years in 2009. My favorite baseball moment of the year was the huge smile on my son's face as he rounded first base in a Fall little league baseball game. The coach gave him the game ball.

I really don't care how good my kids are at sports, unless it's something they care about and want to excel. I hope the hit will lead to greater confidence going forward in my eldest's baseball career, but if it doesn't that's fine with me. I know he'll remember the feeling of smacking that double, giving him a confidence boost in the great game of life.

And isn't that really why we watch the World Series? To see the joy of grown men when accomplishing the hardest thing in sports, with a huge smile on their face rounding the bases, playing this beautiful game. That's why I watch. Thanks son.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

2012: The End is (Not Actually) Near!

Less than two weeks remain before director Roland Emmerich barfs up his latest disaster film, 2012, onto a helpless and undeserving public, and I’m wondering what the reaction will be. I’m not talking about the critical reaction—I doubt it will fare any better than Stargate or The Day After Tomorrow, and probably worse—and I couldn’t care less how it does at the box office.1

No, what I’m wondering about is the reaction from the crazy batshit bananas segment of the population, and whether that reaction will spread to the somewhat more reasonable but often still-fairly-silly general public.

Granted, nobody who watched Godzilla actually believed that a giant radioactive Pacific lizard was going to emerge from the ocean to lay waste to New York City. (Possibly because attacking, say, Los Angeles or the Bay Area would have made much more sense, geographically speaking, except in that weird movie-and-television world where everything on Earth (1) happens in English and (2) happens in New York City.) And I doubt that anybody who saw Watchmen left the theater worried that Dr. Manhattan had it in for all of us.2

But 2012 might be different.

First, because it pretends to be based on the alleged predictions of an ancient society, in this case, the Maya3. For whatever reason, we as a society seem to latch onto—and give some extra sliver of legitimacy to—stories that come from us from ancient peoples and/or the dimly lit, poorly understood corners of the world (and for most Americans, myself included, the world consists primarily of dimly lit, poorly understood corners). Who curses us ominously when we insult them, or with their dying breaths after we run them over with our cars? Clevelanders? Heck no—gypsies. Does Indiana Jones have to return crystal skulls to, say, Enid, Oklahoma? No, he has to take them to deepest, ancient, mystical South America.4 Warren Zevon sang about werewolves in London5 but it wasn’t a scary song. But if he’d sung about werewolves of Sczangdzk, the tiny haunted Czech province that I’ve just made up, we’d have gone nuts about it, assumed it was based on some Czech legend that was in turn based on a true story, and would have bought scads of tickets to the movie adaptation.6

Second, this movie is not just about ordinary run-of-the-mill everyday stuff like violence, widespread destruction, huge explosions, robots disguised as cars, horrific and logically impossible weather conditions, or Egyptians from outer space. 2012 is about the apocalypse. Now, the apocalypse is not a uniquely American obsession—as Dr. Stantz once observed, every ancient religion has its own myth about the end of the world, and I’m sure that (for example) plenty of Europeans got plenty worked up about the end of the world, way back when Europe actually gave a shit about things—but lately our end-of-the-world fascination seems to have a bit more polish than anybody else’s. I’m thinking here of the worries about the Y2K bug, or the fact that LaHaye and Jenkins’ Left Behind series of books sold something like 65 million copies, despite being—based on the book(s) I read one afternoon—crap.7 I’d have plenty more examples if I weren’t so terribly lazy, but in short, America seems ripe for a explosion of 2012 mania.

Maybe I’m wrong about this. I’d be happy to learn that I’m not giving the American people enough credit, and 2012 will be easily dismissed as a breezy, lighthearted, fun little movie about the deaths of billions of people, rather than a prediction of it. Maybe this won’t spark the smoldering embers of lunacy you can find everywhere you look on the internet. Maybe, just maybe, we won’t have to endure three years’ worth of listening to everybody from obvious crackpots to supposedly rational people sound off on their fruitcake theories about how it’ll all end.

It’s not really going to matter to me, though; I won’t be able to hear any of it from my secret Armageddon-proof bunker, deep beneath the Earth’s crust. I’ll let you in if you can find it, and you bring Twinkies.

1. Grammar note: if I wrote that “I could care less,” like a lot of people would, that would imply that, to some degree, however small, I actually do care. And I don’t. As the Squid Bandit would tell us, words have meanings.
2. Frankly, I left the theater wondering why Visionary Director Zack Snyder spent so much time digitally rendering Dr. Manhattan’s meat weasel, instead of just panning up a few inches (To soothe the good Doctor’s ego, let’s call it seven inches). For Dr. Brainsmart’s insightful review of Watchmen, please click on these words here.
3. Not “Mayans.” Maya. Honest!
4. I think. I’m not willing to watch the movie again to find out for sure.
5. I forget what it was called. Possibly “Lawyers, Guns, and Money.”
6. Directed by Roland Emmerich or, God help us, Michael Bay.
7. I realize it’s possible that the other eighty-seven books in the series may be better than the one or two I read. But I’d be quite surprised. And I’m not knocking the Bible or Christianity here, so rest your sphincters. I think that, in the right hands, a fictional series about a Biblical end of the world could be a fantastic read. But the Left Behind series was not in the right hands.