August 30, 2012

August 30, 2012

You Dirty Rat

Every time I find a new reality show on cable (Shipping Wars) or network TV (Time Machine Chefs), I’m certain that the genre has reached its limits. I mean, there can’t be any more concepts, professions, or hobbies yet unexplored, right?

Then, while watching an old episode of Spike’s Bar Rescue, I noticed Rat Bastards. Well, technically it might be Rat B*stards. Hard to tell. Anyway, it’s about three pairs of men in Louisiana who spend their days ridding various properties of swamp rats. Swamp rats are really some sort of vicious beaver originally imported from South America for their fur or something. Though the show provided a delightful animation of this story, the overt “LOOKIT THESE FOREIGNERS INVADING AND DESTROYING OUR LAND” vibe was distracting.

As someone who’s watched several episodes of Big Shrimpin’ and part of an American Hoggers, I expected the men of the bayou to be subtitled. Sadly, this was not the case. Between the gunfire, the giant bears, and the accents, I caught very little of what was being said. I think, though, that words are less important than actions on this show.

What it comes down to is red-blooded American man vs. reckless foreign beaver. And unlike the delightful lisping fellow who lives near Pooh Corner, these things are vicious. They eat the vegetation of the bayou, ruining the land, the water, and anything built thereon. Therefore they must be killed killt. Don’t mess with our country, foreigners, because we will git you! (It’s not subtext. This is the overriding sentiment of the show.)

Now, the six men of the show have various ways to get rid of the things. Shooting, mostly, but at various times and with various guns. Some use dogs. Some use GPS. They’re usually paid by the rat ($10-$20 seems to be the norm), but sometimes they get a lump sum to clear an entire property.

So, to sum it up: Imagine two large, bearded white guys in camo walking through a swamp, occasionally yelling unintelligibly and shooting at the ground in front of them. That’s the show.

It’s definitely no Prime Minister’s Question Time, I’ll tell you that.

August 28, 2012

August 28, 2012

Sport, Not a Sport

So they want to put Quidditch in the Olympics. And by “they,” I mean “people who play a real-life semblance of Quidditch.” And by “they,” I also mean “people who need to wake up and smell the pepper-up potion.”

Look, I understand your argument that weirder things are in the Olympics. Trampolines and rhythmic gymnastics and whatnot. That doesn’t mean that any activity involving a modicum of exertion is Olympics-worthy. I’d love to shoot for gold in the 100-meter Metro escalator climb, but it ain’t gonna happen. To be in the Olympics, a sport has to [insert requirements I didn’t have time to research here]. So you see how faux quidditch doesn’t qualify.

Plus, y’know, the fact that YOU ARE NOT ACTUALLY PLAYING QUIDDITCH. Quidditch involves brooms and balls that fly by magic. I’m not saying that there aren’t wizarding communities across the world playing actual magical quidditch. I’m just saying that you aren’t them. You are people dragging brooms around while throwing volleyballs to each other. C’mon. I don’t drop a feather off my balcony and call it wingardium leviosa.

If we expand the definition of sports to include anything involving moderate physical exertion, I think we have to include driving in city traffic, house cleaning, evading police, and the like. I’m totally okay with that, since it would mean I could call myself an athlete in multiple disciplines. You can keep your dressage; I have escalator walking!

Speaking of escalator walking, I’ve been getting stuck behind a lot of people lately who get slower and slower as they ascend. I appreciate the enthusiasm, but you gotta know your limits, people. If you’re not prepared to ascend 90 stairs at a constant clip, don’t start. Or move to the right once you’ve started to wane. Otherwise, I am prepared to pass you on the right.

August 26, 2012

August 26, 2012

Summer Movies: A Threeve

As I’m wont to do, I packed as many movies as possible into my Wisconsin vacation. My thoughts, in brief, since you’ve probably already seen them all:

Men in Black 3. I believe Josh Brolin as a young Tommy Lee Jones, but not as a 29-year-old. C’mon. Will Smith, on the other hand, is eerily ageless and just as funny as ever. Loved the stocking-capped future-viewing alien, and almost cried when the army general died.

The Avengers. I’d seen the precursor films and like the characters to varying degrees (Iron Man is the only one with my unqualified recommendation). Though I’m not a fan of Loki as a baddie, I did like the idea of a team of superheroes uniting to open an almighty can of whoopass. I look forward to their battle with Hellboy. (Spoiler?)

The Amazing Spider-Man. Sorry, Andrew Garfield is too hot to be a believable Peter Parker. The Stacy apartment was too grand to be believable as belonging to an NYPD captain. The jocks were too jocky to be believeable as attending a science high school. In other words, I have too much experience with nerds and Manhattan real estate to suspend disbelief. And the Lizard? Ew.

The Hunger Games. Not as good as the book, but that’s only to be expected. Wish Gale had gotten more to do, though I guess that’s coming, innit? Thought Haymitch, Cinna, Caesar, Rue, and Seneca were excellent. Withholding judgment on Katniss and Peeta.

The Bourne Legacy. Jeremy Renner scares me, in a good way. Though every review I read of his work mentions his shortness (including this one, apparently), he more than makes up for it in speed and strength. Loved the international locales, possibly because I’d been to all but two of them (Pakistan and the Phillippines). Matt Damon who?

I’ve yet to see Moonrise Kingdom and Total Recall. Considering that I’m just now watching the big holiday films (The Iron Lady, W.E., etc.), it could be awhile. I’ll let you know.

August 23, 2012

August 23, 2012

Number One, Mr. Speaker

So I recently learned that Prime Minister’s Question Time is archived on C-SPAN. I watched the most recent session (July 11, before the Summer break), and live-blogged for your pleasure. My thoughts:

Starts with listing his engagements. This should be good.

Wait, he basically said, “I met with some people this morning, and then this afternoon I’m going to meet with some other people.” Bullshit, man.

This is going to be fantastic. British people AND rules? I’m so ready.

Do they not have to be quiet when other people are talking?

I thought the Speaker would be wearing a wig.

So if you’re addressing someone in your party, you call them “My honourable friend”?

Someone just complained about the 47-minute train commute from somewhere to Hampshead airport and asked the PM to commit to an improvement. I wish Americans had a similar recourse.

The Member for Heywood & Middleton just put down the Canadians. Burn!

Ed Milliband is younger and more attractive than I expected a party leader to be.

So instead of raising your hand, you stand to indicate you have a question?

Seriously, why do we not have this?

The front row of Conservatives appear to have lost the will to live.

I like how when someone says something people agree with they just appear to say a really long “YEAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.”

The quality of this C-SPAN video is incredibly iffy. The British Empire deserves better!

I don’t understand the giant books that everyone keeps putting on then removing from the podiums, but I want one.

At the next session, Cameron should really respond to every challenge with “EFF YOU, I PUT ON THE OLYMPICS.”

Looking for any minorities in the crowd…still looking…

Pensioners’ weekly incomes were raised five pounds thirty!

People are asking about bus fares and hospital closings and stuff. To the head of government. AMAZING.

Take a drink every time someone says “The party opposite”!

Whoa whoa whoa. They’re letting a woman talk? Miss, is your father around? Or a policeman? (30 Rock reference ftw.)


I then watched an old session from the Tony Blair era, and my notes from that would be a lot of squeezing and the occasional hiccup of joy. I’ll spare you.

I'm slowly working my way backwards through the decade-plus archive. Phenomenal.

August 22, 2012

August 22, 2012


BrickFair is a huge annual gathering organized and attended by AFOLs—adult fans of Lego. Whereas my personal Lego experience was limited to a blue bucket of small bricks and that one big flat green piece, these people spent hundreds of dollars turning thousands of bricks into giant dealios.

Though not interested myself in purchasing or creating these huge kits, I didn’t mind having a look. We drove to the Dulles Expo Center and got in the giant line that had snaked the entire way around the building.

Once inside, we saw that the displays had been grouped by category: military, castles, trains, and so on. Very helpful for the visitors, and probably for the exhibitors as well. On the down side, the 60,000-piece obsidian castle made the other castles look a bit pathetic in comparison.

That was only half of it, btw.

Particularly intriguing to me were the functional contraptions. The appliances and other gizmos that just happen to be made of Legos.

It’s a practical piece of art. I like it.

Saw more than a few socially-awkward young people at BrickFair. Kinda reminded me of what I’ve read about Mensa gatherings: attendees wear stickers declaring how comfortable they are with physical contact. Seriously. There are “I don’t like to be touched” stickers. Judging by the appearance and posture of most of the exhibitors I saw, those stickers (and a few “I have never kissed a girl” ones) would have come in handy. I’m not judging; I’m just saying that Legos seem to be overwhelmingly dominated by the introverted males of our species.

SciFi and fantasy were popular genres (see paragraph above); I saw plenty of Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and even Firefly Legos. Serenity ftw!

But my favorites were probably the massive, massive cities made of Legos. They had bridges and monorails that worked and everything. No idea how they were transported across the country to Chantilly, VA, but that’s not my problem.

That monorail worked. It did laps and everything.

Did you play with Legos as a kid? Do you still? Are they even a thing with kids these days, or is it all about some sort of Lego app?

August 21, 2012

August 21, 2012

My Second-Favorite Scramble, after Eggs

What are kids up to these days? Cheating at Scrabble, apparently. I guess when you don’t have the handy tools of Words with Friends at your disposal, you do what you gotta do. Plus I bet the winner of the Scrabble tournament gets chicks GALORE.

Scramble with Friends is my obsession of choice; I think the immediacy of the game precludes a lot of the cheating. I also find that visualizing moves is a great way to fall asleep. Who knew that E-P-S-T could combine to form so many words?

I only play with random opponents, since I already know I have larger vocabularies than almost everyone I know. (Harsh, but true. They spent their childhoods being popular and playing outside. I spent it reading algebra textbooks and watching PBS.) The newest version of SWF introduced a “Smart Match” feature, wherein your random opponents are someone at your skill level. I’ve found these matches to be 80% people I can beat, 15% people I can’t beat, and 5% complete idiots who somehow fooled the algorithm. Needless to say, that 15% is the reason I keep living. (And the 5% play so poorly that I pretend they’re non-native English speakers, dexterous dogs, or both.)

I do wish that Zynga kept stats, though. That’s one area in which Draw Something excels. You can find out your average time to guess, how many rounds you’ve played, and more. Whereas with SWF, I have no idea how many words I typically find, what my average score is, my highest-ever scoring word, etc. Or, more importantly, how I compare to the Zynga player population as a whole. Tell me my percentile, dammit!

Maybe in the next version.

August 20, 2012

August 20, 2012

Things I’ve Read: The Age of Miracles

I read many more books than I review here. Partially because a lot of what I read is only okay, and partially because three hours of commuting per day equals a LOT of books. When I read less, I could more easily give each book a proper review. Now, something has to be Really Amazing in order to get a write-up.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you “The Age of Miracles.” My favorite book of the year thus far.

It’s a bildungsroman set against metaphysics, but stay with me.

The bildungsroman part: Julia, a young teenager, lives in present-day California. She deals with all the sorts of things kids do: school, crushes, fashion, friends, etc. She’s old enough to see that things are starting to change, but young enough not to know how to handle the changes.

The metaphysics: One day, the world starts spinning more slowly. I mean that literally. The earth’s revolution goes from 24 hours to 24.5 hours and just keeps getting longer. If you’ve seen “2012” or “The Core,” you know the sorts of natural phenomena that start happening: birds fall out of the sky, plants whither, gravity gets stronger, and so on.

Less expected: the effects of the slowing on people. And it’s this that ties the bildungsroman and the metaphysics together beautifully. Julia’s world as she knows it comes to an end. Her parents, grandfather, friends, piano teacher—all are affected. While you expect that soccer practice will be canceled once darkness lasts for 30 straight hours and balls no longer sail through the air, you can’t foresee the ripples this will have on the players’ lives. Some conflicts are obvious—the people who insist on sticking to 24-hour days while others live by the ever-changing sun…the families that move to remote communities to await the impending apocalypse…the installation in every yard of a greenhouse and a bunker. Some less so—the removal of a beloved teacher…the breakup of a marriage…these victims are less graphic than the beached whales and dead eucalyptus trees, but no less important to Julia.

Look, I grabbed this book originally because I thought it would be interesting to see what effects a theoretical slowing of the earth’s rotation would have on nature. I wasn’t necessarily interested in reading about teenage drama; I had enough of my own to fill several books. But the effects of the slowing on the characters sucked me in. I stayed up until almost 2 a.m. on a work night to see how the thing ended. (Not with a bang, though I don’t want to spoil it.) Magnificent.

The author wrote this book in the mornings before work. It is her first novel. If only we were all this talented.

August 15, 2012

August 15, 2012

Living Large

I apologize for being away so much lately. First, I was working on a submission to a local writing contest. (Not that I don’t enjoy writing solely for the amusement of others, of course. It’s just that this way, I could write for the amusement of others AND $1000.) Then, I went to Wisconsin for some quality time ingesting deep-fried goods at the State Fair. I know that went well because my stomach started cramping up after only three hours.

Anyway, as often happens, I noticed something weird recently. But as rarely happens, it turns out I was right and have corroborating evidence. Because my recent time in Wisconsin made me realize that it is full of fat people, or at least fuller than the DC area.

To be fair, I spent a lot of time at restaurants, movie theaters, and the State Fair—all places beloved of the stocky. But still. They were everywhere. Entire families of them, sometimes. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing; I’m just saying that you tend to forget that most of America is obese when you have to sprint for the train twice daily. Diet tip: The stress of hellacious traffic is quite slimming!

I mean, take the State Fair. As I quietly consumed my deep-fried bacon-wrapped tater tots on a stick (see above), I people-watched and hypocritically judged. I was really jealous every time I saw someone with the 80-ounce barrel of fries. A barrel! Of fries! THIS is what coopers should be doing these days! (Too obscure?) In a state that values dairy products as highly as Wisconsin does, body composition of the average person is 5% cheese at any given time. Don’t take my word for it; this is SCIENCE.

Man, I miss it already.

August 2, 2012

August 2, 2012

The Imagination Station

A remix of one of those dudes who used to have a painting show on PBS has been making the rounds lately. This reminded me of one of my favorite PBS art shows: The Imagination Station with Mark Kistler.

(In verifying the name of the show, I just looked at his website. He got old!)

From the catchy theme song to the giant easel to the many many many drawings of aliens, this was a program that I could appreciate as a kid waiting for school to start back up again. Once or twice, I even tried to draw along, despite having zero skills in that area. (My Draw Something attempts are truly alarming.)

What I remember most, though, is Mark’s full-on enthusiasm for art. I never really got that feeling from Mr. Rogers or Norm Abrams. They didn’t rave about hand puppets or jig saws. (Though how cool would it be to have a home improvement show targeted to kids, but involving actual power tools?!)

My summer vacations tended to consist of watching PBS while counting down the days. My diary entries from one year all conclude with however many days were left until classes began. From 92 all the way to “TOMORROW!” So good shows, like “The Imagination Station” and “Zoom” and “Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego?” were the only thing keeping me from counting by the hour.

How I wish I had 92 days of nothing stretching before me now.

August 1, 2012

August 1, 2012

Things I've Read: Fifty Shades of Grey


Like I'm really going to write about this. Squirm.

I was less interested in the shenanigans parts and more interested in the psychological analysis parts.

The comparisons to "Tess of the D'Urbervilles" must stop if I'm going to make it through the trilogy.

If I had a helicopter, I would probably use it to land in the middle of the Colonial Williamsburg town square and freak out the re-enactors. "DEVIL SKY BIRD, GAH!"

No part of me understands a protagonist who has to be reminded to eat.

I have seen multiple people reading this on buses and trains. THIS IS NOT PUBLIC TRANSIT READING, YOU GUYS.

Tea drinking has now been tainted forever.