My Cat's Breath Smells Like Cat Food

An article in yesterday's New York Times offers a bit of depth on the history of the housecat. DNA links to the Near East Wildcat indicate that the domestication of the cat coincided with the development of agriculture in ancient Mesopotamia - it did not, as long believed, occur in Egypt. Here's the best part - the local cats were adapting to the presence of human cities, moving in of their own accord to hunt the rodents that human civilization drew. The Sumerians did not set out to domesticate the wildcats, but tolerated and soon began to welcome their presence. The cat, for all intents and purposes, domesticated itself.

This explains so much.

Dogs were actively domesticated - they were wolves brought into the cave and specifically bred for desirable traits. Cats just kind of showed up and said, "Here we are!" This explains why dogs act like loyal servants and cats act like you'd be lucky to be able to consider yourself their equal.

This explains why your cat thinks of you as furniture that happens to feed it and scratch its ears. This explains why your cat reacts with utter indifference when you call it. This explains why your cat walks on the coffee table and kitchen counters even though he's not supposed to. This explains why your cat always seems to be finding subtle ways to remind you that she's doing you an enormous favor by deigning to remain in your unworthy presence.

Your cat is sort of akin to the guest who shows up uninvited, stays indefinitely, eats all your food and drinks all your booze.

Fortunately for them, they're also awfully cute.

Where Do the Dorks Fit In?

Patton Oswalt offers Wired a nugget of wisdom -

Wired: There's a great line on your new album, Werewolves: "My geekiness is getting in the way of my nerdiness." What's the distinction?

A lot of nerds aren't aware they're nerds. A geek has thrown his hands up to the universe and gone, "I speak Klingon — who am I fooling? You win! I'm just gonna openly like what I like." Geeks tend to be a little happier with themselves.

Wil Wheaton - author of Just a Geek - agrees with Oswalt.

I disagree. I'd rather be called a nerd than a geek. There is some disagreement about the etymology of the word "nerd." The first documented occurrence of the word is in the Dr. Seuss book If I Ran the Zoo, but there's no pinpointing how it came to have its current meaning.

The etymology of "geek," on the other hand, is clear. It originally referred to a circus or carnival performer who performs unusual or disgusting acts, most often biting the heads off of live chickens or snakes. This is in fact the first definition offered by the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, before the more recent usage. Though the past of "nerd" is unclear, the word certainly did not at any point refer to a carnival performer.

In modern vernacular, "nerd" and "geek" are essentially interchangeable. Even so, I've never bitten the head off of a chicken, live or dead. I'll stick with "nerd," thanks.

Wild Things, I Think I Might Hate You (But I Wanna Know For Sure)

This picture came to my attention yesterday, and I'm torn. This is the first I'm hearing of this particular project - a film adaptation of Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, for those of you who didn't instantly recognize Max in his wolf suit - and I just don't know what to make of it.

On the one hand, it's directed by Spike Jonze. I didn't much like his Being John Malkovich, but that was mostly due to that movie's most likable and empathetic character still being a monstrous asshole. Apart from that, it had an undeniable visual flair. And he's made some great music videos - The Beastie Boys' "Sabotage," certainly one of the best videos ever, Weezer's "Buddy Holly" and the immortal Fatboy Slim "Weapon of Choice" clip starring Christopher Walken.

On the other hand, "great music video director" doesn't always lead to "great feature film director." I give you, for example, McG, Brett Ratner and Russell Mulcahy.

Still, some pretty good directors have come from the music video realm - David Fincher and Michel Gondry, for example.

On the one hand, I can see the cinematic possiblities of Where the Wild Things Are. The visuals are very strong - big monsters, wild rumpuses, ocean crossings. Could be lots of fun.

On the other hand, the book is, like most heavily-illustrated children's books, pretty light on plot. And what happens when you pad out a slim children's book to fill ninety minutes of screen time? The Cat in the Goddamn Hat, that's what.

It could be good...but I've got a bad feeling about it.

Must Be the Unstable Molecules

Here we have the cover to the upcoming Fantastic Four #550. If you don't recognize the emphasis on posing rather than storytelling and the simply dreadful grasp of human anatomy, this image was drawn by Michael Turner.

The thing about the rampant sexism constantly displayed by Marvel and DC is that it isn't just the big things - it isn't just Mary Jane doing Spidey's laundry, it isn't just Marvel putting out tentacle-rape hentai, and then saying, "Whut? What's wrong with it?" It's not just the "fangirl" outrage of the moment. It's the little things, too. It's the little things that happen in nearly every single comic that people just accept and never even comment on.

Look at this cover. One might say it's an FF group shot. I say that it's a lovingly-rendered Sue Richards ass shot that happens to have some other characters in the background, too.

The standard fanboy response when someone mentions absurdities like these is that the male bodies are just as sculpted and idealized as the female. That's broadly true, and more or less as it should be. Reed Richards, absurd as it seems for a character who spends nearly every free moment in his lab, should look like a Greek statue, because he's a hero. Sue Richards should be idealized as well - though it seems reasonable that she should look a little more Brandi Chastain than Molly Sims. Here's a question, though - would you ever see a cover with Reed thrusting his ass at the reader while Sue stands in the background? Of course not, and therein lies the problem.

Yes, yes, I know. "Comics are made by and for men, yadda yadda yadda, I have a million excuses for maintaining the status quo rather than aspiring for something better, etc. etc. ad nauseam ad infinitum..." I've said it before (as have others) and I'll say it again - there is nothing inherent to the comics medium or to the super-hero genre that makes it inherently "by men" or "for men." Yes, it's a boys' club currently, but just because that's the way it is doesn't mean that's the way it has to be. So how to improve the situation?

Well, not hiring Michael Turner would be a start.

Memo to Mr. Turner: It seems you've never seen a person wearing a pair of bicycle shorts, or worn a pair yourself, so here's some artistic advice. Spandex is form-fitting, yes. Spandex does not, however, ride all the way up the ass of the wearer. Nor does it cling so tightly to the body that we should be able to see every tiny line on Sue's back or the perfect outline of her entire breast as you've so carefully drawn. This drawing of Sue Richards looks like she's heading out to save the universe dressed in blue body paint. Not that much more impractical than spandex, but less likely, methinks.

Let me reiterate that there's nothing wrong with cheesecake. Jim Balent will readily admit that one of his major intents with his Tarot - Witch of the Black Rose comics is cheesecake/soft-core porn. I won't read it, but he's being honest about what he's doing, so I've got no problem with it. But cheesecake images aren't really the intent of Fantastic Four, or Justice League, or any of the main output of Marvel or DC, are they?

I wouldn't find this troublesome in the slightest if Marvel were to come right out and say, "We're not interested in selling comics to girls." Fine, fair enough. Odd and limiting, but honest. But they keep saying that they're interested in attracting female readers. C'mon, Joey Q - do you really think a potential new female reader is going to see this cover and say, "Yeah, that's something I want to read!"? Yeah, me neither.

This is far from the most offensive thing Marvel's ever done. In fact, it's not really offensive at all - just strange and baffling. This isn't a big outrage or an enormous problem by itself. But sometimes, it's the little things that count the most.

First Impressions

Impressionism is far from my favorite artistic movement...but it was pretty cool that one day they stopped and said, "Hey, y'know what? Maybe painters could paint something other than rich people and Jesus!"

So they got that goin' for 'em, which is nice.

Stranded at the Drive-in

There is no movie-going experience quite like that vanishing icon of Americana, the drive-in theater. Yeah, the picture quality isn't as good as it can be in a proper theater. These days, drive-ins all have a low-power FM transmitter and as long as you have a relatively good sound system in your car, the sound is fine. You never have to dig a sweater out of the back of your closet in the middle of summer because the air-conditioning will be too powerful. And though they make most of their dough from the snack bar, they don't really care if you bring in your own food. You can smoke, if you like, and no one can hassle you - in fact, the smell of weed is as much a fixture of the drive-in as a rock concert. And it's almost always a double feature.

Last night, we went to the Cinderella Twin Drive-in to see Knocked Up and Ocean's 13. We stopped at the grocery store on our way there and brought in hot rotisserie chicken, baby carrots, watermelon, potato chips and cookies. Beats nasty snack bar hot dogs and cold, greasy popcorn all to hell. We also brought a bottle of wine, which we split during the course of the first movie, passing the one glass we brought with us back and forth. We had to roll up the windows during five minutes of drizzly rain at one point, but other than that, the weather was lovely. And two movies for the price of one - how can you beat that?

Knocked Up is every bit as hilarious as I was hoping it would be. Seth Rogen makes a very appealing lead after being a sidekick for years and the chemistry between him and Katherine Heigl is great.

This movie is a nice illustration of the all-important "bigger is not always better" principle. It's funny mostly because Judd Apatow created a low-key script, filled it with talented actors and turned them loose. It never veers into over-wrought slapstick territory. Nobody fucks a pie, or obliviously eats something disgusting while others look on. There's not a scene where Seth Rogen humiliates himself enormously and publicly through sheer stupidity - which is generally considered obligatory in Hollywood comedies. None of the humor is based on urine, feces or intestinal gas. Instead, Knocked Up mines enormous humor from basic and simple observation of human traits. It's raunchy but it's humor based on recognition, not humiliation. To borrow a cliché, we're laughing with the characters, not at them. It's funny without being mean. It's Judd Apatow's love letter to his wife and kids specifically and to the joys of home and family in general - and it's sweet and heartfelt without being preachy or "uplifting."

As if to establish this contrast, before the movie, they played a trailer for Evan Almighty, which looks just awful. It looks like everything Knocked Up isn't - artificially heart-warming, swimming in cutesy moppets, and guaranteed to have a platitudinous Important Lesson or Aesop-style Moral at film's end.

And of course, it features recognizable faces from the usual Apatow troupe. There's no Lindsay Weir or Kim Kelly, but Nick Andopolous is there, and Bill Haverchuck, and we even get a funny cameo appearance from Daniel DeSario.


Ocean's 13 was surprising. Much better than the thoroughly lackluster 12. It's not an all-time classic or anything, or even as deliriously fun as Ocean's 11. But it was much better than I expected. One of the joys of the original (well, the original remake, anyway) was that it followed the necessary conventions of the Heist Picture and we were able to make pretty good sense of what every member of the team's role was and how the heist actually worked. The second was all over the map - I left the theater saying, "That didn't make a lick of sense." This movie makes at least one lick of sense, if not much more.

It's kind of hard to critique a movie like this, because the real point of these movies seems to be that this group of actors and director Stephen Soderberg all really like each other and have a ton of fun working together. It really shines through just how much Clooney, Pitt and Damon, especially are just having a blast goofing around with one another. The rest of the cast is having fun, too, and as usual, the scenes with Virgil and Turk (Casey Affleck and Scott Caan) are probably the funniest parts. Virgil's been sent to a factory in Juarez to provide rigged dice for the crap tables and...well, hilarity ensues.

Julia Roberts is missing, which is okay, as her entire role the second movie was basically just to be there and to look pretty (at which, in my opinion, she's only just adequate). However, everyone else is back - even Eddie Izzard and Vincent Cassel. Shaobo Qin, better known as "the little Chinese acrobat dude," gets one of the movie's best running gags, as everyone else in the gang just understands everything he says, even though all but three words of his dialogue is in Mandarin Chinese. Once again, everyone gets their particular moment to shine and do something cool - though I'm still not entirely clear on what Bernie Mac's part of the scheme accomplishes. Best addition to the cast? Well, Al Pacino and Ellen Barkin are both entertaining, but I was delighted to see that Bob Einstein - better known as Super Dave Osborne - has a small but crucial role.

Of course, maybe it helped that I'd had a couple of glasses of wine before watching this one...


Four days a week, I ride my bicycle to my evening art history class. Four days a week, as I arrive on campus and lock up my bike, I see many other bicyclists arriving and departing. I am one of the few who doesn't have iPod earbuds jammed into my ears.

Don't get me wrong, I dig my iPod. I listen to it quite a lot. I'm listening to it right now, in fact. I listen to it while I'm studying, I listen to it while I'm doing the dishes, I listen to it while I'm watering the garden, I listen to it while I'm drawing...I do not, however, listen to it while I'm riding my bicycle. Why?

Well, an Ford F-150 weighs somewhere between 2.5 and 3 tons (depending on options) and is made mostly of steel. I weigh around 200 pounds (depending on what I had for lunch) and am made mostly of meat. In truck-bicyclist collision, I lose. Being hit by a truck hurts. A lot. I know this because I have, in fact, been hit by a truck and it hurt. A lot.

Further, as a bicyclist, I am legally obligated to ride on the street. Riding my bicycle on the sidewalk is illegal.

Additionally, I do not possess eyes in the back of my head. I therefore find it useful to employ the sense of hearing - which, unlike vision, operates in 360° without any additional effort on my part - to help me determine if a three-ton Ford F-150, or for that matter a one-and-a-quarter ton Mini Cooper, is behind me.

Ergo, I think it best not to engage my ears in another activity whilst bicycling. Though it might be fun to listen to Freddie Mercury singing "Bicycle Race" while I ride my bike, it strikes me as unwise. Though it might be nice, as I ride through Denver, to listen to Warren Zevon's "Things to do in Denver when You're Dead," I fear that it might cause me to need the song's advice in a more literal sense. Lest you think I exaggerate: Patricia McMillan.

And yet everybody seems to do it. Is it simple carelessness? Probably. The thing is, bicycling - especially urban bicycling - is not an inherently safe activity. It's not terribly dangerous, either, but that's only true if the bicyclist is actively making it so. The sad truth is that most motorists are entirely self-absorbed and can barely be bothered to pay attention to what other cars are doing. They're not watching out for bicyclists. It never even crosses their minds. As a cyclist, you have to make up for their lack by paying constant attention to what they're doing and being prepared for just about anything. This means watching and listening, not keeping a finger on the handlebars while you're switching playlists.

Cars aside, it's not safe in terms of other cyclists. How are you going to hear it when a faster cyclist comes up behind you and calls out, "On your left!"? You aren't, of course, and then perhaps you swerve to the left just as the other cyclist is passing. Probably not as bad as a collision with a car...but still not a whole lot of fun.

More than anything, it baffles me. Part of the joy of cycling to me is that I'm not in a car, isolating myself from the rest of the world. When I ride through the city, I feel connected, like I'm a part of it. I don't understand the desire to cut oneself off in a new way.

Of course, the real mind-blower is that the iPod listeners are almost always among the probably half of the people I see biking on-campus who aren't wearing helmets. Personal experience has reminded me time and again of the importance of the ol' brain-bucket. I can't fathom the people who climb on a bicycle without strapping on a helmet. And then they compound that by listening to Fallout Boy instead of the world around them while they ride. Ultimately, it's their Darwin Award to win as they choose. All I can do is shake my head and wonder when they'll win it.

Top Five - Fantasy

A couple of weeks ago, I posted my Top Five Science Fiction movies. Ever since then, I've been compiling in the back of my mind the natural counterpart - the Top Five Fantasy Movies.

Honorable mentions go to a few classics from the '80s - Dragonslayer, which has what is probably the coolest-looking dragon in any fantasy movie ever, Willow, which is a lot of fun in spite of being fairly unoriginal, derivative and committing the hack-director sin of naming villains after movie critics (the Evil Queen's right-hand man is General Kael and the two-headed dragon is called the Eborsisk) and Excalibur, which came very close to making my Top Five and is far-and-away the best cinematic King Arthur story - not that it really has much competition for the title.

5. Conan the Barbarian: It doesn't really live up to the standard set by Robert E. Howard's original "Conan" stories. I'll never understand why they called the villain Thulsa Doom - a name borrowed from one of Howard's "Kull" stories - when he's clearly and obviously Thoth-Amon, a villain from an actual Howard "Conan" story who also made frequent appearances in the "Conan" comics. Even so, this is a terrific movie that does lift some choice bits from Howard's stories, has loads of great action, and is eternally memorable if nothing else for the Governor of California's stated philosophy of what is best in life: "To crush your enemy, to see him driven before you and to hear the lamentations of his women."

4. The Princess Bride: If I have to explain to you what makes this movie great, maybe you should go read another blog. I don't suppose many people think of this one as "fantasy" per se - and it's certainly not epic "high fantasy." It's a lighter, comic fantasy. But it does have shrieking eels, a Fire Swamp populated by Rodents of Unusual Size, a giant who wears a holocaust cloak and, of course, a Miracle Man. It also features the best sword fight put to film since the Golden Age swashbucklers - Inigo Montoya and the Man in Black dueling atop the Cliffs of Insanity - which also happens to be the funniest sword fight this side Danny Kaye and Basil Rathbone in The Court Jester and the best Duel of Wits to the Death ever filmed. Speaking of which, it's educational, too. If you hadn't ever seen this movie, how would you know never to get involved in a land war in Asia and never to go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line?

3. Princess Mononoke: Or, as the hardcore anime nerds out there will insist on calling it, Mononoke-hime. This Japanese title translates roughly to "Princess of the Spirits," which to my ears is a better, more evocative English title than what was chosen. As it stands, the title is a bit confusing, as there's no character in the movie called Princess Mononoke. Quibbles with the title aside, this is just a stupendous movie. Stunning visuals, a thoroughly absorbing story, breathtaking action, political intrigue...what more do you need? A piece of advice - watch it with the Japanese language track and the Japanese-to-English subtitles. It's one of the best anime translations out there, written by the great Neil Gaiman, and certainly not so stilted and awkward as the dubs on old "Speed Racer" episodes...but it still works best in Japanese.

2. The Empire Strikes Back: Okay, this should really be the entire original Star Wars trilogy...but Empire is by far the best of the lot, so call it a representative of the whole. I think of Star Wars as fantasy in sci-fi clothing. Yeah, it's got spaceships and ray-guns...but the heart of it is the story of a farm-boy who is given his father's sword, battles a variety of grotesque monsters and learns magic from a wizened sage in order that he might confront the evil king. It has more in common with Greek mythology and the Arthurian legends than with 2001 or Blade Runner. "Space fantasy" is a term a lot of nerds use (ever categorizing and carefully defining sub-genres and sub-sub-genres, us nerds), and I think it's pretty accurate. Even "Star Trek" offers a bit of pseudo-science technobabble about dilithium crystals and matter-antimatter drive - Star Wars doesn't even bother expending the tiniest bit of effort telling us how or why faster-than-light travel is possible, it is only important that it is. To my mind, that makes all the difference.

1. The Lord of the Rings: Was there any doubt? Unlike the Star Wars movies, I don't think this can really be separated into its component parts. It's one massive movie divided by necessity into a trilogy - just as the source material is one massive book divided by necessity into three.

Here's the part where I commit a bit of nerd heresy. I think that Peter Jackson & Co. actually improved on the books. By eliminating the wholly useless bits and altering a few details, they've given the story more focus and changed some characters' roles from passive observer to active participant. C'mon, admit it, big nerds: the Tom Bombadil chapters are not only boring but actively annoying. And as Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens say on their commentary for The Two Towers, having Faramir simply reject the Ring out of hand, as Tolkien has him do, completely derails the idea of the Ring as a constant temptation for Frodo and an obsession for Gollum.

There are bits I don't like - the use of Gimli as little more than comic relief, Legolas's "surfing" - but 9 times out of 10 the movie looks exactly like what I pictured in my head: Gandalf confronting the Balrog, the Argonath (a small detail, yes, but perfect), the Battle of Helm's Deep, the Siege of Minas Tirith...dead-on, I tell ya.

Come Dancing

Come dancing,
Come on sister, have yourself a ball.
Dont be afraid to come dancing,
Its only natural.

- The Kinks, "Come Dancing"

Emily, as many of you will know, loves dancing. She grew up doing ballet, has taken some swing classes, and is generally pretty comfortable on a dance floor. Me, I've always felt sort of like a hippopotamus in Chuck Taylors on the rare occasions when I've been persuaded out onto a dance floor. I've "danced" at weddings we've been to because Em enjoys it, and I'm usually drunk enough not to care.

On occasions like this...well, let me put it this way. Basil Rathbone was the stock villain in the Warner Bros. swashbuckler pictures of the '30s and '40s. He dueled Errol Flynn in Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood, Tyrone Power in The Mask of Zorro and even Danny Kaye in The Court Jester. Rathbone was the eternal villain in these pictures because he was an outstanding swordsman, widely considered the best in Hollywood, and he was so good that he could make his on-screen opponents look like masters even when they weren't. That's kind of how I feel dancing with Em. Not that she's some sort of mind-blowingly good world-class dancer - but she's good enough that she makes me look okay, too.


A few weeks ago when we were in California, we were spending the evening with Em's Mom, who wanted to go to the dance lesson at the local community center. Not wanting to be the turd in the punchbowl, I agreed to go. The dance they were "teaching" that evening was the Tango. Friends, let me tell you, it was a disaster. The instruction generally amounted to, "Okay, here's what you do: it goes, slow, slow, quickquick slow. Everybody got that? Okay, good, let's try it." This wasn't just being thrown into the deep end; this was being dropped in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Complicated moves mounted on top of the already poorly-explained basic step, and within twenty minutes I was dripping with flop sweat and spending as much mental effort on a mind-over-matter attempt to settle my churning stomach as remembering all sixty-two dance steps I was supposed to be doing. When an opportunity presented itself, I slipped outside and found a bench, spending most of the rest of the evening enjoying silence and cool air.

Emily and her Mom both reassured me that the Tango was probably the most difficult dance out there, that they agreed that the instructors hadn't explained what we were supposed to be doing very well, and that they were both impressed with how long I had hung in there.

Fast forward a few weeks...

Looking for something to do this evening, I came across a listing for a free class in the lindy hop at a place just a few blocks from our house. It was starting in about ten minutes. "Well," I thought, "it's gotta be better than the Tango, and it's gotta be better than sitting here watching a rerun of 'Science Cops.'" So I showed the listing to Em, she agreed that it seemed like a good idea, we changed our clothes and off we went to learn the lindy hop.

Gentle reader, I would love nothing more than to tell you that I quickly mastered the lindy hop, that Emily and I glided around the dance floor like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers, that I danced with effortless grace, style and panache. I would love to tell you this triumphant story every bit as much as I'm sure you'd love to read it. Sadly, this I cannot do.

The upside, though, is that I did not spend the evening feeling like a hippo in Chucks. At no point in the process did I feel frustrated, clueless or humiliated. The instructor was funny and informative, offering lots of useful advice and carefully explaining what we were supposed to be doing. I didn't hate every moment of it, and what's more amazing is that I didn't in fact hate any moment of it. I enjoyed it. I had fun. I didn't dance even remotely well, but intellectually, I understood what I was supposed to be doing. With a little work, I think I can even forge some sort of connection between my brain and my feet and get them working together on more than a primal, "Well, brain, we'll run or we'll walk, but that's all you're getting out of us" level.

I hope I can, anyway...

Because we're going back for more next Friday.

The System Works

I don't write much about politics 'round these here parts. It's a subject that interests me, but there are plenty of other places for people to read about that, if they want. But sometimes, I just gotta say something.

As you may have heard, the Massachusetts state legislature voted against sending a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage to the voters at large. The homophobic conservative voices of America have risen in protest. The common refrain is something along the lines of, "Why doesn't the Massachusetts legislature believe in democracy?" It's sort of become the standard response in what passes for American political discourse these days - whenever something doesn't go your way, it's because the system is broken. Everything is the fault of "activist judges," fixed voting machines and nanny-state legislators who don't trust the voters.

It just isn't true, though - or at least, not always.

I think Massachusetts has a good system. It is difficult to get such a measure on the ballot - but not impossible. Here in Colorado, it is far too easy to get measures on the ballot, and it makes voting an absurd ordeal, wading through pages and pages of amendments, referendums and initiatives. We elect representatives to do this sort of thing for us. We vote for the candidates who we think will best represent our views. We have legislatures so we don't have to vote on every insane thing some crackpot thinks ought to be the law. The people of Massachusetts in fact have had their say on the issue, when they elected the representatives who ultimately voted for it.

I say you need to just lay it on the line. Don't whine about activist judges and "the system being broken." Just cut the bullshit and say what you really mean: Homosexuality frightens and disturbs you, you don't like it and you're okay with treating fellow human beings like second-class citizens because of it. Don't tell me that you object to the Massachusetts legislature's decision because it's "contrary to the ideals of democracy" when what you really mean is that you object to the Massachusetts legislature's decision because it's "personally unsettling to me that homosexual people should have the same rights and privileges as heterosexual people."

The thing about democracy is that it's all about compromise. And the greatest compromise of American democracy is that everybody is entitled to equal protection under the law. That means that consenting adults, gay or straight, should be entitled to all the same rights and privileges. And what do you get out of the deal? What you get is that nobody says you have to like it. I mean, I don't much like it that y'all get to go around shouting about Gawd and Jee-uh-zus and telling me precisely how and why I'm straight to Hayull - but you have the right. You don't much like it that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has decided that gay people have the right to get married. That's fine, nobody's saying you have to.

But let's call a spade a spade, conservatives homophobes. Admit what it is that's really bugging you, get off your lame-ass "the voters' rights are being abrogated" high horse, and let's once and for all agree about the pointlessness of whining about the system being "broken" just because you didn't get your small-minded, bigoted way. S'aright?

That Ol' Devil Moon

At left, for your convenience because I think it's cool, I've added a little doodad in my sidebar that shows the current phase of the Moon.

Like any good astronomy nerd, I'm thoroughly fascinated by the Moon. Earth is the only one of the inner planets to have a regular, spherical satellite. Mars has two satellites - Demos and Phobos - but they are irregular, orbit in the "wrong" direction, and astronomers generally believe that they are captured asteroids. Our Moon, however, was created by a massive cosmic accident - a collision that sent a chunk of Earth flying off into space, where it eventually became the Moon.

Its phases are regular and predictable. Because the Moon orbits the Earth in the way that it does, and because it is the precise size that it is, we experience solar eclipses from time to time. As you may remember learning in junior high science class, the Moon is the cause of our tides. It is also in a state known as "tidal lock," meaning that the same face of the Moon is always pointing at the Earth. In spite of this, all 360° of the Moon do receive exposure to sunlight - there is, in fact, no "dark side of the Moon."

In the latter half of 1972, Pink Floyd recorded The Dark Side of the Moon. It was released in March of 1973, and spent 741 weeks on the Billboard 200 album chart. People say that album has an eerie synchronicity with the classic film The Wizard of Oz. If you start the album on the MGM lion's third roar, the lyrics synch up in odd ways with the action on-screen. This is an interesting coincidence that acquires enormous cosmic significance if you also start doing bong hits as soon as the album is playing. Otherwise, it's just something that makes you say, "Well, I'll be."

Twelve people have walked on the Moon, and none of them is David Gilmour. Some people claim that man traveling to the moon and returning safely is, in fact, impossible and that the entire enterprise was a hoax. They say that no amount of evidence will convince them that the Moon landings actually happened. Astoundingly, the fifth unique hit on a Google search for "moon landing" takes you to a conspiracy theory page. These are probably also the sort of people who believe that the Elders of Zion are plotting to take over the world, that extra-terrestrials landed in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947 and are currently being held prisoner by the Illuminati, and that fluoridated drinking water is a method of mind control.* They say that the flag planted by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin is waving in the breeze, even though there would be no breeze on the Moon. Even the briefest examination of the film demonstrates that this is not the case. And honestly, if NASA were to go to the effort of faking a moon landing, do you think they'd really be that careless?

Twelve men have, indeed, walked on the Moon. One of them, Alan Shepard, played golf on the Moon. To date, no other sporting events have been held on the Moon - though it is reasonable to assume that if the Lunar Excursion Module had been roomy enough for two Moon buggies rather than one, the astronauts would have raced them. Were the human race to be wiped out and all traces of our existence on Earth destroyed, nineteen names would survive on the plaques left behind on the LEMs - those of the astronauts who walked on the Moon, those of the command module pilots who remained in orbit, and on the original Apollo 11 plaque, that of Richard Milhaus Nixon.

The Moon was of great significance to the ancient astronomers - the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Babylonians, the Mayans.

It is said that the Moon is inherently female, inherently tied with the menstrual cycle. To the Greeks and Romans, the Moon was the province of the Goddess Artemis, just as was the Sun to her twin brother Apollo. To the Japanese, however, it is the Sun that is female, the Goddess Amaterasu, and the Moon is male, the God Tsukuyomi. To the Egyptians, both Sun and Moon were male, Ra and Thoth.

It is said that the full Moon drives men mad.

It is said that the Moon is a powerful influence on astrology.

It is said that the Moon is made of green cheese.

It is said that the Cow jumped over the Moon.

It is said that when the Moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that's amore.


To learn more about the Moon, please visit your local library. Or use the internet. Or go track down your nearest astronomy nerd and bug him/her about it.

* Humble apologies if I've offended any of my loyal readers who actually believe any of this wacked-out crackpot bullshit.


We're nearing the end of a nice hike in Red Rocks Park and we've paused on a rock outcropping to drink some water and admire the expansive view of the Denver Metro area and the endless prairie beyond. A small knot of people has gathered lower on the trail. A pair of mountain bikers nearby say that someone in that group had been bitten by a rattlesnake.

Indeed, as we descend the trail, we see that one man in the group is sitting on a rock, his left leg extended in front of him with blood oozing from twin puncture wounds on his shin. There's an enormous cell tower atop nearby Mount Morrison, so we're not exactly miles and miles from civilization, and the bite victim is talking on a cell phone to, presumably, a 911 dispatcher or a doctor or something, calmly asking if he should make an incision in the wound. We say, "Good luck" as we pass, and inwardly I am simply astounded at how cool and collected the guy is. I'm of a like mind with the good Dr. Indiana Jones when it comes to snakes, and I can only imagine how I would react to a rattlesnake bite. Still, he's doing the right thing, according to the experts: sitting still, keeping the bite low and not totally freaking out.

As we continue hiking, we hear sirens approaching on the nearby road. We pass first one park ranger heading the opposite direction, then another and finally when we're nearly back to the trailhead, the West Metro Emergency Services crew, trundling a thing that looks like a combination stretcher/wheelbarrow, and moreover like a very unpleasant but necessary ride for the bite victim back down the bumpy, rocky trail.

Later on, back at home, we're eating dinner and watching the "Fresh Water" episode of "Planet Earth." In the "behind the scenes" bit that follows the episode on the disc, we see the film crew's attempts to capture footage of a piranha feeding frenzy. During this, they speak with several locals who show off their (really wicked-looking) scars from piranha bites.

Both the day's events and what's on television serve as a reminder of a simple truth. It's a bit of a cliché, but true nevertheless. Human beings are undoubtedly the dominant species on the planet - but we're as often as not visitors in habitats to which we are unsuited, and will frequently come off worse in encounters with the natives. We are spectacularly adaptable, able to survive and thrive in nearly any environment. But the fact remains that the western rattlesnake has been living in the Rocky Mountain region since there have been Rocky Mountains, and the piranha in the Pantanal since there has been an Amazon River. This is their home turf and they will defend it, aggressively if necessary.

That said, the "Planet Earth" photographer was in the water only a few feet away from the piranha feeding frenzy and came away without a scratch. Rattlesnakes tend to be shy and avoid humans when possible; in all the years I've been hiking and camping in Colorado and Wyoming, I've never actually seen one. Writers, filmmakers and most especially bored journalists like to play on the primal human fear of such things, but the number of people who go hiking in snake habitat areas and don't get bitten is orders of magnitude greater than the number who do. Jaws is scary and stories of shark attacks sell papers, but in comparison with the number of people who actually go swimming and diving in the world's oceans, shark attacks are vanishingly rare. "Killer" bees rarely kill and, the occasional lunatic like Timothy Treadwell notwithstanding, grizzly bears almost never actually attack people.

As we headed back down the trail, we speculated as to just how someone could be bitten on such a heavily human-populated trail. Our surmise was that the victim had stepped off the trail to cede right-of-way to someone else, and happened to step in exactly the wrong spot. Therein lies the rub - though "nature" is safer than a sensationalist media suggests, the danger is still there. Caution and respect are the key. "Grizzly bears almost never attack people" ≠ "Hey, wanna ride a grizzly bear?" and "Rattlesnakes tend to be shy and avoid humans" ≠ "Putting your foot down off-trail without looking where you're stepping is a good idea!"

The World's Greatest Most Useless Superheroes: Green Arrow

Jon at Facedown in the Gutters has a funny bit up about Green Arrow, wherein his girlfriend speculates that GA's power or function within the Justice League is to "point at things." Honestly, if that were the case, he wouldn't be any more useless than he currently is. It might even be better, all things considered.

Green Arrow is, of course, Oliver Queen, who began his comics existence as a pale imitation of Batman: millionaire playboy who trained himself to be the best in the world at a particular skill (archery, in this case, natch), began fighting crime and acquired a buttboy young ward/sidekick. In those early days, he even had an Arrowcave beneath his mansion in which he stored the Arrowmobile. Batman was understandably pissed, but after consulting with his lawyers, he determined that he could trademark neither narcissistic themed gadgetry nor pedo-homoerotic sidekickery.

Anyway, at some point in the '60s, the powers that be at DC decided that GA was pretty lame, so they revamped him. He lost his fortune, his sidekick broke up with him and got hooked on smack, and somebody decided that GA was going to be a bleeding heart liberal, crusading for the rights of the poor and downtrodden, which basically meant that he went around complaining about "fat-cats" a lot and shooting arrows at guys in business suits who smoked cigars. He's been at it for a good 40 years now, with a brief break in the late '90s when he was dead.

Anyway, the great thing about Green Arrow and his mad archery skillz is that's all he's got. I mean, there's nothing wrong with being the World's Greatest Archer. It's gotta be a pretty good gig, overall. Go out and win a few Olympic medals, then sit back and wait for the endorsement checks from archery-supply companies to roll in, right? "Hi, I'm Olympic Gold Medalist archer Ollie Queen, and I rely on Allen brand bow-string wax..." Naw, that ain't how superhero comics work. If you're the World's Greatest Anydamnthing and you live in the DC (or Marvel) Universe, you go get yourself a costume and start fighting crime.

And that's the amazing thing. Green Arrow is a perennial member of the Justice League. The Justice League, for God's sake! They've got a guy who can fly, shoot heat rays from his eyes and is strong enough to push the moon around, a woman who's on a first-name basis with the Greek Gods, a guy who can run at the speed of light, a guy who wields what is commonly referred to as the most powerful weapon in the universe...and Batman's clearly got the whole "guy who has no powers but is cool enough to hang out with the super-powered folks anyway" angle locked up. Green Arrow? He shoots arrows. Yeah, he does it really well...but is it really that useful a tool, speaking in a superheroic sense?

Look, Aquaman gets a bad rap, but at least he's the frickin' King of Atlantis. No, it's not a tremendously useful thing, but if any crime or natural disaster should happen to occur underwater, the King of Atlantis is going to be handy to have around, right? Green Arrow doesn't even have that going for him. And therein lies the key requirement to be one of the World's Most Useless Superheroes. If you're more useless than Aquaman, you make the cut.

That's right, I said it: Green Arrow is more useless than Aquaman.

Peace, Love and Soul

I don't want y'all to come to the end of your lives and think, "You know, my life would be complete if only someone had, at some point, hipped me to the Soul Train Line."

As a public service to you, the reader, I am now hipping you to the Soul Train Line.

Word has it it's something you might want to get into on your own at parties and dances.