The Mind Boggles

Or maybe I've just got a dirty mind. Just what could Roethlisberger have "requested" of Hines Ward that left them at odds? Something that Tom Brady wouldn't ask for...

Dude, Ben, first rule of being a pro QB: don't proposition your receivers, man. Things are going to be so awkward in the huddle next season...

Could it be Anyone but Fox?

For years now, viewers have known that for the absolute trashiest, most demeaning, horrible, bottom-of-the-barrel reality shows, Fox is the go-to network. You've got your "Temptation Island," your "Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire," your "Simple Life," and on and on. So it's hard to say that their latest offering represents a new low, exactly, but it certainly meets the high standards set by the Fox Reality Programming Department. "The Moment of Truth" is apparently getting big ratings...but then, millions tune in to watch the horrifying warbling of "American Idol" contestants, so it's safe to say that lots of viewers ≠ high-quality television.

In case you're not familiar with "The Moment of Truth," here's what the Fox website has to say about their latest debasement of humanity: "THE MOMENT OF TRUTH will put participants to the test -- the lie detector test -- to reveal whether or not they are telling the truth for a chance to win half a million dollars. The challenge is simple: answer 21 increasingly personal questions honestly, as determined by a polygraph, and win up to $500,000. This is the only game show where participants know both the questions and the answers before they begin to play. What deep dark secret will someone divulge for hundreds of thousands of dollars?"

So basically, they hook you up to a polygraph machine, ask you "Have you shit your pants in the last six months?" and if you the machine says you've answered honestly, they give you some money for it. The "lie detector" has been a staple of daytime talk shows for years - Maury and Montel love strapping people into those things and asking whether they were cheating on their wives or whatever, but with "The Moment of Truth," the polygraph has hit prime-time.

The thing about the "lie detector," though, is that it's pseudoscience at best. They might as well be airing reality shows based around phrenology, palmistry and astrology. The results of polygraph testing are (generally speaking) inadmissible in courts of law. In 2003, the National Academy of Sciences released a study that showed polygraph testing to be essentially useless, generally about 50% accurate at best. The fact is that I could be strapped into a polygraph machine and claim to be an 87-year-old Chinese woman, that I traveled to Mars in a rowboat and that I invented the steam engine and it's just as likely the polygraph could show a passing result as a failing one.

Here's the best example of what I mean: Aldrich Ames - perhaps the most infamous American traitor this side of Benedict Arnold - spent nearly ten years selling out the CIA to the Soviet Union, from 1985 to his arrest in 1994. During that time, he passed "lie detector" tests not once, but twice. A brilliant Wikipedia author speculates that, "Explanations for this include the possibility that Ames was in fact a sociopath and consequently immune to the polygraph test, or had learned or been trained how to defeat the 'lie detector'." The even more likely explanation for this is that the "lie detector" is utter bullshit and the fact that the CIA even uses polygraphy as any kind of tool is both baffling and horrifying.

But somehow, the idea of the "lie detector" as a machine that will accurately reveal the truth of a subject's statements has caught the public imagination. It's not really that surprising, I guess. Millions of people believe in ESP and UFOs, too.

I guess it's what passes for entertainment when the networks don't have any writers to provide content. They have to fill those empty blocks of time somehow now that they're out of new episodes of "House." But still, one does wish that they wouldn't pander quite so obviously to the slack-jawed morons of the world.

I Wish...

...that somebody in Italy would do this with our camera. Sigh. If wishes were horses and all that.

Still, it's a great story and it makes me happy that at least somebody out there was reunited with lost vacation photos, even if it isn't us.

N is for Nerd Who Fell Down Stairs

When traveling by 2nd Class train in Italy, you don't really buy a timed ticket. The ticket machine spits out a ticket that states the city of origin and the destination. This ticket is then usable for some length of time I don't exactly remember - several weeks, anyway. Before you board the train, you're supposed to validate the ticket by running it through a machine in the station that prints the date and time on it. On the train, a conductor might come by and check to make sure that you've got a valid ticket. As I understand it, the fines for riding without a valid ticket are pretty hefty. That's the set-up. Here's the story.

We're in La Spezia, sitting in a freezing-cold train car, waiting to depart for Pisa. We've spent the afternoon hiking between three of the five towns of the Cinque Terre (absolutely gorgeous, by the way, and highly recommended), and thus we're both dead tired, stiff and sore. And I'm sick as a dog, hacking and coughing and generating what seems like gallons of snot every hour. The train is scheduled to depart at 7:03 - and the column labeled "Ritardo" on the big board, "Late" that is, is blank, meaning the train's going to be leaving on time. It's 7:00 on the button when Em turns to me and says, "Hey, did we validate our tickets?"

"Aw, crap," I say, and without a second thought, because the tickets are in my jacket pocket, I jump up and get off the train, thinking there will probably be a ticket-validating machine right out there on the platform next to the train. No dice. I know for sure there's a machine back in the main station, so I dash down the stairs to the tunnel that runs under the tracks. Through the tunnel and up the stairs, tickets are punched. A quick glance reveals that our train is still motionless over on track 6. I head back for the stairs. Right at the top of the stairs, my inherent klutzy nature takes over at exactly the wrong moment, and I trip over my own feet. I'm going down and I know it.

It happens simultaneously in super-slo-mo and incredibly fast. As I'm falling, I'm thinking, "Oh, shit, this is really, really going to suck. I really can't be hurt right now, I have to get back on that train!" Maybe not quite so coherent or linear as this, but these thoughts are running through my head as I fall, alongside an image of Em wondering where the hell I am as the train pulls away, her aboard with all our luggage and no tickets. Then I hit the stairs, it hurts every bit as much as I expected, and thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump, I'm at the bottom of the stairs. The pain is excruciating, and I spend a fraction of a second being extremely grateful that I didn't break my damnfool neck or crack my skull open.

The image of the train pulling away with ticketless Em aboard flashes through my head again. I pop up, on my feet with more agility than I could have imagined possible. A few onlookers are staring at me from the top of the stairs with concerned looks on their faces. I give the Big Two Thumbs Up and shout, "I'm OK!" though, looking back, I realize that brushing myself off and saying, "I meant to do that" would have been funnier...well, to me, anyway.

I try to set off at a run back down the tunnel, but quickly realize that, departing train or not, a run just isn't in the cards. I settle for the fastest hobble I can manage. I force myself back up the stairs, each step agony, on the other end. As I emerge on the platform again, Em is hanging out the door of the train watching for me. She was ready to grab the bags and get off if I hadn't made it back in time, of course. The conductor is blowing his whistle; the train is ready to depart. I manage a jog for the last few steps to the train and haul myself aboard.

As we take our seats and the train pulls out of the station, Em points out that I've got a seven-inch rip in the crotch of my pants. Not a popped seam, but an enormous rip in the fabric. I borrow her windbreaker - which she had actually borrowed from QIR - and tie it around my waist like an apron. Not a classy look. In fact, it looks thoroughly idiotic, but it preserves my modesty, such as it is.

We arrive in Pisa over an hour later, and after some hemming and hawing on my part about whether we'll spend the night at the train station waiting for the middle-of-the-night train to Rome, Em decides that I really need to sleep in a bed. I bow to her superior wisdom, even though the cheapest hotel room we can find near the train station is €45.

The bruise on my upper right arm has by now faded to a jaundiced yellow. My left ankle still doesn't feel quite right, and the bruise on my right thigh remains a horrifying and disgusting vivid rainbow of painful, tender flesh.

And the conductor never even checked the damn tickets, anyway.

Well, That Sucks

You know, I never saw Capote. Couldn't have been less interested in it. I tried to read In Cold Blood once and it bored me silly. I tried to watch the movie version with the same result. Truman Capote is a figure who does not remotely interest me. So I can't really say much about the quality of Philip Seymour Hoffman's Oscar-winning performance in that movie.

Except this: Hoffman's performance must have been a gem, indeed for him to have beaten out Heath Ledger for the Oscar. I'm not going to say it's a joke or a travesty on the order of Crash beating Brokeback Mountain for Best Picture, because Hoffman's a great actor and I don't doubt that his performance was great. But Ledger's work in Brokeback is one of the most moving, nuanced, perfectly realized performances I've ever seen, surely one of the great performances in the history of the American cinema.

Heath Ledger was always reliably good. He made a valiant effort in the utterly ludicrous Mel Gibson vehicle The Patriot, he was thoroughly entertaining in 10 Things I Hate About You in spite of acting opposite the mannequin-like Julia Stiles, and hit all the right notes in the absurdly entertaining A Knight's Tale.

The trailer for the forthcoming The Dark Knight, in which Ledger plays the Joker, suggest that, as usual, the early fanboy rage at the announcement of his casting in the role was entirely misplaced. He seems to fit hand-in-glove in the role, and the movie looks great.

And now he's dead, and that really sucks. Like River Phoenix, he was a talent on the verge of exploding - a great performance in a huge, absurdly commercial movie like The Dark Knight could have done that for him - but we'll never know for sure what would have been.

Guess Who's Back

I'm sitting in a room in Denver, Colorado and experiencing a weird sense of déjà vu. I'm pretty sure I've been in this room before: the art on the walls all looks very familiar and I feel an odd connection to the DVDs and books on the shelves and the furniture and such. It's hauntingly familiar, like something from a half-remembered dream, or a movie I saw as a small child.

Or at least, that's kind of how it feels to be sitting in my own living room for the first time in nearly a month. We left Denver on the 20th of December, as astute readers may recall, and we've been living as vagabonds for that entire time, sleeping in friends' generously offered beds and guest rooms, in Emily's sisters' old bedroom, in a chain of hotels and creaky, barely tolerable hostel cots.

The "more photos than you can shake a stick at" are, sadly, not forthcoming - a tale of much woe. A few selections from my sketchbook are forthcoming once I can get the pages scanned.

But, in spite of the comedy of errors, Italy was truly magnificent. The food alone made the trip worthwhile. The pizza in Rome was to die for, we shared what was probably the single most perfect serving of lasagne ever and one near-perfect piece of tira misu, and ate lots of really, really good gelato.

Anyway, stick around, y'all, because we're back on schedule here after our brief hiatus. I'll have another post for you tomorrow, maybe even two. And if you'd like to hear (that is, read) more about our trip, keep your eyes on my better half's Pantalones del Fuego, as she's got big plans for trip recapping over the next several days (I think). And I'll be doing some of that my ownself, too.