Thursday, October 30, 2014

Throwback Thursday! I wrote it once, but thanks to the magic of this day you get to not read it TWICE.

This originally appeared on my blog Pop!, which was originally The Best Of Everything, back in October 2010.

Today finds me in a meditative mood of sorts; I've been thinking all week about Norman Colwin, a guy I'd never heard of before who died this week at 101.

I heard about Norman Colwin dying on the radio, which is fitting, because Colwin was called the 'poet laureate of radio' when he wasn't being called a 'citizen of the world.' I don't know what the latter means, but I do know what the former should sound like, and the brief (radio) broadcast I heard about Colwin's death made me miss someone I'd never even known existed until just that moment, and want to know more about him.

Radio, I think, gets kind of a bum rap these days, and maybe rightfully so, provided that you narrowly define radio. But I've always liked radio, in all its incarnations as I think of them, including things that aren't really radio.

I once wrote a post called "Football On The Radio, The Importance of Being Close To Canada, and a Quick Latin Lesson" (I'll link to it below.) In that post, I reflected on how I used to listen to football games on the radio, waxing poetic:

I first started listening to football on the radio back when Sweetie and I began dating. She lived about 60 miles from me, and sometimes I'd go drive my Ford Festiva up to visit her on Sundays. We'd hang out, maybe watch the Packers, maybe eat dinner, and then I'd have to drive home ... I would tune in to the NFL game, whichever game was being played, and listen to that,

...As I drove past sleeping farms and dark houses with warm glows flowing out of their windows, I'd focus on the road as the announcer told me someone was back to pass, it's up, and I'd drive and wait for it's caught or dropped or picked off and he's heading the other way.

The invisible men playing football in my mind ("kicking off, my right to my left..." announcers would say, and I'd picture them on the dashboard of the car) have always been larger and stronger and more enjoyable than the life-sized men playing on the football fields in real life
The radio has always been a big feature of my life. When I lived in Milwaukee, as a college student, I worked in the admissions office of the University. This was in the early 90s, before the Internet and iPods and even CDs were still pretty new. So we listened to the radio in the office. Every city had an assortment of music stations back then: there was the Oldies station and the Classic Rock station and the Top40 station and, if you were lucky like we were because we had two major colleges in Milwaukee, you had a "New Rock" station that played bands like Belly:

I remember listening to New Rock 102.1 when Belly, a group I loved, came out with their new album:  the DJ said "Belly's just released a new album that sounds great. Here's their hit song "Feed The Tree." That song, though, was off their old album, and I didn't get how New Rock could get away with not playing new rock.

I know now: Years later I read an article that talked about why radio stations don't put new music on more often, or more challenging music, and do you know why? It's because of us, and also because of how easy it is to change the radio station when you're in the car, which is where most of us listen to the radio, always. Most people, if they hear something unfamiliar, change the radio station. So radio stations play mostly familiar stuff, even the ones that promise new rock. The new rock they play is the same old stuff new rock fans want to hear.

I'm still that way, a lot. My radio now is my iPod, filled with songs that I download sight-unheard, and podcasts, and sometimes I'll put my 11,000 songs on shuffle and then click until I hear something familiar, if I'm in the mood for something familiar, although these days I'm at least slightly more adventurous in my music listening, which is how I got to hear new music that I downloaded based on its description, music like Regina Spektor, whose song Fidelity I downloaded without ever hearing it, and then loved it, and then went and got all of Regina Spektor's albums, which, fittingly enough for this post, includes "On The Radio":

which is a song that talks about ascribing some significance to listening to the radio so late at night that the DJ is asleep and plays the song November Rain twice, making the moments even more memorable. So I'm not the only one who thinks radio sometimes makes things seem more significant.

Back in the 90s, we'd listen to music at the office, but we also listened to talk radio, which then was in its infancy and hadn't become nothing-but-conservatives. I recall a show called "That Jay Marvin" with a host who tried to be kind of moderate, but moderation has no place on talk radio. I also recall listening to The Mark Belling Show, a local conservative talk guy who I kind of enjoyed listening to (and still do, even though I so much disagree with him, now), then  being goaded into calling and arguing with him by my boss, who would wander in, hear Belling saying something, and say "Call him up and argue with him" and so I'd do that because it beat filing, and the other office workers would go listen on the radio in the other room and laugh as I tried to argue a proposition I knew nothing about.

Once, Mark Belling told me an argument I'd made was the stupidest argument he'd ever heard. I kind of take that as a badge of pride, and also, I've heard that exact phrase repeated to me twice in my life. (The other one was a judge. Long story. But the judge was right: it was a stupid argument.)

Later on, a few years later, when I came back to Milwaukee after living in Washington D.C. and Morocco for 3/4 of a year, I moved into an apartment but couldn't afford a TV right away, so all I had was my stereo and a radio to listen to. At night, I'd listen to talk radio again, conservative talk-hosts slowly giving way to Art Bell Coast-To-Coast, and Art would talk about aliens and demon possessions as I laid there in the dark, the radio echoing off the bare walls and hardwood floors of my apartment.

Radio's been a big part of my life in part because I'm always doing something else: I'm driving somewhere or typing something or playing with the twins or working in the yard, and I can listen but I can't watch because I've got to watch what I'm doing. But, truth be told, I've always been somewhat impatient with visual media anyway.

I grew up reading books, graduating from comic books to book-books, and a book is like a mental radio: Someone feeds words into your mind and you build them into a world. I read almost every single book in the Hartland Public Library, and I'm not kidding about that. When my brothers and friends were watching TV, I'd be reading.

I've always liked the images I get in my mind, actually, more than the images that life actually throws at me. I've got a wonderful imagination; it's in overdrive, all the time. I fall asleep imagining stories and literally dream them up to begin writing them. It's really hard to compete with the special effects my mind can create.

I remember when they made The Lord Of The Rings into movies. I was concerned because in my experience, the movies never looked the way they should. I liked my Middle-Earth, my Frodo and Sam and Sauron. I didn't want to see someone else's versions of them, and so I was relieved that Peter Jackson actually made things look, more or less, right.

In that Football On The Radio essay, I noted that having listened to a portion of a football game on the radio once, I came home to find the game was being taped by The Boy, and watched the plays I'd just heard, and found the actual real plays to be less exciting than the plays I'd imagined, listening. Radio is like that: It can broaden the scope of what you're hearing by making your mind work.

Which brings me, temporarily, back to Norman Corwin. Here's what he's most famous for, in a world where, really, he wasn't famous at all anymore: The broadcast "On A Note Of Triumph." You can hear it at that link, which goes through NPR, or you can do what I'm doing and listen to it as you read this:

That's Corwin's broadcast on V-E Day, an hourlong celebration of the winning of the first half of the war. It's worth listening to, for lots of reasons, not just because you cannot imagine any radio (or TV) announcer these days talking like this:

"The superman of tomorrow lies at the feet of the common men of this afternoon."

Corwin was in part, lucky: he was a radio broadcaster when only radio was broadcast, and he was a radio broadcaster when the U.S. achieved the greatest victory in its history -- but luck isn't just there for the picking; it has to be taken and run with. Lots of people get lucky and blow it. Corwin got lucky and didn't.

His career, if you read about it, was more than celebrating "far flung ordinary men, unspectacular but free" (seriously, go listen to it! Just put it on in the background while you read this).

His biography notes that he published books of prose and poetry, got an Oscar nomination for his script about Van Gogh ("Lust for Life") and then, at the age of 80, came back to NPR and recorded a series of programs including "Good Can Be As Communicable As Evil", again speaking in words that almost nobody would dare to use, talking about how even if simply being kind won't cure all evil, it's still worth doing... now:

So long as conscionable and caring people are around, so long as they are not muted or exiled, so long as they remain alert in thought and action, there is a chance for contagions of the right stuff, whereby democracy becomes no longer a choice of lesser evils, whereby the right to vote is not betrayed by staying away from the polls, whereby the freedoms of speech, assembly, religion, and dissent are never forsaken
(People in Wisconsin, and other areas, who stayed away from the polls now realize how foolish it is to forsake the freedoms of speech and vote as they exercise those freedoms to exorcise the people who rushed into the gap left open by those who didn't vote. But that's for another day and another blog.)

I've been listening to Corwin's broadcast as I type this -- hearing the crowds in Piccadilly and Times Square, and Corwin's words: ("This is it, kid. This is the day. This is what we were waiting for... but through the din and clamor we can hear a voice... listen: a flash across the dark Atlantic.. listen closely..." and he teases you until you can't wait to see what it is you're supposed to be listening for.)

(I'm not going to tell you what you're to be listening for. Listen to it.)

I wouldn't have listened to Corwin's broadcast if he hadn't died; I didn't even know he lived, and I wouldn't have probably cared about Corwin's death if I wasn't one of those people who loves radio and even loves what radio has become and thinks it should become more.

Radio isn't dead, even if you don't like listening to nothing but conservative talk-show hosts on AM Radio; sure, they've taken over but that's just temporary, just like the rightward swing in politics is temporary, and we have to hope that no permanent damage is done under the fever-throes of fervor, to either the body politic or radio.

Radio these days isn't a wasteland, after all; every city still has their same stations: Madison, where I live now, has a "Classic Rock" station on which I listen to Alice Cooper's musical choices on Sunday nights, and they have a Top 40 station, and they have a new rock station that doesn't just play new rock and they have a hard rock station, and they even have one of those automated "We Play Everything" stations that, frankly, I like, because that's the closest radio comes to my iPod, playing Escape (The Pina Colada Song):

and then immediately following it with Macarena.

And I'm not going to apologize for liking either one of those, even if I sometimes do make up my own words to macarena and they go something like this:

Come on now a say a macarena
Why did you say that word the macarena?
I said the word cause you said say macarena
Hey, macarena!

But we also have NPR, and we have the local talk radio station that has local hosts who talk about interesting things like local fetish shops (Hi, Forward With Kurt!) and, of course, sports radio -- we have two of those.

And then I have podcasts, which let me listen to radio when I want: Planet Money and Freakonomics Radio and Stuff You Missed In History Class and This American Life and the Savage Love podcast and more (I subscribe to about 10 of them), all of which I can listen to during what is otherwise dead time.

Dead time like when I was driving to court yesterday morning, leaving at 6:45 a.m. and driving until 8:15 a.m. and then driving back from 9:30 to 11 -- three hours in the car, time I would, absent radio, have spent just staring at the scenery.

love the radio. I love listening to the more-sophisticated-than-me people on NPR's pop culture podcast -- a podcast is just radio, after all -- talk about X-Men: First Class or the Royal Wedding, and I like hearing Dan Savage alternately rant and laugh and offer sound advice, and sometimes, as I began noting in that earlier post I wrote, I just want to hear another human voice; sometimes, driving around in deserted landscapes at night, worn-out, it's nice to just listen to people talk, and to talk back to them, even if they can't hear me.

"That's crazy," I'll say, or "Well, right," listening to someone saying something and having a one-sided conversation.

I never got much into music videos, and a lot of the time, I treat TV as a radio -- I'll put on a TV show I like (usually one I've seen before) and listen to that without watching it, cleaning up the kitchen while Arrested Development plays over the computer speakers.

Most people are visual people, I know. But not me, not that way. I don't want to be told what to see, which is one reason I stopped reading comic books and found them, ultimately, unsatisfying. I want to imagine my worlds.

And I think that radio, using that term loosely to include podcasts and music and iPods, entertainment that is audio only, can be more than it presently is. I wonder, sometimes, why we have 24-hours sports-talk radio but no pop culture talk radio, and at those times I think "I should make a The Best Of Everything podcast and create pop culture talk radio," which is egotistic, I know, because if you look at podcasts for even a second you'll see that there's a plethora of pop culture talk radio, but there could be more, right?

I could do it, too. I don't just listen to radio; I've been a DJ, on a college radio station that for some reason broadcast only over cable, so you had to have cable radio to listen to us and I'm pretty sure nobody ever listened, but that didn't stop me from going on the air twice a week and playing indie rock and reading public service announcements for a whole semester, talking to people who might not have even been there.

I bet I'd have liked Norman Corwin. He seems like he was the kind of person I imagine myself to be: focusing mainly on one thing but doing lots of things and doing them well, back in the era when people did do lots of things. As we've become a more-visual, more-focused, culture, sometimes, I think, we've narrowed our scope. Look at the Founding Fathers. They did a zillion things. I read biographies of people in the 1700s and 1800s and they did everything. They were scientists and doctors and writers and politicians and farmers and then in their spare time they developed a theory of gravity:

Sir Isaac Newton PRS (25 December 1642 – 20 March 1727 ...was an English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist, and theologian, has been "considered by many to be the greatest and most influential scientist who ever lived."

That's the first sentence of Newton's page on Wikipedia. Norman Colwin's begins:

Norman Lewis Corwin (May 3, 1910 – October 18, 2011) was an American writer, screenwriter, producer, essayist and teacher of journalism and writing.

My own Twitter tagline is "Lawyer... writer... and also... um..." and when people these days ask what I do, what anyone does, would any of us reel off a string of things we do? We wouldn't.

When celebrities these days, for good or bad, do more than one thing, we mostly try to push them back into that one thing. I'm as guilty as anyone; I laugh at Keanu Reaves writing poetry and discount the political opinions of Gwyneth Paltrow (the latter probably being more likely the right move than the former, maybe) and DJs make fun of Billy Bob Thornton or Russell Crowe being rock stars as well as movie stars.

Actors and directors, we get. Actors and writers? We say no way.

And maybe that's a result of the increasing visualization of the world. Maybe video really did kill the radio star -- maybe, as we got more and more used to being told what to see, we learned to only see one thing -- there couldn't be more than one way for Harry Potter to look after we saw how Harry Potter looked, and maybe that has slowly conditioned us to be only one thing, our minds narrowing in ways we can't even comprehend until after it's already occurred, a world that can only be one thing because our minds no longer know how to do anything but replay the image we were given.

That's what I fight against, sometimes: the feeling that we can only do one thing, or even one thing at a time. Why must I only be a lawyer? Or a writer? Or, worse, why must I only write one kind of thing? Why can't I be all these things at once?

I'll put it this way: If you did listen to Corwin's description, taking you from the celebration in Times Square across the Atlantic to Europe, how did you picture that passage as he described it. (Again, if you didn't listen to it, why not? Just put it in the background. It won't take any of your time.) Did you fly, disembodied, across dark waters to an England that was celebrating wildly? Did you travel on an airplane? Did you whiz low over the waves of the Atlantic or soar above the clouds, seeing both North America and Europe on either side of that cold ocean?

As Corwin talked, you could do any of those things, but if he'd shown you, using CGI or live-action, you'd have only done one thing.

Norman Corwin was a radio pioneer, but more than that, he was a way of thinking. There is a world where any thing is possible, and there is a world where only this thing is possible. I worry, sometimes, that we're moving from the first to the second, or that we've already done it, and Norman Corwin's life ending seems to me to be proof of that happening.

And maybe I'm stuck in that world. But if I have to live in that world, nothing keeps me from keeping on driving down dark roads, listening to voices from far away, giving me the building blocks of football games and wars and relationship stories and more, building my own worlds in my mind, and making sure that I can be everything I imagine I am, and the world can be everything I imagine it to be, even if only for a little while.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Some ________ Stories Is A Thing Now, Okay.

I've started doing something new.  Rather than put a story on the blog here periodically, where nobody really reads them and nobody likes to read them, I have decided to start gathering up some of my stories into collections I call

"Some ________ Stories."

The first of these is ready just in time for Hallowe'en, and it's:

It has about 8 zombie stories in it, most of them not like your run-of-the-mill zombie stories.  AND IT IS FREE ALL WEEK.  

Thoughts While Raking Leaves

Today I began the arduous process of raking the leave in our yard.  We get about 33 billion metric tons of leaves falling in our yard every year.  I don't know what a "metric" ton is, but it sounds larger than just a regular old layperson's ton.

Anyway, I was wondering how much more work living in Wisconsin imposes on homeowners.  If you live in a place where leaves don't fall from the trees and you don't get snow, you don't have to rake and you don't have to shovel.  So it seems to me like living in Wisconsin actually is harder than living somewhere else even if you like snow.

Also today, a bug flew out of the sky and straight at my head and nearly into my eye and all I could think was "Man, what was up with that bug?"

Thursday, October 23, 2014

How You Know When Your Life Is Really Pretty Good.

You have complaints like Sweetie's:

"I'm a little bummed. I was trying to decide if I should get Ding Dongs or Fruit Pies and now that I'm home I think I made the wrong choice."

PS She went with "Ding Dongs."

Monday, October 20, 2014

Children Standing In Front Of God

These pictures are from Saturday, when we went to scatter my Mom's ashes at "Holy Hill," a monastery and church about an hour from us.  We used to go there a lot when I was a kid, and my Mom really liked the area.  

Mr Bunches and Mr F didn't really seem to understand why were there.  At one point, in front of one of the stations of the cross (the one where Jesus falls a second time) Mr Bunches looked at the statue and asked if Jesus was going to fix the tower and that's why he had the boards.

We told him "Yes."  

I'm not sure he's ready for the whole story of the Crucifixion.

Holy Hill:

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A free excerpt from my new book "This Stupid Pineapple Is...", WHICH IS NOW ON SALE FOR FREE, TOO, SO WHY WOULD YOU READ THE COW FOR FREE WHEN YOU CAN TAKE IT HOME OR... wait, let me rethink that.

While waiting for my scifi novel to come out (probably next spring and now called Codes instead of Find Out Who You Are ), I've finally published the long-awaited sequel to my best-selling book Santa, Godzilla & Jesus Walk Into A Bar...:  This one's called "This Stupid Pineapple Is..." and you can read the first chapter below, if you want.  Or you can just go get the entire book for free on Amazon from Monday, 10/20 through Friday, 10/24.  


Part One: Wishes can come true, if only you believe hard enough. (And also own a pineapple.)

“This stupid pineapple is never going to shut up!" yelled Templeton Freeney in frustration, and although he fully expected it, he still got a little madder than he was already when the stupid pineapple said:
"Why don't you shut me up?"
Templeton Freeney sat down hard on the stool that he kept in the kitchen for just that purpose. It was not the first time the stupid pineapple had driven him to distraction, and he'd learned about a week before that it was best to have something to sit down on when that happened, or else he would simply fall on the floor when he was so driven to distraction that he had to sit down.
Tonight, the stupid pineapple had been telling knock-knock jokes in its loudest voice at 3:00 a.m., and he had gone down to the kitchen to tell the stupid pineapple to keep it down because people had to get up to go to work in the morning and the stupid pineapple had looked at him as he'd come in and said:
"You don't have any pants on," which had caused Templeton to look down at himself and then the pineapple said "Made you look," in that silly way it had which drove Templeton nuts and he'd decided that he was going to for once and for all throw away the stupid pineapple at that point but as he'd picked it up the stupid pineapple had said:
and Templeton had paused, and said:
"Why shouldn't I?"  He'd held the stupid pineapple by its green leaves over the recyclables bin in the kitchen.
"Because if you let me live, I will give you three wishes," the stupid pineapple had said.
"Liar," Templeton had said, and had tossed the stupid pineapple into the bin and started to walk away muttering. "No stupid pineapple has the power to grant wishes." He'd started back upstairs, checking only momentarily to ensure that he in fact did still have his pants on.
"I do," the stupid pineapple had said from inside the bin.
Templeton had stopped on the stairs and put his fingers to his temples, the way he always did when he was thinking very hard about something he did not want to be thinking about at all. Templeton did that a lot, in fact, as his job was Ponderer Of Things Nobody Wants To Ponder, a position he'd been appointed to by the CEO of the company the year before after a tiny wormhole in space and time had opened up in the men's washroom on the third floor.
The wormhole was too small to do much with. Nobody could even really get a finger inside it, except Rhonda from Accounting, and Rhonda from Accounting had thus far resisted everyone's entreaties to stick her finger into the tiny wormhole, steadfastly refusing to do so for the past year. The wormhole had, it must be pointed out, had many other things put into it, things like paperclips and push pins and tiny pull-off tabs from soda pop cans and the like, something that people had started doing when they realized they could, since often it is simply the realization that something can be done which prompts that thing to then be done.
Templeton had himself succumbed to the allure of the tiny wormhole, one day, while working late. He'd gone into the third floor washroom and there had been the tiny wormhole, between the stalls and the sinks, just as it always was. Templeton had a couple of pens with him, including his green marker that he used to mark things in green, and on an impulse he looked at the wormhole and put the green marker into it.
There was only the slightest hesitation, and then a zhhoooopo!
Templeton was very sure that it wasn't simply a zhoooop, that there was an o at the end of it, and he'd emphasized that on the Official Report he'd filed with Customer Relations. Customer Relations wasn't sure what to do about his green marker or the zhoooopo! or the tiny wormhole in general. Customer Relations, which had only three employees (Tim, Timothy, and Dan, who resented the bond that Tim and Timothy had), had only gotten jurisdiction over the tiny wormhole because nobody else wanted it. Building Services had been the natural department to handle it, but they'd pointed out that most wormholes lead to other dimensions and so the tiny wormhole wasn't a part of this building, per se, and the per se had convinced the few holdouts still pushing for the assignment, so then Human Resources had been assigned the job of dealing with the tiny wormhole, on the grounds that while the wormhole was not human so far as anyone knew, humans were doing things to it, but Human Resources all called in sick the next day and management, worried about losing an entire department, had instead assigned the tiny wormhole problem to Tim in Customer Relations. Tim had then requested authority to hire two other people to help deal with it, and he'd hired Timothy and Dan, and the three of them had set out to have an ongoing feud about whether Tim favored Timothy due to their sharing a name, while getting no work done, which was fine because the company had no customers, anyway, and as nobody knew what to do about the tiny wormhole, Customer Relations could hardly be blamed for doing nothing about it.
Just after the Zhoooopo!, there had been a slight tug on the green marker and Templeton had felt the green marker pulled from his hand. He'd had to fill out three different forms requesting a new one and although that was time-consuming, he'd felt that he should not have to pay for a new green marker on his own, as he'd lost it on company property.
While waiting for Requisitions to deliver the new green marker (Expect it in 6-42 weeks, barring wars, hurricanes, gravitational inversions and mist, the email had said) he'd gone back into the third-floor washroom and seen, of course, the tiny wormhole again.
He'd eyed it warily, the same way that he'd eyed warily the stupid pineapple which had already taken up residence in his house the first time he'd seen it.
Then he'd stepped up by the tiny wormhole and looked into it and put his mouth right next to it and said, in a voice he hoped was both friendly and authoritative:
"Send back my green marker, please, as I need it."
There had been a pause, and then from the tiny wormhole had come a voice, and that voice said:
Templeton had paused in shock, and before he could assess what that might mean, a voice behind him had said:
"What do you suppose that meant?"
And he'd turned to see the CEO of the company, a man everyone simply called "Gene," since "Gene" was the exact opposite of the CEO's actual name -- no, nobody got that joke, but Gene always chuckled at it and so everybody else did, and then wondered what Gene's actual name might be, and then wondered what the exact opposite of their own name might be
(Mathematicians over four years ago proved that for 56% of the population, the opposite of their name is "Tyler." The remaining 44% break down into three categories: those whose opposite-names are "Jerome” (12%), those whose are "Maria" (12.2%) and those whose opposite name can only be spoken in a long-forgotten Hindi dialect. (45.7%). After mathematicians released that report, they all went and enjoyed a large chicken dinner.)
 -- and Gene strode over to stand next to Templeton. Gene peered into the wormhole and said: "It talked."
Templeton, who by that time already had reason to be tired of things talking when they shouldn't ought to, sighed, and said "It did."
"That's amazing," Gene said.
"Is it?" Templeton asked.
Gene scratched his chin. "Now that I think of it, I'm not so sure it is. I mean, what do we really know about the tiny wormhole? Maybe all tiny wormholes talk."
Like stupid pineapples, Templeton thought, but he didn't say that because he wasn't entirely sure that all stupid pineapples talked.
Gene leaned down and put his mouth by the tiny wormhole.
"Do all tiny wormholes talk?" he asked it.
There was a lengthy silence, during which Templeton wondered if he could leave, as he was supposed to be home by now, and then the tiny wormhole said:
Gene and Templeton regarded each other, and then Gene said:
"Did it say Iort:?"
Templeton nodded. "Yes. Iort," he agreed.
"No, it didn't say Iort," Gene said. "It said Iort:? I heard it."
They stared at the tiny wormhole a moment longer.
"What does it mean?" Gene asked.
"I don't know," Templeton said.
"But someone could, if they wanted to, probably figure it out, what that meant," Gene said.
"I suppose," Templeton had said, and that had led Gene to on the spot promote him to Ponderer. ("It's not an official title, until now," Gene had explained. "You'll have to fill out the paperwork.")
Later, Templeton would put his fingers to his temples and rub them in the way that had earned him his name in the first place as he pondered the stupid pineapple's offer to grant him three wishes.
"You think I can't grant wishes because I'm just a stupid pineapple, but I bet three months ago you'd have thought that a stupid pineapple couldn't talk, and I proved you wrong about that, didn't I?" the stupid pineapple said from inside the bin.
Templeton sat down on the stairs and looked at the bin.
"Didn't I?" asked the stupid pineapple.
"I'm going to bed," Templeton said, and started up the stairs, wishing that the stupid pineapple had never woken him up in the first place and wishing that it was not Sunday evening because he didn't want to have the spend the entire night fighting with the stupid pineapple only to get up and begin a whole week of Pondering the tiny wormhole and other things nobody wanted to ponder.  He wished, in fact, that he could have a vacation, perhaps something on the beach.  That it was Saturday morning on the start of a beach vacation.  He paused, looking at a picture of his wife, and then went to bed.  He slept so soundly that when the team of commandoes stormed into his house two hours later, in the middle of the night, he completely missed all the windows breaking, lasers firing, boots kicking down doors, stupid pineapples being grabbed out of bins, and the other things that generally go along with a team of commandoes busting into one’s house late at night (e.g.: smashing up the place, etc.). 
            Templeton might have noticed the aftermath of all that happening when he woke abruptly the next morning, but he didn’t because he was too distracted by the sunlight beaming in through his bedroom window and the sound of a phone ringing. That and the steel drums playing somewhere, lilting just over the sound of the ocean surf.  Those things kept him from being aware that his house had been ransacked the night before.  Those things and a camel that stuck its head into the bedroom window.
            Before he could react to any of that – camel, ocean, phone, steel drums, or general ransacking of his home, a cry echoed out, one that shook him to his very core:
"Breakfast is ready!" he heard his wife yell.
To understand why Templeton was so bewildered, you must first know some things about Templeton beyond what you already have learned about him.
First, Templeton Freeney lives in Trenton, New Jersey, which is not the kind of place you find steel drums, oceans, tiki huts of the sort that Templeton found himself standing in, or camels.
Second, Templeton's wife Ana had left him several years before when she had fallen madly in love with a man who'd become a huge Hollywood screenwriter after a movie he'd written about a madman trying to take over the world only to be foiled by his brother-in-law had become a worldwide smash, leaving Templeton to raise the children himself.
Third, and this is not really about Templeton, but it is worth mentioning, it was no longer Sunday-night-leading-into-Monday-morning. A large calendar on the wall had days marked off in X's made in green marker, and the last day marked off was Friday, making this Saturday.
As he stared around him, Templeton realized the phone was still ringing. He picked it up.
"Hello?" he said.
"I told you so," he heard the stupid pineapple's voice. "I told you I could grant wishes. Now do you believe me?"
Templeton looked out the window, where some teenagers were getting ready to go surfing.
"I wished for this?" he said.
"Yep!" the stupid pineapple agreed heartily.
"All of this?" Templeton asked.
"Yessiree Bob," the stupid pineapple concurred.
"I guess you were right," Templeton said. The sound of surf outside made him feel like repeating it: "I guess you were right."
"Now that that's settled," the pineapple said, "Can you come rescue me?"
The phone line abruptly went dead.

READ THE REST by downloading the entire book.
“This Stupid Pineapple Is…” is available on Amazon by clicking here.  It’ll be free from October 20-24, so there’s really no reason for you NOT to read the second-best book about a wish-granting stupid pineapple starting an interstellar war.

Yes, I said second best. “Gone Girl” had more or less that same plot.  NOW GO READ MY BOOK. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Remember when you didn't read this the first time? Now you can nostalgically not read it again!

In the olden days (2011, in this case) I used to post things I called Whodathunkit?!, a post that ignored what everyone was talking about with respect to major (?) events and instead focused on the things you really (?) wanted to know.  This was the one I posted for the World Series back in 2011.  DO NOT WORRY IF YOU DON'T LIKE BASEBALL. I don't either. That's why I wrote posts like this: for people who don't like the sport but do like interesting things.


WHODATHUNKIT!?, like John Stamos' career, is a joint effort between The Best Of Everything and Nonsportsmanlike Conduct!

Another major event, another major post -- WHODATHUNKIT!?, remember, is my post that, for every single major event in the world, provides you not the usual load of garbage the media foists off on you, but a unique brand of garbage that only I foist off on you: namely, three things that you probably didn't know about the major event, but which, once you do know them will fill you with wonder, a sense of mystery, and, provided that you subscribe to the payperview, 5D-version* of this blog, dark energy.

*5D version not available in Albuquerque, because screw you, Albuquerque.**

**They know what they did.

This year's World Series, like every World Series, qualifies as a major event, not just because I'm going for that coveted "I'm 78 years old and I love baseball" blog demographic***

*** I see you there, Mr. Kascheski! Hi!

but also because, as I understand it, nearly 14 people will annually tune in to watch the World Series, which, let's face it, is still more than will watch the entire run of that "new" Tim Allen "show" about how "men" leave the "toilet" seat "up."

Don't mind that last sentence. I was trying a little thing to see if extra quotation marks would give me a little gravitas, and I have to say, I think it "worked."

I watched a little baseball this year, "a little"*4

*4 Gravitas! Which, when you think about it, could actually be the Latin word for Dark Energy. And, having said that, I'm 90% sure that in about three months we will read that people at the Large Hadron Collider discovered gravitas, because who's paying attention? Besides me, I mean? And I'm not, really, because I've also got the TV on and I'm sort of listening to Colbert.

meaning only three innings of game 6 of the Series between the Brewers and the Cardinals before I fell asleep Sunday night. I feel bad about that, because the Brewers gave up four runs before I tuned in, and then when I was watching they were doing pretty well (or "pretty good" as I say when I don't feel I'm being watched by the Grammar Police) and then I fell asleep and they lost, which kind of proves that Dark Energy really exists because it was clearly influencing the Brewers through my "efforts" at watching them on TV.

Speaking of the Large Hadron Collider, did you know that you can help look for the Higgs Boson (a/k/a, The Best Way to Prove that "Scientists" Are Making It Up)? It's true: If you're the type of person who leaves his home computer on (Guilty!)*5

*5 Wait, I meant to plead not guilty! No! Get these cuffs off of me! Fools! Only I can stop them!*6

*6 I've had a little too much coffee already today. Does it show? And, more importantly, do you think that by using all these footnotes I'm subconsciously emulating that one guy who wrote Infinite Jest and then died and everyone wrote all that nice stuff about him so I went out and bought Infinite Jest, spending $18 on it, only to find it completely unreadable, giving up on it 70 pages in, and then I felt sad that I'd wasted my finite book money on a book that was terrible, and so I've never forgiven him and can't even remember his name?

then you can use your home computer to help search for the Higgs Boson (which doesn't exist, and might as well be called a gravitas) by joining the LHC@Home 2.0 effort: a program which will let your home computer simulate complex particle collisions and then send the results back to the Large Hadron Collider, which will compare them to the results it obtains, and, who knows, maybe YOU will discover the Higgs Boson *7

*7 You won't

And, in doing so, earn yourself a Nobel Prize -- because that's what that other guy got the Nobel for, remember: Taking photographs of space and comparing them to each other.

I've got a screenshot of what it looks like when your computer is simulating those particle collisions, so you'll know what to expect:

Try not to get too amazed by the science-osity of it all. Also, note that that screenshot, which is an Actual Screenshot of Science, proves that dark energy is all around us 'cause it's really dark in space.

About time I got around to the World Series, don't you think? Me, too:

1. Who invented the curveball? Trick question! There's no such thing as a curveball!

Well, okay, there's a little such thing as a curveball. But not really. Just about a year ago, a two researchers published a paper that showed that while curveballs move a little, the real effect of a curveball is... all in your mind!

Darn. I was hoping for some spooky music and effects there.

Anyway, the researchers found that the curveball's "break" or deviation from a straight line, is real, but very gradual-- not the drop that most viewers expect.*8

*8: A curve ball, contrary to what I always thought, doesn't curve right or left, but down: it has top spin, which makes the air pressure higher on top of the ball and pushes the ball downward, making Dizzy Dean's famous defense of a curve ball's actually curving ("Stand behind a tree 60 feet away and I'll whomp you with an optical illusion!") not make much sense, unless that tree was one of Larry Niven's integral trees.

The researchers hypothesized that the curve that viewers, and batters, claim they see isn't a curve at all, but an effect of switching from central to peripheral vision: The batter, they said, sees the ball using central vision until it's traveled 2/3 of the way to the plate, at which point they start using peripheral vision -- until the ball is at the plate and they switch back to central vision, which makes it seem as though the ball has dropped more because of the switch. Peripheral vision, they explain, has trouble distinguishing between various motions like velocity and spin, and the eye tends to follow the motion of the ball (downward) making it seem further like the ball is dropping.

Too much reading? I could've put the video first... but then all those words I typed would still be bottled up inside me, waiting to get their shot at fame. You wouldn't want to deny a word its time in the limelight, right? So now, give a word a hug and watch the video:

With that question answered, let's move on to question 2!

2. No, really, who invented the curveball?

Well, aren't you singleminded! As I was trying to find out the answer to that question, I wondered to myself "How many pitches are there in baseball, and how many are banned?" So I went to Baseball, which ought to know, and found out the answer, which I will quote verbatim:

There are many, many types of pitches in baseball.
Okay! Moving on!

Actually, Baseball Reference lists four standard pitches (four-seam fastball, curve ball, slider, and change-up, the latter being a pitch thrown exactly like a fastball... only it comes in slow, and throws off the batter.)

Then, the Reference has 5 variations on the fastball:

The Two Seam Fastball, a fastball in which the fingers are held along the seams rather than across them, causing more movement and a slower throw,

The Sinker, which is a two-seam fastball thrown near the edge of the strike zone and is intended to drop out of it entirely,

The splitter, a sinker with a better downward break (or thrown against batters with worse peripheral vision?), a pitch that isn't used much because it causes injuries in pitchers,

the Cut Fastball, a ball thrown inside from an opposite-handed pitcher (lefty pitcher, righty batter, for example) that, when it works best results in a broken bat, and

the Running Fastball, which is a cut fastball when it's thrown by a pitcher with the same-handedness as the batter.

Don't those all appear to be simply standard pitches thrown in a particular area? That'd be like football calling a handoff a short pass with no gap between the quarterback and the running back.

But then there's all these trick pitches:

The Circle change, which looks like a two-seam fastball but then breaks in an opposite direction to that expected,

the Palmball, a changeup that's actually a fastball thrown using the palm of the ball to slow the pitch down, thereby making the batter swing before the pitch gets to the plate...

...and the existence of that pitch really does suggest suggest that a lot of this is in the batter's mind and tricks of the eye, doesn't it? A batter sees a fastball motion and swings but the ball isn't there yet and so he misses -- that's not pitch location or curve. That's just tricking the batter...

and the Gyroball, which made news not long ago because nobody believed it existed; the gyroball is a pitch that "falls faster than a fastball, but slower than a curve, and hardly breaks inside or outside." It's thrown with a spin that mimics the way a football spins -- the axis more or less parallel to the trajectory. The gyroball gets to the plate faster than the batter expects and makes the batter late on the ball, and because it's spinning looks like a breaking ball when it's not...

... which, seriously, it is all just illusions, isn't it?

There's also a two-seam gyroball, both of which tend to make the batters swing under them and miss, expecting the ball to drop more than they do.

The Japanese invented the Gyroball, and also

the Shuuto, a ball that breaks down and to the right, so, not very exciting. I expected more, so back to America with

the Knuckleball, a ball Baseball Reference describes as "tantalizingly slow but dances all over the place."

So like Christina Aguilera:

That really was just an excuse to put that picture in there.

Here's Sean O' Leary, knuckleballer:

And the first couple pitches I watched in that video didn't seem to move at all, but let's get a little more Baseball Reference hyperbole before exploring that. Says the BR:

It's been said that a knuckleball screws everybody up, as "the hitter can't hit it, the catcher can't catch it, and the umpire can't call it."

They don't attribute that quote. I bet it was Gandhi. Was it Gandhi? It was probably Gandhi.

Now go back and watch that video. At about 1:30 Sean throws a bunch of pitches that all appear to go perfectly straight. The slowed-down one about 2:32 in particular looks like it would've been knocked out of the park by everybody but me; I have lazy eye.

Other pitches with funny names include the "Eephus" an "impossibly slow" pitch invented by by Rip Sewell of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1930s -- "basically a lob to the catcher", BR says, that's not really used, a "Forkball" which "tumbles out of the strike zone (rather than breaks out of it) when thrown" that's a "brain scrambler" when the wind is blowing, and the:

Vulcan Change-up This is similar to the forkball. Often called V change or the "trekkie" because of its unnatural grip. It is held like the Vulcan greeting that is used by Spock the Vulcan in Star Trek (The dude with pointy ears in Star Trek). This pitch drops like a regular change-up, but just puts a little more friction on the ball. Basically it is a different way to grip a Change-up.

Cue the Sexy Vulcan!

And the "Slurve," a slider thrown at curveball velocity that is supposed to fool the hitter by taking longer to reach the pitcher...


... and the "Screwball" or "backwards curveball", a pitch that breaks like a curveball thrown by an opposite-handed pitcher, which now I'm all messed up because people keep saying that the curveball drops but that makes it sound like it goes left or right, so which is it, baseball! I swear, I'm this close to dropping you and running off with cricket.

And then there's a bunch of other curveballs like the "12-6 Curveball", the "Sweeping Curveball" and the "Knuckle Curveball" and the "Spiked Curveball" and the "Knuckle Slider" and finally, the "Yellow Hammer," which sounds like a cut-rate superhero from the 1930s but is actually an even slower curveball that supposedly drops more than a regular curveball because it's only thrown at 50 miles per hour or so, but by now I don't know what to believe because it's all so confusing, so I'm going to assume that the pitcher doesn't even throw the damn ball and in fact, let's just admit that baseball doesn't even play the game anymore: all of baseball is just one game that was played at Comiskey Park in 1972, and they're using CGI to change the uniforms for you and if you go to a game in person you're just subject to Mass Hypnosis and it didn't really happen. There is no spoon! The cake is a lie!*8

*8: I still don't know what that means, but I like it.

Also, I wasn't far off on that Yellow Hammer. Remember this?

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog was one of the greatest things ever made.

3. Seriously, can we find out who invented the curve ball?

You know, I haven't even touched on what pitches are banned yet -- like the spitball -- but you know me: I give the people what they want:

You need serious help.

so let's get down to the nitty-gritty of The Fabulous Story Of The Invention Of The Curveball. From Wikipedia:

Baseball lore has it that the curveball was invented in the early 1870s by Fred Goldsmith or Candy Cummings (it is debatable).

*Tries to pull at hair, doesn't have much hair, thinks better of that, contemplatively takes a sip of coffee while mulling what to do next.*

So ALL OF BASEBALL is ONE BIG TRICK, and the batters probably aren't even wearing pants, and yet that's the $(*#&%$#($^& best you could do about the invention of the curve ball?

Where is the mythos? Where is the legend? Where is the shrouded in time... etc? George R.R. Martin could do a better job with that, and all he did was take The Silmarillion and cut-and-paste "human" and "elf" and then say "battle-axe" a lot. You need to begin with something like...

...In a tiny unheated room of his parent's cottage in 1872, a young Alexander Graham Bell huddled over a fire built with a mixture of myrrh and polonium dust, communicating with the ghost of Lord Alfred Tennyson. Bell had been chosen as the pitcher in the Firste Annuale Worlde SeriesE starting the next day, but his arm was possessed by demons, according to a doctor who had considered diagnosing him with "muscle spasms" but had rejected that because this is 1872 and "muscles" haven't been discovered yet...

See where I'm going with that? That's way better than what you've got.

Whatever it's origins*9

*9 Mine is better than baseball's, so go with mine: magic!

the curve ball also was featured in a story published in 1884 in the magazine "St Nicholas," a popular (?) children's magazine at the time, which now raises into question all that crap they taught us in school about how hard life was in the 19th century with people dying of black plague or having to cross the plains or at least fight in wars or something; I don't know. I didn't really pay attention. But I distinctly recall being told that life was hard back then -- something about meat-packing, or maybe the Gold Standard? -- and if life was so hard, why were kids reading popular magazines?

Life was so hard that kids hardly had time to do the word jumble, is that what history tells us? Screw you, history. And Albuquerque, while you're at it.

The story in St Nicholas was called "How Science Won The Game," and was about a boy who used a curve ball to beat the other team, even though the curve was thought to be dishonest. You can actually read the whole story here. Spoiler Alert: Jack and his friends run off to meet a strange man in a hotel who says to them "Let me feel your arm" and then proceeds to compliment Jack on his muscles and then tells Jack and his friend to meet him outside in the alley behind the hotel.


Then he gives this advice to Jack: "Keep cool, and pinch tight."

Jack, of course, doesn't turn the guy in to Chris Hansen, but instead goes on to master the curve ball and win the Big Game, but here's the thing:

They win the game because Jack hits the ball to first base, but that guy commits an error and the right fielder backing him up throws home but Jack's friend, the not-at-all-symbolically-named Win, scores by jumping over the catcher.


So the only science really involved was the Fosbury Flop, and, once again, Baseball has pulled a slight-of-hand -- promising you science (the curve ball) would win the game but really just having a bigshot sports reporter get credit for writing the story (as it turns out, the story was supposed to have been written by Hotel Guy about this game, because news was in short supply in those days so kids' baseball games got major coverage from all media.)

Enjoy the "World Series."