Friday, June 29, 2007

Carnaby Reviews Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

The worst movie I've seen in a long time. Boring and stupid. Completely pointless with humor that was probably dredged up by a 10 year old. I usually like Will Ferrell, but not in this one. Stupid and crude do not make humor by themselves, and the writer apparently missed that memo.

Every one of the jokes in the movie could have been just as easily replaced by a character simply saying "tits" into the camera. In fact, the movie would have been just as clever if it was thirty seconds long with one line: "I'm Ricky Bobby, Tits!"

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

I suspected as much

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I think Berke is on to something.

Last month I attended a debate between Christopher Hitchens, who was defending the position of his book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, and Marvin Olasky, who was defending Christianity. One of Hitchens' main points was that God -- who doesn't exist, mind you -- is the ultimate totalitarian, because He is omniscient. There could be no privacy, because God would know everything you did and every thought you had at every moment. Richard Dawkins makes a similar argument, I think, in The God Delusion (I seem to have forgotten almost everything I read in that book).

Nevermind that, if God exists, He doesn't seem to do much with this information. Is He whispering into Hillary Clinton's ear that Fred Thompson bites his toenails while watching Desperate Housewives in the nude? Is He threatening to go public with a picture of Hillary's wrinkly backside? It's hard to know for sure, but I'd guess no. So what difference does it make if Something exists that knows all and sees all?

What came immediately to mind when Hitchens made his argument was, what does he have to hide? I suspect that only guilty consciences fret over privacy (sez the woman who posts under a pseudonym). But to chuck the idea of God and ultimate meaning and eternal life, because you don't want anyone to know that you pee in the shower or have embarrassing thoughts... it's so petty.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


My husband and I saw a man on a motorcycle get into a terrible wreck with a truck tonight. He wasn't wearing a helmet, and what we saw was not pretty. He died shortly thereafter, pinned under his Harley. Please, if you get on a motorcycle, wear a helmet. It may not look bad-ass to wear one; but I'll tell you something I wish I did not now understand first-hand: your head can't compete with pavement. If you value the contents of your noggin, wear a helmet.

A Boy's First Rifle

I finally got my son his first rifle. It's a beaut. Feast your eyes on the Savage Cub.

Note the wide smile on the youngster.

It's single shot, shoots .22 short, .22 long and .22 long rifle. We've got some CB .22 shorts that are fairly quiet, shoot 800 fps and are a lot of fun for punching holes in tin cans and cardboard boxes. Much nicer quality than the Cricket or Chipmunk, and for not too much more money. It's also got grooves for mounting a scope. Best of all is the Savage Accutrigger, same trigger as my hunting rifle, and it's superb. Even more best of all, it's for the children!

Good Shooting Fun

One of my buddies owns a big whack of land out in the woods. He holds an annual get-together every year, and I finally made it this year. Lots of fun. Here's a pic of me shooting my home-made AR-15 in 6.8spc with the 18" Ko-Tonics barrel.

Note the home-made muzzle device. It doesn't decrease the report, since it has no baffles, but it kinda looks like a sound suppressor and it does change the flash signature in an interesting way at night. Anyway, lots of fun, and I highly recommend Ko-Tonics AR-15 uppers and barrels. Great products and the best customer service I've EVER had anywhere. No kidding.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Roger Daltry Sez Bollocks to Gore

Bob Geldof has said it, and now Roger Daltry. I always thought Daltry was a preening rock-weirdo, but after reading his slam of Al Gore and the Live Earth concerts, I'm kind of impressed. I especially liked his solution to the global warming "crisis"
My answer is to burn all the f**king oil as quick as possible and then the politicians will have to find a solution.
I dunno about politicians, more likely some enterprising corporations with good R-and-D programmes; but he's got the right idea.

Must be embarrassing for Gore. Gotta wonder, how long before he's booted from the enviro-ranks altogether.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

DVD Review: Deja Vu

Denzel Washington stars as an ATF agent caught up in a terrorist plot to kill hundreds of people in New Orleans. This was almost a good movie. The back cover of the DVD promised a plot twist, and by golly, for once this promise delivered -- I was genuinely surprised. The scientific explanation sorta, almost worked. There were also some good action sequences.

The nitpicks: I'm getting a tired of the over-exposed colors or whatever that weird technique is for creating a "gritty" feel in movies. Also, the mournful, distant piano-plunking soundtrack has had its day -- please, can we go back to rich, orchestral soundtracks?

*** minor spoilers ahead, but plot twist is NOT revealed ***

Now, for the big beefs. The hero is an ATF agent. Denzel Washington I can always buy as a good guy, but I've heard too many real-life stories to believe the average ATF agent is working for the public good. The bad guy -- the ruthless terrorist who blows up a ferry with 500+ people on board -- is a lone young, white male of no discernible belief system. I wasn't sure what the message here was. I was anticipating the worst after we saw that there was a "support the troops" yellow ribbon thingie stuck on the guy's Chevy, and a "support the troops" sticker on a cabinet in his terrorist bomb-making workshop. Then he spouts off things like, "freedom requires sacrifice" and "the tree of liberty needs to be refreshed with the blood of tyrants." Yeesh. But it all amounted to nothing. We learn he was rejected from the Army and the Marines, because he was "over-dedicated" or "over-motivated" or something. So what was his problem with society? What were his beliefs, his creed, his ambition in life? What did he think he would accomplish by blowing up 500 people (most of whom were Sailors and Marines, incidentally)? We never find out. He's just a white man with a grudge. He supports the troops, but he tries to kill hundreds of them for no apparent reason. So maybe it's all in the name of revenge, because the armed forces didn't want him, but this was never made clear.

Bottom line: worthwhile for a neat plot twist and good action, but overall the plot is a mess. Also, seems like a big, wet smooch to the ATF. Blech.

Stickwick in Paradise

Just got back from a conference trip to Honolulu, and gotta say that for all her problems, Hawai'i is one fantastic place to visit. I had heard so many negative things about how the tourists are treated by the locals, that, like with my trip to Paris, I was dreading the experience only to find that it was quite pleasant.

[Lots of pretty pictures to follow, none of which are mine. I forgot my camera at home.]

I loved the weather on O'ahu. Never gets above 85 degrees, cools down nicely at night. We arrived in the evening, pretty groggy from all the flying; after a good night's rest we hit the beach early the next day. As an astronomer, I should have been prepared for the fact that the sun is almost directly overhead at such a low latitude -- for comparison, I grew up in Prince George, B.C., latitude ~54 deg, am now living in central Texas, latitude ~ 30 deg, and Honolulu is ~21 deg. Even though the daylight hours are shorter this close to the equator, the sunlight goes through less air mass during peak hours, and you really increase your burn potential. I got a burn on my face the first day at the beach, and one of my colleagues ended up with blisters (ouch). Great way to identify yourself as a schmaltzy tourist, as opposed to the mahogany-colored caucasian locals.

This is the first place I've been to where I've not been in the racial majority, or even plurality. Whites constitute about 40% of the population, with the rest being mostly a mix of Japanese and Polynesian. The islanders are mostly very attractive people, some of them breathtakingly so.

Attractive locals

I did almost all of the typical O'ahu things a tourist can/should do the first time there:

Waikiki -- Honolulu surprised me at first with its urbanness. Think of downtown L.A. pushed right up onto the beach, except most of the high-rises are hotels and condos. It's a pretty beach, but very touristy. Endless shops and restaurants. The all-purpose tourist ABC stores are everywhere. Driving through Waikiki one night a colleague stopped counting at 16 shops, some of them directly across the street from each other. Did some clothes/souvenir shopping at the open-air market. I think one of the vendors scammed my credit card number here -- when I got back to Texas, my bank called and said that someone was attempting to make numerous charges on my account. Waikiki must have the highest concentration of living statues in the world. One was really good, the rest were kind of pathetic. Some good street musicians, including a very short ukelele player, sort of a miniature Don Ho. Lots of street artists, too.

Luau -- Went to the famous Royal Hawaiian Hotel for a luau. Probably not the most authentic experience, but it was lots of fun. Food was incredible. Roast pork is the feature, but also had mahi mahi, and a variety of teriyakis. Poi is pretty bland. Had my share of mai tais and coladas. The entertainment was first-rate. The hula girls were beautiful and talented, and the men were quite appealing and agile. We saw Hawai'i's best fire-knife dancer, and he was pretty good. A few schmaltzy singers, Don Ho-style, but I like that kind of stuff. The stars came out, Diamond Head was in the distance, the surf was rolling in on the beach behind the stage, and you just felt like life couldn't get any better.

Waikiki beach -- Royal Hawaiian in the foreground, Diamond Head in the distance

Ala Moana -- We stayed at the conference hotel, the Ala Moana. Very nice. Adjoins Hawai'i's premier shopping center, the Ala Moana Mall, home to designer shops with $800 handbags. Zillions of Japanese tourists shopping here. One block to the Ala Moana beach park, which I liked better than Waikiki beach. It's family-oriented, no scammers and weirdos. The water is the perfect temperature -- cold when you first jump in and then really nice. Water is extra-buoyant here, so you can float with no effort.

Dinner cruise -- I forgot to mention that my aunt joined me on this trip. Hubby couldn't get away from work, so I took her instead. We did the ultra-schmaltzy dinner cruise on the Star of Honolulu, a four-deck cruise ship that goes out to Diamond Head and back to the Aloha Tower, all the while serving you filet mignon, endless crab legs, and all the tropical drinks you can handle. The food and drinks were very good, but the entertainment was kind of dorky. You could tell the entertainers had done this a million times before, and it was old hat. There was one particular dance, I think it was Maori, that required the men to jump around and yell, and one of them got his kicks out of going right up behind unsuspecting old ladies and scaring the daylights out of them with a sudden yell. It was on this little excursion that I discovered I don't like boats very much. The minimal rocking bothered me, and the thought of being dumped in a shark-filled ocean should there be an emergency (unlikely, as that was) had me anticipating our return to shore very much. I can only imagine how I would have fared on something like this.

Dog the Bounty Hunter -- My aunt and I are fans of the show, and she really wanted to see the Da Kine Bail Bonds office. I was too shy to go, fearing that Beth would come out and yell at us. While I was at a lecture session (one of only two I attended the whole eight days I was in Honolulu) Auntie called Da Kine to see if it was OK to come for photos, Leland answered and said by all means come over. She got her photos, and now I wish I had gone with her.

Duane Chapman -- Dog the Bounty Hunter

Pearl Harbor -- This was the highlight of the trip. We visited the USS Bowfin first. The Bowfin is a Balao-class submarine that accomplished several missions without being sunk. Very cramped quarters. I'm 5'8" and had a hard time maneuvering around the sub, so I imagine the men serving there must have been of compact stature. I wondered what it was like to be submerged in such a cramped environment and started to feel the edges of a cold panic coming on. The men serving aboard her were probably too concerned with their missions and the threat of being sunk to indulge in claustrophobia. Then we visited the USS Arizona Memorial. You watch a 25-minute film before you take the ferry out to the memorial. Very sobering. I understood for the first time that the attack on Pearl Harbor was a calculated strategical move on the part of the Japanese, and didn't seem to represent any built-up hostility towards the U.S. But the scope of the attack was staggering when you watched the film and saw the destruction. Sailing across the harbor in our little ferry, the sun shining, and everything so serene, you could hardly believe this was the site of so much carnage. It's hard to describe what it's like to stand over an underwater cemetery -- almost a thousand men perished inside the Arizona, the names of whom are emblazoned on a wall in the memorial. From the look of it, lots of brothers perished together, and a few father-son teams. Next was the Mighty Mo, the USS Missouri, famous site of the Japanese surrender. Being aboard the Mighty Mo made me wish for just a moment that I was a man in the Navy serving aboard a battleship during World War II. It was that cool. I would go stark raving mad aboard a submarine, but living on a battleship would be swell. It was kind of cramped quarters there, as well, but there was so much of it, and you know you could always go on deck. The guns were super-impressive. What I wouldn't give to be on deck when those things were going off. Later, we munched on hot dogs and ice cream sandwiches at the commissary, and marveled at how American we felt. It was wonderful.

USS Missouri, the Mighty Mo

Diamond Head -- On our last day in Honolulu, we decided to climb Diamond Head. As the signs say, this is no casual stroll through a tree-filled park. It's 0.8-mi. to the peak with no shade except for the tunnel near the top. You wouldn't think of arid high-desert-like scrubbiness on a tropical island, but there it was. Just before you reach the peak, you take a very long straight stair and then a winding stair, which made me think of how Frodo and Sam reached Cirith Ungol. The hot, sweaty climb up is rewarded by an incredible view of the Pacific where you can see Molokai and Maui in the distance. There is an old embattlement here, which was used during wartime. When we reached the bottom, we headed straight for the fresh-pineapple stand, and let me tell you, there is nothing so incredibly satisfying as freshly-sliced cold pineapple after a climb like that. Food of the gods. After that we drove around to Hanauma Bay, famous for its snorkeling wonderfulness (which we skipped), and then visited the famous Halona Blowhole. The Pacific is breathtakingly gorgeous here. Clear, crystal blue, and going on for thousands of miles. On the way home, we hit McDonald's, and noted the infamous Spam on the menu.

View from the top of Diamond Head crater

There was an astronomical conference amidst all this wonderfulness. I gave my talk (about the biggest galaxies in the universe, I'll post on this soon), attended only two lecture sessions, and spent the rest of my time enjoying myself with absolutely no guilt or regrets. Oh, yeah -- I got over my fear of flying, too. It was smooth as silk flying LAX to Hawai'i, but pretty darned bumpy coming back. I was so tired, I didn't even care.

We were all sad to leave Hawai'i, and are now contriving reasons to go back. There's a kind of magic to the South Pacific. Some describe it as the spirit of Aloha. I don't know if I can describe it, but you feel perhaps that this is what Paradise was like before Adam and Eve got kicked out. I felt completely relaxed and at peace. For once in my life all sense of ambition, angst, worry, and urgency just evaporated, and I felt that I understood what it meant to simply exist. I think that might wear on me after a while, especially when my lack of ambition resulted in a lack of means to support myself, but it's an experience every hard-working person should have on a regular basis. It was absolutely magical for those eight days, and I can't wait to go back.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

.50 Caliber Terror! Argh!

Just got an update from "Freedom States Alliance" regarding the terror of .50 caliber sniper rifles. Let's get right to their message, shall we
Every time a new more lethal firearm is introduced, they claim that it is not used in crime, as a way of preventing legislation that regulates its sale and usage. They did this with assault weapons, and now assault weapons kill our police officers and our young people alike, in large numbers.
Well, that was neat, but this is even better
Now the gun lobby is claiming that the .50 caliber sniper rifle, a gun so powerful it can shoot an armor piercing round at accurate range up to at least a mile away, is not used in crime.
And I can eat up to at least thirty donuts in one sitting. I also have, after eating my grandpapy's chili, gas so powerful that it is accurate up to at least fifty feet away. Strange how I never knew before that power and accuracy were the same thing.

The rest of the message goes on to tell how the VPC has assembled a list of .50 caliber sniper rifles associated with crimes! Associated! Oh No! Never mind that in its 20-some year history it has never been used to murder anyone in the United States. Never. Not once. The terror! Anyway, I'll have a go at the list next week, but that's all I got for now. :p