Solar system brings us wisdom

I loved astronomy when I was a kid. I devoured all the star books in the school library. But I didn’t make a career of it, for two reasons:

  • I was desperately afraid of the dark until my mid-teens;
  • I was (and still am) intellectually lazy.



Science takes dedication. I knew a girl in grade school who was desperately devoted to geology and paleontology; no matter what schoolwork she was supposed to do – read a book, do a report on Lewis and Clark, color Puget Sound blue – she drew dinosaurs, or did a presentation on Neanderthal Man, or built a diorama of the Paleozoic Era. The rest of us just rolled our eyes and giggled. And do you know what? She became a geologist. And I’ll bet she’s very happy.



Partner likes to watch TV programs about cosmology: galaxies, the Big Bang, the origin of the solar system. I like to watch them too, but they make me a little queasy. What if, I keep wondering, a mini-black hole comes sailing through the bedroom tonight, just as I’m falling asleep? Will it zap me so quickly that I don’t feel a thing? What would it feel like if a medium-size asteroid were to fall to earth and hit me right on top of the head?  And can I be absolutely certain that our lovely yellow sun isn’t going to suddenly flip out and go supernova?


But the CGI images in those programs are lovely. I like the big flares like tentacles coming out of the stars, and the nice fluffy-looking nebulae. I like the icy landscapes they show on Pluto. I am partial to all of those chilly distant Kuiper Belt bodies; they sound nice and peaceful, and I don’t mind cold weather as long as I’m bundled up, and astronomers are having altogether too much fun naming them. And they get no publicity at all. Just so you know, there’s Eris out there too, and Haumea, and Makemake, and Quaoar, and Orcus, and Sedna.


I do have a little problem, as I’ve said here before, with scientists who portray themselves on television as The Life Of The Party. Most of them are just schnooks like the rest of us, after all. But those science programs wouldn’t be able to go on without their participation. So we listen to them yammer, the skinny ascetic-looking ones with huge ears, and the big Santa-looking ones with funny hats, and the older Ivy League-looking ones with bow ties and nasal voices.



I respect them for caring about their work.



Hell, I respect anyone who can come up with a name as good as “Quaoar.”




Sunday blog: Bow Wow Wow

In keeping with my recent comments about dogs, and to counteract wintertime, here’s 1980s group Bow Wow Wow on a beach, buried up to their necks in sand, singing their classic “I Want Candy.”


Arf!  Arf!










Jersey shore, season three

Partner and I agree that the new season of “Jersey Shore” is, well, intense. The last two episodes have been the most-watched shows in MTV’s history, bitches!



What is is about this show that’s so fascinating? The cast has no talent. But none. Okay, maybe Paulie has some self-awareness; he’s a DJ, and he’s often witty. But I am convinced that you could take MRIs of all of the rest of them, and the only things you’d find inside their heads would be fingernail clippings and dryer lint.



When you throw a random group of people together, you get an impromptu dysfunctional family. I’ve seen it happen in college, and in the Peace Corps. Reality television relies on this: look at “Big Brother” and “The Real World” and the rest of them. But this group, oh Jesus oh Jesus, it just keep throbbing with life. Snooki’s in jail! Deena brings home a guy who looks just like Ronnie! Jwoww’s fighting with her old boyfriend Tom while (at the same time) canoodling with her old/new boyfriend Roger! The Situation’s brooding! Snooki’s sitting in the mini-fridge because her ass itches!


Snooki is especially mysterious to me. I have some questions. Ponder them.



  • Snooki has her eye on a guy named Nick, whom she describes as “Irish.” Nick has a tramp stamp that says “LA FAMIGLIA.” Why would an Irish guy have an Italian-language tattoo? Is it possible that Snooki doesn’t know what the word “Irish” means?

  • Why would any man find Snooki attractive? Nick’s cute. I mean CUTE. He looks like Brett Favre, if he were twenty years younger and had a significantly better body. And he’s dating Snooki? Is he high?

  • One of the most gripping things I’ve ever seen on TV: Snooki eating a raw potato. A friend of mine used to talk about his Uncle Spud, who “ate green potatoes when he was a boy, and was never quite right after that.” Well, Snooki’s not quite right. Are the raw potatoes to blame?

  • Vinnie interviews Snooki’s hair at one point. Snooki sits still and puts up with it. Paulie does the voice of Snooki’s hair.  Again, Snooki just sits and lets it happen. Does Snooki understand that they’re making fun of her?



This show exhausts me.  I need refreshment.  Quick, bring me a shot of Patron and a fried pickle.  With a raw potato on the side.




All the way with Cam Gigandet

Partner and I saw “Burlesque” a few weeks ago. We though it was pretty entertaining, and I learned a few things:



  • Christina Aguilera can actually act.

  • Cher can still sing. Pretty well, too.

  • I could watch Stanley Tucci bake muffins, and I’d still give him a standing ovation.

  • Cam Gigandet is adorable.


Young Cam plays Christina’s love interest. He takes off his clothes several times during the movie, which is all the burlesque I need. There is a slow striptease/seduction scene, beginning with winsome boyish Cam in baggy flannel pajamas and concluding with naked Cam holding a box of snacks in front of his crotch. Tears of joy and longing ran down my face as I watched.


Trolling the Net after we got home, I found that Cam was linked with the “Twilight” franchise, but I had no recollection of him there. So I consulted my friend and coworker Apollonia.


Apollonia, like me, was born before the Kennedy Administration. She was a perfectly normal person until she discovered Stephanie Meyer. Now – well, if Twilight were a religion, Apollonia would be the Pope. I know for a fact that she owns a life-sized cardboard cutout of Robert Pattinson, which she used to keep in the office. She took it home finally because she was afraid someone would vandalize it. All right, she was afraid I might vandalize it.


Anyway, Apollonia drew her breath in sharply when I mentioned Cam Gigandet’s name. “James!” she said. “You remember. He’s a vampire. A very, very, very bad vampire.”


Ah. Now I remember. He’s the roguish villain who kidnaps Bella and fights with Robert Pattinson at the end of the first movie. “He was up for the part of Edward,” Apollonia continued, in full search-engine mode, “but naturally they picked Robert Pattinson.”


“Naturally,” I said.


“But,” she said, ignoring my sarcasm, “they offered Cam Gigandet the part of James.”


“He would have been cute as Edward,” I said. “He’s a little – hmm – beefier than Robert Pattinson.”


“Hmm,” Apollonia said, narrowing her eyes. “No. All wrong for the part.”


It’s unwise to belittle Robert Pattinson in front of Apollonia. She has no sense of humor on the subject. “You’re not going to write about this, are you?” she said warningly. “If you do, it’d better not be snarky.”


“I promise,” I said.


I lied.


Cam Gigandet is much cuter than scrawny malnourished milk-white fluffy-haired Robert Pattinson.



Gotta run to the store to see if I can get a life-sized cardboard Cam Gigandet cutout. Later, kids.




The right to complain about absolutely everything

At fifty-three, I find myself in the demilitarized zone between middle age and old age. I used to think that people in their forties were over the hill; now, in retrospect, my forties were the bloom of youth. And, looming in the future, I can see hip replacements and cardiac episodes and mushy food and glasses even thicker than the ones I wear now.



One of the consolations of getting older is being able to complain about absolutely everything, and insisting that nothing is as good as it used to be. Pluto’s not a planet anymore! Terrible. You don’t have to put two spaces after the period at the end of a sentence any longer! Shocking. Cigarettes aren’t good for you anymore! Well, we probably knew that anyway, but . . .



Oh well, ho hum, off to the nursing home, grump grump grump.



But then I find this nice Ben Franklin quote in last week’s New Yorker:



“. . . Having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better Information, or fuller Consideration, to change Opinions even on important Subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise.”



Ben said this when he was a ripe old eighty-one.



So: let things change. It’s a huge waste of energy to fret over every little thing.



We can still complain, though.



Bring on the mushy food.




Very bad dogs

Back in the 1960s, I used to read a comic strip in the Vancouver Columbian called “Odd Bodkins,” written and drawn by a guy named Dan O’Neill. He was a stoner, a biker, and an independent thinker; most papers dropped his strip when they figured out what he was talking about, which was mostly dropping acid and fighting the establishment. In one of his strips, someone announced that African baboons were beginning to eat meat and use tools. “THAT’S IT!” one of the characters annouces. “GOD IS ANGRY AT US AND THE REPLACEMENTS ARE ON THE WAY!”



So I read the other day that Martha Stewart’s dog punched her in the nose and sent her to the hospital.



Also, I just read an article in the Times about how dog behavior on television has gotten pretty atrocious (see especially the horrible woman on “It’s Me Or The Dog” who lets her lapdog stick his tongue up her nose).



Also, there was a recent Times article about a dog named Chaser who knows over a thousand words and understands simple sentences. (This is more than most of my coworkers can do.)



I am beginning to feel that we are huddled around the campfire, and the dogs are peering at us out of the darkness with their glowing wolfish eyes, getting ready to pounce.



The replacements are on the way.



Partner’s fine with this. He will tell you any day that he wishes he were a dog himself. Short of this, he wants to lie on the ground and roll around with all the dogs in the neighborhood. I think the dogs brainwashed him a long time ago. I already told you about his dog Willy, who was not prepared to be my best friend.  Willy was obviously in on the plan.



But I’m not really worried about the dogs. They’re stoopid. You can always buy them off with a Beggin’ Strip or a Jumbone or something of the sort. They’re all about food, and they’re easily distracted.


Yeah. Go ahead, Yukon King. Try to replace me. You’ve got a big surprise coming.



I’m no pushover like Martha Stewart.




Black Swan


Partner and I saw “Black Swan” on Sunday.





First of all, Natalie Portman is just about perfect. Why does it always amaze me when a movie star actually turns in a good performance? Well, hers is better than good, it’s terrific. She goes from fragile to terrifying and back again. And there’s a great supporting cast: Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey, and especially Winona Ryder as a washed-up ballerina who, ahem, isn’t taking retirement very well at all, and who just about spontaneously combusts in her three or four little scenes.


It made me think of that other really excellent ballet movie, “The Red Shoes.” In “Red Shoes,” an innocent young ballerina becomes a star by portraying a role in which she dances herself to death. She falls in love with the young ballet composer, she leaves the ballet, she finds she can’t live without it, she’s torn, she goes back . . . Well, I won’t tell you the ending. But it ain’t very cheerful.


Same in “Black Swan,” but with a difference. The heroine is told, over and over again, that she can’t dance meaningfully unless she understands the emotions underlying her role. The story of the innocent white swan and the wicked black swan starts to invade her everyday life. Creepy things start to happen. Or do they? Doesn’t matter, because she dances better and better. It’s the old Romantic fable of the suffering / struggling / crazy artist, except that it feels mighty real, even when people start sprouting feathers and such.


It doesn’t matter if you like ballet or not. Just jete your little Early American butt down to the local cineplex and see it.


If you don’t come out doing a plie and a cabriole and a grand arabesque, you’re just not a human being.




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