Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Nerds Beloved

Thanks to Bill Gates, Nerd is the new Cool.

This has been happening for the past ten years. Cons
ider indie rock - I mean the real indie rock, not the mass-produced "vintage" tees that Junior Highers have been wearing off of J.C. Penney racks for several years now.

Buddy Holly glasses became mainstream. The margin b
ecame the center.

Listen, whippersnappers. I went to Pedro the Lion shows while you were graduating from middle school.

My indie days came in college. Before that, I was not only one of the nerds: I was one of the uncool nerds. Nice, normal kids would raise an eyebrow, say "you're smart, aren't you?" and then scoot their desks back a bit and go back to chatting with their friends about "Friends." Meanwhile, I was studying Spanish vocabulary on the bus every afternoon while everyone around me goofed off.

At college, I found a group that enjoyed being inte
lligent. This usually consisted of philosophy majors, theology students, and a few lit people thrown in to keep things fun. The inherent weakness of this group was too much appreciation of their own intelligence. But that was easy to take, after years of wandering around an academic wilderness with my history and English trophies - and the giant one that a teacher once created just for me, labeled "philosophical perspectives". (Yes, yes, I was quite the cool kid lugging that around my school hallways.)

Even in seminary, where I found more "like minds" with which to commune, I often found myself one of the only girls in the historical theology classes: one of two in "History of the Sacraments," in fact.

J.K. Rowling has further liberated geeks everywhere through her character Hermione Granger, the book worm, brainy girl of the Harry Potter friend trio Harry, Hermione, and Ron Weasley. While the boys think about sports (Quidditch), Hermione constantly studies - and saves their necks several times with her knowledge. Rowling doesn't gloss over Hermione's weaknesses, but neither does she hide her strengths.

In fact, in a book on Harry Potter and philosophy, one intriguing article dissects Rowling's fiction in a study of Hermione, feminism, and intelligence. And that raises an important point: is nerdiness friendlier in one gender than the other? Is it easier to be, say, Bill Gates, than it is to be Condoleezza Rice? Both people are extremely intelligent; are world leaders; are alone, in many ways, because of their own personal success.

But back to the indie rock culture of beloved nerds. Somewhere along the way, bowling shoes replaced Air Jordans, thrift store finds pre-empted department store wealth, and bands without a major label populated CD players over and above boy bands and manufactured, bland pop music. Low-lit, low-key "shows" replaced blazing, hi-tech concerts, by and large, and it seemed as if the arts and sciences were merging in a new, strange way: the brilliance, for instance, pops onto my television screen with every Mac user commercial. When did computer science allow math geeks to become - well - cool?
Nerds everywhere are flourishing, because now, more than in the past fifty years, they have a niche. Personal computers make it easy to record your own music (art) through innovative programming (science), cut your own films (art) through additional programs (science), and produce your own photographs (art) through user-friendly programs like PhotoShop (science).
It's not always easy to be on the margins. But all in all, it's the most interesting place to be.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Homing Pigeons

I have a secret.

It's about pigeons.

For several years now, my heart has yearned for a homing pigeon. A pigeon to carry messages to all my friends and family. A pigeon of my own.

Cruel compatriots informed me that carrier pigeons are extinct. I refused to believe.

And then I saw this:
Pigeon trainer from WWII dies http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/14/us/14topus.html

Here's my theory: if the United States was using a bona fide pigeoneer in World War II - and the country was battling off the Nazi falcons attacking the U.S. pigeons (read the article, I'm not kidding) - then isn't it reasonable to suspect that the CIA is still using homing pigeons?

Now, it's true, I make this argument so that I can hold out hope that one day, chums can install stoops outside their kitchen windows to receive my homing pigeon. They will allow it to perch on their hands, while unwinding the tiny message on lightweight paper from its leg. "Come over for spaghetti. I'm making homemade sauce" will be scribbled inside. "I'll bring salad," they'll respond.

So this year, Santa, you can keep your world peace. I'll take one homing pigeon, please.

Three French Hens

What makes a hen French, anyway? It's accent?

Here are a few fun things to browse: it's bitterly cold here, tucked away in the rolling pastures of the Bluegrass. Ice and snow have brought desolate news from Wall Street - but inside, we sip steaming cups of tea, curl up under blankets, and puzzle out the last few knots and tangles from our shopping lists. Right now I'm tag-teaming between "Jane Eyre" (Angie - I borrowed your copy from your bulging bookshelf) and "The Fellowship of the Ring." A blessed event occurred yesterday: I was "iced" in, and read at my leisure, until my head drooped and nodded onto my chest, and I slumbered, a
nd the world outside slumbered with me.

Have you ever yearned for a patch of Italian meadow to spring up right outside your door? Someone did: http://www.olivabella.com/bottega.htm
A local storefront serves up robust, homemade sauces, and artisanal olive oils; in fact, they know the farmers and their families by name, back in the old country. A hands-on olive harvest, I'd say.
This calls for a field trip.

When weather is bleak - the Rossetti bleak midwinter - it is tempting to pile a plate high with pasta, and hunker down with chums, as I did recently, to watch a movie. Especially if it's an old movie,
with high-waisted pants and fast talkers - like "His Girl Friday." But inevitably, entranced by the starlets of the silver screen, I want to wear full-skirted dresses, tiny, feathered hats, gloves, and so on.

And now, you can. Visit modcloth.com, or monstervintage.com.
Monstervintage has individual pieces, one-of-a-kind. Modcloth crafts frocks and pants in a retro style.

Speaking of classic movies, I stumbled across a rather unique product today, an ode to one of the great directors, a tribute to tense, white-knuckled suspense, a trophy of terror.

I am, of course, speaking about the commemorative Barbie for Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds." I feel compelled to showcase this startling doll simply for the fact that throughout the afternoon, friends and relatives have been exclaiming their heart's desire for this doll. Who, it should be noted, comes complete with attacking crows.

Let's hope they don't opt for a companion product for "Psycho."

Since fashion keeps cropping up, let's enjoy a fireside chat about Inaugural threads, shall we? While the enthusiasm that has been gushing from the media about Barack Obama's physique has been a little, shall we say, bordering on the adolescent, there's plenty of other speculation we can indulge in about D.C. fashion: and it is interesting, simply because I've been there. At a Presidential Inauguration.

Have I not mentioned that before?

Well, in the year 2000, a vanload of fellow students and I made a dashing road trip from Indiana to Washington, D.C., for the now legendary (in whatever way you wish to read) George W. Bush's introduction to the Oval Office. The city was packed. Snipers lined the rooftops, and black-clad men lay on their stomachs with large guns pointed out from the dome of the Capitol building. Protesters wearing polar bear costumes marched for the environment, security checkpoints were set up to search bags, and everywhere, bone-chilling rain fell on bundled up crowds. Umbrellas got tangled in the pushing masses' attempts to navigate sidewalks. Few times have I been so cold. We stood atop some bleachers to watch the Inaugural Parade pass by, huddled, shaking, shivering.

And later in the day, on the Metro?

Ladies in full-length ballgowns, gentlemen in tuxedoes, standing, holding the stabilizing rails - on the subway. Because parking was simply impossible on the night of the Inauguration, many simply took the train. And so I saw gorgeous, shimmering dresses sway back and forth with the train's movement, and high heels navigated the gap onto the platform. Swank folk descended on mass transit in surprising crowds. Did you know that the new President and spouse rotate among something like eight or ten different balls and parties, at least?

Well, here's a piece on Inaugural fashion if you'd like to continue:
Gown registration started for Inauguration http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/dec/17/dc-crisis-what-to-wear-to-the-balls/

I don't envy Michelle Obama facing what amounts to Red Carpet fashion pressure. The First Lady-Elect has had innumerable articles penned about her style and her figure already. I'm sure she will be stunning. Especially if her ensemble comes without three black crows attached to it.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Bits of String

Consider this the smattering of household flotsam and jetsam that collects at the bottom of your junk drawer, like bits of string.

First, there's a new post at http://www.impoverishedpolitics.wordpress.com.

Second, an Open Letter to J.K. Rowling's attorneys:

Dear Law Firm,

Despite your solicitors' resemblance to dementors - those beings that suck the life and joy out of others - your fans request that you banish these legal dementors back to Azkaban.

Why has this issue arisen? Because, after traveling to a favorite store to buy the usual Yuletide stocking stuffers of Chocolate Frogs, Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, and Droobles' Best Blowing Gum, I found out that the company that produced these products LOST THEIR LICENSE.

You, J.K. Rowling's solicitors, are scrooges. SCROOGES!



Thursday, December 11, 2008

Second Edition

It is so cold, I just saw a penguin with frostbite.

In other news, I thought there was one message on our answering machine.

Turns out, it was blinking alternating digits: 2. 1. 2. 1.

Because there wasn't one message. There were 21 MESSAGES.

So, ah, sorry if you've called and we haven't gotten back with you. Family was down visiting last weekend and we really didn't answer the phone much.



And now, for something completely different: another edition of "Name That Quote." Partially because it was fun, mostly because I like to watch Emily's brain explode as she wrestles with identifying elusive movie quotes. By the way: these all come from one genre.


"Oh, right! To call you stupid would be an insult to stupid people! I've known sheep that could outwit you. I've worn dresses with higher IQs. But you think you're an intellectual, don't you, ape?"
"Apes don't read philosophy. "
"Yes they do, Otto. They just don't understand it. Now let me correct you on a couple of things, OK? Aristotle was not Belgian. The central message of Buddhism is not "Every man for himself." And the London Underground is not a political movement. Those are all mistakes, Otto. I looked them up."
Kudos, Mom: "A Fish Called Wanda" gave us those great lines.

"I never liked a girl well enough to give her 12 sharp knives."
Here's another quote from this flick, for a hint: "Have you tried STAPLES?"

"He was always a rather stupidly optimistic man. I mean, I'm afraid it came as a great shock to him when he died, but, he was found dead at home. His head had been cut off, and so had his, uh... you know. I had been out all evening at the movies."
"Do you miss him?"
"Well, it's a matter of life after death. Now that he's dead, I have a life."
"But, he was your second husband. Your first husband also disappeared."
"But that was his job. He was an illusionist."
"But he never reappeared!"
"He wasn't a very good illusionist."
Emily got this one, lines from the side-splitting actress Madeline Kahn in "Clue."

"None of us have been here before, love. I mean, my John didn't see me naked until the spring of 1975."
"What happened in the spring of '75?"
"There was a lizard in the shower block at Abergele. Quite a few people saw me naked that morning."
"Calendar Girls," a great British comedy about middle-aged women who strategically strip down behind homemaking implements for a local Women's Institute calendar, to raise funds to fight cancer.

#5:"Where are the passports and tickets?"
"I put them in the microwave to dry em' off."
My brother Ethan is the only to have gotten this one: "Home Alone."

"Have you all decided?"

"Madam, we must have waffles! We must all have waffles forthwith! We must all think, and we must all have waffles, and think each and every one of us to the very best of his ability..."
Here's another hint:
"This is a Christian house, boy. No hippity-hop language in here."
"The Ladykillers"

"Or are you here to tell me what a bad eugoogoolizer I am?"
"A what?"
"A eugoogoolizer... one who speaks at funerals. Or did you think I was too stupid to know what a eugoogooly was?"
This is, indeed, from "Zoolander," as Emily correctly guessed.

"Well, I wouldn't argue that it wasn't a no-holds-barred, adrenaline-fuelled thrill ride. But there is no way you can perpetrate that amount of carnage and mayhem and not incur a considerable amount of paperwork."
Yes, one or several of you guessed the very British action spoof "Hot Fuzz."
"I can't believe we drove around all day, and there's not a single job in this town. There is nothing, nada, zip!"

"Yeah! Unless you wanna work forty hours a week."
One of the lesser-quoted exchanges from the oft-quoted comedy "Dumb & Dumber."

"What are you doing in my dad's coffin?!"
This movie is one of the best British comedies I've seen recently: "Death at a Funeral."

Have fun figuring them out, folks!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Name That Quote

Alright, it's time to give a few hints to some of the more trying clues: hints will be injected in red alongside the quotes to which they pertain. Have fun! I'll also post the correct answers that have been submitted.

So Emily's been having a blast over at "Hat and Gloves" quizzing folks on movie quotes.

But I want to have a blast too, without blasters, those laser-beaming guns that Storm Troopers carry around in "Star Wars."

So, without further ado - and without IMDB, or Google, mind you - identify the movies that contain these quotes:

1. "Why do you wear black all the time?"
"I'm in mourning for my lost childhood."
from "What About Bob?"

2. "We bare our souls and tell the most appalling secrets."
comes to you via "Little Women"

3. "That is the ugliest lamp I have ever seen!"
this should be running 24/7 soon on cable..."A Christmas Story"

4. "You pooped in the refrigerator? AND you ate a whole wheel of cheese? How'd you do that? That's amazing. Heck, I'm not even mad."
Will Ferrell's conversation with his dog in "Anchorman"

5. "Is she a Republican?"
"I can't help myself."
Meg Ryan to Greg Kinnear in "You've Got Mail," a college favorite. Trivia: Emily's grandmother used to babysit Greg Kinnear's dad. Indiana is a small town somebody made a state.

6. "You gonna do something? Or are you just gonna stand there and bleed?"
Here's another quote from this flick: "Why Kate, you're not wearing a bustle. How lewd. "
A HA! Emily finally hit the nail on the head..."Tombstone."

7. "With a prompter in every cellar window whispering comebacks, shy people would have the last laugh."
I'm glad you got this, Emily: "Amelie", a French movie

8. "Oh, no, I mustn't. Madame Audel is in mourning for her husband."
"Oh. I'm sorry. When did he pass away?"
"The war. German grenade."
"Oh, I see. Well, it's been 15 years since the war, so surely..."
"No, not that war. Monsieur Audel was killed on January the 12th, 1917. It was quite a blow to Madame Audel."
"Apparently so."
Here's a series of delectable quotes from this same movie, that no one has yet guessed:
[at confession] "Each time I tell myself it's the last time, but then I get a whiff of her hot chocolate, or..."
"...Seashells. Chocolate seashells, so small, so plain, so innocent. I thought, oh, just one little taste, it can't do any harm. But it turned out they were filled with rich, sinful..."
"...And it melts, God forgive me, it melts ever so slowly on your tongue, and tortures you with pleasure."

Emily finally got it: "Chocolat."

9. "Hey look, mister - we serve hard drinks in here for men who want to get drunk fast, and we don't need any characters around to give the joint "atmosphere". Is that clear, or do I have to slip you my left for a convincer?"
one of my all-time favorite movies, "It's a Wonderful Life."

10. "Oh, sit up straight, Jane! Pull your shoulders back! A man could go a long way without seeing a figure like yours, if you could only make the most of it!"
the five-hour, watch-them-all-marathon-style, BBC version of Jane Austen's "Pride & Prejudice" - I am happy to say, sans Kiera Knightley.

Have fun unraveling these lines from some of my favorite films! You may place your guesses in "comments."

Old-Fashioned. Small Town. Christmas.

Bedford Falls? Mayberry?

Or small town in Kentucky?

It's difficult to say, really. When my dad and his fiance came down to visit this weekend, we went to "An Old-Fashioned Christmas" on Saturday evening. Now, we missed the town tree lighting (think the town tree in Whoville) and the Mayor's address, and the elf costume contest. Which is fine with me, really, because it was like minus 70 degrees outside. Or maybe it was like 30 degrees outside. It felt the same.

"But," you say, "what IS an old-fashioned Christmas, Big Red Couch?"

Ah, I will tell you, gentle reader, right between blowing my nose and sipping my piping hot coffee, and rasping out statements in deep throaty tones.

The Local Police barricade off several hundred feet of Main Street - which, by the way, is all of downtown - and everybody and their neighbor and sister in law and dogs on leashes goes out and walks up and down.

Because all the businesses are open, their windows and doors letting out streams of light in the dark, and they have people playing music inside on keyboards and guitars and Bluegrassy instruments, and they serve hot chocolate and hot cider and ginger ale, and cookies and pretzels and cream puffs and fudge, and everybody stands in line and then accidentally blocks the doorway because they just saw an old friend and begin to catch up with them, and you get to see people you never see anymore, and someone sings Christmas music in the background, and you walk around with your pockets stuffed with cups of leftover pretzels and complimentary calendars from the drug store. The quaint marketing firm takes Christmas portraits of you and your friends goofing off, and the City Hall features town council members doling out little sausages from a crock pot, and the mayor still looks Dickensian from his earlier speech because he's dressed in an 1800's suit, and they queue you out the other door which goes through the Police Department lobby. This year, I didn't go in the beauty shop/gift shop that always features puppy chow, but I did go in the new bank, which thoughtfully put out marshmallows with their hot chocolate. I also give two thumbs up to their fudge. While we didn't go to the Methodists' chili and sandwich supper, we did stop in at the post office and help ourselves to snacks, which my editor's wife was serving with a smile. I need to remember to ask her where she got her top, it was stunning.

What's that? You want to know what my favorite stops are?

Well, I'm partial to the drug store, because it's an old-fashioned one with a working soda fountain/restaurant, with the pharmacy window at the back. Their brick oven pizza is a-MAZ-ing. And a lady from my favorite old church sings there every year, and they used to give out Norman Rockwell calendars, though I dock them a point this year because instead they were pocket-sized normal calendars. I also enjoy City Hall, because the town council pours you Diet Coke and sometimes my friend Barney is working there.

But the other places are delightful, too, and it's fun to see new businesses open up, or to visit businesses you don't normally stop by.

What's that? You don't believe it could really be this idyllic? Well, that's true. There was a scandalous moment when two dog-walking perusers allowed their canines a bit too close to each other, which resulted in a lot of barked threats. But it came to naught, because the owners just reined in the leashes. So, crisis averted.

I saw a friend I haven't really seen much since we were both in Oxford, England for a week, and his wife, who is the world's only woman who is both a model and truly sweet and kind. I saw a seminary friend who has always had a beautiful spirit, and now has developed a svelte figure to complement it. I saw my pastor from my favorite old church, and my good friend Emily, who was bundled up head-to-toe, and another friend, a real, live Kentuckian named Bubba - really - whose roommate's name is - really - Catfish. I saw my ol' ringbearer, who chattered his teeth and said "I-i-i n-need g-g-gloves."

So, this Christmas, if you're tempted to feel jaded, cynical, or discouraged, be of good cheer. There are still places like this in the world - places of community and welcome, hospitality and warmth, hot chocolate and peanut butter fudge. It was truly a Mitford scene; Father Tim and Cynthia might actually have been mingling in the crowd, I'm not sure.

Though my cold didn't wear any better for it, my spirit did. Plenty of bells hanging from shop doors were ringing constantly: I think Clarence did manage to get his wings.

Monday, December 1, 2008

If You Broke Your Brain

It's quite possible that some of you who like to stop by and sit on the couch for a while have had your brains broken.

Not by me. Not yet, anyway.

No, by the marathon of political, economic, and warfare news that citizens have endured for months on end.

What? You need a change of scenery? A change of pace? Something light-hearted, quirky, inane, or baffling?

Well, then, you've come to the right couch. Follow Alice and the White Rabbit down these links:

"The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia"

Illinois Ball Bearing Company Stuns Plant Workers with Five Figure Bonuses

Vatican Exhibit Only on Display at Houston Funeral Museum

Bystander Beat Knife-Wielding Attacker with Two-Foot Candy Cane

Preserving the City: Church and State

Geeky Toys that Will Make You a Christmas Hero

"The Hungry Scientist Handbook: Electric Birthday Cakes, Edible Origami, and Other DIY Projects for Techies, Tinkerers and Foodies"


The Onion: Department Store Santa Told to
Push Chinaware

Uke, Washboard and Kazoo Music from 1928, or, Why I Love You Tube

Things That Should Never Exist: a Dwight Schrute Tattoo

Nerf Factory Riot in China

The Jesus Way

"The Pirate's Dilemma: How Youth Culture Is Reinventing Capitalism"

Best quote from one of these stories?

"Only a certain segment of people are interested in caskets and mourning clothes," said museum president Robert Boetticher. "We feel the papal exhibit will be quite a draw for other people, and that then when they come in they'll see everything else."