On Skyfall, part two.

WARNING: Spoilers ahead. If you haven’t seen the movie yet and do not wish to have any clue or hint revealed unto you, don’t read this post. Proceed at your own peril.

You can read more thorough analyses of the theme and plot and character development and all that fiddle-faddle elsewhere.

Here’s what I wrote when they announced the title of the new Bond movie last year:

I gotta say that with Sam Mendes directing, Javier Bardem and Ralph Fiennes as bad guys, and Albert Finney as the Defence Secretary (or whatever he’s playing), this is as promising a cast as EON’s ever going to assemble. Unfortunately, it seems that the money spent bringing in all that star power came out of the maintenance fund for the Bond TitleTron.

The star power paid off, though the early stories had some of the roles mixed up (Fiennes was a British official, Finney was the gamekeeper on the Bond family estate). Mendes: rehire him, or let him take turns with Martin Campbell. He had some great actors to work with, and he let them do their jobs. And I’d like to thank Mendes for holding the camera steady enough that I could follow the action scenes (let the clown who directed Quantum of Solace take note).

Javier Bardem’s Silva was Khan-as-Bond-villain, with a dash of Ledger’s Joker. I half-expected Silva to kidnap Q and put an eel in his ear. I’d have to think about how high up he belongs in the pantheon of Bond villains, but he, Le Chiffre, and Alec Trevelyan are probably the best of the last 30 years. Maybe the last 40 years. The Bond series used up a lot of its best villains early. Oscar nod? Maybe. I’m sure there’ll be worse performances among the actual nominees.

Judi Dench was good in her final outing as M, and I’m sure Fiennes will be a decent replacement. She deserves this year’s award for Best Use of Tennyson in a Major Motion Picture. Those lines from “Ulysses” also appear in one of my favorite books, The Invisible Heart (the hero of which is a high school economics teacher), so I figured there should be such an award.

Daniel Craig was… I think I just gave Craig third billing in this film. Sometimes, it seemed like that would be about right. Sure, it was about coming back from the dead because “England Expects,” and it was nice to plumb the depths of his childhood at Skyfall, but the main conflict in this film was between Silva and M. And Judi Dench and Javier Bardem owned the screen when they were on it.

Anyhow, Craig was good, as usual, and has cemented his spot as the best Bond-not-named-Sean-Connery. He is starting to look a little aged, so they’d better hurry up with those next three movies. Say ’14-’16-’18?

I worried about the title of the film, expecting it to be the name of some very, very poorly-named mission that failed, resulting in the loss of the hard drive. Nope. Once Skyfall is revealed, at the end, it makes sense. It works beautifully: it’s where he buried his real parents, it’s where he’ll protect M and (inadvertently) Kincaide– the closest he has to parents.

One of the more interesting aspects of the film was how intensely personal the main characters’ aims were. Silva didn’t have any scheme aimed at world conquest, or financial plunder, or any such nonsense– he just wanted his revenge against the woman who wronged him. M wanted to protect the service she’d built and redeem herself before her forced retirement. And, of course, Bond came back from “retirement” just to protect her. And all three of them failed– Bond couldn’t protect M (when’s the last time you saw him fail?), M lost more and more agents despite her best efforts, and, of course, M survived Silva, even if only by a few minutes.

Now, to evaluate the staples of the Bond movies:

Pre-credit sequence: Strong, but a little reminiscent of the parkour chase in Casino Royale. Not that either sequence was bad– and after all, after so many Bond movies, there’s going to be gobs of repetition– but maybe they could have gone with a sequence that didn’t echo another Craig film.

Gunbarrel sequence: The bastards put it at the end again. I’ve been watching Bond movies since 1986, and the two white dots and the rifling and the walk and the turn-and-shoot and the cascade of blood are supposed to mean that Bondian awesomeness is about to commence, not that the credits are about to roll. The story goes that Mendes thought it would have been silly to have the gun barrel sequence lead to the opening shot they chose. My response? “Then change the opening shot.” Better yet, design a new closing logo to use at the end, and make sure it doesn’t suck. For chrissakes, just put the gunbarrel back where it belongs!

Credit sequence: I liked what MK12 did in Quantum of Solace, but they went with the traditional fonts this time around. The sequence was… ominous. And next time, can we please leave Daniel Craig’s creepy eyeballs out of it?

Title song: Adele? Best choice for the job, aside from Shirley Bassey. I hope one day to hear Shirley’s cover of the theme song. Bombast? Check. Hints of Barry’s/Norman’s Bond theme itself? Check. Nonsensical lyrics? Check. Mention the title? Check. All the elements of a great Bond song.

Music: I don’t think it rose to the level of David Arnold’s work, but it was fine. However, if a score distracts you, it’s not working at that particular moment. And there were a few scenes (the “Ulysses” scene comes to mind) when it was a little too noticeable.

“Shaken, not stirred”: Shown, not stated. Nice job.

“Bond, James Bond”: Typical usage. At least they remembered to use it this time, unlike last time around.

Aston Martin: I was glad they put the steering wheel on the correct side this time, and that they put the correct registration plates on, and that they put the red ejector button in the correct spot. But when I saw Silva’s men approaching the castle, and realized they were including the DB5 in every shot of the approach, I got as giddy as a kipper. I don’t know what a kipper is, and I hope it’s nothing embarrassing, but that’s how giddy I got, because the bad guys were walking directly into the firing line of the DB5’s headlight machine guns. And then the guns popped out and blew away the bad guys. When’s the last time we saw those guns? Goldfinger?

“Q”: Finally back. They even worked in “You must be joking.” I’m glad they didn’t call him Major Boothroyd, because it would’ve been a bit of a stretch that such a youngster would have made Major. I thought Ben Whishaw was good in the role. It’s fine that Q is a whippersnapper; it makes as much sense to have a whiz kid in that position, as it does a battle-tested engineer. But the hipster crap needs to stop, now.

Moneypenny: I pride myself on knowing that Eve was Miss Moneypenny as soon as Bond didn’t sleep with her after the shaving scene.

The final scenes found Bond, and the series in general, in uncharted territory. He stands on the rooftop, gazing upon London– and we saw more of London in this movie than we might’ve seen in the entire series. Some key elements of the Bond mythos– the Aston Martin, M, his childhood home– are gone. He seems lost and alone.

And then Eve brings him back downstairs into the building. And they walk into her office, where the coatrack seemed to be in too conspicuous a position. For a second I thought Bond was going to throw his hat onto it.

And then Eve introduced herself as Moneypenny. And then they showed the old cushioned door to M’s office. And then there was M’s desk, and the naval paintings on the walls, and it looked about as close to Bernard Lee briefing Sean Connery as we’re ever going to see again. And the Bond universe was back to normal. Great ending, great Bond flick.

Mayhaps.

Here’s last night’s oddest dream:

I was on the stage of Paxon’s auditorium. I was Schuyler Colfax, Speaker of the House during the 1860s. Note that I didn’t say I was playing the role of Colfax, I was him. I was attempting to conduct the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson (who looked an awful lot like Tommy Lee Jones), but he was clearly drunk. He kept playing around with the data projector’s aspect ratio, and disconnecting and reconnecting the cable. He used a bullhorn to voice absurd objections about the curtains and Microsoft Office. We tried repeatedly to talk Johnson into behaving, but eventually had to restrain him and wrest the bullhorn from his grasp. He cried a little and sat, chastened, in the front row. Then the proceedings proceeded.

I think I’ve spent a bit too much time at work lately.

The nice thing, either way.

I find that oftentimes, politics dictates religion. More precisely, our political preferences can have an impact on our religious beliefs, just like our religious beliefs often affect our political preferences. We want so badly for our team to win that either we’re willing to compromise our principles, or we realize that our principles aren’t really our principles, or that we now have a better set of principles. Sometimes that’s bad, sometimes that’s good.

To wit:

Tomorrow, for the first time, a large majority of white evangelicals are going to vote for a presidential candidate who is a Mormon. That’s a good sign; a large portion (if not a majority) of white evangelicals do not consider Mormons to be Christians, but regardless, they’re willing to elect one.

Tomorrow, for the first time, a large majority of black evangelicals are going to vote for a presidential candidate who (occasionally) favors gay marriage. That’s a good sign; a large portion (if not a majority) of black evangelicals oppose gay marriage, but regardless, they’re willing to elect someone who supports it.

Now, this doesn’t mean that anybody’s abandoned their principles, or modified them dramatically. To tolerate is neither to agree nor to accept, but I’d like to think that this election has made Americans a bit more tolerant of each other. And we’ll see what happens with the evangelicals over these next few years.

4356.

Halloween’s tomorrow, but I have to write today. I don’t have any really good paranormal stories of my own, so I’ll relate a couple of somebody else’s.

When Rivkah was a little girl, she often stayed with her godparents, George and Betty. When she misbehaved, George would angrily stamp his feet until she stopped.

George died early on. If memory serves, he had a heart attack and fell through plate glass window.

A few months later, Rivkah was visiting Betty and was misbehaving, and wouldn’t stop misbehaving despite Betty’s repeated admonitions. Finally, Betty said, “If you don’t stop, George will be mad.”

At that moment, they heard feet stamping, louder and louder until Rivkah squealed, “I’m sorry!” The stamping stopped.

Betty could’ve been pulling a prank, someone else might’ve been in the house and stamping their feet, but who knows? Maybe George really was so pissed off he came back from the dead.

When Rivkah was in high school, she dated a boy named Sonny. On one occasion, they were sitting on a couch in Rivkah’s house and were presumably discussing quantum mechanics, epistemology, the usual. Then George (the guy who’d been dead for years by this point) walked in and had a seat.

George and Rivkah spoke for a few minutes, and then he was gone. According to Rivkah, Sonny turned pale and silent during George’s visit. According to Sonny, Rivkah was nuts and was acting strangely for no reason.

A few years later, in a unguarded moment, Sonny told me he thought he saw a ghost at Rivkah’s house. The ghost was opaque, not transparent, and his version of the story matched Rivkah’s.

Rivkah could’ve been pulling a prank, because Sonny wouldn’t know George from Adam, but who knows? Maybe George just wanted to stop in and say hi that day. Nothing better to do.

I used to see faces in the wooden bifold doors in my bedroom, but we’re programmed to see faces in strange patterns. I used to experience sleep paralysis and have hypnagogic dreams of shadowy figures holding me to the bed, but it turns out sleep paralysis isn’t that uncommon. I remember worrying that if I slept with my feet pointed towards the door, I’d be dragged out of the room, but everybody had goofy hangups when they were kids.

The closest thing I have to a paranormal experience was back when I had to share a room with my little brother. One night, maybe about 10 o’clock, our bedroom was almost completely lit up by some lights that had to be just outside the window. It was as if a car with its brights on had pulled right up to our window– but we were on the second story.

The light lasted for a few seconds, and then disappeared by the time we got to the window to see what it was. If there’d been noise, I would’ve thought it was just a low-flying helicopter passing over. But there was no noise. Just a really bright light.

One of our neighbors could’ve been pulling a prank, holding a high-powered flashlight outside our window, but who knows? Maybe a UFO really was flying around my house that night.

On the People’s Republic of Cheaters.

Some quick thoughts on an email from Noutheteo, who should know this already, being an econ major:

“What’s with the whole ‘China is our enemy,’ economically speaking? Could you assess some of the complaints as well as the actions the nominees are suggesting taking against China?”

When they start talking about China, I generally tune out. From an economic standpoint, China’s a boogeyman, nothing more.

China “cheats” at trade? What does that even mean? Do they give us false bills of sale? Do they welch on business deals? Do they mislabel products or ingredients? Are they violating contracts? If not, then how are they cheating?

You might point out that they manipulate their currency. Let’s clarify what that means: they artificially devalue the yuan against the dollar, meaning the dollar will buy more yuan. Some people look at that and freak out because it means our trade balance with China will worsen. They worry that because we’ll be more able to buy Chinese stuff, demand for Chinese goods will rise, which will boost demand for Chinese workers, which means they’ll have more factories, etc., and China will be less able to buy American stuff, which means demand for our stuff will decline, so our factories will shut down, and our workers will be unemployed.

But I look at that same situation and say: “Oh good! Those morons in China are making it easier for me to buy their stuff, and shooting themselves in the foot while they’re at it.” As Chinese goods become less expensive due to yuan devaluation, my income rises in a real sense: either I can buy more of their stuff than I could before, or I can buy as much Chinese stuff as I did before, but I can spend the extra savings on other, non-Chinese stuff I wanted to buy. It’s the old income effect at work.

“How’re they shooting themselves in the foot?” you might ask. Well, by devaluing the yuan, they’re making it harder for themselves to buy stuff from other countries. If that’s a good idea, then I recommend keeping an eye on China’s devaluation so that you’ll know what percentage of your cash you should burn. After all, they’re somehow enriching themselves by making it harder for themselves to buy stuff, right? You should follow suit.

But what about the jobs lost? Well, yes, we lose some jobs in some industries because the Chinese have decided to essentially give stuff away at a cut rate. But the consumer savings leads to greater demand for other products, and those are the industries that grow. It’s not a perfectly fluid transition, but the transition does occur in real life. It occurs whether we’re talking about losing jobs to China, or to women entering the workplace, or to immigrants, or to new technology. Somehow, our country keeps getting richer despite all these job losses the demagogues flip out about.

What throws cogs in the works? When folks don’t want to adapt to the transition, and refuse to do so, and get laws passed to protect themselves from the transition. Read “The Petition of the Candlemakers” (or watch the old Simpsons episode in which Burns blocks the Sun) to see where that can land us.

In short, Obama and Romney are nearly equally horrible on this matter, and the conventional wisdom is stupid.

Two weeks out.

From the mailbag:

Can you do a post of a break down of the election thus far, because it looks like a possible 2000 repeat (only in regards to the popular vote not winning the Electoral vote)? Also a comparison to how people view the popular vote then and now (based on the fact that it’s now flipped) for all of us who were too young to remember the hype? Also, 10+%lead Obama has in Maine, but the 4-6% lead Romney has in Maine’s 2nd district (thus a split vote) would be worth mentioning.

You can find more thorough breakdowns of the election elsewhere, but I’ll say this: unless something changes dramatically in the last two weeks (it’s happened before), an Obama victory might just be the most underwhelming in recent American history, something like Ford’s victory over Reagan in the ’76 primaries.

Why? Because if Obama is re-elected, it probably will be with far fewer electoral votes and a lower percentage of the popular vote that he received in his first election. Only two Presidents have pulled that off: Wilson in 1916, and FDR in 1940 and 1944. However, given the size of their prior victories (Wilson 1912: 435-88-8; FDR 1932: 472-59; FDR 1936: 523-8), there was almost nowhere to go but down.* That wasn’t the case with Obama; he “only” won 365-173– a big win, sure, but one that left room for improvement. But Obama won’t win that many electoral votes this time. If he wins with, say, 300 electoral votes, then yes, he’ll have won, but it’ll feel like he just missed getting voted off the island. That’s not exactly empowering, and it’s not a pro-Obama mandate. Combine that with a GOP-controlled House and enough Republicans in the Senate to sustain filibusters, and Obama will be a lame duck the second he completes his victory speech.

(By the way, feel free to check back in a few weeks when Obama tops 55% and wins 400 EVs. This post’ll still be here and you’ll be welcome to poke fun.)

You’d have to do some research to get a thorough sense of how people felt about the popular vote in 2000. Here’s how I remember it:

In the last few days before the 2000 election, it looked like George W. Bush would barely win the popular vote and Al Gore would barely win the electoral vote and thus the Presidency. I seem to remember some Democratic commentators defending the Electoral College, or at least criticizing it while “ruefully” acknowledging that we were stuck with it. When Gore won the popular vote and Bush won the electoral vote, then the Electoral College was completely illegitimate, and Al Gore really won the election, and the hunt was on to find three electors who’d switch their vote from Bush to Gore, and so on.

In 2004, if 50,000 or so votes in Ohio went the other way, Kerry would’ve been President despite losing the national popular vote, and all of a sudden the Electoral College would’ve been a good idea all over again.

This year, if Obama wins the electoral vote despite losing the popular vote, you won’t hear many Democratic complaints. You also won’t hear many Republican complaints, since they generally don’t mind the Electoral College to begin with.

In 2001, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact was proposed. In short, states that join the compact will automatically give their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the national popular vote. It’s been passed in a few states, but it doesn’t go into effect until enough states (worth 270+ electoral votes) join it and Congress approves it. I think states would be foolish to trust each other in this compact, because I can see the states ignoring the compact and casting their votes however they wish. Congress would be virtually powerless to stop them.

The Electoral College isn’t going anywhere. You’d have to get 2/3rds of Congress and 38 state legislatures to ratify an amendment replacing or abolishing the Electoral College. That means that just 13 states can stop it. There are certainly more than 13 states who want to keep it.

Oh, and Romney might win one of Maine’s electoral votes. There’s your mention.

*Wilson’s electoral vote dropped for another, stranger reason. In 1912, he won about 42% of the popular vote but won a huge electoral victory because the Republicans were split between Taft and TR. In 1916, Wilson improved to almost 50% of the popular vote but just barely won the electoral vote because this time around, the Republicans were united and won more states.

Questionnaire 11.

With about 45 minutes left to avoid violating my writing resolution, I lean yet again on my favorite crutch: the questionnaire. This one, like the last few, draws from multiple sources.

1. ONE OF YOUR SCARS, HOW DID YOU GET IT? Surgery to remove a lymph node.

2. WHAT IS ON THE WALLS IN YOUR ROOM? Paint.

3. WHAT DOES YOUR CELL PHONE LOOK LIKE? A black rectangular hexahedron with buttons.

4. WHAT MUSIC DO YOU LISTEN TO? Many different kinds. I was recently introduced to Pandora’s instrumental hip hop channel, which was good for background noise until I realized that about a third of their “instrumentals” include singing.

5. DO YOU KNOW WHAT TIME YOU WERE BORN? Yes, I do.

6. WHAT DO YOU WANT MORE THAN ANYTHING RIGHT NOW? To sleep well.

7. WHAT DO YOU MISS? I never miss.

8. WHAT IS YOUR MOST PRIZED POSSESSION/S? Tough call. What would I be most upset about losing… probably my grandfather’s wallet.

9. WHAT IS YOUR ZODIAC SIGN? Gemitarius.

10. DO YOU GET CLAUSTROPHOBIC? No. I get mad.

11. DO YOU GET SCARED IN THE DARK? When I was a little boy, I did. Then I resolved to kill anything that messes with me in the dark, and I slept far more soundly.

12. THE LAST PERSON TO MAKE YOU CRY? Mr. Hooper, when he died.

13. WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE COLOGNE/PERFUME? Soap.

14. WHAT KIND OF HAIR/EYE COLOR DO YOU LIKE ON THE OPPOSITE SEX? I generally like women with longish hair and white sclerae.

15. WHERE CAN YOU SEE YOURSELF BEING PROPOSED TO? Being a man, I generally don’t see myself being proposed to. However, I shall one day propose to my sweet patootie atop a live volcano after besting my arch nemesis in mortal combat.

16. COFFEE OR ENERGY DRINK? If I have to pick one, coffee. Lots of cream and a little sugar.

17. WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE PIZZA TOPPINGS? Aside from the cheese and the sauce? Pepperoni, Italian sausage, black olives, green bell peppers.

18. IF YOU CAN EAT ANYTHING RIGHT NOW, WHAT WOULD IT BE? More steak.

19. WHO IS THE LAST PERSON YOU MADE MAD? Don’t want to think about it.

20. WHAT WAS THE FIRST GIFT SOMEONE EVER GAVE YOU? That I can remember? I vaguely remember some small, fuzzy puppets, but I can’t quite remember the occasion. It was either after I burned my hands on the wood stove or after the first time I ate macaroni with meat and tomato sauce.

21. DO YOU LIKE ANYBODY? Of course.

22. ARE YOU DOUBLE JOINTED? Not yet.

23. FAVORITE CLOTHING BRAND? I guess adidas, because historically they have made the cleats that fit my feet best.

24. WHAT’S YOUR DREAM CAR? My current car is my dream car. The more I think about it, the more I think it looks like a blend of my last two cars.

25. DO YOU HAVE A PET RIGHT NOW? No.

26. WHAT KIND IS IT? Um, no.

27. WOULD YOU FALL IN LOVE KNOWING THAT THE PERSON IS LEAVING? Not intentionally, but I s’pose that’s why it’s called “falling.” It’s unintentional.

28. WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO TELL SOMEONE HOW MUCH THEY MEAN TO YOU? A PowerPoint with lots and lots of graphs.

29. SAY A NUMBER FROM ONE TO A HUNDRED: Hold on… done. It was ninety-three.

30. BLONDES OR BRUNETTES? Yes.

31. WHAT IS THE ONE NUMBER YOU CALL OFTEN? Voicemail.

32. WHAT ANNOYS YOU MOST? Why, so you can use it against me? Nice try.

33. HAVE YOU BEEN OUT OF YOUR COUNTRY? No.

34. YOUR WEAKNESSES? It turns out that I handle most life-threatening injuries far better than scratches on my eyeballs.

35. FIRST JOB? Clerk at the Soccer Stop in Baymeadows/Mandarin.

36. EVER DONE A PRANK CALL? Yes, in 1989.

37. WHAT WHERE YOU DOING BEFORE YOU FILLED OUT THIS? Recording grades.

38. IF YOU COULD GET PLASTIC SURGERY WHAT WOULD IT BE? It would be vain.

39. WHY DID YOU FILL OUT THIS SURVEY? Needed to get an entry in before midnight.

40. WHAT DO YOU GET COMPLIMENTED ABOUT MOST? My appearance, behavior, thoughts, and reputation.

41. WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF ALCOHOL BECAME ILLEGAL? Get re-prohibition re-repealed.

42. WHAT DO YOU WANT FOR YOUR BIRTHDAY? Cake.

43. HOW MANY KIDS DO YOU WANT? Twelve: one for each month.

44. DO YOU WISH ON STARS? No. I wish right here.

45. WHAT DID YOU DO THIS MORNING? Awaken, drink some tea, do some paperwork.

46. WHAT DID YOU LAST EAT? Flank steak.

47. DO YOU LIKE YOUR HANDWRITING? Usually not.

48. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE LUNCH MEAT? Roast beef.

49. ANY BAD HABITS? Yup. I go way too long without cleaning my refrigerator coils.

50. WHAT IS YOUR MOST EMBARRASSING CD ON THE SHELF? Each of my CDs is an embodiment of timelessness. Each track on each of those CDs makes people go, “Oh my God, I haven’t heard this in like forever! This was my favorite song!” Thus I am not ashamed of any of my CDs.

51. IF YOU WERE ANOTHER PERSON, WOULD YOU BE FRIENDS WITH YOU? Maybe.

52. HAVE YOU EVER TOLD A SECRET YOU SWORE NOT TO TELL? I’m sorry, I can’t say.

53. DO LOOKS MATTER? Yes.

54. HOW DO YOU RELEASE ANGER? Memorably.

55. WHERE IS YOUR SECOND HOME? Clemson.

56. WHAT ARE YOU WEARING? Black shirt, black shorts, glasses.

57. HOW MANY NUMBERS ARE IN YOUR CELL PHONE? 168.

58. HAVE YOU EVER BEEN IN A MOSH PIT? No.

59. WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE ICE CREAM FLAVOR? Chocolate.

60. WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE COLOR(S)? Those with wavelengths between 389 and 754 nanometers.

61. HOW MANY WISDOM TEETH DO YOU HAVE? Three.

62. WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO? Sunday Night Football.

63. LAST THING YOU DRANK? Ginger ale.

64. FAVORITE THOUGHT PROVOKING SONG? “Second Skin,” the Chameleons.

65. FAVORITE THING TO HATE? Commie Nazis.

66. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SPORT? Soccer.

67. DO YOU LIKE SUSHI? Some sushi.

68. FAVORITE DAY OF THE YEAR? First day of jacket weather.

69. WHAT BOOK ARE YOU READING? A Renegade History of the United States, by Thaddeus Russell.

70. ANYONE IN LOVE WITH YOU? Of course.

71. YOUR BEST FRIEND IS TAKING A NAP ON THE FLOOR OF YOUR LIVING ROOM. SUDDENLY, YOU ARE FACED WITH A BIZARRE EXISTENTIAL PROBLEM: THIS FRIEND IS GOING TO DIE UNLESS YOU KICK THEM (AS HARD AS YOU CAN) IN THE RIB CAGE. IF YOU DON’T KICK THEM WHILE THEY SLUMBER, THEY WILL NEVER WAKE UP. HOWEVER, YOU CAN NEVER EXPLAIN THIS TO YOUR FRIEND; IF YOU LATER INFORM THEM THAT YOU DID THIS TO SAVE THEIR LIFE, THEY WILL ALSO DIE FROM THAT. SO YOU HAVE TO KICK A SLEEPING FRIEND IN THE RIBS, AND YOU CAN’T TELL THEM WHY…SINCE YOU CANNOT TELL YOUR FRIEND THE TRUTH, WHAT EXCUSE WILL YOU FABRICATE TO EXPLAIN THIS (SEEMINGLY INEXPLICABLE) ATTACK? One of two ways:

(A) “If I didn’t kick you, you would have woken up.” Then I wink. “If I ever tell you the real reason I kicked you, then everybody on Earth will die except you.” Then I wink again. “Don’t trust me.” Then I wink one last time and go back to whatever I was doing.

(B) “I thought you were a thief. What are you doing on my floor anyways?”

72. FOR WHATEVER THE REASON, TWO UNAUTHORIZED MOVIES ARE MADE ABOUT YOUR LIFE. THE FIRST IS AN INDEPENDENTLY RELEASED DOCUMENTARY, PRIMARILY COMPRISED OF INTERVIEWS WITH PEOPLE WHO KNOW YOU AND BOOTLEG FOOTAGE FROM YOUR ACTUAL LIFE. CRITICS ARE DESCRIBING THE DOCUMENTARY AS “BRUTALLY HONEST AND RELENTLESSLY FAIR.” MEANWHILE, COLUMBIA TRI-STAR HAS PRODUCED A BIG-BUDGET BIOPIC OF YOUR LIFE, CASTING MAJOR HOLLYWOOD STARS AS YOU AND ALL YOUR ACQUAINTANCES; THOUGH THE MOVIE IS BASED ON ACTUAL EVENTS, SCREENWRITERS HAVE TAKEN SOME LIBERTIES WITH THE FACTS. CRITICS ARE SPLIT ON THE ARTISTIC MERITS OF THIS FICTIONALIZED ACCOUNT, BUT AUDIENCES LOVE IT. WHICH FILM WOULD YOU BE MOST INTERESTED IN SEEING & WHY? The fictionalized version. I already know the truth.

73. YOU ARE SITTING IN AN EMPTY BAR (IN A TOWN YOU’VE NEVER BEFORE VISITED), DRINKING BACARDI WITH A SOFT-SPOKEN ACQUAINTANCE YOU BARELY KNOW. AFTER AN HOUR, A THIRD INDIVIDUAL WALKS INTO THE TAVERN AND SITS BY HIMSELF, AND YOU ASK YOUR ACQUAINTANCE WHO THE NEW MAN IS. “BE CAREFUL OF THAT GUY,” YOU ARE TOLD. “HE IS A MAN WITH A PAST.” A FEW MINUTES LATER, A FOURTH PERSON ENTERS THE BAR; HE ALSO SITS ALONE. YOU ASK YOUR ACQUAINTANCE WHO THIS NEW INDIVIDUAL IS. “BE CAREFUL OF THAT GUY, TOO,” HE SAYS. “HE IS A MAN WITH NO PAST.” WHICH OF THESE TWO PEOPLE DO YOU TRUST LESS? The man with a past. The man with no past is presumably a baby and therefore harmless.

74. YOU HAVE A BRAIN TUMOR. THOUGH THERE IS NO DISCOMFORT AT THE MOMENT, THIS TUMOR WOULD UNQUESTIONABLY KILL YOU IN SIX MONTHS. HOWEVER, YOUR LIFE CAN (AND WILL) BE SAVED BY AN OPERATION; THE ONLY DOWNSIDE IS THAT THERE WILL BE A BRUTAL INCISION TO YOUR FRONTAL LOBE. AFTER THE SURGERY, YOU WILL BE SIGNIFICANTLY LESS INTELLIGENT. YOU WILL STILL BE A FULLY FUNCTIONING ADULT, BUT YOU WILL BE LESS LOGICAL, YOU WILL HAVE A TERRIBLE MEMORY, AND YOU WILL HAVE LITTLE ABILITY TO UNDERSTAND COMPLEX CONCEPTS OR DIFFICULT IDEAS. THE SURGERY IS IN TWO WEEKS. HOW DO YOU SPEND THE NEXT FOURTEEN DAYS? Writing and recording (audio or video) as many of those more complex/difficult thoughts as possible.

75. FOR REASONS THAT CANNOT BE EXPLAINED, CATS CAN SUDDENLY READ AT A TWELFTH-GRADE LEVEL. THEY CAN’T TALK AND THEY CAN’T WRITE, BUT THEY CAN READ SILENTLY AND UNDERSTAND THE TEXT. MANY CATS LOVE THIS NEW SKILL, BECAUSE THEY NOW HAVE SOMETHING TO DO ALL DAY WHILE THEY LAY AROUND THE HOUSE; HOWEVER, A FEW CATS BECOME DEPRESSED, BECAUSE READING FORCES THEM TO REALIZE THE LIMITATIONS OF THEIR EXISTENCE (NOT TO MENTION THE UTTER FRUSTRATION OF BEING UNABLE TO EXPRESS THEMSELVES). THIS BEING THE CASE, DO YOU THINK THE AVERAGE CAT WOULD ENJOY GARFIELD, OR WOULD CATS FIND THIS CARTOON TO BE AN INSULTING CARICATURE? I don’t think they’d enjoy it or find it insulting. It’s Garfield. It’s just kind of there.

76. LET US ASSUME YOU MET A RUDIMENTARY MAGICIAN. LET US ASSUME HE CAN DO FIVE SIMPLE TRICKS – HE CAN PULL A RABBIT OUT OF HIS HAT, HE CAN MAKE A COIN DISAPPEAR, HE CAN TURN THE ACE OF SPADES INTO THE JOKER CARD, AND TWO OTHERS IN A SIMILAR VEIN. THESE ARE HIS ONLY TRICKS AND HE CAN’T LEARN ANY MORE; HE CAN ONLY DO THESE FIVE. HOWEVER, IT TURNS OUT HE’S DOING THESE FIVE TRICKS WITH REAL MAGIC. IT’S NOT AN ILLUSION; HE CAN ACTUALLY CONJURE THE BUNNY OUT OF THE ETHER AND HE CAN MOVE THE COIN THROUGH SPACE. HE’S LEGITIMATELY MAGICAL, BUT EXTREMELY LIMITED IN SCOPE AND INFLUENCE. WOULD THIS PERSON BE MORE IMPRESSIVE THAN ALBERT EINSTEIN? Not at all. Perhaps if he had some more useful tricks, he’d be more impressive than Einstein. But I think parlor tricks aren’t as big as deal as, say, revolutionizing physics.

Bears 41, Jaguars 3.

Today, for the first time ever, I attended a Chicago Bears game, thus fulfilling my eleventh resolution of the year. It was a bit disappointing; I had a Bubba Burger instead of a brat, a bottomless Pepsi instead of a beer, and the Bears fell 40 points short of the 78-point victory I predicted. I even neglected to have Malnati’s and Portillo’s shipped in for the occasion. Oh, well. Maybe next time.

The Bears better be careful… they’re nearing their annual quota for offense. Click to embiggen:

On the long walk in, while we were sitting in the seats, in the club area, on the long walk out, it seemed like all anyone was talking about was the insane number of Bears fans at the game. I assume many of them were snowbirds and transplants who normally root for the Jags, but showed their true colors today since the Bears were in town.

I was in the second deck, at the 44-yard line, on the Bears’ side. I sat next to a lady who wore teal. She saw my navy C-shirt and said, “You’re brave.” I pointed behind her: the next several rows back were full of navy. I said, “I’m safe.”

By game’s end it seemed like there were only three colors worn in the stadium: navy blue, burnt orange, and white. And I don’t mean Jaguars white, I mean Bears white. The Jags fans must’ve taken off really early. Here’s a photo I took of the home side of the stadium with two minutes left in the game (click to embiggen):

Maybe it’s just me, but the only teal left was on the empty seats.

I love that both Peanut and Briggs got pick-sixes in consecutive games. I love that the Bears’ defense outscored their opponents. Those are usually the best games (e.g., Bears-Cardinals 2006, the “crown their ass” game).

The Bears are beating the tar out of the teams they’re supposed to. The schedule gets a little bit tougher in the coming weeks; we’ll see how it goes.

About you.

An anonymous reader e-mails: “I want you to write a whole blog post about me. I know it may be tough, but you can do it.”

Well, here’s what I can tell you so far:

Based on the spacing and font of the message I received from you, you use a Mac or some other Apple device to read my blog. Statistically, that means there’s a roughly two-in-three chance that you prefer Pepsi to Coke, but will take RC over either of them. You spent an inordinate amount of time searching my blog for posts that contain the terms “octothorpe,” “capitalism,” “school,” “nougat,” and fourteen other terms that make me think it’s been too long since your last trip to see the kind men in white jackets. The time you spent typing the message (my stat program logs the time between clicks) strongly suggests you have stubby fingers and freakishly long humerus bones.

There’s more: you have a supernumerary feature that you’re too embarrassed to mention to anyone. You’re fluent in two languages, but one of them will go extinct in less than fifty years– and for a second there, you were worried that it might be your fault. It won’t be. You learned to read at age two, but you wasted it reading romance novels from grocery stores. You hate creamy peanut butter. You like ketchup on your steaks, which you always order well-done. You never believed in Santa, but you do believe in ghosts and hope to be the first person to walk on Jupiter. You refuse to sit in rocking chairs because the motion reminds you of the open sea. Your eyes change color when you’re asleep. You know six fractional approximations of pi that are accurate to six decimal places, but you think spiders are insects and you think Roger Moore was better than Sean Connery.

But to say much more than that would be presumptuous, since all I have is the one e-mail to go on.

On the referee lockout.

“Danford” writes:

Being an Econ man and all I would like to know your opinion on the refs lock out in the NFL. Are the owners being greedy??? Or are the refs asking to much to work 16 sundays a year??? Also do you feel it’s affecting the game??? I would just truly appreciate if you wrote a blog on this issue.

I don’t think the owners were being greedy. The owners didn’t want to pay more, and didn’t think they had to pay more to maintain a particular level of officiating. They found out the hard way that they were wrong, at least when it came to how happy the players/coaches/fans were with the officiating. I don’t know whether the lockout affected the owners’ revenues, and I don’t know whether any statistical analysis has shown the replacement refs to be worse than the real refs.

It has affected the game– there hasn’t been this much whining by the players, coaches, and fans since the ’87 strike. What a bunch of ninnies.

But again, there’s nothing greedy about thinking you can afford to pay no more than you have to for anything. If you use a coupon at the store, are you being greedy? If you shop around for a good price, are you being greedy?

I don’t think the refs were asking for too much… but that’s because the owners obviously ended up willing to pay them more, if I understood the terms of the cease-fire correctly. You’re not asking for too much money if somebody’s (eventually) willing to pay you. If nobody’s willing to pay you, then you asked for too much.

Here’s what really matters: the Bears were 2-1 with the replacement refs. If they do worse now that the real refs are back, then the real refs are overpaid.

By the way, stop using so many question marks, they don’t grow on trees.

A hideous scratch in the veil.

Late Wednesday afternoon, I woke up from a nap, put in my contacts, and felt something under my left eyelid. For the life of me, I couldn’t get it out. Rolling the eyelid didn’t work. Moving the contact around in hopes of dislodging the offending lash or particle didn’t work. Eye rinse didn’t work. Shower didn’t work. Holding my eyeball open under the faucet didn’t work. Nothing worked, but I found that leaving my contact in reduced the irritation slightly. I assumed that meant that there was a particle, a lash, or a scratch or a scar on my eyelid, and that my contact blocked it from touching my eyeball directly. I was sort-of-right.

I’ve had a broken toe, a twice-broken finger, deep gashes on my hands from art-class accidents with paper cutters and linoleum knives, and all kinds of aggravating aches and pains and tweaks from 30 years of soccer. I’ve sliced my tongue on a broken tooth. I’ve had boiling water poured on me, which grafted my shirt to my skin. I burned my hands on a wood stove, badly enough that I couldn’t use them for weeks and my three-year-old handprints are still on that stove. I’ve suffered acid burns. I’ve suffered caustic burns. I’ve had concussions. I’ve been stabbed*. I’ve been shot**. I was nearly suffocated by an out-of-control tugger while nearly being impaled on the axle of a giant spool of cloth behind me. And yet none of those pains matched that induced by whatever-it-was under my eyelid that I just couldn’t get out.

It was the most maddening sensation I’ve ever felt. I couldn’t get to sleep. I felt like Poe’s narrator and the old man with the vulture eye, and if I could have made it stop by dismembering myself and nailing myself under the floorboards, I would’ve.

Okay, that might be overstating it… but I did sterilize the ice cream scoop in case worse came to worst. Twas a shame I’d be losing my good eye.

I think I managed to get two hours of sleep that night, and woke up with my eye virtually sealed shut. I drove to school the next day, which was foolish– not the school part, but the driving part. Good thing everyone got out of my way in time. As soon as I got to work, I knocked on every door in the science wing, looking for an emergency eye wash. It helped a teensy bit. I suffered mightily throughout the day, high-tailed it to the eye doctor after work, prayed that I’d get there before the doctors went home, and practiced cursing them out if they left before I arrived.

The doctor put some stuff in my eye, had a look under a bluish light, and told me I had a corneal abrasion. Whatever relief the contact lens provided was due to the lens protecting the abrasion from the eyelid. He dilated my pupil and put some drops in my eye, which eased the pain tremendously. He wrote me a prescription for antibiotic drops to be administered hourly, and told me to check back the next day and the day after that.

Departing his office with virtually no pain in my eye was bliss, until I got outside. I’ve had my eyes dilated before, but apparently not like this. Right (normal) eye: blue, peaceful skies after a storm had cleared. Left (treated) eye: Hiroshima.

I slept like a log that night and woke up refreshed. Checked my eyeball in the mirror, and found that it was still dilated. Not nearly as red as it had been, and essentially pain-free, but freakishly dilated. That afternoon, the doctor assured me that that was normal.

Two more visits to the doctor, and everything appears to be all set. My pupils are normal again, and my eye feels fine, though not quite totally normal: I still have to magnify the text on this page to read it. I can’t wait for them to invent functioning prosthetic eyes, so if this ever happens again I can just pluck out my old eyeballs and implant new ones.

* On accident. With an X-ACTO knife.
** Not really.

An open letter to Mayor Emanuel.

Dear Mayor Emanuel,

Hear me out:

I currently teach in Duval County Public Schools. My base salary last year was approximately $41,000 due to having a bachelor’s degree and being in my tenth year of teaching .

The base salary of a full-time appointed teacher in a 38.6-week position in Chicago Public Schools with a bachelor’s degree and 10 years in the system was over $70,000 last year .

Your school system offered a nice raise to the teachers union, which responded by going on strike. I’ll take the union at its word that the strike is actually a response to the charter school movement and the evaluation system and so on and so forth, but still, it’s a nice raise they turned down.

With all that in mind, I make the following proposal:

Hire me to teach in one of your high schools for $70,000 per year, with whatever benefits you’d give to a tenth-year teacher. My salary will never change–not even for inflation– so that’s $70K this year, $70K five years from now, $70K ten years from now. You can use whatever evaluation system you think is “fair,” you can fire me at will, you can fire me without cause. And if I decide I made a mistake, or become unhappy with the job, or get tired of the snow, fine– I’ll quit, no harm, no foul. We’ll shake hands and that’ll be it.

Just drop me an email, and I’ll have my people talk to your people.

Sincerely,

Vincent D. Viscariello

P.S. Perhaps “sincerely” is a bit of an overstatement since I know you’ll never read this letter or make this deal, and if you did we’d probably both end up floating in the Chicago River with dry-erase markers jammed in our eye sockets. And I’m pretty darn happy with my job down here, so even the sweet deal I proposed might not be enough to pry me away. I guess the point of all this is that it’s been way too long since some of the teachers in your city went hungry.