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Friday, December 26, 2008

Science For The Home

While looking in at Yahoo! this morning ['bout 12:30 am, EST, to be accurate], I found the following: "Hobbyists experimenting with genetic engineering at home". Now students, for five extra points on your next pop quiz, can anyone tell me what might be wrong with this scenario? Anybody? What the Hell is wrong with you people? If this isn't a recipe for disaster, I'd like to know what is!



Granted, several marvelous things have come out of so-called "hobbyist" experiments, as the article points out [To their list I'd add the invention of disposable razor blades, vulcanized rubber, and the beginnings of the chewing gum industry. Those last two have more in common than you'd like to know, especially fans of Juicy Fruit. But I digress...]. But stacked up against those triumphs is the dismal record of other science dilettantes, at least in fiction. Consider Dr. Victor Frankenstein, the actual namesake of Mary Shelley's book [his constructed man, it should be pointed out, is referred to as "the Creature" throughout the story]. Now, the not-so-good doctor was actually experimenting in neurology [any competent plumber of the era could have worked out how to re-connect the blood and digestive systems, but even today, with exponentially greater knowledge of the human body, nerve repair is at best in the primitive stages], but the results of his labors do not bode well for the budding Home Scientist Movement.




Those of you out there who mis-spent part [or most] of your youth in reading comic books [no, NOT "Archie" ; by the way, did you know Arch, Jughead, Betty, Veronica, even Reggie, all have their own blogs at the company's web site? Almost makes me wish I'd taken up another form of expression] have certainly seen the dangerous effects of Home Science. How many villains, monsters, etc have been created by a scientific exploration gone awry? More than we can count, I fear. For those unable to read, consider programs like Dexter's Laboratory, or Johnny Test. Even the socio-political experiments of The Brain, in Pinky and The Brain, fail to give us much hope for the results.




Another potential puzzler; what if some of these scientific experiments pan out? Consider the case of Tom Dempsey, the first of only two players to kick a 63-yard field goal in a National Football League game. Careful perusers of the clip linked to above will note that Dempsey's kicking shoe is unusually shaped [a clearer look at his shoe is here. He was born without toes on his kicking foot, and so adopted a shoe with a broader striking surface. The debate over whether the odd shoe gave him an advantage over other kickers led to a rule change that forced future "toeless" kickers to wear traditional-shaped shoes on their kicking feet. The change came into effect just before Dempsey became a member of my beloved Buffalo Bills, and likely led to a drop-off in his kicking distance, and, probably not coincidentally, an end to his career. The Bills have no luck whatever...] If chance could give a kicker an [at least perceived] unfair advantage, what if some clever boyo throws some DNA in his or her handy Cuisinart, and creates an individual with giant arms? Great for passers, or receivers. How about humongous legs? Imagine running backs with pegs three or four times the size of a regular human. Better yet, imagine the lawsuits that will ensue if one of these genetically-altered behemoths demands the right to play. Great for lawyers; for the sport, not so good.




A final thought: I truly believe we need more, and better, teaching of science-related subjects [English, too, please] in our schools, but any parents who bought their children science lab kits for the holidays based on the positive image of scientists on TV in recent years are Just Asking For Trouble.




-Mike Riley

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

"Video Of The Week" - SPECIAL CHRISTMAS EDITION!

As I post this, it's very early on the morning of December 24th. Outside my studio window at work, a mix of rain and snow falls, reflecting the street lights, and turning the sky a mellow gold [the sleet/ice mix is going to make getting home after work a SPECIAL joy]. To paraphrase that James Stewart movie, it's a pretty decent existence, concidering.

As promised, here are a few holiday videos for your entertainment pleasure. I wanterd to hook up with the "Video Yule Log" people, but they wanted MONEY, and regular readers of this space know I am waaaaay cheap.

First up, U2's take on the Emerson, Lake and Palmer classic, "I Believe In Father Christmas":


Next up, from our Office Of People With Entirely Too Much Time On Their Hands, a rather spectacular Christmas lights display. The music, in case you're wondering, is from the Trans Siberian Orchestra:





You may have wondered how Santa and the reindeers fill in the time between Christmas visits. Well, I have it on very good authority that karaoke is somehow involved:



There are many great Christmas TV specials, but I've always enjoyed "A Charliec Brown Christmas":

And no Christmas is complete without Bing:


To those who stop by periodically, and even those few who are regular readers, on behalf of TheWomanILove, the Boys, and of course, myself, wishes for the merriest of Christmases, and the Happiest of New Years!

-Mike Riley

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Human Drama Of Athletic Competition...

Sometimes, I find a piece of video that has no relationship with anything I plan to write, but that I just want to include. Case in point:





In case I don't get back here before YOUR seasonal celebration of choice, please have the best of the holiday season! Unless something moves me to write, I don't plan to be back before December 26th. But check in periodically; I do have a few "Video of The Week" specials to include. Look for 'em...

-Mike Riley

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Eating Like A Genius

With all the parties, dinners, and what-not that go on this time of year, you, as was I, may be surprised to learn that December is only the sixth-busiest month of the year for eating out [according to the National Restaurant Association, which reports August is the busiest month. I guess people really don't like working in a hot kitchen].


I would guess that what time of year is the busiest for restaurants varies from place to place. In Scandinavia, for instance, December is probably near the top for diners, what with the two Nobel Prize banquets [the main one held in Stockholm, Sweden, with a satellite meal served in Oslo, Norway for the Peace laureate]. The Stockholm affair [which might have been the name of an episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.] serves some thirteen hundred guests, in a cavernous room inside Stockholm's City Hall [This room, although called the "blue" room, is actually a brick red. The ways of ancient cultures far surpass the understanding of younger nations, like the US] .


I wish I could tell you what was served[the 2008 dinner was presented Wednesday night, December 10th, the anniversary of Nobel's death. Seems like a bummer to me, commemorating a man's death with a banquet. Why can't they have it in June, when, I'm led to believe, Stockholm is resplendent in Spring colors? ], but that information is guarded as closely as the Launch codes for America's I.C.B.M.'s [Left-23, Right- one full turn past 23 to 19, Left - 6, in case you were wondering]. Thanks to an informative article in the current issue of The Scientist, I can report that the first course served to the 2007 Laureates featured lobster bits inside a circle of aspic, a disc of dill-baked halibut covered in a dome of fish roe, and apple salad, served with a "Nobel roll" [if this isn't a marketing deal waiting to happen for the Nobel Foundation, I don't know what is! Then again, it seems like the Nobel Foundation isn't suffering any "cash flow" issues. Although its finances are not public knowledge, it's believed the Foundation is sitting on a fund worth billions of US dollars. They probably aren't sweating the current recession...].


But the Foundation's solid resources do mean that the dinners served each year are, in a word, spectacular. Tastes change, of course: in the 1920's, turtle soup was frequently on the bill of fare, an item which might raise a few eyebrows today [are we far off from an all-vegetarian Nobel banquet? I think if Pamela Anderson would agree to attend, a deal could be worked out.]. But [another surprise], for about 200 US dollars per person, a restaurant located just below the "blue" room [see above] will recreate any Nobel banquet menu. A spokesman for the service says that people frequently enjoy meals served to their countrymen the year they were awarded the Nobel prize [Actually, as such gimmicks go, kind of charming, and probably more healthy than re-creating the pre-game meal before a typical Super Bowl game].


I've always been a bit curious about the Nobel Prizes; how do they decide who is honored, for instance. Is it like the Oscars, where blue-ribbon panels select a short list of nominees, then open their results to a vote? Or is it based on the Emmy [US television awards] model: anyone can nominate a candidate, then expert judges decide the winner? I'm pretty sure it's not set up like the "People's Choice Awards"; if it were, the person who invented the "Ov Glove" would have a Nobel prize on his or her mantelpiece.
Actually, the whole Nobel Prize arrangement is fascinating. Legend has it that a premature rumor about Alfred Nobel's death led to the publication of his obituary. In it, the write called Nobel "the merchant of death", owing to his invention of dynamite, and criticized dynamite for allowing more people to be killed more quickly than any previous invention. Nobel, so the story goes, was so disturbed by the whole thing that he immediately re-wrote his will to set up the Nobel Prizes [that will, by the bye, was so convoluted that it took a few years to set up the Foundation and its awards. There is still some debate over specific awards, disputing that Nobel's wishes have been truly honored.].
A tradition at the Masters golf tournament decrees that the previous year's winner selects the menu for the Winner's Banquet the next year. If I'm ever presented with a Nobel Prize [hey, sooner or later a blogger WILL win the literature award], and they ask my opinion, I'm recommending wither a Chinese food buffet, or take-out from KFC...
-Mike Riley

Monday, December 1, 2008

World Aids Day: Twenty Years On [A Bloggers Unite event]


There are all kinds of anniversaries: some commemorate happy events, like weddings or other achievements. Then there are the other kind. Today is the twentieth commemoration of "World Aids Day". Over the last score of years, many treatments have been discovered, extending the life of HIV/AIDS sufferers. But a few facts, culled from UNAIDS statistics, show how far we still need to go:
-33.2 million people, including two and one-half million children, have the HIV virus, which causes AIDS,
-last year, a new 2.5 million people became infected with HIV,
-about half of those who have HIV are infected before the age of 25, and are dead of AIDS by the age of 35,
-95% of AIDS cases are in the developing world, most notably in Africa. But no continent, save Antarctica, is free of AIDS victims.
I have heard that many, if not most, bloggers are under the age of 25. You're too young to remember the waves of prejudice and revulsion that followed the first cases of AIDS, in the late-70's/early 80's. Since the majority of sufferers in those days were gay, or intravenous drug users, there was a frequently stated opinion from some religious leaders, and their followers, that AIDS was nothing more or less than "God's vengeance" on those who chose to live outside the norms of society [conveniently forgetting that Christ made it a point to live with, and cure, those who lived outside the norms of His society].
As the 80's continued, two groups of AIDS victims emerged. One group were those who had been contaminated by untested blood transfusions infected with the HIV virus [a famous member of this group was tennis star Arthur Ashe]; the others came from the pool of gay males/intravenous drug users who were the first victims. A majorly unexpected member of this group was Rock Hudson. He had built a career in the movies on his "manly" reputation, but had been living a secret gay sex life for most of his Hollywood career. The announcement of his infection led to action from [former movie star and] then-President Ronald Reagan, who belatedly realized that the AIDS crisis might reach into the world of his friends and former co-stars. He came to the table late, but he at least opened up the discussion in Washington.
Then the circumstances changed. AIDS crossed into the heterosexual community. Basketball star Magic Johnson admitted that a groupie-filled lifestyle had led to his infection. A growing number of women found themselves carriers of the HIV virus. Under-developed nations discovered they, too, were victims. A growing chorus of protests and complaints led to research, and discovery, of drugs that helped many HIV/AIDS sufferers to lead longer, more healthy lives. But the goal of all disease research, a cure, remained elusive, and is still undiscovered today.
So, twenty years on from the first "World AIDS Day", where are we? Relief for the rich, suffering for the poor, is what it looks like to me. Understand, HIV/AIDS is only one of many illnesses that needs more research [I have a rooting interest in one or two diseases that should be better supported]. Let's fund more research for all the diseases that plague mankind. But let's not stop research on HIV/AIDS!
In conclusion, then; if you use intravenous drugs, don't share needles. If you're sexually active, with multiple partners, wear a condom, or make sure your partner is wearing one. Putting the question of unwanted pregnancy aside, condom use by the sexually-active has been shown to be an effective means of preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS, as well as other STD's. Your Older Bro somehow danced through the 80's and 90's unscathed. I'm sure that, on an occasion or two, I was playing Russian Roulette with my life. Somehow, I got lucky. It's not a risk I would care to take again. It's not a risk YOU should take. The younger you are, the more "bullet-proof" you believe yourself to be. No matter how good the sex may be, it's not worth risking your life over it. Sorry to come off like your parents, for God's sake, but I really have your best interests at heart, I promise...
-Mike Riley

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Piper's Revenge



In case you weren't aware of it, many of our so-called "fairy tales" are, or are said to be, "inspired by true events" [as you'd see at the beginning of a TV movie based on, say, the just-finished US Presidential election]. One of the most intriguing of these is "The Pied Piper Of Hamlin". The Pied [that word, by the way, just means he was colorful, NOT a fan of crust-based desserts] Piper came to the German town of Hamlin, offering to rid the community of an on-going plague of rats [themselves carriers of plague, ironically], in exchange for a small fee. The town leaders, knowing Hamlin was desperately in need of a good de-ratting, agreed.


At this point, Mr. Piper reached into his bag, and produced a music pipe. He began to play, and the town was amazed [amazed, mind you] to see the rats follow the man out the town gates, and out of sight [rumor has it that he led the rats to the outskirts of the next village over, getting ready to shake its residents down to get the rats out. The Piper probably made a fair living in 13th-century Germany, leading the same pack of rats around]. Eventually, he returned, and asked for his money. The town burghers [city leaders, not a bunch of ground meat-based entrees] conceded the thing with the rats and the flute was a good trick, but not worth what they'd planned to pay him. So they made him a new offer: leave quietly, or be beaten to death by some community-minded thugs [the fairy tale doesn't put things so bluntly; it just says the town refused to pay him. But I think we can all see how it went down].
So the piper brought out his pipe again. But this time, he played music designed to attract Hamlin's children. He led them off into the forest, never to be seen again in Hamlin [more than a few of them turned up in the next village over. Hey, it was the 13th-century!. Child labor laws weren't in effect, and some of those children made good workers. Besides, that village PAID THE PIPER [the source of that phrase, in case you didn't know]. All this, by the way, was said to have gone down in the summer of 1284.
Fast forward about 725 years. You'll never guess what German town has been infested by an army of rats. Yeah, the cheapskate Northern Germany community of Hamlin. It almost comes off like the set-up to a bad-B movie [you know, the kind that Jack Black played in before he got popular. The kind that Paulie Shore can't get out of. You know the type. A movie that's destined to be the second feature at your nearest drive-in THE WEEK IT COMES OUT. Think of three words: "direct to video". On a good day.
I'll be curious to see how Hamlin extracts itself from this one. The Pipers' Union is standing firm, refusing to enter the village in solidarity with their ripped-off predecessor. As for "scabs", James Galway wants no part of it, and Jean-Pierre Rampal died eight years ago. That leaves desperate-for-work Ian Anderson, best known for leading the art-rock collective known as Jethro Tull. He'd rather not cross the picket lines, frankly. But a man's gotta eat. Watch this blog for updates, if they have the potential for humor [I'm not saying I'll get them there. But they gotta have at least the potential].
-Mike Riley

Monday, November 10, 2008

Bloggers Unite: The Expanding Crisis


In the midst of the current worldwide economic crisis, it's hard to find "growth industries". Sadly, a prosperous, and expanding, sector is the creation of refugees. Beside the on-going tragedy that is Darfur, and the decades-long Palestinian dispersion [to name just two of too, too many], we can add the blossoming crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the war-related misery in Iraq [and make no mistake: while the roots of this ethnic-based conflict existed before the United States, never mind our involvement in the Middle East, we are also responsible for the pain that our recent actions have caused].
A few facts, courtesy of the United Nations:
- about 50 million people worldwide are believed to be victims of forced displacement;
- nearly two-thirds of the world's refugees come from nations in the Middle East or Africa;
-the current understanding of the term "refugee" includes persons who are displaced by armed conflict, but who remain within the borders of their country of origin.
Here's a little exercise [Warning: this will probably make you feel at least a little anxious. It should]: Imagine it's the middle of the night in your quiet neighborhood. Suddenly an explosion rocks your safe, secure home. Startled, half-awake, you cautiously peer out your bedroom window. Two doors down, a house is demolished. It's surrounded by a group of screaming men, many of them carrying guns. You hear thuds on your door. You won't open it, of course, but that doesn't matter. A crash informs you that it's been smashed in! The mob, or army, or you don't know what rushes in! If God, or Allah, or whomever you pray to, is kind, the invaders will simply force you out into the street. If your god is very kind, the invaders may even allow you to gather what you can carry before you leave. But if your god is not with you, or if you worship the wrong god, you are truly and horribly on your own. Just ask the tens of thousands murdered by invading forces, or the thousands of women raped and forced into sexual service by a marauding army. Or ask the millions left with no food and water, forced to wander, searching for a place of safety, a place with food and water, a place of rest. Welcome to the world of the refugee...
Not a hopeful picture, is it? We call ourselves civilized. But if we ignore the nightmare of the world's refugees, we have no business aspiring to any higher level of being. "But what can I do?", you ask. First of all, be aware! Check your news sources for information. Google the word "refugee" [as of the moment this is written, there are more than two million entries; something there should be informative]. Make sure your children are informed, whether or not their schools are involved in educating them about the crisis [here is a site sponsored by the UN that gives a good overview of the issues]. If such a response is appropriate for you, pray. Contact your political leaders [how hard is it to send them an e-mail?], letting them know your concerns. Discuss the refugee problem with friends and family. Read more blogs on this topic [it is a Bloggers Unite issue on Monday, November 10th; more than a few of your favorite sites will probably be addressing it]. Above all, use your humanity! Remember our little exercise. Someday, it could be you,
-Mike Riley

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Another Of Your Author's Secret Fears Revealed

Okay, I've got a question, and I want an answer now:


"What is the deal with birds flying around inside supermarkets?". You heard me.

This is not some paranoiac rant [I've done enough of those over the years that I think you'd know the difference]. This is a legitimate question, dammit! I keep seeing birds flying around inside supermarkets [I took the photo at left so that you'd believe me. Unfortunately, the camera was set on "portrait" and the bird flew out of frame. But it's there. Just out of your field of vision, but it's there!]. I can be in a store, picking up a loaf of bread and some cereal, and there the filth-carrying creature is, flying across the supermarket, as unconcerned as can be [do birds feel concern? How the Hell should I know? I'm a blogger, dammit, not a scientist!].

As you may have guessed from this entry's title, birds flying around inside a supermarket plays into one of my Secret Fears. It's not that I'm going out of my way to keep them secret; otherwise, this post would almost certainly be about something else. They're just fears that aren't obvious to the nekkid eye when you first see me [like the fear of losing the four or five hairs that desperately cling to the top of my head; talk about your endangered species!]. Lord knows, we all have them [hey, if you were perfectly adjusted, would you be reading/writing blogs?]. One of mine, obviously, is birds flying around inside a building. Birds flying around outside, oddly enough, make no impression on me one way or the other. But get them flying around inside your [otherwise] Friendly Neighborhood Building, and Mr. Riley is, well, unnerved.


Oh, crap! There's one now! Wait a minute, it's outside. And it's a photo. Turn off the alarms, boys. Let the adrenaline run out. No danger here! Seriously though, just like Mr. Jackson and his disliked Snakes On A Plane [why do I have a feeling that that phrase turns up in standard lists of waitress lingo? I don't know what kind of sandwich comes up when you order it, but I'll wager that's where the phrase comes from], birds flying around inside a building turns the contents of my digestive track to liquid. I once had two friends who operated a pet store. Very nice place, all in all. The animals they sold were well-cared for and healthy, and the store was clean and friendly [of course, it closed within 18 months. Maybe people really prefer "pet mill" animals]. The only thing I truly disliked about the store were the parrots and cockerels that were allowed to fly around the store. Their wings had been clipped [a standard practice in such matters, I'm told, and not injurious to the birds], so they couldn't fly far, but they did have the freedom of the place. Unlike supermarket birds, they did not stay close to ceiling level, but flew at a height of about 5' 7 1/2" off the ground. This put them at head height, in relationship to me [and, of course, just over the heads of the store owners]. Nothing like a bright red, beak-and-claw equipped creature known to capture animals in mid-flight, zooming straight for you, wanting to perch, adorably, on your shoulder. Perhaps if I were a peg-legged, crusty old sea captain [instead of a crusty old blogger], I'd be more interested in the photo op. As it is, though, not so much.


But enough about me. Let's return to the birds in supermarket question. I've asked around [you'd be surprised how little formal information exists on this vital issue], and my "experts" [some of whom work in supermarkets, some do not] have given me the following theories:

-supermarkets get constructed around them. Maybe. Birds nest in some rather surprising places, and I can see the appeal of a building skeleton to your young couple interested in starting a family. But why then do you almost never see birds in other types of newly-constructed building?

-they fly in through open supermarket doors, seeking warmth. Okay, I understand that. But, again, why are they so rare in other types of buildings?

-birds fly in through the loading doors in back of the supermarket, then fly into the main part of the store. Again, clear enough. I can even picture a hungry bird choosing a supermarket as a good source of food. But other types of stores sell food [non-Super Center Wal-Marts, for instance], and you almost never see birds in them! A related question; if you shop at one of these bird-infested supermarkets, have you ever seen food damaged by some gull catching a quick breakfast? I never have, and I frequently shop very early in a market's business day [they can't have found all the opened packages, every time]. If they're not eating there, where and what do they eat? And do I truly not want to know?
Oh, God! Not again! And there's a hundred of them! No, wait. Outside. Photo. Calm down. Anyway, this bird thing can really wear a guy out. And not in a good way.
No birds [or humans] were injured in the making of this post.
Personal note: November 4th [Tuesday] is Election Day in the United States. No matter who you support, please get out and vote for them...
-Mike Riley

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

In Which Mike Is Led, Kicking And Screaming, Into The Current Century




Ya know, when it comes to technology, I'm a regular Luddite. I don't find technology particularly sinful or immoral. I'm just very slow to adopt it. Take MP3 players. I've seen all the specs about how much music you can fit on one [and, to that extent, feel free to believe the hype]. The problem for me [and anyone else who went for the low-end models; stay away from RCA (just my advice, of course. But based on some experience)] is that the songs on the device get boring thru repetition. And it's not easy coming up with another 300 new "favorite" songs every time you want to change your tunes. Personally, I've gone back to the portable CD player, and if you're like me you will too.



Anyway, my boss here in Radioland has been after me to join a socialist [oh, sorry: social-networking. Although I wonder if there's really much difference] site. He recommended Facebook, based, I'd expect, on his positive experiences with it. Sign-up was easy enough, though the system seemed to keep you jumping around [or at least give the option to do so] from one area to another. You move, seemingly willy-nilly, from finding Friends, to writing your Profile, to who knows what else. It's fun, but nearly as time consuming as dropping ECs. Then again, you do meet people. I've gotten friendship requests from people I haven't seen since high school. Which brings up another potentially awkward question: if we had too little in common to connect after Grade 12, waddya gonna talk about after 20 or more years' separation? Let's face it: there's only So Much you can say about your kids [and Person B about his or hers', Before long, you're trying to figure out which choke hold to end the conversation with [my personal favorite is the choke slam, favored by The Undertaker, among others. The Woman I Love, on the other hand, favors the cross-neck arm bar, currently quite popular as a finishing move in mixed martial arts. You can just imagine the two of us at church socials].

So, about a decade after the beginning of the social network movement [and only four-and-two-thirds years after the founding of Facebook], Bubby has joined the s/n world [as opposed to the s/m world. Which I don't belong to. Not that there's anything wrong with it]. Look for me on Facebook, be my friend [if you're into that sort of thing], and maybe, just maybe, I'll give this MP3 thing another try...

-Mike Riley



Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day - Dodging Bullets

As a nation, we here in the US have become exceptionally good at dodging bullets. I mean, just when the economic framework was about to go ker-plunk, the Government steps in to prop it up. The banks will be secure, the stock market is stabilizing, even gas prices [one economic factor that affects virtually everyone, what with shipping costs being factored into product prices and all] are coming down a bit. But it may be a bit early for the Nationwide Sigh Of Relief. After all, a check of history reveals that stock prices rebounded briefly in the days after the Crash of 1929. Not every bank that collapsed in the Great Depression went under in the first days after the Crash. And the global picture is not as secure as ours, if indeed, ours IS that secure.


Of course, the last time we faced anything like this was the Great Depression of 1929 and thereafter. To those born after its conclusion, no explanation is possible. For those who lived through it, no explanation is necessary. The roots seem to be the same: bad investments, naked greed, speculation by people who had no business dropping a bet in penny-ante poker, no less the high-stakes of Wall Street. And, as in 1929 and following, it's likely Government, through taxation and benefit cuts to the groups within Society that can least afford to be hit, that will shoulder the burden of paying it all off. Oh, wait; in the 1930's, the US Government put protections in place to help those most affected by the Crash. I KNEW there was a difference somewhere.

The point we should all keep in mind, however, is this: as grinding as a depression would be here, there are unknown millions living in poverty that even Depression-era survivors could not envision. We need to reach the hopeless poor, those who can't even imagine rising above the lowest level of existence. How can you and I do this? Two words: GET INVOLVED! Find a group who tries to help the poor. Join it. If you can donate to charity, do it. Here's one we can all do: it's election season. Canada held its vote yesterday [congratulations on your re-election, Mr. Harper: just remember, though, minority governments have been known to fall over social issues], the US goes to the polls on November 4th, and much of the rest of the world will vote sometime in the next year or two. Seek out candidates and parties committed to helping those in poverty, at home and abroad. If your politicians aren't talking about poverty, call them out to do so [hey, it's your vote: the least you can do is be informed]. And remember: one person living a diminished life diminishes us all.

-Mike Riley

Friday, October 10, 2008

Don't Give Us The Money!


There have been times when I've felt like Calvin. Oddly enough, though, this is not one of them. Let me explain. In recent days, stories of bailouts have been popping up in newspapers around the world [not that I read newspapers from around the world; frankly, anything not in English would be difficult. Get away from the so-called "Romance" languages, and I'd be totally lost. As I sometimes am in English]. It seems like every nation with the economic wherewithal to prop up an industry or two is doing just that. Here in the U-S-of-A, the Government has committed hundreds of billions of dollars [a figure I can barely comprehend] in an attempt to keep the financial marketplace standing. Meanwhile, military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan [comparative bargains, at roughly a billion dollars a month] continue, with little or no discussion as to an end-date, except for a few Presidential candidates. Let's put this in perspective. On January 20, 2001, George W. Bush sat atop a comfortable budget surplus. In eight years, his administration, aided and abetted by, among others, Congress, the Judiciary, and those people who voted for him in 2004 after seeing how the previous years had gone, drained the surplus and left a crushing debt for our children, grandchildren, and probably great-grandchildren to pay off. And these are the "fiscal conservatives"!
Anyway, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is floating a modest 1.4 Billion dollar plan to pump some money into the economy. Much of it would go into social service programs, but there is apparently some talk of another "economic stimulus" check for most Americans. Don't get me wrong; The Woman I Love and I made [mostly] good use of the free cash earlier this year. But I think of the unborn generations that are already set to be gob-smacked, and I don't know how I feel. I mean, the social service aid part of the plan should be carried out, if possible. But more "money for nothing"? I dunno. Besides, the last round of checks was supposed to encourage us to spend, right? I don't know about you, but most of our money went into paying bills. (Not that there's anything wrong with that)
So, talk it out among yourselves, but perhaps this isn't the best time for a free handful of cash [of course, if I owned Wal*Mart stock, I'd be screaming for the handout].
-This is just me, of course,
Mike Riley

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Asking For Clarification




Okay. Lemee see if I've got this straight: the US [and by extension, most of the rest of the world] is on the knife-edge of a possibly cataclysmic financial crisis. Economic experts across the political spectrum agree that Something must be done, and quickly. The President suggest a plan, which even he acknowledges is far from ideal, but the best that can be done at the moment. Several days of rapid negotiations follow. A deal is in place, then it isn't. Finally, a package is settled on by leaders of both parties. In a rare show of statesmanship [especially nowadays], the Democrats throw nearly-full support behind it. Both major Presidential candidates [who probably would have preferred to sidestep the whole thing] get on board. Then, at voting time, the majority of Republicans leave their President swinging in the breeze. Their defection, along with the few Democrats who never agreed to support the package, is enough to kill the proposal. Have I basically got this right? If I do, I'd like to interject Leno's Question [the famous inquiry from Leno to Hugh Grant, after Grant had been arrested for soliciting. This was at the time Grant was in a long-term relationship with Elizabeth Hurley, a woman so mind-bogglingly beautiful that men across the planet were willing to surrender one of "the boys", in exchange for just the possibility of using the other one with her]:

"What were you thinking?"

I mean, you've left the President [in theory, the highest-ranking member of your party] in disgrace [although anyone arguing that he had already placed himself there will get at least a hearing from me], your party's candidate in the upcoming Presidential election in the lurch [McCain reportedly was no more than lukewarm to the plan in the first place], not to mention the economic chaos that much-smarter people than I in such matters [much smarter than most of the Congressmen as well, unless I miss my guess] say is certain to ensue.Well, I, for one have to say I will NEVER call the Democratic Party disorganized again!


Of course, those of you who live in countries using the Parliamentary system of government have the right to snicker at our confusion [the UK, whose famous Houses of Parliament are pictured at right, is just one example].Under that form of governance, Monday's vote would probably constitute a vote of "no confidence" [if I understand the circumstance rightly]. When the Republican proposal was defeated, the Democrats, being the majority party in both US Houses, would immediately form a new government [and just imagine all the hassle that would save us over the next six weeks!]. I don't know what will happen next here, but, personally, I plan to save all my EC credits. At the going rate [1,000 @ $USD 6.00], I might just be able to keep a roof over my head!
-Mike Riley

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Dangerous Questions

[This post is mainly for guys; women, of course, are free to read it, but, as they are all too well aware of the techniques revealed within, why would they?]

As regular readers of these wrds can tell you, I recently [earlier this week] became a year older [51, to be exact; I'm not particularly sensitive about aging. It's that sudden stop at the end that bothers me...] As a representative of "experience" on the Blogosphere [not "knowledge", mind you, but "experience"], I'm taking it on myself to alert some of our less-schooled male readers to consider their words carefully, especially when in conversation with A Person we'll call, for sake of identification, That Special Someone [and yes, there is a romantic component at work here. Just so's ya know...]

As anyone who's ever been in A Romantic Relationship can tell you, there are difficult conversations that can creep up at the least desirable
moments [examples of these include inquiries about phone numbers found in your possession, requests for further details on the Person That Special Someone's Best Friend saw you out with last night, and so on]. The dangers of those questions would seem obvious to anyone. Candid replies may not work ideally in these scenarios, but, as always, do what seems best. Remember, honesty is not a bad option [especially if Last Night went better than you'd hoped].

Sometimes, however, questions can come from the worst possible place; the imagination of one or both parties to the relationship [if there are more or less than two parties to said relationship (at least under normal circumstances), get that situation well in hand before any further mayhem can ensue]. There are few questions more terrifying [or more dangerous] to Our Young Man In Love, than the school based around variations on "What if?" You probably have heard of the type: "Honey, if I were to die suddenly [NEVER a good place for the conversation to go], would you start dating again?" Your best option with this type of question is to invoke Phyfe's Rule; nip it in the bud!

But People Who Love can be wily [though, now that I think of it, I don't remember seeing any Road Runner cartoons that speculated on the love life of one Wile E. Coyote. But I digress], asking questions that slide into the hot fantasy category. Example; "Sweetie, if I could share you for the night with any woman in the world [or man, if more suitable to your situation. As always, your mileage may vary], who would it be?" For the love of God, never answer that question! Like a choice between a buzz saw and a vat of acid, there is NO safe option! For example, my quandary: I've always found Jo Frost, Television's SuperNanny, rather hot. Maybe it's the glasses; maybe it's the womanly proportions on that girl; maybe it's the prospect of being sent to the Naughty Chair [I can't wait to see what the "Comments" page does with this revelation]; at any rate, there you are.

Not so long ago, The Woman I Love [certainly not a courtesy title] asked that one; myself, being in a less than rested state, made the mistake of Candor. What in Hell was I thinking? I don't think TWIL was so much offended as completely puzzled by my pick. And there was no explaining it, of course.

So, Young Lovers, whomever you are, hello. Be vewy, vewy careful how you answer the Dangerous Questions. And, for those who MUST ask, follow the Attorney's Principle and NEVER ask a question that you don't know the answer to! Or want to know...

-Mike Riley

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Watching The Wheels Fall Off...

Is it just moi, or are any of the rest of you on the Blogosphere having trouble executing a three-point turn without encountering Something New about Sarah Palin, the Republican candidate for vice-president? And when are we to hear something substantive from the political flavor du jour?
Like most people, I thought Palin's selection by Presidential candidate John McCain came out of right field. Yes, I've heard all the comments that she has more "executive experience" than Barack Obama [and for the moment, let's ignore the fact that Palin probably administers more elk and caribou than humans]. Sure, Democratic veep choice Joe Biden once lifted part of a major speech from one given in the English Parliament, without acknowledgment. What college sophomore, in this Internet era, can say he or she hasn't committed the moral equivalent of that act? (We can't call it edifying, but it was almost inevitable)
I wouldn't even mind the Palinmania that seems to be sweeping the US, if she'd at least had a hit single or two [I mean, the Beatles waited to come here until they were atop the US charts]. My memory of the Eighties isn't as good as it used to be, but I don't seem to remember Geraldine Ferraro getting this much hype when the Democrats nominated her for VP. Could it be because [Heaven forbid] she's a former beauty-pageant contestant/TV sportscaster/"pothead" [by her own admission]? (I was the second and third, but have never entered a beauty contest. For obvious reasons...)

I guess my real problem here is that, at a time when the Other Issues [war, economic free fall, loss of world respect, (add whatever I've missed)], we're dwelling on eyeglasses, hair styles, and other peripheral matters. Then again, how is this different from any of our recent Presidential elections? For God's sakes, people, FOCUS...

-Mike Riley

Friday, September 12, 2008

Something New [to me, anyway]

Sometimes discovering new things is accomplished by hard work; other times, it's just a matter of checking your EntreCard "in" box. Case in point: a new advertiser, Ritualistic, has a featured post on the machinima Red vs Blue. I think I may have seen some of this stuff somewhere before, but this is the first time it's made a real impression. Like a lot of "genre" comedy albums that came out in the 70's and 80's ["doper", "wiseass", "celebrity impersonations", etc], this can probably get old very quickly, but the good people at Roosterteeth [creators of "RvB" and possibly inventors of the whole machinima art form], at least in their first series, have some funny shit, man [Sorry. I almost put out a "doper" album in '83]. Since the story line of RvB involves soldiers, they talk like soldiers [IE, curse words, etc. If you let your kids watch most R-rated movies, they've probably heard everything they'd hear here. But be advised].
As I understand it, the original series is posted on YouTube; search for "RvB" or "Roosterteeth" and you should be fine. There are worse ways to spend some time on a Sunday [or Saturday, as the case may be].
-Mike Riley

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Do Not Disturbia...




As anyone who pays even the slightest bit of attention to reality can tell you, things in this life have a tendency to repeat [consider the peppers I had for dinner tonight. Or don't]. Consider World War I, followed twenty or so years later by World War II [The Sequel]. More to the point, consider the two movie posters reproduced above. On the left, it's James Stewart and Grace Kelly, promoting the classic Alfred Hitchcock film Rear Window. On the right, Shia LaBeouf, in a poster for last year's Disturbia. Pretty similar, aren't they? Both include a man holding binoculars, and feature a black - and - red color scheme [although anyone who dares to compare Mr. Stewart and Mr. LaBeouf's acting talent will personally get bitch-slapped by me for being a wise-ass].

Anyway, in a new lawsuit playing to early critical acclaim, the owners of the original story ["Murder From A Fixed Viewpoint"] claim that, since Disturbia is such a precise copy of [oh, let's be nice and call it homage to] Rear Window, it, like the Hitchcock predecessor, should have paid royalties to use that story [as Alfred Hitchcock and James Stewart, who conceived the idea of making the movie, did].


What makes this all the more fascinating is the fact that Steven Spielberg was Executive Producer on Disturbia. One would think Spielberg, of all people, would know better. He must have seen this coming when major reviews in New York and Toronto noted the glaring similarities [while noting that, for all that, it was a reasonably well-made movie. But no Rear Window].




Anyway, I had an idea. In future, whenever a movie too closely copies another film, domestic or foreign, without openly admitting it, half the profits should go into research. After all, there are only supposed to be seven "plots". It's time for the creative people of the world to fill in the many gaps on the Periodic Table of Plots [or, at the very least, come up with an eighth plot!].


- Mike [humming She Blinded Me With Science] Riley
P.S.: I'm Michael Riley, and I do not approve this message.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Seeing Is Believing

In 1968, as the Vietnam War was at its height, no newscaster was more respected in the United States than Walter Cronkite [left]. Dutifully, he had been reporting on the US incursion based on Government-supplied information. But he began hearing reports from colleagues on the scene that led him to question exactly what was happening in that corner of Southeast Asia. As an "old school" journalist [he had reported with distinction during World War II a quarter-century earlier], Cronkite wanted to explore these stories himself. He finally persuaded CBS [the network he worked for] to send him to Vietnam, and report from the war zone. While there, he spoke to officers and enlisted men, official and unofficial sources. And he came to a disturbing conclusion; he, and the rest of the American people, were being lied to.



In his reports from Vietnam, and his reporting on the War thereafter, Cronkite was a changed man. In an editorial, he said what many on the scene had said; the War, as it was being fought, was unwinnable. His coverage changed the opinions of many at home.

Something similar happened a few years ago, when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast region of the United States, with special destruction reserved for the city of New Orleans. Journalists on the scene saw the destruction and death, and were amazed that the Government attempted to say, "All is well".Their reports reflected what they saw and heard.

Now that region, still rebuilding from Katrina, is about to be challenged again. AS this is being written, Hurricane Gustav is about twelve hours from reaching land in the Gulf. To be fair, the lessons learned from Katrina are bearing fruit. New Orleans, a city built below sea level, has been evacuated. The Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA] is on the scene. Equipment and the military are there [it's a pity so many are unavailable, fighting another unwinnable war]. Once again, the Gulf region, and the world, holds its breath.

Those of you who pray, or meditate, or believe in positive thinking: please send your thoughts to New Orleans and environs. No area should go through what they have gone through.

Again.

-Mike Riley










Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Summer Madness










No, no, not that Summer [Donna Summer, in case you're unaware]!!!









Yes, that Summer [the season, not the Queen of Disco]. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, our warm-weather bacchanals are almost over. We're already having nighttime lows of around 50 degrees F here in Western New York State, and it's just a matter of time before the daytime highs drop below that. Of course, our loss is the Southern Hemisphere's gain, as South America, Africa, Oceania, and the other parts of the world below the Equator get their "Seasons In The Sun".




Hopefully, you got more out of your summer [or will get more, if you're a proud Southern Hemispherer] than I did. For some reason, I didn't get much of anywhere or do much of anything. Now, The Woman I Love got out to Oklahoma for a conference, but Yours Truly got no farther than outside our local casino, to see Joan Jett in a free show [pretty good, by the bye. Of course, that was just last weekend...].





Let's see now; any big trends from the Summer just ending? America - a land sick of politics [these elections seem to have peaked too early, unless Candidate "A" or Candidate "B" self-destructs in some truly spectacular manner. We can only hope]. Big Summer Song: Sweet Home Alaba-no, Werewolves Of Lon - no, it's really All Summer Long - Kid Rock's heavy-handed homage to the above songs, as well as an admission that K-Rock's adolescence wasn't really any more interesting than yours or mine. Except that he got some. Olympic Athlete That Those Who Prefer The Male Anatomy Would Most Like To Get Some From; Michael Phelps, in a walk-over [that swimmer's physique is an acquired taste, but a joy forever. Or so I'm told...].





Then again, even those who actually did stuff this Summer are pikers, compared to the brave folk of Finland, where everything is a Summer festival. (Poor, sad Denmark, settling for the "Kicking Vanilla Ice Cream" championship! Now, a "Kicking Vanilla Ice" competition, that would bring in the crowds!)






Is there a moral to all this? Well, there's still time to get out and enjoy what's left of Summer [or to plan ahead if, once again, you're in the Southern Hemisphere]. And, since Winter is the longest-lasting season around here [some years, it seems like forever], there's plenty of time to fill your dance card [I've actually been invited to review a marital aid. You can't imagine my anticipation...]. Anyway, get out of the house, and get some fresh air, whydoncha?


-Mike Riley

Friday, August 22, 2008

No Sudden Moves


Okay. I've taken a few days to relax [what the Hell was that noise? Is someone out there?]. I've taken as many deep breaths as I can without bringing on [where's that flash of light from?] dizziness.I've even kept away from all those [who is that out there?] "conspiracy theory" blogs. Despite my paranoid theories to the contrary, Blogger does not seem to be targeting my blog for its dreaded editing spiders [For several minutes at a time now, I even believe that they don't have editing spiders]. I still don't know what caused the "masking" of passages in this blog [see previous post for all the paranoiac ramblings], but, based on the sane [-sounding] words of reassurance [especially from Deb, who probably would be censored if anyone I know would], Blogger does not censor, nor does it edit [That asserted, I would love to know what happened. If anyone from Google is reading this, first, I bow down to our earthly masters and, two, what is that all about, anyway?].

Like many disillusioned blog-meisters, I've re-done my site [more changes to come, I suspect], did some preliminary sniffing at a WordPress site [I don't know enough xhtml to switch], then decided to throw in the towel and make peace with Blogger. It may be an uneasy peace on both sides, but awkward rest is better than no rest at all.

On a totally unrelated matter; what is the big deal about women table-tennis players? I'm referring to a campaign by the International Association that oversees the sport, trying to get its top stars to dress, shall we say, more sexily [as a healthy, card-carrying male, of course the prospect is appealing. But shouldn't that be up to the individual players to decide for themselves?]. The Powers That Be in table tennis, seeing the skirts worn in traditional tennis and, in recent years, badminton [not to mention the uniforms of choice in beach volleyball], decided that tarting up their women players will bring a few more male viewers into the tent. Except for the fact that the plan will probably work, as a man I'd be insulted! Let it be noted, though: during one of the women's track events this past week, one of the runners was from the Muslim nation of Bahrain. She wore a traditional track suit, of course - over a white-colored garment that covered her entire body except for her head and feet. I don't remember where she finished [not in the top 3], but I remember the outfit, both as a reflection of her religious beliefs, and as distinctive track garb. Maybe table tennis should go for the "mystery" factor; cover 'em up, and let your fans fantasise all they want!

-Mike Riley

Monday, August 18, 2008

An Open Letter To My Readers

Readers and Friends-



First of all, my sincere apologies for what happened to last weekend's scheduled contest. The topic announcement [previous post] had some series issues, which I will address shortly. Possible participants may have been driven away by the confusing nature of the post as published. Others, who may have somehow pieced out the meaning, may have considered the topic "Why I ride side-saddle" beneath contempt [actually, it came from a 50's American TV show with a similar concept]. At any rate, there were no entries. No entries - no prize.Sorry. Please understand that none of this was my intention.

Since this happened, I've been trying to figure out what went wrong. Here's what I've come up with so far:

-the contest was poorly conceived. Very possible. It certainly wasn't set up like most contests of late. There was no required series of things to do to acquire "points". But there was a reason for that. I wanted a contest that didn't require you to do things you really didn't want to do. Hey, I'd love it if you subscribe to this feed. But only if you're really interested in reading it, and don't want to miss any posts. Otherwise, it's just "invited spam" and, quite frankly, who needs it? Is it really possible that people prefer jumping through hoops to doing a bit of creative writing? Another question I've been mulling over. The jury is still out on that one.

-it was poorly publicised. Again, very possible. One thing that requiring contestants to blog about the contest does is to spread the word quickly. And certainly anyone could have written about it if they so chose. But it was not a requirement, and, looking back, I don't think I'd make it one even now.

-did running a contest on my blog violate some arcane Blogger regulation? Uncertain, but I doubt it. I don't know anyone who carefully reads every word of the Blogger rules before creating a blog. I know I didn't. If that is the case, my bad. Again, sorry.

That's what I've got so far. I'm sure there are other factors that may occur to me, as I replay the events in my mind. But there is one element that I didn't have total control over that may have contributed to this fiasco; the incomplete nature of the topic announcement post. Here, I frankly have no idea. I sent it as a "scheduled post", only to discover that, in its published form, certain portions were masked [that is, some of the post appears invisible. If you want to read it, just mouse over the blank sections while holding down the left mouse button]. This happened to me once before, a couple of years ago. You can look into the matter at: http://aftermidnightpage.blogspot.com/search/label/%22censored%22%20entry. To be very honest, I'm still not exactly sure what happened there. And, while I'll admit that parts of that post [not the masked parts, oddly enough] touched on sensitive issues of different religions, I've yet to figure out how a contest announcement fits into such categories.

Blogger has said on more than one occasion that it does not censor posts. Okay, why were these posts "edited"? There is probably somewhere to go to get a clarification, but I've yet to figure out where. I tried Blogger Help Group, but the only answer there says it was probably "Satan". Now, I do believe in the existence of that being. But I also believe his plate is a bit too full to worry about blog contests [unless he's running an EC scam on the side].

So, now what? I don't know. Right about now, I don't know if I want to bother with any of this. Maybe I should move from Blogger. I just don't know. But I did feel you deserved an explanation. I'm sure I'll be back. I just don't know when...

-Perplexed, a.k.a. Mike Riley

Friday, August 15, 2008

IRON BLOGGER Topic Announcement


Well, it's time. On behalf of everyone involved in the IRON BLOGGER Organizing Team [just me, actually, but it looks more impressive if we pretend there's an army running this thing], welcome to the Iron Blogger Topic Announcement! If you're just finding out about all this check this link for rules: http://aftermidnightpage.blogspot.com/2008/08/iron-blogger-contest-update.html. Now without further ado, we turn things over to the creator of Iron Blogger, Japanese industrialist Honda Suzuki.
If memory serves me right, there was an American game show in the 1950's. Its premise was very similar to this contest. Contestants [celebrities, usually] were given a topic, and asked to speak extemporaneously for 90 seconds on the subject. In that spirit, we humbly select a topic from that program, as our challenge subject for this competition. Before I present the topic, let me send best wishes to all our participants. Here is the topic for the first Iron Blogger Competition:
"Why I ride side-saddle".
Thank you, Mr. Suzuki. Ladies and gentlemen, the competition is now open, and will remain so until midnight on Sunday, August 17th, US Eastern Daylight Time. The winner will be announced on Friday, August 22nd. Good luck to all, and strive for the People's Ovation!
-Mike Riley

Monday, August 11, 2008

Triumph Of The Will



There is an episode of "The Simpsons" where Springfield is hosting a film festival. Everyone in town, it seems, is putting a short film together to enter. That includes money-man extraordinaire Montgomery Burns. He calls in his principle minion, Mr. Smithers, and orders him to hire Steven Spielberg. Smithers replies that Spielberg is just plain unavailable [even Monty Burns' money has a limit]. Okay, Mr. Burns replies, get his non-union Mexican equivalent, Senior Spielbergo.


When the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics were in their early planning stages, the Olympic Committee had the services of the genuine Spielberg. Then, owing to China's frankly disturbing politics, he withdrew. But, like Monty Burns, the organizers had a substitute in mind. His name is Zhang Yimou [right], a noted film director himself. One of the commentators on TV noted that the Opening Ceremonies had the look of Zhang creating a cinematic spectacle with a truly unlimited budget. The exact amount spent for Friday night's presentation is no doubt a State secret, but let it be said; whatever was spent on those ceremonies, the Chinese Olympic Committee truly got its money worth, if not more. I don't think I will ever forget watching the last Torch bearer lifted to the rim of the Bird's Nest stadium, there to "run" the length of the stadium [see "Video Of The Week", below right], before lighting a previously hidden cauldron, made to look like the torches each runner in the Relay had carried [one wonders if using a giant torch might remind viewers of the controversy that surrounded the relay. Sports and politics are uncomfortable companions, no matter how important the cause that motivates the protest].
The lighting of the Olympic flame has become more and more an art form. I remember the archer, firing a flaming arrow at Barcelona, Muhammad Ali battling his Parkinson's disease to fire the bowl in Atlanta. It has become, truly, a beautiful moment. But I wonder how many people remember the story of how the torch Relay began. We really don't know whether or not the ancients used a relay as part of their ceremonies [although fire was certainly involved in the rites; after all, the events were of a religious nature, and fire is a part of almost every culture's most basic ceremonies]. The first few Games of the modern era had no relay. So where did it come from?
The truth is that Nazi Germany created the ritual, as part of the events leading up to the 1936 Berlin Games. Whatever else can be said about Hitler's empire of madness, let it be noted that it was expert at ritual. It is fair to say that the Chinese have re-mastered the arts of symbolism, of rites and regalia. And lately, I have noticed that America has begun to develop a taste for such presentations, as did ancient Rome. And I wonder what the future will say about the quality of our rituals.
-Mike Riley