Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Christmas Stories on the web

While we are inundated with Christmas carols and Christmas movies are virtually unavoidable on TV, there are many excellent Christmas stories that we no longer take the time to read. One thing the internet has given us is free access to many of these classic stories.

In addition to text versions, many of these have free audio versions available. Most of these audio links are mp3 files, which can be downloaded to your iPod or burned onto a CD. It makes a change on those Christmas drives from the same carols that you have gotten tired of over the last month.

Here are some of my favorite Christmas stories. These stories and readings are all in the public domain, so you need not worry about being naughty when downloading.

The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Sherlock Holmes is at his deductive best in a story that begins with a dropped Christmas goose. This story can be read online, or you can listen to it. There are also radio performances from 1948, with John Stanley as Holmes and from 1955 with Sir John Gielgud as Holmes and Sir Ralph Richardson as Dr. Watson. If you use Netflix, there is also an excellent version of it on Disc 3 of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
I have always had a soft spot for O. Henry, and especially for Gift. While it has been made into a movie and various performances, I still think it is best in the short concise story that O. Henry wrote. Gift is a simple story about love and sacrifice, with a classic O. Henry twist at the end. Read it or listen to it.

The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Anderson
This is the Christmas story Red Sovine would have written if he had been a Dutch author instead of a country writer/singer. In less than 1000 words a story is told that has inspired movies, an opera, and thousands of pages of interpretation. Simple and moving, you can read it online or listen to a reading.

Reginald’s Christmas Revel by Saki (H. H. Munro)
OK, enough sappy Christmas goodness. This is a wry, satirical story about having to spend Christmas with relatives you dislike (an experience that I am sure we are all at least a bit familiar with.) If you like dry British humor, this is the story for you. (Note to Katie, you will not like this, but Chris probably will.) I have a link to the text and to a reading. If you enjoy this, do yourself a favor and read more of Saki’s work. His stories are short, with twist endings like O. Henry, but with dry wit and a dose of the macabre.

Twas the Night Before Christmas (A Visit from St. Nicholas) by Clement C. Moore
OK, I cannot pretend that this story is little known, or forgotten. I would like, however, to give you a link to the version on Project Gutenberg. This version has the excellent 1912 illustrations by Jessie Wilcox Smith. Gutenberg also has several readings you can choose from.

I hope you enjoy some of these. Project Gutenberg, which is the source for most of these texts, even those on other sites, does a marvelous job of making public domain works actually available to the public and has, in recent years, also helped provide audio versions of many books, from Shakespeare to Jules Verne and Mark Twain.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Opie, Andy, Richie and the Fonz for Obama

OK, this is just too cool not to pass on.

See more Ron Howard videos at Funny or Die

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Pastor calls out God

I have said for years that many theists have a lower opinion of their God than I, as an atheist, could ever have. Here is a case in point. The following clip is from the invocation at a McCain rally. I realize that the pastor in question was most likely provided by the local GOP, and his prayer was not vetted (that is assuming that the McCain campaign actually vets anyone (cough .. Sarah Palin .. cough)), but these are the people that McCain has chosen to pander to in his Faustian attempt at power.

I thought that baseball players doing a quick prayer (for a hit, presumably) before readjusting their cup was a bit silly. I mean I know he is omnipotent and all, but to throw a baseball game seems a bit, um, petty for God. This guy tops any of that. In a grown up version of the child's "God, I want a pony. If you don't give me a pony, then you don't exist", this pastor wants God to maintain his street cred by throwing an election. What the American people want is apparently less important than Allah thinking that the Christian god "ain't all that".

Never mind the fact that the pastor doesn't know enough about other religions to understand that Hindu and Buddha are not gods, or that a lot of American Christians want Obama to win, or even that Allah is just God in another language, and, in fact, is the same Abramaic God that he is calling out, just running under a newer patch. this guy thinks that the same God who told him to pray in private and render unto Caesar will change his omnipotent mind if called out by a local bible thumper. This guy's God may be omnipotent, but, in the pastor's mind at least, is a bit insecure about it, and can be coerced into throwing an election using tactics that most parents try to teach their children to resist. What's next? Will God be caught smoking behind Heaven's gym because "all the cool Gods are doing it!"?

Friday, October 10, 2008

For no particular reason

Saw this clip posted on a thread about pop star cameos and had to share.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A few quick word about the debate

First, check out MightyGodKing's LiveBlog on the debate. OK, the language is a bit adult, but it is pretty damn funny, so I don't care. Funny trumps most things.

I thought McCain looked much more comfortable in this format, which is why he preferred it so much that he says he wouldn't have had to lie about Obama so much if Obama had agreed to three Town Hall debates. He does well when he approaches individuals and speaks directly to them.

Two things that jumped into my head during the debate, one for each candidate.

Obama: "A year ago I went to Wall Street and said we have to regulate and nothing happened." Wall Street is a big place, not to mention it is more of a concept than a place. How do you go there and tell them something? I had this picture of Obama dressed as Martin Luther nailing a deregulation edict to the front door of AIG.

McCain: "Nuclear power.Senator Obama says it should be safe or disposable or something like that." Yeah, somthing like that would be good. Is McCain making fun of the idea of safety at nuclear plants? "Look, I--I was on Navy ships that had nuclear power plants. Nuclear power is safe." Maybe it is just me, but for a man who has Stage II melanoma to tout the safety of close proximity to nuclear power may not be the most convincing argument.

Best line of the debate:
Obama: "And you know Senator McCain, I think the Straight Talk Express lost a wheel on that one."

Most annoying thing about the debate:
McCain saying "I know how to" whether is was "fix the economy", "what the fixes are [for Social Security] and how to fix it", "how to get bin Laden". If you know how to do all these things, why have you been keeping it a secret? Let us in on this fix for SSN, where bin Laden is, etc.. We don't need "secret plans", we need actual policies, which you are short on.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

GOP, following the party lie

Is there anything currently more ludicrous than John McCain's slogan "the Straight Talk Express". Boy George in full regalia is ten times straighter than the McCain campaign these days. After being called on the various lies (Obama plans to raise taxes, Palin said "No" to the "Road to Nowhere", Palin never sought earmarks while governor), McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis, came right out and said, ""This election is not about issues." Of course not, if McBushCain's campaign gets its way. It knows that on issues it will lose. They need to keep selling "Obama is going to raise taxes"; "Obama is a celebrity" and "Obama is an elitist" like there is no tomorrow, and hope that their unofficial compatriots will keep selling the "Obama is a secret Muslim" meme for them. Not only does McCain lie about Obama, he even distorts non-partisan comments about Obama. It has gotten to the point that even Karl Rove is complaining about McCain's lies.

As if simple lies are not enough, McCain's campaign is now trying to make it harder for eligible voters to vote and trying to trick people who think they are applying for absentee ballots into applying incorrectly. In Florida, McCain's campaign handed out instructions on how to apply for an absentee ballot with the incorrect address. In Ohio, he added an extra question, not required for the application, that, if not answered will cause the request to be rejected. Even the Ohio Attorney General was angry about this one. McCain once said that he was not willing to "lose a war to win an election." In yet another about face on his positions, we know that he is now willing to sell his soul, and the American people down the river to win one. I don't care what political party you favor, how can anyone with any morals at all stomach what the GOP has become? Oh yeah, I forgot, as long as he want to stop those nasty gay people from marrying and will toss out insincere promises to do something about "Roe vs Wade", "value voters" will stomach anything.

P.S. Recently the story broke that while Sarah Palin was mayor of Wasilla, her new sheriff, with her approval, began charging rape victims for the rape kits used in the investigation. The McCain-Palin campaign has vigorously denied it, but documents bear out the original story.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Something a little lighter

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Thursday, September 4, 2008

Quit picking on our VP!

The GOP is outraged that the mean old press is doing stories on Sarah Palin. They are looking into her record as mayor and governor, and reporting things that are not always positive.

At the same time, tasteless and cruel stories and rumors have sprung up about her family, mostly on the blogosphere. There is no question that this should be out of bounds, although it is amusing, for all politicians, not just Palin, that they are quite willing to use their families to make political hay, but they get uniformly outraged when anything negative is mentioned about those same families.

There is no question that Palin is under immediate and heavy scrutiny. I'm just guessing here, but it could be because she is now the candidate for vice president of the United States! I don't want to try to read the minds of the press, but I think that the motivation may be found there. Of course, none of the other candidate's have been under this sort of scrutiny.

No one has made a big deal about what Obama's pastor said, or what lapel pin he does or doesn't wear. Noooo, no one would do that. No one would write a book accusing Hillary Clinton of murdering someone. They are only picking on Palin.

Of course, even if the press has been unfair and low class about things, no one in the GOP would accidentally, and repeatedly, call Obama, "Osama", well except for when they are on the air and being recorded in the Congressional Record. No one in the GOP would hand out three dollar bill with Obama dressed as a muslim, well except when they do!

It is particularly funny to hear the GOP complain about sexism, after the abuse they have heaped on Hillary Clinton for years.

But we always need to remember, the GOP is the "values" party.

Friday, August 29, 2008

GOP panic? More on Obama acceptance

I planned to make more comments about Barack Obama's acceptance speech last night, but I just read the news about McCain's selection of Gov. Palin as his running mate, and was stunned.

Palin's name had been bandied about a month or so back, but had slacked off when word came out that she had used her position as governor to push for the firing of her ex-brother-in-law who was a state trooper, and then firing the head of the State Police when he wouldn't do it.

While she has conservative credentials, her almost total lack of experience makes it hard for the GOP to keep pushing the "too inexperienced, too lightweight" meme about Obama. Her selection, along with her speech mentioning Geraldine Ferraro and Hillary Clinton, seems like a desperate attempt to get the votes of disgruntled Clinton supporters. From a practical aspect, with a 72 year old presidential candidate, we have to take a hard look at whether Palin would have any business being the president, if worse comes to worse.

Back to Obama's speech. While it was a fantastic speech overall, here are the points that I especially liked.

  • Obama's review of his antecedents. Many Americans know little about Barack Obama than the crap that GOP emailers have been spewing out. The "elitist" claim is particularly absurd, when we look at the two candidates. Obama was a mixed-race child raised by a single mother, who qualified for food stamps for part of his childhood. McCain is the son and grandson of admirals, who was able to get a command despite coming almost dead last in his class, and is now married to a nine figure heiress. And we are supposed to believe that McCain is "just one of us?"

  • "Eight is enough". No, not the TV show. Obama made the point very well that electing McCain is just four more years of George Bush. McCain believes (well, currently believes. He has changed positions on almost every position in the last eight years, from being an actual "maverick" in 2000, to falling in line with every one of Bush's positions now) that we need to keep cutting taxes on the wealthy (and help those poor downtrodden heirs and heiresses keep more of daddy and mommy's money.) He believes that bin Laden is apparently hiding in Iraq (which brings me to another great line "John McCain likes to say that he'll follow bin Laden to the Gates of Hell - but he won't even go to the cave where he lives.")

  • "It's because John McCain doesn't get it." That is it in a nutshell.

  • Obama's listing of specific changes to be made to help our economy. While Obama has had much more detailed plans than McCain, those have not always been made clear. Soundbites and stump speeches are not the place to detail specifics, but people need to be made aware that the specifics are there.

  • "And now is the time to keep the promise of equal pay for an equal day's work, because I want my daughters to have exactly the same opportunities as your sons." Clearly a point made to help pull in the female vote, it is also an important truth. As the father of an beautiful, intelligent daughter, I want her available choices to be determined by her intelligence and work ethic, not her chromosomes.

  • "And Democrats, we must also admit that fulfilling America's promise will require more than just money. It will require a renewed sense of responsibility from each of us" - It was important for Obama to push the point that he is not simply talking about so-called "entitlements", but for ways to help us help ourselves.

  • I loved the strength and confidence that Obama showed while making his challenges to McCain, including his line about "temperament" for the position of commander in chief. McCain is often likable, but from all reports he also has a hair trigger temper and makes spur of the moment decisions that he changes the next day. These are not the characteristics that I want a C-in-C to have.

  • "So I've got news for you, John McCain. We all put our country first." - I am sick of conservatives pretending, and often claiming outright, that they are the only ones who love their country. I am a patriot, but that doesn't make me a a narrow-minded jingoist. I have, for years, used the example that we should love our country like it is our child (correct its mistakes and direct it where we feel it should go) instead of like we are the children(my mommy's always daddy can beat up your daddy)

  • "Because if you don't have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare the voters. If you don't have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from. You make a big election about small things." - This attacks the classic GOP "wedge issue" strategy. The GOP has, ever since Reagan, focused on narrow divisive issues to scare social and religious conservatives into electing them. These same people haven't figured out that the GOP doesn't really care about abortion, gay marriage or prayer in school. It cares about helping the wealthy get more and more. They pay lip service to the scare issues, but use their actual political clout to help cut taxes on the wealthy and protect the Haliburton's of the world.

These are a few of the thoughts I had last night. I look forward to this election with hope and trepidation. I realize that electing Obama will not create Xanadu, but the only way we can make actual changes is by trying, and it seems that for too long we have stopped trying. We owe our children and grandchildren the effort.

Obama shows he is ready

Last night Barack Obama had the opportunity to show America that he is ready to be their president, and he gave one of the best speeches I have ever heard. On the 45th anniversary of "I have a dream", and on a day that included a speech by one of the Freedom Riders who was bloodied in Alabama in 1961, Barack Obama showed that he is the embodiment of MLK's dream, a candidate who happens to be black, rather than a black candidate.

(BTW, for those Focus on the Family people praying for rain in Denver, if God always answers prayers, last night he didn't just say "No", he said, "Hell NO, and, BTW, stop invoking my name in the cause of hatred and bigotry".)

(BTW II, to those Repuglican talking heads who were calling the stage a "Greek Temple" do all of us a favor. Take a few days (or weeks, or months) off, take a visit to Washington. Ask for directions to a place called the "Lincoln Memorial", you can't miss it. You might also look for the footage of Reverend King's speech in front of said memorial. then try and buy a ^%$%$^ clue.)

Barack took his challenge straight at John McBush, er McCain. He showed a solidity that belies the celebrity label that the GOP has tried to attach to him. He gave a speech full of hope, with a wealth of detailed plans, and some excellent sound bites.

Will he be able to put all his plans into place? Almost certainly not. Does this speech give us hope that he will try to work in the right direction? It does to me.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A good weekend on the stove

Well, my experiments went well over the weekend. Made an ad-libbed scrambled eggs with chorizo on Saturday that came out great. I tried a pizza that night, it was so-so, but I know what mistakes I made, and the sauce was excellent.

Tonight I tried a simplified jambalaya: andouille, tasso and shrimp. It came out well, although I cheated and used Zataran's jambalaya rice for extra flavor. It was very tasty, but it could have been better. I have more andouille and tasso, so I will be planning on a rematch soon.

Let's eliminate "take responsibility" from political language

John Edwards fessed up and said that he was "taking responsibility" for his affair, after hiding in hotel to avoid reporters. While I understand the importance of taking responsibility for things in real life, taking that responsibility includes consequences. In political speech, it means, "I got caught and can't get out of it."

George Bush "took responsibility" for mistakes in the Iraq debacle, for the despicable push-polling against McCain in 2000 and if the illegal partisan hiring in the Justice Department is proved, I am sure he will square his shoulders and "take ...", well you know, for that also because it is a completely meaningless phrase in politics.

Conservatives decry the fact that homosexuals have suborned the word "gay", liberals don't like the fact that that Fundamentalists are trying to redefine "family" to mean "narrow-minded, hate-filled bigotry", but the political abuse of that phrase beloved by stern fathers everywhere is truly a bipartisan effort.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Colbert defends the Ignorants

The Colbert Report had a nice segment on Obama's dastardly suggestion, as part of an overall energy plan, that we could cut consumption by 3% by properly inflating our tires. How dare he propose somthing that won't require funding and that will help immediately. Everyone knows we should simply allow more drilling, that way we will see an effect by 2030!

Two from Black Coat Press

I have recently finished two books from Black Coat Press. BCP is a small publishing company that "is primarily devoted to publishing English-language translations of classics of French popular literature, as well as comics and stage plays." These classics are primarily pulp and science-fiction, both of which I am a fan. As soon as I saw the title Edgar Allan Poe on Mars I knew I would have to check out their offerings.

One down side of a small publishing company like BCP is price. They cannot publish in the quantity that the large companies can, so their prices tend to be high, $20+ for most offerings (in a large paperback format, not truly trade paperbacks.)

Tales of the Shadowmen
I began with Tales of the Shadowmen 1: The Modern Babylon. This book is a collection of short stories, pastiches of French pulp characters by modern authors. I thought that this book would give me a quick feel for characters I was not familiar with, alongside some I was familiar with already (Maigret, Lord Dunsany, Frankenstein's monster).

I expected mixed results from an anthology like this, but the results were more mixed than I could be happy with. There were some good stories, but about half seemed more like exercises in name dropping, with little story or characterization. What frustrated me the most about the book was the story The Werewolf of Rutherford Grange. This is one of the best stories, and the longest, in the book. The problem is, the story is continued in the second volume of this series. I understand a serial in a magazine, but when I pay $20 for book, I don't expect to find "to be continued".

The Hollow Needle
As a long-time Sherlockian, and a recent discoverer of Arsene Lupin, Arsene Lupin Vs. Sherlock Holmes: The Hollow Needle was a natural for me. I had read some Arsene Lupin from Project Gutenberg and listened to the very good public domain audiobook. Buying this books was a tough decision, as most of the material is available at Gutenberg.

I was very happy that I did buy the book, in the end. The early translations are not always good reads. They are fairly perfunctory translations. The translations by the Lofficiers show that these are done by good writers in their own right. The book also includes a good forward and afterword, a short story, a novel, and a closing story written by the Lofficiers. The only down side of these books, for a Holmes fan, is that Holmes barely appears. He is a foil in the first story, and appears late in the novel. This fact does not take away from the stories themselves.

Take the time to taste LeBlanc at Gutenberg, but if you like him there, you will LOVE him here!

Now, if we could just get BCP to give us good translations of Jules Verne. Unfortunately, there are bad public domain editions of Verne available that publishers can print for little cost, so that is what the stores are flooded with.

Let's try this again

I started the blog a while bag, but didn't get going. I think it is time to see if I actually have anything to say on a semi-daily basis. I talk all the time, so you think I could come up with something to say!

I have never been one to cook much. I love food, and I have been lucky enough to have a wife who is a great cook. I have started to cook more lately (I blame Rachel Ray and the Iron Chef.) There were some things I thought sounded good, but my wife, Jill, wasn't that interested in making. I decided that I should be able to cook these things (OK, stop laughing, I actually thought that).

Results have been mixed so far (although I also provide a bit of a floor show for the rest of the family.) I have made a very decent tuna noodle casserole, a quite good black bean side dish, baked beans (from scratch), and very tasty, and spicy, mini meatloaves.

On the other side of things, I have made textureless turkey burgers, and burned some fruit trying to grill it (see comment about floor show above). Living in a small town in Indiana (deep in the heart of darkest America...home of the Brave) limits the food choices somewhat. Slaloming between the food preferences of the family is also fun. I don't care for most cheeses, wife and daughter don't care for seafood or mushrooms, wife doesn't like onions that she can see, son isn't thrilled with veggies. OK, I know, Jill has been navigating these treacherous waters for years, but I am new to it.

I have discovered Balsamic vinegar, and found good places to order chorizo and andouille, which is unavailable locally. We will see what other things I learn along the way!

On the near horizon are: jambalaya, homemade pizza, scrambled eggs with chorizo,

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Dune: House Atreides

The first book in the first series of prequels to the Dune universe is House Atreides by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. Brian Herbert is Frank Herbert's son and these books are based off of the outline that his father had established for the Dune universe.

If you are a fan of the Dune world, this book is well worth your time. While Brian is unable to elicit the grandeur of his father's writing, he is a talented writer. In a book set a generation earlier than Dune, we get to see the seminal stories of the characters and situations that will drive the story of Paul Maud'Dib.

In addition to the characters from Dune, we are introduced to a set of new characters who will help form the Dune universe. There is a good balance. Enough new characters are added to give the story life, but not so many as to drag the book into tedium. We get to see the worlds of Ix and Caladan, although neither gets fleshed out much.

On the critical side of things, the book is solidly written, but does not transport one as the great books do. It suffers from some of the issues that plague any prequel (Star Wars, I mean you).

Situations often do not have real drama, because we already know how they will end. (A great counterpoint to this was the movie Apollo 13. I found myself holding my breath as they reentered the atmosphere, although I remember when it happened in real life and know they would make it. Not an easy accomplishment.) We lose one of the greatest joys of fantasy and science fiction, the discovery of a new world/universe. Part of the amazement of reading Dune for the first time was that joy of dicovery, as we learned of this amazing world for the first time. God Emperor was able to recapture this, to some extent, by being changed enough from the first three books to be almost a new world.

In the end, if you have already read Frank Herbert's Dune books, and need another fix, House Atreides may fit the bill nicely. If you are new to the Dune Universe, do not make the mistake of starting here because it is set before Dune, run, don't walk to get your own copy of Dune.